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An independent British trade policy must put the interests of developing countries at its heart

Last week I spoke in Parliament during the Second Reading of the Trade Bill, to speak up for sustainable development and call on the government to put fair trade at the heart of an independent British trade policy.

The bill seeks to replicate in UK law the existing trade arrangements with countries outside the EU. As with the EU Withdrawal Bill, I have deep concerns about the power that this bill would hand to Ministers to change and implement legislation without Parliamentary scrutiny, when Labour has been clear that all aspects of Britain’s trade negotiations should be subject to impact assessments and debated openly in Parliament.

This bill also contains implications for international development policy, which it seems the government has not fully considered.

Under current EU rules, the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), including aid recipients like Uganda and Bangladesh, have access to the EU ‘Everything but Arms’ scheme, whereby there are zero tariffs or quotas on any of their exports to the single market (excluding arms).

This scheme is estimated to be worth £12.5 billion to 49 of the world’s poorest countries, and also gives EU consumers access to cheaper goods, mainly foodstuffs. There are a range of other trade preference schemes for developing countries, and in some cases, such as Botswana, countries have ‘graduated’ from the LDC category as their economies have grown through trade.

Trade policy can seem abstract, but on a recent trip to Bangladesh, I visited a Fairtrade co-operative which exports around the world, including to the UK. The workers there enjoyed good working conditions and decent rates of pay, and I left feeling optimistic about how international trade, done fairly and equitably, can reduce poverty.

The Fairtrade foundation has itself expressed concerns about the impact of Brexit on Fairtrade, as the Fairtrade market is worth £1.6 billion to the UK, and relies on a seamless trading relationship between all of the countries of the EU.

The government has been very clear that trade is the best route out of poverty for small countries. If it is serious about this – if this is not just an attack on the concept of foreign aid – then Labour is clear that the government needs to put development and poverty reduction at the heart of an independent British trade policy. From small farmers in Africa exporting Fairtrade bananas, to the Bangladeshi co-operative workers I visited, millions of peoples’ livelihoods are at risk if the UK does not put development at the heart of its new trade policy.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has recommend that the UK should, at the least, apply the principle of ‘do no harm’ to any new trade deals, so that existing trade preference schemes for developing countries are rolled over, and that Britain’s trade and development policies are aligned.

In addition, other international development charities such as Global Justice Now have recommended that Britain takes this opportunity to improve on some aspects of existing EU schemes, which have in some cases been criticised for extracting damaging concessions from countries that can ill afford them. Britain can become a standard-bearer for fair international trade, and not allow the Tories to fashion a free trade policy which uses our leverage to further exploit some of the world’s poorest countries.

The Government has stated that it is the responsibility of all government departments to work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are 17 goals set by the United Nations related to economic development, peace, human rights and the environment that all countries, developed and developing, have signed up to achieving.

It would therefore be absurd for the Department for International Trade to be working at cross-purposes with the Department for International Development, which it will be if it does not put the SDGs at the heart of Britain’s new trade policy with developing countries.

I have received a large amount of correspondence on the Trade Bill from my constituents. This demonstrates the strength of feeling that exists on the issue, and the commitment that exists to the principles of fair trade amongst the British public.

Whilst MPs have rightly focused on the potential outcomes of a ‘no deal’ with the EU for Britain and our constituencies, we should also not forget that ‘no deal’ between Britain and developing countries could represent a catastrophe for some of the world’s poorest people.

Roberta speaks up in Parliament for sustainable development and fair trade during the Trade Bill

An independent British trade policy must put the interests of developing countries at its heart Last week I spoke in Parliament during the Second Reading of the Trade Bill, to...

Like many people, Roberta has been concerned by the appointment of Toby Young to the board of the newly created Office for Students.
Both his lack of experience in academia, and his past comments about women, sexuality and working-class people, suggest that he not the right person to fill this public position.
 
As Labour co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group, Roberta has written to Jo Johnson, the Minister responsible for Universities, to ask that he make public the criteria by which he and his department deemed Toby Young to be a suitable candidate for the role, and which aspects of the job description he met.
 
Roberta further asked that he put in the public domain all the information related to the appointment process for all the board members, to clarify the criteria and processes used.
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Roberta writes to Universities Minister over Office for Students appointments

Like many people, Roberta has been concerned by the appointment of Toby Young to the board of the newly created Office for Students. Both his lack of experience in academia,...

On Tuesday this week, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, following my visit to the refugee camps earlier this month as part of a cross-party delegation organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the UNHCR

The debate was heavily oversubscribed, with many colleagues making powerful speeches calling on the government to do all it can to help the plight of the Rohingya people. 

I focussed on the situation in the camps, and on the humanitarian response by the Department for International Development, UK aid agencies and the international community. I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the amazing work done by British NGOs on the ground during this crisis, and I reiterated that the UK needs to do all it can to provide assistance to allow life in the camps to improve for the hundreds of thousands of residents, who at present are struggling to have even basic needs met.

As my visit brought home to me, both the scale of the camps, and the scale of need is vast. In the debate, I raised how the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has estimated that nearly 300,000 people need food security assistance, more than 400,000 people need health care and of the 453,000 Rohingya children requiring education in the camps, only around 40,000 are receiving any form of education. For as long as the Rohingyas are living in the camps, the UK and international community must ensure that international aid is providing for the everyday needs of the Rohingya, so that camp life can improve and that education at all levels is available.

In the longer-term, it is imperative that the issue of statelessness of the Rohingyas is addressed, as it was clear from my visit to the camps that resolving the issue of citizenship is essential to the future of the Rohingya.

I also raised the issue of the recent deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and urged the UK government to use its leverage to ensure that any refugee returns are safe, informed and voluntary. 

 

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Roberta speaks in Westminster Hall debate on the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh

On Tuesday this week, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, following my visit to the refugee camps earlier this month as part...


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Press Releases

Roberta has today called for the Government to rethink their plans around free school meals under Universal Credit, along with The Children's Society and other Labour MPs.

Currently, as Universal Credit is rolled out, all children who live in a household receiving this new benefit will receive a free school meal.

However, under current proposals set out in a consultation by the Department for Education, this will change when an earnings threshold of £7,400 will be introduced and will be for all new Universal Credit claimants come April 2018. This consultation runs until the 11th January 2018.

Yet, according to analysis of the proposals by The Children’s Society, these proposals will mean one million children living in poverty will miss out on the benefits of a free school meal and locally this will mean 7,032 in County Durham missing out. 

This figure is roughly the same as those children currently living in poverty who don’t receive a free school meal; showing that Universal Credit will do nothing to alleviate child poverty rates in the UK.

That’s why Labour have announced that in addition to providing Free School Meals to all primary school children, we would also ensure all secondary school children in families who are eligible for Universal Credit would receive a free school meal. 

Roberta has said: 

“Labour have always stood up for the benefits of free school meals on a child’s education and health and alleviating persistent child poverty levels in our society. 

“That is why the current proposals on the future of free school meals under Universal Credit are deeply concerning and show how this Government is out of touch with the importance to seriously address poverty levels across the country. 

“These changes will affect many families here in Durham, especially the poorest in our communities, and it is important the Government rethinks their approach. Ministers must hear the views of local people on this matter and how we should be alleviating poverty, not entrenching it.

The Department for Education’s consultation runs until 11th January 2018. It can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/eligibility-for-free-school-meals-and-the-early-years-pupil-premium-under-universal-credit 

Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, also said:

“Labour are committed to making Universal Credit works as it should. That is why a future Labour Government would ensure that in addition to providing Free School Meals to all primary school children, we would also ensure all secondary school children in families who are eligible for Universal Credit would receive a free school meal.  This would remove the cliff-edge in Universal Credit and help to lift more children out of poverty.”

Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, has said: 

“It should be a national scandal that children are going hungry at school, yet the Conservatives’ plans for Universal Credit could leave a million children living in poverty going without a meal in school.

“It cannot possibly be fair or justified that so many children should lose out, and be made to struggle through the school day without a hot meal, which, for many children in poverty, could be the only hot meal they get that day.

“I am proud to say that the next Labour Government will build on our pledge to make free school meals universal in primary schools, by ensuring that no child in secondary school who’s parents receive UC will go hungry. If this Conservative Government was really committed to doing the right thing, they would do the same.”

Roberta calls on local residents to defend Free School Meals in Universal Credit roll-out

Roberta has today called for the Government to rethink their plans around free school meals under Universal Credit, along with The Children's Society and other Labour MPs. Currently, as Universal Credit...

Roberta has this week commented on the proliferation of To Let boards across the city centre prior to the start of the fifth Lumiere festival.

 

A voluntary scheme for landlords was introduced in 2009, which limited each landlord to one board per street, however in January 2017 Durham County Council ran a consultation asking residents whether they would prefer to retain the voluntary code, or whether the local authority should apply to the Government to formally tighten the controls on To Let boards.

 

Lumiere is set to run from Thursday 16 November to Sunday 19 November 2017, and is expected to attract over 200,000 visitors to Durham City, with a series of light installations from artists across the world for people to explore.

 

Roberta said:

“While I am pleased that Durham County Council have consulted with residents on tighter regulations to curb the number of To Let boards in Durham, this has been an issue in Durham for some time, and having regularly raised this issue with the Council, and discussed steps that have been taken in comparable cities around the country, I had hoped that action would have been taken on this already.

As Lumiere is upon us and we are ready to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to Durham City, Durham should be doing everything it can to make the city attractive, and the preponderance of To Let boards throughout the city is not only unattractive, but sends the message that Durham is up for rent.

I will continue to press Durham County Council on the need to introduce stronger controls on To Let boards as soon as possible.”

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Atherton Street

 

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Mitchell Street

 

 

 

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Flass Street

 

Roberta challenges council on To Let boards

Roberta has this week commented on the proliferation of To Let boards across the city centre prior to the start of the fifth Lumiere festival.   A voluntary scheme for...

Roberta has raised concerns about the level of funding provided by the Government for schools in Durham. Local primary and secondary schools have budgets that are already stretched, and analysis of the Government’s proposed National Funding Formula has found that these will be put under further pressure.

 

Figures from the National Education Union show that 33 out of 41 schools and academies in the City of Durham constituency will receive a cut in funding over the period 2015/16 to 2018/19. Schools in Durham will have, on average, £193 less per pupil in their budgets. Under the Conservative led Governments, school spending per pupil was frozen in real terms from 2010/11 to 2015/16, and further frozen in cash terms from 2015/16 onwards – which represents the biggest fall in per pupil spending for 30 years.

 

On 14 September 2017, Roberta asked the Secretary of State for Education to guarantee that no school in Durham would face a real terms cut under the proposals. Despite the response that “there will be a minimum 0.5% cash increase per pupil for all schools in 2018/19, increasing to 1% by 2019/20”, the National Education Union’s figures point out that in realty, with inflation running at nearly 3%, this amounts to an annual cut in funding.

 

Roberta said:

 

“I know that many schools in my constituency are already struggling. Schools are experiencing larger class sizes, a reduction in activities, a decrease in the number of teachers and overall cuts to their budget.

 

It is completely unacceptable that the majority of schools will be facing budget cuts. I am really concerned about the impact that will have on teachers and school staff generally, but I am also really worried about the impact this could have on the education of our young people in Durham because they deserve a great start in life, and the best education possible. 

 

I am going to continue to press the Government and the Secretary of State for Education to reverse these cuts and give the schools in Durham the proper funding they need.”

Roberta concerned about cuts to schools in Durham

Roberta has raised concerns about the level of funding provided by the Government for schools in Durham. Local primary and secondary schools have budgets that are already stretched, and analysis...


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