Labour prospective parliamentary candidates present the bills they would introduce were they given the chance in this year’s Alternative Queen’s Speech
A supporting SMEs bill
The next Labour government’s priority should be families and communities helping each other to create economic prosperity, sustained growth and safe welcoming neighbourhoods. Supporting small and medium enterprises is one of the best ways we can facilitate that.
A stable network of small businesses builds local growth. With an estimated 80p in ever £1 spent in an SME going to the local economy, it is one of the most certain ways Britain can work its way out of the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ this government has created. Over 72 per cent of all SMEs have created or developed a new product in the past 12 months. This shows SMEs are at the heart of a creative, entrepreneurial side to Britain that shows us at our best.
But there is an underlying, and more valuable benefit. I’m lucky to be fighting in Chingford and Woodford Green. This is Iain Duncan Smith’s seat, and it suffers from one of the largest proportion of employees being paid below the living wage in the United Kingdom (43 per cent). But for the most part our constituency never gave the impression of a deeply impoverished constituency. That is because of the long-standing family businesses that have been there for generations, many of which have failed and closed in the past five years. It was these businesses that were the backbone of a community that worked and shopped together, that were bound together into a more cohesive, welcoming area. Without that stable presence, we risk becoming an isolated area with growing crime, dependency and low aspirations.
With at least 70 per cent of all SMEs relying on bank loans, bank credit is key to SMEs. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, lending by banks to SMEs decreased £700m in the first quarter of this year against figures 2013. We need an SME bill that ensures banks give SMEs fair access to loans by taking a more commercial view of risk assessment to SMEs with limited history or assets. Just as importantly, a SME bill should remove any unnecessary red tape around accessing funding from peer-to-peer services.
The bill should enforce current legislation already in place in the Social Value Act and the proposed consumer rights bill. The Social Value Act, a private member’s bill with all-party support, encourages public procurement decision-makers to be swayed by those contributing to communities. This is inherently what SMEs do, and a SME bill should make social value a requirement in public procurement contracts. The consumer rights bill affords SMEs the same legal rights as individuals, beefing up their ability to stand their ground against big business. This should be strengthened in a SME bill.
All these are steps in the right direction towards a Britain of community-led prosperity with diverse, creative and cohesive communities at its heart.
Bilal Mahmood is prospective parliamentary candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green. He tweets @bilal_cwg
A fairer credit ratings bill
The challenging question facing the next Labour government is how do we deliver prosperity and fairness when there is no extra money to spend and when we are committed to cutting the deficit and paying down the national debt? Yes, we will embark on an ambitious long-term agenda to invest in British business, science and technology and to ensure the rising generation have the skills to keep Britain ahead of the race. And yes, we will be a more competent government avoiding the false economies and waste of the coalition years. But we all know there will be no big projects or extra spending.
That is why Ed has been right to focus on responsible and targeted interventions, such as in the energy or rental markets, that will give some relief and stability to hardworking families gripped by a cost-of-living crisis. Along the same line of thought, my bill would introduce greater fairness to the credit market. As I listen each week to the concerns of voters in Blackpool and Cleveleys, it seems to me that the anti-establishment feeling of our times is more than just an expression of disappointment in the political class. It reflects people’s sense of powerlessness against a ‘system’ which always seems to work against them without an opportunity for redress.
This could not be more so than the current system for credit scoring. I have the biggest respect for Stella Creasy and others who have campaigned against legal loan sharking. One of the reasons so many turn to pay day lenders is that cheaper forms of credit are unavailable to them, often because of bad credit scores which are either unfair, or no longer reflect the individual’s level of risk. To be clear, lenders need assurances they are making safe loans and nobody should expect defaults to not have consequences. But too often, information on credit files is incorrect or unfair and the current system which allows individuals to make annotations to their file is inadequate.
I’d commission someone more expert than me to work out the details, but as a starting point my private members bill would: provide some independent arbitration which gives the customer rights to correct (rather than just annotate) false information; mandate a new system of scoring which more accurately reflects actual risk; and force credit rating agencies to allow customers to view information held about them, anytime, online, for free.
Samuel Rushworth is prospective parliamentary candidate for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. He tweets @SamJRushworth
A medical science, technology and engineering foundation bill
Given free rein to propose a bill for the Queen’s speech, I would like to choose something that would be a vote of confidence for the scientists, medics, engineers and manufacturers of the United Kingdom. Technical professions such as these are not generally well paid in the UK and there has long been a drain of our talent, particularly to the United States. Our research and development ability is second only to the US and it is a crying shame that we do not value these people, their skills and knowledge as much as they deserve. There have been many examples over the years of our universities and hospitals developing new treatments or medical breakthroughs only for a private company to snap it up, register the patent, then sell the product back to the NHS at great expense.
For too long the direction of knowledge development and technical innovation has been skewed by the private sector. For example, the pharmaceutical companies put great effort into developing drugs for chronic conditions in order to ensure a steady, long-term income from their efforts. That is, after all, the purpose of a private company – to make a reliable profit. However, ideally, as a government, we would commission research in a more methodical way, to ensure our priorities are met and not just rely on the vagaries of the market. There are complex and life-threatening conditions and diseases that are under-researched and which we need to find treatments and medications for.
My bill would create a Medical Science, Technology and Engineering Foundation. Its role would be to commission research and development for new treatments, new medication, new bionic prosthetics and other new medical technologies. Centres of excellence around the country would be commissioned to perform the research and ultimately to work alongside manufacturers in order to bring certain products to completion. Not only would this benefit each special area of expertise but it would also create long-term economic growth and specialist manufacturing in each of the regions.
In the case of the scientific or medical development, the patent would belong to the foundation and over time this would provide an income for the foundation. This income would not be the only financial benefit to the UK taxpayer: the new treatments, medications and technologies would only be cost price for the NHS and they would also help to ensure a happier, healthier and therefore more productive population making fewer demands on the NHS. Now, wouldn’t that be a bill to smile about?
Fiona Dent is prospective parliamentary candidate for Windsor. She tweets @FionaDentLabour
A copyright reform bill
‘It’s no longer illegal to rip CDs’, trumpeted Wired on 28 March 2014, as copyright law was updated to allow consumers to make copies of media they have already purchased. Yes, that’s 2014 … Format shifting is not killing music, apparently.
Well, anyone who remembers home-taping knew that.
Our copyright laws are outdated and unfit for purpose in the digital age. The new proposals around private copying, quotation and parody are welcome but they are a day late and a dollar short, even if we now can watch Newport State of Mind. For our creative industries to thrive and business to grow, we need proper copyright reform.
What is copyright for? This is not a daft question, because currently it seems to be there to create monopolies for content creators (usually involving large companies) for periods of time. We tend not to like monopolies (unless they are a public good) because they restrict competition and innovation, thereby acting against consumers.
That tends not to promote productivity, innovation and bring benefits to everyone. Those who can innovate, drive new business activity and increase the cultural value of our country’s media industries should.
Does extending the copyright period on recordings from 50 years to 70 years achieve that? Or, as one commentator has put it, does it represent a ‘government-instituted and – subsidised content monopoly’?
It is essential that cultural creators and innovators are able to earn the rightful fruits from their labour. A rational approach to copyright law would protect and enshrine that.
Creative Commons has shown interesting ways forward but it acknowledges ‘universal access to research and education and full participation in culture will not be realised through licensing alone.’ It recognises this is not a policy shift. ‘Copyright law is out of sync with how people share content on the internet.’
The European commission has been looking at this. Michel Barnier believes that copyright law should be a ‘modern and effective tool that supports creation and innovation, enables access to quality content, including across borders, encourages investment and strengthens cultural diversity.’ However, it must work against restriction.
For innovation, removing the barriers to entry for creative cultural content and to boost our business activity, properly reform the copyright laws. Lazy thinking is killing music (and video and fiction and photography and life enrichment).
Matthew Turmaine is prospective parliamentary candidate for Watford. He tweets @Turmaine
An inequality bill
Inequality hampers human progress and lies at the heart of the ills in society. More equal countries have far better outcomes in terms of life expectancy, health, education outcomes, and lower crime. I would introduce a bill to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Each parliament will set new targets for reduction in inequality, and every policy will include an independent assessment of the extent to which inequalities are reduced as a result of its implementation. Results will be published annually. The Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the Northern Ireland assembly and local government will be invited to work alongside Westminster to introduce similar measures to reduce inequality, and to suggest ways to work together on the targets and measures.
An NHS sustainability bill
Without serious action to change behaviour and to support the NHS financially, there will be a continuing crisis in our health and care services. Therefore I would legislate to introduce a new healthy living supplement on foods that contribute to ill health, including strong alcoholic drinks and fatty, sugary, and salty foods. The level of the supplement and the food and drink on which it will be levied will be determined by an expert panel of clinicians and nutrition experts, who will make reference to the latest evidence and the overall aim of affordable and healthy food for families across Britain. The supplement level will be indicated clearly on food and drink packaging. The proceeds of the supplement will be ringfenced for work in public health, including high-profile programmes, with national targets, specifically designed to reduce pressure on NHS services.
Duncan Enright is prospective parliamentary candidate for Witney. He tweets @DuncanEnright
A finance (UK citizens overseas) bill
One of the fundamental responsibilities of the citizen to the state is to contribute taxation. Our taxes, though never particularly welcome, form the subscriptions we pay to live in a civilised society where medical treatment is (mostly) free at the point of need, our streets are policed, our children educated and our environment safeguarded.
At present, British citizens working – or lurking – overseas can claim non-resident status and avoid making any contribution to the Exchequer. They remain eligible for consular assistance or to return home for NHS treatment.
My bill would require all such United Kingdom citizens to file a tax return listing worldwide income and allowable reliefs. There would, of course, be a full offset of any income and capital gains taxes payable to their country of residence. I would also have no problem with a relief for foreign-earned income where the local cost of living is higher than the UK. Any positive net balance would be payable to the Exchequer in the usual manner. Taxes paid in this manner would also contribute to eligibility for the UK state pension. Unlike now, citizens would also continue to remain eligible to take part in all elections, no matter how long they resided abroad. These provisions are not dissimilar to the situation faced by citizens of the United States.
One final provision: any UK citizen not wishing to pay their contribution could simply engage in a perfectly legitimate act of tax avoidance by a process of renouncing their citizenship, surrendering their passport and with it the right of abode in the UK.
Alun Pugh is prospective parliamentary candidate for Arfon. He tweets @Alun_Pugh
Greater cooperation and integration between nation-states and international movements of people and capital are all progressive forces for good, but – unchecked and unbalanced – they will continue to fracture our communities and challenge the very foundations of our democratic process. As we move economic and political power from local to national to supranational organisations and global corporations, people will increasingly question the value and strength of the political process. The connection between people and politics is broken in a system that fewer and fewer people believe works for them, or changes their lives for the better. As power moves further away, so the voices of our communities must grow louder. My alternative Queen’s speech would focus on measures that seek to reconnect and empower individuals, promoting the value of civic engagement and the impact of coordinated community action.
A right of recall bill
A genuine right of recall, forcing members of parliament to face a by-election if 20 per cent of the electorate sign a petition within 90 days, would ensure that our political representatives remain accountable throughout their terms of office. Voters must hold the reins of power, not simply fire the starting gun and watch the race go by.
Despite the rhetoric of this government, power remains firmly rooted in London. It is no surprise that only around 40 per cent of the population turns out to vote in elections that many people see as being largely concerned with how services are delivered, rather than strategic decisions about which services are available. Greater local control over socioeconomic development, backed up by a fundamental review of local government finance, would put decision-making powers in the hands of local councils and empower local communities. Local government can and should provide a counterweight to an increasingly distant and disconnected nexus of power and control.
A commercial accountability bill
As we have seen all too clearly in recent years, capital will follow the path of least resistance. The common refrain of those global corporations caught avoiding tax or downgrading the rights of employees is that their sole responsibility is to increase short-term returns to shareholders. Immediately, forcing companies to have employees represented on their boards would be a good start, but stronger interventions in broken markets must follow. Support for new, innovative entrants in markets like energy and banking, and cooperative structures extended more ambitiously across the commercial and public sectors, would put the new breed of consumer citizens back in charge.
Oliver Coppard is prospective parliamentary candidate for Sheffield Hallam. He tweets @olivercoppard
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