It has been another busy few weeks in Parliament.
Last week I was privileged to chair an international Gender and Politics Conference in Parliament hosted jointly by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter Parliamentary Union. This was the first conference of its kind to be held here and brought together over 60 female MPs from countries across the world with representatives from various organisations.
During the conference seminars, workshops, lectures and plenary discussions covered a vast range of topics particularly pertinent to women in politics. These included women and security, women in politics and the media, equality in policy making and how to get more women involved in politics.
I chaired a number of events and found all of the discussions and contribution very though provoking. One event I particularly enjoyed was aimed at encouraging more countries to take up and develop mentoring programmes to help and inspire more women to become involved in politics. I spoke along with my two mentees Anna-Joy and Kathy, Secretary of State Maria Miller and Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith.
Many of the women at the event shared their own experiences of mentoring and all agreed that being in contact with someone who has experienced the ups and downs of politics first hand is invaluable when entering politics. I am sure that the same can be said of the majority of fields.
Finally, all the delegates and organisers of the conference sent a card and message of support to Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year old education activist from Pakistan who was a victim of an attempted assignation attempt by the Taliban in October. Malala, who has continually fought for girls in her province to have access to education, is an inspiration to people across the world. She is currently recovering in hospital in the UK. It is horrific that in defending her right to something fundamental as education she has had her life put at risk. Everyone at the conference, and I am sure everyone reading this, fully supports Malala and wishes her a speedy recovery.
If you would like to support Malala and her campaign you can do so here http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/campaigns/we_are_malala/sign-our-petition-to-8211466.html
There is more information about the conference here http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/cpa-home/programmes/conferences/international-parliamentary-conference-on-gender-and-politics/about-the-conference/
On Monday the 5th we had the Second Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. This Bill pulls the plug on the LibDem/Tory Coalition’s promise to introduce more Localism by giving the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, the power to designate a local authority as ‘failing’ and decide planning applications himself.
The Bill also weakens the ability of councils to ask developers to contribute towards affordable housing, could enable telephone masts to be put up all over national parks and will allow businesses to buy employees’ rights from them.
During the Second Reading, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hilary Benn took Eric Pickles to task over all of these points but perhaps unsurprisingly Pickles failed to give any adequate answers. In fact, the only answer he did attempt, naming Hackney as the worst local authority in England, was wrong and he promptly had to issue an apology and correction.
The full debate can be read here; http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121105/debtext/121105-0001.htm#1211058000001 ,
The Bill is now in its committee stages and I am leading for the opposition. My colleagues and I will be pushing for a number of amendments to be made which will ensure that community say is protected. However, we are yet to see whether the Government will take any of these recommendations on board. What is clear that this Bill will do nothing to support the economic recovery and cannot, in truth, be termed the ‘Growth and Infrastructure Bill’
In the past few weeks there has also been an unusually high number of constituent coming to Westminster. For example, this week I managed to quickly greet a group of Sixth Form students from St Leonards.
In the brief time I was there the students gave me a grilling on subjects such as what I am doing to provide out of school activities for young people. I told them that whilst I have been speaking to the police, residents, youth workers and other organisations about this issue it is very difficult to ask Durham Council to take widespread action as they are already suffering the brunt of millions of pounds in cuts. In fact, this week it was revealed just how unfairly the cuts have been spread http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/14/council-cuts-targeted-deprived-areas .
I would like to have stayed longer but unfortunately had been called to represent the opposition on a delegated legislation committee.