Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: 25th Anniversary

It was very exciting to celebrate the Good Friday Agreement on Thursday at the end of the period in Parliament and there was a debate which involved a number of MPs including Peter Kyle who is our Hove Labour MP and his first few words are listed below. The whole of his text can be obtained from here along with the other MPs. One of the other MPs who spoke was Simon Hoare who is a Conservative Minister and MP for North Dorset and he referred to our City when he stated the following which was very good.

We need to remind ourselves that this is not just an island of Ireland story or commemoration but is relevant to all our islands. The troubles that were unleashed brought mayhem and death that also shattered lives on the mainland, and we should never forget Brighton, Manchester, Warrington and the Baltic Exchange, to name just a few. This is such an important story in our nation’s history.

The day when the murders took place in Brighton I was travelling over to Lancing to work and I recall hearing about it that day through our business. It was a very significant impact for a number of Conservative MPs who were visiting Brighton for their Annual Conference event. So thank you for raising that Simon. And here is the starting point of the comment from Peter Kyle.

It is a pleasure to follow the Secretary of State, who made a thoughtful, considered and important speech from which we can all benefit. Let me also thank him for putting forward the debate in Government time: that is much appreciated by Members throughout the House.

Issues that affect Northern Ireland are often bipartisan, and I think the spirit of today’s debate should reflect that approach. Tony Blair, for example, was always keen —and still is—to stress the extraordinary work done by John Major before him to provide a platform for the peace process that was to follow. This debate should allow us time to recognise them, and the other giants who worked on the agreement. There are many lessons we can learn from them today.

Twenty-five years is a very significant milestone. An entire generation has grown up since the people of Northern Ireland chose an end to violence. The Secretary of State referred to the event in Speaker’s House attended by representatives of the Youth Parliament from across Northern Ireland: they were not just a credit to young people in Northern Ireland, or to the Youth Parliament; they were a credit to all of us.

As the conflict recedes into the distance, it might be easy to forget how much real progress has been made in that time. This is a real blessing. Children growing up today in Northern Ireland have not experienced and will not experience the routine violence that scarred communities for so long. However, we can never forget that more than 3,500 people lost their lives in that part of our United Kingdom. People and communities were exhausted by the conflict. It is one of the Labour party’s proudest legacies that we, in government, were able to seize the moment and find a way forward. In April 1998, leaders from across political divides and communities decided that a new future was possible. That future was only there to grasp because a generation believed in their hearts that radical change was not just possible, but was deliverable in that moment.

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The Government won’t publish food labelling!

Last Wednesday a Conservative MP asked a very simple question and sadly the response from the Government was very clearly NO but rather than say NO they stated a long response but the answer is clearly NO. The MP who asked the question was Henry Smith from the Crawley MP. Here is the question from him which was very simple and called for a very short response “To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether she plans to publish a consultation on food labelling.” The response was from Mark Spencer who is a Minister on the DEFRA group and instead of simply answering the question with either YES or NO, there was a very detailed reaction but it was very clear that there is no suggestion that they are planning to publish a consultation on food labelling.

The UK maintains high standards on the information that is provided on food labels so that consumers can have confidence in the food that they buy. The Government is committed to optimising the information that is available to consumers.

For example, in 2021 Defra ran a call for evidence to gather data on the potential impacts of different types of labelling reform for animal welfare. A summary of these responses is available on GOV.UK. Based on the evidence provided, Defra committed in the Government’s Food Strategy to consult on improving and expanding mandatory animal welfare labelling in 2023.

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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Debate

Last Wednesday, a debate took place in the Westminster Hall which related to 3 of the petitions that many of people have endorsed. They are

e-petition 607849 – Make SEND training mandatory for all teaching staff; which was completed in August 2022 and it obtained 28,782 signatures.

e-petition 591092 – Require School SENCOs to be fully qualified for the role; which was completed in January 2022 and it obtained 13,168 signatures.

e-petition 587365, Require all school staff receive training on SEN children; which was completed in December 2021 and it obtained 19,853 signatures.

It is very encouraging that some MPs took place in the debate and the whole of the debate can be obtained from here. The MP who set it out was Geraint Davies who is the Labour MP for Swansea West. He opened the session with these words below. The only Sussex MP who took part was Sally-Ann Hart from Hastings and Rye and her opening few words were also shown below. So first is the initial few words from Geraint Davies.

I beg to move, That this House
has considered a specialist workforce for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

It is a great pleasure and privilege to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Sharma. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on speech and language difficulties, which is supported by the Royal College of Speech and Language. I first pay tribute to Lord Ramsbotham, who did so much for the group over so many years, after an illustrious career in the Army and then the Prison Service. He certainly added great value.

Something like 50% of poorer children arrive at school with a speech delay, and in an average-sized class, which is 30 across Britain, something like two or three children have a speech delay of two to four years. Obviously, we are here to talk about the wider totality of special educational needs, not just speech and language, but it is worth mentioning that early intervention on speech and language would massively improve school performance, and thereby increase future tax revenues and reduce social costs, prison costs, justice costs and so on, so we really should think about that. In the wider totality, early intervention is a very good idea.

workforce for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

And then Sally-Ann who contributed was next to speak after Geraint had finished his first speech and she began with

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Mr Sharma. Many young children have faced an array of social and developmental challenges as a result of covid-19, and children with special educational needs and disabilities have been deeply affected due to the lack of services accessible for their needs during this time.

Every week, I have at least one constituent come to see me, pleading for support for their child with special educational needs, which are often undiagnosed because they cannot get an education, health and care plan or an appointment with child and adolescent mental health services. The formative years of a child’s life are essential for their development, and without changes and improved support for these specialist services, children with SEND will be exposed to bullying, mental health issues, isolation and disadvantages later in life and in the workforce.

So at the end of the debate from a number of other MPs Geraint Davies finished the session with these words.

We all know money is tight. As has been said, core funding to local authorities has been cut. It may be that many members of that coalition could do a lot more with additional funding, so that it would go further than it would by giving to it to other organisations. Clearly, that is not a perfect situation. We also heard about the importance of teaching assistants. It is a failure of budget management to reduce the amount of support for teaching assistants, who are on the frontline.

Coming back to the point about timing, voluntary organisations, teaching assistants and existing provision need to be supported now, as we support a strategy to move forward on training a specialist workforce. We are looking at designing what we hope will be a very good system as we move forward in the next couple of years. In the meantime, we need to deliver on the ground. I pay tribute to the 1,800 people who contributed to this debate. There would have been thousands more, if they had known about it. They want to tell us about their child. Everybody looking at their child’s needs is frustrated, saying that Jane, John or whoever, has needs that are not being addressed, and the deterioration is clear.

We have heard examples of cases where the lack of early intervention meant greater intervention at higher cost later. As we have discussed, downstream we end up with lower life chances, lower tax revenues and higher social costs, a lot of which is avoidable. We need to work together to speed up the system. The people in this room and beyond would be happy to lobby Government about priorities and timing, to support the Minister to bring forward more ambitious and quicker action. That would support so many people and make such a difference to their lives. Thank you all.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved, That this House has considered a specialist

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Deadline for Coronation Street Parties looming…

We have just over 24 hours to organise a street party for the Kings Coronation. A few days ago I received an email from Nikkie who is the Digital PR and Marketing Lead at the group called FTD Digital. It is very significant for those of us who wish to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III taking place on Saturday 6 May 2023 at Westminster Abbey.

According to the BBC text the King will be crowned alongside Camilla, the Queen Consort. The BBC goes on to state

Here is what we know about the plans, code-named Operation Golden Orb. What is a coronation? A coronation is both the symbolic religious ceremony during which a sovereign is crowned and the physical act of placing a crown on a monarch’s head. It formalises the monarch’s role as the head of the Church of England and marks the transfer of their title and powers.

So the email from Nikkie Thorpe is as follows and we clearly need to respond before the end of Friday. The one challenge is that the 30th March is actually on Thursday as Friday is the 31st March so the detail is not clear but we can focus on one of these two days by the end of this week.

As we all know, the King’s coronation is just around the corner. What many people DON’T realise is that if they want to partake in the great British tradition of hosting a street party to celebrate this momentous occasion, the deadline for doing so is this Friday (30th March)!

Street parties are a wonderful way of bringing local communities together. As such, BestNewBingoSites have released an in-depth guide to hosting a street party, covering everything from the necessary admin to recipes and playlists you make like to use. You may like to share this resource with your readers as you alert them of this impending deadline!

The FTD Digital website is here and they are: We are an award-winning SEO & Design Media Agency in the iGaming sector. Specialising in UK bingo and slots traffic, our projects also extend to various GEOs around the world./

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Thank Chris Elmore for raising FareShare in Parliament

On Thursday this debate on the theme of Food Price Inflation was set out by Jim McMahon who is the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton in the North area of Manchester and he is also the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He opened the debate with “(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on food price inflation.” which was focused on Therese Coffey. However Therese did not get involved and instead the Minister was Mark Spencer. After a more detailed response from Jim McMahon and several other MPs who took part, Chris Elmore spoke. He is the Labour MP for Ogmore which is in the South of Wales and he is also described as the Opposition Whip (Commons). His question was as follows and the response came from Mark Spencer which sadly ignored the theme and so we clearly need more MPs to raise the same theme until the Government can get challenged. I am very proud that both MPs in Brighton have visited our FareShare on several occasions so there are several MPs that can add to the call from Chris Elmore.

Chris Elmore: There are 10 food pantries across my constituency supplying the surplus food from the various main supermarkets for between £5 and £10 per bag. The demand is so great that the volunteers cannot keep up with people doing their weekly shops at these pantries. We now face a new challenge: FareShare, which co-ordinates the surplus food, is running out of surplus food. What is the Minister going to do to start dealing with the huge problem of constituents paying for a week’s food of whatever they can find for £10, which is almost past its sell-by date, but the suppliers are running out? When is he going to get a grip and start dealing with the issues of food poverty in this country?

Mark Spencer: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the great support our retailers are giving to those people who face that challenge; they continue to work with charities in that sector to help supply food to the most vulnerable. Of course, the Government also play their part with a huge package of support, helping people through this challenge.

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An excellent Solar Rooftop Installation debate last week

On Wednesday last week the MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas set out a debate under the theme of Solar Rooftop Installation which was a very constructive session. Three other MPs contributed to the event who were Jim Shannon the DUP at Strangford and two Conservatives, John Stevenson for Carlisle and Graham Stuart the Government Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero and the MP for Beverley and Holderness in Yorkshire. The initial words from Graham Stuart that emerged after the other people had spoken was

“Let me begin by congratulating Caroline Lucas on securing this important debate and giving such an impassioned, well-informed, moderate and fair speech. I say that all the more so because I think I chided her the last time we were in this Chamber. She has continued to be a champion for rooftop solar, alongside my hon. Friend John Stevenson, and that is a passion that I think we all share.”

At the beginning of the session the contribution from Caroline included these words

“There is no doubt that the number of solar rooftop installations has soared in the last decade or so, and I applaud that achievement. I am also happy to applaud this Government’s ambition to increase solar from its current capacity of around 15 GW all the way up to 50 GW by 2030 and then 70 GW by 2035. I am sure we are all united in recognising that achieving and, indeed, surpassing that target is vital. Solar Energy UK estimates that, of the 15 GW of solar power capacity currently in place, around two thirds is on the ground, and the remainder is on residential and commercial roofs. This morning, I want to make the case for the installation of solar panels on all suitable new-build homes to be made mandatory and to explore how to overcome some of the obstacles to domestic solar.”

Jim Shannon then responded with these comments

“I commend the hon. Lady for raising this issue. In my constituency, we are very keen to endorse this. Does she agree that solar roof panels can enhance the value of a property and that, for large families who use lots of hot water, the savings generated and the benefit to the environment can make the up-front cost worth while?”

Caroline responded with

“The hon. Member makes my point beautifully. This is a win-win policy: it is good for householders and good for the environment, and it is good to get people’s bills down too. I thank him for that intervention, with which I entirely agree. Some 80% of the buildings that we will have in 2050 have already been built, and we must work hard to retrofit them with renewables, but the remaining 20% have still to be built, and maximising the deployment of on-site solar generation in new-build homes could be a real game changer. If we are serious about continuing and accelerating ++-what has been achieved to date and generating a successful rooftop revolution, we should be mandating that all suitable new homes come with solar panels as standard. The Government have an opportunity to do that with the new future homes standard.”

Following a few more words there was a contribution from John Stevenson

“I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this interesting debate. It feels a bit like groundhog day, because in September 2017 I had a Westminster Hall debate on this very subject. Had the Government followed her suggestion, we would have 1 million new homes with solar panels today. Does she agree that making this compulsory would not only lead to 150,000-plus houses per year getting solar panels but would, in time, lead to price reduction, making it cheaper, and innovation?”

The response from Caroline was

“I pay tribute to the hon. Member for his leadership in this area. I am continuing, I hope, the great work that he did, and I agree with him entirely that there are so many wins. It makes economic sense for people, and it also makes sense for supply chains, because if they had the certainty of knowing that this was going to be a mandatory requirement, they would be able to gear up for it.”

The discussion continued and the session closed with the last words from Graham Stuart

“I thank the hon. Lady for securing the debate, for the way that she has conducted it and for the arguments she has put forward. Working in conjunction with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle, I am sure we can meet and take this matter further.”

This was clearly a very positive debate and there appears to be a genuine prospect for the homes in our nation to be strengthened in the future by solar rooftop installations following the call from Caroline and her colleagues.

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Our city does not have a permanent driving test centre

On Thursday Douglas Chapman the SNP MP from Dunfermline and West Fife, asked three questions about his own location and the response came from Richard Holden who is the Department for Transport Minister and his response included on a focus of “Name of city that does not have a permanent driving test centre (DTC)” and that was reflected by “Name of nearest DTC” and amongst another list of locations he stated that Brighton and Hove did not have a DTC and that our nearest DTC is Lancing. So here are the questions and the answer which was provided on Thursday.

Douglas Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport,

  1. how many driving test appointment slots are available each week in (a) the Dunfermline and (b) the Kirkcaldy Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency test centre.
  2. what the average waiting time for a DVSA practical driving test was in (a) Dunfermline and (b) Kirkcaldy in each of the last 12 months.
  3. how many cities do not have a full time DVSA driving test centre.

Richard Holden: Based on demand, Dunfermline driving test centre operates 3 days per week, and Kirkcaldy operates 5 days per week.

On average, there are 78 driving test slots available per week at Dunfermline test centre, and 138 at Kirkcaldy. Driving examiners are deployed between the two test centres to balance out driving test waiting times.

The average waiting time for a practical car test at Dunfermline, and Kirkcaldy is 12 weeks, which is less than the current national average. As of 20 March 2023, there were 153 and 425 driving tests available at Dunfermline and Kirkaldy respectively.

Based on customer demand, 60 cities, out of 70, have permanent driving test centres. The ten that do not are listed below, alongside their nearest test centre. The only cities without a driving test centre within 15 miles are Wells and St Davids.

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The Government won’t publish food labelling!

On Wednesday a Conservative MP asked a very simple question and sadly the response which came from the Government was obviously not YES or NO but rather the Minister stated an extensive response but the answer did not indicate YES or NO to the question. The MP who asked the question was Henry Smith who represents the Crawley MP. Here is the question from from Henry Smith which was very simple and required a very short response “To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether she plans to publish a consultation on food labelling.” The response came from Mark Spencer who is a Minister in the DEFRA group which is ordered by the DEFRA Secretary of State Therese Coffey.

The UK maintains high standards on the information that is provided on food labels so that consumers can have confidence in the food that they buy. The Government is committed to optimising the information that is available to consumers.

For example, in 2021 Defra ran a call for evidence to gather data on the potential impacts of different types of labelling reform for animal welfare. A summary of these responses is available on GOV.UK. Based on the evidence provided, Defra committed in the Government’s Food Strategy to consult on improving and expanding mandatory animal welfare labelling in 2023.

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Value Care Workers in the way that we value others

On Wednesday the 22nd of March in the House of Lords there was a debate called Social Care: Workforce Strategy and one of the people who contributed to the debate was Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York who spoke the words below. At the end of his piece he states very clearly “it is about valuing the care worker in the same way that we value others” This was a very significant call and we clearly need other people to find out about this. Following the words from Stephen Cottrell there was a response from Nicholas Markham who is Lord Markham and he is the Minister responsible for Health and Social Care. Here is the full words from both of them and it can be obtained from here.

Stephen Cottrell: My Lords, the report by the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care was published in January. I am sure that the Minister is aware of this: in fact, I know that he is having a meeting later today with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle, who co-chaired that commission. We argue for a very bold approach to social care, which puts at its heart the concept of a care covenant, with clear expectations on each of us of what we should give and expect in return, recognising that each of us is a carer and that most of us will need care one day.

I speak as someone representing a region. In the cities of Hull and Middlesbrough, which I serve, I see many people in need of care and not receiving it; I discover that recruitment and retention are appalling; and I find care workers having to use food banks so that they can feed their families. It gives me no pleasure to say that we are in a very distressing situation.

I realise that the Minister is not in a position where he can say much but, surely, at the heart of this, as the noble Baroness said, it is about valuing the care worker in the same way that we value others. Can he give us an assurance that this will be at the heart of what is proposed?

Nicholas Markham: Absolutely. I speak as an ex-carer myself. Caring is part of everyone’s role, as has been quite rightly written about. Part of this is about the people we are employing. I am glad to say that we are managing to increase recruitment, which is not easy in the age of full employment. It is about the parts that you and I—all of us—can play in care in the community, and organising domiciliary care so that we can have a full wraparound service.

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“That is an appalling situation” states Penny Mordaunt

Last Thursday the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton asked a question and the response from Penny Mordaunt who is the Leader of the House of Commons admitted that the Government had an APPALLING SITUATION! and it was a call to BANG SOME HEADS TOGETHER So this is very significant. Here is the question and the relatively brief response. Following on from the comment by Penny Mordaunt there was another comment from Lindsay Hoyle who of course is not someone who is Conservative, but Tim and Penny are both Conservatives and this challenge is directed very clearly to the Conservative Group.

Tim Loughton: You, Mr Speaker, are of course very familiar with my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, section 3 of which obliges the Secretary of State to produce a report on pregnancy loss and section 4 of which obliges the Secretary of State for Justice to produce a report on coroners investigations into stillbirths. This Act became law in February 2019, the last meeting of the pregnancy loss review advisory panel was in October 2018 and the consultation on the coroners issue closed on 18 June 2019. I have been trying to get meetings with the Under-Secretaries at Health and at Justice for the last six months, and I have raised this issue every time I am at Health or Justice questions, but that meeting has been cancelled, postponed or changed six times since Christmas alone, most recently this Monday, when one of the Ministers had the wrong date in the diary and then the date he did have he could not do either. This is really important and this is really shoddy treatment when trying to get support to get through legislation that the House has agreed to. Will the Leader of the House use her best offices to bang some heads together and get that meeting with those officials and me so that we can progress this important legislation?

Penny Mordaunt: That is an appalling situation and I am very sorry to hear about it. I will, after this session, raise it with the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary at that Department and ask them to get in touch with my hon. Friend’s office to set up those meetings. It is right that we make progress; this is a matter of law.

Lindsay Hoyle: I will just add that I support the Leader of the House. Members should be treated with respect, and Ministers are here to answer to Members of Parliament who represent their constituents. I hope this message has gone back pretty clearly: get it sorted quickly. I am sure the Leader of the House will take this up and I will also take it up.

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