April Bedford Independent Guest Column – Cuts Correlate with Crime

My latest guest column for Bedford Independent focuses on the correlation between cuts to police and public services and the rise in violent crime.

This month, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, made another speech about rising violent crime among young people.

In what some interpreted as a leadership bid, Javid said, had he not had the good influence of his parents and teachers he could have had a life of crime himself and worried about his teenage children out on the streets.

“If I don’t feel safe or don’t think the streets are safe enough for my own children,” he said, “then something has gone terribly wrong”.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The country has seen a massive increase in youth knife crime. In Bedfordshire, knife crime has gone up 86% since 2014 and we have one of the worst knife crime rates outside of London.

In the last month alone, we have seen the trials of two horrific murders in Bedford. Five men were jailed for a total of 102 years for the death of Przemyslaw Golimowski.

And a 20-year-old and three 15-year olds, who filmed their brutal attack of 16- year old Cemeren Yilmaz, were found guilty of murder – a case of children killing children in gang related violence.

Until the Conservative Government acknowledge that cuts to police and other public services correlates to the rise in violent crime, they are not going to tackle the problem.

The Government have offered a one-off fund, but this is a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to what is needed.

10 years of austerity has hit our nation hard and the damage of such social violence cannot be underestimated.

As well as giving the police the funding they need to do their jobs effectively we have to start taking a public health approach to youth violent crime and find out why kids are joining gangs, carrying knives and hurting each other.

There are plenty of teachers, youth workers, scholars and parents who know what needs to be done but the Government won’t listen.

A damning report by the United Nations poverty envoy in November found that the UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity.”

Labour have called for more police officers and a real, concentrated effort to tackle the root causes of knife crime.

This involves supporting vulnerable young people who are at risk of falling into crime and developing comprehensive prevention and support strategies.

These changes would tackle not only knife crime, but other related crimes too.

Mr Javid talks of his escape from a possible world of crime, but his Government are reducing opportunities and life chances for young people.

There were 4.1 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2016-17. Is it that surprising that children are being seduced into a world of crime when their families can’t even feed them?

A much larger, co-ordinated effort is needed to prevent violent crimes and give our young people the chances that they deserve. The current approach has failed and is costing lives.”

 

Compromise in a time of crisis

No one following events in Westminster over the last weeks and months would deny that we are in a moment of crisis. That is why MPs have been engaged in a process of indicating their preferences in terms of Brexit options going forward over two sessions, the first last Wednesday and again last night. This is, I believe, a sincere attempt to break the deadlock.

These ‘indicative votes’ were intended to establish what Parliament might consider an acceptable outcome. It is a great pity that we have waited so long to embark upon this essential process and represents a failure of Government. Theresa May should have reached out to establish a consensus before Article 50 was invoked in March 2017.

A little over half of all those who voted in the referendum in Bedford & Kempston did so in favour of leaving the EU. I am always mindful of that fact, but the problem with the referendum of 2016 was that it did not give anyone the option of indicating how they wanted to leave the EU. It is clear from the correspondence that I am receiving from constituents that leaving the EU means a lot of different things to different people. Some have changed their mind. That fundamental problem of interpreting the vote is something that all MPs have been grappling with, and as we’ve approached the withdrawal date, matters have come to a head. Those differences of opinion about what ‘leave’ means are now reflected in Parliament. I know that my constituents are exhausted with the process and just want the uncertainty to stop.

No deal is not a realistic option. Just today we learned from a leaked letter to Government from the UK’s top civil servant how bad a no deal Brexit would be for Britain: bad because food supplies and standards would be at risk and food prices would rise, bad because jobs and livelihoods would be lost and worker’s rights would be compromised, bad because it risks the fragmentation of the UK and bad because it would be a terrible outcome for our NHS and security.

For me, this process is now about being open to compromise – looking carefully at what is realistic. Whilst all of the options presented for consideration last night have positive aspects, they also have drawbacks. I am aware that there is no outcome that will please everyone, but intransigence is not an option.

It is the PM’s steadfast refusal to adopt a sensible compromise approach to negotiations that has led us to this crisis – So I cast my votes yesterday as follows:

Customs Union – Seeking a UK Wide Customs union with the EU – For

Common Market 2.0 – Remaining in the Common Market and seeking a temporary customs union with the EU – For

Confirmatory Referendum – Holding a public vote to confirm any withdrawal agreement agreed by Parliament – For

Parliamentary Supremacy – Power for MPs to block leaving with no deal, cancelling Brexit if the EU won’t grant a further extension beyond 12 April – For

The first two options represent to me a pragmatic compromise on Brexit – softer options that would minimise the negative economic impact of leaving whilst still allowing the UK many of the freedoms that would not be permitted as a member of the European Union. I am aware that both options would not represent the clean break that many leavers would like to see. I have some reservations about both, but I have never been in favour of leaving without a deal and I do not consider Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement represents a good deal. I am persuaded therefore that a Brexit pursued in terms of either of these models would be broadly acceptable to me.

This brings me to my decision to support a confirmatory referendum. I have always had concerns about going back to the people on this issue, and I am aware that many people will be unhappy about that option. But I also think that opinion is very divided on the issue of how we should proceed. Parliament seems unable to decide so asking the electorate to confirm what they think about whatever deal is finally decided upon might be the best thing to do.

Finally, I voted for the motion to revoke Article 50 if the EU will not extend beyond the 12th April. The Brexit negotiation process has not delivered an acceptable outcome for Britain, and I do not think that is in dispute. The process of extending the leave date without any clear idea of where we are headed, runs the very real risk of an accidental ‘No Deal’, and leaving without any deal in place is something that I have already said that I cannot support, and indeed will actively resist. I realise that some people in my constituency would like this to be the outcome but as a representative not a delegate, I have to act in a way I believe to be in the best interests of all of the people that I have been elected to serve. If Article 50 were to be revoked, there is nothing to say that it could not be invoked again at a later date if agreement could be reached on how our departure from the EU could be achieved.

Unfortunately, none of the options gained a majority. These are complex arguments that I have tried to condense into a relatively brief post. I appreciate that I may not have covered everything to the satisfaction of all of the people reading this, but if you are a constituent and would like to email me for more details, I will be happy to provide a more comprehensive response. Please be mindful that my office is handling an unprecedented volume of email correspondence, so it may take a little while.

 

Protect free TV licences for the over 75s

Protect free TV licences for the over 75s

Over the course of the past few months, I have been contacted by several constituents concerned that millions of people over the age of 75 could lose their free TV licences. The free TV licence was introduced in 2000 in recognition that the licence fee could be a source of concern for many people over the age of 75, nearly 50% of whom were in the lowest three income deciles.

However, in 2015 – as part of the BBC’s Charter renewal – the Government shifted the cost of these licences to the BBC, without the funding to sustain the policy. The BBC reached an agreement with the Government to take on the cost of providing free TV licences by 2020/21. The BBC is now considering whether to keep, reform or end the free TV licence for over-75s. I understand the BBC is expected to reach a decision by this summer and I along with many others will be following this closely.

I recognise that many elderly people, along with Age UK, the Campaign to End Loneliness and Silver Voices have expressed concern at any changes to the licence. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation outlined that pensioner poverty is currently rising, with one in six pensioners currently living in poverty. Ending the free TV licence could see approximately 2.4 million pensioners lose their licence and a further 50,000 pushed below the poverty line.

The TV licence is an important benefit for pensioners who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. If TV licences are ended or means-tested, millions of older people, almost half of whom consider television their main source of company, will have to pay to keep the little company they do have.

The current Government was elected on a manifesto which promised to maintain all pensioner benefits, including TV licences. I believe it must keep this promise by taking back responsibility for the TV licence. In February I asked a question on this matter. Unfortunately, the Minister chose not to answer the question and to shift responsibility.

I will continue to press the Government to step in and save free TV licences for over-75s.

March Bedford Independent Guest Column – Christchurch & Social Media Reform

My monthly guest column for Bedford Independent focuses on the appalling terrorist attack in New Zealand and the need for decisive action by social media companies.

On Friday we woke to the terrible news that 50 innocent lives had been taken in New Zealand’s worst terrorist attack on two mosques.

This abhorrent act, carried out by a right-wing extremist, has shocked the world, and we all mourn with the people of Christchurch.

One of the most distressing aspects of the attack was that the terrorist live-streamed his appalling acts on social media. Footage was available many hours later and can still be found in less obvious areas of the internet.

Some of our national newspapers even carried the footage on their websites and one national paper uploaded the attacker’s full 74-page manifesto, deleting the document only after being accused of spreading terrorist material.

There must be a serious review of how these films were shared and why more effective action wasn’t taken to remove them and the associated material.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded quickly and decisively, pledging to cover the cost of funerals offering financial assistance for those affected – and most importantly promising changes to her country’s gun laws.

Her compassionate leadership has been praised globally. But this was an act of terror designed to send fear across the globe by use of digital media, and now the legislative response needs to reflect that.

The devastating attack on innocent men, women and children in their place of worship crystallises the case for social media regulation.

Social media platforms have become part of the terrorists’ tools, but they continue to deny their responsibilities as a publisher of the material.

Although Facebook claims that it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, of which over 1.2 million were blocked at upload, but questions remain about why an account displaying white supremacist material was not already banned.

The social media oligarchs have the tech to control output on their platforms but have so far resisted doing so.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg refused Parliament’s request to be questioned by MPs over data abuse in their inquiry into ‘Disinformation and Fake News’ which issued its final report in February.

The report was highly critical of media platforms; their illegal harvesting and use of our data and the threat to democracy in the UK and elsewhere.

Defenders of the media platforms and of extreme views always cite free speech as the reason why any regulation would be wrong, but free speech always comes with responsibility and does not trump the rule of law.

The right to freedom of speech certainly does not extend to the right to carry out or promote mass murders on the grounds of racial or religious hatred.

I am pleased that the Home Secretary agrees with Labour policy that new laws are urgently required to force the oligarchs of Silicon Valley to face up to their responsibilities, but meaningful action must be taken before more innocent lives are lost.

Opportunity to make your voice heard on ME

Opportunity to make your voice heard on ME

If you are a constituent of Bedford and Kempston who suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), your views and experience could help shape significant changes with the current Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit assessment and interview processes.

I was pleased to speak recently at a debate in the House of Commons about the urgent need to fund and support research to find more appropriate treatment for sufferers of ME. Some 250,000 people suffer from ME, with 25% of individuals house or bed-bound, yet the only treatments available on the NHS treatments available on the NHS, have been shown to be ineffective, and can even worsen their condition.

There are also significant concerns that those with ME are being discriminated against as a result of a lack of fair access to the benefits to which sufferers may be entitled. I and my colleagues in the Labour Party continue to put pressure on the government at every opportunity as their hostile policies toward people living with disabilities and illness when they make benefit claims must be reformed. Medical evidence is largely overlooked or given little weight within the DWP’s assessment processes, which include interviews and physical assessments.

Many individuals within the ME community have voiced concerns about health assessors who carry out these assessments for benefits displaying an insufficient understanding of ME and not properly applying the assessment criteria. These factors, combined with tests which often leave a patient exhausted for weeks afterwards, mean that we assessments must become more accessible and accurate for those with ME.

A recent meeting with senior SNP MPs and representatives from the DWP has resulted in a request to all MPs to submit case studies from constituents with ME who have encountered these or any other issues whilst making a claim and being assessed for benefits.

If you have ME and have previously made a claim for benefits, attended an assessment or interview, or are attempting to do so currently, and would be happy to me to share your experiences, please contact my office by email on office@mohammadyasin.org or call 01234 346525.

Your personal details do not have to be shared as you can remain anonymous, but your experience could help shape more considered, accurate, appropriate and humane benefit assessment processes.

HMP Bedford

HMP Bedford

I’ve been pushing for issues around Bedford prison to be addressed since my election, and most recently I’ve twice brought a serious security issue to the House of Commons – and in writing – but to no avail. There are broken screens at HMP Bedford that have resulted in constituents who live close to the prison having to put up with loud, intimidating and lewd behaviour from prisoners, and daily intrusions on to their properties by criminals smuggling contraband through their gardens and over the prison wall.

The Prisons Minister Rory Stewart MP committed to immediately raising the matter with the governor, but this easy to fix security issue has still yet to be addressed. I’ll be picking this up with him again next week.

Mr Stewart has used smoke and mirrors when he claimed this week there’s been a drop in violence across the ten ‘back to basics’ prisons, whilst the actions and financial support necessary to make improvements to security and living conditions across the prison estate, including HMP Bedford, have not been forthcoming.

These are desperate tactics here from a minister who gave a commitment to resign if he failed on prison safety, yet apparently has done little to address the terrible conditions within the prison itself.

If the recent HMIP report is anything to go by, Bedford Prison certainly ought to have been identified as one of the worst in the country. But perhaps acknowledging a problem that his government will not commit the resources to fix is not convenient.

 

Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting Imports

Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting Imports

I have been contacted by several constituents calling for a ban on the import of hunting trophies into Britain. Amongst other species, elephants, lions, hippopotamuses, leopards and rhinoceroses, popular with British trophy hunters, are fighting for their lives.

I agree that the practice of importing hunting trophies is wrong and requires firmer action. The UK must show global leadership by tackling illegal wildlife trade and bringing an end to trophy hunting. I gave my support to the Early Day Motion back in November, which called on the Government to commit to halting imports of hunting trophies as a matter of urgency and I will continue to put pressure on this Government to follow the precedent set by Australia, France and the Netherlands, and introduce import bans.

The Opposition consulted on an Animal Welfare Plan between February and May last year. It included a proposal to end the import of wild animal trophies from species that are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and to expand this ban to species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The international rules for the import and export of hunting trophies are established under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Killing endangered wildlife for pleasure has a direct impact on the conservation status of some of the world’s most endangered wildlife: it is cruel, archaic and immoral and has no place in today’s Britain.

https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/illegal-wildlife-trade

Bedfordshire Achievement Ceremony

Bedfordshire Achievement Ceremony

I was delighted to attend the annual Bedfordshire Achievement Ceremony last night, hosted by The Bedford College Group, where staff and students were honoured for their efforts and achievements. It was a pleasure to listen to Performing Arts students sing and to listen to the inspiring words of the guest speaker, international author Ruth Hogan, who presented the certificates alongside Ian Pryce CBE, The Bedford College Group Principal and CEO.

The Bedford College Group works with almost 1,000 employers, has more than 2,400 apprentices who are included in a student body of 14,700 supported by 980 staff. It is one of the top 10% of colleges in the UK f or progressing students on to positive destinations and has secured millions of pounds of investment in an Advanced Engineering & Construction Centre at the riverside campus in Bedford, a Zoological Education Centre at Shuttleworth College and the Wellingborough campus of Tresham College.

Congratulations to all those dedicated members of staff and students who were short-listed for, and won, a range of national awards.

(Group Photo L-R Ian Pryce CBE CEO of The Bedford College Group with Mayor Dave Hodgson, author Ruth Hogan, Bedford College Chair of Corporate Roger Marriott, MP Mohammad Yasin and Head of Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce Rod Calvert OBE DL)

Brexit Update

This is a difficult time for our country. The referendum of 2016 caused a great deal of hurt, and the negotiation process that we have been engaged in ever since Article 50 was invoked has been painful. Now those negotiations have concluded, and Theresa May has not delivered a good deal for Britain. It is clearer now than ever before that there was never a deal possible that would improve on the one we have already within the EU. Many people said at the time that withdrawing from the biggest market in the world could only bring dis-benefits. Doing so via the deal Mrs May is offering in this way would be disastrous, as would withdrawing with no deal at all.

We should not be fooled by the Prime Minister’s attempts to sell her deal to the British people as a good compromise – this is a tactic designed only to keep her Government in power. Leavers and remainers alike are at least united in their dislike of the outcome of the negotiations. The deal on the table could very well chain us to Brussels in perpetuity without any say in how we are governed and would leave us with a hefty divorce bill to settle – all without any of the promised assurances of frictionless trade, or the huge benefits of security cooperation and a strong political alliance across Europe. It is a poor offering indeed. It stands to reason therefore that I will not support it when it is brought before Parliament on the 11th December.

The question then is what should happen after Parliament have considered the deal in the ‘Meaningful Vote’ – a vote that Labour colleagues and campaigners fought so hard to secure, and which this Government did not want MPs to have. It is highly likely that Theresa May’s deal will be rejected by MPs –  and rightly so because we shouldn’t accept a bad deal because it’s the only deal on offer or because we’re worn down with the process. But we do need a plan for what happens next.

Many people have written to me urging me to support a people’s vote. A second referendum with an option to remain is one possible future option and is something I would support if the conditions were right. But I believe we need to have a very clear idea about exactly what we would ask in the event that this were possible, and we need a far greater degree of certainty than we currently have about the possible outcome of such a vote. Even the Tory Chancellor admits that Britain’s economy would shrink under any Brexit scenario. I am wary of offering my full support to any course of action that could result in a more decisive ‘leave’ mandate, because there is no leave option available at this time that would not make Britain poorer.

So while a people’s vote should not be dismissed, we should first work to safeguard Britain against a catastrophic no deal Brexit.

Alongside colleagues, I will support Labour’s Amendment to the Meaningful Vote. I shall reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal because it fails to protect jobs and living standards, workers’ rights and environmental standards and because it does not provide sufficient guarantees on national security. The amendment strongly opposes crashing out of the UK without a deal, and that must be the first priority.

Labour believe that Theresa May’s government have failed on Brexit, and that the British people should have the opportunity now to make a choice. A choice between a Tory Government who have pursued a pointless austerity agenda to devastating effect – an agenda that has decimated public services, starved our NHS, police, local government and schools of cash, and impoverished families, and now promises to shrink our economy and make us even poorer – Or a Labour Government who would begin work immediately to repair that damage and crucially would reject any Brexit scenario that would leave the UK worse off. I understand my Party’s position on this. Not to aspire to be a party in government at this time of national crisis would be to shirk responsibility. However, the Fixed Term Parliament’s Act does present big obstacle. A General Election might not happen and if it is decisively rejected, then other democratic routes to testing the better informed will of the people should be the next step.

This is a very uncertain time and there are no ideal solutions that I can see. I can assure you that I will do all I can to ensure that I represent the views of all of my constituents in the coming weeks – not an easy task in a constituency where opinion on this issue is so divided.

I hope to eventually be able to support an outcome that will secure jobs, growth and trade, keep us safe and guarantee prosperous futures for our families, our children and our grandchildren.

 

 

 

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Fails to Deliver

Many constituents are contacting me to share their strong concerns regarding the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister, which fails to deliver on her Government’s promises.

The government is now in chaos because of their inability to negotiate a deal in the national interest. It is highly unlikely the Agreement will get through Parliament and it’s not clear what is going to happen next but the Government is weak and unstable at this crucial time in our history when we need strong governance.

Labour have been clear that we will not vote for a deal that does not protect jobs, workers and environmental rights, the economy and living standards or a deal that does not work for all of the nations in the United Kingdom.

My party has fought for a deal which included a new comprehensive and permanent customs union, with a British say in future trade deals which would support businesses, our NHS, jobs and the manufacturing supply chains they depend on; a strong single market relationship that allows British business continued access to vital European markets for both goods and services and a guarantee that our country doesn’t fall behind the EU in workers’ rights, or protections for consumers and the environment.

The Prime Minister’s hopeless compromise offers none of this and I cannot support it. It will harm jobs and the economy, it will not deliver frictionless trade and provides no certainty over customs, immigration, security, defence, research and collaboration. You were promised Brexit would be easy and have no downsides; that we would be taking back control. This deal has considerable downsides and leaves us stuck in limbo with a loss of sovereignty and less control over our borders and laws. It is a failure after two years of botched negotiations, and it would leave us in a state of limbo.

I do not believe the Prime Minister’s deal is in the national interest – indeed it is vastly inferior to the deal we currently have with the European Union.  There have already been a number of resignations – including that of her own Brexit Secretary. There could not be more damning an indictment than Dominic Raab’s assessment of the deal that he negotiated, but now says ‘presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom’. The Prime Minister now knows that her Withdrawal agreement cannot win the approval of Parliament as it has no support from Labour, the DUP or the SNP.

This is a critical point in our history and we need stability from the Government, not this chaos. I will be working hard in the coming weeks to act in the best interests of the people of Bedford and Kempston and, alongside colleagues, pressing this Government to put the interests of the country not the Conservative Party first.