Parliamentary and constituency report, June 2012
Posted by Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, at 17:09, Mon 25 June 2012:
Disability issues debated in Parliament – Remploy workers
I regularly raise disability issues in Parliament, and last week the Opposition called a major debate in the House of Commons on disability issues. I know that many people are concerned about the operation of Work Capability Assessments and the way that they will be assessed for the new Personal Independence Payment which is to replace Disability Living Allowance. I have questioned Ministers about this and raised it in Parliamentary debates a number of times.
Last week I also spoke out on the future of Remploy factories for disabled workers. Many of the factories are facing closure as early as the autumn, including the one in Edinburgh at South Gyle. I highlighted the fact that in the current climate it could be very difficult for many to find alternative work. You can read more about this issue at http://bit.ly/LeZeLe.
Rights at work under threat – the Beecroft report
I made it plain in Parliament that I was very strongly opposed to proposals to make it easier to fire employees which were made in a report commissioned by the UK Government. You can read what I said at http://bit.ly/MBpPMm.
The report aroused a storm of opposition and it was clear that many businesses were opposed to so-called no-fault dismissal as well. Making employees more insecure about their jobs would only make consumers even more cautious about spending – hardly good news for retailers.
I know from small businesses locally that they are far more concerned about the difficulty they find in getting finance than how easy it is to fire employees and many would be only too glad to be in a position to take on new staff rather than cut their workforce. I raised the issue of finance for small businesses in Parliament as well - you can read what I said at http://bit.ly/Mz6YWo
Food crisis in West Africa
Over the last six months I have been trying to raise awareness of the food crisis in West Africa in countries bordering the Sahara. Conflict in the region has made the situation even more severe as government and aid agencies often find it difficult to get access.
Now they are further threatened by swarms of locusts – these would normally have been dealt with by experts in Libya before flying south but the fighting there left the teams and equipment to do so severely depleted.
I sounded a warning bell in Parliament once again recently and stressed that we have to act fast to prevent a repetition of last year’s crisis in the Horn of Africa. You can read what I said at http://bit.ly/KPcrXU.
In the longer term we need to break the cycle of food crises in different parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and sustainable development is central to that. That might mean for instance growing a greater diversity of crops so that soils are not eroded by monoculture or improving access to electricity by mean of solar power.
I know from letters and emails that this is an issue that many of you care deeply about and you can be sure that I will be pursuing it in the future.
Ship to ship oil transfer regulations – success at last
Some of you might remember that at the end of 2007 I introduced a ‘Private Members’ Bill’ into the House of Commons to introduce tougher safety measures for oil transfers at sea, after there was a proposal for them to take place in the Firth of Forth.
I withdrew my Bill after the last Government agreed to act on the issue, and following a public consultation introduced new regulations. However, before they could come into force the new UK Coalition decided to delay their implementation for even more consultation.
I am glad to say that the new regulations have now finally passed through Parliament, even if in a slightly watered down form. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has graphically illustrated that although the chances of an accident may seem slight the consequences if one does occur can be devastating, so I think the new rules were was worth fighting for - you can read more on this at http://bit.ly/KIUcRz.
Sustainable development and the green economy
I am a member of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee which examines how policies across Government contribute to protecting the environment and promote sustainable development
At present the Committee is carrying out three inquiries on sustainable food, wildlife crime and protecting the Arctic. You can find out more on each of these at http://bit.ly/MnUNw6.
At the end of May, the Committee published a major report on the green economy which you find at http://bit.ly/M9QWAM. I have been a strong supporter of the Green Investment Bank and the campaign to base it here in Edinburgh. It was great news when Edinburgh was chosen but there has been criticism of the time that the Government is taking to get it up and running.
The Coalition is now going to introduce legislation to set up the Bank but it will still have to wait until 2015 to be given borrowing powers and even then the amount of cash it gets will depend on the state of the economy.
I believe that the state of the economy is actually a key reason for pressing ahead with the Bank as soon as possible. The central message of the recent UN Rio 20+ Summit is that economic growth and the environment should be complementary rather than in conflict as some in the UK Government sometimes seem to suggest!
Aung San Suu Kyi visits UK Parliament
I was lucky enough to hear Aung San Suu Kyi address both Houses of Parliament last week. Like so many people I have been inspired by her campaign for democracy at great personal cost to herself.
Forthview and Pirniehall Primary Schools in West Pilton have strong links with schools in Thailand for the children of Burmese refugees who have been forced to flee Burma because of persecution. I hope that on a subsequent visit to the UK she will be able to visit Edinburgh so that we will have the chance to express our strong support and admiration for her bravery.
VAT on alterations to listed buildings – a partial ‘u-turn’!
I mentioned in my last newsletter the concerns expressed by the UK Government’s Budget proposal to impose VAT at 20% on alterations to listed buildings which were previously zero-rated. This has particular implications for Edinburgh because of the number of historic buildings here.
Although the Government has not backed down on this VAT change, it has agreed to increase the sums available in a special fund for listed places of worship to help them meet the cost of the extra VAT. This may lessen the blow of the increase at least. You can find more on the background to this at http://bit.ly/HG4XIC.
Keeping in touch with our local community in Edinburgh North & Leith
During a recent House of Commons 'recess' (break), and I took the opportunity of being in Edinburgh for an extended period to visit a wide range of community organisations and activities - community councils, local galas, schools, environmental projects - in every part of the constituency. Along with 'meet the public' sessions with local councillors, these events help to keep me in touch with the concerns and issues facing local people.
Have a look at Mark in the constituency of my website at http://bit.ly/KVV0Ur to get an idea of what I've been doing in your area.