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Disappointment for bird lovers after result of Maltese referendum

Turtle doveThe EU has long recognised the importance of maintaining biodiversity in the EU, and keystone legislation like the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive are vital for protecting our wildlife.

Unfortunately, this week the hunting lobby in Malta won a referendum in favour of continuing their derogation to the Birds Directive and the spring hunting of birds by only 2,200 votes. It is estimated that up to 27,000 birds could be trapped during the spring hunting season this year, but although a continuation of the hunt is undoubtedly a disappointing result for bird lovers, we need to keep up the pressure on Malta to protect their birdlife.

Under the EU’s Birds Directive, certain hunting methods, including traps, are banned entirely and it is illegal to hunt birds during their breeding or migratory seasons. However, Malta is making use of a derogation in the Directive, which allows exceptions to be made on the condition that there is no suitable alternative, that hunting is done on a selective basis, that only a small number of birds are killed and that these conditions are strictly supervised. There have been repeated accusations that Malta has exploited this derogation in order to allow spring hunting at an unsustainable level, and illegal hunting remains a persistent problem.

Last Saturday’s referendum was triggered by a petition organised by the Coalition against Spring Hunting (comprised mainly of animal and bird welfare organisations and charities like Birdlife), which gathered the 40,000 signatures needed for a referendum in Malta. Unfortunately, the spring hunting season has become very politically sensitive, with accusations that the government is soft on hunting to appease a powerful hunting lobby.

During the Spring hunting season, many migrating birds rest in Malta on their way north to breed, but Malta is alone in the EU in allowing hunting of Turtle Dove and Quail, and trapping of Golden Plover and Song Thrush. Alarmingly, the Turtle Dove is almost extinct as a breeding bird in the UK, with bird lovers in the UK launching campaigns to save it, while it is being actively hunted in Malta.

Labour MEPs have always strongly supported efforts to bring the illegal killing of protected species in the EU to an end and we have been pressuring the European Commission to take action on Malta’s spring hunting season for some time.

Last year, I submitted a parliamentary question to the Commission about the Birds Directive, asking what could be done to stop illegal hunting of birds. Their response was that implementation is the responsibility of Member States, but that they could investigate in cases where illegal hunting was alleged to be happening. The Commission has pledged to take steps to address poor enforcement of the Birds Directive, including investigations into cases of systematic enforcement failures, and future infringement proceedings.

Labour MEPs have also asked the Commission for regular information about the success of their new enforcement drive, and I hope that we will manage to make progress at EU level by closely monitoring the progress of the Commission.

Birds don’t respect national boundaries, and the Birds Directive is an excellent example of how we can achieve more by working with other Member States. We need proper enforcement of the rules to make sure that iconic summer birds, like the turtle dove, are able to safely migrate to our gardens each year. I hope that this incredibly close result will not stop conservationists from protesting spring hunting in Malta.

Tales from the campaign trail (part 3)

Gloucester Local Election count at Oxstall's Tennis Centre. Checking the paperspicture by Mikal Ludlownews 22-5-14One of the most interesting aspects of knocking on doors is hearing the wide variety of concerns that your average voter has and trying to get to grips with solving them. Although the UK media understandably focuses on national news, going door knocking gives you a healthy reminder that there are a whole host of local issues on almost every street that the electorate consider just as important as the national picture.

From potholes in the roads and pavements to capacity at local schools and a huge housing estate planned round the corner, there are always a range of significant issues that affect very small areas. Any candidate that overlooks those issues is sure to feel the effects at the ballot box. I have heard many of them during this campaign and I find it refreshing to have a straightforward, face-to-face conversation with someone; it certainly beats paying the Royal Mail to shove endless amounts of glossy leaflets through letterboxes!

In a general election year, it is easy to forget that there are elections for 279 local councils taking place on exactly the same day across England, including 39 in the East Midlands. But these elections could shape the direction that a local community goes just as much as the one that will elect their MP. Good local councillors are champions for their community; it isn’t an easy job which I well know from serving as a county councillor in Nottinghamshire, but it can be an extremely rewarding one. Some voters use local elections to send a message of protest to the government of the day, but an even greater number will often vote for someone who works hard for their area, regardless of the colour of their rosette.

There are many obvious effects that the coalition government’s programme of austerity has had on Britain: pushing the NHS into crisis, an explosion in the use of foodbanks and a huge increase in the number of zero-hour contracts. Unfortunately, their cuts have also trickled down into local government, we have seen our libraries closing, thousands of staff made redundant, support for the elderly cut and many roads deteriorating because the council simply can’t afford to repair them all. In the face of this difficult financial situation imposed by the coalition, I am proud that many Labour councils have been able to implement the Living Wage for their employees and protect their most vulnerable residents from the effects of the most heartless policies like the bedroom tax.

You might not hear as much about them, but this year’s local elections will be vital for Britain too. I look forward to continuing a wide range of conversations with voters across the East Midlands, whether they are about the best Prime Minister for Britain, or the best local councillor for their community.

Labour MEPs are protecting our bees

Bumblebee on the orange flowerA local Euro MP has called for cooperation to tackle a new threat to Europe’s bees. Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, is calling for EU wide action and screening for imported bumblebee hives, which can carry parasites and spread disease in bee populations.

Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, said:

“Last year, Labour MEPs welcomed restrictions on pesticides harmful to bees. But we must continue to take action on other factors contributing to the worldwide decline in bee populations.

“There is increasing evidence that imported bumblebee hives are spreading disease, we need a quick response to limit the risk to bee populations.

“Although non-native species imported to England are required to be disease free, there are no screening procedures that ensure the rules are followed. We need to enforce the current rules, but also remember that bees don’t follow national boundaries – we need EU-wide standards to tackle the threat that disease poses to bee populations.”

Farming is an important part of the East Midlands economy, and any threat to our bee population could have serious effects on the region. UK bee populations have fallen by 30% since 2007, but more than four out of five plant species in Europe are believed to depend on pollination by bees – including over three quarters of our food production.

Glenis Willmott added:

“I hope that when evaluating this and other potential risks to honeybees, EU governments will take decisive action and work together to protect Europe’s bees.”

Opportunity and education for young people is the key to Britain’s future

Job CentreWe should always be striving for the next generation to do better than the last, and education is vitally important to achieving this. The launch of Labour’s education manifesto this week demonstrates a sincere commitment to opportunity for all.

The Tories have never been very good at supporting our young people, but their record on education over the last 5 years has been a disaster. Right now, 1.6 million pupils are being educated in schools that are rated lower than ‘good’ by OFSTED.

Even more alarmingly, under David Cameron’s free schools program, more than 400,000 pupils are now being taught by unqualified teachers.

This isn’t just unfair for pupils, but insulting to the professional teachers who have spent years training. A Labour government would ensure that every teacher is either qualified, or working towards qualified teacher status. That’s the least that we should expect from our schools.

However, many young people today are finding it difficult to get a job even if they have the right qualifications. With fewer jobs available, employers have been asking for more and more experience of work before they will employ young people. Unfortunately, this often means that those without family connections, or the family money to work as an unpaid intern, are losing out. Labour want to help level the playing field by providing every young person with face to face careers advice, something that should be available to everyone, not just those with family connections in their chosen industries. Careers advice will also make sure that young people know what their options are after school, whether that’s university, technical degrees or a high quality apprenticeship.

Labour in government would go further than helping young people find work – it would make sure that work pays. Young people are disproportionately affected by low wages, and no one should work full time and struggle to make ends meet. That’s why a Labour government would raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour.

While Tory MEPs have spent the last few years defending a privileged few and fighting against our plans to clamp down on issues like large-scale tax avoidance, Labour MEPs have been working hard for our young people at European level.

There is already a scheme to combat youth unemployment in the EU that Labour MEPs campaigned for – the Youth Guarantee. The guarantee would ensure that all people under 25 get a good quality offer for further training or employment within 4 months of leaving education or becoming unemployed. Unfortunately, Tory MEPs were not only almost alone in parliament when they voted against it, but our government has now said they will not use our share of EU funds for this to establish a Youth Guarantee. This is despite it costing less than the benefits bill associated with high youth unemployment.

It is Labour who are fighting for the future of our young people both at home and in Europe. With a Labour government in May, we will continue to push forward innovative solutions to youth unemployment at European and national level, ensuring that the next generation will always do better than the last.

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