MPs Pay Rise
Pay rises are no longer decided by MPs but by a public body – the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) – which is independent from both Parliament and the Government and who linked the salary rise to the average increase in public sector pay.
IPSA has chosen to continue using the same method that it has used to calculate changes to MPs’ salaries in previous years – this is due to the scale of future economic uncertainty arising from the Corona virus pandemic.
However, the Prime Minister recognises that during a time of such great pressure on the public finances, that ministerial salaries will be frozen. As a result, a Secretary of State from the House of Commons will be paid £4,168 less than they are statutorily entitled to. However, I can confirm that I personally think that MPs should not be granted a pay increase at this time, but as I say, that decision is in the hands of IPSA.
Illegal Channel Crossings
Facilitating these crossings is illegal and no one should be attempting them in the first place. France, from where almost all embark, is a manifestly safe country with a fully functioning asylum system. Any of these migrants needing asylum should claim it in France. Those seeking to cross must traverse some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. It is a reckless and dangerous crossing, putting the lives of the people who attempt it at serious risk – including children and babies.
The Government is working flat out to put a complete stop to these crossings, and all attempts to reach the UK clandestinely and action is being taken on a daily basis.
The National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and the UK Police are working closely with French authorities to crack down on the criminals who facilitate the crossings. There is a UK-France Coordination and Information Centre opened in Calais which opened in November 2018
This law enforcement response is delivering results. French law enforcement prevented over 1000 people from crossing by small boats in April and May 2020.
In 2019, Immigration Enforcement made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions for a total of 437 years. Out of these, 259 arrests and 100 convictions were for people smuggling. Immigration Enforcement carried out 841 disruptions against organised crime gangs and individuals engaged in organised immigration crime, 404 of which were related to people smuggling. So far in 2020, 21 people smugglers have been convicted and put behind bars as a result of Immigration Enforcement investigations, with more investigations underway.
The UK Government has also returned over 155 small boats arrivals back to Europe since January 2019 using the legal channels available. We have a further 686 return cases which we are currently urgently progressing.
There is more we need to do beyond this. We are working on developing tactics to prevent crossings at sea, and on ways to rapidly return those who do get across. This may require primary legislation and new agreements with the French Government. These are currently under active discussion. The Prime Minister directly discussed the issue with President Macron on 18 June and the Home Secretary is in constant contact with her opposite number, the French Interior Minister. We will not rest until the crossings are entirely stopped.
Campaign: Help protect people seeking asylum during the Covid-19 pandemic
The Home Office has put in place a range of measures to support those in the asylum system who are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Anybody who is destitute and has an outstanding asylum claim or appeal against a refusal to grant asylum can apply for support and accommodation, including those who are being released from detention.
The Home Office is working closely with colleagues in Public Health England as well as with accommodation providers to ensure that there are appropriate arrangements in place for anybody leaving detention who is receiving asylum support and/or living in asylum accommodation and who is required to self-isolate and providing them with advice and guidance via AIRE Provider, Migrant Help.
The government will continue to monitor the situation closely and are making adjustments to their processes and procedures where necessary and appropriate.
As early at 1997, when I was first elected, I supported a Ten Minute Rule Bill which proposed providing free television licences to those over 75. I am very disappointed to hear that the BBC have decided to no longer fund TV licences for over 75s from 2020. The BBC is a fundamental social part of this country; it is important for people of all ages, but particularly for older people, who value television as a way to stay connected with the world. It is vital that the BBC understands the effect that their decision will have and take its broader social responsibilities seriously.
In the Digital Economy Act 2017, the BBC was given the responsibility of funding over 75 TV licences in exchange for the ability to increase licence fees in line with inflation. The government agreed a phased transition to help the BBC with its financial planning to ensure that the licences would be covered. At the time the BBC director-general noted that, “The Government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC” however, following a consultation the BBC has decided to go back on this deal.
The Government recognised the importance of the licence fee when we agreed a funding settlement and even noted free licences in our 2017 party manifesto. Sadly, the delivery of any manifesto requires the co-operation and assistance of others, in this case the BBC. The government made clear that there was an expectation free licences would continue before the decision was taken; and have since made clear the great disappointment following the BBCs decision. What the government must do now is engage further with the BBC to discuss what further action it can and should take.
The Prime Minister and the government have given the go-ahead for HS2 to proceed. I have always been opposed to the HS2 proposals. It is a very expensive scheme and I believe that that money could be better spent on other projects. In spite of its name, High Speed, it will not cut journeys by much time and is now about capacity. I recognise the need for the latter, but again believe it can be better provided. The cost-benefit business case ratio is quite poor. The building of it will adversely affect the environment and nature. It will only benefit very few of my constituents and certainly not many in the South West more generally. As well as all this, the project will not be completed for very many years, by which time transport patterns, systems, behaviors and technology may well all have changed. However, given that its going to proceed, I will be watching closely to try to ensure that its environmental and cost impacts are kept to a minimum.
Introduction of Voter ID
The introduction of voter identification was one of many policies announced in the recent Queen’s speech. The government are putting in place voter identification to protect the integrity of our democracy and elections, tackling electoral fraud through the introduction of voter ID and banning postal vote harvesting.
Although I understand the concerns surrounding this policy, it is important to remember that Local Authorities will provide free ID to voters who need it, ensuring that everyone eligible has the opportunity to vote. Labour introduced Voter ID in Northern Ireland in 2003 and experience demonstrates that the requirement does not negatively impact turnout or participation.
Campaign: Reduce child citizenship fees
The Home Office constantly strives to achieve the right balance between ensuring that individuals are able to obtain status in the UK and access appropriate services, without adding burden to the taxpayer.
It is important to note that applying for British nationality is not mandatory and many individuals who have settlement/ indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status choose not to apply. This is because, in addition to lawful permanent residence in the UK, a person with indefinite leave to remain has full access to the UK labour market, education and healthcare.
The Home Office keeps its fees for immigration and nationality under regular review and changes to individual charges need to be made with a view to maintaining the overall purpose of the fees and charging legislation.
This legislation received a second reading in the House of Commons without objection, so there were no votes. I spoke to the Minister about the proposals. Basically, while continuing to promote marriage, the government is concerned that the current laws require fault to be found with one party or the other in order to divorce before five years of separation have passed and that this causes further distress. The government also feels that, in order to escape marriages, some people do exaggerate the claims they make against their spouses, which causes further distress. The changes being proposed do not make marriage easier as such and do not affect the right of each party to ensure that the appropriate ongoing arrangements are put in place for them.