It was another hectic few days in parliament this week and we had the first of what I suspect are going to be an awful lot of late votes over the next few years.
It was on the EU Withdrawal Bill which essentially is a piece of legislation setting the framework for rolling all the EU law into the UK statute book when we leave in two years time. Not as some have erroneously reported being to do with stopping Brexit. It cannot.
It was though a contentious issue and I had no hesitation in voting against the legislation. I think it’s a bad Bill as it will give the executive enormous additional power. Allowing, for instance, ministers to change things where they think it is “appropriate”. In theory that makes their decisions even exempt from proper legal challenge, which I do not think is appropriate in a proper democracy frankly. It could also allow the government to amend legislation without recourse to Parliament, which is hardly the right message to send out after all the heat and noise around “taking back control” which has flooded our airwaves over the last few years. Ultimately though the government won by 36 votes with the support of the DUP and a few Labour MPs.
Some noises off locally will try to say I broke the promise I made to Eastbourne during the referendum. I have not and I never will.
I was crystal clear that although I’m a Remainer myself, I promised Eastbourne that I would accept the result of the referendum and that I’ll vote for the eventual Brexit Bill in two years’ time when it comes back from the negotiations. Which is exactly what I’ll do. If I give a promise to our town, I keep it.
Meanwhile I will continue to lobby the government to achieve as sensible a Brexit as possible for our nation in the longer term. And that includes voting against an even more powerful executive. We have a long history of bad governmental decisions in this country where there is a lack of proper parliamentary scrutiny, and this legislation passes over a considerable amount of extra untrammelled power to that executive. We may have cause to regret this decision at some time in the future!
I was also interested to see that after the vote there was a long queue of MPs, many of them Conservatives, who had just supported the Bill, lining up to table amendments. Perhaps if they had joined me in the No lobby in the first place, the government may have had to come back with a better drafted piece of legislation. Just a thought.
Meanwhile adult education has been one of my priorities as your MP. Be it apprenticeships or further education, they’re crucial in opening up opportunities to tens of thousands of people across the UK, and a good few hundreds in Eastbourne as well. I’ve been appalled by the lack of investment this government has been putting into the sector, so I asked a question of the Minister this week in Parliament: “Since 2015 the number of part-time students over 30 dropped by 10 per cent in the first year alone. And funding for the FE sector will remain frozen for five years up to 2020. And this significant real-terms cut has led to a drop of almost 16,000 people over 30 being able to access further education. Will the minister confirm what actions her Department are taking to halt this nose-dive in numbers of older part-time students seeking to improve their educational opportunities?”
Her response was not to actually answer the question but instead offer general figures from other areas of FE, which was very disappointing. I don’t actually believe this government is particularly interested in adult education. However you can rest assured that I will have no hesitation in holding up the mirror to them over it - again and again and again.
I was also in the Chamber this week to support Labour’s opposition-day motion on ending the NHS pay cap, and noted that the Government wouldn’t let it go to the vote. We have a major shortage of nurses and other staff in the health service and in my view the recruitment crisis will only get worse unless the government gives NHS and social care staff the pay rise they deserve.
So I did wonder at their tactics. Perhaps the Conservative whips were too embarrassed to allow their MPs’ individual names to go down as voting ‘against’ the motion so they avoided a vote instead?
Have a good weekend folks and hope to see you around town.