It was Rochdale’s own John Bright who first coined the phrase “mother of parliaments”. But despite this grand nickname, the House of Commons is sometimes sadly lacking in parental common sense.
This has never been clearer than when I read in a recent edition of the Observer that families in Rochdale have been fined £90,000 in the last year for taking their children on term time holidays.
After the rules changed in 2013, parents now have to get permission from the school to take their children on holiday during term. Headteachers are only permitted to approve the request in “exceptional circumstances”.
Enjoying holidays together is obviously important for any busy families. But as travel agents increase prices during peak times, it is not always possible for parents to afford time away during the designated school holidays.
Other instances, such as family illness or bereavement, cannot be shoehorned into a convenient school calendar.
Before the summer recess, I raised this issue in Parliament calling the current system “draconian” and urging the Government to reverse the policy.
The debate I was participating in was triggered by a petition started by father-of-two David Hedley. The case of Mr Hedley, who was fined for taking his children on holiday in between his treatments for cancer, is an extreme example of how inflexible and unfair the existing rules can be.
It is important to encourage children to attend school regularly, but there is a balance to be struck. No parent takes the decision to disrupt their child’s education lightly, but it is also important to enjoy quality time together as a family.
The Government needs to give mums and dads in Rochdale some credit and let them make their own decision.
As the saying goes: “mum knows best”. It’s time to let common sense prevail.
It was Rochdale’s own John Bright who first coined the phrase “mother of parliaments”. But despite this grand nickname, the House of Commons is sometimes sadly lacking in parental common sense....
As Theresa May settles into Number 10 Downing Street, she faces a to-do list a mile long.
You would rightly expect Brexit and the threat of ISIS to be at the top of the new Prime Minister’s agenda, but there are other major problems affecting people of all ages that are just as urgent.
At one end of the spectrum, amid a housing shortage, it has never been harder for young people to find an affordable place to live. At the other, we have an aging population and a growing funding crisis in adult care.
With this in mind, I was fascinated earlier this month to learn more about a radical new solution which could solve both of these problems at the same time.
The social enterprise PossAbilities is looking for Rochdale residents to sign up for its new Homeshare scheme. The initiative is open to anyone with care needs who has a spare room which they can rent out at a reduced cost to a younger housemate in exchange for ten hours of social support a week.
Homesharers are not professional or medically trained carers, instead they assist with everyday tasks like shopping, cleaning and gardening which can be a struggle for older people. But with loneliness in old age becoming a serious social problem, perhaps the most vital job of all is to provide companionship.
As funding for public services and community facilities is cut it has never been more important to ensure that the older generation has someone they can talk to and engage with.
As an intergenerational project which benefits everyone, it also gives young people the opportunity to spend time with someone who has a lifetime of experiences and, ideas and advice to share.
This is a simple, low cost idea which greatly improves the quality of life for many people and cuts the cost of support services by 80%. It is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that we need more of in Westminster and I’d urge everyone who is interested to find out more by visiting possabilities.org.uk.
As Theresa May settles into Number 10 Downing Street, she faces a to-do list a mile long. You would rightly expect Brexit and the threat of ISIS to be at...
If last month’s European Union referendum was the most divisive issue in British politics recently, then Monday’s House of Commons debate on the Trident missile system must be a close second.
MPs on both sides advanced passionate arguments about whether building four replacement nuclear submarines at an estimated cost of £31bn is morally, militarily and financially justifiable. The lively debate showed our Parliamentary democracy at its best.
After much thought, I joined 471 of my Parliamentary colleagues to vote in favour of replacing Trident. I believe the decision is best for the country and best for the people of Rochdale.
While many have been fixated on the high cost of the new system, we must not overlook the positives for our economy. The renewal programme will secure and create thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs across the UK. These benefits will be felt not just in the areas most associated with Trident but across the entire supply chain and in the wider economy.
But this issue is much more than a simple argument about the national budget.
In an increasingly uncertain climate it would be both reckless and irresponsible of us to give up our independent defence system. For decades, the UK’s nuclear deterrent has given us influence on the world stage and helped keep the peace.
Nuclear weapons are a regrettable necessity of our modern world and it would be naïve to think that other countries would follow suit if we opted to scrap our own deterrent. As elected representatives, MPs should never stop striving for total global nuclear disarmament, but we must also be realistic. This is a long term goal and we must retain the capability to protect ourselves in the meantime.
After the decision to leave the EU, this week’s Trident vote was a clear indication that the UK is determined to maintain its position on the world stage. Being an influential and powerful country means standing up against would-be aggressors and protecting British people from those who would seek to do us harm.
If last month’s European Union referendum was the most divisive issue in British politics recently, then Monday’s House of Commons debate on the Trident missile system must be a close...
While it was all change in Westminster this week, voters in Rochdale will be hoping it will not be more of the same from our new Prime Minister.
No sooner had David Cameron bid a dignified farewell to the House of Commons on Wednesday than the debate began about how he will be remembered.
I have not always agreed with Mr Cameron but he is to be commended for keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom and for pushing through legislation on equal marriage. In my dealings with him, including a few weeks ago at Prime Minister’s Questions when I quizzed him over heritage funding for Rochdale Town Hall, I have found him to be amiable and obliging.
But for Rochdale residents, a polite manner and a handful of achievements will not be enough for Cameron to escape the judgement of history. The last six years have been characterised by the bedroom tax, the disastrous implementation of universal credit and unprecedented cuts to local council funding.
As we look to the future, it is clear that things have to change.
I have worked with Theresa May in the past as I pushed the then Home Secretary to set up the Goddard Inquiry into historic child sexual abuse and found her to be a very impressive politician.
She now faces a greater challenge, to show hardworking families in towns like Rochdale that they have not been forgotten by the Westminster elite. That means funding vital services, providing substantial support to our local businesses and overhauling an asylum system which treats Rochdale as a dumping ground for vulnerable refugees.
But a Government is only as good as the opposition that holds it to account and that is why the ongoing Labour leadership contest is every bit as important as Theresa May’s appointment. I will be backing the candidate that can convince me they can challenge the new Prime Minister and win when it matters at the next General Election.
Only by doing that can we see the change that we really need.
While it was all change in Westminster this week, voters in Rochdale will be hoping it will not be more of the same from our new Prime Minister. No sooner had David...
In recent weeks, with the race to become the next Prime Minister and the debate over Brexit, Westminster has been fixated with the future of our country. But on Wednesday, in the wake of the publication of the Chilcot Report, the focus shifted to the decisions of the past.
It is my long-held belief that the UK should never have taken part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Like many others I have raised concerns about the justification for the war, insufficient planning for the rebuilding of Iraq and the poor standard of equipment provided to our brave servicemen and women.
Having read Sir John Chilcot’s findings it is now clear that these criticisms were entirely justified.
After the report was made public on Wednesday, MPs on both sides of the argument were keen to make their opinions heard.
But in the furore which surrounded the publication of the inquiry's findings, one statement stood out to me among the 12 volumes of the report and the statement that accompanied it.
“Service personnel,” said Sir John Chilcot, “showed great courage in the face of considerable risks. They deserve our gratitude and respect.”
Two weeks ago I attended a series of events to mark Armed Forces Day. Last Friday the country marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. In towns like Rochdale, where we have a long and proud tradition of military service, events like this have particular resonance.
We should never forget that 200 British citizens were killed during the Iraq War and at least 150,000 Iraqis lost their lives during the invasion and subsequent instability.
The best way to pay tribute to them is to learn the lessons from the Chilcot Report and work harder than ever to ensure the UK will never again go to war under questionable pretenses.
On a more positive note, I hope all my constituents who celebrated Eid this week enjoyed a happy and peaceful day. My thanks to all those who invited me to attend events during the month of Ramadan.
In recent weeks, with the race to become the next Prime Minister and the debate over Brexit, Westminster has been fixated with the future of our country. But on Wednesday,...
It has been a turbulent week in Parliament to say the least, with MPs dealing with the fallout of the European Union referendum and internal divisions in both the Conservative and Labour parties.
With so much going on, the usually raucous Prime Minister's Question Time was much more subdued than normal.
Nevertheless, I was delighted to get the chance to quiz David Cameron and I would like to thank all my constituents who took the time to contact me and suggest a question.
Proposals ranged from the future of the UK economy to animal welfare legislation. In the end, I opted to raise an issue which I believe is essential to the future of Rochdale - the ongoing regeneration of our town centre.
Sadly, this project suffered a blow earlier this year when the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a bid to renovate our iconic Grade I listed town hall. The grant would have provided funds to restore the building and transform it into a vibrant community hub.
Regrettably the HLF, which takes direction from the Government, instead opted to provide significant funding to five projects based in the South of England.
I chose to raise this question for two reasons. Not only is the future of our town hall an important local issue but the priorities of the HLF point to a broader failing in British politics. That there has been such a disproportionate distribution of heritage funding speaks volumes about the priorities of the HLF, and the Government as a whole.
The divide does not stop at arts and heritage funding. Despite decades of Government platitudes, the gaps in income, living standards and life expectancy betwean North and South remain and, in some cases, are growing.
Is it any wonder that voters in Rochdale, and across the North of England, are feeling increasingly isolated from Westminster politics?
We need leaders on both sides of the house who understand, and speak for, all commuites outside the London bubble.
It has been a turbulent week in Parliament to say the least, with MPs dealing with the fallout of the European Union referendum and internal divisions in both the Conservative...
This is a coverted and rare opportunity for backbench MPs to raise concerns and get a response directly from the most powerful man in the country.
I take pride in representing my local community in Parliament and raising the issue that matter most to people in Rochdale. That is why I would like Observer readers to have their say on what I should ask on Wednesday.
There is no shortage of options, whether you want to ask about the referendum results, the economy, public transport, policing or education.
If you live in the Rochdale constituency, visit my website for more information on how to submit a suggestion. Alternatively, send your proposal and contact details to my office at 26 St Mary’s Gate.
This Wednesday will be particularly poignant as it will mark the first PMQs since the tragic death of Jo Cox, who was killed as she served the community she loved.
On Monday, members of the House of Commons mourned the loss of our dedicated and compassionate colleague and our thoughts and prayers remain with her family.
As MPs across the globe signed a pledge to uphold her legacy, we owe it to Jo to carry on her life's work and strive for a better world by holding those in power to account.
I look forward to doing just that, with your help, on Wednesday.
At the time of writing, Britain's membership of the European Union hangs in the balance, but by the time you read this we will know if our country has voted...
Last week I visited bookmakers William Hill in Rochdale to learn more about responsible gambling and place a small charity bet on the outcome of Euro 2016.
Meanwhile, in the world of politics, another European contest is taking place where the stakes are much higher but the gambling is anything but responsible.
With less than a week to go before the European Union referendum, the Vote Leave campaign are making increasingly fanciful claims about what life outside the EU could be like. But they have been less willing to talk about the very real risks associated with Brexit.
Make no mistake, job security, workers rights and funding for public services are all on the line on June 23rd and working class communities like Rochdale would be hit the hardest if the country votes to leave.
This is of little concern to Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who are more at home in the boardroom than on the shop floor.
It would not be Boris Johnson’s friends and neighbours in the queue at the job centre on June 24, it will be the manufacturers and shop staff in Rochdale. I doubt we would see Michael Gove visiting our town to explain to families why their weekly shop suddenly costs more or why they can no longer afford to go holiday.
They bemoan our loss of sovereignty to the “European technocrats” making UK laws overseas. But for the man and woman on the street, the corridors of power in Brussels are no more a foreign land than the Westminster bubble that Gove and Johnson inhabit. For all their fear mongering over immigration, I think Johnson and Gove would be far more out of place on the streets of our town than Polish plumbers or Portuguese nurses.
The Vote Leave team are comfortable rolling the dice over Brexit because they know they will be protected from the worst if it all goes wrong. Meanwhile voters in the traditional Labour heartlands in the North of England would suffer the harsh consequences.
Johnson and Gove want to take this huge risk because they are gambling with other people’s money. That’s why a vote to Remain is the only safe bet.
Last week I visited bookmakers William Hill in Rochdale to learn more about responsible gambling and place a small charity bet on the outcome of Euro 2016. Meanwhile, in the...
As polling day approaches, the European Union debate has been increasingly dominated by immigration.
Since becoming an MP, I have never shied away from raising concerns about mass immigration and particularly the impact it has had on working class communities like Rochdale.
But worryingly for those of us in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU, the key figures in the Remain camp have yet to come up with a convincing argument on immigration.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage and his fellow Leavers have seized the initiative by exploiting the understandable anxiety caused by the large number of EU migrants who have arrived in the UK since 2004.
But despite the claims of the Out Campaign, EU immigrants contribute more in taxes than they take out, safeguards are in place to prevent “benefit tourism” and the idea that Turkey might join the EU in the foreseeable future is a cynical scare tactic.
Undeniably, both Labour and the Conservatives have made serious errors in immigration policy in the past, but leaving the EU is not the way to solve these problems.
In the event of Brexit, we would still have an utterly broken asylum system which dumps hundreds of vulnerable people in towns like Rochdale. The UK would still be the destination of choice for many of those fleeing conflict in Africa and the Middle East. EU citizens would still be free to settle here so that the UK could remain part of the single market.
But as an active participant in the EU we can work together to tackle the challenges of immigration.
We can reach agreements to host an even share of asylum seekers across all 28 member states. We can do more to mitigate the migrant crisis by using our collective political and economic power to influence foreign regimes. We can use trade and investment to boost economies overseas and remove the push factors which drive people towards the UK.
Whatever argument they chose to make, it is important that David Cameron and the Remain team speak up about immigration. Otherwise the silence could cost us our membership of European Union.
As polling day approaches, the European Union debate has been increasingly dominated by immigration. Since becoming an MP, I have never shied away from raising concerns about mass immigration and...
Parliament may have taken a break this week but there was certainly no let up from either the Leave or Remain camps as campaigning ahead of the European Union referendum entered its final stages.
Polling day on June 23 is fast approaching but there is another deadline looming that could prove to be almost as important.
This Tuesday, June 7, is the cut off point for voters to register to have their say over the UK’s membership of the EU.
Despite the blanket media coverage we have seen in recent weeks, there are still some who have yet to engage with this divisive issue.
According to figures from the Electoral Commission, there are more than 9,800 potential voters aged 18 to 24 living in Rochdale. Research suggests that they are over twice as likely to not be registered to vote as their older counterparts.
Make no mistake, this is one of the most important decisions that Britain has faced in decades. But many young people are running the risk of missing out on the chance to shape their own future.
It is absolutely vital that young people take part in this referendum, not least because they will have to live with the consequences of the vote.
Almost half of the UK’s exports (£227 billion worth of goods) go to the EU each year, creating opportunities for apprenticeships and careers in the manufacturing sector.
Even the most optimistic Brexiter will concede that leaving the EU will lead to a short term economic downturn, and there are no guarantees it would improve in the long term. When this happens, it will be young workers and the unemployed who will feel the pinch the hardest.
The Erasmus scheme and other projects allow young people to expand their horizons and learn new languages and cultures.
I firmly believe that a vote to Remain is the best possible result for the UK. But no matter what the outcome later this month, it is vital that this is a decision taken by everyone, not just a narrow section of society.
I therefore urge Rochdale residents, of all ages, to visit aboutmyvote.co.uk and register to vote before Tuesday so you can take part on June 23.
Parliament may have taken a break this week but there was certainly no let up from either the Leave or Remain camps as campaigning ahead of the European Union referendum...