In the Chamber

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On the 24th February 2017, I spoke in the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill debate.

I would firstly like to congratulate Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, on making such progress with this important and very necessary Bill. As Dr Whiteford stated: “Women may have secured equality before the law—de jure equality—but we are nowhere near achieving de facto equality, or equality in practice.”

The Istanbul Convention can provide a clear legal framework on women’s rights for other countries to adopt and therefore is vital in tackling violence against women and girls. The Bill also includes provisions for men, trans and non-binary people regardless of any other characteristic. I am proud of the then Labour Government for playing a significant role in the drafting of the Convention, which began in 2008.

Today, women still face a significant amount of inequality, with one in four women experiencing some form of domestic, sexual or psychological abuse during their lifetime and domestic abuse remains at endemic levels in the UK, with 20% of children in the UK have being exposed to domestic abuse.

I believe by ratifying this convention, it is a vital step forward in preventing and combating gender-based violence.

Finally, I want to pay special attention to all the brave woman who have faced any form of violence who shared their stories and experiences.

Roberta speaks up for women in the Istanbul Convention Debate

  On the 24th February 2017, I spoke in the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill debate. I would firstly like to congratulate... Read more

 

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During Justice Questions, Roberta stated that a recent inspection report showed that there is an increase in the number of prisoners who feel unsafe in HMP Durham. Calling attention to the fact that the number of staff working at the prison has gone down in recent years, she explained that 60% of prisoners now feel unsafe, compared with 37% in 2013.

She challenged Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, on this issue of cuts to prison staff, asking what she is planning to do to improve prisoner safety without delay. 

To see Roberta’s question in full, as well as the Secretary of State’s reply, you can find the video here.

Roberta asks the Secretary of State for Justice about improving Prisoner Safety

  During Justice Questions, Roberta stated that a recent inspection report showed that there is an increase in the number of prisoners who feel unsafe in HMP Durham. Calling attention...

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Roberta questioned the Minister for Prisons on the issue of low morale amongst prison officers in the face of staff cuts, pointing out that prisons in her constituency had faced a serious fall in staff numbers.

Roberta asked the Minister what plans he has to make pay reflect the vital and dangerous work prison officers do and you can watch their exchange here.

 

 

Roberta questions Government on plans to improve prison officer pay

Roberta questioned the Minister for Prisons on the issue of low morale amongst prison officers in the face of staff cuts, pointing out that prisons in her constituency had faced...

Today Roberta spoke in Labour's Opposition Day debate on prisons. This is an area that Roberta takes a great deal of interest in as there are 3 prisons in her constituency with a total population of over 2,000 prisoners and a significant number of staff.

Roberta focussed on the impact that the Government's cuts are having on prisoner and staff health and wellbeing- particularly the significant fall in the number of prison officers since 2010. 

In her speech Roberta pointed to the need to tackle recidivism and the role that education and skills can play in that. Roberta also highlighted the importance of having a specific strategy for women prisoners and the impact that custodial sentences can have on families.

You can watch Roberta's contribution above or read it at https://hansard.parliament.uk/search/MemberContributions?memberId=1501&type=Spoken

 

 

Roberta speaks out in prisons debate

Today Roberta spoke in Labour's Opposition Day debate on prisons. This is an area that Roberta takes a great deal of interest in as there are 3 prisons in her constituency with a...

Roberta hands in Waspi petition to Parliament

Read more

Last week Roberta spoke in a debate in the Chamber on Online Abuse and how important it is that we clarify the law surrounding this issue so that victims can have justice and police officers can do their jobs. This is an area that Roberta feels extremely passionately about and she is actively involved in the “Reclaim the Internet” campaign, launched last year by Yvette Cooper MP.

In her speech, Roberta highlighted in particular the abuse that women face online and, whilst online abuse does affect everyone, statistics do indicate that women seem to be the recipients of particular vitriol.

Roberta also took the opportunity to praise the Chief Constable of Durham Police, Mike Barton, who has been at the forefront of calls for legislation to be updated and clarified to minimise the amount of time lost by police on cases where they have no chance of a prosecution.

 

If you would like to read Roberta’s full speech you can do so here:

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-07-07/debates/16070729000001/OnlineAbuse#contribution-16070729000071

Or alternatively, you can watch the video below.

 

 

Roberta stands up for victims of online abuse

Last week Roberta spoke in a debate in the Chamber on Online Abuse and how important it is that we clarify the law surrounding this issue so that victims can...

On Thursday, Roberta spoke in a debate on proposals to privatise the Land Registry.

Roberta raises concerns about privatisation of the Land Registry

On Thursday, Roberta spoke in a debate on proposals to privatise the Land Registry. Read more

Below is the transcript from Roberta's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate 2016. Roberta took part in the debate on the topics of Education, Skills and Training.

As ever, Roberta is happy to hear her constituents views, so please do not hesitate to get in touch through the normal channels if you have any thoughts, concerns or queries on this issue.

 

While measures to improve the national citizenship scheme, to support donations to charities, to provide the right to broadband and to protect cultural property are welcome and laudable, the measures in the Queen’s Speech fail as a whole to address the huge challenges that the country faces. These include the huge problems of underfunding and marketisation caused by the top-down restructuring of the NHS. There is nothing to deal with the chronic shortage of doctors and nurses—never mind the investment in social care that is needed properly to protect and look after older people with the dignity they desire.

On education, there is nothing to address the chronic teacher shortages, the shortage of school places and the need for capital investment to create the 21st century schools that our constituents need. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said from the Front Bench, this is a Queen’s Speech with emptiness at its core. Some measures that are in it are deeply worrying, and I shall concentrate on two specific issues.

First, I have to say I am really disappointed by the higher education Bill. The measures in it could see fees climb even higher, saddling young people who want to go to university with even more debt. Some students are already coming out of university with £40,000 to £50,000 of debt—where will this end?

On the teaching excellence framework, we support a focus on teaching quality. However, if this is simply a framework with parameters already set to enable the removing of the fees cap, it is not something we should support. I say yes to the focus on quality in teaching, providing the metrics are right and the risks of doing so are properly managed, but why is there the link to higher fees? As I said, we need to be very careful about what we are doing because of its impact on the reputation of higher education. We are therefore concerned about the deregulation of the establishment of new universities and the lack of safeguards, which could undermine the excellence of our HE institutions.

I hope that the Minister recognises that this is not because we are against the expansion of higher education. I am very much in support of it and I would like to see more of our young people going to universities. However, we are simply not sure that the Government are going about expansion in the right way. We are not the only ones to have concerns about that. As million+ has said:

“Competition can undoubtedly promote innovation but lowering standards to help new, inexperienced or small, single-degree providers with no interest in being research active, to gain degree awarding powers and university title is not opening the market but lowering the bar”.

It emphasises the huge risk of the marketisation approach, and points out that UK universities trade globally on the basis of a national quality assurance system, high student satisfaction rates and high quality teaching and research. It states:

“The assumption that institutions with UK university title or degree-awarding powers should be allowed to fail and exit the market is potentially at variance with the Government’s ambitions to promote UK higher education internationally”.

We share that set of concerns, and Universities UK argued along the same lines in its briefing to Members. We will need to hear a lot more from the Minister when we reach this Bill’s Second Reading about what safeguards will be in place.

The Minister said quite a lot today about improving participation in our universities and increasing social mobility. However, a briefing from the Open University has pointed out that the Prime Minister’s target to increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university is likely to fail because the number of part-time disadvantaged students entering part-time HE is falling, not increasing. Part-time HE is often the most common way for people from disadvantaged backgrounds or places to enter universities. The Open University also pointed to the lack of clear opportunities for lifelong learning—another issue that the Minister will need to address. I am astounded that there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to tackle the reduction in the number of part-time students, to promote lifelong learning or to promote upskilling and reskilling opportunities for adult learners. What we know is the budget for that has been massively cut by £335 million. One can only hope that the White Paper we are expecting in June or the autumn will address some of these issues.

Moving on, I want to comment briefly on the NHS measures. We know that the Government are ploughing ahead with the seven-day care objective, but I think they are refusing to accept reality of what is happening in the NHS. Patients are waiting longer and therefore suffering longer. Waits are increasing and it is getting much harder to see a GP. Instead of providing measures to tackle this and the crisis in social care, we get more cuts to older people’s services. We also know of record visits to A&E, mainly because of the breakdown of services elsewhere, and £22 billion-worth of efficiency savings are not going to help. Over the last five years, my own local authority of Durham has had to make £43 million-worth of cuts to adult care, and is going to have to make a further £25 million over the next couple of years. I really want to hear from the Government what they are going to do to tackle this crisis in social care.

Lastly, I want to say a brief word about the northern powerhouse, which Ministers and, indeed, some sections of the media talk about as if it were a reality. Mine is one of the constituencies that should be benefiting from it, but I see absolutely no reality. The devolution deal brings with it very little money to promote the economy and skills development in the north-east. It would be great to know what the northern powerhouse is actually delivering, but, at present, I see nothing at all.

 

 

Roberta's response to the Queen's Speech 2016

Below is the transcript from Roberta's contribution to the Queen's Speech debate 2016. Roberta took part in the debate on the topics of Education, Skills and Training. As ever, Roberta is...

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...

Over the past few weeks many of you have been in touch regarding a variety of issues, but one thing stood out, and that was how concerned so many of you are about the proposed move from student grants to student loans.

Grants Not Loans

Over the past few weeks many of you have been in touch regarding a variety of issues, but one thing stood out, and that was how concerned so many of... Read more

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