Mail Room: House of Lords Reform – Bishops

As you may be aware, the recent Queen’s Speech included a bill to reform the House of Lords in the near future.House of Lords

Lots of constituents have contacted me about various elements of this reform, but by far the most common complaint has been the possibility of Bishops remaining in the Lords and forming a higher proportion of the overall membership. You can see below my response to constituents who have expressed concern about this:

Thank you for your recent email regarding the government’s proposals for Bishops in the House of Lords.

You express your concern that as a result of the upcoming proposals for House of Lords reform the number of Bishops sitting may proportionally increase. You state your belief that this development both lacks intellectual credibility and represents a detachment from majority public opinion. Furthermore, you argue that a continued presence of the Bishops would contradict efforts to create a transparent and legitimate second chamber.

I have some sympathy with you concerns. The draft bill published by Nick Clegg in the last session of Parliament set out proposals that Bishops of the Church of England should retain a presence in the House of Lords, but be reduced in number from 26 to 12. I note that the white paper justifies this proposal on the basis that the Church of England is ‘the established church’ and the reduction in number merely reflects the reduction in size of the house as a whole. I find this proposition quite perverse considering that the Liberal Democrats had previously expressed a wish to end the automatic representation of the Church of England in the House of Lords.

In the Queen’s Speech recently it was announced that the government did intend to go ahead with House of Lords Reform in this session of Parliament, but we are yet to see what changes the Government may have made in its proposals following the lengthy meetings of the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, which resulted in the publication of a minority report as well as the main report.

I believe there should be no automatic ‘spiritual’ representation in the House of Lords. However, should there continue to be an unelected element within the House of Lords and should that element include Lords Spiritual then its composition should reflect the faiths of the country as a whole. For these reasons, I am pleased to inform you that I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for these matters, asking him to address the concerns that you have raised. I will inform you when I receive a response.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

I have not yet received a reply from Nick Clegg but will post it here when I do.

I would welcome any further comments you may have on this issue. Please feel free to contact me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

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Press release: Sheila Gilmore slams Tories for plans to make it easier to sack employees

Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore today slammed Tory plans to make it easier for employers to sack their staff.

This follows a week of media attention on the Government-commissioned Beecroft report, which proposes allowing firms to fire their staff at will – something that will cause alarm for employees already facing great uncertainty in the current jobs market and economic climate.

The introduction of a ‘no fault dismissal’ procedure could result in people being fired almost instantaneously and for no valid reason. Adrian Beecroft, the report’s multi-millionaire venture capitalist author and Tory donor, admitted his proposals would mean that bosses could sack employees simply because they didn’t like them and that this was a “price worth paying”.

But these proposals actually risk damaging the economic recovery further as cutting employment rights could undermine the confidence of millions of employees who could subsequently limit their consumer spending for fear of losing their jobs.

Sheila Gilmore said:

The UK already has the most competitive employment regime in the world. The Tories are demonstrating just how out of touch they are; having tried to blame Britain’s businesses for the recession they are now blaming hard-working employees as well.

This Government’s failed plan has resulted in a double-dip recession made in Downing Street and 2.6 million people unemployed, but instead of admitting their mistakes they are making the incredulous claim that growth is being held back by the employment rights we all enjoy at work.

These are tough times and people in Edinburgh are already worried about losing their jobs without the Tories making it even easier for them to be made unemployed. We all want to feel secure in our jobs and the Tory plans would lead to even more anxiety for hard-working families who want to plan for their futures.

To end this recession made in Downing Street we need a proper plan for jobs and growth, not Beecroft’s fire-at-will manifesto.

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Mail Room: Food Security

Food security is an issue on which I receive a lot of correspondence. Following on from campaigns run by a number of charities, particularly Save the Children, I have been inundated with letters and emails from constituents asking me to do what I can to ensure that UK aid for the developing world remains a priority for this government. This is of particularly importance in the context of the upcoming G8 Summit when the Prime Minister will have the opportunity to discuss issues of development with his international counterparts.

DFID Aid

You can see my response to constituents below:

Thank you for your recent email regarding food security.

It is a scandal that nearly one billion people face hunger every day. This issue has been exacerbated by the 2008 spike in food prices. With some figures estimating that staple grain prices will rise between 120 to 180% within the next two decades, it is clear that action needs to be taken now.

In your email you mentioned the action by Save the Children on this issue. I understand that they are calling on the Prime Minister to push this issue at the G8 with the aim of creating a food security initiative that focuses on nutrition, increased funding for proven solutions to tackle malnutrition and a global target to reduce malnutrition.

You have requested that I raise this issue during Prime Ministers’ Questions. A ballot takes place to determine which Members of Parliament have the opportunity to ask a question of the Prime Minister and whilst I submit a question every week, there is unfortunately no guarantee of getting picked. On this occasion I have been unsuccessful.

In any case, while David Cameron is often broadly positive when speaking publicly about international development issues, I expect he would be wary of making any firm commitments in the often heated atmosphere of PMQs. It is my belief that a far more effective way of taking action on issues such as this is to write directly to the Secretary of State for International Development, which I am please to inform you I have done. In my letter I urged the Minister to put the points you raised to the Prime Minister strongly ahead of the next G8 summits.

I will inform you when I receive a response from the Secretary of State, thank you for taking the time to write to me.

I am still awaiting a response from the Department for International Development Minister. The response will be posted here when I receive it.

As always, I would welcome any further comments you may have on this issue. Please feel free to contact me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

 

 

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Press release: Sickness benefits delays completely unacceptable

Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore MP today urged the Government to fix a controversial sickness benefit test after she uncovered figures showing over 6,000 Scots are waiting over a year for their claim to be resolved.

People with disabilities

Sheila Gilmore asked a written Parliamentary Question on how long applicants for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – the replacement for Incapacity Benefit – are having to wait for the result of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The response from Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb revealed that 6,170 applicants in Scotland are having to wait longer than 12 months. In Edinburgh the figure is 270.

Sheila Gilmore said that these long delays were likely to be due to high numbers of people being wrongly assessed as fit for work and lodging appeals. She said:

These figures show that over 6,000 Scots are waiting over a year for their ESA claim to be resolved. This is a stressful period for applicants and it is unacceptable that they are being made to wait for so long.

The problem stems from the high rate of appeal – since the introduction of ESA 40% of applicants assessed as fit for work appeal their decisions. Of these 38% of decisions are overturned, demonstrating that the Work Capability Assessment is not working and needs reform.

Sheila Gilmore called on the Government to move further and faster in fixing the WCA. She said:

Ministers have insisted that they are implementing recommendations from their independent reviewer, leading occupational therapy specialst Professor Malcolm Harrington. However they need to move further and faster – only last month Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind, resigned from an advisory group on ESA because the test was ‘still not fit for purpose’.

While I believe that if people can work then they should work, I also believe that where people simply cannot work due to illness or disability, they should receive an adequate level of support.

Sheila Gilmore also revealed that that following another written parliamentary question the Government has fallen well short of implementing one of Professor Harrington’s key recommendations. Sheila Gilmore said:

One of Professor Harrington’s key recommendations was that there should be a Mental Health Champion in every assessment centre. However following a written parliamentary question the Minister responsible has admitted that there are only two such champions working across 30 assessment centres in Scotland.

I appreciate that some of these centres are remote and used less than those in towns and cities. However 2 out of 30 falls well short of the mark.

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Mail Room: Trident

Nuclear disarmament is an issue in which I have a lot of interest personally, and on which lots of constituents contact me. I’ve recently received a number of postcards which highlight the cost of replacing Trident – close to £100 billion – at a time when public services are being slashed across the board.

Trident submarine

There are also moral and political arguments against a renewal – a decision which will make the world a more dangerous place than it is today. I set out my response to constituents as you can see below:

Thank you for your recent postcard regarding the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines.

I am a member of Parliamentary CND and I can assure you that I and my colleagues oppose the renewal of trident and will continue to put the case for non-nuclear alternatives as and when we can. You may wish to note that I have signed Early Day Motion 1924 in support of the current review into alternatives to trident replacement. Please find a copy enclosed.

However I regret that neither this review nor the previous Strategic Defence and Security Review have been allowed to consider all options – including non-replacement and a non-nuclear defence policy. I believe a broader review should be carried out before the Trident replacement Main Gate decision in 2016. This could then inform the thinking of all political parties before the General Election.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.

You can view the Early Day Motion mentioned above here.

If you would like to comment further on this issue, please feel free to contact me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

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