Constituency Report June 2013
Leeds North East Constituency Labour Party
Report to Members
King Abdullah of Jordan
On 19th June, following his attendance at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, HM King Abdullah of Jordan gave a private audience to members of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) chaired by Margaret Beckett. I have been a member of this interesting committee since 2010 and it was an opportunity to hear the Head of State of one of the countries most affected by events in the Middle East give his view on what is happening and what needs to be done.
King Abdullah spoke to members of the committee in confidence, but his insight and articulacy in English were fascinating. Like every other leader in the region, he was deeply concerned about the fate of Syria and especially the pressure which hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are putting on Jordan's resources.
We also discussed the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians in response to a question I asked and King Abdullah was upbeat telling the committee that US Secretary of State Kerry has already spent far more time in the region over the few months he has been in office trying to broker a peace than his predecessor did during her entire time in the post.
Jim Yong Kim
World Bank President, Korean born Jim Yong Kim, came on June 19th to meet the International Development Select Committee (IDC) which members may recall I joined in February. Given the role of the bank in attempting to reduce and eradicate world poverty, Dr Kim was very impressive in his commitment to achieving this very important goal.
Dr Kim has only been in the post for just over a year, yet so far he has switched the emphasis of the Bank's policy towards dealing with the poorest people in the world, not just the poorest countries. A huge proportion of the world's poor live in so-called middle income countries like India. Dr Kim told us he was determined to ensure that they mattered too, even if their countries were failing to address the poverty they now had the resources to tackle although he did point out that India, growing rapidly as it is, does not yet possess sufficient wealth to eradicate the poverty in its own country were every penny to be distributed evenly.
Jim Yong Kim was intelligent, eloquent and witty. The IDC is visiting the World Bank in Washington in September.
Comprehensive Spending Review
On 26th June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his so-called Comprehensive Spending Review, or in other words, a trap for Labour should we win the next general election.
As always with this Government, the poorest and most vulnerable in society were the main targets of his cuts in public spending. Local Government suffers yet again, making the increasing demands on Councils almost impossible to fulfill. Clearly Osborne is hoping that the public will not notice that it is his Government which has imposed the cuts and will blame mainly Labour controlled local authorities for the pain. Benefit payments were yet again another target for cuts and for blame in causing the current financial crisis.
The Government wants Labour to make a choice between deficit reduction and supporting the poorest in society whom they feel do not deserve any taxpayers' money. Those making these decisions have obviously forgotten that the majority of claimants have paid into the National Insurance scheme for years and most are still doing so as they are also still in work. This was a cynical attempt to play party politics with people's lives to try and gain support for their failed policies.
Labour should be very clear: we stand up for everyone in society, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and we will not let them down, whatever the right-wing media say.
I have been working with Moortown Ward Councillors Rebecca Charlwood, Sharon Hamilton and Alex Sobel together with developers Scotfield to try and achieve a permanent solution to the issue of the Yorkshire Bank Playing Fields which have lain empty and derelict since the Bank stopped using the land twenty years ago.
Members will recall that for years - certainly for the past sixteen years that I have been MP - various proposals have been put forward to try and build up to ninety houses on this site, all of which have been rejected by both local residents and the Planners. I attended many angry and heated public meetings over the years. However, it looks as if we may now have a scheme which will work and will satisfy everyone's wishes and needs.
Scotfield are based in Lincolnshire and have developed a number of small sites up and down the country. Their proposal for this site is very different from all the others in that they have offered the community (or the City Council on behalf of the local community) the chance to create a park and wetland area on seventy two percent of the land as they only need to build on twenty eight percent of it. The rest will be landscaped by them in consultation with residents and given to the community or the City Council.
I visited the site with Rebecca, Sharon and Alex for the first time on Friday 14th June and it was a lovely oasis of countryside within the Moortown suburbs. Whilst many would have liked the land to have remained totally free of any development, this is a workable - and I believe acceptable - compromise. At present, the land is not accessible by any member of the public.
It is expected that the development and park will be completed by 2015.
The landmark site of Oakwood Clock in Roundhay where the Farmers' Market is held every third Saturday of the month, is badly in need of refurbishment. The Roundhay Ward Councillors, Ghulam Hussain, Christine Macniven and Bill Urry are involved with the Trust which is hoping to raise the necessary hundreds of thousands of pounds needed to complete the task. Part of their fundraising effort, in partnership with local businesses in Oakwood, is the gala dinner to be held on Friday 5th July at The Mansion. I will be speaking along with others present. Do come if you can.
Yorkshire Asian Business Association (YABA)
On Tuesday 11th June I was able to attend the launch of YABA, formed to continue the great work of the Asian Business Development Network founded by the late Arshad Choudhry who died last year.
The launch party took place at British Telecom's Headquarters on Sovereign Street in Leeds. The guest of honour was the Turkish Ambassador to London, HE Ãnal Ãevikoz who came to Leeds especially for the launch. In my role as Chair of the All-Party Group for Turkey, I have come to know the Ambassador well and was able to have a quiet private conversation with him about the current troubles in his country.
YABA will be chaired by former Empire Direct owner Amarjit Singh and its President is Zulfi Hussain who works for BT and is a well-known charity fundraiser and restaurateur in Farsley. It will be a forum for all Asian owned business in Yorkshire.
East Coast Main Line
Members will recall that four years ago, National Express handed back its franchise for the East Coast Main Line railway to the Government. At the time, and as a 'temporary' measure, the then Labour Government set up Directly Operated Railways (DOR) to run the railway at arms length on a commercial basis. It has been a huge success with very high levels of passenger satisfaction. I use it every week to get to and from Parliament.
In its first three years as a state-owned service, East Coast through DOR has made more than £200 million in profit which has gone straight back to the Treasury and taxpayer. In other words, it has been a great success.
Now, in line with their dogmatic view of the world, the Government wants to re-franchise the East Coast railways line in order to hand it back to the private sector, and has even said that National Express will not be excluded from bidding!
During June we have had two debates in Parliament and one Statement. I spoke on two occasions. One Labour MP pointed out to the Government that it was ironic that it believed in State ownership of our railways, just not in the British state owning them. When the Rail Minister, Simon Burns, looked puzzled it was explained that there is every possibility of the German or French State-owned railway buying the franchise for East Coast through one of its commercial subsidiaries, yet the current management of East Coast will not be able to carry on running it. How ironic!
Labour Friends of France
Members may recall that in late 2011, before the victory of the Socialist Party (PS) in France's general and Presidential elections, I helped to set up Labour Friends of France with the aim of helping the PS given Labour's experience of Government for thirteen years, and learning from some of the policy successes and ideas of the PS in France.
On Monday 1st July, I helped relaunch Labour Friend of France in the House of Commons. With me were Emma Reynolds (Labour Shadow Europe Minister) in the Chair and Axelle Lemaire, elected last year as Deputée (MP) for the overseas French voters living in Northern Europe (UK, Ireland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Baltic States). As London is now the fourth biggest French city with almost 400,000 French citizens living there, Axelle's task was huge - but she won convincingly.
I have high hopes that this relaunch will strongly help both Labour and the PS to work more closely together for mutual advantage. If we can learn from the successes and failures of French PS policies then I am sure this will help the Labour Party in the UK. There is much to talk about.
Israel Connect Lobby Day
On 5th June I spoke at the Israel Connect Lobby Day in Parliament. This is an opportunity for supporters of Israel, from both Jewish and non-Jewish communities in the UK, to come and hear what MPs have to say about Israel's policies and place in the region. I spoke about the threat from Iran and from my experience of visiting Iran as well as years of interest in that country. It was well-attended and there were some surprising questions at the All-Party event.
Kashmir Justice Conference
On 26th June I attended and spoke at the Kashmir Justice Conference in Westminster. Although attendance was not as good as in previous years, the conference nonetheless kept the profile of an important issue which means a great deal to many British citizens of Kashmiri origin. The people of Kashmir still do not have the right to self-determination and the politics of the state are dominated by the clash of interests between India and Pakistan. There have been numerous UN Security Council Resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir, so that the people can decide what they want for their own future, but to date no such vote has ever been held. Many Kashmiris blame the British Government for this failure as it was this country which caused the problem in the first place following Indian Independence and Partition in 1948.
The British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, gave another of his fascinating and very helpful talks to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Britain-Palestine. Matthew is always engaging and was upbeat about the possibilities of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, something which has eluded the region since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. With all the turmoil in the Middle East at the moment, it was strange to hear such an optimistic assessment, but the fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry is putting so much effort into shuttle diplomacy and has already visited the region more times than his predecessor did in her entire time in office would seem to give some credence to what the Ambassador told MPs. Let's hope he is right - peace, and a viable Palestinian State - are long overdue.
Riding with the Diplomats
The Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride is always fun, even if it's often not very far, the crowd of cyclists from enthusiastic lycra-clad athletes to Bishops on their sit-up-and-beg machines riding in a colourful ensemble always attracts attention, which is the purpose of the event.
This year was no exception and to make it more exciting, we had a Dutch theme. Starting from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kensington, we had the privilege of riding with the new Dutch Ambassador, Laetitia Van Den Assum, on a new lighter model Dutch-style bicycle. London is to try and emulate Amsterdam for being bike-friendly which cannot come too soon in my view. I cycle through London regularly as part of my commute to Parliament. It would be great to see Leeds following this lead too.
Primary School Visits
Each year a growing number of North East Leeds Primary Schools come to Parliament for the day and I make it my business to show the children and teachers around the building myself, rather than handing them over to a guide. Some Members may think that this is not the best use of my time, but I feel strongly that devoting time to ten and eleven year olds is an important investment in the future. Because I have now represented North East Leeds for sixteen years, I have met young people in their twenties who came to Parliament not long after I was first elected in 1997 and still have strong and positive memories of their visits.
So far this year we had a visit from: Highfield Primary on 4th June; Gledhow Primary on 18th June; St Paul's RC Primary on 25th June; and Talbot Primary on 3rd July.
News in Brief
Bishop John Packer
I try to keep up with religious leaders in Leeds and listen to their views on current affairs and government policy. I met with the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, on 25th June to exchange views.
David is a member of the Jamyang Buddhist Temple in Leeds and a strong supporter of the Tibetan cause. We met a couple of weeks ago because he was about to visit Lhasa and other parts of Tibet on a Buddhist pilgrimage. He has promised to bring back some up to date information about the current situation in Tibet.
Following the departure of Laura Harper in May as my Personal Assistant, I have appointed Stephen Towler in her place. Stephen was selected after five shortlisted candidates were interviewed and has extensive experience in the Labour Party and as a Housing Officer for Leeds City Council for 24 years.
A special plea for your support
This summer I am again undertaking a challenging cycle ride that I hope will inspire you to support a vital charity. This year I am seeking to raise funds for the wonderful work of St George's Crypt in Leeds without which there would be much more hardship and misery among the homeless people of Leeds.
I am setting off on Tuesday the 16th of July, will cross from Hull to Rotterdam and then pedal my way all the way to Leeds twin city, Dortmund where I hope to arrive on Saturday 20th July. Rosy, my wife will accompany me in a support vehicle. I am paying all the costs of the journey myself so that every penny that is donated will go to the work of St George's Crypt.
Please would you consider making a contribution? You can do so via my Just Giving web site which you can find at http://www.justgiving.com/Leeds-Dortmund-2013 I have received a tremendous boost already from Sainsbury's who have already agreed to donate £500. Please consider doing your bit and help me to realise my target of £5000. When I set off I shall arrange for my progress to be reported on my web site. Your thoughts and good wishes will be greatly appreciated - but better still - please make a donation towards the work of St George's Crypt.
With my very best wishes to you all.
Labour MP for Leeds North East.