Debating Corner

This is the section of my website where I want to hear from you. Let's have an open debate about the important issues that face our city and our country.

Please keep the conversation civil, all opinions are welcomed - but I will not tolerate hatred, swearing or inappropriate behaviour of any nature.

List of current debates

The plight of community health services

Holby City. Casualty. ER. House. 

Have you noticed how most TV medical dramas take place in hospitals? I guess that’s because it is seen as more dramatic. Maybe it’s easier to fit a hospital storyline in to an hour’s TV.

GPs and district nurses also have a look-in of course. Older readers may remember Dr Finlay’s Casebook, and we now have Call the Midwife, and Doc Martin too – but that’s more of a comedy.

Yet there is one area of our NHS that never gets TV acclaim. I am talking about community health services.

It is the unsung and unseen and unglamorous part of the health service but one that is equally vital; mental health services; alcohol and drug addiction clinics; health support for the homeless; and support for people with learning disabilities. 

Because these are unglamorous and often out of sight, they are sometimes the first to be cut in times like today when NHS funding is under threat. Yet slashing these services simply passes them on to other agencies to deal with so no money is actually saved.

In Chester most of these services are delivered by our local community health trust, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership trust, or CWP. They do a smashing job, but because they work across a large geographical area not even all of their staff are fully aware of everything the organisation does each day.

That’s why they held a Best Practice conference at the Crown Plaza recently, to let each other and all their partner agencies know what services are available. It was an uplifting and inspiring event showcasing people with imaginative ways of supporting the sick, the homeless, people who are carers, or people who have simply been unlucky. 

In recent years some of the mystery and stigma about having mental health problems has been removed from sufferers, and successive governments of all colours have supported this trend, but we are still not where we need to be with this issue. CWP’s work, especially with children with mental health issues, is making a real difference to the lives of sufferers and giving hope where once there would only have been bleak despair.

The ex-serviceman with PTSD. The young girl bullied at school and now suffering anorexia. The man made homeless after marital breakdown. The person genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction. The parents of an autistic son unsure what the future holds as he enters adulthood. There are countless and hugely varied users of community NHS services. None will have a TV drama made about their plight, but they are all out there and they are all equally deserving of NHS support – even if we can’t see them. 

What do you think about community health services and how they are funded?  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.  

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Libertarians and Private Members Bills

In Parliament, most Fridays are taken up with Private Members’ Bills  (PMB). These are Bills put before Parliament, not by the government, but by backbench MPs like me. 

A few Fridays are allocated for backbench business, so there is not enough time for all of these Bills to get through. Sometimes a Bill is voted out and it falls. On other occasions the debate gets to 2.30pm when the House closes for the weekend, and if there are not enough MPs present, no vote is taken and the bill drops to the bottom of the list. 

There is limited time for all 20 Bills, so very often that’s pretty much it - the Bill is still active, but there is no time for it to be considered and voted upon. At the end of the Parliamentary year, it falls.  

Recently however, these Private Members’ Bills have stirred up controversy. A group of Conservative MPs on the right wing of their party have made it their goal to scupper any PMBs using all manner of parliamentary trickery. For example, Julie Cooper, the Labour MP for Burnley, recently introduced a PMB to abolish hospital car parking charges for carers who visit hospital regularly.  The group of wrecking MPs talked and talked until 2.30pm and left no time for a vote.  

More recently, Nick Thomas–Symonds, MP for Torfaen in South Wales, proposed a law to make it easier for the NHS to prescribe drugs after their patent has finished, saving the NHS millions. Nick was wise to their games and had arranged for enough MPs to be present to force a vote. But the wreckers were wiser: they spent all their time talking on the previous Bill, so Nick was left with only an hour to debate his proposal.  

When he came to ask for a vote – knowing there were enough MPs there to support him – the Deputy Speaker ruled that there had not yet been enough debate to move to a vote. So Nick’s Bill also fell.

Very clever by the wreckers, but why do they do it? 

In truth I am not sure. There is a long-standing strand of Conservatism called Libertarianism, which sees all laws as essentially a bad thing, and believes the fewer laws we have, the better. I wonder if these wrecking MPs are libertarians who just don’t want there to be any new laws. Maybe they feel that new laws should have better scrutiny than they get on a Friday morning. Whatever the reason, in a democratic system, surely the best way is to put Bills to a vote – the ultimate test of democracy. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

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Local priorities

Labour in Chester is about straight talking, honest politics. Let's build a stronger, fairer, more prosperous city together. Tell me about your local priorities for Chester here.

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Ideas for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is on the 5th December this year. The campaign is entering its third year and it is the UK's most successful small business campaign. Last year 16.5 million adults went out to support a small business on Small Business Saturday, and collectively they spent £504 million.

I want to do more to support our small business community across the city this year, so if you have a favourite local shop then tell me about it so I can tell other people, or if you have your own business then tell me all about it.

Small Business Saturday is for everyone, so if you have an idea about how to promote it in our city then let me know. 

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Issues surrounding the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Should UK forces be authorised to bomb so-called Islamic State terrorists in Syria? I may be asked to vote on this issue in the Commons shortly.

As ever, it’s a tough call.

The refugee crisis shows us how desperate things are in Syria. Who can blame those thousands of refugees trying to escape the horrors of a brutal civil war? Most of them are just like us, ordinary people who want a safe and secure life for themselves and their families.

And it truly is a brutal civil war. On the one hand is the Syrian government of President Assad. He has used chemical weapons on his people and still drops massive barrel bombs on to civilians from helicopters. He is a crony of President Putin of Russia. Two bedfellows most welcome to each other.

On the other side is Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state. These are a cruel, brutal, sectarian and above all fascist regime. The UK has a proud history of fighting fascism in Spain and Nazi Germany. There can be no negotiating with IS. We already use military force against them in Iraq. But while we recognise the international border between Iraq and Syria, IS does not. We can attack their fighters in Iraq but can’t pursue them across the border. For me it makes sense that we can take the fight to IS.

But then I ask myself, why always us? Why must it always be the UK to take on this responsibility? At some point, IS will be need to be defeated on the ground, and I am clear that there is no appetite in Britain for us to be involved in a ground conflict.

Indeed, the current situation was caused in part by the failure of the war in Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein - a war I opposed at the time – to be followed up with proper support to rebuild Iraq. So we have to ask, is another war going to make the situation any better?

If we bomb IS, will we also bomb the Assad government? Is attacking both sides in a civil war going to help? And how do we stop countries, like Qatar, from apparently funding IS?

Even in Chester we can’t ignore this debate. Whether it is helping refugees or facing the threat or terrorism, we can’t duck the issue much longer.

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Does Chester need a PSPO?

Our local council is seeking residents’ views on a public space protection order (PSPO) in the city centre. The primary role of this is to deal with persistent begging by organised gangs who visit the city. The police know who they are and where they come from but lack the legal powers to deal with them.

Some reports have suggested that this is an attack on the homeless. It isn’t, and my view is that we tackle homelessness by building more affordable social housing and controlling rents – but that is a debate for another day.

The PSPO is about tackling anti-social behaviour in Chester. The problem is exacerbated because there are several shops in town selling so-called “legal-highs.” These attract elements who will beg for money to buy the drugs and then take them in town. There have been several cases in recent weeks of ambulances being called for comatose legal-high users.

I would quite happily see these shops closed down or banned from selling legal highs. And when we are slashing funding to the drug and alcohol dependency clinic in Boughton, which helps people overcome drug addiction, I can’t help wonder whether we have our priorities wrong – so I will be asking the Home Office to ban legal highs.

But it’s the busking element of the PSPO consultation that has caused most debate. The consultation asks if we should ban, or licence, buskers in the city centre. I’m not in favour of this. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of regular buskers in town I can’t stand. There are some brilliant performers too. And ‘living statues’? What’s all that about? But I just think we shouldn’t limit artistic creativity or spontaneity.

However, ask shops and business owners in town who have buskers playing outside their premises for hours on end and they will tell you the never-ending music drives them potty.

Then there are the visiting gangs mentioned above, who will tell the police they are not begging but busking, as they blow a few notes on a harmonica. It is a tricky situation with many considerations.

The beauty of this consultation is that it’s just that – a genuine consultation run by a council leadership that wants to listen. It’s a chance for us all to help set an important policy for the city. I will be sending in my views to the council and I hope you will be too. You read all of the documentation and get involved in the consultation at: cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/pspo

If you have any thoughts on the PSPO that you want to share with me and others, you can add them below.

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