WWF Campaign: Earth Hour

On Saturday I joined thousands of people all over Scotland and hundreds of millions of people across the world in switching off my lights in a demonstration of support for people and wildlife threatened by the dangers of man made climate change.

I support the WWF’s Earth Hour and followed Piccadilly Circus, the London Eye and even the Las Vegas strip, by turning off my lights from 8.30pm to 9.30pm last Saturday (27th March) to save energy and highlight the issue of global warming.

I support vigorously the campaign to help fight climate change; I have tabled EDM 524 to force my fellow parliamentary colleagues to show that they recognise man made climate change, and I also sit on the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee raising environmental issue when necessary.

To sign up to take part in WWF’s Earth Hour please visit: www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour.

NSPCC campaign to ensure children safety

I have signed up to the NSPCC’s new campaign to ensure protecting children is a political priority: I Stand for Children. It is a priority of this government to ensure that all children, no matter what their background might be, receive the care that they need to make the best possible start in life.

The NSPCC’s campaign is calling on MPs and candidates to commit to a range of child protection measures including:

Continued funding of helpline services for children and for adults concerned about the safety or welfare of a child

Making the internet safer for children

Tackling domestic violence from a child’s point of view

Ensuring that vital child protection reforms are fully implemented and resourced, following the death of Baby Peter and other child deaths since

Provision of resources for vital therapeutic services for children who have experienced abuse

Strengthening the role of the children’s commissioner in England to act as a genuinely independent voice for children.

The charity’s Diana Sutton, head of the public affairs and campaigns unit at the NSPCC, said: “We need to make sure that the next elected Government keeps child protection high on its list of priorities. By signing up to our campaign, candidates in this next general election can help.  The public can play their role by letting the politicians know what they want done.”

Rt. Hon Ivan Lewis MP visiting Glasgow North West


Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis MP

5.15pm Thursday 25th March

Knightswood Community Centre, 201 Alderman Road, Glasgow

The Rt. Hon Ivan Lewis MP is coming to speak in Glasgow North West on tonight and will be answering questions from the public. The event will be from 5:00pm (for a 5:15pm start) to 6.30pm at the Knightswood Community Centre. We encourage you to come and arrive early to avoid disappointment.

He will be talking about foreign policy issues, such as why the UK is involved in Afghanistan, as well as other Middle East and Counter Terrorism issues.

If you wish to come along, please contact my office at 0141 944 7298, or jrmpoffice@btinternet.com.

I look forward to seeing you.

Yours faithfully,

John Robertson MP

Minister announces signing of £127m contract on the Clyde

The Secretary of State for Scotland, the Rt. Hon Jim Murphy MP, alongside John Robertson MP and Ian Davidson MP, has announced the decision to go ahead with building on the Clyde of the Type 26 Warships.

The Minister confirmed that the MoD has signed the £127m contract to take the project into the assessment phase

John Robertson said: “This shows a Labour government’s commitment to long term planning for defence, retaining capability and skills and protecting Scottish jobs.”

John Robertson MP added: “The choice for the electorate in the coming election is now very clear; vote Tory or SNP and you’re voting for unemployment on the Clyde”.

John Robertson MP ended: “The truth is that successive Tory governments have cut defence spending; I remember Sir Francis Pym falling out with Margaret Thatcher over her plans to axe defence spending, and John Major cutting the defence budget by over half a billion a year.”

Only last month the future of the aircraft carriers and the shipbuilding on the Clyde was put into doubt by comments by Liam Fox MP, the Shadow Defence Minister, who told union representatives that he planned, on day one of a Conservative government, to seek details about break clauses in the carrier contracts. Such actions could jeopardise the future of the entire industry, which risks up to14, 000 jobs.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  1. Liam Fox has refused to match Labour’s commitment to ring-fence the Defence budget in 2010/11
  2. The Tories refuse to give assurances on the future of ship building on the Clyde.
  3. On 24/02/10 the Shadow Defence Spokesman Liam Fox told a meeting of trade union officials that he will look into open up the defence contracts.

The Hon. John Robertson MP is the Labour Member of Parliament for Glasgow North West.

The Hon. Ian Davidson MP is the Labour Member of Parliament for Glasgow South West.

16/03/10 – Adjournment Debate: Online Child and Adult protection

Mr Speaker,

I am delighted to have secured this debate and to have the opportunity to exchange views with my honourable friend the Minister.  I look forward to hearing my Hon. Friend’s comments on the wider issues that I shall raise in this debate.

But to begin I would like to discuss the current state of Child and Adult Online Protection in social media and what can be done to improve matters.

I was brought to this subject today following on from events of recent weeks, where we have seen the sad deaths of Ashleigh Hall and Camille Mathurasingh.

Ms. Mathurasingh was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend following him viewing pictures of her with another man on her social media account. Her’s is a case that although it reached mass media attention, I am aware it is an impossible area to legislate against.

However the case of Ashleigh Hall is more worrying; she was stalked by a 33 year old paedophile posing as someone half his age. He met up with Ms. Hall and then abducted, raped and murdered her.

Although the circumstances of both cases differ, they do signify the problems that face us in protecting ourselves in the virtual world from danger in the real world.

Social media websites such as facebook have inextricably changed the level of interaction in our society in the last few years. The concept of friendship has been downgraded more than previously before, we show pictures and intimate details with hundreds or thousands of so called facebook friends, many of whom we may never have even met. I talk on experience on this matter, as I have 500 new friends on facebook I never knew I had. But on a serious note, this downgrading of the personal bonds of friendship online has hidden consequences.  Online relationships spring up without any face to face contact ever being made, and children can be communicating with people that their parents are never aware of.

Social Networking websites are at the forefront clearly of this new level of communications. According to a recent Ofcom report UK internet users spend more time on networking websites than any other country in Europe with 39 percent of UK adults using social networking websites on a regular basis. Facebook is particularily primed for the UK market with Facebook making up 45 percent of the UK social networking market double that of Bebo and more than three times that of Myspace. Rather impressive when one considers that the total global social networking website market is taken up by Myspace with 71.92 percent of the market and Facebook only holding 16.91 percent of the market. The reasons for this success in the UK compared to the US is owed to the fact that Facebook UK has managed to spread beyond university students and has socially stratified down to all other levels of society. This is not the case in the US, where Facebook and Myspace are divided on ethnic and class lines, where Afro-Caribbean and Latino school-levers favour the popular social networking website MySpace and university students favour Facebook.

Recent research, commissioned by The National Year of Reading 2008 on the White Working Class boys (C2DE) aged 11-15, found that 80 percent had access to the internet through computers in the home.

I mention these facts to highlight that this is an issue that affects everyone in our society, even those who may not be online but whose family members might be. It is understandable that problems of security will arise in such a diluted online community.

For example, some experts have linked the rise in teenage rape, up 23 percent on last year, to a growing sexualisation of young teenage girls on social networking sites. Personally I don’t believe this is the only reason for the rise, but it may well be a influencing factor. Either way this again reiterates the fear that fear we have on this matter.

In the case of Asheilgh Hall that I mentioned more could have been done by the social networking website Facebook to protect her by adding a report button.

This report button is something which I have some knowledge on from my work as chair of the All-Party-Parliamentray Group on Communication.

The report button was created by the Home Office’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) and is free for any social media website to use with no charge for take up. The Ceop has stated that since its creation the button receives thousands of clicks a month. Now Facebook has had access to this button since 2006 and has not yet put it on its user sites, Despite from what I have read in the papers that internet security consultants in the USA found 8,000 paedophiles on their website. It is well documented that, MySpace removed 90,000 paedophiles from their website. But inspite of this fact neither websites have fitted the Report Button.

Well, the problem is that there is no industry code requiring social media websites to fit these buttons to their websites.

If you believe as I do that the market can not regulate itself, because it does not regulate itself, and very often the commercial entities that come into these environments are venture capital driven, they are trying to do as much as possible for as little as possible, until they are bought over.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with the business model, but when we are talking about child safety, you let people operate in an enterprise zone with special terms and conditions, perhaps around business rates and other incentives, but you do not let them operate in blatant and flagrant abuse of construction use or child safety regulations.  It should be no different in the online environment; a panic button should be present; it is free after all.

Therefore I feel Government should be asking questions of those sites that do not have it.

Through my role of chair of the Communications group I have come into contact with many leading figures in the online sector. Last summer the All-Party-Parliamentary Group on Communications held an inquiry into internet traffic taking evidence from Jim Gamble of the CEOP.

He informed our group last year that if you click on the CEOP report button, what he said it does is three things. One it reassures parents where that button is present that there is a route to access law enforcement other than the police. Two, it deters the offender in the same way a burglar alarm on the front of a house will move a burglar to the next house. And three it reassures the child who has had lessons in school, 4.3 million and growing, educating them that there is someone there they can go to who can make a positive difference for them.

Many questions should be asked of these social networking websites who do not have this button; because the online infrastructure is in place for these social media websites to use.  So why would every site not want to have that type of reassuring access and mechanism inherently built within it for the protection of their users?

No one wants to distract from the fact that Asheligh Halls’ murderer was a depraved and sick individual, but the responsibility that social media websites such as Facebook and others – let be clear although Facebook are in the news at the moment they are not the only one, Bebo and Myspace other industry leaders are equally cuppable – These social media networks have to their bit to ensure the safety of their users, especially their younger users.

Every site that is a public place online, be it a social networking site or one of the other self-generating sites through Web 2.0, should have, for example in the UK, the CEOP report button.

As someone who supports the government’s policy on ID cards, for the same reason we are here today, that in a world where we give out our personal details to social media websites based in California, there is a need for the individual to secure their identity. I feel that more has to be done to secure our online identity, and I welcomed the government’s moves in this area.

Search engines such as google, due to their close connections with Facebook and other social media platforms put all our identities online and accessible to anyone and everyone. Their caveat is that there are privacy options provided but as anyone with young children will know; most young people never consider the ramifications of not securing their identity and personal details. In an online world where the social networking websites in essence have a responsibility towards young people they should provide an area of safety for the young in our society.

In a technological world where the internet is now accessible on mobile phones this draws another area of concern on this issue. I believe that that network operators and retailers should work together on putting eSafety on mobile phones. Ofcom should insist that all mobile access devices are fitted with child protection filters that protect the identity of the child. I would be interested to hear the Ministers views in this area?

I don’t want to paint a completely dark picture as there are certain ISP providers who are doing something, for example BT estimated last year that 42% of its broadband customers with children between five and 15-years-old had set up ‘BT Yahoo!’ content filtering control settings. But I feel this is still a small proportion and that there is a lack of public knowledge on this matter and I would be interested to know the Minister’s thoughts on this matter also?

In conclusion, I know there is no panacea to this issue but there are small steps that can be taken to increase protection online – I recognise that the Government and my Honourable Friend have done a considerable amount on this matter and I feel there is a much common ground here today:

  • As my HF will be aware, Paedophiles here must register all their email address and if found to using alternative one can expect a 5 year jail sentence. I would be interested to know what the Minister thought of expanding it to social media accounts as well?
    • What does my HF believe can be done to encourage uptake of the CEOP’s report button by social networking websites?
    • Would my HF consider enforcing all mobile phone internet providers to provide child protection filters with every contract to under eighteens?
    • Could my HF please inform me what he thinks of my suggestion for everyone in this country to have their own personal email account on a website such as direct gov website? As this would help increase people’s greater knowledge of online provision.
    • What does my HF believe can be done to improve online child protection on social media sites?
    • What plans are there in place to increase awareness amongst parents and children to child protection filters available from ISPs?
    • Will my HF look at increasing for the CEOP?

I look forward to hearing from my Honourable Friend the Minister.

15/03/10 NUS and Save EMA Event

Good evening and thank you for all attending,

Tonight the NUS in collaboration with the Save EMA campaign will launch the EMA Satisfaction Survey 2010, which highlights the importance of Education Maintenance Allowances to those teenagers who rely on them. For those unaware of this issue; EMAs are means-tested allowances of between £10 and £30 paid to 16-to-19 year olds who stay in education and come from families where annual household income is below £30,000. These payments may seem insignificant to some but as the previous EMA Satisfaction Survey found: 65% of participants on the highest EMA rate of £30 stated that they could not continue to study without EMA. The maintenance allowance removes some of the barriers to participation in education, and the £10 and £20 brackets are useful in this case, particularly in covering costs towards transport.

The Rt Hon Iain Wright MP, the Minister responsible for EMA will tonight make the Government’s position clear; that they will guarantee not to cut EMA weekly payments up to 2015. However, the Conservative party’s position on EMA is quite confusing. The Save EMA campaign has managed to get David Cameron on record to say he will not axe the EMA scheme, but when the question is turned on to whether they will cut EMA they become rather evasive. David Willets told Shane Chowen of the NUS only last month, when asked if he planned to cut EMA funding, that it was “difficult to commit in the current climate” to the scheme.

The Conservatives so far refuse to commit to the Government’s spending plans for 14-19 year olds, which cover EMA. The reasons for this stems from the Conservative’s education policy of “Free Schools” that has left them with a £2.5bn black hole. Furthermore, in the event of a hung parliament where the Conservatives hold the highest number of seats, they will be reliant on fringe parties to get their policies through parliament and support any cuts in education they want to make to free up funds.

One party at Westminster that they could rely on to support any plans to cut EMA funding would be the SNP, who over the last year have cut EMA in Scotland by 20 per cent and made regressive changes to the scheme’s eligibility criteria. By lowering the threshold for the £30 payment and axing the £10 and £20 payments NUS Scotland believes that these cuts lead to almost 8,000 pupils dropping out of further education this year alone. This fear is supported by figures released by the Scottish Government only last month, which showed 39,110 college students and school pupils from low-income families were taking up the allowance in 2007-8, meaning they were up from 38,760 in 2006-07. The figures also showed that the allowance proved to help school pupils from low-income families stay on in education with 77% of school pupils on the EMA scheme for the full year completing the attendance rates and learning expectations set out for them compared to 70% in 2006-7. In addition, the percentage of those on the EMA for a full year, receiving £10 and £20 payments, completing the scheme increased to 82% (the figures for 2006-7 were 74% for those on £10 payments and £73% for those on £20 payments).

The policy towards EMA in Scotland is a unfortunate, but it also sets an example of what happens when you cut front line services for the poorest in our society at the current time. Therefore, as the election draws nearer and nearer the dividing line on this issue will be about each party’s commitment to funding EMA. One party has now made their position clear; it is time the others do the same.

07/01/10 – Speech at Sri Lankan Consulate

I thank you for inviting me here today to address you on what marks a very special day in your country’s history.

UK-Sri Lankan relations are important today in these tough economic times as they ever have been. UK exports to Sri Lanka are worth around $241m, and the UK is the ninth largest exporter to the country. Sri Lanka’s principal exports to the UK are textiles and garments and tea.

The latter is something which ties where we are today, Glasgow and Sri Lanka very closely. It was the tea-pickers of Sri Lanka and pioneering Scotsmen as much as the tea-merchants of Surrey who established the traditional cup of tea.

UK-Sri Lankan ties go back many years, but less known is the Sri Lankan connection to Scotland and Glasgow in particular. Scottish links to Sri Lanka go back at least 200 years, when it was known as Ceylon.

Scotsman, James Taylor, set up the first tea factory in 1872 on the island. From this point on, Ceylon tea began to arrive regularly in the UK, the success of which led to the opening of an auction market in the capital Colombo in 1883, and to the founding of a Colombo tea dealers association in 1894.

James Taylor’s dedication and determination was largely responsible for the early success of the tea crop in Ceylon and he became known as “the father of Ceylon tea”.

After Taylor, Ceylon tea was taken from infancy to maturity by another intrepid Scotsman, and Glaswegian, called Tommy Lipton. Born on 10 May 1850 in the Gorbals of Glasgow.

Tea drinking had become a popular habit in Britain in the late 19th century, but it was expensive. Lipton wanted to make tea accessible to all at low prices but with guaranteed quality.

Lipton achieved this by setting up his own tea plantations in Sri Lanka and importing direct from there to Glasgow, cutting out the middle man and lowering the price.

Thanks to Scotsmen like Taylor and Lipton, by the end of the 19th Century the word “tea” was no longer synonymous with China, but with Ceylon. And their legacy lingers – modern day Sri Lanka is second only to India in the production of tea worldwide.

But Scotland’s links with Sri Lanka don’t begin and end with tea – they continue to the present day.

One of the few sports that we Scots can claim to be world champions in is Elephant Polo, where Sri Lanka is one of the key figures in the sport. To be fair we did invent the sport, as it is the brainchild of Scottish adventurer and former British Olympic bobsleigh team member James Manclark.

In February 2007 near the World Heritage Forte of Galle, the 6th Annual International Elephant Polo Tournament, were Scotland defended their title. The current world champions are England, but we will ignore that as Scotland has more titles.

On a more sombre note; Galle, where the competition was held, was also one of the worst hit places in Sri Lanka by the tsunami on 26 December 2004. After Indonesia, Sri Lanka suffered more physical damage and human loss than anywhere else.

I remember the event clearly and the efforts in my constituency of Glasgow North West to raise money for the many thousands who were effected. As some of you will be aware, many Scottish charities were at the vanguard of this aid raising 3.5mil in the first 48 hrs. This helped to provide money for fishing boats, fund the establishment of farms, subsidize farmers to enable them to plant rice, kick-start various small businesses, provide water pumps and general provisions for thousands of displaced families and purchase medical equipment for hospitals.

Furthermore, a Glaswegian church established more than a century ago by Scots tea plantation owners is giving women in Sri Lanka the opportunity to start afresh in life. St Andrews Kirk in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo maintains links with Netherlee Parish Church in Glasgow. Netherlee raised enough money to buy a house in the suburbs of Colombo, which will give many unfortunate women a new home.

I am, some maybe surprised to hear, a very keen cricket fan and former cricketer. Scotland does have a cricket team, although not as well known or competitive as England’s, but like a lot of Scots I follow the England Cricket team.

Scotland has never played Sri Lanka in cricket but I did enjoy the last England v Sri Lanka match, probably more than most in this room (as England won).

Back to why we are here today; the post war Labour government of Clement Attlee is remembered for many things in this country, such as the NHS and the foundation of a welfare state, but another of its many achievements was decolonization.

Sri Lanka’s separation from the British Empire in 1948 and its assumption as a member of the Commonwealth was an example of a bloodless birth of a nation, which unfortunately was not so common at the time.

So we should remember the Independence of Sri Lanka today but also the manner in which it was achieved as a guide for the start of a new decade for both our country’s.

02/01/10 – Adjournment Debate: The Future of the EMA

Mr Speaker,

I am delighted to have secured this debate and to have the opportunity to exchange views with my honourable friend the Minister.  I look forward to hearing my Rt Hon. Friend’s comments on the wider issues that I shall raise in this debate.

I would like to discuss the future of the Education Maintenance Allowance scheme and the effects cuts would cause to those young people who rely on it;

I will mention the fears of Charities and other NGOs who represent Further Education students and then tell you my experience of what happens to cuts made to EMA north of the border as an example to keep in mind of what could happen.

This Government has a record second to none in regards to funding of Further Education.

But firstly for those unaware let me give a brief explanation to those listening today who maybe unaware of what EMAs are and why they are such an essential part of further educational support.

EMAs are means-tested allowances of £10, £20 and £30 paid to 16-to-19 year olds who stay in education and come from families where annual household income is below £30,000.

This payment is conditional on attendance.

The policy intent of the EMA is to broaden participation and to improve the retention and attainment of young people of 16 to19 in post compulsory education.

EMAs were introduced nationally in September 2004 in order to reduce this country’s post-16 drop-out rate which was one of the worst in the developed world at the time.

Why we should support EMA and not cut it:

So what has been the success of the EMA scheme since 2004?

Well, research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that attainment at GCSE and A-level by recipients of EMA has risen by 40 % since its introduction, and by even more for those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.

In addition, RCU Market Research Services carried out research on the national scheme and published a report called Evaluation of the EMA National Roll-out 2007, which concluded:

“that EMA has had a positive impact on the retention, achievement and success of certain groups of learners traditionally associated with lower levels of achievement such as: male learners; learners from minority ethnic groups; those with backgrounds of high deprivation and learners on lower level and vocational courses.”

Ipsos MORI published a report in 2008 called Evaluation of Extension of Education Maintenance Allowance to Entry-to-Employment and Programme Led Apprenticeships. This report reached similar conclusions to the RCU research, stating that:

“EMA is reducing NEET (those Not in Employment Education or Training) and also motivating learners to work harder.”

So as you can see the scheme has been widely recognised by independent authorities as being a success and the arguments by those opposite who oppose this scheme are easily silenced.

Bonuses/NGO fears:

So it was with mixed emotions that I commend last week’s statement by the Secretary Of State announcing plans to spend £580 million on EMA in order to fund a further 80,000 places. However, he also mentioned that from 2011, poorer pupils who qualify for the EMA – a payment of between £10-£30 each week – will no longer receive an extra £100 for every six months they stay in education.

Charities and organization which represent young people recieving EMA are extremely concerned about recent announcements to scrap the EMA bonuses of £100. Especially when the evaluation evidence for the EMA bonus scheme found that around two-thirds of EMA recipients questioned agreed that the EMA bonus system made them work harder and the same proportion said they attended more lessons because of the EMA attendance bonus rule.

Furthermore, those who work closely with students on EMA inform me that EMA payments and bonuses are an important part of what allows them to continue in further education.

I would be interested to hear the Ministers views on this matter?

Unfortunately this is not the only fear regarding EMAs. There is a growing fear amongst all those interested in EMAs that when the school leaving age is raised to 18 in 2015 then the need for an incentive will become redundant. Could the Minister comment on this?

Could it be it is to do with the problem that they have been classed as an incentive rather than a welfare payment?

As receipt of an EMA does not affect other family benefits.

I believe that we the Government should consider the reclassification of EMAs as payments which are intended as ‘supportive’ rather than soley an ‘incentive’ in the same way JSA is viewed. Otherwise come 2015 when the school leaving age is raised to 18 they will become defunct as an incentive.

My Right Honourable Friend should take for example, those who are living independently at an early age who may need particular support.  Access to financial support may be one of the main barriers to participation in education. In general, some of the key barriers include:

  • Course fees
  • Travel expenses
  • The cost of food and other essential items
  • Costs associated with their course or placement, such as equipment
  • A lack of comprehensive advice and guidance for young people on their entitlement to benefits

For those living with families on low income the overall impact on family finances should be considered. In some instances young people have been discouraged from taking part in education.

This is why I believe that the EMA should be gauranteed beyond 2011.

Scottish Example:

I am aware that we live in a time when finances are very tight and budgets must be pruned. But I believe there is good example for why this should not be done in regards to EMAs.

As my Right Honourable Friend will be aware the EMA system is devolved and each administration has its own policy responsibility for EMA. But not all Administrations have been as considerate as this one in protecting students from low income families during the recession.

For example, this academic year has seen EMA from my own constituency in Glasgow North West, cut by 20%. My MSP colleague Bill Butler has informed me of the upsurge in constituents who are worse off due to the SNP led Administration’s 20% cut to the EMA budget and changes to the scheme’s eligibility criteria. These changes in criteria to the EMA in Scotland lowered the threshold for the £30 payment and axed the £10 and £20 payments.

These £20 and £10 payments may seem insignificant to some in this House but as a survey carried out by the NUS in 2008 found: 65% of participants on the highest EMA rate of £30 stated that they could not continue to study without EMA. As already stated this maintenance allowance removes some of the barriers to participation in education, and the £10 and £20 brackets are useful in this case, particularly in covering costs towards transport, food, etc.

Furthermore, there is unfortunately fears that progress made will be undone by the SNP administration enforced changes to the eligibility criteria cutting support for those receiving £10 and £20 and cutting the allowance to families with an income of between £20, 351 and £22, 403 with a child, who currently receive the maximum £30.

Figures released by the Scottish Government only last Wednesday on Education Maintenance Allowances show that the old system developed under Labour was successful. The figures showed 39,110 college students and school pupils from low-income families were taking up the allowance in 2007-8, meaning they were up from 38,760 in 2006-07.

The figures also showed that the allowance proved to help school pupils from low-income families stay on in education with 77% of school pupils on the EMA scheme for the full year completing the attendance rates and learning expectations set out for them compared to 70% in 2006-7. The percentage of those on the EMA for a full year, receiving £10 and £20 payments, completing the scheme increased to 82% (the figures for 2006-7 were 74% for those on £10 payments and £73% for those on £20 payments).

I know the Minister has no responsibility for the administration of EMA in Scotland, but I use this as an example of what could happen if support is removed from students on EMA. This view is supported by the National Union of Students for Scotland who believe that these cuts by the SNP administration to the EMA scheme will lead to almost 8,000 students dropping out this year.

Other party’s views:

As for the views of other parties in this House regarding EMA, we know where the SNP stand on EMAs, and their Westminster friends, the Conservatives, have views which are not too dissimilar.

The Leader of the Opposition has previously refused to give a “straight answer” on EMAs in an interview with Sky in 2007.

However, things looked briefly hopeful when two weeks ago he was pushed to answer whether he was committed to EMAs he responded “Yes”.

Yet it didn’t last long, only last week I am informed that when asked by the NUS’s Shane Chowen at an event on Further Education, the Rt. Hon Member for Havant, the Shadow Minister on this issue, responded its: “difficult to commit to it in the current climate”.

I guess this is not a surprise as previously the Conservative party and those on the right have held a highly negative opinion of EMAs.

Only last year the Shadow Minister for Schools, the Rt Hon Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, described EMAs in this House as a “fiasco”.

Shadow Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Member for Epsom and Ewell, has described them as doing “absolutely nothing to help solve this country’s chronic skills shortage.”

Furthermore, the Rt. Hon Member for Surrey Heath, the Shadow Children’s Secretary, has even called the EMA a “flop.”

They clearly haven’t done their homework or they would know the success that EMAs have been.

I feel it is also important to add the views of those who influence the policy of parties of the opposition.

Rightwing think-tanks have been even more disparaging about the EMA in the last year. Policy Exchange, a favorite think tank of the Leader of the Opposition, called for it to be axed in their publication ‘School Funding and Social Justice‘.

Not much justice for poor students here!

Reform, another favorite of the Tory front bench, advocate scrapping the scheme telling the Guardian last October that “this is not an effective way of spending over half a billion pounds of the education budget.”

Perhaps if they asked the students who receive EMAs, and their parents, then a different answer would be got?

Other influential sections of the right such as the Institute of Directors and TaxPayers’ Alliance called for the EMA to be axed late last year in their joint publication ‘How to Save £50 Billion‘.

But if we wanted a better barometer of the feelings of the parties of the opposition then it can be seen from the lack of support on that side of the House for my EDM on the issue.

Out of the over 80 signatories currently signed up, I have only 1 Conservative and 3 Liberal Democrats who have signed EDM 422.

I wonder which party really cares about the education of our young people?

In conclusion, I have to ask the following questions of all connected with the EMA – I know my Right Honourable Friend cannot answer for the opposition parties but when they read this they can write to me:

  • Why would opposition parties want to stop people from low income families staying on in Education?
  • What are their real motives and plans for EMA?
  • Why can they not commit to the EMA scheme, no ifs no buts?
  • What is the minister going to do to take in consideration the concerns of those student leaders concerned about the financial loss incurred by the removal of the bonuses in 2011?
  • Does he agree with me that because of the importance of EMA to students from low income families, it should be supported beyond 2011?

I look forward to hearing from my Honourable Friend the Minister and correspondence from all opposition leaders.

07/12/09 – Energy Bill

Mr Speaker

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate, I feel privileged to be able to voice my support for this bill and believe it is another piece of the jigsaw which will assist us in the development of a secure, safe and low carbon generation of electricity, and at the same time allow us to tackle the other main issues of Climate Change.

There is no doubt that the two major challenges we face not only within the UK but internationally are security of supply and climate change. Over the last few years considerable time and debate within this house and the other place has highlighted the need to tackle these issues, we have used the building block approach and we are steadily putting in place the tools to deliver both our objectives.

The tens of thousands of people who participated in the WAVE demonstrations on Saturday would all welcome the opportunity I enjoy today. Their participation in the demonstrations shows how serious and committed they feel on the need for a successful conclusion to the Copenhagen Summit, and it is essential that the international community deliver such a conclusion for the benefit of all those in this House and beyond.

The attendance of President Obama at the summit is not essential but necessary, as only with the agreement of the USA to seriously participate and tackle their pollution can a binding and effective agreement truly be found.

As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Nuclear energy Group I obviously declare an interest in this Bill. I have long campaigned for a balanced energy policy which includes a nuclear component. I support the development of renewable energy, as considerable investment has delivered many onshore wind farms. The changes therefore to the renewable obligation will I sincerely hope ensure we continue to develop other forms of renewable energy. However, we still need a core source of generation, at present that core source can only come from gas, coal or nuclear. It is unfortunate, but absolutely true that at present wind farms can not be regarded as a core source of generation because of their intermittency.

To maintain our electricity supply in the near future it is estimated that we will need to import by 2020 some 70% of our gas supply. Until, recently we were self sufficient in gas and oil, but now we are a net importer with the uncertainty and danger that this brings. We only need to look at recent experiences to see how frightening this could be; the Ukraine is and was a wakeup call, depending on imported gas is not acceptable.

Nuclear energy is a low carbon Safe and important core source of generation, to dismiss the contribution nuclear has made to the UK is not only irresponsible but also dangerous. That is why I welcome the investment the nuclear industry will make to fund four new nuclear plants within the UK. It is unfortunate that Scotland will miss out because of the SNP administration’s stance on new build, whereas new build in England and Wales will see huge opportunities in terms of employment and economic benefits to the surrounding communities.

Electricity generation is vital to our way of life, our technological age is totally dependent on our power supply. Secure supply is much too important to become a political football we need only lose our supply for a short period of time and the population of this country would realise the importance of the legislation we are now discussing.

We, as a developed economy have long enjoyed the benefits that emanate from a secure and reasonable cheap energy supply. But, we now face the challenge that under developed countries want to have the security of supply with the consequential benefits, such as electrical generation that this brings – which for a large extent has been taken for granted in this country. This is why other developing nations such as China and India are moving forward at such an astonishing rate. However, as demand increases and new power plants are being built in these developing countries, with many of these new power plants being built being coal fired, the knock on effect will be an increase in greenhouse gases that they emit.

That is why I support this bill, although some environmentalists are against developing this technology, I believe it will make tremendous impact not only here but internationally, if we are successful. We must therefore support this bill as success will assist our two main objectives not only here but internationally as well. What a difference CCS would make in our fight against Climate Change? What business opportunities could there be in terms of exporting CCS as a viable commercial technology? We could lead the world if we are successful!

I do have some concerns however, as if we don’t grasp this opportunity we could fail to deliver on our targets on reducing emissions. In a previous white paper we have indicated we would want to prevent us reaching pollution levels of 450 parts per million. Because as Professor James Lovelock, a respected scientist and leading environmentalist, has argued that we are approaching the point of no return. He believes that about 390 parts per million was the point when climate change would become self perpetuating, I hope for our sake he is wrong!!

Local MPs save Renfrew-Yoker Ferry service

John Robertson has today managed to help save the Renfrew -Yoker ferry service, from being axed completely and a compromise to the situation has been finally found.

At a meeting later this afternoon, SPT will confirm that it will seek committee approval next Friday (26th) to grant Argyll-based Silvers Marine (UK) Ltd the use of the slipways, pontoons, etc at Yoker and Renfrew so that Silvers Marine can commence a commercial ferry service across the Clyde in place of the SPT-run ferry service that operates there at the moment.

The SPT operation will cease on 31 March and it is highly likely that there will be no break in service, with Silvers Marine starting their operation on 1 April – at the latest.

John Robertson MP said: “I would just like to thank Jon Findlay and the SPT as well as Silvers Marine for listening to the local community on this issue.”

John Robertson MP added: “I am glad that this 500 year old service will still be running into a new decade”.

Mr. Robertson ended; “Me and Jon know how important this is to the local community and by working with the SPT we have managed to find a way to prevent the axe falling on this service.”

The Renfrew -Yoker Ferry which links the north and south bank of the River Clyde is 500 years old and is one of Scotland’s oldest passenger ferries. The ferries can carry up to 50 passengers and carries 150,000 passengers a year, at and cost £1.20 for a single adult journey.

John Robertson hope to have meetings with SPT Jon Findlay to clarify finer points of the service.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • The Hon. John Robertson MP is the Labour Member of Parliament for Glasgow North West, which comprises the community of Yoker.
  • The hon. Jim Sheridan MP is the Labour Member of Parliament for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, which comprises the community of Renfrew.