Has the House of Commons gone soft these days?
With most of our days timetabled to finish at a fixed time (10pm on Mondays, 7pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 5pm on Thursday) there is a degree of certainty about when votes take place. I was fascinated to read of the debate 100 years ago where Liberal MP Josiah Wedgwood (later a Labour MP) tried to defeat the then Liberal government’s Mental Deficiency Bill, over two late night sittings in July 1913 by tabling 120 amendments and making 150 interventions. Apparently he sustained himself on sticks of chocolate brought by a fellow MP from the commons tearoom and swigs of barley water, despite eating in the chamber being frowned upon. Josiah was defeated in the final Commons vote by 180 to 3, but like many who are of their own time are seen as ‘mavericks’, we would today applaud his efforts. The Bill was one which sought to identify the ‘feeble minded’ and segregate them in separate male and female institutions. This was the heyday of eugenics (Churchill then a Liberal favoured sterilisation rather than segregation, and the small number of Labour MPs then in the House supported the Bill), It remained on the statute book until 1959, and, although never enforced to the full extent its proponents envisaged, it was the reason why many people spent years in institutions.
In defence of our ‘easier’ Chambers hours, those of course were the days when many MPs made occasional visits to their constituency, and didn’t have the bulging post bags and emails inboxes seen today. Ironically it is the House of Lords which is now more likely to have late hours, and I am writing this the day after their Lordships clocked another half past midnight finish.
Emily Wilding Davison memorial meeting – 5th June
Another 100 year anniversary was celebrated to mark the centenary of the death of Emily Davison at the Derby in 1913. Another Emily, Emily Thornberry MP, pulled together at short notice a memorial meeting in Westminster Hall, attended by many people from in and outside Parliament. Just off Westminster Hall is the cupboard where Emily Davison hid on census night 1911 so that she could argue that her place of residence was the Houses of Parliament. Today’s Speaker read from a letter written by the then Speaker describing Emily as an undesirable person who was not to be allowed into the building! It wasn’t all history, however, with many of the speakers reflecting on how far we have come, and what still needs to be done.
Adjournment Debate on Audio Recording
Back to 2013 I had an Adjournment Debate on 12th June. Adjournment Debates come after a government whip ‘begs leave that this house be now adjourned’. Another of Parliament’s peculiar traditions. In the bad old days of late night sittings you could find yourself starting your speech in the middle of the night. While there is still a slight risk of this happening, I was lucky enough to have my recent such debate at the relatively civilised time of 7pm. I had 15 minutes to make a case and then 15 minutes of a Minister’s time where a response is issued. Generally it is best for a narrow subject when you want to go into something in depth, or something of local significance. This is serious exploration of an issue, not knockabout politics. As such topics discussed rarely hit the headlines, although in these days of BBC Parliament, live streaming and twitter, there is an audience for such debates – not just from insomniacs.
My subject was audio recording of work capability assessments. The WCA is the assessment process for people claiming Employment & Support Allowance. It has attracted a lot of criticism, and a lot of appeals. Disability groups have called for audio recording to be available for all who want it, but the Government has been very sceptical of it. On the one hand Minsters say they would do it while making it difficult in practice. My ‘debate’ was primarily to ask a series of detailed questions. What was achieved? There wasn’t any promise of audio recording for all, but greater clarity from the Minister as to what he is doing on the subject. Only titbits had previously been dragged out of the Minister through FOIs and Parliamentary questions. We learned that a countrywide pilot of audio recording had been ongoing since September 2011 and that it was going to be evaluated at the end of summer, but we also learned that claimants were only going to be told in letters about their ability to ask for audio recording from July this year. I pointed out that this was hardly going to give much time for proper evaluation. Nor was it at all clear what the DWP thought it was going to evaluate – take up, effectiveness, impact on appeals? I obtained some answers and now have many more questions! The full text of the debate can be found from p70 at http://bit.ly/125ltGq.
Week beginning 10th June was National Carers’ Week. I attended the ‘speed networking’ session arranged by a number of organisations representing carers. This is an opportunity for MPs to meet carers from various parts of the country and hear about the realities of their lives. As ever everyone across all parties say they are very supportive of carers, but that still isn’t always translated into action.
Successive Governments have said that they will do more for carers, but the warm words rarely produce action. I agree that more needs to be done. Carers allowance has always been an arbitrary amount and while this allowance has never been cut, it has not increased to recognise the work carers do. The efforts of all carers save the taxpayer a lot of money and this should be recognised more fully.
East Coast Campaign
I have been continuing to work on the campaign against the Government’s decision to re-privatise the East Coast mainline, together with many of my Labour colleagues especially those from the North East, Yorkshire, and fellow Scots. One way of doing this is to get debates in the House of Commons. Several of us tried for a 90 minute debate in Westminster Hall, and Andy McDonald MP for Middlesbrough was the one to be ‘drawn’. See p91 at http://bit.ly/125k3vn for the full details. Several others of us also spoke but time was very limited, so I applied for a longer ‘back bench’ debate. We were lucky enough to be granted three hours in the main chamber on Thursday 20th June. Decisions are not made in these debates but help to raise the profile of an issue. We will be continuing with the campaign over the summer. The full text of this debate can be found at http://bit.ly/125j4eL, and there is footage of the debate at http://bit.ly/pIRUgu.
Along with my colleagues Ian Murray MP and Mark Lazarowicz MP, I will be meeting rail users and employees to talk about my opposition to the privatisation on Friday 19th July. We will also be passing leaflets to rail users and members of the public on Princes Street from 10.30am. If you are free to attend, or you are able to assist in handing out leaflets, please contact me and I will provide further details at a later date.
‘Bobbing’ finally pays off
Several constituents have said that they have seen me jumping up and down at Prime Minister’s Questions and not being called. If your name is on the list you don’t have to stand up, but there is always a prospect of getting called so long as you are ‘bobbing’ up and down. I haven’t been drawn for the list for a few months, but often ‘have a go’. On Wednesday 26th June I nearly didn’t try because our side had the majority of back bench questions, and the Speaker tries to balance up the two sides. However I had an idea in my head so thought I’d give it a go. The previous week the Prime Minister alleged that Labour had stopped talking about the Bedroom Tax, trying to imply that it hadn’t been as bad as we had claimed. So I told him about the acute shortage of one bedroomed homes in Edinburgh, where last week there were only 23 available for let, and four had over 200 applicants. The lowest level of bids was 54. When the Speaker called me right at the end I was so surprised (after all the weeks of trying) that I nearly ‘missed the call’. My question, and the PM’s response is at p12 http://bit.ly/125hn11. Constituency Report
Sunshine on Leith – and on the Meadows
For the most part the sun shone on both of these events held on 1-2 June and 8 June respectively. Indeed the Saturday of the Leith Gala was positively hot. Sunshine brought out the crowds which is great for the many organisations for whom these events are a major fundraiser as well as an opportunity to tell people about their work.
Dumbiedykes Big Lunch
On 2 June the Braidwood Neighbourhood Association in the Dumbiedykes held a ‘Big Lunch’ in the street outside the centre. It was another lovely day and was rated a great success by all who came. Entertainment was provided by a team of line dancers visiting from Northfield Community Centre.
A good time was had by all who came but special thanks must go to the organisers who clearly put a lot of time and effort into the occasion. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to make a presentation to two ladies who have each lived in the high flats for fifty years.
Holyrood and Lochview Courts, with their central heating and spanking new bathrooms and kitchens, were an exciting place to move into and still attract many new families. At the Big Lunch I met the family members of the ladies who remembered the fun of having Holyrood Park as their playground. For some, multi-storey life hasn’t always lived up to its initial promise, but this 50 year anniversary sees the blocks still looking much better for their relatively recent refurbishment.
And briefly… Residents have asked me why the Transport and Environment Committee did not hear a report on a bus service being introduced in the Dumbiedykes. I understand the full report will come to the August meeting of the Transport and Environment Committee. The final report has been delayed to ensure that it sets out a positive way forward for Dumbiedykes residents. With the council recess about to start the date for the August meeting has not been announced yet.
Royalty at Restalrig
Restalrig Community Hub hosted the launch of the new L’Arche supported community residence which is being built just off Restalrig Crescent. L’Arche is an organisation which provides residential care and support for people with learning disabilities. Their ethos is to provide a home setting where volunteers make their home with those they support. The house in Restalrig will be providing homes for older people with learning disabilities. L’Arche had their partion, the Princess Royal attend, visit the site and then meet many local people as well as those involved with L’Arche. It is a fantastic facility, and makes good use of a site which had become a bit of an eyesore.
I was delighted to be invited to the 10th Anniversary of the Totally Sound project at the South Bridge Resource Centre on Friday 21st June. Young people from all over Edinburgh have been able to develop their interest and skills in making and composing music through this project. It was a spin off from a summer scheme called Go for It which organised a variety of interesting activities for teenagers, including music making and this project was a way of continuing this interest on a Saturday. I remember Go for It particularly because it was originally an initiative in South Edinburgh where I was a Councillor and we piloted this as a new approach to get this age group involved, because they are often less keen on traditional ‘youth club’ type activities. So it was good to see that some of the ideas were still going strong, although Go for It isn’t (memo to Council – worth reviving?).
Engine Shed Update
The future of the Engine Shed and other services providing help to disabled people to find employment (e.g. Forth Sector based in Craigmillar which runs social businesses like St Jude’s Laundry in Loaning Road) was scheduled to be decided at the City Council’s Economy Committee in June, but the issue has been continued to September and hopefully during the intervening period there will be some real dialogue about the best way forward.
Campaigning is continuing throughout the summer, with the following activities: · Online petition · Paper petition · Request for all those with an interest to lobby local politicians, MSPs and Councillors · A publicity- seeking event is to be held around the young trainees’ annual awards ceremony · A profile-raising ‘Walk’ · A music event to raise money for an outside good cause. To receive direct news of events, etc, members should request to be placed on the Engine Shed’s mailing list – email@example.com
Portobello bowling centre – could soft play be the new flumes?
I was approached by a number of constituents very upset when they heard that the Portobello Indoor Bowling Centre was to close this summer. Neither regular club players nor customers who turn up and play are convinced that the alternative facilities (in East Lothian and Gorgie) will offer a comparable service. Users themselves have contacted the Board of Edinburgh Leisure and Councillor Richard Lewis who is Chair of the responsible council committee. Like me, they have received a negative response and Edinburgh Leisure states that for financial reasons it has to go ahead with its plans to turn the facility primarily into a soft play centre. User groups had asked that Edinburgh Leisure consider solutions used elsewhere e.g. covering the mats in summer (when many bowlers use the outdoor greens) for alternative uses. However the Board of Edinburgh Leisure did not feel that would be financially viable and enable them to deal with the reduction in funding they had this year from the council.
I still think that there could have been earlier and more widespread consultation so that alternatives could have been properly evaluated. At least if there is a proper process and full information about the financial options, it is easier to accept a decision rather than simply being told ‘that’s it’.
I also hope that the suggested option proves as successful as hoped. Soft Play is certainly popular but there are a number of other such facilities nearby and we now know that a private company intends opening a large such facility in the former Leith Waterworld building. I wish Edinburgh Leisure well and genuinely hope their plans work out (they provide many excellent facilities across the city) but I hope we do not end up with too much soft play on offer. I can’t help remembering the days when councils up and down the country were told that ‘flumes’ were the way forward for swimming pools. These were very popular at first but once the novelty had worn off they certainly haven’t proved to have the lasting qualities of more traditional swimming facilities.
Prestonfield Neighbourhood Centre and Tenants and Residents take showers to the Council
The Prestonfield area has a fairly high proportion of elderly tenants in the remaining council owned homes, partly those who have lived in the area a long time, and partly because it has been popular for people seeking a move to a more accessible home. The Neighbourhood Centre provides day services and advice for many, and together with the Tenants’ and Residents’ Association has been arguing for some time for elderly and disabled tenants to get the choice of wet floor showers in ground floor properties when the council is modernising kitchens and bathrooms.
As I have pointed out previously (http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/edinburgh-council-still-refuses-elderly-tenant-the-bathroom-they-had-been-promised/) the eligibility threshold for installation of showers as an adaptation has risen a lot, and people have to be in ‘critical need’. I have had constituents in their 90s who have not been deemed to be in needy enough. The argument the Prestonfield groups have put forward (not just for their own area) is that if a major refitting of a bathroom is going on it will be much less expensive than carrying out an adaptation later, and would give many elderly tenants greater independence and a better quality of life. In June the groups took a deputation up to the Health, Wellbeing and Housing Committee to argue their case in support of a motion put up by one of their local councillors. The Committee agreed to the deputations’ arguments, and this will happen when the modernisation gets going in the area later this year. Once more it shows that perseverance by community groups with a well argued case can win through, even if it takes time.
Southside Community Council – a new start?
A written ‘petition’, completed by Southside residents, has been submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council, calling for a new Southside Community Council to be formed. Elections to all Community Councils are due to be held in October, with nominations for councillors being taken in September. The City Council must approve any request before the first elections can be held, however I am aware that officers are keen to see the Community Council reformed and speaking up for local residents. The previous Community Council had some very big successes such as fighting off plans to demolish the old Odeon. Like others I would be keen to see a new group of local representatives dealing with local matters that come up in the future. The Council must now approve the proposal; however all being well we should hear more news on this matter over coming months. If you are keen to become a local Community Councillor, please contact me and I’ll ensure you receive further details as they come in.
Preparations are well underway for the 49th Annual Craigmillar Festival, which runs from Saturday 29th June to 13th July 2013. There is a fantastic programme of events and activities planned for all ages, throughout the community. Make sure you head along to join in the fun.
The 49th Craigmillar Festival kicks off with the annual Fun Day, on Saturday 29th June. The event will be held at the community green space on Niddrie Mains Road between 12noon and 4pm. The event will involve live music, birds of prey, fire engine, magician, Harley Davidson Bikers, pipe band, pony rides, 5 a side football, arts and crafts, disco bus, bungee run, face painting, car boot sale, massage, library bus and, of course, refreshments.
For a full list of events head to: http://www.craigmillarcommunityarts.org.uk/6.html.
The Council has launched a survey to establish awareness of recycling in Edinburgh and get residents’ feedback on the communications it issues – the aim being to increase citywide recycling. Residents’ views are vital in helping to improve the service, so please encourage anyone you know who lives in Edinburgh to take ten minutes to fill this in. Anyone who completes the survey will also be in with the chance of winning one of three £50 high street shopping vouchers. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/edinburghrecycle or by visiting www.edinburgh.gov.uk/recycle and clicking on the tab at the side of the page. The survey closes on 15th July 2013.
Partners in Advocacy
A Collective Advocacy group is being held on a fortnightly basis for people with a physical disability who are 16+ years. Individuals are supported to come together to explore issues of common concern and support one another with these specific issues. The group as a whole may campaign on an issue that affects them all. Meeting dates are as follows. All meetings are held on a Tuesday from 3.00pm to 4.30 / 5.00pm: 2nd July South Side Community Centre 23rd July Nelson Hall Community Centre 6th August Nelson Hall Community Centre 20th August Nelson Hall Community Centre
For more information contact Zofia Bukiel, Partners in Advocacy, 2nd Floor, Beaverhall House, 27/5 Beaverhall Road, Edinburgh EH7 4JE or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dates for your Diary
Saturday 29th June – Craigmillar Festival Fun Day – The event will be held at the community green space on Niddrie Mains Road – 12noon and 4pm
Wednesday, 3rd July 2013 – Tackling Poverty and Inequality in Edinburgh – Jubilee Room, City Chambers – From 2.00 pm to 4.30 pm – register with email@example.com
Friday 19th July – Stop the East Coast Mainline Privatisation leafleting and campaign morning – Waverley Station/Steps – from 10.30am – further details to follow at sheilagilmore.co.uk/eastcoastmainline
Lyra Theatre Starcatchers Performances in Craigmillar
Lyra Theatre makes live performance with and for children and young people based in Craigmillar, at the Artspace theatre and studio (11 Harewood Road, EH16 4NT). On Friday 19th of July Lyra Theatre would like to invite you and your family to free performances of:
Yarla and the Winter Wood – Friday 19th July – 10:30-1:15 and 14:00 -14:45 Follow Yarla on a magical woodland journey that will arouse the senses. Filled with music, song and animation, a multi-sensory story for 6 months – 3 years that children and adults alike will find enchanting!
Too Many Cooks – Friday 19th July 10:30-11:15 and 14:00-14:45 Two cooks are preparing a very special dish… it’s very loud, very messy and very… musical? An inventive, playful and sensory experience for 2-5 year olds, where pots and pans cook up melodies.