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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...

Parliament was dissolved on Wednesday 3 May until after the General Election on 8 June. This means I am currently not the Member of Parliament for Bristol West. 

Obviously, a lot of what currently appears on this website was written between May 2015 and April 2017, while I was the MP. But anything I post on this non-parliamentary website over the next six weeks will be as Labour's candidate seeking re-election in the General Election, not as MP. 

My parliamentary email account is now frozen, but you can contact me on my campaign email address: thangam_debbonaire@labour.org.uk

 

The dissolution of Parliament

Parliament was dissolved on Wednesday 3 May until after the General Election on 8 June. This means I am currently not the Member of Parliament for Bristol West.  Obviously, a...

Today, I’m proud to launch the "Refugees Welcome?" report - the product of a public inquiry conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees which I chair. Refugees from across the country shared their experiences with the inquiry, and the report highlights a clear two-tier system in how we treat refugees which is leaving thousands homeless and destitute.

We found that those who arrive in Britain through a resettlement scheme receive more support than those who are given refugee status after they arrive as asylum seekers. For instance, when someone is given refugee status, they have only 28 days to find accommodation and to access public services before government support is withdrawn.

This can't go on.

The testimony I heard from refugees who contributed evidence to the inquiry was powerful, including those who I met during the enquiry’s visit to the Malcolm X Centre in Bristol. And it was frustrating to meet so many people capable of making important contributions to our society thwarted by delays in receiving documents, patchy English language provision, and a lack of employment and skills support.

Creating a two-tier system for refugees, loading the dice against people who come here to build a new life, is not just the wrong thing to do, but a costly missed opportunity for Britain. Most refugees want to return home when the conflict is over but they want to contribute to this country in the meantime. These are often skilled professionals and, by definition, they all have strength and determination to offer.

The report recommends:

  • A Minister for Refugees overseeing a National Refugee Integration Strategy.
  • Increasing the “move on” period to 50 days to give families enough time to find adequate housing once they are granted refugee status.
  • A Home Office review to examine why there has been a sharp increase in the number of asylum applications that aren’t being decided within the target time of six months.
  • A strategy to increase provision of English language teaching.

I’m very grateful to all those who provided evidence for the report, especially refugees in Bristol who spoke so movingly about their experiences. I hope that this report will help to put an end to this unfair two-tier system, and force the government to look afresh at the welcome we give to people who seek sanctuary in our country.

Media coverage of the report today includes:

BBC News: Two-tier system leaving refugees in UK destitute, says report

The Guardian: Two-tier refugee system leaves many destitute and homeless, say MPs

The Times Red Box: We must fix two tier system that stops refugees contributing to Britain

Daily Express: Thousands of refugees risk homelessness because the government doesn’t provide enough help

Independent: Refugees arriving in UK immediately becoming homeless once they're granted asylum, report finds

Huffington Post: Refugees ‘Consigned To Homeless And Hunger By Government Policy’, Parliamentary Group Says

The National: UK can learn lessons from Scotland in supporting refugees, say MPs  

Refugees Welcome? Today's landmark cross-party report

Today, I’m proud to launch the "Refugees Welcome?" report - the product of a public inquiry conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees which I chair. Refugees from...

Election night 2015

As your MP, I have always stood up for what is best for Bristol West. And I always will.

Theresa May says she wants to make this election about Brexit: bring it on! My constituents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and I represented them in Parliament by voting against Article 50. My constituents don’t want this clueless government to inflict damage on our environment, our jobs, and our rights through the ‘Hard Brexit’ this government wants. As the MP I’m campaigning against this and for the best possible deal for Bristol. This election is the chance for people in Bristol West to tell the Tories loudly and clearly that they don’t want our country to career recklessly towards a hard Brexit.

Labour offers people an alternative government, built on fairness for everyone. We need a government which can rebuild our economy, tackle climate change, protect our vital services, and lead the country confidently into the challenges of the 21st century. Bristol West needs an MP who knows how to represent their interests in Parliament – I am that MP now and I hope to be after 8 June.

I will be doing everything I can in this campaign to help Jeremy Corbyn and the whole Labour team to make the case for a Labour government.

Fighting for Bristol West - my statement on the General Election

As your MP, I have always stood up for what is best for Bristol West. And I always will. Theresa May says she wants to make this election about Brexit:...

Last Friday, I was pleased to host representatives from major employers in Bristol West for a roundtable discussion on barriers to employment for those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

The National Autistic Society’s recent research into autistic people’s experiences of work highlights some stark inequalities. Just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time employment. Furthermore, those with ASDs often experience negative treatment at work: 48 per cent of respondents reported that they’d been bullied or harassed at work.

There has been an increased awareness of the needs of those who have an autistic spectrum disorder. Yet the National Autistic Society has shown that many employers feel under-equipped to support staff, with 60 per cent of employers stating they didn’t know where to go for support and advice about employing an autistic person.

I was pleased so many large employers were able to join the discussion – many of whom had already taken great steps to recruit and support workers with ASDs. Representatives from Rolls Royce, Airbus, Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol, Network Rail, North Bristol NHS trust, Avon Fire and Rescue and Lloyds Banking Group all attended and spoke about what support their organisations put in place for autistic staff.

I was particularly pleased to work with the National Autistic Society’s Henry Barnes for the event, and to hear from a local worker on the autistic spectrum. Henry particularly emphasised that individual needs should be attended to, and that even positive myths surrounding ASDs can have the unintended effect of stereotyping and glossing over needs.

Autistic people have important skills they can contribute to a workplace, and many of the employers present shared great success stories from the processes they have put in place.

Conversations about autism and supporting autistic adults need to include employment. It was great to hear so many local employers keen to learn more about autism and how to support workers with ASDs in the workplace.

I’ll continue to campaign for Bristol to become a truly autism-friendly city, and I’m delighted that so many of Bristol’s employers are so keen to join me in achieving this goal.

Tackling the autism employment gap

Last Friday, I was pleased to host representatives from major employers in Bristol West for a roundtable discussion on barriers to employment for those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). The...

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