April - May 2014 Report

Parliamentary Business

Nigeria abductions

As I write, the school girls abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok are still separated from their families.

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria I hosted a meeting in Parliament. The Nigerian High Commission sent a representative and he was pressed about his Government’s actions.

This latest terrible incident has captured worldwide attention but there have been other awful recent atrocities. These have not attracted the same attention but include the brutal murder of schoolboys in their school only a few weeks earlier.

I hope that the world’s focus on Boko Haram and the hurt and harm their actions are causing in Nigeria means that there will be concerted international effort to end the activities of this terrorist group. There also needs to be support to ensure that the Nigerian forces are able to act effectively and with full regard to human rights.
This bloody slaughter must end.

Stop and Search

I welcomed the Government’s announcement of a reduction in the use of police stop and search powers.

Recent figures showed that only 10 per cent of the million stop and searches a year ever lead to an arrest and also that black people were six times more likely to be stopped than white people. The recent figures for the Metropolitan police have seen a dramatic reduction in the difference between how often black people are stopped compared with white people and these changes need to be rolled out nationally.

A revised set of guidelines for stop and searches will now be issued to police and the Home Secretary has promised to introduce legislation if the new guidelines do not lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of stop and searches.

I will continue to monitor police progress on this matter at a local and national level. If the police misuse their stop and search powers it wastes their time and stops them from catching real criminals. It also breeds resentment and distrust of the police in the communities that they are here to serve.

Bank lending to businesses

Many businesses in Hackney have been struggling due to the withdrawal of flexible overdraft facilities by banks. On 29 April, I raised this issue with Treasury Minister, Andrea Leadsom MP.

I urged the minister to ensure that the short term cover that many businesses need is available to them but the minister’s response was non-committal.

Violence against women

Following the deaths of two women in Hackney, killed by violent partners, I called on the Minister for Care and Support to take action to help vulnerable women.

It is vital that funding is maintained for organisations, such as the Family Rights Group in Hackney, which help vulnerable women and their families get the protection they need. If you want to sign up to stand up against domestic violence please email me.

Patient empowerment

I recently launched a report on how patients could be better empowered to make decisions about their own care.

I co-chair with Lord (Nigel) Crisp the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health. I chaired a fascinating inquiry into how patients, health service users and their carer around the world are involved in deciding on and managing their own care.

See the full report here

or read my short article in The Guardian here

Other business

Rwanda

In April I visited Rwanda just ahead of the 20th Commemoration of the 1994 genocide.

In 100 days in 1994 nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally killed. Neighbours, friends, doctors, priests and relatives killed people because of their ethnic background.

The world stood by and did not allow the UN forces on the ground to intervene. The Rwandans have overseen an extraordinary 20 years of reconciliation and redevelopment.

Thanks to international aid (with the UK a significant donor) there has been impressive investment in infrastructure and education.

The roads are tarmac, the buildings are modern and even in villages there are good facilities. Over 90 per cent of children attend school, although the Rwandan Government is now focusing on the quality of education, and there is universal access to healthcare.

I visited the national genocide memorial which commemorates men, women and children slaughtered 20 years ago as well as testimony from survivors and perpetrators.

I also visited one of the local memorials where the clothes of the victims were piled on the pews of the church they had sheltered in and were then murdered in. Open catacombs behind the church held the bones of the dead.

I also visited a reconciliation village where perpetrators and survivors live side by side.

I visited a demilitarisation camp for militia from the insurgent forces from the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the DRC border. The contrast at the border was stark, with the enormous poverty in DRC evident to any bystander.

World E-Parliament Conference

I was invited by the Speaker of the House of Commons to serve on the Digital Democracy Commission.

As part of this work, which aims to make recommendations about how Parliament can be more accessible to and influenced by citizens, I attended the E-Parliament conference in South Korea.

In a busy three days I learnt about good practice in other parts of the world. The Korean Parliament has e-voting and terminals at each seat in the Parliament. All papers are provided on-line in an attempt to become paper free.

I was also interested in what the Italians and Swedes are doing. I have invited them to visit Shoreditch to see how tech firms could provide platforms to allow citizens to better understand Parliament via smart phones. Key is to embrace open data. This is when an institution provides its data in a format which is easily accessible so that third parties can use it.

The best example of this in the public sector is Transport for London. Instead of selling its timetable and travel data it released it freely and this has spawned over £10m in new business and a range of useful applications for public transport users to plan travel.

I am in early discussions about an event. If you are interested, please contact me.

Co-op update

The troubled Cooperative Group lurches from crisis to crisis.

I have never argued against the need for business improvement but I remain concerned about the removal of the basic principles of Cooperation from the group.

In May the annual meeting passed a motion which agreed to support a series of changes proposed by Lord Myners. If Lord Myners’ changes are fully adopted this would lead to a board of directors which would be almost impossible for members to remove.

Behind the scenes many reassurances were given to Co-op members that if they supported change there would be further work on details to ensure that Cooperative values remain at the heart of the Co-op. I shall continue to stand up for Co-op principles.

To see my most recent article click here

Inquiry into hunger and food poverty

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty is carrying out an inquiry into food poverty and food bank use in the UK.

It is looking for examples of people who have been using food banks as part of their research into this issue. If you would be happy to be a part of this inquiry, then please send your information in confidence to meghilliermp@parliament.uk

Zero hours contracts

The Office of National Statistics has revealed there are 1.4 million zero hours contracts in the UK. More than one in five health and social workers are employed on zero hours contracts.

Water cannon

I have spoken before about my concerns about the use of water cannon by the Metropolitan Police. Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith sums up many of my concerns in her article here

Labour report on school standards

Labour has set out its plans for the future running of schools following a report by former Home Secretary David Blunkett MP into school standards.

These recommendations, which include the creation of a Director of School Standards in every area, aim to turn around schools which require improvement. There are currently 1.5 million children attending schools that fall into this category.

Children’s Heart Foundation

I am backing the Children’s Heart Federation’s campaign for all babies to be tested for heart conditions at birth. Pulse Oximetry is a quick, painless and cheap test that detects over 90 per cent of life threatening heart defects in newborns.

Every year, around 5,000 babies are born with Congenital Heart Disease, however only a third are detected before birth. For more information visit here

Africa in Action

Africa in Action is holding an event on 18 June to highlight the contributions of UK-based African diaspora organisations and activists to international development. For more information visit here

Africa Writes 2014

Africa Writes, the Royal African Society’s annual literature and book festival promoting contemporary African writing will be held at the British Library between 11-13 July.

Royal Mail Dog Awareness Week

This runs from Monday 30 June and Friday 4 July. It recognises a change in the law that will legally protect Royal Mail workers who are attacked by a dog on private property.

Industrial HGV Taskforce

Transport for London recently published a review of the 6 month trial of the Industrial HGV Taskforce in London.

The task force is being continued. The task force aims to crackdown on non-compliant HGV operators and drivers.

To read the report visit here

Hackney issues

Homerton Hospital

The Care Quality Commission has just published the results of the recent inspection of Homerton Hospital.

The commission rated the hospital as good with an outstanding Accident and Emergency department. Staff and patients were also positive about the Homerton. To view the findings visit here

Chesham Arms

I raised issues with Community Value Assets and the Chesham Arms pub in Parliament. It is critical that this policy is not undermined by owners.

I recently wrote to Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe about the campaign to save the Chesham Arms pub. The council has led the way so far in preserving the pub. I hope that Hackney Council will continue to work to preserve this Hackney institution.

Pollution in the Lee Navigation

The Environment Agency have been responding to reports of oil pollution on the Lea Navigation at Lea Bridge Weir. A pool of cooking oil was discovered between Lea Bridge Weir and Old Ford Lock.

Thankfully the oil was contained and removed from the river, and no distressed or dead fish have been noted in the area. The Environment Agency is satisfied that there is no longer a risk to the environment.
You can report any incidents using the Freephone hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

Hackney Half Marathon

This year’s Hackney Half Marathon is taking place on Sunday 22 June. It’s not too late to register. To sign up or for more information visit here

Highbury and Islington Station

I have raised my concerns with Transport for London over the changes that have been made to Highbury and Islington Station.

Transport for London has announced plans to introduce five car trains by the end of the year. As this is already an incredibly congested interchange, an increase in train passengers may exacerbate the problem. I will keep you updated.

Mare Street hostel visit

In April, I visited Mare Street hostel to see the work being done by St Mungo’s Broadway.

It was encouraging to meet residents who are being supported into a better future. I meet many people struggling to find accommodation and a stable home is clearly a foundation for life. I was particularly impressed by the new hospital discharge scheme which is a great example of joining up health, housing and support.

Weavers Shoreditch Wood

The new park that is to be formed on top of the Grade II arches of the Bishopgate Goods Yard has been named ‘Weavers Shoreditch Woods.’ The park will have a range of features, from a natural playing area for children, to a horticultural area. To find out more, visit here

Hoxton Hall

In May, Hoxton Hall began the next phase of its important renovations. Works have now started in the Music Hall Theatre, which is 150 years old and grade II listed.

£1.8 million has been provided through the Heritage Lottery Fund, while £500,000 has been raised through the trust and other foundations.

Flooding

Following the flooding that has occurred during the last year, the Environment Agency has created improved phone services to keep up to date with flooding information and to report environmental incidents.

For up to date flooding information call Floodline on 0345 988 1188. To report environmental incidents, call the incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.