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Last night, adding yet another success to a great summer for women’s sport, England women’s team secured a Rugby World Cup semi-final place after overpowering USA.

So my piece in today’s Bristol Post is a timely one. I’ll reproduce it here, for those unable to get hold of the local paper.


If you could take a magic potion to slash your risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and improve your mental health, appearance and confidence, you’d take it, wouldn’t you? Well, that potion is sport and exercise.

I never did it. At school, I saw PE lessons as a burden. I loved gym club till puberty hit and those nylon leotards made me want to hide. As an adult, I was baffled that anyone would want to run around a field with a ball or stick. I’ve always liked watching cricket – tea and cake are properly timetabled in, and as a person of Indian origin it’s practically the law. And how wonderful it was to see our women’s cricket team playing here in Bristol this summer and going on to win the World Cup. But run around in trainers myself? No!

That is, until the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign came along to inspire women and girls to get into sport. It coincided with me attending a course for women with breast cancer. As I sat with 49 other women at Southmead Hospital the message of ‘This Girl Can’ really kicked in. Adding two extra hours of moderate to vigorous activity to my week could make a big difference to whether or not we’d get cancer again. That did it.

So I went for a run with my sister-in-law. And learnt about happy hormones! Who knew? She did! As do Women in Sport, a fantastic organisation bringing women and girls into sport at all levels. Their research shows women do less sport than men - we’re losing out on the benefits. Just 150 minutes per week – or half an hour five days per week – will make a huge difference. It's especially effective if you start between the ages of 14 and 21, but it’s never too late.

Since that first one, I’m now at three weekly runs; I took part in my first 5k race – the Race for Life on the Downs, in a time I never thought I would do (38 minutes); I walked the 14 miles Gower Coast MacMarathon in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care last September, which gave me a real boost after a year of cancer treatment and raised money for Macmillan. This September I’m doing their 22-mile walk – wish me luck! If you want to sponsor me, you can find my fundraising page on my website.

A recent inspiring visit to meet women involved in Empire Fighting Chance and Bristol Boxing in Easton convinced me I can add in a weekly exercise class. And let’s all take inspiration from a fabulous summer of women’s sport – with great team performances in cricket, football, rugby and athletics. 

Getting more exercise might not mean champion times, or a perfectly toned set of abs, but it might, and it will definitely make your life better! Why not join me?

Letting sport and exercise work their magic

Last night, adding yet another success to a great summer for women’s sport, England women’s team secured a Rugby World Cup semi-final place after overpowering USA. So my piece in... Read more

On 9 September this year I will be doing a 22 mile walk of the Gower MacMarathon, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care.

Last year, I did this with my family and we raised nearly £1,500 for Macmillan. It also marked a return to health for me as we did it just a few months after I finished treatment for breast cancer.

Macmillan do excellent work supporting and improving the lives of the 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK today. I’m proud to be supporting this wonderful charity, who helped me so much when I was undergoing treatment.

If you’d like to sponsor me, please visit my justgiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thangam-debbonaire1

Walking the MacMarathon for Macmillan Cancer Care

On 9 September this year I will be doing a 22 mile walk of the Gower MacMarathon, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care. Last year, I did this with my...

On 18 July 2017 I spoke in a parliamentary debate about drugs policy. This followed publication of the government’s new Drug strategy 2017, which sets out a number of new actions to prevent the harm caused by drug misuse.

In my speech, I paid tribute to local organisations that provide services to people with drug problems, and the experts and specialists who have shared their knowledge with me over recent weeks. I praised some aspects of the government’s strategy, but also raised a number of concerns about the current approach. The strategy does not, for example, include an explicit aim of reducing premature deaths caused by drug use; it virtually ignores the most harmful drug – alcohol; there’s a lack of funding to support treatments for drug misuse; and it fails to review the legislative framework surrounding alcohol and other drugs to make it evidence-based and focused on harm reduction for all drug use. I called, for instance, for the regulated testing of the drugs themselves, as well as the provision of drug consumption rooms. I advocated that we should treat drug misuse as a health and social problem rather than a criminal problem. And I suggested that, if we treat alcohol and tobacco in a certain way, we should provide parity of protection, information and education in relation to other drugs.

I will feature in a new BBC documentary series on drugs to be broadcast in the autumn, first on BBC3 then on BBC1. Keep a look out for it!

It’s long, but you can read the full text of my speech here:

What a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I agree with him on doing one’s own research and reading the papers, but also on respecting professional expertise. Although I am afraid I come to slightly different conclusions on some aspects, there is a lot of agreement between us, particularly on locating the problem in the Department of Health.

I pay particular tribute to the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), for Wolverhampton South West ​(Eleanor Smith) and for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) all made wonderful, inspiring and rousing speeches. They set a very high bar for themselves, as well as their colleagues, over the coming years.

I thank the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) for his suggestion that there should be a royal commission on drugs that looks carefully, thoroughly and objectively at the evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) provided very moving examples of how our legal structure is currently failing people. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) also gave inspiring and helpful speeches.

Over the past six months, following the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, I have had the great privilege of being exposed to a range of different experts, specialists, academics and interventions in my own constituency and beyond as I have been part of the process of making a BBC documentary on the use of drugs. I have been involved as an MP and as a citizen of a city with above-average rates of drug use and drug misuse, and with exceptionally forward-thinking, effective drug misuse services, including, but not only, GPs.

The makers of the documentary have followed me around—veritably stalked me at times. They assessed the impact of the abuse and misuse of alcohol and other drugs—I am going to keep using that phrase—on my constituents and facilitated meetings between me and people with specialist knowledge and skills. The results will be broadcast in three parts this autumn. I have not seen it. Other documentaries may well be available, but I urge hon. Members to see what they made.

As part of that process, I have met local organisations commissioning or providing services to people with drug problems. I particularly pay tribute to the Bristol Drugs Project and DHI—Developing Health and Independence—along with commissioners in Bristol City Council. They have been extremely generous and patient with their time to educate and inform me, and also in being willing to listen to questions and ideas with which they did not necessarily agree, and vice versa—that is, ideas that I did not initially agree with but have been able to see the point of.

I have met people in support groups and programmes who are in the process of desisting from alcohol and other drug misuse. I have visited Horfield prison, which is in my constituency. I have been briefed on the nature of drug use—particularly the use of spice—and its impact on the prison, the staff and the prisoners. I have met specialists including Sir David Nutt, the leading psychologist, pharmacologist and psychiatrist, who formerly chaired the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, and Dr Ben Sessa, consultant child and adolescent and addiction psychiatrist at Imperial College, to discuss the research and evidence base for and against our current drugs policy.

I met a specialist drug safety tester from the Loop project, which provides free and confidential drug counselling and testing of substances—without, hon. Members may be pleased to hear, returning those substances. I was puzzled to hear that, but the testers cannot return substances to the people who have asked to have them tested, because that would be classed as drug dealing. I do not think that that is helpful, but it does at least provide people with information about the quality of what they might be about to take.​

I was told by the Loop project that, as a result of its work, not only are people better informed about what they might be taking—whether or not it has been cut with impurities, including concrete—but if they discover that a substance is unsafe to take, they hand in quantities of drugs voluntarily. It is a way of cleaning up the supply of very unsafe drugs, as well as giving people the information they need to make a well-informed choice about whether, when and how to consume drugs. I discussed with Loop the purpose and function of drug consumption rooms. I take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw has said, because he has far more experience in this matter than I have, but I am interested to know more about the various pilots and the research that he mentioned.

I met homelessness organisations and homeless people who have compounding problems on top of drug and alcohol problems. I discussed with my campaign volunteers, staff and local residents their concerns about drug misuse, which are many and varied. I did various drug impact walks through my own constituency, looking around me, talking to people and identifying the problems that have both a visible and an invisible impact on local people.

I have analysed my own experience, as a long-term resident of the area, of how the use and misuse of drugs has affected the local area over the years, and how and why it has changed. I have, as a consequence, made many reports to the local drugs litter cleaning services. That is one of the consequences of the current regime that we would do well to address, and we should at least consider the use of drug consumption rooms because it would reduce nuisance to other people. I have also had to respond to extremely unpleasant side effects of alcohol and drug misuse on my own doorstep, both at home and in the entrance to my constituency office.

I have done a great deal of reading of the research on the impact of our current legal system and support services on the use and misuse of alcohol and other drugs. I thank everybody who has given me their time and attention during this process, which has been hugely educational, influenced my thinking and informed my beliefs. I particularly thank the BBC team, Bart, Ae, Poppy and Hugo, for making me part of such an interesting process.

To inform my response to the drug strategy, I contacted many of the people I have mentioned, and I analysed the findings of various papers by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and other evidence against the scope and detail of the strategy. As a result of that review, although I applaud aspects of the strategy—I will mention them shortly—I have the following criticisms. The strategy does not include an explicit aim of reducing or, ideally, eliminating premature deaths caused by drug use. I would really like to see that front and centre. The strategy virtually, although not completely, ignores the most harmful drug. I say respectfully to the Minister that alcohol is a drug, and one that is entirely legal; I will come back to that shortly. The Government’s welcome acceptance of evidence-based treatments for drug misuse and mental health problems is a step forward, but it is undermined, as colleagues have said, by the lack of a funding strategy to support it. The strategy fails to take on key recommendations from the report published last year by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on preventing opiate-related deaths.​

Finally, I must add my voice to those of others who have said that the strategy represents a wasted opportunity, when the Government could have reviewed the entire legislative framework surrounding alcohol and other drugs and made it consistent, evidence-based and focused on harm reduction for all drug use. I echo the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Reigate that a commission should do what I believe the Government could have done over the last two years.

The strategy opens with the ambition

“for fewer people to use drugs in the first place”,

and for those who do, to

“help them to stop and to live a life free from dependence.”

However, that ignores the fact that many people take drugs recreationally, free from dependence and free from the harm caused to other people that results from some drug use. They are at risk of causing some harm to themselves, and such harms tend to arise from the criminal justice framework that we wrap around them. We should have the ambitions to reduce harm and prevent deaths—I support the aim to reduce harm, and I want to increase recovery from dependence—but I also want to take us as a country towards a fully evidence-based, open-minded approach to both.

Most of the means of preventing death in the “Reducing Opioid-Related Deaths in the UK” report by the ACMD last year, which I mentioned earlier, have been ignored in the strategy. For instance, drug testing—I mean not testing of people to see if they have taken drugs, but of drugs to see what they have in them—as well as the provision of drug consumption rooms and a wider examination of forms of treatment have all been ignored either partially or wholly. The strategy ducks the fact that much of the use of alcohol and other drugs takes place with comparatively little or no harm identified by the user, and frequently with great pleasure, which therefore undermines some of the messages given in the strategy. If users do not themselves experience their drug taking in a way described by the strategy, they are likely to dismiss all of the good stuff in it. Harms arise from the unregulated nature of the market. The organisation Loop has shown me one of the huge life-saving benefits of being able to test drugs such as ecstasy in clubs and festivals. I want the full protection of regulation, education, testing and a licensing regime to be given to all my constituents, not just those whose drug of choice is the legally available one of alcohol.

I must say that there are some aspects of the strategy that I very much welcome, such as the emphasis on prevention and the use of compulsory personal, social and health and economic education, which is now part of the curriculum, to increase the awareness and understanding of young people. By the way, I say to the Government, “You’re welcome”. It took us a while to convince the Government that this needed to happen, but Opposition

Members are always pleased when the Government realise we have got something right. I am also very pleased that the drug strategy recognises the limitations of some educational approaches, such as the format of lectures by the police or reformed addicts. Such approaches tend not to have a good evidence base, and I am glad the Government have recognised that.

I also want to say that the two drugs that have arguably caused me the greatest personal harm are two legal drugs—alcohol and tobacco. I am sure everybody ​in the House knows about the link between tobacco consumption and lung cancer and many may also know about the link between alcohol consumption and liver cancer, but it was not until I was diagnosed with breast cancer that I learned about the causal links between alcohol consumption and other cancers. While I was being treated, I was contacted by a publican about the new NICE guidelines on alcohol consumption. He claimed that they were biased and in favour of teetotalism, and he was very angry about what he said was an unnecessary and unwelcome bias, given that the guidelines say that there is no “safe” level of alcohol consumption. I therefore read the guidelines and all the research review papers informing the guidelines—I was on sick leave, so I had time to do so—and I came to the carefully considered conclusion that the guidelines were both accurate and helpful.

It was helpful to me to know that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and reading the research papers helped to convince me that the abstemiousness, as far as I could possibly manage it, that I had fallen into during chemotherapy was something I wished to keep to for the sake of my own health after the treatment ended. This was all news to me: I did not know until I had breast cancer that alcohol was so closely linked to it. Since then, I have realised how many other people are not aware of the wide, many and varied risks associated with alcohol, which is a completely legal drug. Alcohol is available on these very premises, and no doubt somebody somewhere is in the process of consuming that legal drug right now. At the risk of sounding like Nana from “The Royle Family”, I have—with the exception of a very small glass of bubbly at weddings and perhaps a sweet sherry at Christmas—stuck to my non-consumption of alcohol, and I have to say that I feel all the better for it. That is a good example of how providing accurate information about a drug can inform someone’s decision making.

Alcohol is at the top end of the most harmful substances both to the user and to others—it is more harmful than heroin, in fact—but if I fall off the alcohol-free wagon by going into a shop or a pub and buying some alcohol, I at least know that it will not have been cut with something much more poisonous. I know that I am not risking my job by breaking the law and I know that I will be picked up afterwards if dropping off the wagon causes me problems. I believe that the regulatory, information and licensing systems for alcohol provide a great template for reforming the law on other drugs. I am not knocking anybody else’s right to choose to drink alcohol; I just want parity for my constituents who use other drugs.

I want to say quickly that I am not sure where the money will come from for everything, because money was conspicuously absent from the strategy. Other Members have drawn attention to that and perhaps others who are still to come will do too. That is a big omission. Whether it is in interventions purely in the health service, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw referred to, or in drug treatment programmes, specialist programmes or mental health services, the cuts by this Government in local government, the health service and elsewhere have been felt across the board. There is no good way to carry out any of the very good proposals in the strategy ​without adequate funding. Mental health services and drug and alcohol services all need to be properly funded. As I am sure the Government are aware, there is a 2.5 return on investment. I hope that the Minister will address that point in her closing remarks.

Something that is very personal to me is the prevention of drug-related deaths, particularly those from heroin. People in my life have lost theirs to drug addiction, including addiction to heroin and alcohol. That is why I want to be clear that when I talk about reforming our laws, I am not saying that these drugs are good to take; I am just saying that if we are clear that alcohol is not good for us and yet it is legal, well-regulated and licensed, we at least ought to look at why we are failing people with a heroin addiction, people who use drugs recreationally and do not have an addiction problem, and the people around drug users. The hearts that are broken through heroin-related deaths go much wider than the people who use the drug.

The number of opioid-related deaths has gone up year on year since 2010. I thoroughly applaud the Minister for saying that she wants an evidence-based approach, but she appears to have ignored the conclusions and findings of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that came out just last year. It reminded us that there were 2,479 drug-related deaths in 2015 alone, so keeping drugs illegal is clearly not preventing death.

Among the report’s findings was this:

“That the UK has high-quality systems for the recording of opioid-related deaths,”—

which is good—

“but that more could be done to improve national information, especially on toxicology and prescribing, as well as on the contribution of opioid use to levels of mortality from other causes.”

Data collection is partially addressed by the Minister in the strategy, but I would like further information, if possible.

The report also states that

“a probable cause of the recent increases in drug-related deaths…is the existence of a prematurely ageing cohort of people who have been using heroin since the 1980s and 1990s.”

It states that other contributory causes of those recent increases are

“multiple health risks…among an ageing cohort of heroin or opioid users, deepening of socio-economic deprivation since the financial crisis of 2008, and changes to drug treatment and commissioning practices.”

The paper goes on to make some very sensible suggestions, which I urge the Minister to remind herself of. I will remind her of some of them now. It states:

“There are a number of evidence-based approaches that can be used to reduce the risk of death among people who use opioids. The strongest evidence supports the provision of opioid substitution treatment (OST) of optimal quality, dosage and duration.”

I know that the Minister is aware of that. However, the report goes on to say:

“Other substance misuse treatment options could be further developed in order to reduce the risk of death including broader provision of naloxone,”—

for hon. Members who do not know, that is a substance that can be used to halt and then reverse the effects of overdoses, thus saving lives —

“heroin-assisted treatment for those for whom other forms of OST are not effective, medically-supervised drug consumption clinics, treatment for alcohol problems, and assertive outreach to engage heroin users who are not in treatment into OST (especially for those who are homeless and/or have mental health problems).”​

We are all harmed by a failure to address those issues. We are harmed when we are troubled by the homeless person on the street who is clearly suffering; by the relative or friend who goes without the treatment that they need; or by someone who dies needlessly of an overdose when it could have been prevented by safe use in a drug consumption clinic, accompanied by counselling to try to engage that person in drug cessation. I want us to notice that we are all harmed by that, not just those who are using drugs.

The strategy recognises the record high levels of deaths and drug misuse and it makes some recommendations, such as recommending that all local areas should have appropriate naloxone provision in place, but the Bristol Drugs Project, which has such a distribution system, tells me that it is unable to get to everyone who is at risk of heroin overdose. I would like it to have the funding it needs to reach more people and prevent more deaths. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs also recommended the drug consumption clinics that I have mentioned, and discussions with people in the sector and with other specialists lead me to believe that investing in drug consumption spaces, where drug users can have their drugs tested, receive counselling and, above all, consume drugs safely and with no associated harms to the rest of us, would be money well invested or at least worth exploring further. We would gain in the reduced cost to emergency services, local council cleaning services and the prevention of drug-related deaths.

I turn to the obvious contradictions in our laws on alcohol and other drugs. On criminalisation, the ACMD has mixed views, but the Government are unequivocal — they are opposed to reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The strategy states:

“We have no intention of decriminalising drugs. Drugs are illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown they are harmful to human health”—

I do not disagree. It continues:

“Drug misuse is also associated with much wider societal harms including family breakdown, poverty, crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Those I would qualify. As others have said, and I reiterate, that argument simply does not hold water. The research review carried out by Professor David Nutt for The Lancet shows that alcohol is by far the most dangerous drug in the UK for harms to others and harms to the user. It is far more harmful to other people than any other drug, including heroin, crack, methamphetamine, cocaine, cannabis and tobacco, but it is regulated, with licensing conditions and ways to protect users if their drug of choice is alcohol.

The hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) mentioned the awful people who deal in drugs and use violence. I agree: I want to protect my constituents from falling prey to that violence and abuse. She also mentions the harms that vulnerable people suffer when they are forced to traffic drugs. I agree, and I want to avoid those harms, but I respectfully disagree with her — it is the criminal nature of the drugs trade that causes those harms. That is my interpretation of the evidence, and I urge hon. Members to consider the suggestion by the hon. Member for Reigate of a royal commission to examine that further.

If we are to take an approach of making a substance illegal because scientific and medical analysis has shown it is harmful to human health, we need to make alcohol and tobacco illegal. Are the Government proposing that? ​No, they are not, and I do not want them to. I would simply invite them to consider that their entire rationale for maintaining the legal status quo is undermined by that. It would be far more effective to tackle the harms done to others and to the user to review the entire criminal law associated with alcohol and other drugs, and to consider reforming it to make it truly evidence based.

Before I conclude, I want to add some comments and caveats on the wider social rationale. Some people think—and some hon. Members have implied it today—that drug harms are the responsibility of the individual and, if people choose to use drugs, they should be left to take the consequences without the taxpayer having to pick up the tab. I know that the Minister does not agree with that approach and I am glad about that. To those people, I say that we are all picking up the tab anyway—in the huge costs of policing drug use, accidental overdose and so on. We are also picking up the tab when people in our own lives are harmed by drugs. It is no use saying that it is always someone else’s child, parent or sibling. Many sober people who have never taken any drugs are affected by a relative or friend’s drug use, whether cash is stolen from them to pay for drug use or in having to deal with the impact of overdoses or the health consequences of substances added to drugs.

The social and economic cost of drug supply in England and Wales is estimated to be £10.7 billion a year, just over half of which—£6 billion—is attributed to drug-related acquisitive crime. Would that we could reform that—and I think the Minister should take this opportunity to consider that there are ways of reforming it.

I want all Members to take a moment to be quite imaginative. I want them to imagine the nature of the shops that currently exist for people to buy drugs if they wish to. Those drug shops are already all around us, but they are dangerous, they are illegal, they are unregulated, they are untaxed and they are unlicensed, unless your drug of choice is alcohol.

Why do we not decide to do something different with that £10.7 billion a year? Why do we not decide that we will treat drug misuse as a health and social problem rather than a criminal problem, and direct the funds towards treatment and recovery for those who need it? Why do we not also recognise that the harms done by legal drugs are in excess of those done by illegal drugs, and decide to reduce or even end the harms caused by the illegal nature of some of those drugs? I want Members to focus their minds on the harms done by the drugs rather than by a legal situation which could be reformed.

Why do we not acknowledge that some people are consuming both harmful illegal drugs and legal drugs right now, but at least those consuming legal drugs will be doing so in the knowledge that the strength and purity of the substance that they are consuming is regulated, so they can make informed choices? Why do we not become really brave, and decide that if we are going to treat alcohol and tobacco in a certain way—and yes, rightly provide education and information to help people to make those informed choices, and treatment for those whose consumption has started to harm them or others—we should provide parity of protection, information and education in relation to other drugs?

Let me very clear about this. There is no safe level of consumption of any drug, be it legal or otherwise. The only way in which to be completely safe from the harms ​of consumption of any drug, including alcohol, is not to consume it at all. Having access to good-quality information gives people the opportunity to make evidence-informed decisions for themselves about whether and how to consume alcohol or other drugs. Relying on the law to inform decision-making is not working, It skews the decision entirely in favour of the most dangerous drug. I am sure that many people have no idea of the links between alcohol consumption and cancer, for example.

I am not suggesting that we should jump straight to full legalisation of all drugs. I am simply raising the importance of considering whether and how to revise the legal framework for all drugs. If we are to have an evidence-based system of response to the consumption of alcohol and other drugs, it must focus on harm reduction. It must treat the harms as social and health harms when they are social and health harms, and as criminal only when it is necessary to treat them as such.

We urgently need the royal commission referred to by the hon. Member for Reigate, and we need to be able to have a well-informed, honest and open debate about the regulation of alcohol and other drugs in order to reduce avoidable harm, increase informed decision-making, and end the deaths caused by alcohol and all other drugs.

An evidence-based approach to drugs policy

On 18 July 2017 I spoke in a parliamentary debate about drugs policy. This followed publication of the government’s new Drug strategy 2017, which sets out a number of new...

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...

Like many, probably most, people in Bristol West, I am horrified by President Trump’s announcement last night that he is reneging on the US’s commitment under the Paris Climate Change agreement. The obligations for the US run for many years, they are supposed to be legally binding, and they include commitments to help fund work in poorer countries.

The Paris agreement set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, agreed ways of sharing the burden fairly, and decided on ways to help developing countries to develop technologies for renewable energy. This was the right thing to do.

It was a Labour government that created the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008, setting targets for reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy technologies. Many other countries have followed that Labour example and I am very proud that environmentalism is built into our constitution as one of our key principles.

It is extraordinary that Donald Trump sees this as defending American people and jobs. We will all be affected by climate change, a clear and present danger for the entire planet’s population. Many countries have recognised investing in renewable energy is where many jobs of the future are.

But he is the President of the United States. He is accountable to Americans and they can, and hopefully will, hold him to account for this at the ballot box. What is unforgivable about Trump’s decision is that it will affect millions of people around the world who cannot vote him out of office.

My cousins who live in Chennai, a megalopolis on the east coast of India, are already amongst the millions experiencing the harm of climate change. With rising annual temperatures, decreasing reliable rainfall and resulting floods when the rains come (as the ground is too dry to absorb the water), they have suffered financially and emotionally. It’s pretty distressing to be trapped with your children for five days in a second floor flat with no power or water supply and floods up to the floor below, as happened to them in December 2015.

The only way we can tackle climate change is to work together. Every country in the world had signed up to the Paris Accord in 2015, other than Syria and Nicaragua. If the USA is allowed to get away with letting down the rest of the world in this way we will all suffer, including Americans.

A Labour government would implement our energy policy built on a commitment to meeting our climate change targets and transitioning to a low-carbon economy. We would ban fracking, insulate four million homes and use public procurement to support the creation of local energy companies and new co-operatives. We would introduce a Clean Air Act to cut dangerous emissions in our towns and cities. And we would ensure, through investment in renewable energy, that 60 per cent of our energy comes from low carbon or renewable sources by 2030.

Building a clean energy system for the future is the most important thing we can do for the next generation and generations to come. Many Americans are already challenging their President about his announcements – 60 US Mayors have already said they will stick to the commitments their city has made. I call on all Americans to join them in challenging Donald Trump – the planet and the world’s population cannot wait.

Response to Donald Trump's statement on the Paris Climate Change agreement

Like many, probably most, people in Bristol West, I am horrified by President Trump’s announcement last night that he is reneging on the US’s commitment under the Paris Climate Change...

Haven’t yet made up your mind about how to vote in the General Election? Then why not join me at a hustings event to hear about Labour’s policies and vision for this election, and why I believe that I am the progressive choice for Bristol West.

I will add to this list as soon as events are confirmed – hope to see you in the audience (and take your questions!) soon.

Bristol West Hustings

Haven’t yet made up your mind about how to vote in the General Election? Then why not join me at a hustings event to hear about Labour’s policies and vision...

I had never really had to use the NHS much until two years ago. But that all changed in June 2015 when I found a lump in my breast. (Which reminds me – everyone, please learn to check breasts. This is the best way of picking up cancer and non-cancerous lumps needing treatment)

I had brilliant care. I had an appointment with my GP within two weeks, and a follow-up appointment with a breast cancer specialist within a further two weeks.

On the day I was diagnosed, I was in a very special place – the Bristol Breast Care Centre (BBCC), up at Southmead hospital. The atmosphere was calm, the staff all specialised solely in breast cancer and my surgeon was the person who diagnosed me. We subsequently had a chat about how important the Labour government 1997-2010 had been in supporting the setting up of BBCC.

By the time I left the BBCC, I’d been referred to an oncologist to plan my non-surgical treatment, and met the specialist breast cancer nurse who was to be my point of contact throughout treatment and beyond. In fact she has continued to say I can contact her any time.

I met the oncologist the same day and had a treatment plan worked out quickly.

Now, if you know anyone who has had breast cancer in the last few years in Bristol, that’s standard – but it was not always like that.

The Labour government of 1997-2010 introduced the UK’s first national plan to tackle cancer. In that plan, the government committed the NHS to maximum waiting times for referral, diagnosis and treatment. It’s of great credit to our health workers that these targets are often still met – but no thanks to the Tory government.

This Tories are hurting the NHS so badly and it hurts me to see it, when it has saved my life and the lives of so many other people I care about. They and the Liberal Democrats imposed a costly top-down reorganisation which nobody voted for. They then imposed a public sector pay freeze, ended bursaries for nurse training and cut local government funding for social care. All of which has kept people in hospital when they could be discharged, adding to the strains on hospitals and health care generally. Dedicated staff are having to work harder and harder with no increase in pay.

When it comes to this election, there is a clear choice: a Labour government that invests in an NHS which works for staff and patients, or a Tory government that will carry on starving our health and social care service of the funds it needs.

The way to reinstate the public, not-for-profit NHS we all know and love and to integrate it with the social care system, is to elect a Labour government.

A Labour government would reverse the privatisation of the NHS and return the health service fully into public control.

We would reinstate the powers of the Secretary of State for Health to have overall responsibility and introduce a new legal duty on them to ensure that excess private profits are not made out of the NHS at the expense of patient care.

We would also halt the NHS sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) process – this has brought neighbouring health care trusts to work closer together but unfortunately has not provided the funds needed, leading to threatened closures.

We would guarantee the rights of EU staff working in health and social care, scrap the NHS pay cap and reintroduce the bursaries for health degree courses.

We would introduce a National Care Service to create a sustainable future for social care and give every older person dignity they deserve and care they need.

Labour built the NHS. And in this election, we are the party with a credible plan to invest in – and protect – a public health service that we all rely on.

A public health service we all rely on

I had never really had to use the NHS much until two years ago. But that all changed in June 2015 when I found a lump in my breast. (Which...

Last Friday I was delighted to welcome Keir Starmer QC, Labour’s Spokesperson the UK exiting the EU, to Bristol West.

Thanks to Bristol University Labour students for organising the space and for mobilising so many students and university staff to come along. The meeting was packed out – all 350 tickets were taken very quickly – and there was a thoughtful atmosphere.

Keir’s speech had a big impact on me and on others in the room.

As many of you already know, I campaigned hard for us to remain in the European Union and, like most people in Bristol West, I would prefer for us to remain in full membership, for many reasons. So did Keir.

Sadly, the referendum went the way we know it went.

Since then, I have spoken out many times in favour of protecting as close a relationship as possible between the EU and the UK, including speeches in Parliament, questions challenging the Brexit and International Trade Ministers on their lack of a plan, writing articles about the benefits of free of movement of people, and about keeping Single European Market membership on the table.

Keir said that on the day afterwards, he looked at his children, aged 6 and 8, and decided there and then that he had to work as hard as possible to make the future better for them, and that it was more important than ever to be arguing the case for our progressive values.  Like a lot of us, he has had to go through grief about the result of the referendum but he encouraged us to focus on what we can do to shape the future.

Labour values are the values I hear and see expressed in Bristol West all the time – internationalist, outward-facing, tolerant, challenging discrimination and hate, building alliances and working together. Now more than ever we have to campaign for these, together, in Bristol and nationally.

Keir has identified tests against which to hold the government to account about their negotiations with the EU – protecting workers’ rights and environmental rules, for example. He has developed these by travelling round the country and consulting businesses such as our local employers Airbus, trade unions and others about what they need from a future relationship with the EU, in order to continue to trade and provide good quality jobs. As a result of this, the Labour Party, unlike all the other parties, has a clear position on what we want from the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Other parties have said they will offer a referendum on the results of the negotiations – but that’s not spelling out what they want from the negotiations! It is also an extraordinarily high-risk strategy – putting the question to the country again risks us getting back the same result, possibly even stronger.

My colleagues who, although remainers themselves, represent constituencies which voted mostly to leave the EU, tell me that they are consistently getting back on the doorstep the question “Why haven’t we left yet?”. I agree with Keir that we need a clear negotiating strategy, something the Labour party has prioritised, and full and proper scrutiny and a final vote in Parliament.

Keir also made it clear that the government voted down the Labour amendment to protect the rights of EU citizens who have made their lives here to be able to remain in the UK. A Labour government, on day one, would guarantee those people’s right to stay – and rightly so. He pointed out that the government is treating them as bargaining chips, whereas Labour treats them as human beings and values their contribution to our country. It would also set a good example for negotiations.

We took questions, including ones which I answered about immigration and on refugees. I said that, as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, I have made changing the national narrative and the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers a top priority in my time as MP. Just before Parliament was dissolved, I launched the report of the inquiry I initiated – ‘Refugees Welcome?’. We took evidence from hundreds of organisations and refugees and made clear recommendations for changes in government policy.

Labour has a proud tradition of honouring human rights and helping people fleeing war and persecution and we will always live up to our legal and moral obligations. My dad came over from India on the boat in 1956 – not as a refugee, but to study. He made his home here, marrying a British woman and having three children.

My dad knew there were rules about immigration. Just as all the asylum-seekers and refugees I have ever met know there are rules. Even as members of the EU, movement of people is governed by rules. We will continue to have rules on immigration – and that’s sensible. But what’s not sensible and not fair, is the terrible way this government is implementing the rules, frequently telling people they are not allowed to be here when they are – so they have to spend months or years in limbo appealing the decision.

Keir pointed out that the Tory government is responsible for the terrible decisions being made on our behalf at the moment about the UK’s relationship with the EU. The Prime Minister has ruled out the option of staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union; she has said she wants us out of Eurojust, which helps us to co-operate with different justice systems across the EU; and she wants us out of Euratom, which regulates the nuclear industry. It is astonishing that the PM has done this already, before we have even begun negotiating. It is also astonishing that she chose to trigger Article 50, starting the clock running down on a two year time-limit before the UK leaves the EU, and then called a general election, effectively losing months of an all-too-short negotiating period.

I feel inspired by Keir’s visit, reinvigorated to campaign for our values, the values of the people of Bristol West, who believe in a future where we collaborate and cooperate with others and achieve more than we would alone.

Keir Starmer in Bristol West

Last Friday I was delighted to welcome Keir Starmer QC, Labour’s Spokesperson the UK exiting the EU, to Bristol West. Thanks to Bristol University Labour students for organising the space...

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