The NHS and public health, transport, broadband, pensions, migration and the refugee crisis, how to tackle racism and to promote gender equality in advertising, sport, and the workplace. These are some of the issues I’ve been discussing in Parliament over the past couple of weeks. No doubt, they are also amongst the many and varied issues that in recent weeks have been argued will be directly or indirectly affected by our forthcoming decision over the UK’s membership of the European Union.
In just a few weeks’ time, on 23 June, every voter will have a choice to make about our future EU membership. In or out. This is such a vast and wide ranging debate and to be clear – it is not possible for either side to be certain of the impact that a decision to leave could have on our day to day lives here in the UK.
One argument from leave supporters is that ‘Brexit’ could protect us from the many negative influences of TTIP, the EU- US trade deal. I disagree.
I do have strong concerns that the unremarkably titled ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ poses a serious threat to our NHS and other public services by opening them to the risk of American privatisation. That is why I tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech demanding new protection for the NHS, and last week pressed the Government to make it clear that they will reject any treaty that puts the interests of big business ahead of ours.
Forced to accept my amendment, it is the first time since 1924 that a government has accepted a motion of regret to a Queen’s Speech - an unprecedented humiliation. It is clear from the support my amendment received that a majority in the Commons, as well as in the country, do not accept the government’s position on TTIP.
The truth is, the Tory Government have not only turned a blind eye to the warnings of the unions, campaigners and MPs, including many on their own backbenches, who have warned them about the danger that TTIP poses. Whilst other EU countries have been adding their reservations to protect their powers and interests, our government have actively encouraged TTIP’s pro-privatisation and foreign business friendly form. Disturbingly, in 2014 the Conservative Trade Minister actually lobbied the European Commission to try to make sure TTIP kept its Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions – the unaccountable international courts that allow foreign investors to sue governments for things like increases in the minimum wage.
So, I stand in direct contrast to those Tory Eurosceptics eager to exploit this issue. Conversely, it is my fear that, if Britain left the EU, far from protecting our public services like the NHS, transport or education, our own Government, driven by its ideological belief in privatisation, would subject us to even worse trade deals, with less of a voice to challenge them.
I believe that Britain is much stronger as part of the EU. I will be voting remain on 23 June, to protect jobs, growth and investment as well as workers’ rights and I urge local people who care about these issues to do the same.
This week, we've had the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech, which sets out the Government’s legislative plans for the year ahead.
I’m proud that the amendment I tabled on TTIP (the EU-US trade deal) became the first amendment to a Queens Speech to be accepted for 94 years. It is clear that action needs to be taken to ensure the NHS is specifically exempted from the threat posed by private American healthcare companies. This is an important issue and I’m glad to have forced the Government into yet another climb-down, just months after doing the same on their Budget.
I’ve also been working to ensure that the savings from the abolition of the tampon tax are fully passed on to customers. I’ve had an encouraging meeting with trade association representatives for UK manufacturers and I look forward to working with them further on this.
On Wednesday I met with the Transport Minister Andrew Jones to discuss Mirfield Railway Station and the ongoing battle for better accessibility at the station. He has promised to look into funding options that may be available to make much needed improvements. I’ll continue to work with local campaigners to press this issue.
I’ve had meetings with the Royal College of Physicians and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) this week to discuss the situation at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust. It is imperative that everyone works together to resolve issues at the Trust, primarily the very serious staffing shortage. Patient safety must come first.
Today (Friday) I have a busy day in the constituency – after meeting with the CQC this morning, joining a street stall to support National Dementia Awareness Week and having a catch up with West Yorkshire Police Constable, Dee Collins, I’ll be joining the Labour In campaign team this afternoon with Tom Watson MP.
On Saturday morning I have a surgery in Shepley which is open to any local constituents who have issues or concerns they would like me to help with.
Paula Sherriff, MP for Dewsbury and Mirfield, questioned the Government this week on behalf of Women born in the 1950s affected by changes to the State Pension Age.
The Government has imposed changes which may add 4-5 years to the working lives of these women, with little or no notification. Many are now facing financial hardship.
Ms Sherriff quizzed the DWP Minister Shailesh Vara on this in Parliament yesterday, asking if transitional protection will be introduced for women affected by changes to the state pension age.
Commenting on this, Ms Sherriff said; ‘Over 4000 women in my constituency have had their pension age accelerated and were not given proper notice. These local women have been treated badly by the Government. That’s why I am supporting the campaign by Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI).’
In 2011, when the Conservative-led Government accelerated the timetable for changes to the State Pension age for women, Iain Duncan Smith made a commitment to look at transitional provisions to help the women who have been hit hardest by the changes but he has never made good on that promise.
Ms Sherriff said; ‘Inaction is no longer an option, the Government must look again at the issue and put forward proposals to help those most in need as a matter of urgency. Local people can show their support by signing the WASPI Public Petition which I will present to Parliament.’
The paper petition can be found here and a copy is also available to sign at Paula Sherriff's constituency office. To be accepted by Parliament, it must be completed with full name, address and postcode for each signatory and all those who sign must live in Dewsbury constituency, which encompasses Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton. Completed petitions should be returned to Paula Sherriff MP, The Old Dewsbury Reporter Building, Wellington Road, Dewsbury, WF13 1HQ.
Last week I attended a meeting to discuss the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It’s a phrase that George Osborne is fond of and frequently uses whilst posing for photo ops wearing a hard hat and hi-vis jacket. The concern I raised is that the rhetoric does not match the reality.
Infrastructure investment is still heavily skewed in favour of London and the South East and, as it transpires, the Chancellor’s promise of devolution of power to the North is simply a devolution of cuts to our local authorities.
Sadly, the same can also be said of the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ schools strategy announced in the Budget. It is undoubtedly clear that action needs to be taken to address educational attainment standards in our region. The shocking disadvantage faced by children in Yorkshire & the Humber was highlighted in Parliament recently by my colleague Jo Cox MP.
In January, a study by the Social Market Foundation revealed that the most important factor in predicting a students’ educational attainment is where they live. Yorkshire has been ranked lowest in England for academic attainment and the latest figures show that 70 per cent of pupils in London achieve five good GCSEs compared to 63 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber.
Education is the bedrock on which our region’s future success will be built and ambitions of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ are without foundation if pupils don’t leave school with decent qualifications. Yet a meagre £20m a year has been set aside for the Government’s schools project for the whole of the North of England, and the strategy was not even mentioned at all in the Government’s latest education policy proposals.
Despite the dedication and commitment of our teachers, they face an uphill struggle against education policies obsessed with bringing free market forces into schools. We have a crisis in teacher recruitment that is affecting schools across the country. The pressure of budget cuts, crowded classrooms and massive upheaval to curriculums, assessments and exams are seeing many teachers leaving the profession because they feel demoralised.
This week, we have seen Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, facing mounting pressure from across the political spectrum about the government’s plan to force all schools to become academies, meaning they would be run without the oversight of local authorities.
I strongly believe that forcing schools to become academies against their wishes is taking education backwards. Local parents tell me that they want good schools with good standards and enough places for their children to attend, not the unnecessary and unfounded reorganisation of our school system that will do nothing to address these things.
When will the government listen to the professionals instead of driving through this ideological, top-down, costly reorganisation of our school system?
As your local MP I voted against these proposals because it was the right thing to do, and I will continue to fight to ensure that children in our region have equality of opportunity to achieve the best possible futures.
Paula Sherriff MP has become an Officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group.
Sherriff, the Member of Parliament for Dewsbury and an active member of the Parliamentary Group, became a Vice-Chairman of the Group on her birthday, 16 April.
Before her election to Parliament in 2015, Sherriff was a councillor in Pontefract on Wakefield District Council. She is a lifelong rugby league fan having seen her first games with her father. Well-known as a tough campaigner, she recently made Parliamentary history by becoming the first backbench MP to have an amendment made to a Budget resolution adopted with the abolition of tax on sanitary products, and is now looking for her next challenge.
She said “I am delighted to become a Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group and join colleagues of all parties to promote, support and challenge issues within rugby league. The Group is one of the biggest and most popular in Parliament and I am looking forward to playing an even more active role. It’s also a lovely birthday present.”
The Chairman of the Group, Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland welcomed Sherriff, saying “we couldn’t ask for a more passionate individual to become an Officer of the Group. Since she joined the Group, she has done all she can to support our work, and rugby league in Parliament. She’s very welcome as an officer and we are all looking forward to working with her to support our game.”
Officers of the Group are:
- Lord Doug Hoyle (Labour)
- Greg Mulholland MP (Leeds North West, Liberal Democrat)
- Paula Sherriff MP (Dewsbury, Labour)
- Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP (Chorley, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Labour)
- Jason McCartney (Colne Valley, Conservative)
- David Mowat MP (Warrington South, Conservative)
- Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston, Labour)
- Lord Smith of Leigh (Labour)
The Group is open to Members of both Houses of Parliament, as well as Associate Members. The group meets monthly when the House of Commons is sitting. More information, including a full list of Members, is available on its website: www.apprlg.org.uk.
It’s been a busy few weeks in Parliament! After nearly two years of campaigning, the announcement that the tampon tax will finally be scrapped is a huge victory for common sense and for all the women who have fought on this issue for so long.
I’m proud that, last week, the government made the unprecedented announcement that they will accept my amendment to the budget resolution on the ‘tampon tax’ – the first time in parliamentary history that a backbench MP has seen an amendment to a Budget resolution successfully adopted.
We now need the Chancellor to guarantee secure, long-term funding for the vital women’s charities and services that were receiving the money raised by VAT on sanitary products.
The test now will be for producers and retailers to pass the savings on to consumers, and to work with the Government to make sure the charities which had a funding boost from the tampon tax don’t lose out. I have written to manufacturers and retailers to ask them to meet with me very soon to reach an agreement on that, and hope for government support.
Whilst I am delighted to have forced the Tories into action on this issue, sadly, this doesn’t stop this being a deeply unfair Budget and moreover, one that is in complete disarray. Just days since his Budget announcement, the Chancellor has been forced to back down on his plan to cut up to £150 a week off the income of 1,160 disabled people in Dewsbury and hundreds of thousands more across the country, causing unnecessary worry to those who are often amongst the most vulnerable, and then leaving a £4.4 billion black hole in his Budget.
Unbelievably, having failed to achieve his own fiscal targets by every meaningful measure, deficit, debt, growth and productivity; those on the highest incomes are still set to get a tax cut, at the same time as local families are losing tax credits and universal credit.
Not only did this Budget reveal cruel cuts to social security that are, in the words of the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, ‘deeply unfair’, but the decision to withdraw this key policy within just days of its announcement, exposes a shocking level of incompetence and ineptitude.
Locally, whilst I’m glad that the government is finally planning something to help small businesses with business rates, this measure alone (even with doubtful assurances that the cost will not be met at the expense of cash strapped local authorities), is not enough to bring the jobs and skills needed to boost our local economy. We need a serious plan to bring much needed investment to our area. Unfortunately, the government’s inability to explain the missing £4.4 billion in the Chancellor’s Budget, has instead left everyone wondering where the axe will fall in order to pay the price for the Tories’ failure.
The government have made it clear in their £110m cuts to council funding over the past five years, and in their failure to deliver on a promised ‘Enterprise Zone’, that they have little time for Dewsbury or Kirklees. Nevertheless, I will continue to lobby the government for a fair deal for Dewsbury – sadly another omission from a deeply unfair Budget.
Dewsbury MP, Paula Sherriff, has this week hailed the success of her hard fought campaign for VAT to be abolished on women’s sanitary products.
Speaking earlier today Ms Sherriff said:
"This is a great victory for all the women who have campaigned on this issue for so long, and I hope the end of the tampon tax is now in sight."
Since Ms Sherriff put forward an amendment to the Finance Bill in October last year, she has repeatedly pressed this issue in Parliament, culminating in an agreement from the Chancellor to reduce the VAT rate on sanitary products to zero.
This week, despite his attempts to placate feminist campaigners by offering to spend the proceeds of the ‘tampon tax’ on women’s charities, the Chancellor has again been forced into action by an amendment tabled by Ms Sherriff.
"The full announcement we expect next week should now be reflected in this year’s Budget, with a clear timetable for abolition of the tampon tax in the UK. My amendment would allow that, so I hope that the Chancellor will announce now that he will accept it."
More than 300,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for sanitary items to be exempted from tax. Ms Sherriff has pledged to keep up the pressure until the reform is seen through:
"There is no excuse not to act now, and reform is long overdue - 2017 should be a deadline not an aspiration. In the meantime, the Chancellor should guarantee that essential women’s services won’t depend on a tax on essential women’s products."
Labour MPs Paula Sherriff, Dewsbury, and Jo Cox, Batley & Spen, have secured a public meeting with Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust to address local concerns about changes at Dewsbury and District Hospital.
Stepping up their campaign to protect the hospital from the effects of a planned downgrade of services, the MPs are working together to raise key concerns about changes to A&E and maternity departments.
After meeting with the interim Chief Executive of the Trust last week the MPs have also written to the Health Secretary to raise further concerns about ongoing issues, particularly in relation to acute care.
Following a number of alarming complaints from constituents, Ms Sherriff has secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Monday evening to raise concerns about staffing levels at the hospital.
Mrs Cox said: “We continue to have serious concerns about the way the trust is running our hospital. We are determined to use every avenue available to us here and in Parliament to continue the fight for DDH and make sure those concerns, and the concerns of local people, are addressed.”
Ms Sherriff said: “Our concerns stem from the information that we, as MPs, receive from patients with complaints, anecdotal information, internal whistle blowers and formal accounts. These suggest to us that there are some serious problems both within and affecting the Trust. It is imperative we get to the bottom of them.”
A review is under way looking at the timeline of the reconfiguration. This will be complete before the end of April and will look at whether or not the reconfiguration would help the current issues, or whether it would make them worse.
The MPs are in discussions with the Trust about when and where the public meeting will be held.
Mrs Cox added: “Although the changes being made at Dewsbury, and to the Trust as a whole, are very well advanced at this stage we both remain very concerned about the lack of information the public have about them.”
Ms Sherriff added: “Our constituents remain extremely worried about the proposed loss of services at our hospital. We will continue to hold the Trust to account and fight for the best deal for local people.”
Happy International Women’s Day! Today is an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and the continuing fight for equality for women everywhere.
Over the last year I’ve had the opportunity to get behind some great campaigns for gender equality. The highlight of these has been my amendment to the Finance Bill which would have forced an EU negotiation on the VAT rate charged on sanitary items, which has been dubbed the ‘Tampon Tax’.
It’s good to shine a light on the deep rooted injustice of gender pricing. I’m glad that the Chancellor has been forced to pledge to eventually abolish the tampon tax altogether, but in the meantime the £15m raised by the tax is to go to women’s services through breast cancer and domestic abuse charities – services that ought not have been cut to begin with and should be funded by society as a whole, not paid for by women just because they have periods!
Tory austerity has made life harder for women all across the country – it’s shocking that in 2016, women in the UK are more likely to work for less pay than men, in low paid jobs and be disproportionately affected by cuts to public services. Between 2010 and 2020, 81% of the savings made to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes will be paid for by women. The Government’s mismanagement of changes to the state pension age for women born in the 1950s is an injustice causing added financial worries for many already struggling to cope from week to week.
All of these things can be changed if women use their right to vote. Sadly, 34% of women did not vote in last year’s election. This year women should make sure their voices are heard in May’s local elections. Together we can make the Tories sit up and listen! Why not celebrate International Women’s Day by registering to vote? It only takes a few minutes at: gov.uk/register-to-vote
Paula Sherriff, MP for Dewsbury, has this week challenged the Government to come clean on their failed pledge to ensure every home and business in the UK could access basic broadband by the end of 2015.
The Government have now acknowledged that the rollout of superfast broadband is not likely to be delivered until the end of 2017.
Ms Sherriff explained: ‘A stopgap measure, the satellite voucher scheme was launched in December which is supposed to offer immediate assistance to those who are still waiting for decent access to broadband. Unfortunately many local people have contact me to say they are not able to access this, due to limited eligibility criteria.’
In response to her question to Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey in Parliament yesterday, Ms Sherriff was told that the satellite voucher scheme would provide broadband access to everyone who does not currently have broadband or has broadband under 2mbps.
‘Sadly, this is not the full picture for local residents. The Government’s eligibility criteria means that, in areas where superfast broadband is due to be rolled out within the next 12 months, local people will not be entitled to the satellite voucher scheme.
For those who have contacted me, this is not a satisfactory situation – they have been waiting years to have access to a decent broadband service and they feel the satellite voucher scheme offers false hope of providing immediate access in the short term.
My constituents are understandably disappointed that their homes will continue to be isolated, businesses diminished and children’s educations stunted by poor connectivity.’
Ms Sherriff has now written to Mr Vaizey to highlight her constituents’ concerns about the efficacy of the satellite voucher scheme and to ask that the Government expand the scheme so that it offers the short term assistance promised.
‘The Government have broken their promise to ensure every home and business in the UK could access basic broadband by the end of 2015. Now they offer us a short term measure that will be out of reach for many residents awaiting decent broadband access. It’s just not good enough to ask my constituents to wait a further 12 months. People have been waiting long enough to access to a reasonable broadband service which in 2016 is a necessity, not a luxury.’
Watch the full question Ms Sherriff asked in Parliament here: