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I have had a large number of constituents getting in touch lately to ask my views on Land Registry privatisation and for me to oppose it. To be clear, I am in complete agreement that privatisation should not be the way forward for the Land Registry.

Yesterday some of my fellow Labour MPS, trade union colleagues and I went to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to hand in a petition against the privatisation, which has been signed by more than 250,000 people. We were joined by employees of the Land Registry from across the UK including representative from the Land Registry in Durham. This gave me the opportunity to meet and talk again with several constituents who work in the Durham office who are rightly concerned about their jobs in the face of the Government’s proposed changes and the impact of these changes on this important service that is provided to the public.

With representatives of the Durham Land Registry

When I heard that the Government were looking to make changes to the Land Registry it felt like I had gone back in time, as this was something that the Coalition had consulted on in 2014; whilst the current consultation does differ from the 2014 consultation, there is a key tenant that is similar- the potential privatisation of the service.

In 2014, the consultation response showed that 91% of respondents disagreed with the notion that land registration services could be better delivered outside of government and I would be surprised it that number would now be significantly different.

The privatisation of the Land Registry could lead to long-term costs to the state and users of the service, which could undermine any sale price; plus there could be new costs or restrictions on what information businesses, individuals and public sector agencies can access in relation to the recording of land transfers.

The Land Registry in this country has given advice to many other countries about how to set up land registry services. We are seen as a model of best practice around the world, so I think the Government must think very carefully before they severely disrupt a model that has been shown to work so well.

I intend to be a leading voice speaking up against this privatisation that would impact jobs in Durham and across the country; undermine the service the Land Registry provides; and in no way tackle the country’s housing crisis.

Rather than looking at innovative ways to increase land transparency and other measures to bring forward more land for housing and infrastructure, the Government are doing what Tories do best- taking a public service that is working well and selling it off to the highest bidder, regardless of the long term consequences.

 

Save the Land Registry

I have had a large number of constituents getting in touch lately to ask my views on Land Registry privatisation and for me to oppose it. To be clear, I...

You may have seen an open letter signed by myself and colleagues Diana Johnson, Karin Symth and Sharon Hodgson that was published in the Guardian and sent to Harriet Harman, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to ask that they take action on the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland.

You can read the letter and the relevant Guardian article below:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/18/northern-ireland-abortion-prosecutions-uk-parliament?CMP=share_btn_tw

I wanted to take the time to provide a bit of background to this issue and outline why I feel this issue needs to be addressed.

As so many of you will be aware, abortion remains almost completely illegal in Northern Ireland and is the only part of the UK which the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to. Under the law in Northern Ireland, abortion can only legally take place to protect the mother’s life, or where it can be proved that her mental health is seriously at risk, and is governed under the 1861 Offences against the Person Act. This means that a woman who is raped, or whose pregnancy is a result of incest, would not be able to legally obtain an abortion. I feel that this sentence alone should be enough to explain why the law must change.

It is in fact one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, despite a ruling last year from the Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission, who ruled that banning abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality was incompatible with the European Human Rights Commission.

Though health and justice are devolved to Northern Ireland, Human Rights are not. This means that there is scope for England, and Westminster MPs to intervene.

Whilst I have always received letters about abortion law in Northern Ireland, recently it has become a subject of much debate, owing to a case earlier this month, when a young woman from Northern Ireland took abortion pills in order to terminate her pregnancy and was prosecuted as a result, facing a three month sentence suspended over 12 months. Whilst campaigners have focused on the possibility of prosecution, we now face a situation where a woman has actually been arrested and prosecuted, and we know that another woman will face charges later this month.

It is important to note that ultimately, women who terminate their pregnancies in Northern Ireland face a maximum of life imprisonment. Life imprisonment for making a decision about their health, and their future.

For some women, the law leaves them with no choice but to travel to England to terminate their pregnancies, which must be funded themselves. Statistics recorded by the Government show that in 2013, 95% of women in England and Wales had their abortions funded by the NHS.

However, for women travelling from Northern Ireland, this is not a free service and they must be able to pay in order to terminate their pregnancies. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who have clinics across the UK offering safe and legal abortions, outline the cost of their services for those who do not qualify for a free abortion. Prices range from £500 up to £1725, and of course this does not include the cost of travel or accommodation.

BPAS has from October offered special prices for women from Northern Ireland, recognising the inequality and restrictions that they face, however it remains the case that because of legislation passed in 1861, only those women who can afford it are able to make decisions about their own bodies, and to terminate their pregnancies.

For those women who simply can’t afford to travel to England, one option remains and is the choice which landed a 19 year old with a criminal record.  This route involves purchasing abortion pills online.

Many campaigners are arguing that purchasing the abortion pill online is a safe option when sourced from reputable websites.

A good example of this would be “Women on Web” an organisation who provide the abortion pill to women in the third world countries and places where abortion remains illegal. They receive more than 10,000 emails a month from women across the world who cannot access safe abortions. The organisation aims to help any woman who is less than nine weeks pregnant.

This pill is the same pill which is provided in clinics legally and safely - mifepristone and misoprostol – and are on the World Health Organisation's Essential Medicines list. Each woman is given an online consultation with a licensed doctor before she’s provided with them.

For those women however that do buy this pill online, they face dealing with a termination alone, and the constant fear of exposure and arrest, which was sadly realised by a woman earlier this month. We also know that another case is due to come before Irish courts later this month.

However, ordering a pill from an online organisation is a much safer option then attempting to terminate the pregnancy with a DIY kit or worse. Organisations have cited cases of women drinking bleach or throwing themselves down flights of stairs, desperate to induce a miscarriage.

This situation is absolutely appalling and cannot continue. Even for those women who do travel to England to access an abortion face a lengthy travel time, often leading to incidents of bleeding on public transport, alone and terrified.

I believe in every woman’s right to make an informed decision about her reproductive health. It is time we intervened to insure women in Northern Ireland have this right too.

 

 

Roberta speaks up for women in Northern Ireland

You may have seen an open letter signed by myself and colleagues Diana Johnson, Karin Symth and Sharon Hodgson that was published in the Guardian and sent to Harriet Harman,...

On Tuesday I led for Labour in the Commons discussing the amendments the Lords had a made to the Housing and Planning Bill.

This appalling Bill has been something that I have been working to mitigate the disastrous effects of since early November of last year and we are now in the closing stretch before it is sent to the Queen for Royal Assent. 

Labour Lords and their crossbench colleagues have worked hard to inflict a number of defeats on the Government and forced them to concede and add numerous amendments to this Bill; on Starter Homes, Pay to Stay, on the selling of “higher value” council homes and on the privatisation of the planning system and many other elements.

However, the Housing and Planning Bill remains an extraordinary and extreme piece of legislation. Concern is being voiced by housing experts, charities, house builders, mortgage lenders, about the provisions in the Bill and with good reason.

On Tuesday, in the Commons we were given the opportunity to discuss these and see how they improve the Bill. But unfortunately all I heard was Government talk in favour of policies that will be damaging to so many people across all parts of the UK.

One of the most contentious elements of this Bill is Pay to Stay. This is a tax on tenants and a tax on aspiration and will lead to many people having to leave their homes or increase their levels of personal indebtedness. How could anyone describe a household in London were a couple earn an income of £17,000 and £23,000 as high; or £12,000 and £18,000 outside London?

Under these measures, a situation where even a modest rise in income, due to a promotion or taking on extra hours at work, could result in a significant hike in rent.

Recently I’ve been meeting with various groups of people to discuss how the Bill will affect them and some of the stories have been extremely hard to hear.

As the whole housing world has acknowledged, this Bill does little to solve our housing crisis but will make things a whole lot worse for the supply of genuinely affordable housing.

There are no elements of the Bill that undertake the vigorous, progressive building programme of housing across a range of tenures that the UK needs; nor is it bold enough to take a serious look at practices of renting and tenures and bring forward concrete proposals that could lead to real reform.

We will see, when the Bill comes back from the Lords on Monday, if we can use this last chance to stop the Government overturning important safeguards that the Lords have put into this Bill but I feel that the Conservatives are wilfully overseeing the demise of genuinely affordable and social housing in our country.

There is nothing wrong with promoting homeownership but not at the expense of those who are at the sharp end of the housing crisis, those who are in the direst housing need.

Unfortunately that is exactly what this Bill doing. 

Taking on the Housing Bill

On Tuesday I led for Labour in the Commons discussing the amendments the Lords had a made to the Housing and Planning Bill. This appalling Bill has been something that...


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