Thangam In Parliament

On 17 October 2017 in questions to Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs ministers, and specifically during questions that focused on the disputed status of Kashmir, I asked what progress was being made to promote dialogue between India and Pakistan:

“There have been threats from both sides to target nuclear facilities, and talks at the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation have broken down, so what exactly will the Government and the Foreign Secretary do to defuse those tensions and promote dialogue?”

The Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field replied: “Obviously we will do our part within the international community—as a member of the P5 at the UN, for example—to encourage all sides to maintain a positive dialogue, but the pace and scope of that must be for India and Pakistan to determine. We cannot insist on that. As I have said, we will continue to discuss the Kashmiri issue at every opportunity, both here in London, and out in Islamabad or New Delhi.”


 

You can watch the short exchange here:

Questions on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 17 October 2017

On 17 October 2017 in questions to Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs ministers, and specifically during questions that focused on the disputed status of Kashmir, I asked what progress was being...

This morning in oral questions on International Trade, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment spectacularly sidestepped my question about giving Parliament the right to debate and vote on new trade agreements arising from our leaving the EU. 

My first question was: “What steps he is taking to ensure that the principles of fair trade, workers' rights and environmental protection are included in future trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU.”

(Because this was on the order paper, I only had to say 'question number four'.)

The Minister of State for Trade and Investment Greg Hands replied: The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally including successfully supporting workers’ rights and environmental protections as a member of the EU, and the UK will continue to play a leading role on these as we leave the EU. We are committed to upholding the UK’s high standards; our prosperity benefits from us reinforcing these high standards, not abandoning them.”

My follow-up question was: “I’m glad the White Paper mentions respecting the role of Parliament but, in order to protect workers’ right, fair trade and environmental rules, will he now guarantee to transfer to this house the rights our elected representatives in the European Parliament have to scrutinise, debate, amend and vote on trade agreements?

The minister answered: “The government has been absolutely clear on the importance of this House and this Parliament scrutinising trade agreements. But can I just mention to her the irony in her question? Only last month she voted against the EU Withdrawal Bill that actually wrote into domestic legislation forty years of workers’ right and environmental protection coming from Europe. She didn’t want to see that transfer and now today she’s calling for us to introduce European procedures. She even whipped her own side to vote against the Withdrawal Bill and I think her actions speak louder than her words.”

You can watch the full exchange here:

Questions on International Trade, 12 October 2017

This morning in oral questions on International Trade, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment spectacularly sidestepped my question about giving Parliament the right to debate and vote on... Read more

On Thursday 14 September, I was able to ask the Solicitor General what assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of prosecutions for hate crime towards EU citizens.

A number of groups, such as Stand Against Racism & Inequality (SARI), have told me they have seen an increase in reported hate crimes against EU citizens living in the UK since the EU referendum last June. I was pleased that the Solicitor General recognises the need to tackle online hate crime, and I look forward to hearing what work the government and police will do in this area.

It is important that all Bristol residents are able to have confidence that their safety is valued, and that the law will protect them. If you are the victim of a hate crime in Bristol of any kind, please report it to Avon and Somerset Police. You can find more information on their website at https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/hatecrime.

Thangam Debbonaire

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of prosecutions for hate crime towards EU citizens.

The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland)

The Crown Prosecution Service does not disaggregate its data by victims’ nationalities, but it has a strong record in tackling racially and religiously aggravated hate crime. In 2015-16, there were just over 13,000 prosecutions for this type of hate crime. That was 84% of total hate-crime prosecutions, showing a 1.9% increase on the previous year.

Thangam Debbonaire

I am grateful for that response, but what I really need to know is what steps the Solicitor General will take to reassure my constituents, who tell me of increased hate crime directed at EU citizens. ​Local organisations that tackle hate crime, such as SARI—Stand Against Racism & Inequality—tell me the same thing. What will he be doing to reassure my constituents that their safety is valued and that the law will protect them?

You can watch the exchange below:

Question to the Solicitor General on Thursday 14 September 2017

On Thursday 14 September, I was able to ask the Solicitor General what assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level...

On Thursday 14 September I asked the government to take action and reverse the decline in young people taking qualifications in music in school.

Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications showed there was a 7.7% drop in students in England taking GCSE music this year compared to 2016. There was a 9.4% drop in A-Level music entries in the same period.

I am concerned that the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) - a performance measure for schools introduced by Michael Gove - is leading to schools narrowing their curriculum and causing them to sideline valuable creative subjects. The decline in music education is hugely damaging for the future of our creative sector - a study by UK Music showed that live music added £123 million to Bristol's economy alone in 2015.

Thangam Debbonaire

Following the creation of the Ebacc, the take-up of music education is going down. Given the value of the UK’s world-leading music industry to our economy—it was £123 million in Bristol alone in 2015—will the Minister please listen to the music industry, reverse the Ebacc and invest in music teaching?

John Glen

I acknowledge the challenges to arts, cultural and music education, and I am looking at what can be done, through the cultural development fund, with the Arts Council to find ways of promoting increased participation. I am in active dialogue with other Departments over how we can deal with this reality that does exist.

You can watch the exchange below:

Question to the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Thursday 14 September 2017

On Thursday 14 September I asked the government to take action and reverse the decline in young people taking qualifications in music in school. Figures from the Joint Council for...

On Tuesday 12 September, I participated in a Westminster Hall debate about the rights of UK citizens living in the EU.

My Labour colleague Daniel Zeichner had secured this timely debate, and I raised just one example of the kind of circumstances Bristol West residents have told me their families are facing.

Many people have told me their concerns about the impact Brexit will have on family life and their careers. If you have similar worries, please let me know by completing my latest Brexit survey.

Thangam Debbonaire

I apologise, Mr Streeter; I too cannot stay for the whole debate. A constituent of mine has told me about her son, who is married to a German woman and lives in Germany with her and their two young children. She says that it is all very unsettling. Does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of legal certainty is causing great distress, disrupting family life and interrupting people’s ability to pursue their careers?

Daniel Zeichner (Labour, Cambridge)

I agree. The human cost has been completely underestimated. Whatever the final outcomes, the stress and unhappiness being caused now are real.​

You can watch my intervention in the debate here:

Westminster Hall Debate on Protecting the Rights of UK Nationals Living in the EU

On Tuesday 12 September, I participated in a Westminster Hall debate about the rights of UK citizens living in the EU. My Labour colleague Daniel Zeichner had secured this timely...

On Tuesday 5 September, I asked the government what it was doing to retain experienced prison officers in our prison service. The minister pointed to a net increase in prison officers compared to last year, but this does not solve the problem of the expertise and knowledge being lost from our prisons through 1,770 officers leaving last year.

It is vital that we are able to retain and develop talented public sector staff. The government needs to ensure that prisons are safe places to work, and that staff are properly rewarded for their efforts to protect and rehabilitate inmates.

Thangam Debbonaire

While I welcome the Minister’s news about increased prison officer numbers in HMP Bristol in my constituency, I am concerned by the Department’s figures, which show that 1,770 experienced prison officers left the service last year. What is the Minister doing urgently to retain valuable experienced prison officers for the longer term?

Sam Gyimah

It is always the case that people will leave an organisation voluntarily or due to retirement or—[Interruption.] May I finish my point? In some cases, people may leave because they have not been too happy with what has been happening in our Prison Service. A retention plan is available, but the numbers that I gave earlier—868 net new prison officers so far this year—take account of people leaving the service, so we are actually up on last year’s figures.

You can watch the exchange below:

Question to the Justice Minister on Tuesday 5 September 2017

On Tuesday 5 September, I asked the government what it was doing to retain experienced prison officers in our prison service. The minister pointed to a net increase in prison...

The recent ‘Refugees Welcome?’ report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees (which I chair) highlighted several problems faced by people in the UK who have been given refugee status. They only have 28 days to find accommodation and to access public services before government support is withdrawn, yet, for example, experience delays in receiving documents and a lack of employment and skills support. Refugees who contributed evidence to our inquiry also spoke of their difficulties in setting up bank accounts promptly – a problem that hinders their ability to make important contributions to our society.

This week, in topical questions to the Treasury, I was able to raise this issue with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and was pleased to secure the offer of a subsequent meeting to discuss it.

The exchange was as follows:

Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West, Labour)

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, I am told by refugees that they are desperate to work once they have achieved such status, but are hindered by various fixable problems in the system. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to make it easier for refugees to have bank accounts?

Stephen Barclay, Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Lady will be aware that when the Home Office grants refugee status, it includes the biometric residence permit as proof of the holder’s right to stay, but I am very happy to discuss with the hon. Lady any further measures that she feels would be helpful.

You can watch the exchange here: 

Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Treasury team on 18 July 2017 18

The recent ‘Refugees Welcome?’ report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees (which I chair) highlighted several problems faced by people in the UK who have been given refugee...

On Monday 10 July, Liam Fox MP - the Secretary of State for International Development gave a statement on a High Court ruling which concluded that the government was acting lawfully in granting export licences for UK arms. At the heart of this case is a concern about weapons that the UK has supplied to Saudi Arabia, and whether those weapons have been used in a manner which breaches international humanitarian law. In particular, the use of UK-manufactured arms in the conflict in Yemen has come under close scrutiny.

Whilst the High Court found that the Secretary of State had acted legally in granting arms export licences in this conflict, the case raises important questions about the use and sale of British armaments in international conflicts - especially where there are suspicions that international humanitarian law is being breached. I asked the Secretary of State why the Department of International Trade does not take more notice when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reports that certain countries appear to commit infractions of international humanitarian law.

Thangam Debbonaire

Will the Secretary of State please enlighten us about why he does not take more notice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s reports on countries of concern for human rights and repression?

Liam Fox (Secretary of State for International Trade)

Perhaps we are talking about a different judgment, because this judgment makes it very clear that we did take very clear account of the advice given by the Foreign Office and, indeed, that we sought further advice from the Foreign Office when it was necessary to do so.

You can watch the exchange below:

Question to the Secretary of State for International Trade on 10 July 2017

On Monday 10 July, Liam Fox MP - the Secretary of State for International Development gave a statement on a High Court ruling which concluded that the government was acting...

On Monday 3 July, I asked Sajid Javid MP – Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – why the government had not provided resources to local authorities to retrofit sprinklers in tower blocks. This was a key recommendation of the coroner’s report into the Lakanal House fire in 2009. However, successive ministers have taken little action to help local councils to retrofit sprinkler systems.

 

Over the past two weeks I have visited tower blocks across Bristol West with Avon Fire Service and Bristol City Council. They have done an excellent job of reassuring residents and providing advice on fire safety (and I’d encourage anyone who is worried about fire safety to book a fire safety check with Avon Fire Service). But a number of residents are still clearly concerned and the government could choose to act now and offer to fund the retro fitting of sprinkler systems. Sadly the Secretary of State chose not to take the opportunity to provide that reassurance.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

Over the past few weeks, I have been visiting tower blocks across my constituency with fire officers and housing officers. Residents remain very, very concerned. Frankly, they do not understand why the Government and successive Ministers appear to have ignored the recommendations of the coroner’s report on sprinklers following the Lakanal House fire. I would suggest that Ministers who are shaking their heads try visiting my constituents, standing on the 15th floor, and explaining in person to those residents why there are no sprinklers.

 

Sajid Javid

It is good that the hon. Lady has been visiting tower blocks in Bristol and I hope that she has been able to reassure some of her constituents. It is good to have MPs’ involvement. However, she is wrong about the recommendations on sprinklers in the coroner’s report on Lakanal House because they were implemented fully.

You can watch the exchange here:

Question to Sajid Javid on Grenfell Tower statement on 3 July 2017

On Monday 3 July, I asked Sajid Javid MP – Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – why the government had not provided resources to local authorities to...

Last night I contributed to one of several debates on the Queen’s Speech taking place over the course of this week. In my speech, I highlighted climate change, refugee policy, and putting justice at the heart of international trade agreements as issues which should be top priority for the government as we think about our place in the world over the coming months and years. I have written more broadly about my thoughts on Theresa May’s threadbare programme here, but you can read or watch my speech in last night’s debate below.

The people of Bristol West are, mostly, remainers and proud of it, and we want the closest possible relationship with the EU, but my constituents also want me to press the Government on global concerns—climate change, trade justice and the refugee crisis. Climate change is a clear and present danger, and global temperatures have risen to 1° warmer than pre-industrial revolution levels. Change across the world is accelerating and our commitment under the Paris 2015 agreement is to limit further rises to no more than 1°. We need carbon dioxide emissions to peak before 2020 and fall to zero by 2070 by weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, and we need to press our international ally across the Atlantic also to honour its commitment.

An unprecedented 63.5 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide due to conflict. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, I spend a lot of time on refugee policy, but only a fraction of refugees ever come to the UK. The global system is broken. Designed for cold war circumstances, it leaves refugees either trapped in their own country or stuck for years in camps in neighbouring countries, without work. Small wonder that some will, out of desperation, risk very dangerous journeys to other shores.

This is also economically and geopolitically dangerous. If refugees are not allowed to work and cannot provide for themselves, they also lose skills and experience, which will be necessary to rebuild their own countries post-conflict to help return them to stability.

In Uganda, refugees are allowed and supported to work or to start businesses. We have much to learn from other countries about responding to refugees, and we also have much to contribute.

The Secretary of State referred earlier to doing trade deals for the benefit of one country only. On behalf of the people of Bristol West, I urge him and his colleagues to think more widely and about least-developed countries in particular, and to integrate environmental protection, workers’ rights, human rights and the impact on developing countries into all trade deals.

In conclusion, we in Bristol West want the Government not to become so distracted by Brexit that they neglect vital action on climate change, we want reform of the international refugee system, and we want trade agreements to contribute to, not detract from, social justice, because this beautiful planet and everything and everyone on it, from humans to microbes, cannot wait.

Response to the Queen's Speech - 26 June 2017

Last night I contributed to one of several debates on the Queen’s Speech taking place over the course of this week. In my speech, I highlighted climate change, refugee policy,...

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