Bob questions the Foreign Secretary on Ukraine

In the House of Commons yesterday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on the current situation in Ukraine.  During the statement, Bob asked him about the “calibrated but determined approach” towards Russian actions:

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will continue to receive widespread support in all parts of the House if he maintains the calibrated but determined approach that he has laid out in his statement. The trick is to make certain that the Russians realise the level of determination to resist their incursions into Ukraine, balanced by allowing them the time to think through the consequences of their actions—I am not at all sure that they have done so. Does he agree?

Mr Hague: Yes, I absolutely agree. Thinking through the long-term consequences has not necessarily happened, as I said to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). Part of our approach in what we are trying to do is to take certain measures that have an impact while making it clear that there are further and more serious measures that we are prepared to take. We are giving the time for that to sink in and for negotiations to take place such as those in Geneva 11 days ago. I hope and believe that we have the calibration right, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for it. (Hansard, 28 April 2014)


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Number of under-employed in Coventry increases

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of under-employed people in Coventry has increased year-on-year since the Tory-led Government came to office.

Workers are defined as under-employed if they are willing to work more hours, either by working in an additional job, working more hours in their current job, or switching to a replacement job. They must also be available to start working longer hours within two weeks, and their current weekly hours must be below 40 hours if they are aged between 16 and 18 and below 48 hours if they are aged over 18.

In a letter to Bob, Peter Fullerton – Director General of the ONS – confirmed that, according to Annual Population Survey datasets, the estimated number of under-employed people in Coventry increased from 13,100 in 2010 to 13,400 in 2011 and 13,600 in 2012 (the latest period for which figures are available).

The under-employment problem in Coventry highlights just how out of touch this Government is with the cost of living crisis facing the city’s hard working families, who are worried about whether they will be able to make ends meet and put food on the table for their children.  As wages are now down £1600 a year after inflation under David Cameron and tax and benefit changes since 2010 have left families worse off by an average of £891 this year.

Bob said:

“The Government’s cost of living crisis affecting people in Coventry is being perpetuated by an increase in under-employment.

“It is clear that under-employment is a growing problem for thousands of families in Coventry who are already feeling the squeeze from rising prices and falling wages. An estimated one in ten of those in work in Coventry are now unable to work the hours they would like.

“These figures show that this out of touch Government really needs to wake up from its complacency on living standards now.” 


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Coventry’s average ESA appeal waiting times above the national average

In 2012, the Tory-led Government committed to implement a number of measures to bring down the average waiting time for an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeal hearing in Coventry – which had increased significantly during their time in office from 14.3 weeks in 2009-10 to 55 weeks in 2012-13.

Whilst the average ESA appeal waiting time in Coventry appears to have decreased since 2012 – according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice – it is still well above the national and regional averages.

In response to a Parliamentary Questions asked by Bob, the Ministry of Justice revealed that the average length of time for the Tribunals Service to administer an ESA appeal in Coventry was as high as 30.8 weeks during the period January to September 2013 (the latest period for which figures are available).  This is well above the national average in England and Wales which stood as low as 18.8 weeks during the same period and 24.8 weeks in the West Midlands.

These figures reveal that those whose appeals were heard in Coventry were likely to wait as long as an extra 12 weeks for the disposal of their appeal when compared with the national average in England and Wales.

It was further revealed that average waiting times in Coventry have been persistently higher than the regional and national averages over the same period.

Moreover, the Ministry of Justice has issued statistics which show that the percentage of ESA appeals decided in favour of the appellant in the first three quarters of 2013 in Coventry stood at 45% (January to March), 48% (April to June) and 40% (July to September).  These figures clearly show that had the original decision to disallow a claimant’s ESA been made correctly in the first place, there would have been nearly half as many appeals in Coventry over the period.  This would have freed up capacity in the courts and ensured that appeals were heard in a timelier manner.

Bob said:

“These figures clearly demonstrate that appellants in Coventry are consistently waiting longer on average for their appeals to be heard than those in other areas of the country.  This undoubtedly disadvantages those in Coventry, many of whom are already in a vulnerable position, and adds additional stress and anxiety to what is already a difficult process.

“It is clear that the Government must take further steps to increase capacity across the Tribunals Service, as well as take action to increase the accuracy of initial decision making.  It is only by taking this affirmative action that waiting times in Coventry will start to fall further and faster and at the very least reach parity with the national average.”

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For millions of families there is no economic recovery at all.

Working people have suffered a massive fall in the value of real earnings since David Cameron became Prime Minister.

Prices are soaring, wages are falling and working people are on average £1,600 worse off. Yet David Cameron continues to demonstrate how out of touch he is with the struggles millions are facing.

So, at a time when the cost of gas, electricity and other household bills continues to rise, it is wrong for the Prime Minister to turn the cheek and pretend this cost of living crisis isn’t happening.

Labour will tackle the cost of living crisis that working people in Coventry face.  We will build more homes and boost apprenticeships.  We will cut business rates and expand childcare to make sure work always pays.

The Cost of Cameron’s policies is too high and its hard-working people that are footing the bill. This can’t go on. We need to change our economy and ensure that living standards rise for the many, not just a few at the top.

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Childcare crunch at the heart of Cameron’s cost of living crisis

David Cameron says the economy is healing but for many, things are getting worse not better, as prices continue to rise faster than wages and people struggle to make ends meet.

For working mums and dads, childcare is a major part of the problem, but concerns about rising costs – up 30% under Cameron, five times faster than wages – reduced support and fewer places are falling on deaf ears.

David Cameron is ignoring the plight of hard pressed families while he’s cutting taxes for millionaires and that sends a very strong signal about whose side he is on.

Childcare will be a key front in One Nation Labour’s battle to tackle the cost of living crisis. We know mums and dads, who are already struggling to cope with rising bills and stagnant wages, really need bold policies to make a difference to their lives.

Labour’s Primary Childcare Guarantee will give all parents of primary school children the guarantee of childcare availability through their school from 8am-6pm. By extending the free childcare offer from 15 to 25 hours, Labour will make working parents of three and four year olds over £1500 better off. And we won’t forget Sure Start centres, which David Cameron promised to back when he asked for people’s votes, before breaking his promise in Number 10. Under him there are 578 fewer Sure Start centres than there were in 2010.

Britain cannot ignore the childcare crisis parents face.

David Cameron says the economy is back on track – but for millions of people things are getting harder, not easier. A real recovery is one where everybody benefits, not just a privileged few at the top.

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David Cameron has left the NHS unprepared for this winter and hospitals across the country are struggling to cope. There are fewer nurses, fewer beds and a shortage of A&E doctors as NHS staff face a looming A&E crisis this winter. It just goes to show that you can’t trust David Cameron with the NHS.

This is an A&E crisis that started on this Government’s watch. Labour saved the NHS – when we left office A&E was doing well with 98% of patients seen within four hours. But David Cameron has made it harder to get a GP appointment, closed NHS Walk-in Centres and scrapped NHS Direct leaving people with no alternative but to go to A&E.

But there is a deeper cause of the A&E crisis. David Cameron’s cuts to social care budgets mean fewer older people are getting the help they need to stay healthy and independent in their own homes.

I’ve spoken to several older people in Coventry and they’ve told me how they want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. £1.8bn has been cut from adult social care budgets since 2009/10 and this means that elderly people are not getting the care they need at home or in the community, leading to increased demand for emergency care when problems occur.

We need to ensure that our NHS is protected but David Cameron is taking it backwards. It’s people in Coventry who are paying the price.

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Bob Ainsworth speech on New Clause 3 during debate on Defence Reform Bill

Mr Ainsworth: I offer profound congratulations to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), not just for the concession he has achieved today but for the formidable way he has pursued this issue over the years. He harassed me when I was in office—I perhaps remember that with a fondness I never felt at the time—and has continued to harass his own Government and the defence establishment on the issue of the Reserves and the role they can play in the country’s defence. No matter who wants to claim credit for some of the changes now being brought about, he can feel real satisfaction at something very few Back Benchers can say they have been able to do: profoundly to change a significant area of Government policy. He has most certainly done that through his work on the Reserves over the years.

I totally support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 1 and am enormously pleased that the Secretary of State has accepted it. I also support new clause 3, and I have to say that I believe the Secretary of State is being a little heavy-handed in suggesting that to support it is somehow to sabotage the direction of the Army or to play politics with the defence of the realm. I say that as a former Secretary of State who had to put up with allegations by the then loyal Opposition that I had deliberately delayed life-saving vehicles getting to our troops in Afghanistan. It is enormously important—particularly in the field of defence, where there is such a degree of cross-party support—that the Government’s own defence of their policies is somewhat measured, but I am not at all sure it has been in this regard. We can all read: we can see what new clause 3 says and does not say. As I say, my respect for the hon. Member for Canterbury is about as high as an Opposition Member’s can be for a Government Member, and I have not heard from him, or from anybody else here today, anything to suggest that the new clause does all the terrible things it is said to bring about.

New clause 3 calls for a report within a particular time frame after the Bill has been enacted, and a pause if Parliament does not accept it. It does no more than that. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) may have an agenda that is not mine—I do not know—because I support the general direction of policy in this area wholeheartedly. This development could, potentially, bring about huge improvements in capability. I see nothing to justify the counter-argument that is being made.

Mr Brazier: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous treatment of me, as leader of the all-party group for the Reserve forces and cadets, which made the campaigning possible. The effect of this would be to send a message to those Regular officers, many of them serving, who have rubbished this proposal for the past year and a half to the press off the record—they are a minority within the Regular Army but a significant one, some of whom the right hon. Gentleman will know—that if this can be kept down for just a little bit longer, they may get some Regular manpower back instead.

Mr Ainsworth: The effect can and should be that this House is enormously interested in the development of the Reserves and wants to see their capability properly developed and scrutinised—and no more than that. That should be the message, and I do not think there is anybody in the House who is responsible for another message that I know of, other than the defence being offered by Government Front Benchers in the overreaction, as I see it, to new clause 3.

Martin Horwood: I am very grateful to the former Minister for giving way—[Hon. Members: “Secretary of State.”] Former Secretary of State; I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon. He obviously has great knowledge of these issues, but on one he is quite wrong. He says that new clause 3 calls only for a report, but it does not. It is quite explicit: it calls for “Further implementation of the plans” to be “halted”. Why does the Labour party appear to be supporting the interruption of access to better pension provision and explicitly interrupting access to paid leave for training? Surely, that is not what he intends.

Mr Ainsworth: The new clause calls for a pause in certain circumstances, if the House has not been persuaded. To me, it gives time scales that are perfectly achievable, so I reject what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Let us be clear: we are not talking about any conflict or preference for Reserves or Regulars; we are talking about numbers, competency and capability for the defence of the realm. What we need to be assured of—but which this House, largely, is not confident we have—is that the Government’s plans will provide us with the necessary numbers, competency and capability. That is what the pause is about. It is not a throwing away of the plan: it is a pause.

Mr Ainsworth: The growth of the Reserve element in all the services has huge potential benefits, such as a connection with the population at large that the small Regular armed forces that we inevitably have today and will have tomorrow can never achieve on its own. Equally, as other Members have said, it brings skills into the armed forces that cannot be kept up to date within the Regulars themselves. So there are those potential improvements.

Government Members have talked about a potential gap of three years, but it is not just a question of that: I am worried about the potential ongoing downgrading of capability if we do not get this right. In order to get into the Reserves the calibre of people that will be absolutely necessary for the kind of operations we have unfortunately had to carry out in recent years, and will undoubtedly have to carry out in future, the skills required by every rank must not only remain at their current level, but must improve. That is for the obvious and simple reason, which everybody knows, that the huge reputational damage to such operations, to our armed forces and to our nation, of errors in such operations can be profound. We must therefore ensure, given the cut-backs that are inevitably taking place, that we maintain within the Regulars the quality of not only the original recruits but of the training given to them, in order to lift capability. We are blessed with armed forces with a capability level that, in some ways, is higher than that in any other nation on earth, in my opinion, but it will need to be higher still.

Mr Ellwood: I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman and the experience he gained as Secretary of State, but I genuinely worry that he is fighting the last war. The conduct of warfare has changed. I hope he would agree that we will not be doing “boots on the ground” in the manner in which we have done so badly in Afghanistan and Iraq. The size of armed forces concertinas—it has done so over the past 400 years. I hope he would agree that withdrawal from Afghanistan will have a huge impact on the size of the standing Army, both Regular and Territorial, and batting for the old numbers that we had five years ago is out of touch.

Mr Ainsworth: I totally accept that. I like to study history and I know that after conflicts, the services—generally the Army more than the other services, but those, too—have generally been decimated in times of peace, only to have to be regenerated in times of danger thereafter. So I am not trying to fight the last war. I am saying that as we struggle with these enormous economic challenges and the cuts that are almost inevitable, we have to do everything we can to maintain the quality of our personnel. That applies to the Regular forces as it applies to the Reserves. Even at a time of downsizing, we can surely do that—we have to try to do it because of the reputational damage that inevitably flows from our failure to do so. There is nothing “yesterday” or “last war” about that approach; this is about the kind of operations we could be involved in tomorrow, of whatever scale, and the need for quality personnel.

New clause 3 calls for a level of scrutiny that is wholly justified by the importance of the decisions, and the changes of direction and structure, that we are implementing and that the hon. Member for Canterbury has fought for so valiantly and successfully for so long. That is why I support it, even if he does not.

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