MP’s Notebook: Queen Elizabeth II, buses, policing and trade unions

The death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history, put national life on hold as we remembered her seven decades of constancy, service and devotion to duty.

It was a privilege to attend the church service at Leeds Minister to mark her life and her passing. And from talking to some of those who came to London to pay their respects, it was very clear how much they wanted to do it. “I just felt I had to” as someone said to me.

I also had the opportunity to pay tribute to her in the House of Commons. Her life ran like an “unbroken thread through the decades as well as through each of our lives. Like the passing of time and the changing of the seasons, she was always here … And now the day has come, as we long feared but knew it would, when she is no longer here, and as the people of Leeds, of Yorkshire and of the country come to terms with their deep sense of loss at this moment in the history of our nation – our United Kingdom – let us give thanks for her uniquely long and well-lived life.”

May she rest in peace.

Further proposed cuts and changes to bus routes in the city have been announced, including taking away the number 29 bus which serves Clarence Dock and creating uncertainty about the future service in Cottingley. This is on top of other route changes in recent years and the problem of services simply not running as advertised.

All this strengthens the case for Leeds to take control of its bus services altogether, as happens in London. We’ve seen what the benefits can be of local control with the introduction of the £2 maximum single fare brought in by the West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin.

There have been two houses – known as ‘trap houses’ – from which drugs have been dealt that have been causing considerable alarm and distress to residents in Hunslet. The police have now closed both of these houses down, and I’ve been in touch with the neighbourhood police Inspector about this and other local crimes, including the very serious firearms and stabbing incidents there have been in Beeston which are causing great concern to people locally.

There is also a continuing problem with quad bikes and motorcycles racing at high speed across the constituency, and in particular in Middleton. The police are well aware of this and only too keen to gather the evidence necessary to deal with this dangerous public nuisance. We can all help them to do this by reporting incidents to 101.

I have also raised with the Home Office the menace of machetes being used on the streets of Leeds by gangs. The shop by Leeds Market where these weapons used to be sold has now been stopped from doing so, thanks to the Police and the Council, but as I said to the Home Office minister in the Commons recently “why on earth is it still legal for anyone over the age of 18 to go into a shop and buy a machete?” It’s time for their general sale to be banned and only those who have a proven need should be able to purchase one, subject to a licencing system rather like for shotguns.

I was talking the other day to someone from America who told me, to my surprise, that trade unions there are more popular now than they have been at any time in the last 30 years. It set me thinking about the position in our country.
I should declare an interest here because I spent almost all of my adult life prior to coming into Parliament working for a trade union. And, for me, the case for being a member of a trade union is just as strong today as it has ever been, because as well as being a friend and a helping hand when there are problems at work, people in union-organised workplaces get better pay then those who aren’t.

The problem in the last 30-40 years has been that while union membership has remained strong in the public sector and big, long-established private sector companies, people in the new world of work, like smaller businesses and organisations where people work remotely, have not been so keen to join.

Recently this has begun to change with, for example, the agreement between Uber and the GMB union over drivers’ terms and conditions and the cases brought by some of the newer trade unions to show that people working in the gig economy are actually workers even if their employers try and claim that they are simply self-employed subcontractors who are not entitled to holiday and sick pay.

This is just what happened in the late 19th century when the emerging trade union movement in Leeds first organised women tailors, machinists and pressers and tramway workers.

As we’re all aware, there has been a recent wave of industrial action amongst train and bus staff, postal workers because real wages are falling rapidly. This is not surprising because union members are trying to protect their standard of living, and I support their right to do so.

This is a contest between those who have done well out of economic growth, and those who haven’t, about how its benefits are going to be distributed. This is, and always has been, at the heart of the relationship between employers and employees.

There’s also an important principle here and that is the right to organise at work. In those countries where human rights are denied, this oppression often extends to the restriction of trade union rights. Freedom for trade unions and their members is a fundamental right and those who suggest that it should be unreasonably limited, in my experience, are often the very same people who argue that human rights are some sort of ‘problem’. They aren’t. They are a protection for every single one of us against those who would deny us our liberties, and we should defend them with every fibre of our being.