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This week in Parliament we debated the Queen’s Speech, the government’s programme for the next two years.

On Wednesday the government failed to support Labour’s amendment to end the freeze on public sector pay. Nurses, teachers and social care workers have spent too long without a pay rise, while the cost of living has gone up.

On Thursday, the Labour Party put down an amendment (Amendment L) which included the following: 

  • regretting that the Queen's Speech does not include a promised commitment to a cap on energy prices - and asking them to bring this cap in as soon as possible;
  • regretting that the Queen’s Speech does not end austerity or reverse falling living standards – and asking the government to bring in an industrial strategy to invest in infrastructure across every nation and region of the UK;

  • pointing out that, contrary to what the government says, no deal on Brexit is the very worst sort of deal possible – and calling on them to deliver a deal which, as the government has promised to do, delivers the exact same benefits the UK currently has as a member of the Single Market and the Customs Union, and prioritises jobs and trade; 

  • also asking that the deal ensures no weakening of cooperation in security and policing;

  • calling on the government to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU;

  • asking that the richest individuals and large corporations contribute more in tax, clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion and invest the increased funding in public services to expand childcare, scrap student tuition fees and restore the Education Maintenance Allowance and nurses’ bursaries; and

  • calling on the government to end the public sector pay cap and increase the minimum wage to a real living wage of £10 per hour by 2020.

This amendment covered everything, and more, of another amendment (Amendment G), on which I therefore abstained.

I voted for Amendment L but, sadly, it was narrowly defeated. In order to defeat the Tory government we still need moderate Tories to back up their fine words with actions.

In short, we demanded what the people who voted Labour in the General Election expect of us. This Tory government is letting down our NHS, our schools, our young people and our environment. This is not good enough.

Some people have asked me to clarify my position on the UK’s relationship with the EU.

I am absolutely clear now, as I was last year when I campaigned for it, that the best possible relationship for the UK to have with the EU is to remain a full member of the EU.

This is because full membership of the EU is best for jobs, for workers’ rights, for environmental protection, for consumer protection, for security, for collaboration between our universities, for the future of our young people and for the UK’s position in the world.

That is why, in March, I voted on behalf of the people of Bristol West against the government triggering Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU.

I was one of the signatories last week to an open letter from Labour MPs asking for membership of the Single European Market to remain on the table. I also want the government to keep the option of remaining in the Customs Union on the negotiating table as well.

In the last two weeks I’ve heard Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, call for remaining in the Single Market and in the Customs Union both to stay on the negotiating table.

It is the Tory government that has ruled these out.

This referendum result is a mess of the Tory government’s making and it should be for them to clear it up – I place the responsibility for that on them. Our job as the Opposition is to hold them to account. Which we are doing.

If, as looks very likely, the government is not able to fulfil their commitment to negotiating ‘the exact same benefits’ as being members of the Single Market and the Customs Union, we will vote against the deal.

So, at every opportunity in the legal process, I have and will continue to vote against the UK leaving the EU because it is my firm belief that the best interests of the people and organisations of Bristol West, and of the UK, are best served by remaining within the EU. If that full option is not available, I will, when there is a clear legal opportunity, vote to keep us within the Single Market and the Customs Union.

I want the government to keep the Single Market and the Customs Union on the negotiating table – so does Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, as I have shown above. It is the government who is ruling them out – and it is the government who is to blame for this.

I will continue to hold regular meetings about the UK’s relationship with the EU – open to anyone who lives in Bristol West.

If anyone would like a conversation with me about my position, please email me.

My commitment to representing the people of Bristol West remains the same – I will do everything I can to stop the UK from leaving the EU.

 

Debating the Queen's Speech

This week in Parliament we debated the Queen’s Speech, the government’s programme for the next two years. On Wednesday the government failed to support Labour’s amendment to end the freeze...

The Queen’s Speech, with all its pomp and circumstance, is the government’s first official opportunity to set out its legislative programme for the parliament.

We could have assumed that Theresa May was overflowing with ideas for the next year or more of Parliament, given that she proposes to cancel next year’s Queen’s Speech, and that she called a General Election two months ago! In reality, however, the Tories’ Queen’s Speech was utterly threadbare, devoid of ideas, and notable more for what was missing than what was being proposed.

I’m delighted that Theresa May’s threats to reinstate grammar schools, to repeal the ban on fox hunting, to take away Winter Fuel Payments – all keystones of the Tory manifesto - were all absent from the Queen’s Speech. Labour opposed all these proposals vigorously in our election campaign and the voters of Bristol West showed that they agreed with us. Less welcome absences, however, are the gaps on funding for schools and the NHS, the strain on our social care system (mentioned, but only just) and a continuing lack of plan for Brexit. Our schools and our health services are in crisis now; they’ve been struggling for years. Staff are taking the strain so pupils and patients don’t have to, but colleagues in the health service and in schools tell me serious problems are right in front of us. Some Bristol West schools are facing the prospect of cutting vital help with core subjects which help all children to thrive.

And what was there in the speech did not amount to an awful lot.

  • An announcement to ban unfair letting agency fees  - a Labour policy from the 2015 manifesto but one which they had already announced their support for before the general election!
  • A nebulous Great Repeal Bill which aims to write all EU rights and protections into UK law, but which doesn’t include any commitment to make sure UK workers’ rights, environmental protections or consumer rights keep pace with the EU.
  • And a promise to improve provision for mental health in the NHS – a promise that rings hollow when there are now over 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010, even after they promised the same thing in their 2015 manifesto!

Theresa May’s reckless decision to waste time with a general election immediately after setting the clock racing on our negotiations with the European Union has backfired. She has gone from talking about strength and stability, to being unable to put together a proper programme for government.

Labour stand ready to put forward a Queen’s Speech which addresses the big challenges facing Britain. Jeremy Corbyn’s Queen’s Speech would propose a real living wage of £10 an hour by 2020. It would establish a National Education Service which would cut class sizes below 30 for all 5, 6, and 7 year olds. It would halt the current restructuring of the NHS under the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) and work out a proper funding deal. And it would pledge to take real action to tackle our housing crisis by building at least 100,000 genuinely affordable homes by the end of the parliament.

Labour stands ready to form a government, to undo the damage of seven years of unnecessary austerity, and to work to create a fairer, more equal society. By contrast, Theresa May has scrabbled unsuccessfully to put together a government. The weak and wobbly Queen’s Speech she put forward today showed just how few ideas the Tories have. And, as she looks around the House of Commons in the days and weeks to come, she may come to realise just how few friends she has as she attempts to deliver even this threadbare programme.

A wafer-thin Queen's Speech

The Queen’s Speech, with all its pomp and circumstance, is the government’s first official opportunity to set out its legislative programme for the parliament. We could have assumed that Theresa...

We have all been horrified by the Grenfell Tower fire in London and dismayed at the tragic loss of so many lives. Not surprisingly I have been contacted by some constituents who live in some of our Bristol West high-rise blocks, now fearful of their own safety, and I’m aware that many more have voiced their concerns to local councillors and others.  

I know Bristol City Council has acted swiftly, with a letter to all residents in the 59 high-rise blocks in our city, to give reassurances on the safety measures in place. And I have spoken at length to Councillor Paul Smith, Bristol Council Cabinet Member for Housing, and representatives from Avon Fire and Rescue Service to get further reassurances about the safety of these homes. They’ll continue to keep me fully briefed over the coming days.

Today I have received from Avon Fire and Rescue Service a schedule of visits to the 31 council tower blocks in the Bristol West constituency. 

You can find the schedule of visits in Bristol West here.

 Mayor Marvin Rees will join councillors, officers from Avon Fire and Rescue Service, and neighbourhood officers from Avon and Somerset Police throughout this week on these visits. They'll aim to update residents and address any concerns they may have about safety. Meanwhile, Avon Fire and Rescue Service have stressed to me that any resident (whether in social housing or private accommodation) can book a free home fire safety visit if they are still worried: https://www.avonfire.gov.uk/our-services/home-fire-safety-visits.

It still remains unclear what caused the devastating fire in London. But I do know that our Bristol homes have many different safety features to the ones in Kensington. For example, Bristol City Council has carried out an extensive programme over the last five years to improve fire safety in our blocks so that they meet fire safety standards, and that programme will continue for the next ten years; all of our blocks have a firebreak on every floor, so any fire cannot spread upwards; every flat is wired with smoke alarms; all 59 of our high-rise blocks have been properly checked by the Avon Fire and Rescue Service in the last three months; and any cladding added to our blocks in recent years has been installed with completely different materials, system, and contractor to those used in Grenfell Tower.

The government has initiated a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, with a report expected more quickly than usual. I already have assurance from the council that any recommendations from the inquiry will be implemented promptly, if they don’t already feature in our Bristol blocks. I’m very aware that the coroner’s recommendations after the 2009 fire in the Camberwell high-rise block –such as an overhaul of building regulations – were not carried out by the government, despite assurances. So I’ll work as hard as possible, with other colleagues in the opposition, to pressure the government into acting on all of the recommendations arising from this public inquiry. And I’ll do what I can to make sure the view of Bristol’s residents are raised in Parliament.

Fire safety in Bristol’s high-rise blocks

We have all been horrified by the Grenfell Tower fire in London and dismayed at the tragic loss of so many lives. Not surprisingly I have been contacted by some...

Thangam Debbonaire became Member of Parliament for the Bristol West constituency in May 2015 and was re-elected at the General Election on 8 June 2017 with an increased majority of 37,366. 

You can contact Thangam by email on thangam.debbonaire.uk@parliament.uk. 

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