MEPs give assent to the Marrakech Treaty

MEP’s today gave assent to the Marrakech Treaty which gives copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible formats of copyrighted work to blind and visually impaired people.

Although today’s vote went through comfortably, UKIP members chose to abstain. It’s so important to ensure the rights of blind and visually impaired people are placed on an equal footing by ensuring they have greater access to books and other copyrighted works.

It’s therefore astonishing that UKIP members decided to abstain on this. As a member of the Legal Affairs Committee which heard representations and received evidence from those who are affected I can only imagine how disappointed, angry and let down they would feel by those who chose to abstain. Access to such material is vital and there is no reason why those who require such accessibility would not be granted this.

Although the vote gives consent for the Council of Ministers to sign the treaty, it remains unclear if the UK will drop out of the treaty if it leaves the EU.

I am concerned that the government may choose to water-down the treaty, and implement it with the condition of commercial availability checks (which would be a huge task for librarians and others who have a similar responsibility to be expected to undertake), or even fail to implement it at all.

The UK government must confirm that it will indeed seek to remain a signatory, and enable print-disabled people in Britain to enjoy the benefits of the treaty – the full benefits, and not a weakened version.

The Marrakesh Treaty will not only benefit European citizens who require such formats, but also many people in developing countries that are signatories. The “book famine” of accessible books for visually impaired persons is extremely grave in developing countries; currently only five per cent of books are available in accessible formats in richer countries, and this drops to less than 1% in poorer countries.

People who are blind or visually impaired face major hurdles in accessing literature and all printed material. The Marrakesh Treaty makes it easier for people in Europe and around the world to access braille and large print books; it would be a travesty if people in Britain fail to benefit from it.


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Two thirds of the gender pay gap is unexplained- says ONS

Yesterday I wrote about the corporate firm Citigroup and how it is championing pay equity after it reported the smallest pay gap on record. The news was positive and provided some inspiration for other city firms to aspire to.

However, today the news is more sobering and less optimistic after reports from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found the gender pay gap is alive and kicking.

Two thirds of Britain’s gender pay gap is ‘unexplained’ The ONS warned. This means the usual explanations given for the pay gap such as women working part time and the relative lack of senior women in the work place does not apply for almost two thirds of the pay gap.

When the ONS conducted its research in October 2017 the gender pay gap was 9.1%. They were able to account for a proportion of this gap and could cite reasons given above, i.e. more men in senior roles which attract a higher salary and more women working part time.

But when they adjusted the figures to take account of this they found they could only account for 36.1% of the median hourly pay gap, which meant the rest of it (63.9% was unexplained). While the ONS said it can’t all be down to pay discrimination it would nevertheless form part of the explanation.

Of the 36.1% it could account for 23% related to occupational differences the male and female workforce. Some 9% was attributed to the fact that more women work part time.

While overall the gap has fallen slightly since 2016 (down from 9.4% in 2016 to 9.1% in 2017) and is now at the lowest recorded percent since the ONS started calculating the figures in 1997 there is still huge work to be done before this gap can be closed completely.

I have previously called for mandatory quotas for women on executive boards which would go some way to reducing the figure- as the ONS figures highlight part of the problem is a lack of women in senior and leadership roles. It is not acceptable that a gap is in existence at all and certainly not in 2018 one that sits at just under 10%.

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Citigroup leads the way on gender pay

I have lost count of the number of times I have written about the gender pay gap- the need to close it, the requirement for quotas to close it quickly, the levels of disparity, the lack of government intervention I could go on.

The revelation in Hollywood that the actor Michelle Williams would only receive expenses for re filming scenes while her male counterpart was to receive over a million dollars for doing the same thing was another blow to the debate over equity in gender pay. Some will probably argue that the disparity wasn’t a result of discrimination but the fault of her lawyers and agents who didn’t ensure her contract was water tight. Either way there was a huge disparity and it reminds us that all areas of employment are affected.

And as we begin 2018 so requirements for companies with 250+ members of staff to disclose its gender pay reporting comes into effect. And paving the way is Citigroup; its disclosure of the gender (and ethnic) pay gap published today revealed a gap of just 1% – reportedly the smallest of it’s kind. It was based on analysis of the company’s workforce in the UK as well as the US and Germany.

The disclosure followed sustained pressure from the company’s shareholder Arjuna Capital which told Citigroup it would be forced to disclose its gender pay gap and produce solid policies to reduce it.

The shareholders, Arjuna, said that Citigroups revelations moved it into a leadership on pay equity. Its spokesperson said: “This is a tipping point for the Wall Street Banks. We expect women will not only receive the pay they deserve at Citi, the company will reap the benefits of talent acquisition and retention so that more women can move into leadership. Other leading banks can either follow Citi’s example on gender pay or risk further laggard status on issues of concern to women.”

And in a note to staff the head of human resources at Citigroup detailed exactly how it had gone about assessing and addressing pay equity. He explained: “We have long had a number of efforts in place to help us adhere to that principle [the importance of pay equity]. This year, we expanded on those efforts to assess pay at Citi when comparing women to men, and US minorities to non-minorities.

“[Citi] was making appropriate increases to help close the gaps for both women and US minorities…We will also adjust compensation for other individuals where the analysis determined increases were warranted,” he added.

I will watch closely to see results of other companies’ disclosures which they must do this year (if they have over 250 employees), but it seems that Citigroup is making real efforts to address both ethnic and gender pay gaps.

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A raft of profound concerns on Brexit emerge over weekend

Defence, security and cooperation between France and the UK are all under threat if Britain leaves the European Union the former Ambassador to France has advised.

Lord Ricketts, who was the UK’s Ambassador to France until 2016 warned the UK will have to work harder on its relationship to ensure the two countries don’t drift.

But this was not the only deeply worrying concern to be voiced over the weekend. There were also concerns raised from campaigners and MPs who warned that leaving the EU without a deal could seriously jeopardise the efforts to combat anti trafficking.

Safe guards for those at risk will be removed; Jakub Sobik, from the charity Anti-Slavery International warned that if the UK loses access to key institutions which help to combat slavery then it will impact on the ability to dismantle trafficking networks.

We all know that access to Europol and the European Arrest Warrant is key to combatting this crime and having this access is key to fighting it Jakub warned.

And in a letter published by the Observer organisations including Amnesty International, Liberty the Fawcett Society and the National Aids Trust voiced their concerns over the EU Withdrawal Bill. They warned that the EU Withdrawal Bill will not protect people’s rights in the UK as the Government promised. The letter states: “This is in large part because the bill removes the EU charter of fundamental rights from our law.”

The common theme of the profound concerns raised by the various individuals and organisations named above is that if Britain leaves the European Union then its citizens become vulnerable; economically in terms of defence and security as well as protecting and safe guarding citizens’ rights. But especially in terms of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

Acting in such a solitary way will be harmful, destructive and encourages us to drift- but to where? And for what benefit when we have such structures and strategic relationships working so well.


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Another poll in EU Membership?

Nigel Farage seems to have surprised his own side as much as those of us who are sensible enough to understand that EU membership is the best way to serve Britain’s interests – economic, social and cultural.

Many of us who wish to stay in the EU have also stated our preference for a further vote on membership. I wholeheartedly believe that the British people deserve another say. The 2016 referendum campaign fought by the leave side was full of lies – rather than receiving more money the NHS is in crisis. What is more, the franchise was limited to that used in general elections which meant that EU citizens settled in Britain had no say. The final consideration was the lack of any threshold. Referendums of the magnitude of this one should require at least a 60 per cent majority.

Yet the idea of another referendum is fraught with difficulties which need to be resolved before it goes much further. The main one is the substance of the referendum question. Nigel Farage wants it framed as accept the deal or reject the deal and leave the EU. This is obviously out of the question. The question need to be accept the deal or reject it and maintain the status quo which is membership of the European Union.

Now let’s look behind Farage’s unexpected demand. He and very many other on the ultra-right, both inside the House of Commons and elsewhere in the country, want to turn Britain into a small state, low tax, low wage corporate tax have. Brexit, freeing the UK from essential safeguards and protection guaranteed by our membership of the EU, gives them the means to do that.

Britain remains a civilised, tolerant and caring country. London is a world-class city. We can only continue to be the country we are by remaining alongside our European neighbours and being part of the largest trading bloc in the world. It’s called the European Union.

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David Davis’ leaked letter is embarrassing

The leaked letter sent to Theresa May by Brexit Secretary David Davis’ in which he complained about the European Union discriminating against Britain was not only embarrassing but also damaging. It has done nothing to foster good relations or to help things at the negotiating table. Instead it shows Davis to be, as Jonathan Liss, Deputy Director of British Influence, wrote in the Guardian as petulant.

His main criticism is that the EU is not giving enough consideration to more favourable outcomes following Brexit. What on earth does he expect? While David Davis is busy burying his head in the sand, failing to carry out impact assessments, due diligence or preparing for alternative outcomes to the one he and the Government favours his opposite negotiators are preparing professionally for all possible scenarios.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament Brexit Co-ordinator responded to Davis’ claims that the EU is damaging the UK’s economic interest before it’s left the Union stating that the UK Government only had itself to blame and was responsible for damaging the UK’s economic interests. The EU is simply acting on the threats issued by Davis – the mantra we hear with ever greater frequency “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Rather than bluffing, penning petulant letters to his boss or issuing idle threats about legal action David Davis should confront the situation which is entirely of the British Government’s own making. Nobody else can possibly be blamed, surely?

David Davis must move on from this embarrassing note before he completely erodes any form of cordiality or trust which will only serve to further hamper the fragile negotiating process-a position he has created and further enhanced by the publication of this silly and infantile leaked letter.

Of course, the only sensible course of action is to remain in the EU. No deal can possibly be as good as the one we have through being a member of the European Union.

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Brexit Chaos and the Will of the People

I have never known such chaos in government. I speak as someone who was a Labour Party member in the dim and distant 1970s when a Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, like Theresa May, presided over a minority administration. True, Callaghan brought us the winter of discontent. However, prior to this ignominious end and after securing a loan from the International Monetary Fund, the 1974 – 79 Labour government carried out a number of reforms – establishing the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), SERPS (state earnings related pension scheme), plus an invalidity pension amongst many other social measures. It was a difficult time but the Labour government delivered.

Compare this to the current mess. Brexit is the biggest issue to face the United Kingdom since the country joined the Common Market in 1973, later confirmed in a referendum in 1975. In charge we have the most divided and incompetent minority administration since Ramsay MacDonald’s National Government in 1930.

I truly fear for our country. The catalogue of errors and chaos is legion: a Prime Minister who doesn’t seem to know whether she is coming or going, a recent reshuffle which had all the power of a damp squib, a divided Cabinet with no idea of what it wants Brexit to look like on top of a disastrous general election and a hopeless Prime Ministerial speech at the Tory Conference. In the interests of brevity, I will stop here.

The Twitter hashtag #brexitshambles is kind. Chaos and confusion without end would be more accurate.

The Labour Opposition in the House of Commons isn’t much better, though hopefully it may be moving away from the “will of the people” mantra.

The fact is that the kind of Brexit that may be emerging from the Tory chaos in no way reflects what the referendum campaign was about. There is no £350 a week for the NHS – in fact there is a massive winter crisis. There is as yet no sign of any trade deal. Britain is not ‘taking back control’. In fact all we are seeing is pathetic pleas by a country of 60 million people to a trading bloc of 500 million.

The Government and the Opposition should take more notice of the closeness of the referendum result. The Tories do not have meaningful support for a ‘hard’ Brexit and Labour would do well to remember that much of its support comes from young people in Britain’s major cities the majority of whom voted Labour because they thought Labour would stay in the European Union.

Division and disunity are rarely positive. Britain deserves better. The least damaging way forward would be to maintain the status quo and remain in the EU until the true will of the British people becomes clearer.

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