A parliamentary roundup – some highlights of 2016 so far
Next week Parliament returns following the Easter break and, in the next session, my Labour colleagues and I will continue to hold the Tory government to account on the damaging decisions it is making time and time again.
Since the start of the year the Labour Party has achieved some major victories in Parliament against the government. Here’s a brief roundup of some of them. From defending your rights at work, to forcing the government to reverse damaging disability cuts while giving the very richest a tax cut, Labour is making a real difference to people’s lives.
Just last month George Osborne delivered another budget and Labour revealed his record of failure.
He promised to balance the books by 2015 but the government is now set to borrow £38.5bn more than planned and public sector net investment and government investment is set to fall as a share of GDP over this Parliament.
Osborne’s Budget had unfairness at its very core. It was outrageous that half a million people with disabilities were set to lose over £1 billion in Personal Independence Payments, while the Chancellor decided to cut Capital Gains Tax. The OBR estimated his cuts would see 370,000 disabled people lose an average of £3,500 a year.
In a 48-hour period the Chancellor’s budget unravelled under Labour pressure and the government was forced to put its proposals on hold. This was followed by the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, which further highlighted that George Osborne is trying to meet his own politically motivated targets on the backs of the most vulnerable – cutting support for people with disabilities to reduce taxes for the wealthiest.
This wasn’t the only climb down from the government. After a well-fought, cross-party campaign the government had to concede to the scrapping of the ‘tampon tax’, which was essentially a tax on women.
Even in opposition we have achieved real gains for British people in the wake of the Osborne’s unfair budget. The government has shown again that its recovery is built on sand. A Labour government would stand up for working people and invest in the future: in a high-technology, high-skill, high-wage economy.
Sunday trading laws
The government was also defeated on its plans to relax Sunday trading laws. With our ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign, Labour led the charge against the government’s plans and were joined by other opposition parties and Tory backbenchers to inflict a humiliating defeat.
The measures were first proposed in last year’s Local Government and Devolution Bill, but were removed after strong opposition from Labour and some deep unease on the Tory backbenches. Then, at the last moment and with no prior warning, the Tories slipped the Sunday trading measures into this year’s Enterprise Bill.
The unpopularity of the proposals was clear. There was strong opposition from shop workers, trade unions and many retailers including Sainsbury’s. There was little demand from consumers for a change. The evidence base for change was also weak – sales actually decreased when Sunday trading rules were relaxed during the Olympics.
Labour argued that extending Sunday trading hours would lead to the gradual reduction of workers’ pay and rights across the UK. The current arrangements worked well, and meant that retailers could trade, customers could shop, and shop workers could spend time with their families. On top of all of this, the Prime Minister said he had no plans to change the Sunday trading rules ahead of last year’s election. The Tories had no mandate for this change.
In a last-minute attempt by the Prime Minister to avert defeat, the government floated the idea of giving powers to councils to authorise all-day trading on Sundays, on a pilot basis. But this was not enough and in the end MPs voted by 317 votes to 286, a majority 31, to scrap the proposal.
Trade Union Bill
Fresh from their defeat on Sunday trading, the government suffered another crushing defeat on the Trade Union Bill, this time by Labour peers in the House of Lords.
The Trade Union Bill is the most significant, sustained and partisan attack on trade union members and their workplace organisations that we have seen in this country in the last 30 years. Ever since the Bill was introduced, Labour have been fighting hard in opposition, leading to some crucial victories in the House of Lords.
The government was defeated on its plans to change the way trade unionists pay into their union political fund. The legislation required union members to ‘opt in’ every five years to remain in the political fund. It would have given unions just three months to sign up their members to the fund and required them to get the written consent. It was a blatant attack on the ability of unions to campaign for their members and a partisan attack on the Labour Party’s funding to remain an effective opposition. The House of Lords voted by a majority of 148 to call for a rethink, and for unions to be given a 12-month grace period for the changes to be phased in.
The House of Lords also voted down the government’s proposals to reduce facility time for union reps in the public sector. This is time off, agreed between employers and unions, for their elected representatives to support their members and maintain good industrial relations. Significant number of public sector employers have testified to the value of facility time and we hope that the government will accept that this is a change no one wants or needs.
The government was heavily defeated on all three votes and will now be forced to rethink its plans when the Bill returns to the Commons. The government now has a real opportunity to listen to the concerns expressed by Labour and working people across Britain. And we’ll keep urging the government to think again and withdraw this divisive Bill.
After days of dodging the question, David Cameron finally admitted that he had a stake in his father’s offshore trust. We all want a government that clamps down on tax avoidance, with ministers that play by the same rules as the rest of us. When Parliament returns, Labour will be standing up for ordinary people and challenging the government to finally step up and tackle the issue of tax avoidance.
The future of the steel industry still hangs in the balance with tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Labour MPs have raised the issue 203 times in the House of Commons since last May, yet this Tory government has failed to take action time and time again. The government can no longer afford to do nothing. Labour will continue to press the Tories to save our steel industry now.
Over the next parliamentary session, I’ll continue to stand up for the people of Bristol West, holding the government to account, for example, on: its costly and unwanted educational reforms; cuts to Bristol City Council’s funding; the housing crisis; and their failures to protect and support the NHS.