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Letter from Parliament - Paul Rowen MP

November 25, 2008 12:00 AM

Paul Rowen MP - Putting Rochdale FIRST!This week saw the traditional end of the Parliamentary session, or, in the language used in Westminster, it is prorogued.

Next week the Queen performs the State Opening of Parliament with all the pomp and ceremony that goes with something that has been done for hundreds of years.

As it is the end of the Parliamentary session, a lot of bills come back to the House of Commons after amendment by the House of Lords. Last week we had the amendments to the Counter Terrorism Bill, in which the government suffered its most crushing defeat on its attempt to increase detention without trial to 42 days from 28. The government accepted its defeat on this issue but we had votes on several other issues where the government can reverse the Lords amendments. The bill then goes back to the House of Lords and if they do not accept the amendments a game of "parliamentary ping pong" takes place where both houses continue to vote or one gives way. Thankfully this year we've had no such nonsense as the government have accepted most of the amendments put forward by the Lords.

I led for the Liberal Democrats on the Pensions Bill which completed its passage on Tuesday having started last March. In all we dealt with over 500 Lords amendments and only had one vote, so though unelected, the House of Lords does a very thorough job.

The most important of these amendments in my view had been put forward by Baroness Hollis who has been championing the rights of women who, because they have had time off work to raise a family, do not have enough National Insurance Contributions to qualify for a full state pension. The government have now agreed to lower the number of years NI contributions for both men and women to twenty years and will allow anyone retiring from 2010 to buy up to six years missing NI contributions. About 110,000 women will benefit from this concession.

Also on Tuesday I responded to a government statement on unemployment by James Purnell, the Secretary of State. I welcomed their belated decision of a moratorium on closure of Job Centre Plus Offices but asked why someone who becomes unemployed has to wait twelve months before they can be put on a training programme by Job Centre Plus.

On Wednesday we had a statement from John Healey, the Local Government Minister on local government spending. I asked why, as local authorities were being hit by the recession, for example with increasing homelessness, they were not being given additional resources to cope with these pressures.

Last week I had a debate in Westminster Hall on the future of Regional Broadcasting and this Wednesday I met officers from OFCOM the broadcasting regulators. I am concerned about several issues - cuts in ITV regional news, cuts in the amount of programmes they make in the regions and proposals by the BBC to set up a local news service.

I was particularly concerned about how the BBC's proposals would affect and impinge on local news services like Channel M or Rochdale Online or the online news provided by the Guardian Media group. Thankfully the BBC Trust relented in the face of fierce criticism.

This week also saw the pre-budget report - effectively a mini budget. What a shambles it has proved to be with proposals from the government like increases in VAT or duty on whiskey being dropped or denied they exist.

Last weekend I was pleased to accompany Councillor Irene Davidson and Anna Kecyk to a service a Westminster Abbey to remember the Holodomor or starvation of Ukrainian people by Stalin in 1932/33.