Votes at 16
After the announcement on Wednesday 10 October that the Scottish Referendum would include young people aged 16 and 17, I was invited onto the Today Programme on Radio 4 (Thursday 11 October) with Lord Michael Forsyth, a former Tory Minister and opponent of Votes at 16. I have long supported and campaigned lowering the voting age but agree that this is a major constitutional change that needs to be widely consulted on, debated and voted on in Parliament.
This was followed by interviews on Radio Derby and LBC. There was also some coverage in The Independent on Thursday 11 October
When David Mundell, the Scotland Minister, made a Statement to the House on Monday 15 October, I was able to ask him directly and was disappointed at his answer:
NATASCHA ENGEL: "As a supporter of votes at 16, I welcome the Scottish Parliament extending the franchise to 16-year-olds. Far from seeing that as a dangerous precedent, why will the Government not seize the opportunity to consult debate and vote on widening the franchise to 16-year-olds in all UK elections, including referendums and local and national elections?"
DAVID MUNDELL: "In simple terms, the Government will not do that because we do not support 16 and 17-year-olds voting in such elections."
You can access the transcripts of Home Office questions here, on Hansard.
Hundreds of thousands of people have signed e-petitions and once a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it is referred to the Backbench Business Committee which I chair.
To find out more about the Backbench Business Committee, follow this link to the Parliament website.
For background information on e-petitions and the Backbench Business Committee visit the website or visit the government’s e-petition website.
I have been an outspoken supporter of the principle of e-petitions but a critic of the way our system works. This week I have been meeting with House of Commons staff from the Outreach Team to discuss possible ways of bringing e-petitions in-House and using it as a way of educating and engaging better with people who sign e-petitions. E-petitions should be better used to teach people how Parliament works in order that they can better influence what we do.
The House Magazine (Parliament’s in-house magazine) published an article in which I spelled out the changes I would like to see.
These proposals come after a seminar run by The Hansard Society and hosted by the Backbench Business Committee to hear from experts about how a successful petition system can work. They produced a booklet you can access here: www.hansardsociety.org.uk/files/folders/3367/download.aspx
Backbench Business Committee
Every Tuesday at 3pm the Backbench Business Committee opens its doors to take representation from backbenchers making bids for the time which Government allocates to us for debate. This time we were given Thursday 25 October all day in the Chamber.
This week was the first week back after the Conference Recess so it was a busy meeting, especially because the e-petition demanding a Stop to the Badger Cull had reached 100,000 signatures.
With celebrities such as Brian May in the public gallery, we heard from a cross-party group of MPs why this debate was urgent and essential. The Committee decided to allocate the whole day to this debate after satisfying ourselves that it would not be too one-sided or partisan.
Also of local interest was another e-petition on Children’s Cardiac Services in Leicestershire which was given time on Monday 22 October in Westminster Hall.
We also heard representations for a debate on reducing the voting age to 16, lowering the time limit for abortions and air passenger duty.
To view the formal minutes from the meeting click here.
This week we had the 1st and 8th to schedule time for in the chamber. We had a lot of really interesting applications for debates, including some that had improved their application. Reducing the voting age to 16 and air passenger duty came back.
One of the e-petitions that have been growing in support rapidly has been to the Stop the British Beer Escalator, which now has over 104,000 signatures. This tax rises year on year and effects small British breweries and pubs. As the treasury has never led a review before, there was urgent need to grant this debate before the treasury produces its autumn statement and so, the Committee granted a three hour debate on the 1st November. Also, on this day the committed decided a debate on a review of Air Passenger Duty will take place; this issue is particularly non partisan and affects hundreds of ordinary people.
The Committee also heard from applications for the Regulation of Insurance.
Local print media
As a former local newspaper journalist and organiser for the print union GPMU (now part of Unite), I have always taken a keen interest on the role of local newspapers. A healthy and vibrant local and regional press is essential for a strong democracy if we are to be held properly to account.
For many decades now, local newspapers have diminished in power and quality. This has been in part due to advances in technology and new media, partly because people consume news in a different way. But in large part is due to a lack of local competition when regional news companies buy competing local papers and either shut them down or make them into free sheets. In Derbyshire, we have recently seen the closure of the Chesterfield Advertiser, for example.
I have therefore been closely involved with the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) campaign to support local newspapers and attended their campaign meeting this week.
Maximum Working Temperatures
As well as Gunstone’s in Dronfield, North East Derbyshire has many small local bakeries. Unlike minimum temperatures for which there is legislation in place to protect workers, no such protection exists for maximum temperatures. I have therefore been campaigning with the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) to ensure that this is recognised as an issue.
This week along with a number of other MPs, we met with the Bakers’ Union and Gavin Shuker, Labour’s environment spokesperson to ensure that this campaign is recognised and supported as widely as possible.
Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)
It is not often that you get called in Prime Minister’s Question Time and I had almost given up hope by 12.35 but was lucky enough to catch the Speaker’s eye.
After newspaper coverage this weekend about Michael Gove and an EU referendum, I wanted to know where the Prime Minister stood on this important issue.
NATASCHA ENGEL "The Secretary of State for Education said this weekend that if there were a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU, he would vote to leave. A third of the Cabinet agree with him. How would the Prime Minister vote?"
DAVID CAMERON: “As I said, I do not want an in/out referendum, because I am not happy with us leaving the European Union, but I am not happy with the status quo either. I think what the vast majority of this country wants is a new settlement with Europe and then that settlement being put to fresh consent. That is what will be going in our manifesto, and I think it will get a ringing endorsement from the British people."
I would like to know why in the week that Cameron agrees to an in/out referendum in Scotland, but the same is not good enough for the rest of the UK?
You can watch the exchange on YouTube, here.
The remarks got some praise from John Rentoul on Twitter.
You can read the transcript of Prime Ministers Questions here.
My question to the Prime Minister was also picked up on by the Daily Express. And the Independent ran a piece with my comments included.
When I took over from Harry Barnes as MP in 2005, one of the ongoing campaigns with which I continued was to bring justice for people who live in Park Homes.
I have been a very active member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Park Homes and have lobbied every Local Government Minister since my election. Finally, we have gained government support for a Private Members Bill which got its second reading in Parliament on Friday 19 October.
Private Member’s Bill Mobile Homes Bill (HC Bill 12)
2nd Reading of Mobile Homes Bill House of Commons Hansard Debates for 19 Oct 2012 (pt 0001)
Derbyshire Times article on Park Homes Park Homes | nataschaengelmp
Information on Residents Associations Qualifying Association
In North East Derbyshire there are eight Park Home sites with around 350 park homes and most of them have a rule that only those over 50 can live there. People living on the sites own their home but rent the plot from the site owner and it is the way in which owners manage the sites that has created the problems for residents. Years ago sites were owned by families who cared. Today many of them are owned as a business interest with no room for compassion or understanding, only profit. Local authorities are responsible for licensing the sites but are limited in what action they can take against unscrupulous site owners. The reason for this is that the current law makes no provision for the protection of the home owner on park home sites in contrast with the protection that other home owners have. Over the years I have heard many horror stories from people who live on park homes and I hope that this Bill will lead to a change in the law that will allow park home residents to enjoy the peace of mind that many of us take for granted.
I voiced concern on behalf of Blue Badge holders when I asked the Transport Secretary, Norman Baker, whether he thought mobility could be assessed by a brief phone call. The Minister’s reply was that this was a matter for the local authority and he would not be making any further enquiries.
I raised the question in Parliament after a number of my constituents found themselves on the receiving end of such a practice when first applying or trying to renew a blue badge.
From 1 April 2012, the way assessments are carried out changed. For people who do not automatically qualify for a badge they may be subject to independent mobility assessments not involving their own GP.
Commenting Natascha Engel MP said:
“The Department for Transport are responsible for the legislation that sets out the framework for the blue badge scheme and yet the Minister dismissed the concerns of my constituents over the way in which assessments are carried out. Even in the Government’s own guidelines to Local Authorities they acknowledge that desk-based assessments cannot be successfully used as the sole means of determining an applicant’s eligibility for a blue badge. I would urge the Minister to look again at allowing this method of assessment.”
To see the transcript view the Hansard Link - Transport Questions, Thursday 18 October 2012
Department of Transport Guidance to Local Authorities
Every Thursday there is Business Questions in the House of Commons. This is an opportunity to scrutinise the subjects which the government put forward for debate and to question the Leader of the House on the timings of legislation.
It is also a chance to raise issues of concern on the Backbench Business Committee. These are normally to do with the government’s allocation of time to the Backbench Business Committee, but this week I asked Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House, to consider allowing Parliament to deal with e-petitions.
He has agreed to work with me to look at doing this.
NATASCHA ENGEL: "Hundreds of thousands of people have signed e-petitions, which resulted from the system that the Government launched last year. Unfortunately, that number does not translate into people’s being satisfied with the system. To avoid further frustration and anger among those who use the system, will the new Leader of the House work with the Backbench Business Committee to see whether we can bring the system into Parliament, as suggested by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament, to make the system the success that it ought to be?"
ANDREW LANSLEY: "I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is indeed right that, under the coalition Government, not least through the e-petition system and the Backbench Business Committee reform, we are improving opportunities for public engagement. Those are being taken up and they are demonstrating their potential. In so far as there is confusion, we just have to work through it. I entirely understand the hon. Lady’s point. We will, of course, work together. I look forward to working with Opposition Front Benchers, the hon. Lady’s Committee and the Procedure Committee to ensure that public engagement, not least through the new e-petition system, is as good as we can make it."
To see the transcript view the Hansard link.
Gorsey Brigg Primary School
21 Children and 4 teachers came to visit the Palace of Westminster, following a visit from me to Gorsey Brigg Primary School.* The children had a tour of both Houses of Parliament and an education session where they learnt about how MPs where selected and elected. Having a tour of the palace is the best way to learn about Parliament, as there is so much to look at, the children loved the throne in the House of Lords the most. *The Chesterfield Post - Local MP's News
New Medical Centre in Clay Cross
I was so pleased to have been asked to open the new Clay Cross Medical Centre. The new Centre, built as part of the Clay Cross Regeneration Programme, will provide facilities that are able to respond to local needs for many years to come. The modern facilities will offer patients a more comfortable and relaxing atmosphere when visiting the Centre and staff will also have the benefits of working in a 21st century environment. What was also wonderful was the stain glass window inside the Centre designed by pupils from Holmgate Primary School.