Thangam In Parliament

On Wednesday 22 February, I asked the Secretary of State for International Development about the humanitarian crisis on the Syria/Jordan border. Refugees have gathered in makeshift camps in an area known as the ‘berm’, named for its distinctive raised barrier of sand, which marks a no man’s land between the two countries.

 

Thangam Debbonaire:

“I recently had a very helpful meeting with one of the DFID Ministers about the situation in the berm—an area of no man’s land between Jordan and Syria. I am aware of how much the Government are doing with aid, but will the Secretary of State please update us on the humanitarian situation in the berm and what else is being done and could be done to help those refugees?”

 

Secretary of State Priti Patel:

“I thank the hon. Lady for raising the appalling situation in the berm; it is a devastating situation. She asked about what we are doing. Obviously, work has taken place through our agencies and partners, and more directly with the Jordanian Government. We are working with them in a very difficult, hostile terrain and territory in order to ensure that people and children are being protected and that they are getting access to food and water, which, frankly, is a major priority in the berm.”

 

You can watch the exchange here:

 

Question to the Secretary of State for International Development on 22 February 2017

On Wednesday 22 February, I asked the Secretary of State for International Development about the humanitarian crisis on the Syria/Jordan border. Refugees have gathered in makeshift camps in an area known...

On Tuesday 21 February, I asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson what assessment he had made of the implications of the policies of the new US administration for UK foreign policy. I followed up with this question that related specifically to the relationship with the EU, after Brexit. See what you think of the answer. 

Thangam Debbonaire: "I am pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary’s reports of the discussions he had with the Secretary of State, but will he tell us a bit more about how he plans to manage the important tripartite relationship between the UK, the EU and the US, post-Brexit?"

Boris Johnson: "The hon. Lady asks a good question. Obviously, on some things we will differ from our American friends—we have just had an example of that—but on some areas we will perhaps wish to stiffen the spines of our European friends. I can think of issues such as sanctions over Ukraine, on which some EU members are not in quite the same space as we are. As would be expected, the policy of the United Kingdom would be to stick up for UK interests and values and—if I can use a bit of jargon—to triangulate dynamically between the two." 

You can watch the exchange here:

 

Oral question to the Foreign Secretary on 21 February 2017

On Tuesday 21 February, I asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson what assessment he had made of the implications of the policies of the new US administration for UK foreign policy....

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Today I contributed to a debate held in the House of Commons in response to an urgent question tabled by Yvette Cooper MP regarding the closure of the Dubs programme for unaccompanied child refugees. There will also be a posting on my main blog about this important issue; below you can read the text of my contribution to the debate or watch the video at the bottom of this page.


Thangam Debbonaire: A two-tier – in fact a multi-tier – system in response to refugees and asylum seekers is emerging with incomprehensible contradictions and many vulnerabilities, particularly for children. In order to live up to the well-deserved reputation – that we should be proud of as a nation – for those fleeing war and persecution who see us as a place of safe haven; and to do our best for the fair share of thousands who are arriving in Europe – desperate but with huge potential to offer this country – will she commit to appointing a Minister for Refugees and Integration?

Amber Rudd: I have a substantial ministerial team and an excellent immigration minister. I don’t see the need at the moment for additional ministers, but of course I will keep it under review.

Urgent Question on the Closure of the Dubs Programme for Unaccompanied Child Refugees

Today I contributed to a debate held in the House of Commons in response to an urgent question tabled by Yvette Cooper MP regarding the closure of the Dubs programme...

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Today I was present at Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for International Trade, holding Liam Fox to account on the government’s priorities in trade negotiations. See below for the text of my contribution or watch the video at the bottom of this page.

Thangam Debbonaire: The 21st Century offers us an opportunity to build on our pride and identity as a nation which promotes human rights, workers' rights, and environmental protection, all part of fair trade principles. How will the government build on this part of our national identity in trade negotiations?

Liam Fox: We are already playing a full part in that. Britain played a major role in the WTO's arrangement which is going to come into effect in just a short time, the Trade Faciliation Agreement. That is going to be worth about £70bn to the global economy, and for some of the poorest countries – such as in Sub-Saharan Africa – that will be worth about £10bn. We made a major contribution to that and should be very proud of it.

Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for International Trade, 9 February 2017

Today I was present at Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for International Trade, holding Liam Fox to account on the government’s priorities in trade negotiations. See below for...

A vital part of fulfilling the aim of the Girl Guiding's campaign to end violence against women and girls is to challenge the attitudes and behaviour of perpetrators of these crimes. Today I asked Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Minister for Women and Equalities, what the government is doing to ensure national coverage for high-quality, accredited, community-based perpetrator programmes. 

You can watch the exchange here, and see if you agree with me that the minister totally avoided answering my question. 

Oral question to the Minister for Women and Equalities

A vital part of fulfilling the aim of the Girl Guiding's campaign to end violence against women and girls is to challenge the attitudes and behaviour of perpetrators of these...

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Holding the Government to account on their plan for Brexit continues to be one of my top priorities. Today I was present at Oral Questions for the Department for Exiting the European Union, and asked questions to the Secretary of State, David Davis MP.

My first question was:

When [The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU] plans to publish the Government's plan for the UK's relationship with the EU after the UK has left the EU.

I also asked a follow-up question:

Can the Government please explain to the aerospace industry, the health service, the universities and other employers in my constituency – which account for thousands of jobs – how they should have confidence in this country’s ability to negotiate beneficial international trade deals when we have barely any specialist trade negotiators and have had no experience of negotiating trade agreements for decades?

There is a video below of my contributions and the answers I received from the Secretary of State:

Oral Questions on Exiting the EU – 26 January 2016

Holding the Government to account on their plan for Brexit continues to be one of my top priorities. Today I was present at Oral Questions for the Department for Exiting...

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Yesterday I made a speech as part of Labour’s Opposition Day Debate on the crisis in funding for the NHS and social care. My speech specifically focused on loneliness in older people, which is tragically widespread in our society. You can read or watch my speech below.

I was going to speak about the effects of cuts to health and social care funding on hospitals and healthcare in the south-west, but all the things I wanted to say have been eloquently said by other hon. Members. So, in keeping with other speeches I have made recently, I have decided not to repeat what has already been said, to scrub all of that from my speech and to talk about something completely different: the health consequences of loneliness in older people; the impact of funding cuts to NHS and social care systems on loneliness; and the impact of older people’s loneliness, in turn, on the healthcare system.

In the run-up to Christmas, I was regularly blinking back tears on the underground whenever I saw the advert from Age UK, which I am sure many hon. Members will have seen, which had the slogan, “No one should have no one at Christmas”. For Members who might not remember it, it looked something like the Age UK report “No one should have no one”, which I have here and which I re-read yesterday. It was published in December last year and is about loneliness in old age. Reading that report brought home to me just how much loneliness affects older people and how funding cuts that may appear small and insignificant can have a cumulative effect on older people.

A constituent illustrated that to me recently when she came to talk to me about her worries for the older people she cares for as a very low-paid care assistant. She was not complaining about her pay, by the way—I am just making that observation. She told me that she regularly stays well beyond her low-paid hours because she feels the people she is working with need her. That is partly because they have greater care needs than can be dealt with in the time allowed, and also because they are lonely. As I said, she was not complaining, but if we starve social care of funding, people such as her will be subsidising the health and social care system. She is doing that voluntarily, but things should not be left to chance like that.

The Age UK report mentions the survey that it carried out of 1,000 GP practices as part of its campaign in 2013 to end loneliness, which found that nearly 90% of GP practices felt that some patients were coming in because they were lonely. The report also points out that funding cuts mean that meals on wheels, day centres, ​libraries, community centres, lunch clubs and public toilets have been cut or closed in recent years. It points out that all of that decreases the opportunities for older people to get out, socialise, take care of their health, eat well and exercise, which increases their loneliness and isolation and damages their health.

What does that have to do with chronic serious illnesses? Age UK carried out an evidence-based review for its loneliness report, and it found that chronic loneliness increases the risk of serious illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, depression and dementia, as well as making it much harder for people to get out and receive help or do things that might prevent those conditions from getting worse, such as exercise or having a good diet.

I pay tribute today to all the people across the country who give their time as volunteers, staff and fundraisers for charities such as Age UK nationally and locally, and in Bristol, for Bristol Ageing Better, which does so much to combat loneliness in older people.

Let me read one example from the Age UK report:

“Arthur’s son was worried that his health was deteriorating because of the many hours he was spending alone in his flat in sheltered accommodation. He was unwilling to participate in group activities because of difficulties hearing. He had had a busy social life, but most of his friends had died...Age UK introduced him to Paul, who had had to retire early after an accident and was feeling increasingly isolated...They play dominoes and cribbage. They dissect the latest football match and reminisce about their time in the building trade—swapping funny stories of mishaps and adventures. Paul has provided Arthur with good company and a ‘link’ back to the job he loved. Arthur has helped restore Paul’s sense of purpose and self-worth.”

That example, and the many others in the report, show just how much work on loneliness can help to improve older people’s health and to reduce the costs on our health and social care system.

It is vital for the Secretary of State to address what the CEOs and staff in NHS hospitals and primary care in my area have told me about the impact that cuts to social care have on delaying discharge from hospital, and I hope that he does so. I also want the Minister to tell us exactly how he and the Secretary of State are going to lead the way in providing us with a fully integrated and fully funded health and social care and mental healthcare service.

I want us all to read Age UK’s report and follow the recommendations that it makes for MPs, among others. It asks Members of Parliament to

“Find out…about loneliness among older people in your constituency…raise awareness…Become an Age Champion”,

and to encourage our own political parties to do more. It asks us to

“Take steps to put loneliness in later life on the Government’s agenda”—

I hereby do that—

“and hold them to account for progress”,

which I will continue to do. It asks us to

“Make the case for investment in local community resources to support sustainable, long term action to help lonely older people, wherever they may be.”

I urge the Government to take note of that. Finally, it asks us to:

“Support the work of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness”,

which is launching shortly. I would like us all to take those words to heart.​

 

My speech on NHS and Social Care Funding

Yesterday I made a speech as part of Labour’s Opposition Day Debate on the crisis in funding for the NHS and social care. My speech specifically focused on loneliness in...

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An integral aspect of an effective, accessible and sustainable transport system for the West of England in the coming decades will be improvements to our rail services. The Government ought to be supporting vital infrastructure investment in our region, however we were all recently appalled to find out that the electrification of the Great Western railway between London and Bristol was being proposed.

The delay to the electrification works has provoked wider uncertainty in this area. There are other improvements to rail services in Bristol that are badly needed, including those which will support disabled people to use our railways. Labour’s Equality Act introduced duties on how services such as railways must be accessible to disabled people, however not all rail stations are currently complying with these duties. This includes Lawrence Hill station, where the southbound platform does not have step-free access to street level.

Today I asked a question to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Transport, Paul Maynard MP, about this issue, and secured a commitment from him to meet with me to discuss the matter further. You can read or watch my contribution below:

Thangam Debbonaire: Confusion and frustration abounds in my constituency in the Lawrence Hill area in relation to step-free access and disability access improvements to the Lawrence Hill station. Local people have been frustrated by the works and there are rumours now abounding that the works are being cancelled, postponed or just stopped.  I wonder if the minister would agree to meet with me and visit Lawrence Hill station to talk with local residents about the situation and preferably clear the matter up right now.

Paul Maynard: I'm not familiar with the exact details right now but I'm more than happy to meet with her to discover more as to what is occurring.

Disability Access for Local Rail Services

An integral aspect of an effective, accessible and sustainable transport system for the West of England in the coming decades will be improvements to our rail services. The Government ought...

On Monday 19 December, I spoke in a debate about the implications for science and research of leaving the EU. It was one of a number of debates that will give MPs the opportunity to debate Brexit and the impact it will have on our country.

You can read my speech here or, at the bottom of this page, watch a recording of my contribution.


I rise to speak in support of UK science and research, particularly in the two world-class universities in Bristol – the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England – one of which is in my constituency and the other just outside it, as well as the business and science incubators, the catapults and the other institutions that value and need a good research environment in the European Union.

Since the referendum I have been talking with the universities about the impact on science and research of a possible exit from the EU. The science carried out at the University of Bristol is pioneering, from better early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease to tackling antimicrobial resistance; from food security to understanding how we can prevent and stop violence against women. The University of Bristol has leading researchers doing vital work.

Meanwhile, across the city in UWE, work is being done on big data, developing flood resilience, improving air quality, shaping sustainable suburbs and improving labour productivity. I am sure we all agree that those are important things.

If I may join in the Higgs boson name-check, Mr Higgs was in the class of 1946 in Cotham School in Bristol West. The school has educated not just Mr Higgs but my nephews and nieces and the sons of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), so I am very fond of it. I am glad to be able to get a Higgs mention in.

There are five key issues of concern for science and research, and they are linked; no single strand stands alone. Those issues, which were set out in the recent report by the Science and Technology Committee, are: funding – that has been mentioned quite a lot today, so I will not dwell on it – people, collaboration and influence, regulation, and facilities.

As Professor Ian Diamond, Chair of the Universities UK research policy network, explained, “There is no point having a regulatory framework if you do not have the talent; there is no point having the talent if you do not have access to the grants.”

Kevin Baughan, Chief Development Officer at Innovate UK, said: “We cannot really look at each of those parts individually. We need a strategy and a plan that allows us to move the whole ecosystem forward, because together they take world-class science and turn it into jobs and growth; and together they allow businesses to export, to compete in wider markets and to build broader partnerships.”

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), I am in favour of science for science’s sake, but I think it is critical that we are clear about the economic benefits of having world-class universities. The presence of the universities in Bristol contributes such a lot, as do the staff and the students, whether they decide to stay on after graduation or beyond the life of their research project. Some are telling me that they do not want to stay, and they feel as though they might as well take an offer from a university in Berlin, Bonn or Copenhagen. Some who have families or partners from the EU say they no longer feel welcome. That is of great worry to me.

Universities UK has said that it wants the Government to recognise that our universities are one of our best exports. They contribute to the economy directly through income generated, and indirectly through longer-term contribution to knowledge. I am not going to say anything else from that page of my speech, because someone else has already said it. I think it is good to junk things when they have already been said.​

I have every confidence that the universities in Bristol can compete, whatever the circumstances they find themselves in, but the issues of concern that I have mentioned need to be tackled. As well as big universities such as the ones in my constituency, I am concerned about smaller universities, which often specialise in a particular field but which are less well-equipped than the larger universities, with their economies of scale, to weather any storm arising from the uncertainty about Brexit.

In Aberystwyth, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences – I have to declare an interest, because my niece is a PhD student there – conducts pioneering research into topics from ways to help crops to resist disease to finding out what microbes live in glaciers; that is the project my niece is involved in. Other small institutes such as the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, various institutes for music and the arts, the School of Oriental and African Studies and the Royal Agricultural University all have unique contributions to make. I worry that their size will make it harder for them to weather the storm.

I urge the Government to consider the various options for our relationship with the EU through the lens of what will make it easiest for our universities – of all shapes, sizes and specialisms – to continue to be the world-class institutes that they are. What agreements can we make on free movement of students and researchers? I might as well be honest and open, as I have been in every debate on Brexit so far, about the fact that I am a passionate believer in the value of the free movement of people, and I think that universities have a strong case to make for why that should apply to them.

What is the best regulatory framework for us to be in in order to collaborate with other EU universities? How can we make sure that British people are not delayed access to new medical treatments because of different rules? One way to ensure that the Government keep those things in mind is, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) mentioned, to have the voice of science in the process. I am deeply concerned by the fact that, as the report by the Science and Technology Committee mentions, the post of chief scientific adviser at the Department for Exiting the European Union has not yet been advertised. I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on that.

Finally, will the Minister tell us at the end of the debate whether the Government have considered the other recommendations in the report by the Science and Technology Committee? Will the Government commit to keeping student numbers out of the immigration targets and caps? If they have not yet prepared a response to the Select Committee report, when will they do so? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some – or, ideally, all – of these questions, because the production of knowledge is one of the things we do best in this country and one of the things I am proudest of in my constituency.

 

Exiting the EU: science and research

On Monday 19 December, I spoke in a debate about the implications for science and research of leaving the EU. It was one of a number of debates that will...

On 19 December 2016 The Prime Minister made a statement about the previous week’s European Council. She made clear that the main focus of this Council was “rightly, on how we can work together to address some of the most pressing challenges that we face. These include responding to the migration crisis, strengthening Europe’s security and helping to alleviate the suffering in Syria. As I have said, for as long as the UK is a member of the EU we will continue to play our full part, and that is what this Council showed, with the UK making a significant contribution on each of those issues.”

I was able to ask her the following question: “I am very glad to hear about the additional aid being granted to Syrian refugees massing at the Jordanian border, but what pressure or assistance are European leaders agreeing to use to help Jordan to process the hundreds of thousands of refugees trapped in the no man’s land—the Berm—between Syria and Jordan?”

Her response was: “Obviously, part of the work that we are doing as the United Kingdom, and that other individual member states are doing, is putting aid into countries like Jordan to help them in dealing with those refugees—particularly those refugees who are already in Jordan. As I indicated, some of the money that we will be making available will be specifically for those who are now massing on the Jordanian border.

The European Council 2016

On 19 December 2016 The Prime Minister made a statement about the previous week’s European Council. She made clear that the main focus of this Council was “rightly, on how...

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