Acting on the Refugee Crisis

I have been heartened to receive a large number of letters, emails and phone calls from constituents urging the Government to do more to help the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe. I agree with their sentiments.

I first raised the issue of Syrian refugees in Parliament in November last year and I was dismayed to be told that the UK had, at the time, only resettled 50 vulnerable refugees. In the following months I continued to challenge the Government on their refugee resettlement policy as well as the number of people resettled. The questions I have asked on this issue over the past year can be found here: link

I am proud that Mayor Anderson has stated that Liverpool will take in 100 refugees. Our city has a proud history of welcoming people seeking asylum. In the 1930s, local campaigner Eleanor Rathbone, MP for the Combined English Universities, established the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees and warned of the need to take in Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. It is vital that we continue that important tradition.

The Prime Minister has announced that the UK will accept 20,000 refugees over five years. In Syria alone, four million people have fled the country and another six million have been internally displaced. I have urged the Prime Minister to do more as part of an EU initiative.

It is not just Syria that is facing a large scale humanitarian crisis; turbulence in counties such as Libya, Eritrea and Yemen is causing misery to millions of people. I have consistently raised the crisis in Yemen in the House of Commons, pressing the Government on issues such as humanitarian aid and granting asylum to Yemeni refugees. The questions I have asked in Parliament on Yemen can be found here: link

We are facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. The UK must act now to provide assistance, as part of a European response, to the vulnerable people who need our help and enable them to become part of the UK’s diverse community.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill

On the 20th July the Bill had its second reading in Parliament. This is the beginning of a long process which is only concluded when the Bill returns to Parliament.

I voted against the Bill by supporting the Labour amendment which is worded as follows:

That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.

This was defeated by 308 votes to 208. Labour abstained on a second vote.

The cuts to tax credits affecting three million people were not in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. They will be considered in the autumn and I will oppose them.

The next stage of the Bill will be heard in committee. Labour has already tabled detailed amendments opposing specific proposals. These include opposing the abolition of child poverty targets and cuts in support for disabled and sick people who are not fit for work.

The Bill will return to the House of Commons for a final decision after these amendments have been considered.

Many of the provisions in this Bill will hit struggling families hard. I will continue to oppose the attacks on hard working and vulnerable people.

Humanitarian situation in Yemen – petition

Yesterday in Parliament, I presented a petition about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Here is my speech, prior to presenting it:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I present this petition on behalf of many of my constituents, but it is also of concern to many citizens throughout the United Kingdom. The horrendous humanitarian crisis in Yemen is causing great distress to my constituents, as many British citizens’ sole dependants and relatives are stranded in dire, life-threatening circumstances. The petition states:

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take urgent action to ease the suffering of friends and families of British citizens in Yemen by speeding up and simplifying the application process for visa or entry requirements, by allowing the issuing of temporary sponsored visas for relatives and dependants of British citizens residing in the UK who are waiting for visas or whose passport applications are being processed and by coordinating evacuations for vulnerable British citizens who are in urgent need of evacuation from Yemen.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the dire inhumane situation in Yemen due to the armed militia conflict (civil war) and the coalition bombing has led to thousands of people losing their lives or being injured as well as the destruction of thousands of homes, utilities, ports and airports; further that the United Nations now recognises the situation in Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis; further that many British citizens and sole dependants and relatives of British citizens are stranded in Yemen; further that the petitioners have concerns about the requirements for settlement visas because the visa requirements cannot be met by many people and because Yemeni nationals who are spouses or children of British citizens cannot cross over into neighbouring countries and cannot apply for such visas as there are no embassies in Yemen; and further that a petition in Liverpool has gathered many signatures.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take urgent action to ease the suffering of friends and families of British citizens in Yemen by speeding up and simplifying the application process for visa or entry requirements, by allowing the issuing of temporary sponsored visas for relatives and dependants of British citizens residing in the UK who are waiting for visas or whose passport applications are being processed and by coordinating evacuations for vulnerable British citizens who are in urgent need of evacuation from Yemen.

And the petitioners remain, etc.]

The current situation in Yemen

I am very concerned about the situation in Yemen and I have expressed my concerns to Government, as well as taking up individual cases from constituents who have family members stranded in the country.

I tabled a question to the Minister responsible and I received this response from Tobias Ellwood:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions he has had with his counterpart in Yemen on the safety of British citizens in that country.

Mr Tobias Ellwood:

Since 2011, we have advised British nationals against all travel to Yemen. Our travel advice has included information on the current situation in Yemen, as well as of the support that can be provided in neighbouring countries. We continue to work with international partners to resolve the current crisis in Yemen and bring political stability to the country. Given the current situation in Yemen, I have not discussed this issue with the Government of Yemen since the beginning of the recent crisis.

I am not satisfied with this reply and I will be pursuing it.

Liverpool and the Northern Powerhouse

I spoke in the Queen’s Speech, calling for an end to government cuts for local services and for Liverpool to be properly included in the government’s concept of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

This is my contribution to the debate:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I am sure that his interesting insights will lead to much discussion in the coming Session.

I thank the people of Liverpool, Riverside for returning me to this House with an increased majority and on a much-increased turnout. I value both of those achievements.

Today’s Gracious Speech has focused on jobs and opportunities, and the important task of rebalancing the economy. I want to draw attention to some aspects of that, particularly transport. I am pleased that transport featured in the Gracious Speech, but a little disappointed that it did not take a higher profile. It is essential that we remember that transport is integral to having a successful economy, and to the mobility and movement across the whole of the United Kingdom that is required to achieve that.

Transport must be affordable. People have to be able to afford to get to the jobs if they are to be able to take up job opportunities. It is important that transport is accessible, including by disabled people. That has been ignored too much in the past. There has to be sufficient capacity for both passengers and freight, so that businesses can develop and goods can get to their destinations efficiently and effectively.

The Gracious Speech contained some proposals for devolution, and I note in particular the proposal on devolution to cities. I welcome the proposal in the cities Bill to give local authorities in devolved city areas more control over bus services. Buses are the form of transport used by most people, although they are too often ignored in discussions about transport. I hope that my city of Liverpool will, in due course, benefit from that devolution Bill.

The financial provisions in that Bill must be adequate. Cities receiving important devolved powers must have a proper financial settlement, so that those powers are meaningful and able to bring greater prosperity to people in their area. Certainly in the case of Liverpool, I hope that the strong, incessant and unacceptable cuts in funding for local services will cease. Although devolution is very much to be welcomed, the constant cutting of funding for essential local services such as social care is doing deep damage and is unacceptable. I hope that that will end.

I note too the mention in the Gracious Speech of the important proposal for the northern powerhouse—an interesting concept that draws attention to the north. It is an interesting combination of proposals for transport and business development.

Sammy Wilson: Before the hon. Lady moves away from the subject of transport, may I ask whether she agrees that, especially for regions such as Northern Ireland and for connectivity with the rest of the world, the development of Heathrow airport, or at least the expansion of a hub airport, is very important?

Mrs Ellman: I agree that connectivity with the rest of the world is extremely important. I note that that was omitted from the Gracious Speech—perhaps it is the question that dare not be asked, even in this Chamber. However, when the day comes that the Davies commission reports, that will be decision time, and it will be a decision that cannot be shirked any longer. Essentially, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

27 May 2015 : Column 93

The proposals for the northern powerhouse are very important, but it is essential that the northern powerhouse is indeed about the north. In the last Parliament, Ministers talking about the northern powerhouse constantly spoke about Manchester and Leeds. It is equally important that places such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull benefit from the northern powerhouse. When I raised that point, I was told that the reference to Manchester and Leeds was shorthand for the northern powerhouse, which I found rather disconcerting. I hope that that will be corrected in this Parliament. The northern powerhouse is an important concept, but it must be backed up by resources and it must apply to “the north”, not just to some cities of the north.

Although devolution is important, it should not be confined to cities. The whole of the United Kingdom is not concentrated solely on cities. There are towns that are on the fringes of cities; there are county areas. If we want economic prosperity for all and to rebalance the economy, all those areas have to be considered. Let us consider one example of disparity between regions. Rail investment per head in London is £294; I am sure it is greatly needed and the case is constantly being made for more investment, but let us look at the amount of rail investment per head in other regions. The figure for the east of England is £58; for south-west England, £41; for the east midlands, £37; for the west midlands, £50; for the north-west, £89; for Yorkshire and Humberside, £101; and for the south-east, £69. Surely that cannot reflect needs and opportunities. If the Government are seriously interested in rebalancing the economy, they have to look at where investment goes and where investment in transport goes, so that opportunities are opened up in all part of the United Kingdom.

I was pleased to see reference in the Gracious Speech to High Speed 2 and confirmation that proposals for High Speed 2 will continue. I welcome that. The extra capacity that will come with High Speed 2 is essential and is much needed, particularly in relation to the economy. It is needed for freight as well as for passenger services. The high-speed line will not be designed for freight, but it is essential that as the high-speed lines develop, the capacity left on the existing line is used for additional passenger services and also for freight services. That means that this development must be planned as part of an integrated approach to rail.

There must be more connectivity with High Speed 2, and High Speed 2 investment must be seen as part of regeneration, with support for business and enterprise alongside those lines so that the regions served by High Speed 2 benefit, and also to ensure that as many other parts of the country as possible benefit. During the previous Parliament I was pleased to see how the High Speed 2 proposals changed from proposals simply for a new line to proposals for a new line backed by regeneration and as part of improved connectivity with the entire country.

It is important, too, that the development is seen as an opportunity for people to acquire new skills and additional jobs. That must be part of the concept of taking the line further. Development in high speed must not be at the expense of investing in the existing classic line. I am pleased that we made some progress on this in the previous Parliament and it is essential that this is taken forward. It is about capacity, regeneration and opportunities.

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I listened carefully to the comments of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on compensation. When such a scheme goes forward, there will inevitably be people who lose out. Compensation should be given fairly. I agree with the right hon. Lady’s comments in that respect.

I make these remarks today to draw the attention of the House to the importance of transport in the context of the key objectives of supporting jobs and opening up opportunity, as set out in the Gracious Speech. Transport is rarely a high-profile issue, but it is essential to making our society work, so I hope that as this Parliament proceeds, the measures set out in relation to further transport investment proceed and other important measures are considered too. Transport must be accessible, it must have sufficient investment, and it must be closely linked to business, enterprise, skills and opportunities. It must be approached in that light.

Hustings in the constituency – VIDEO

I have been asked about when and where hustings events are taking place in Liverpool Riverside.

I have participated in a number of hustings during the election period, which are organised by particular groups or organisations, sometimes with a specific theme. These are advertised by the organisations and have been advertised in the Liverpool Echo. Most are open for the public to attend.

So far, I have spoken at the following hustings:

26 March – UpRising Liverpool – ’My Voice, My Vote’, engaging young people in politics and elections. [Camp & Furnace]

April 15 – Social Enterprise Network & LCVS – the Third & Voluntary Sector [LCVS, Churchill Way]

April 22 – Al Ghazali Community Centre – joint Riverside and Wavertree hustings [Earle Road]

April 23 – Belvedere Academy, engaging first time voters [Belvedere Road, school only]

April 23 – Joint University hustings – Liverpool Students General Election hustings [Redmond Building]

April 23 – Liverpool Parish Church, organised by the Archdiocese of Liverpool [St Nicholas, Chapel Street]

Forthcoming events:

April 27 – ACE (Active Community Enterprise) hustings – community-based support agency for adults with learning disabilities [Camp & Furnace]

April 29 – Archbishop Blanch school [Mount Vernon, school only]

These hustings are in addition to the other events taking place during the election period – my advice surgeries have continued and I have been meeting people across the constituency. I continue to receive casework and requests for personal assistance on many issues, such as housing. This has not changed since parliament has been dissolved.

Below is a video taken of my opening remarks from the Liverpool Parish church hustings. I hope this is useful in deciding who you will vote for on May 7th.

I very much hope that you will strongly consider giving your two votes to Labour. There are two elections on the day – vote Labour for your ward candidate in the council elections and for me as your Member of Parliament.

Local Government Finance debate – Liverpool deserves more

In Parliament yesterday, a debate took place on Local Government Finance. I spoke in the debate – highlighting again the harsh cuts made by the Government towards Liverpool.

The whole of the debate can be read at:

I asked:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): If the Minister listened carefully to representations and wanted to be fair, how can the outcome be that Liverpool, the most deprived local authority in the country, is suffering some of the harshest cuts?

This is the reply I received:

Kris Hopkins: We need to recognise—I have said this before—that the 10% most deprived authorities receive on average 40% more than the most wealthy authorities. It is right that we create a formula to ensure the more vulnerable and deprived areas get that response, but we should not just measure on the basis of what moneys have been allocated. Local authorities now have the ability to raise money and are rewarded for building houses. I would also point out that the growth deals associated with Liverpool are significant and are led by local leaders.

Later on in the debate I made this contribution to the House:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Whatever the Government’s protestations, it is absolutely clear that the settlement is grossly unfair to Liverpool, the most deprived local authority in the country. The settlement can only be construed as part of an ongoing attack on public services.

This year, individual residents of Liverpool will in effect each receive a cut to their local services of more than £391. By 2017, Liverpool city council will have suffered an astounding real-terms cut of 58% to its funding from central Government. That is devastating. The city’s deprivation is mirrored in its tax base, and 77% of homes in Liverpool are in the lower council tax bands, A and B, which means that only 9% of the city council’s budget can be raised through the council tax. In West Oxfordshire, 49% of the budget can be raised through the council tax, because of the wealth of the area.

Mayor Anderson and his council are doing a valiant job in difficult circumstances. They are building new homes, and more than 2,500 have come on stream this year, which has produced more than £3.5 million in additional revenue, but that cannot match the massive cuts by central Government.

The council has set a three-year budget to bring stability and has carefully examined threatened services. By looking at new ways to fund libraries it has managed to save the city’s libraries. When the Government withdrew funding for schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme, the council found a way of building the most essential schools. It has also protected Sure Start and children’s centres, although some cuts have been made and, sadly, those services are again being reviewed because of the new cuts being imposed by this Government. Reserves have been spent as far as it is prudent to do so —by 2017 the city’s reserves will be down to £17.6 million —and they cannot be reduced further if the council is to act prudently.

Despite all those measures the council has taken in becoming increasingly efficient and looking for innovative ways of funding public services and creating new revenue streams, vital services are being attacked. The most important and concerning crisis being faced at the moment is on vital packages of social care. Social care is support to enable people who are ill, elderly or disabled to live in their own home in dignity. When this Government came into power, 15,000 people in Liverpool had support through social care packages, enabling them to live a dignified life, whereas now, as a direct result of Government cuts, that is down to 9,000 people—6,000 people have been deprived of care, despite rising needs. Unless something dramatic happens, the figure will reduce even further. That puts people’s lives at risk and robs them of their dignity. It also affects hospital admissions, because it means that, increasingly, people who are well are not able to leave hospital because appropriate care is not available for them.

Liverpool’s council is enterprising. I was horrified last year when the Minister in charge of local funding at the time said from the Treasury Bench that he thought Liverpool was a city where people wanted to doff their caps. That was a horrendous statement to make; Liverpool is a proud city. It deserves support, it acts enterprisingly and it helps itself. Increasing numbers of jobs have been brought to Liverpool, and in two months’ time Cunard, in celebrating its 175th anniversary, will bring three major, spectacular liners to Liverpool. Their return is a symbol of the city’s renaissance, which has been brought about by the efforts of the city council. But whatever the city council does in supporting jobs and working with the private sector, it cannot provide the public services that the Government are so savagely cutting away. All I can ask for today is for the Government to be fair to local authorities in general, to be fair to the most deprived local authorities and to recognise that in Liverpool city council they have an enterprising, positive local authority, which is there to serve its people, bringing jobs and working with the private sector. Surely it deserves a better deal for public services to serve our local communities.