This week in Parliament we had an excellent debate about Autism Spectrum Conditions, to celebrate National Austism Awareness Week. I spoke in the debate, alongside many colleagues, but in preparing my speech, I realised I wanted to tell a fuller story about my personal experience of autism than the time limits in parliament would allow. So, I have made a video, sharing my testimony about my eldest son’s diagnosis and journey. Please share, and help us deepen public understanding of this much misunderstood condition.
To see the full video, you can follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESZ-m5QLKuk&feature=youtu.beRead more
Photo by epSos.de (Creative Commons)
The revelations contained in the so-called ‘Panama Papers’, which have come to light following a leak from just one law firm in one overseas jurisdiction, have rightly caused public outrage and indignation. My inbox has been divulged with people asking the fair and obvious question: ‘If I pay all my taxes fairly, at source, then why should things be different for anyone else?’.
The level and number of senior figures named is deeply disheartening. They include close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, Iceland's now former prime minister, as well as Barcelona striker Lionel Messi.
So what can be done against this outrageous abuse? Parliament discussed this on Wednesday, and the answer is quite a lot. I voted for an immediate public inquiry into the revelations in the Panama Papers, for HMRC to be properly resourced to investigate tax avoidance and evasion, for greater public sector transparency to ensure foreign companies wanting to tender for public sector contracts publicly list their beneficial owners, and for consultation on proposals for foreign companies wanting to own UK property to have their beneficial owners listed publicly.
We also need to see the swift implementation of full public country-by-country reporting as well as ensuring robust protection for whistle blowers. Crucially we must ensure stricter standards of transparency over company and trust ownership for Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.
The Government didn't agree, and I think they risk failing to appreciate the scale of public anger over this matter. Everyone must contribute fairly to the Exchequer that funds our schools, our health service and our armed forces. At a time when government austerity measures are hitting those on lowest incomes so harshly, it is all the more imperative that everyone with high levels of personal wealth pay their fair share.
You can read the full debate here and see what you think.
The news that the British steel industry is on the brink, with the immediate potential loss of 40,000 jobs from the TATA group, is a hammer blow for the communities involved and for those of us who believe that the UK can and must retain a significant manufacturing sector. A petition has been launched to recall Parliament and urging the Government to act. I have signed the petition and am ready to go.
For many of you, like me, this will be grimly familiar with the closure of industries like mining and shipbuilding in previous decades. But steel is far from being a sunset industry - steel is essential to a modern economy and we would be the first major nation to lose our sovereign steel production. As a major military power this would be especially significant.
The overwhelming problem facing Western steel production is the huge amount of cheap Chinese steel which has come onto the world market very recently. I am no protectionist, but if countries are unfairly dumping products at under the cost of production then surely we have to act to ensure a level-playing field? Frustratingly, being a part of the EU gives us the capability to stand up to the size of China, but it has been the UK Government which has prevented stronger action being taken in the EU. There are advantages to this - cheap steel brings down costs elsewhere in our economy, but for me this is an extremely short-sighted view. It also ignores the real problems parts of the UK have experienced when whole industries have gone under.
I do believe this requires a much greater moment of national consideration, and action, than what we've seen so far. So as much as I'm enjoying working at home this week, please consider signing this petition to recall Parliament: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/126128
I've talked many times about how good quality transport is essential to our area, and in this Roundup I have three significant projects to update you on.
Firstly, just a few weeks ago the Longdendale councillors and I hosted a visit by Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP to Hollingworth to discuss the Longdendale Bypass. I was very grateful for all the local residents who turned out to put our case firmly but fairly too. The present situation is that the Mottram leg of the Bypass has been approved, and work should start in 2018/2019. The formal route consultation is set to begin in 2017, but I have requested it commence this year. In addition, I wanted to show the Minister the need for the Bypass to also cover Hollingworth, and ask when will a decision on this part be made? I am looking forward to the Minister's formal response, but I think he enjoyed his visit.
Secondly, my long-term aspiration to see a new tunnel built under the Pennines received a major boost this week when it became a key proposal in Transport for the North's plans. Frankly, people used to think I was joking when I said we should explore this. But a major tunnel under the Pennines connecting Greater Manchester with South Yorkshire would be an incredible stimulus to our area. Yes it’s ambitious - but I say we're worthy of that ambition. London and the South East get this kind of funding, and so should we.
Finally, I have just finished a stint on the Public Bill Committee for the first phase of HS2. The first phase connects London and Birmingham, then it will be extended to Crewe, before the final stage ps of the 'Y axis' is built to Manchester Airport and Manchester City Centre (on our side). HS2 is about providing sufficient capacity on our railways (not shorter journey times, though that's a plus), and I am convinced it is essential. For once in the UK, we are actually sorting out an infrastructure problem before it becomes acute. I see a future whereby HS2 in Manchester intersects with a High speed rail line running from Liverpool to Hull, through Tameside and under our new tunnel to then connect with HS2 in South Yorkshire.
Tameside would then be at the heart of an incredible transport network - just where we belong.