Although politics this week is likely to be dominated by the Chancellor announcing the result of the Spending Review in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday today I understand the detail of the Strategic Defence and Security Review will be announced.
In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris the threat facing us here in the UK is all too clear. It is frequently said that the number one duty of Government is to defend the realm and we will learn later today how that is to be reflected in our defence and security services in an uncertain and dangerous World.
I am travelling back to Westminster and in addition to Defence questions and the SDSR statement the main business is scheduled to be the Bill enacting welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.
I went over to Oldham yesterday to support one of our Bury North Councillors James Daly as the Conservative Candidate in the by-election to be held on 3rd December. James would make an excellent Member of Parliament. He contested Bolton North East at the general election.
I was canvassing rather than delivering leaflets so I was able to chat to the local residents. There was understandably a lot of sadness that their Member of Parliament had di so suddenly. Even voters who did not vote Labour spoke highly of him. Michael Meacher had represented the Oldham constituency in its various guises for 45 years. I remember studying articles he had written when I was studying politics in the Sixth Form and so it was rather a strange when I was sitting opposite him in the House of Commons. He was a principled politician who always stood up for what he believed in.
One other comment about my visit over to Oldham – it was cold, very cold.
Another Friday in the House of Commons yesterday and another worthy but, in my opinion, inappropriate Bill being brought forward. This time a Bill to make it compulsory to teach emergency first aid in state funded secondary schools.
I entirely agree it is a good thing for more people to learn first aid skills but to force schools into teaching it is not the right way forward.
I think it should be left to schools to decide what other subjects outside of the core subjects should be taught. Many schools already teach first aid skills. There were many problems with the detail of the Bill too. For example, it was not clear how long the lessons were expected to be or indeed whether there was to be any assessment as to whether the pupils had leant the skills and learnt them properly. There was no indication of the actual cost or indeed of where the money would come from.
There are many voluntary organisations which provide excellent training on first aid and hopefully after the publicity over the Bill more people will decide to learn first aid skills.
I did a first aid badge when I was in the Scouts but it was years ago and I am not sure I would feel confident today about using those skills now so periodical updating is also, I think, essential.
I noted a report on the BBC this week that a ComRes poll they had commissioned had found that whilst 46% of people understood what the Northern Powerhouse strategy was 44% had not heard of it and a further 20% had heard of it but did not know anything about it.
In the Business of the House Question yesterday I asked the Leader of the House if we could therefore have a debate to raise awareness of this issue. In the process raising awareness by simply asking the question!
In the afternoon we had an excellent three hour debate on International Men’s Day mainly focused on the issue of the number of male suicides but covering other issues too. As luck would have it the debate was responded too by our former Bury North MP now the Care Minister in the Department of Health the Rt Hon.Alistair Burt MP. Many thanks to all those who have contacted me to thank me for taking part in the debate.
Today is International Men’s Day and will be marked for the first time by a debate in Parliament. I intend to use the debate to highlight the growing differential between the number of males committing suicide and the number of females. Across the UK as a whole the Office for National Statistics figures show that in 2013 the suicide rate was 11.9 deaths per 100,000 but this figure masks the difference between the rate among males which was 19.0 and the rate among females was 5.1.
Some claim that the number of suicides is affected by changes to benefit rates and undoubtedly, financial problems will be a factor in why some people commit suicide but this does not explain the disparity between men and women. This gap is longstanding and growing. In every year since 1981 the rate has been higher among men than women. In the 5 years between 1981 and 1985 the average ratio was 1.78. In the 5 years to 2013 the average ratio was 3.21
More information can be found at www.biggerissues.co.uk
Yesterday the Prime Minister made a statement following his attendance at the G20 meeting and on the terrorist attacks in Paris. It was clear from some of the questions from the Labour benches that there is disquiet in Labour ranks about the response of the Labour Leader to the threat we face. I was lucky enough to be called to ask a question to the Prime Minister and I asked for the new Investigatory Powers bill to be brought forward so that security services can have all the powers they need.
Prior to that in questions to the Department of Health I raised the question of the relative numbers of male suicides compared to female suicides. Figures from the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) show that male suicide is the biggest single killer of men aged under the age of 45 and last year 76% of all suicides were men. This is a subject I hope to return to in a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow.
Yesterday, the first question on the order paper to the Home Secretary was about the steps the Government were taking to protect 16 and 17 year olds who are victims of child sexual exploitation. I asked whether the Home Secretary agreed with me that by allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote would increase the likelihood they would be viewed as adults and increase the likelihood they will become victims of sexual exploitation.
I was not aware when I asked the question but the Labour MP for Huddersfield had made a similar point when votes for 16 and 17 year olds was being debated in the Chamber earlier in the year. I wonder if all those who criticised me were as quick the criticise the Huddersfield MP.
As I anticipated Home Office questions were followed by a statement from the Home Secretary on the terrorist attacks last Friday evening in Paris. The Home Secretary announced there were to be increased checks on vehicles entering the UK. I asked that whilst that was to be welcomed, only by checking every vehicle could the risk of illegal firearms being smuggled in be reduced.
Today, the main business is the second day of consideration in Committee of the local government devolution Bill which provides for the establishment of elected mayors in metropolitan areas including of course in Greater Manchester where the devolution of powers is more advanced than in any other area.