Today was one of the most important days in Parliament since the Government triggered Article 50 -which I voted against - more than a year ago. Today we voted for an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have given Parliament a ‘meaningful vote’ on any final deal the Government strikes with the EU. If successful, Parliament would have had the power to instruct the Government to go back to the negotiating table.
Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected by 26 votes. However, this is not the end of the story – the Bill will go back to the Lords, and then come back to the Commons.
There are reports that the Prime Minister only avoided a humiliating defeat by buying off Tory rebels with a promise: when the Bill goes back to the House of Lords, the Tories will back an amendment to give Parliament a vote. In contrast to the Labour-backed amendment, this vote is unlikely to be legally binding. But the fact that we may have forced compromise on this point gives me some hope. In any case, we will have more opportunities to challenge the Government when this Bill, the Trade Bill and the Customs Bill all return to the Commons.
For anyone watching the Government’s inept Brexit negotiations, the need for Parliamentary scrutiny of a final deal becomes clearer every day, as their promises (and the promises of the referendum campaign) drop away one by one. So it is very important that we can hold them to account, on behalf of our constituents.
This is the real will of the people. Indeed, although only a small majority voted to leave the EU, there was no majority for irreparably damaging our economy. It is worth stating that the will of the people in my constituency was overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. I reluctantly accept that we may now be leaving – but I cannot accept a disastrous deal. I still firmly believe that full membership of the EU is the best possible deal, but failing that, our relationship should be as close as possible.
I will keep fighting to give Parliament an opportunity to make a judgement when the time comes, ensuring we get the best possible outcome.
During this afternoon’s first batch of voting on the EU Withdrawal Bill, there were 15 other votes. All these amendments were voted down by the Tories.
Most were technical amendments that would have improved the Bill. Several aimed to prevent the Government from grabbing additional legal powers through this legislation. Without Tory rebels we did not have the number of MPs to keep these amendments on the Bill.
There will be further debate and many more votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill tomorrow, before it goes back to the House of Lords. Tomorrow’s votes include key amendments which aim to maintain hard-won environmental protections and workers’ rights after we leave the EU. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed, Facebook and website for updates.
A note on voting
Please note that I was a ‘teller’ in these votes – counting the number of votes and reporting them to the Speaker. Tellers are listed separately, but our votes still count.
Another confusing aspect is that I voted NO when I support the Lord’s amendments. This is because I voted against the Government's motions to remove the Lords’ amendments.
Today was one of the most important days in Parliament since the Government triggered Article 50 -which I voted against - more than a year ago. Today we voted for...
This week the EU Withdrawal Bill returns from weeks of debate in the House of Lords. This blog sets out how I will be voting, and why, aiming to shine some light on this complicated process.
You may remember the EU Withdrawal Bill was in the Commons back in December. At that point, we made a significant gain on the right to have a vote in Parliament on the government’s exit deal for the UK with the EU (the so-called ‘Grieve amendment’, also known as the ‘meaningful vote’). This took a lot of work, from backbench MPs on all sides of the Commons but also from us Whips, managing colleagues who support ‘Leave’ or represent leave-voting constituencies. The amendment was passed by a crucial majority of four votes.
All other Labour amendments were voted down by the government and their backbench MPs. There were hardly any rebellions by Tory MPs on anything other than the meaningful vote – indicating that this is likely to again be the most contentious area.
The Lords’ amendments
In the Lords, our Labour colleagues were able to convince more peers from other parties to vote with them so they successfully got 14 significant amendments to the Bill through.
This week we will be trying to keep these amendments in the Bill by voting against the Government, which will be proposing motions to remove them. That means we will be voting ‘no’ in most cases, in order to keep these amendments – I mention this as the voting records may appear confusing.
Key amendments we will be defending
Whilst we expect Tory MPs to try to vote to get rid of these amendments, we will be trying to keep them on the Bill, by voting against the Government’s motions to remove them. These amendments include various technical measures and the following:
Refugee Family Reunion Rights. My friend and colleague, the Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, championed retaining this EU provision when the Bill was in the Lords. It makes it easier for refugees to be reunited with their families.
Protecting employment, consumer and environmental protections from EU law. Without this amendment, the Government will find it easier to strip out these laws in a ‘race to the bottom’, slashing protections for short-term gain.
Enshrining EU Environmental principles into UK law and establishing an enforcement body. Most UK environmental legislation, governing everything from farming practices to air quality to chemicals, has come from the EU. And it is enforced by the European Commission. As we leave the EU, there is a risk that this gap leads to a decline in standards.
Northern Ireland. Labour has ensured the Bill requires Ministers to adhere to the principles of the 1998 Belfast agreement and Northern Ireland Act, to protect the peace the island of Ireland now enjoys.
Limiting the powers of government ministers. The Government wrote sweeping powers into the Bill to change laws with little or no Parliamentary scrutiny. The Labour amendment aims to restrict these powers.
Our future relationship with the EU
There are various options for our future relationship with the EU. None of them are perfect, so we will need to find a compromise.
Remaining in a customs union. Labour peers secured an amendment on this. I’ll be voting to keep this as it will resolve many of these problems of the Irish border.
Access to the single market. I will also be voting for a more recent amendment tabled by Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer and others. This aims to amend the Lords’ Amendment on the European Economic Area (EEA), described below. The new amendment would compel the Government to negotiate full access to the internal market of the EU, with shared institutions and regulations. I support this amendment as it presents an opportunity for a more ambitious and effective relationship with the EU. It also holds the government to account, reflecting Labour’s six tests, which are based on the Government’s earlier promises.
Remaining in the EEA. The Tories are yet to come up with a plan, almost two full years after the referendum vote. The Lords amendment on membership of the EEA aims to resolve this, instructing the Government to negotiate a relationship with the EU similar to that of Norway or Lichtenstein. This is generally a good option for the UK, but as it stands, we can’t be in both the EEA and a customs union, meaning that EEA membership does not solve the Irish border question, critical to maintaining peace. For example, there is currently a hard border between Sweden (in the EU) and Norway (in the EEA). A bespoke trade agreement would be a better solution, which is why I will be abstaining from voting on this amendment and voting for Labour’s amendment (see 'Access to the single market', above).
It is also important to point out here that there are currently two bills going through parliament that specifically deal with trade and customs. We will have further opportunities to shape our relationship with the EU, this is not he last chance we have.
A meaningful vote
The key vote this week is on whether to keep the Lords amendment giving Parliament a meaningful vote on the final exit deal.
Whether you voted to leave or remain, whatever your views on Europe, Parliament having a meaningful vote on the government's exit deal is a powerful idea we can all unite behind. Leave voters voted to ‘take back control’ and return it from Brussels to Westminster – yet the Tory government wants to tie us in to a Brexit deal without any Parliamentary scrutiny or any right to vote down an inadequate deal. This is the most important vote this week and where we are most likely to win.
What chance of success?
We are likely to lose most of these votes, despite the hung Parliament, as the Democratic Unionist Party will vote with the Tories. Even Tory rebels will not rebel on most amendments.
As Labour Whips, we have been speaking to as many MPs as possible and regularly counting how many MPs are likely to vote for or against, or abstain, on each possible motion this week.
There are two amendments on which we may achieve success: The customs union and ‘meaningful vote’. These amendments are the two we calculate are most likely to secure enough Tory rebels and leave-supporting Labour MPs to pass. Let me state again: a meaningful Parliamentary vote is hugely important and this amendment is winnable.
Uniting the country
Here are clear and highly significant differences between Tory Party and Labour: what we are fighting for on your behalf and the fact we are trying to unite the country. We are fighting to protect employment laws, environmental protections and consumer rights. We are also fighting to limit the Government powers to change the law without Parliamentary scrutiny, to recklessly gamble away our country’s economy without any plan or put forward a decent negotiating strategy.
Those are all extremely important aims. Even more importantly, Labour is the only party trying to unite the country. We are a deeply divided nation, we are currently a deeply divided nation. Most of you in Bristol West voted for remain and most of you would like to stay in as close as possible relationship with EU, preferably full membership, but failing that, part of a customs union and Single Market. I completely agree. But I also know that one in five of you voted for leave. Judging from my inbox and the doorknocking sessions my volunteers and I run each week in Bristol West, you also have not changed your minds.
People who voted to leave the EU for a variety of reasons, many of them legitimate. My colleagues in seats like Blaenau Gwent, for example, tell me that their constituents do not feel they share the prosperity or opportunities from membership of the EU. That has not changed.
I want to bring people together. Not just by following what is in my inbox, though that is important and I value you contacting me. Not by prioritising one group over another. But by genuinely listening to all views, researching all options, and coming to a judgement about how I can best represent your interests in Parliament.
That’s not easy, but it is the job you elected me to do, and I am determined to do it. It means being honest with you, even when it is hard – lots of you have said you want me to vote for the EEA amendment. As stated above, I cannot vote for it, as it stands, but will be voting for the replacement amendment from Keir Starmer, as I believe it will put us in a stronger position.
It should be possible to find a compromise which benefits everyone in some way. But only with a responsible, thoughtful government who are genuinely trying to bring people together.
That’s what I and the Labour Party are working towards. It’s messy, it involves a lot of discussion, debate and sometimes argument. We are trying to find ways through this incredibly difficult process which bring as many leave and remain supporters back together to a common purpose as a country.
I am proud of the fact that Bristol West people are so engaged. Keep on engaging with me. Let’s keep talking and most of all listening.
PS. Over the next few days I will be live blogging, tweeting and dong Facebook Live to keep you up to date with what is happening in Parliament and to give you a Whip’s eye view. You can follow that on: www.debbonaire.co.uk; @ThangamMP on Twitter and my Facebook page (Thangam Debbonaire MP for Bristol West).
This week the EU Withdrawal Bill returns from weeks of debate in the House of Lords. This blog sets out how I will be voting, and why, aiming to shine...
In Parliament, much of my current work focuses on fighting to protect my constituents from the damaging effects of Brexit.
I’m pleased to report that yesterday I won a small victory, when I met with Margot James, Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, together with the Musicians’ Union. I have been pushing for this meeting for some time.
The Musicians’ Union, and individual performers, have repeatedly told me that they are worried they will not be able to tour in the EU, or easily move instruments and other equipment, without the proper agreements in place. This could be solved by creating a visa for people who need to tour. And it’s not just about British musicians – audiences also risk missing out, if musicians from elsewhere start cutting the UK from their tour plans. Musicians who have toured the US tell me how expensive touring can be when they need visas.
Creative industries contributed £92 billion to the UK in 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. For Bristol, it would be a tragedy if leaving the EU harmed the creative scene which makes up a large part of the city’s vibrant economy and culture.
We were able to convince the Minister of the importance of these temporary visas. She agreed to speak to the Home Office about facilitating travel for performers. I was very pleased she made this commitment.
Protecting music venues and music lessons
In addition to Brexit, I asked the Minister to consider the need to protect small music venues in the face of pressure from property developers – a campaign I have taken up on behalf of Bristol’s unique and lively music scene. She agreed that this should be a priority and stated that she would look into this issue.
We also discussed the importance of improving schoolchildren’s access to musical instrument lessons. When children can access instrumental education, it may be sporadic and basic. The Minister agreed that high-quality music education is important for all children. As well as the intrinsic value of music, there are many other benefits. I will be speaking to the Treasury, making the case for more funding before the autumn Budget.
Can musicians continue to tour the EU after Brexit? My meeting with the Culture Minister and the Musicians’ Union
In Parliament, much of my current work focuses on fighting to protect my constituents from the damaging effects of Brexit. I’m pleased to report that yesterday I won a small...
The full extent of the Windrush scandal is slowly coming to light. On Saturday 28 April I held a public meeting for those affected, and the stories I heard were truly shocking.
Some people have been denied passports, missing out on family events including close relatives’ funerals. Others have lost jobs, been denied access to pensions, had problems with landlords or had problems accessing healthcare. I was particularly struck by the level of distress this is causing elderly people who have contributed to this country for most of their lives and should never have been put in this situation.
Around 30 people came to the event in my constituency of Bristol West, more than half of them with cases which I will be working to resolve with my caseworkers. This was the first such meeting was held by an MP with several Home Office officials in attendance, giving people advice to help people resolve their immigration issues as quickly as possible.
The good news is that for many of these people, it looks like the situation will be quickly resolved, although the promise of sorting it out within two weeks has already been broken.
I will continue to hold the Government to account in Westminster and help people resolve individual problems in my constituency. Part of this work is helping constituents find help – last week I gave several interviews on this, including BBC Radio Bristol, Ujima and the Bristol Post.
How to get help
If you are concerned that you, or a family member, may be affected, and you live in Bristol West, I can help resolve this situation as quickly as possible. Please get in touch on 0117 3790981 or email Thangam.email@example.com
If you need more information, latest information is available on the their website. You can also contact the Home Office directly, on their free helpline (0800 678 1925) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The helpline is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sunday 10am to 4pm.
The full extent of the Windrush scandal is slowly coming to light. On Saturday 28 April I held a public meeting for those affected, and the stories I heard were...
Nurses carry out extremely demanding and emotionally difficult work, often for modest wages. So it seems particularly unfair that some nurses may leave their training with tens of thousands of pounds of debt.
Last week I met a nurse living in Bristol who highlighted to me one of the ways the Government is worsening the crisis in the NHS and making life harder for nurses.
The Government has already replaced the NHS bursary for everyday living costs and fees for undergraduate students with loans, which has led to a dramatic drop in the number of people to training to be a nurse. In addition to this, the Government are now proposing to remove the bursary for post graduate students from this September.
My constituent Michael Lawton recently completed a post-graduate course in nursing. He received a bursary to cover the £9,000 fees. He continued to work part-time to cover his living costs, while completing an extremely demanding course, involving more than 2,500 hours of clinical practice.
Michael was very concerned that postgraduate students entering nursing from this September may be saddled with many tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, up to a £100,000 in some cases. This is a crippling level of debt to repay on a nurse’s wage.
He told me, “without this bursary the post graduate route would not have been an option for me or my peers and sadly my dream of becoming a nurse would have remained just a dream. Even with the bursary, it was hard, but without it, doing training as a nurse would have been impossible.”
Postgraduate programmes attract students from a variety of backgrounds. The NHS needs nurses with a variety of skills other than nursing and the post graduate routes provide this.
And this is becoming ever more pressing. There are over 40,000 nursing vacancies currently within the United Kingdom. Figures published today show the number of nurses from EU countries leaving the UK has risen by 28% over the last year. Our exit from the EU and an aging population also look set to add to the staffing crisis. Removing this bursary will only worsen the situation.
I urge the government to reinstate bursaries for nurses’ training, and not remove the bursary for postgraduate. The good news is that some of my Labour colleagues are trying to fight this using a rarely-used mechanism known as ‘praying against’ regulations. I will be supporting this.
I believe we should be supporting nurses like Michael, who do an amazing job in very tough circumstances.
Nurses carry out extremely demanding and emotionally difficult work, often for modest wages. So it seems particularly unfair that some nurses may leave their training with tens of thousands of...
Bristol has been a crucible for music acts that are respected the world over: from Massive Attack to Portishead; from Roni Size & Reprazent to Kosheen. And key to that success are the live music venues – of all sizes – catering to all genres of music acting as a proving ground for talented and creative musicians to learn their trade and entertain generations of Bristolians. This in turn has made Bristol a destination for music fans, and our thriving nightlife attracts thousands of new people to the city every year.
But with this popularity comes challenges. As more people move to the city, there’s more pressure on housing – which can lead to music venues being made unviable due to the density of surrounding developments. Factor in rising business rates, and difficulties attracting funding and subsidies to support grassroots music, and music venues face a touch future in an area of rising costs and uncertain demand.
That’s why Kerry McCarthy MP and I convened a meeting today to bring together music venue owners in Bristol, campaigners looking to secure the future of the city’s night time economy, and key music industry bodies to discuss how we could help live music in Bristol to thrive. We were joined by owners of venues across Bristol and had Annie McGann from Save Bristol Nightlife, Mark Davyd from the Music Venue Trust, Paul Gray and Dave Webster from the Musicians Union, and Tom Kiehl from UK Music on our panel.
The debate we had was wide-ranging. We celebrated the fact the government have accepted the Agent of Change principle for planning (ensuring responsibility for soundproofing is placed on any developers who build homes near new properties). But it was acknowledged that government guidance has to make the responsibilities on planning authorities to uphold this principle unambiguous. It was also suggested that similar principles need to be applied in licensing and enforcement. We also heard many people testifying for the need for state funding for the arts to go to popular music venues and not just those who cater for classical audiences.
But one of the key themes that emerged from the discussion was how to ensure Bristol’s live music venues have a voice and representation in discussions surrounding the city’s evolution. Many venue owners commented that keeping their business afloat was more than a full-time effort, and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to keep on top of nearby planning applications, and attend meetings about Bristol’s future development plans. We identified the need for an independent representative who could be a voice for Bristol’s live music scene (in all its variety and diversity!) who could also inform venues of concerns or proposals that affect their future.
There's lots we can all do to support live music in Bristol. Like Save Bristol Nightlife on Facebook. Join your local resident's association and stand up for venues near you that you support. Let your local councillors know you value live music in our city. And make sure you visit and support the many venues we have across the city!
If you're a music venue owner in Bristol, make sure you contribute to the consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that the Agent of Change principle is enshrined in government guidance. In particular question 35 of the consultation is your opportunity to comment on the government's proposals to incorporate the principle into planning guidelines for local authorities.
Kerry and I will also be following up on what we learned from the discussion. We will be contacting PRS to encourage them to develop a system for royalties and fees that works for performers, writers and music venues. We'll continue to support the Agent of Change bill in Parliament. We will apply parliamentary pressure to the government to encourage them to support music education, the rights of musicians and the future of music venues. And we will be talking to organisations that could fund a post to represent live music venues in the city, and we will work with the Music Venues Trust to set this up.
I extend my thanks to all the panellists who took the time to join us, and I especially pay tribute to the venue owners who made it for 10:30am for a Friday morning after clearing up after last night’s gigs!
Bristol has been a crucible for music acts that are respected the world over: from Massive Attack to Portishead; from Roni Size & Reprazent to Kosheen. And key to that...
Many people in Bristol West have contacted me recently about the recent brutal attack on civilians in Syria and the UK’s response.
The bombing in Douma on 7 April that resulted in the deaths through chlorine gas of innocent civilians, including children, was horrific and those responsible must be held to account. I fully support the investigation being carried out into the attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). I want the inspectors to be allowed to do their work unhindered and I hope that President Assad and his allies give the OPCW every co-operation so that this is possible.
In 2015, the United Nations established a joint UN/OPCW inquiry into responsibility for toxic gas attacks. The inquiry found that the Syrian government had used the nerve agent sarin and had several times used chlorine as a weapon. It also found Islamic State used mustard gas. That inquiry ended in November 2017 after Russia blocked three attempts by the Security Council to renew its mandate. The use of chemical weapons is a particularly shocking war crime and that is why the international community long ago agreed to ban their use.
On the military action taken in response, I was very worried beforehand that it might lead to a wider conflict with Russia although it seems to have been carefully targeted at chemical weapons facilities and caused no casualties. We will see if it is effective or not in deterring the Syrian regime from further use of chemical weapons, but I am very strongly of the view that before authorising any UK military action, the Government should have consulted Parliament first – a point Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs made directly to the Prime Minister when she made her statement in the House of Commons. Parliament was given a say on UK military action in Syria in 2013 and 2015. I believe this convention must now be enshrined in law and have been calling for this for some time.
There are only victims in the war in Syria - the 400,000 or so people who have been killed, those who have been injured, and the more than half the population who have been forced to flee their homes.
That is why the humanitarian priorities must be for ceasefire, aid delivered to the people in Syria, help getting people out of Syria and a full and effective shared global response to refugees. As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, my focus is on building support amongst MPs for the UK to take a greater role in responding to refugees, challenging the government on their inadequate response and working with refugee organisations to coordinate campaigning to improve this response.
To that end, I have met with colleagues, the refugee sector and the Immigration Minister in the last week to challenge the government to take more refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the world where there is conflict. I challenged the Prime Minister on the UK’s response to the refugee crisis at the first available opportunity and will continue to do so.
Syrian people desperately need an end to the killing on all sides.
This will only come through a renewed international effort to achieve a ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement under the UN. Unfortunately, the problem is not a shortage of UN resolutions. There is a long list of draft UN Security Council resolutions that have been vetoed, or threatened with veto, or the resolutions on Syria that have been passed, including at least three that have called for a ceasefire.
President Assad is determined to pursue his war to the bitter end, supported by Russia and Iran, regardless of the cost to his citizens, who he has been bombing relentlessly. This has to end. There are also many other players involved in the war, which does not help the situation. If all national and international parties turned their energy to peace negotiations, this would truly give hope to the people of Syria.
I will continue to challenge the government, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and everyone else who can influence this outcome to do everything they can to end the war.
Many people in Bristol West have contacted me recently about the recent brutal attack on civilians in Syria and the UK’s response. The bombing in Douma on 7 April that resulted in...
Did you, or a family member, come to the UK from a Commonwealth country between 1948 and 1971? Have you been asked to prove your right to stay in the UK or had difficulties with pensions or healthcare?
You may have seen in the news that some people who came to Britain from Commonwealth countries many years ago are experiencing difficulties because of their immigration status.
People in Bristol have told me that the government has asked them to provide evidence that they have a right to live and work in the UK, which they cannot provide. In some cases, people have been denied access to healthcare, prevented from working or refused benefits when they’ve paid taxes all their lives. In the most shocking cases they’ve been detained and threatened with removal.
If this has happened to you, or you’re worried about having to prove your immigration status, I want to hear from you.
Public meeting for those who may be affected and their family members.
When: 2:30 to 4pm on Saturday 28 April.
Where: The King’s Centre on King Square, Bristol, BS2 8AZ.
I am organising this meeting with my casework team. We can give the latest update from the Home Office and discuss in person any concerns you might have. By hearing about your experiences will also help me to press the Government to resolve this situation.
On Monday 16 April I asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd: Why should the onus be on these honoured citizens to prove their right to reside in the UK?
I believe the burden of proof should instead rest with the Home Office. Indeed, the responsibility for this disgraceful situation must rest with the Government. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has blamed her own department, while Theresa May set this chain of events in motion by proudly announcing plans to make the UK a “hostile environment” when she was Home Secretary.
Did you, or a family member, come to the UK from a Commonwealth country between 1948 and 1971? Have you been asked to prove your right to stay in the...
This week is Parliamentary recess – which means there are no debates in the Houses of Parliament. So what do MPs do during this time?
Well, I spend a lot of recess days in Bristol West. This is valuable time when I try to help as many people as possible who are struggling with the impact of government policies, through my casework. Sometimes this is done via a constituency surgery, but often my team are able to resolve problems faster than waiting for a face-to-face appointment. Recess is also a good time to be out and about meeting different organisations, from businesses to schools, charities and community groups.
Casework and spending time with different organisations is how I find out what I need to say and do in Parliament so I can better represent the constituency.
To give you a flavour of what this means in practice, here is a selection of my appointments over 48 hours last week.
I started off Tuesday morning with one of my regular constituency surgeries, which are to help respond to individuals’ questions or problems. A typical surgery session may include a wide range of individual circumstances, from complex immigration cases to difficulties accessing benefits, housing problems to the concerns of local businesses. I also help people who are having a difficult time with a government agency such as HMRC or a local government licensing department. Sometimes people want to discuss policy changes they feel strongly about. This week this included discussions about agriculture policy and the medicines available on the NHS.
We followed up the surgery by submitting several Written Parliamentary Questions for Ministers. I also wrote to several government departments asking them to look into particular cases. I often follow up these meetings researching particular issues. Last week that included delving deeper on the process for medicines to get licensed and approved on the NHS.
A ride-along with the police
After the surgery, I was privileged to shadow officers from Avon and Somerset Constabulary as they went about a typical Tuesday evening shift. PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Richard Jones (who you may recognise if you watched episode 1 of Drugsland on BBC One) from the Neighbourhoods Team, and PC James Bowles and PC Jenny Daly, from Response, took me on their respective beats and answered my many questions.
Ben and Rich took me with them as they visited several extremely vulnerable people who have become victims of ‘cuckooing’ – where they are exploited, coerced, threatened and sometimes hurt, until their home is taken over by drug dealers. This is clearly a very distressing aspect of the modern drugs trade in our city, but I was pleased to see the force's commitment to protecting those who are caught up in it, as well as of course prioritising protection for the public. However, it was clear that this is really challenging work and shows the disturbing ways that Bristol’s drugs trade has evolved.
After this, I went out with James and Jenny from the Response team – officers who respond to calls from dispatch as emergencies are reported to the police. After attending an incident with them I saw how they arrest and book someone in to the custody suite in Keynsham. I learnt more about the dangers our police face every day, while keeping us safe, and how hard they work doing that despite funding cuts. I am backing the 'Protect the Protectors' Bill initiated by Holly Lynch MP to improve how we protect those who protect us.
The police are stretched at the moment, with officer numbers across the country at their lowest levels for 30 years. Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens recently warned that funding for the service is at a tipping point. Seeing the vital work that these officers do in the flesh has made me even more determined to stand up to the government and demand that our police forces are given the funding and resources they need to keep us all safe.
Investigating cancer care at Southmead Hospital
The next day I visited the Bristol Breast Care Centre and NGS Macmillan Wellbeing Centre at Southmead Hospital. The Centre has a huge personal significance for me, as I had treatment here as a patient in 2015 - 2016 and support from the Macmillan Centre. It was very moving to be able to return as an MP.
The Breast Care Centre routinely screens 60,000 women each year from Bristol and the surrounding area, and cares for around 10,000 patients who develop symptoms each year. The advantage of the single site is that diagnosis, treatment planning and many other aspects are all done in the one place, by staff who only work on breast cancer.
Emotional and practical help is on hand just next door thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers from Macmillan who support patients and their families. This facility was invaluable while I was undergoing treatment and it was wonderful to be welcomed back to meet other people benefitting from it.
Meeting victims of domestic abuse at Next Link
Later on Wednesday, I visited Next Link, which provides mental health help, domestic abuse support services and support for victims of rape and sexual abuse, across Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
I spent time meeting staff from the crisis team and then discussing the impact of current laws and policies with a group of staff and clients. We discussed the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill which is currently out for consultation, the ways court and police practices can affect victims and children and the effect of chronic housing shortages.
Talking Brexit with Bristol businesses
On Thursday afternoon I went to a meeting about our departure from the EU organised by Business West. It brought together large and small businesses from across the region.
I was concerned to hear how these companies still face a lot of uncertainty when we leave the EU – which is now less than a year away. The UK risks becoming much more challenging for any business which moves goods, parts or labour around the EU, especially when regulations change in the EU after we are no longer bound by them in the UK. This will create problems when exporting, in turn affecting job security, which has a further impact on the wider local economy.
I am trying to meet as many businesses and individuals as I can to help make them better informed and prepared. By building a clear picture of how these organisations could be affected by Brexit, I can challenge government to meet these needs. And I want to hear from you about how you or your business will be affected by Brexit. You can complete my latest Brexit survey here.
A time to take stock
These were not my only appointments this week. For example, I also gave the keynote speech at one of the regular meetings of the Women in Banking and Finance Network, about how I got into politics and what it’s like being a female MP.
During these 48 hours I also worked with my staff on responses to casework and policy questions coming in through emails and petitions.
Recess is also a good time to prepare for upcoming debates in Parliament. Last week I dedicated time to reading briefings on refugee policy as we have a Bill coming up on immigration. I am working with colleagues across both Houses of Parliament to try to get amendments put down to help improve refugees’ rights – watch this space...
Last but not least, I also launched a new Facebook campaign page for my work on improving Bristol’s air quality – join the conversation on #BristolBreathingBetter!
As you can see, recess periods are often busy, but they do allow us to take stock of the work we do as Members of Parliament, looking at the priority areas in our constituencies. I’d like to thank all the great people and organisations I have met this week. It is good to be working with you.
This week is Parliamentary recess – which means there are no debates in the Houses of Parliament. So what do MPs do during this time? Well, I spend a lot...
That’s what I call a good day’s work.
Today the UK took a step towards making it easier for refugees fleeing persecution, war and torture to be reunited with their families, as MPs voted 129 to 42 in support of the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill. I am proud to have played a part in this.
For MPs, Fridays are usually constituency days. Monday to Thursday I’m mostly in Parliament, so that leaves Thursday evening to Monday morning to visit schools, businesses, charities and all the other individuals and organisations I represent in Parliament and advocate for in Bristol West.
On some Fridays, Parliament does sit to hear Private Member’s Bills (PMBs). These are opportunities for individual MPs to try to change the law. Many big social changes were brought in by PMBs, such as legalising homosexuality. But they’re tough to get through, particularly without the support of the government of the day.
You need at least 100 MPs to vote to take the Bill to the next stage. You also need to make sure that other MPs who oppose your Bill don’t try to ‘talk it out’, by remaining on their feet, giving a long speech preventing the Bill from getting to a vote by running out of time or numbers of MPs. You also need the cooperation of whoever is in the chair – Mr Speaker, or one of the Deputy Speakers. And you really need a lot of public support. If you don’t have this, you won’t have enough MPs in the chamber, as each one will have to weigh up missing a constituency day against staying in Parliament to represent constituents on something they may not care about.
You may well find that even if you use all your knowledge of Parliamentary process, call in favours from your colleagues and do a brilliant job of making your arguments, many MPs will only make up their minds on the day about which way to vote.
Above all, it takes a team to get a Private Members’ Bill through.
This Bill had a team. First, and most importantly, refugees and refugee organisations from across the country wanted this Bill. If you’ve been granted asylum in this country, but your 18-year-old daughter or aging parent is still stuck in a conflict zone, you will be desperately worried about them and desperate to be reunited with them. It’s currently hard to do that. This Bill, if passed into law, will make it easier. These organisations did a great job of lobbying MPs across the country to get the numbers they needed.
Scottish Nationalist Angus Brendan MacNeil MP was the Bill’s sponsor. He had to make the opening speech, work with the refugee organisations to mobilise popular support and be on top of the arguments.
As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, I was the unofficial whip for the refugee organisations. As an official whip for the Opposition (Labour Party), I’ve learnt loads about how to do this effectively.
Most people think being a whip is about bossing colleagues around. It’s not. That would not work.
It’s about three things:
- Building good relationships with your colleagues and with MPs in other parties, using your powers of persuasion to influence them.
- Knowing how Parliament and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons work
- Being able to count!
And it was a privilege to be a whip on this Bill, using every bit of knowledge, all my powers of persuasion, a lot of counting, texting, phoning, checking and more counting. This work supported Angus’s lead and the refugees and refugee organisations who are campaigning to get the Bill through this stage of Parliament.
Angus is MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, a constituency formerly known in English as the Western Isles. I planned to speak so practiced this Gaelic name all morning. However, I did not speak in the end as it was more important to focus on getting enough MPs to vote.
There is still more work to do. The Bill has to go through line-by-line scrutiny in the committee stage, amendments, debates, further amendments in the House of Lords before it comes back to the final stages of the House of Commons.
As an official and unofficial whip, I’ll be helping get it through these processes. As chair of the APPG for Refugees I’ll be keeping colleagues and refugee organisations informed. As the MP for Bristol West, I’m very proud that the people I represent agree that this is important.
Every day in Parliament there’s the possibility of doing something special. Of changing people’s lives. And often it doesn’t work out the way I want it to, or in the ways the people of Bristol West have asked me to push for.
But sometimes it does work out. And today, by getting closer to changing the law so more refugee families can be reunited, it did.
That’s what I call a good day’s work. Today the UK took a step towards making it easier for refugees fleeing persecution, war and torture to be reunited with their...