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Westminster Report - July 2015

Hello everyone. Just to keep you updated - here is a summary of some of the things I have been up to in Parliament and in the constituency over the last few weeks. 

On Friday 3rd July I returned to speak to workers protesting at Wilton against wages being undercut on construction sites. We were joined by fellow Teesside MPs Tom Blenkinsop, Alex Cunningham and Ian Wright showing solidarity with the ‘Pay the Rate’ campaign.

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Later I attended an event with BOC and SSI UK to celebrate the signing of a new 15-year supply deal between the two companies. An excellent agreement which shows a long term commitment to steelmaking on Teesside.

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On the afternoon I visited Whale Hill Primary for a Q&A with pupils. They were fantastic children and asked some very thoughtful questions about politics and being an MP, voting and elections, and how to make the world a better place. Great to see the teaching staff organising these debates.

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I then went to Eston Labour Club where I was helping constituents with a range of problems at one of my regular advice surgeries.

On Saturday 4th it was fantastic to have the British Landsailing Championships on our beach for Redcar Regatta – I popped down to see them and was amazed at the speed they go. It's great to see national events like this happening at Redcar and bringing people from around the country to our town.

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Then I was really pleased to be at the unveiling of a plaque at Roseberry library to commemorate the former Royal Naval Air Service station that was on the site between 1915 and 1919 with veterans and cadets.

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Later I joined volunteers including Jacob, one of the candidates for the Youth Parliament, at Tesco on West Dyke Road collecting tins for the 6 Trussell Trust foodbanks a week in Redcar.

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At Redcar Cricket Club that evening I watched young people from the Topline Performing Arts group give some fantastic performances to the latest tunes (and some Disney classics which I enjoyed!). I was really proud to present their awards. Redcar’s got talent!

Monday 6th:

I was in the chamber for an emergency debate on the Government’s proposals for English Votes for English Laws. The Tories have tried to push through what are complex changes to the way Parliament deals with legislation without sufficient scrutiny in an attempt to manufacture a larger majority for themselves. It turned into a shambles with even their own MPs criticising the handling of the matter and they have been forced to rethink their plans.

I also attended a briefing from Age UK on support for older people, and was very keen to discuss the issue of dementia which affects a lot of constituents and their families.

Tuesday 7th:

In the morning I attended a policy briefing on Steel and Petrochemicals with the House of Commons Library, both crucial industries in the constituency.

I spent some time preparing for the opposition day debate on tax credits which happened later in the afternoon. Waited a long while to get in, and time cut down again, but I’m learning that's par for the course here! In the speech I gave I shared one of many letters I received from constituents concerned about the impact of the Government’s plans to cut tax credits. You can watch it here.

Wednesday 8th was Budget day. The first majority Tory Budget for nearly two decades was as bad as we expected. Whilst they listened to us on raising the minimum wage, calling it a ‘living wage’ when it is nothing of the sort is a con-trick! And as expected they are cutting back on tax credit support at a rate which hits low income families more than the gains from higher wages. The North East wasn’t even mentioned – so much for supporting the Northern Powerhouse!

On the afternoon I met with Cancer Research UK to hear about their priorities and what they would like to see from policy makers. In Redcar there are around 850 cancer cases per year and around 440 cancer deaths – it is vital we keep supporting lifesaving research to get these numbers down.

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Later I was on ITV News responding to the Budget and explaining how it will hit low income families in Teesside.

On Thursday 9th I had the opportunity to speak in the chamber in the Budget debate where I spoke about the failure of the chancellor’s Budget to do anything for families in Redcar and Cleveland. It was a smoke and mirrors Budget, giving with one hand and taking even more away with the other. You can watch my speech here.

On Friday 9th I was back home in the constituency where I attended the opening of the wonderful new play area at Kirkleatham Museum – it was lovely to see so many children enjoying it.

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Then I went to visit the Construction Skills Academy at Marske where I met Rob Johnson who is competing to be the best young plasterer at the WorldSkills Sao Paulo 2015, representing the UK. It was fantastic to meet Rob, he is an inspiration to future generations of the UK’s workforce. Keep your fingers crossed for him in Brazil!

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On the afternoon I met with SITA Sembcorp to raise the concerns of local construction workers and to press them on the need to undertake an audit of wages so they can demonstrate their claim that industry rates are being paid.

I held another of my regular advice surgeries on Saturday 11th, this time in Marske. Bedroom tax, horses, tax credits and social care were just some of the issues raised by residents.

It was great to catch up with all the teams from Redcar Newmarket FC for their pre-season photos. I am very proud to be their Honorary President.

It was then fun to open the Primrose Court Summer fete in South Bank on the afternoon. It's a lovely care home on Normanby Road and the residents seemed to enjoy the fete.

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Sunday 12th I attended the Labour Leadership and Deputy Leadership hustings in Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Both were well attended and Andy Burnham, the candidate I am supporting, showed real passion and determination to take the fight to the Tories and not let them off the hook. I was really impressed with Caroline Flint too who I am supporting for Deputy Leader.

Monday 13th:

After travelling down to London, I spent the afternoon dealing with lots correspondence. People write to me with such a wide variety of issues. I received over 300 letters asking me to oppose any changes to the fox hunting laws. Don't worry – I will be opposing any Tory attempts to bring it back!

Tuesday 14th:

I started the day at a great session with Denis Skinner MP on how to use the House of Commons chamber effectively – learning from the master!

I then met representatives from Unison to discuss the scandalous conditions for care workers who often earn less than the minimum wage because of the terms and conditions they work. I want to take this up as a national campaign and discussed working with them on this.

Later I had the first official meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee where we were examining the recent immigration situation in Calais, interviewing the Immigration Minister and officials from various organisations relating to border security at the port.

On Wednesday 15th our steel industry was the topic of the day.

I was proud to support the Charter for Sustainable British Steel which aims to promote the use of sustainable steel in infrastructure projects in an attempt to combat the growing threat from non-EU imports of carbon steel reinforcement. The latter can come from unsustainable sources and is sold at a price which undermines sustainable producers in the UK.

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I also attended an excellent Westminster Hall debate on the future of the steel industry in the UK called by Tom Blenkinsop MP. This was a good opportunity to press the government on its commitment to steel.

At Prime Minister’s Questions I tried again in the ballot but still no luck! Harriet Harman, as Acting Leader of the Opposition, questioned Cameron on the new figures showing a drop in employment and on the expert verdict that the minimum wage increase will not make up for tax credit cuts.

On the afternoon it was great to meet with Tees Valley council leaders and MPs to discuss devolution and the powers we would like to see given to Teesside in the new Combined Authority.

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At the AGM of the Co-operative Group of MPs I was pleased to be elected as a vice chair. I look forward to helping to promote co-operative values and ideas in Parliament. It was also really interesting to learn about the Fair Tax Mark – an accreditation for businesses who are proud to pay their tax.

I also met the charity Step Change to discuss the appalling cycles of debt suffered by many constituents and how they can help people deal with financial problems. If you or anyone you know is drowning with debt from a number of sources, please get in touch with my office and we can refer you to this charity who can help.

Later I met with Anthony Nolan, the blood cancer charity, to hear about their Destination Cure campaign. With new figures showing that one in three transplant patients die within a year of their treatment it is vital the government does all it can to support the recruitment of donors, boost scientific research, and provide long term care for patients. If you are aged 16-30 and in good health you can become a life saver so please consider joining the register.

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Thursday 16th:

Then the long journey back to Redcar after a busy few days in parliament!

Friday 17th

Back home in the constituency, it was good to catch up with Iain Sim, Chief Executive of Coast and Country. We discussed the impact of the Budget and the Welfare Bill on tenants and housing associations.

I met the head of the National Citizen’s Programme to discuss some of the amazing social action projects they want to undertake in the community. They have around 60 young people looking to do good things so if you know of a project that these young people could get involved in, let me know.

I spent the afternoon going through constituency casework before visiting Redcar Rugby Club to find out about all the great things they are doing for the community.

This week…

On Monday our full constituency office team started! Thanks for your patience as we have been settling in and getting everything in place. There has been a large volume of correspondence received since the election and we are working through it so please bear with us.

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After doing some constituency casework with my new team I travelled back down to Westminster.

In the evening we had the vote on the Government’s Welfare and Work Bill. We only had four hours to debate this so I did not get my chance to speak before I and the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party in its entirety, united, voted AGAINST the Bill by tabling a Reasoned Amendment setting out the parts of the Bill which we oppose. You can read more about this vote in an earlier post on my site.

On Tuesday after several engagements in the morning I spent the afternoon in Home Affairs Select Committee. This week we were dealing with counter-radicalisation and the work of the Home Secretary. I questioned Theresa May on cuts to the policing budget, knife crime and modern slavery.

Yesterday was the start of the summer recess which is when Parliament rises, our duties in Westminster stop for several weeks and we return home to our constituencies to focus on work there.

After a very intense couple of months since the election, I am really looking forward to being back home in Redcar full time for a while. I will be spending my time dealing with casework, meeting residents, visiting organisations and community groups and will be out door-knocking again too. If you think I can help you in any way or have an event you would like me to attend, please contact my office.

Another long post but I had lots to update you on! I am keen to keep in touch as often as I can so you know how my time representing you is being spent. I hope you are all enjoying the summer!

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