Thangam In Parliament
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 They only have 28 days to find accommodation and to access public services before government support is withdrawn, yet, for example, experience delays in receiving documents and a lack of employment and skills support.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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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,...
The disaster at Grenfell Tower has raised profound questions about the state's responsibility to ensure proper safety measures are in place for residents in high-rise accommodation.
Today in Parliament the Prime Minister gave a statement on the disaster. In it, the government made welcome commitments to test the cladding on all tower blocks and to ensuring that all victims will be able to access the services they need – irrespective of their immigration status.
Yet questions remain about how the government will act to ensure such a tragedy never happens again. In particular, it is not clear whether the government will insist that local authorities retrofit tower blocks with sprinkler systems and other safety mechanisms, nor is it clear whether they would give councils sufficient resources to carry out this work.
Today I asked the Prime Minister to show leadership and require local authorities to retrofit tower blocks where safety measures need to be put in place. But I – and my colleague Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East – also challenged Theresa May to make sure that authorities like Bristol City Council are given proper funding by the government to carry out any essential work that is required.
Can the Prime Minister please tell us why she will not choose to show leadership and require all councils to retrofit flats, and provide the resources?
I have made the point earlier that what we need to ensure in any accommodation that is provided by local authorities or housing associations is that the accommodation is safe. People are making assumptions about the work that needs to be done to ensure that. What needs to happen on the ground is the local authority, or the housing association – the landlord – working with the fire and rescue service to ensure that they can provide that safety.
The Prime Minister did not take the opportunity to give assurances to Bristol City Council that funding would be made available to carry out any work that needs to be done in the light of the fire in London. The Government needs to take action to ensure residents’ safety and should not be passing the financial buck to Bristol City Council in doing so. Bristol’s Labour MPs will continue to press the government on this issue to ensure that lessons are truly learned and our residents are reassured about their safety.
You can watch the exchange here:
The disaster at Grenfell Tower has raised profound questions about the state's responsibility to ensure proper safety measures are in place for residents in high-rise accommodation. Today in Parliament the...
On Tuesday 25 April, I asked the Secretary of State for Justice what she was doing to support the hard work undertaken by the dedicated staff at HMP Bristol. I recently met with staff at the prison, and whilst the team were incredibly hardworking and committed to their jobs, it is clear that the Government must do more to support our prison staff and create a safe environment for both staff and inmates.
The dedicated governor and staff at HMP Bristol do a brilliant job, but right now they are struggling with inadequate staffing ratios, prisoner use of the dangerous drug Spice, and poorly delivered privatised maintenance contracts. When will the Government give the prison in my constituency the tools it needs to do the job?
I can tell the hon. Lady that when I visited HMP Bristol I found some fantastically dedicated prison officers who are doing excellent work. We are investing £100 million to recruit 2,500 officers across the country, and we are on track with that recruitment.
You can watch the exchange here:
On Tuesday 25 April, I asked the Secretary of State for Justice what she was doing to support the hard work undertaken by the dedicated staff at HMP Bristol. I...
On Thursday 22 March, the House of Commons sat as normal after the horrific events of the day before. As usual, ministers took questions from MPs and I was called to speak in Women and Equalities questions. I particularly wanted to respond to the Tory MP Sir David Amess who spoke of women being “given” the right to vote. I wanted to make it clear that women fought for the right to vote and that there is still much to do to ensure that women are registered to vote.
Sadly, the minister did not have much of substance to say about how the move to individual registration is seeing many women lose their right to vote. Make sure that you are registered to vote in the upcoming West of England Mayoral elections by visiting www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
“Women won the right to vote—they fought for it, as they have had to fight for so many rights. I want to make that clear. What is the Minister doing, as we approach the year in which we celebrate that struggle, to ensure that all women in the country today are registered to vote, as many are finding individual registration difficult?”
“The Government are committed to ensuring that everybody who is entitled to vote in our country, women included, is registered to vote. I very much hope over the coming months that we can all be role models and inspirations for a new generation of young girls growing up in our country, and encourage them to play their role in our democracy not just in this Parliament, but in councils and other community groups around the country.”
You can watch the exchange here:
On Thursday 22 March, the House of Commons sat as normal after the horrific events of the day before. As usual, ministers took questions from MPs and I was called...
Last night I made a speech responding to the budget. Parliamentary debate about the Chancellor’s budget takes place over several days, and I was chosen to speak in a part of the debate that focussed on how the budget affects Britain’s place in the world. In my speech I highlighted the opportunities that the Chancellor missed to assuage concerns in Bristol West in these uncertain times. You can read or watch my speech below.
On Wednesday, I listened to the Chancellor’s statement and waited for the elephants in the room to be addressed: Brexit, the housing crisis, and infrastructure in the west of England—but I waited in vain. This Budget could have set out a great future for our country, but it did not. Businesses of all sizes in Bristol have told me that, to continue to secure jobs and growth for the region, they need the benefits that we currently get from full membership of the single European market. From the aerospace industry to the financial services sector to traders on the Gloucester Road, Bristol businesses say to me that they face huge uncertainties as our future relationship with the EU is negotiated, and yet the Chancellor said virtually nothing about Brexit in the Budget.
On housing, Bristol’s fantastic Labour mayor, Marvin Rees, and his team are working hard to tackle our city’s homelessness crisis and to get more homes built. Bristol West is in the midst of a housing crisis, which particularly affects young people, with soaring house prices and rents, and yet the Chancellor said nothing about housing.
In her speech last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) described how this Budget fell short on infrastructure in the west country. Bristolians have put up with the inconvenience and cost of railway electrification work, followed by its postponement. We have had all the bother with none of the benefits. Time and again, I have impressed on the Government that we need action, not least to eliminate the dangerous air pollution in our city, and yet the Chancellor said nothing about infrastructure in the west.
However, what the Chancellor did say gave me cause for concern, particularly the proposed rise in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are 12,800 self-employed people in my constituency, which is well above the national and regional averages. That includes freelancers in the technology and creative sectors, taxi drivers and car mechanics, decorators and plumbers, hairdressers and musicians. All earn, on average, 40% less than employees, but now face having to pay more in taxes in an already uncertain economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) said last week that this Budget shows just how much Bristol was better off under a Labour Government than under these Tories. Then we had new schools and hospitals, Sure Start children’s centres, the education maintenance allowance and tax credits and so much more that has now gone. Under coalition and Tory Governments, we have had cuts to school budgets. Real-terms funding per pupil is set to fall and there will be a total budget cut of £3 billion by 2020—the worst funding cut since the 1970s. There are mounting pressures on the NHS, cuts to local government causing real suffering in social care, and further problems in hospitals when people cannot be discharged. This Chancellor dealt with none of those problems. There was also no mention of mental health issues, which particularly affect young people in my constituency.
I am disappointed. This could have been Budget to prepare our country for the journey ahead, to reassure the people, universities, mayor and businesses of Bristol, and to put Britain’s families, schools and hospitals on a firm financial footing. It could have put minds at rest, and helped us to look outwards to fulfil our potential in the global economy. It could have been a Budget that invested properly in mental health, physical health and social care, that tackled the housing crisis, and that showed we value older people, who have a great deal to offer and deserve to feel secure, and children and young people, who need a decent education.
The Foreign Secretary says that we are not being patriotic, and thinks that we can just snap our fingers and summon up trade deals, but this Budget is not patriotic. Instead, it threatens jobs, growth and the vibrancy of Bristol West. It is a Budget built on oversights and blind spots, which revised down Government estimates for growth and earnings for the next five years. It is a Budget that fails to face up to the issues threatening our nation.
That is not patriotic; that is letting down the country.
Last night I made a speech responding to the budget. Parliamentary debate about the Chancellor’s budget takes place over several days, and I was chosen to speak in a part...
On Tuesday 7 March, I asked the Secretary of State for Justice about re-offending rates for domestic violence perpetrators. After working for many years in this area, I am keen to keep up the pressure on the government to ensure that those convicted of domestic violence offences do not offend again once their sentences have been served.
"What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reduce reoffending by domestic violence perpetrators in prisons and in communities?"
"The hon. Lady is absolutely right that as we have got better at dealing with issues of domestic violence, there is more we can do. That is why I am leading a joint taskforce with the Home Secretary to look at the law around domestic violence. We are also ensuring that domestic violence victims are protected in the family court. Under the Prisons and Courts Bill, abusers will no longer be able to cross-examine domestic violence victims, and that is an important step forward."
You can watch the exchange here:
On Tuesday 7 March, I asked the Secretary of State for Justice about re-offending rates for domestic violence perpetrators. After working for many years in this area, I am...
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.
“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:
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...