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Newsletter from Fiona Hall, Member for European Parliament for the North East

November 10, 2008 12:14 PM

Hello, and welcome to my November e-newsletter.

I was so relieved that Obama was elected. It has shifted the ground underneath the negotiations on climate change because from now on the US will be with us not against us. The big item in my diary in Brussels at the moment is the negotiations with the Council (Member States) on the Renewable Energy Directive, part of a package of EU legislation on climate change. But other

work continues too - for example, I've hosted a seminar on arms trading in the

developing world, spoken in the Parliament plenary on airport charging and tabled a Parliamentary Question on welfare for the pig farming industry.

Please read on to see all my latest news and please continue to contact me on Fiona@fionahallmep.co.uk with your concerns. I will do what I can to help.

With best wishes,

Fiona

PIGS TO BECOME NEW CHICKENS AS CAMPAIGNERS LOBBY EU

While animal welfare campaigners have been very successful in raising awareness of the appalling conditions suffered by battery chickens, the track record for pig welfare in Europe - where a pregnant sow may spend her 16 week pregnancy confined to a sow stall - is dismal.

Now animal welfare campaigners are asking the European Commission to introduce vital reforms to the pig farming industry. I have added my support on this issue by asking the European Commission, in a Parliamentary Question, when it's overdue report on the state of pigs in Europe will finally be published.

Animal welfare is an important issue we need to get a grip with at a European level - especially if we want to ensure that our farming industries stay competitive. Spending that little bit more on British pork is worth the extra cost of knowing that the UK has in place solid welfare standards. I hope shoppers will check the label on pork, bacon and sausages to make sure the meat they buy has been raised in good conditions.

See the Compassion in world farming for more info: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/

NEW RULES ON AIRPORT CHARGING DISAPOINTING

Last month I spoke in the European Parliament as MEPs voted on new airport charging rules the result of which gives the public the right to know how airports raise and spend their money. Although I am pleased the result will increase transparency on airport charges, I am disappointed that because the threshold for these charges has been set at airports who see 5 million passengers go through their gates a year, Newcastle International Airport (with

6 million passengers a year), will have to adhere to these new rules, whilst regional rivals such as Leeds Bradford Airport are left untouched.

Since regional airports compete mainly with their nearest neighbours I think it would have been a fairer system if all small and medium sized airports were treated in the same way. If percentage national market share had been taken into account, Newcastle Airport would not have had to adhere to the same rules as Gatwick or Heathrow. I am disappointed that both the British Government and EU Transport Ministers did not support such a proposal. I have written to the UK Transport Minister seeking clarification on what exactly the new changes will mean for Newcastle.

MEPs CLAMP DOWN ON TIMESHARE ABUSE

The European Parliament has voted to close loopholes in the rules protecting those buying into time shares and holiday clubs. The UK has more time share users than any other country in Europe and every year I receive casework from people who have got into murky waters because of the lack of coherent legislation on this issue. So I am delighted that these new rules will protect British consumers.

People buying timeshare will no longer be forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money up front to companies who then disappear off the face of the earth.

Customers will now be able to choose which language their agreement is presented in, they will have two weeks to change their minds, and the agreement will include a compulsory fax back form. This is a clearer system which can be used and understood right across the EU.

I hope the many nightmare stories about time shares will now be a thing of the past.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS MODERN DAY SLAVERY

Although we may think human trafficking is something that goes on behind closed doors and in poor countries, evidence now suggests that some 600,000 to 800,000 people are illegally trafficked every year. I have added my name to the European Parliament declaration supporting the Blue Blindfold campaign which encourages people to be alert to the nature and extent of human trafficking in our communities - whether working in farms, factories or the sex industry.

Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery. Shockingly, it exists in towns right across the UK. We must fight at all levels, via the European Union, national governments and anti-trafficking organisations, to put a stop to this scandal. For more information go to http://www.blueblindfold.org.uk/.

EU BOOST FOR ECO-FRIENDLY VEHICLES

News that the European Commission is to come forward next year with draft legislation on emission performance standards for new light commercial vehicles and minibuses, is great news for the North East's environmentally friendly vehicle manufacturing sector.

As CO2 emissions from road transport continue to rise, so this proposed legislation will have an important role to play in tackling climate change. But these laws also have the added bonus of producing growth and jobs in the North East. Last month I visited the Tanfield Group in Washington, who produce electric vans and are looking to expand their range. I was shown how easy it is for urban fleet vehicles to do their days jobs then return to a base at night to recharge ready for the next day. I think there is an enormous amount of scope for the potential for electric vehicles in the commercial sector and will be keeping a keen eye on any future developments.

THE EU CAN MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TOWARDS ENDING THE IRRESPONSIBLE TRADE IN ARMS

Back at the beginning of October I hosted a seminar in Brussels on the EU Code of Conduct on the Arms Trade and was joined by African politicians, representatives from the Council of the European Union, the arms industry, NGOs and academics for some lively discussions. The aim of the seminar was not only to raise awareness of this devastating issue and what the EU - as the world's largest aid provider - can do to help, but also to call on the French, the current holders of the EU presidency, to use their leadership to make the code of conduct legally binding.

With great surprise and much delight I have been awarded a star by the EU Coherence Programme for my efforts. This programme seeks to ensure that there is consistency between different areas of EU policy - for example between trade and development policy, as in this instance. Unfortunately, there is a very long way to go before we can say that the irresponsible sale of arms to the developing world has been brought to an end. The cost of armed conflict is obvious in the loss of life and destruction caused by war. But the cost to development is also high, not least because of damage to state infrastructure for health care and education. Stopping the export to Africa of small arms destined for illicit or destabilising use is a way in which the EU can make a real impact on lifting people out of poverty. EU investment in health, education, food security and poverty reduction is very much needed in these areas, but will be useless if illegally traded weapons are still readily available. I shall continue to lobby the French presidency for a European wide and binding Code of Conduct on the Arms Trade.

To read more on the Arms seminar please go to http://www.eucoherence.org/renderer.do/menuId/227304/clearState/true/sf/227304/returnPage/227304/itemId/534417/realItemId/534417/pageId/227353/instanceId/227437/

Keep up to date with all the latest news from Fiona, along with details of what Fiona has been doing in the North East and in the European Parliament, by visiting her website, www.fionahall.org.uk.

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