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Supporting Staff at the University of Southampton

Members of Staff at Southampton University are currently on strike due to a dispute over pensions. I want to express my support and solidarity with all those out on strike.

I know that staff have not taken the decision to strike lightly, nor do they want to disrupt the education of their students, but they have been left with no other choice.

Up to this point Universities UK have refused to negotiate the terms of the changes to the USS pension scheme. As it stands some members of staff expect to see their pension pot reduced by 40%. Many staff made a decision to go into an academic career believing they would be able to retire with a secure pension. They believed that because it’s what they were told. Now they face the threat of insecurity in their later years.

I hope that this action encourages Universities UK to take the UCU’s counter proposals seriously.


Shore to Ship Power

I am holding an adjournment debate this afternoon regarding shore to ship power and how the Government can support its introduction in ports across the UK, including Southampton.

Southampton is home to one of the UK’s largest ports and the main home in the UK for cruise ships. Although there are many positive aspects to this fact, it is no secret that these ships contribute to our city’s poor air quality.

Shore to ship power is a simple and relatively low cost alternative to big ships running their diesel engines for the whole time they are in port. Studies that have been done in the US showed that ships using shore power in one location saved 99% of their nitrous oxide emissions and between 60 and 70% of particulate emissions.

To the credit of Southampton port, they are investigating whether they can install facilities in one cruise liner berth, but as far as I know they are alone in this pursuit.

In my debate today I will ask the Government to provide assistance to provide the infrastructure needed for shore to ship and it should give notice of an intention to mandate the use of these plugs by a specified date.

Southampton should not be put in the position, if it proceeds with shore power, of ‘going it alone’. It will be far more powerful both for making the case to ports and for ensuring that ships are properly equipped to use shore power if everyone knows that the UK is on course to oblige such supply.


My vote on triggering Article 50

The vote on the Second reading of the Government’s Article 50 Bill was not about whether parliament wanted a rerun of the referendum, but on whether article 50 should be triggered now, and if so on what basis.

The Supreme Court decided that the Government could not proceed to invoke Article 50 and thereby set the wheels in motion for a UK exit from the EU within a strict timetable of two years without a parliamentary vote on Article 50. The implication of this is that Parliament should debate this and decide on when and how Article 50 should be triggered.

The response of the Government was to produce a four line bill with no information about how negotiations might proceed and on what lines any negotiations might go along whilst claiming that anyone who did not support the Bill was going against the result of the referendum. What information we did have before the vote on the Second Reading of the Bill was that the Government intend for us to have a very hard ‘Brexit’ – that is to abandon any association with the European Single Market, and to seek very little participation in any of the EU’s institutions in the future.

This is not a reasonable basis either for an informed debate in Parliament about the implications of triggering Article 50 now, or for a decision about the future direction of the UK once the two year process of withdrawal is complete. The referendum vote did not give any guidance about this: we simply decided by a narrow majority that Britain would leave the EU. There is a world of difference between a negotiation that seeks a good deal for British industry, maintains association with the EU on matters of British national interest, and gets the best terms for the UK in the future, and pushing a button on an exit that dumps the UK out of all its associations with nothing to take their place. I do not think most people who voted in the referendum thought that the latter outcome was what they were voting for.

I do not think that rushing into triggering Article 50 without clarity on what we will be doing is in our country’s best interest, and I was not prepared to stand by and allow us to go down what I regard as a potentially very dangerous path for the UK.

The first stage of the Bill is, however, complete and there will now be an opportunity to try and win amendments to the bill so that the Government is better guided in what it does in negotiations. I hope that some changes may be made, although it will not alter what I regard as a precipitate and ill-judged triggering of exit procedures. If no changes are forthcoming as the Bill makes its way through the stages of Parliamentary procedure, I will certainly be voting against it at Third Reading.