The latest edition of my monthy e-newsletter is available to read here.
April 9, 2014 in Parliament
At an Urgent Question yesterday on Parliamentary Standards, I asked the Leader of the House about the reform process.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I thought that we had got rid of self-regulation after the expenses scandal, and not before time. Given the doubts about the strength of the recall proposals and in the light of the current saga, what can the Leader of the House say to reassure the public that the reform process, which must be a process without a full stop, has not stalled under this Government?
Mr Lansley: I would reassure the public by saying that, yes, there is a small number of legacy cases, but we now have a fully independent system that has all the powers it needs to take the necessary steps when anything goes wrong, now and in the future. Echoing the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about the retiring chief executive of IPSA, Andrew McDonald, objectively speaking, IPSA has come a long way in creating a situation that should command greater confidence about expenses.
So far as the regulation of Members’ other conduct is concerned, the public have to look at individual cases—for example, those relating to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and conflicts of interest, or to a Member behaving in a way that brings the House into disrepute—and decide whether the independent Commissioner for Standards has pursued the matter robustly. It is certainly her job to do so, and I hope that Members and the public will agree that she does. When we read the reports following her investigations, they are often very detailed and thorough. The public also have to decide whether the decisions are proportionate. That is a matter of judgment, but I believe that the Standards Committee has put in place robust sanctions in recent cases involving that kind of poor behaviour.
April 2, 2014 in Parliament
My question to the Secretary of State during an Urgent Question on the privatisation of Royal Mail in the Commons yesterday.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Most people who are responsible for such ruinous incompetence at least consider their position. Has he?
Vince Cable: Absolutely not. It was a successful operation and the National Audit Office confirms that.
In yesterday’s Health Questions, I asked the Secretary of State what he will do about the funding crisis in mental health services.
Mr Bradshaw: People in Exeter and Devon with mental illness are now waiting more than two years for treatment. This is totally unacceptable and will, if it has not already, lead to the loss of lives. The Minister has repeated today his criticism of NHS England’s decision to cut funding for mental health, but as the shadow Minister reminded him, he is not a passive observer; he is the Minister responsible. What will he do about it?
Mr Hunt: The reason we are not passive observers is that we have made some substantial improvements in mental health provision since coming to office, including legislating for parity of esteem, which is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman feels able to ask that question. There are 55,000 more people every year getting a dementia diagnosis and nearly 80,000 people going on to psychological therapies. Lots has been done, but there is lots more to do, and we will continue to do everything we need to until we get that parity of esteem.
March 27, 2014 in Parliament
In the House of Commons yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister about President Obama’s strong sanctions against individuals close to Putin.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): President Obama’s sanctions are so much stronger, and they target directly members of Putin’s corrupt inner circle who have dirty assets in London. Why is the Prime Minister so reluctant to do the same?
The Prime Minister: I am not reluctant to do the same at all. As I said, the EU process is about finding people who have a connection with the decision in Crimea and making sure they are properly targeted. I do not think it is fair to say that the Americans have taken tough actions and the Europeans have been slow to follow. One of the things we agreed at the European Council was specifically to target goods and services from occupied Crimea that cannot now be sold in Europe unless they go through Ukraine. That is a step that the Americans have not yet taken and a point I made at the G7.
March 21, 2014 in Parliament
Below is my speech in yesterday’s Westminster Hall Debate on the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women priests in the Church of England.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I had not intended to speak in this debate as I have to shoot off before the scheduled finish, but given the opportunity and as Members are disappointingly thin on the ground, I will just say a few words. I want to reassure those watching the debate that the attendance is no reflection on the issue’s importance. If anything, it shows how far we have come that this is not a controversial issue any more. It is of course also a Thursday and we have only a one-line Whip.
As the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) made clear, something that 20 years ago some predicted would be the end of the world has become a valued, valuable and wonderful part of our Church life. It may amuse hon. Members to learn that I was dragooned into joining the Movement for the Ordination of Women as a teenager, when my father was serving as a canon at Norwich cathedral, by the wife of the dean, Margaret Webster, who was one of the founding members of the movement. We also had in our home at the time a young student called Katharine Rumens, who has become a fantastic priest in the City of London. Along with the Campaign for Real Ale, the Movement for the Ordination of Women was something that I joined long before I joined the Labour party; it is what brought me into political activity and campaigning, and what a good way of learning how to campaign and lobby it was.
After all the terrible setbacks of the ’70s and ’80s, we were ultimately successful, and it fills me with great joy, as a founder member of what was probably called the teenage or young movement for the ordination of women, to be here 20 years on to celebrate something that is now so unremarkable, and to look forward to our first consecration of a woman bishop, hopefully this year,.
I pay tribute to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who has performed an absolutely sterling job. After that disastrous vote in the Synod at the end of the year before last, we were in shock. A general trauma made its way through most of the Church of England, and was felt in particular by women priests. How must they have felt at the outcome of that vote? After all the work, after the big majorities in the dioceses and synods, after the overwhelming support in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, how must they have felt to have the proposal fall at the final hurdle and miss the two-thirds majority in the House of Laity? There was a great deal of justified anger, but the right hon. Gentleman, supported by Members from across the House, made it absolutely plain to the powers that be over the road that the situation was intolerable and had to be addressed as quickly as possible.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the urgent and effective manner in which the new Archbishop of Canterbury has grasped the matter. I speak as a liberal Catholic, and he is not from my tradition, but I always had a slight inkling that it would require somebody from the evangelical tradition to get this through. He speaks the right language. What he will have achieved—if he, collectively with the Synod, achieves it this summer—will be remarkable and fantastic. After that vote, most of us had given up hope that we would get the Measure through before the next election and before the election of the new Synod.
I urge the Church to consider holding open currently vacant sees for just a little longer than they usually would. Interregnums often go on for several months, as did the recent one in Exeter, so it would not mean people waiting a great deal longer—I hope—before getting a new bishop. That would send out a really positive signal. I should not be rude, as we have a great bunch of bishops who do a fantastic job in the House of Lords, but one hears rumours that we are getting to the end of our talent pool, as regards male suffragans who can be promoted to diocesan bishop. That is certainly not the case when it comes to our senior women clergy, many of whom I can imagine would make absolutely first-class bishops. I want to name just a couple who have a relationship with my constituency. Jane Hedges, whom we exported from the Devon diocese, where she was a parish priest, was recently appointed Dean of Norwich. We have a fantastic canon at the cathedral called Anna Norman-Walker, who is also our diocesan missioner, and there are several other fantastic women priests in a diocese that was traditionally rather conservative.
When I first arrived in Exeter in the early ’80s, it was one of those arch-traditional Catholic dioceses that regularly sent people to Synod to argue against women’s ordination. We had a series of diocesan bishops, regrettably in my view, who opposed women’s ordination and women becoming bishops, including the most recently retired one—he was one of only two bishops who voted against in the vote at the end of the year before last. We now have a new bishop who is clearly and categorically in favour of women bishops. We still have the Chichesters out there, but when a diocese such as Exeter, which had a strong tradition of conservative, traditional Catholicism—if I may put it like that—can move in the way that it has, it shows how the Church of England has moved as a whole.
I want to finish with the point that I alluded to in my second intervention on the right hon. Member for Meriden, which was about the dire predictions made about the disastrous impact that women’s ordination would have on our relations with our sister Churches, the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. Yes, the relationship has been up and down and bumpy, but I do not detect any serious, lasting and irrevocable damage. Do not forget that we have other important and valuable sister Churches, such as the Lutherans and Churches on the continent, and they welcome the direction in which the Church of England has moved.
I have also been heartened by comments by the new Pope, who is an absolute breath of fresh air after the previous one. He has said some encouraging things about women, gender, the role of women in the Church and how the Church needs to move away from its obsession with sexual morality and move towards issues of justice, gender equality and so forth. That is exciting. At some time, though not in my lifetime, I confidently expect the Roman Catholic Church to embrace the ministry of women, in exactly the same way as the Church of England has done. It is a theological inevitability. It may not happen in my lifetime, but the fact that we have done it, blazed a trail and shown how positive, successful, valuable, wonderful and holy it is will help progressive Catholics on the same road.
You can read the rest of the debate, including my further interventions, here.
Exeter Citizen’s Advice Bureau has responded to the Government’s 2014 Budget.
Chief Executive, Steve Barriball, said:
“The Chancellor talked about making, doing and saving. This Budget needs to work for those who are making do and can’t save. Those on low incomes face a daily struggle to fight off poverty. This year Exeter CAB has seen increases of more than 50% in enquiries about housing association and local authority rent arrears and Council Tax arrears. For many the priority is making ends meet. We welcome proposals that will see more cash for hard-pressed households.”
“Middle income families have had to adjust and savers will welcome the extra support. The proposals to free up pensions are welcome, particularly the new ‘right to advice’, which recognises the significant value of impartial, trusted advice. I hope Government departments across Whitehall will follow suit and formally recognise the value of advice in helping people cope with other policy areas.”
“We’re half way through the austerity programme and many spending cuts have yet to bite. Families are feeling the cumulative impact of the stripping away of support and services from all sides. Support for childcare will be a welcome relief but it’s only partial respite for households dealing with almost a decade of austerity.”
“Better targeting childcare support to the poorest families will help to make work pay for them. Stronger, immediate investment in house building would ease the pressure on people struggling to manage rocketing housing costs. Putting weight behind efforts to help young people into work will prevent a new generation of long-term jobseekers.”
“Government must take the long view of positive economic news. Unemployment is down but growing self-employment can be a sign of instability: self-employed people are as likely to need help with debts as unemployed people.”
For a comprehensive response from the Citizens Advice service to the Budget 2014 see: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/pressoffice/press_index/press_office-20140319a.htm
March 19, 2014 in Parliament
I spoke in yesterday’s debate on the crisis in Ukraine, urging the Government to take meaningful action through asset freezes and travel bans.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I commend the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) for his superb speech and I agree with every single word he said.
I welcome the fact that the Government have allowed time for the debate, although given the seriousness of the threat to security and peace in Europe—the worst for decades—it would have been nice if we had had a little more time. Perhaps we can have some more time in the days and weeks to come.
Given the time limit, I shall restrict my comments to asset freezes and travel bans. I welcome what was announced yesterday by the European Union and United States, but the mood of this House is that that did not go nearly far enough. As the Foreign Secretary will know, Russia is based on a kleptocracy and a lot of the corrupt senior officials and politicians around President Putin have their money in London. Russia’s own central bank has estimated that two thirds of the Russian assets and money in London come from the proceeds of crime and corruption, yet all the organisations that campaign on this issue, from Transparency International to anti-corruption organisations, have said for a long time that the Britain has a very poor record of doing anything about that.
Two years ago, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) tabled a motion in this House that was unanimously passed. It called on the Government to take measures similar to those taken by the United States and along the lines of the Magnitsky Act that would have imposed asset freezes and travel bans on named Russian officials who were associated with the outrageous torture and murder of the Russian lawyer, Magnitsky. I am afraid that the Government did nothing and, as far as I can see, have done nothing since. None of the names announced by the European Union is on the Magnitsky list. They all seem to have a very narrow association with the immediate military action in the Crimea.
The Foreign Secretary said that he had the powers to act, so if the Government want to do something now why does he not announce—the Leader of the House could even announce this when he winds up the debate—that the Government will honour the will of this House, unanimously passed two years ago, and introduce similar measures to those introduced by the Americans? Only when the kleptocracy and the elite around President Putin begin to feel some of the pain of the sanctions and measures that have been outlined will Putin feel anything and realise how intolerable his actions were.
I appeal to the Government to go much further at the European Council on Thursday and finally to take meaningful action on the money laundering and dirty money in London and against those Russian officials who are propping up Putin and putting their money here.
March 12, 2014 in Parliament
My piece for Progress Online about Labour’s stance on the EU is now available to read here.
March 5, 2014 in Parliament
In the House of Commons yesterday, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the possibility of freezing Russian assets acquired through crime and corruption.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Citing Russia’s central bank, the Financial Times reports today that up to two thirds of Russian money in London is from corruption and other crime. At the very least, if Britain’s tough words are to mean anything, should not those assets be frozen now?
Mr Hague: We have very important regulations in this country about politically exposed persons—banking regulations cover them—and we have strong laws on money laundering. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said about agreeing with the Ukrainian Prime Minister yesterday about the recovery of assets stolen from Ukraine. Our options are open on that.
Given our experience of applying sanctions to several parts of the world in recent years, I would only add at the moment that if we are to apply sanctions to individuals we must be very sure of our case legally and have the evidence to sustain cases through court proceedings. We have to bear that in mind.