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On Wednesday night, 245 Labour MPs including myself, with the support of the other opposition parties and 11 Tory rebels, passed an amendment to the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. 

The amendment was to enshrine in law the right for Parliament to vote on the final agreement with the EU before it is signed.  Clearly there is no point in having a vote after the agreement is signed.  And actually there is no point in having a “take-it-or-leave-it” vote either – Parliament needs to know that it can, if necessary, alter the agreement in time for that to be agreed with the EU.  The Government intends to bring the agreement before Parliament in October 2018, so that should leave ample time for any last-minute tweaks that Parliament votes for to be cleared with the EU negotiators before April 2019.

 

 

Giving Parliament the final word forces the Prime Minister to listen carefully to what Parliament is saying before we ever get to the vote.  At all stages during the negotiations she needs to know that whatever she agrees with Michel Barnier needs to be acceptable to the majority of the Members of Parliament as well.  If we did not have that safeguard, the very real danger is that the only voices she would be listening to would be those of her own Party – not just David Davis and Boris Johnson but also extreme Tory backbenchers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries. 

Next week we will have our last chance to make any further changes to the Withdrawal Bill.

This Bill is not about whether Britain leaves the EU – that issue was settled by the referendum result and the Article 50 Bill. Labour MPs, including myself, respect the referendum result and recognise that Britain is leaving the EU.  This Bill is abouthow we leave the EU, what role Parliament has and how we safeguard our rights. That doesn’t mean that I think the referendum decision was the right decision, but I am passionate about supporting democracy and I think it would be a disaster for the trust that voters place in their elected representatives if we chose to ignore the result.  Opposition MPs fight to get the best for our constituents in the House of Commons, but we have to respect the decision of voters in towns like Colchester and Lowestoft to vote for Conservative MPs which has resulted in a Conservative Government. You only have to look at countries like Turkey and Egypt to see what happens when politicians ignore the result of elections. So we will be leaving the European Union in 2019, much as I might have wished it otherwise.

That doesn’t mean we will just lie back and let Theresa May make all the decisions.  Labour is fighting for a Brexit deal that does the very best to protect jobs, the economy, the rights of British people at work and in their daily lives, and the protection of our environment. Conservative MPs have voted down Labour’s amendments to protect workers’ rights, to safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, to put a workable 2-year transitional period into law, to protect the devolution settlement with Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. We lost the votes on these points, but we won the arguments, and Theresa May has quietly changed her position to reflect many of the arguments we have made, in particular allowing a Committee of Parliament to scrutinise the delegated powers that are coming back to the Government from EU law.

Next Wednesday, on the final day for debate on amendments, we will be opposing the Government’s amendment to their own Bill to fix the date and time of withdrawal. Why would anyone want to tie their own hands when it comes to a complex and difficult negotiation?  If the Government finds that they need an additional week in order to agree the best possible deal for our withdrawal, it would be absurd for us to automatically withdraw at 11pm on 29 March 2019 without achieving that best possible deal.

The debates we have had in Parliament over the EU Withdrawal Bill come down to where you think power should lie – should we expect and allow Parliament to be in control of decisions, or should all the power rest with a single person?  We tested that question with a bloody civil war between 1642 and 1651. 

This time round we are testing it by democracy – I know which I prefer.

Sandy Martin: Why I voted to amend EU Withdrawal Bill

On Wednesday night, 245 Labour MPs including myself, with the support of the other opposition parties and 11 Tory rebels, passed an amendment to the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.  The...

As I write these words on Sunday, thick snow is falling on Ipswich, writes Labour Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.

At times like this our thoughts inevitably turn to people who are homeless.

On top of the provision the council has in place all year round, we also open up a number of extra beds for people who are sleeping rough when the temperature drops. These beds have been in place since Thursday.

 

I am often asked whether there is provision for people who have dogs and can confirm that the council’s emergency accommodation does have kennels.

We also have the fantastic work of the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter, run by  volunteers from our churches, which will be open until March and other schemes such as the new bus shelter project.

So there should be plenty of beds available to ensure no one has to sleep out but, if you see someone you are concerned about, please report it at www.streetlink.org.uk.

Homelessness and roughsleeping isn’t just a problem in winter though. It is happening all year round, it is increasing and it is a nationwide problem.

Demand is growing due to a whole raft of Government cuts: cuts to benefits; an increasingly harsh benefits sanctions regime which can leave people without any money for months; cuts to drug treatment; cuts to mental health services; cuts to supported housing; cuts to domestic violence services; cuts to charities and voluntary groups.

Together, they have caused a surge which has overwhelmed the existing provision.

Ipswich Borough Council is planning to dramatically increase its spending on homelessness as a result. A fortnight ago we agreed to increase spending on homelessness prevention by over £300,000 a year.

Tomorrow we will agree to purchase a property to provide temporary accomodation for up to 40 more families and single people. The purchase, fit out and operating costs of this will come to well over £2million.

As you can imagine, when faced with Government cuts of £12million ourselves, finding the money for this is not easy.

But unless the Government addresses the root causes – its own policies – even this isn’t realistically going to end the problem of rough sleeping on Ipswich’s streets.

Tory policies are adding to homelessness, but in Ipswich we're doing what we can

As I write these words on Sunday, thick snow is falling on Ipswich, writes Labour Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere. At times like this our thoughts inevitably turn to people...

Last week we heard the wonderful news that Suffolk New College had been assessed as “Good” in all of its categories by Ofsted, reports Ipswich MP, Sandy Martin.

The Principal and staff – and of course the students themselves - have worked hard to deal with the issues that had led to the College being assessed as “Requires Improvement” last time. To get a “Good Overall” assessment was a real boost for the College, but to get “Good” in every single category was truly impressive. 

I am delighted to represent a town where parents can be sure that, if their children want to pursue one of the courses that are on offer at Suffolk New College, they will get a good education.

 

During the course of the coming year I am confidently expecting that the results at Ipswich Academy will show a similarly impressive improvement.  Already the “can-do” ethos of the staff and pupils there is beginning to transform the school into one where all pupils can flourish, whatever their prior attainment, and where there is space for individual excellence too.

Young people are eager to learn, both in academic subjects and in vocational subjects, and I am convinced that with the right education our young people will have at least as good prospects as anywhere else in England.  But we still have some way to go.  The percentage of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) in Suffolk is still stubbornly higher than the rest of the UK and has risen since last year.  The number of pupils achieving A-C* in English and Maths GCSEs is still below the national average, and this is particularly so with sponsored Academies.

So it was not a great surprise to discover that Ipswich has a problem with social mobility and that the key reason for that is the performance gap in our schools.  We have some excellent schools in Ipswich, and even in those schools where the results are not quite so good the Head Teachers and staff are making enormous strides in order to give their pupils the best possible education.  But there is a serious problem when it comes to the money available, and that makes a real difference to the quality of education that can be provided.

The average school in Ipswich – both primary and secondary – gets about £1,000 less per pupil per year than the average pupil in London – that’s £3,934 for primary school children in Ipswich as opposed to £4,825 in London; and £5,107 for secondary pupils in Ipswich as opposed to £6,285 per pupil in London.  And that’s not the whole story.  There is some variation between schools in Ipswich in funding per pupil, but the biggest problem for schools is when they are not full.  If a school only has three quarters of its places taken up then it does not get any funding for the places that are vacant.  The Head Teacher and governors have to decide how to meet the shortfall in funding, and that usually means not employing as many staff as they would like.  If we really want to boost the less well-performing schools in Ipswich they need to be given enough funding to recruit all the staff they need. 

And it’s not just schools that need proper funding.  We need our children to start to learn at an earlier age.  Nurseries and Sure Start Centres have already had a huge effect on children that are just now coming up to their GCSEs and I am sure that some of the improvement in results will be down to fewer children being “left behind” right at the start of their lives.  So we should be increasing the number of places available, improving the number of hours available, and making sure that places for toddlers are being taken up by the families that need them the most.  All of that takes money, and I am deeply worried that the changes the government has put forward for nursery and pre-school places are not properly funded and are already leading to nurseries being closed.

To those who say “you can’t solve the problem just by throwing money at it” my response is “Look at what happened in London”.  For decades Hackney was a byword for poor educational results – but it isn’t now!  The last Labour government took the very sensible view that those areas with the lowest levels of educational attainment need the most support in order to improve. It worked in London.  It’s time to put it into practice in Ipswich.

Sandy congratulates Suffolk New College on "Good" Ofsted rating

Last week we heard the wonderful news that Suffolk New College had been assessed as “Good” in all of its categories by Ofsted, reports Ipswich MP, Sandy Martin. The Principal...

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