Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bob questions the Defence Secretary on the deployment to Mali

In the House of Commons yesterday, the Defence Secretary answered an Urgent Question on the deployment to Mali. During the Defence Secretary’s statement, Bob sought clarification on the proposed personnel numbers and timescales involved in the deployment:  

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): Our commitment to Mali and the region has grown considerably over the past few days. Notwithstanding the relatively positive news that is coming from the country, no one really believes that the security issues will be addressed in the short term. How long does the right hon. Gentleman envisage the deployments that he is confirming today are likely to be? The relatively small numbers that he is reporting to the House need to be supported by far larger numbers if such an operation is to be sustained. How many people overall will be necessary to sustain the commitment over time?

Mr Hammond: I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s last point. The numbers that we have outlined are the numbers that we envisage sustaining the Sentinel aircraft based in Dakar, Senegal—about 70 people. That is the requirement to sustain the aircraft there. We have about 20 people on the ground in Bamako. The C-17 we envisage staying for up to three months. We have not set a time limit for the surveillance capability; it will stay for as long as we can provide it without impact on other operations and as long as it is useful. The training mission has not yet been defined, so it would be premature for me to talk about a time scale, but it clearly will be a finite time scale in preparing the African Anglophone nations’ forces for deployment to Mali. (Hansard, 29 January 2013)

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Labour supports reforming the assessment and qualification system across 14 – 19 education but the latest Tory-led Government proposals risk turning the clock back.

The announcement last week on changes to A-levels in England – including scrapping the AS Level – risk narrowing the options for young people and returning to an all or nothing set of exams at the end of the course. It’s no wonder leading universities like Oxford and Cambridge say this is a mistake.

We need to have more high quality options available to all our 16 year olds, including all young people studying English and Maths to 18. Labour’s plan is for an education system that equips young people with the skills, knowledge, resilience and character that they need to play their part both as active citizens and as future business leaders and entrepreneurs.

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David Cameron is standing up for his party’s interest, not the national interest

I am clear, like many of the people I speak to in my constituency, that the priority now must be jobs and growth. People are worried about their jobs and our high streets are in crisis. Our economy is stagnating and unemployment is too high.

That’s why I am so concerned that because the Prime Minister is too weak to control his own party on Europe, he risks creating years of economic uncertainty that will put investment and jobs at risk – just at the time when we need them most.

I am clear that the EU needs to change and work better for people here in Britain.

But the real tragedy of the speech David Cameron gave yesterday on Europe is that David Cameron’s Party won’t let him address the need for change in the EU in a sensible and pragmatic way.

David Cameron says he wants to be in the EU but for many in his Party, getting David Cameron to commit now to an in/out referendum is not about consent, but about exit.

Sadly it seems we have a British Prime Minister sleepwalking towards exit, knowing he is letting down the national interest, but too weak to do anything about it.

Labour’s approach is that to get the best deal for Britain we need to be round the table with our allies in Europe, not shouting from the sidelines with one foot already out of the door.

It simply doesn’t make sense to leave the largest trading bloc in the world and give up the ability to influence the rules of the market where almost half of all UK exports end up.

Business leaders from across the country are clear that leaving the EU would be bad for jobs and bad for our economy.  It will scare off investment and the companies that bring jobs here at the very time we need them most.

European unity is not – and must not – be about never ending union towards common federal government or the merging of national identities into a United States of Europe.

Instead, Labour’s vision of Europe is a flexible Europe with a common political framework that can permanently accommodate varying levels of integration amongst Member States.

There is so much that we can do to make Europe work for us – from tackling cross-border crime, through the European Arrest Warrant, the legislation for which I introduced whilst a Home Office Minister, and making sure that murderers and paedophiles who have committed crimes in the UK don’t escape justice for technical reasons of being outside the country.

But Labour are clear Europe needs to change – and that is why we are calling for reforms that will help make the EU more focused on promoting jobs and growth – like reducing and reforming the EU Budget and having a European Commissioner with sole responsibility for promoting Growth in the EU.

So as Labour, we will make the hard headed, patriotic case, founded on the national interest, both for Britain in Europe, and for change in Europe.

When there is so much for us to do to get Britain back on its feet again, allowing ourselves to be pushed away from our main tasks at hand would be taking a reckless gamble with our country’s future.

Clearly David Cameron is a Prime Minister imprisoned by party interest, so it falls to Labour to stand up for the national interest.

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The lack of decent, affordable housing in Coventry is a huge issue and local families will be dismayed that this current Tory-led Government has cut the budget for building new affordable homes by 60 per cent.

This lack of housing has led to a massive increase in the number of people who rent their homes privately, including more than one million families with children. Unfortunately this has also led to a rise in problems associated with renting.

I have had many constituents contact me about the condition of the properties they are living in. Many of them have severe damp issues, electrical problems and broken heating systems which take weeks, if not months, to get fixed because of rogue landlords.

Whilst there are many responsible landlords and rental agencies operating in the private rented sector, there are also too many rogue landlords and agencies who are charging rip-off fees for sub-standard housing and hard-working people in Coventry are being let down and ripped off.

A tenant looking to rent a new home faces a wave of confusing and often hidden fees for administration, credit reference checks, tenancy renewals and for checking in and out of the property. This lack of transparency makes it hard for people to shop around with average fees estimated at £226 per tenant and £76m per year across the whole private rental sector.

Whilst estate agents can be banned for bad practice, lettings agents are not subject to the same stringent complaints and redress procedures. We cannot have two nations divided between those who own their homes and those who rent which is why Labour is determined to find a One Nation solution to the problems associated with renting.

We would introduce a national register of landlords and grant local authorities greater powers to root out and strike off rogue landlords. This would make it easier for local authorities to tackle rogue landlords and to strike off those found to have broken the rules. We would also provide a system for people to get redress when a lettings agent has ripped them off, just like we have for estate agents. 

And we would end the confusing and inconsistent fees and charges regime, making fees easily understandable, upfront and comparable across agents.

These policies could make a real difference to people in Coventry who feel trapped and exploited at having to rent their homes from rogue landlords and unscrupulous agencies. We have an opportunity to take action and we mustn’t risk letting this chance slip by.

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Bob questions the PM about the despicable terrorist attack in Algeria

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Prime Minister is right to use this tragedy to make people aware of the growing threat from the region. He is also right to say that the best response is a regional-led response, but do we have the capacity to have a proper input across the range in this area? The Foreign Office’s headline cuts were a lot bigger once the responsibilities for the BBC had been transferred. We need a diplomatic, political, security and developmental response to this kind of situation if the threat is to be removed, which can only happen over time.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman asks a central question. I would say yes, there is the capacity, for two good reasons. First, I believe we are more effectively co-ordinating what we have. The National Security Council means that we have the Development Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, with their budgets, sitting round the table, which makes it more possible to use that money—including through the conflict pool—to come to terms with the challenges we face. Secondly, we have taken some difficult decisions on defence, but as a result we have reduced the amount of unfunded commitments and our budget is now, as it were, in balance for the future. We can afford the very important capabilities that include heavy lift—vital for the sorts of things we are doing with the French—air-to-air refuelling and those sorts of capacities, which will be so important for the future. (Hansard, 21 January 2013)

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