Wrapping up the European Parliament's efforts for 2015, the final Strasbourg session of the year was set against the backdrop of the European Council Summit where UK PM David Cameron's efforts to keep Britain in the European Union were once again called into question. It was a poignant thought as we looked to the year ahead.
I was very pleased to be in the chamber when Raif Badawi, an imprisoned blogger in Saudi Arabia, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. MEPs award this prize every year to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights. Raif was sentenced to 10 years in prison and to 1000 lashes for insulting Islam. MEPs have repeatedly been among a vast number of politicians from across the world and from across the political spectrum calling on King Salman to release him. He is one of a number of activists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for freedom of speech, with Saudi Arabia carrying out a record number of executions in 2015. Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, was there to receive the award on his behalf.
A report by my Labour colleague Annaliese Dodds MEP on tackling tax avoidance and evasion was voted for by an overwhelming majority of MEPs - unfortunately, Conservative MEPs were among those who voted against it. Aggressive tax avoidance and evasion costs the UK economy £16bn every year, and it's time that Tory MEPs got behind efforts to prevent this. The mass of support for the report means that we can put pressure on the Commission to ensure that it is fully implemented.
There was also good news for a report which called for a level playing field to be developed in the steel industry; it was voted for by a huge majority of MEPs. The report moved for a level playing field across Europe, and to limit the dumping of cheap Chinese steel. Recent news of job losses across Europe - and particularly jobs in the UK - has prompted calls for action across the EU. European steel production is in danger of disappearing, but this vote from the European Parliament is a strong signal that EU citizens want action - and soon! The UK steel industry is one of those being hit hardest by dumping, yet disgracefully, David Cameron's MEPs were once again found to be voting against. Labour MEPs were very satisfied with the strong support for the report across the majority of the Parliament and fully back its recommendations. We urge the UK government to change its tactics and do the same.
Labour MEPs voted for a report calling for Member States to tighten up EU rules and practices on arms exports. EU arms, even with existing legislation, are finding their way into the hands of repressive regimes, terrorists and criminals. In 2014 the European Parliament overwhelmingly supported ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which establishes global rules for the buying and selling of arms. With the EU accounting for more than a quarter of the global share of arms exports in 2013, this was an important signal to send. Transparency in the €20 billion European arms industry is long overdue. The Arms Trade Treaty requires an assessment of all exports to stop weapons ending up in conflicts fuelling genocide and human rights abuses.
With 2015 coming to a close, I look to the year ahead. There is a lot of work for us to do on a number of issues, and with the prospect of a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, I look forward to campaigning with to make sure Britain remains a member of the European Union. For our national interest, for British people, families and workers, Britain is better off as a member of the EU and the EU is better off with Britain as a member.
Happy New Year to all and my best wishes for 2016!