Thangam In Parliament

Will the UK be able to continue to recruit the best scientists and researchers from across Europe after we leave the EU? Today I asked Brexit Minister Robin Walker to give some clarity on this. The current state of confusion risks seriously damaging the international standing of our technology companies, research institutes and universities.

For example, the University of Bristol in my constituency has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, but this is dependent on getting the best staff. Many of my constituents working at the University tell me that that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit academics and other staff that they need from across the EU. With the mess this Government is making of Brexit, it is completely understandable that world-class scientists and researchers would prefer to move to cities where they may have a longer-term future, with guaranteed rights to remain there as long as they like.

Research funding is another major area of uncertainty forcing researchers to look elsewhere. Researchers from Bristol have told me that they are extremely worried that funding will dry up when we leave the EU, leading to a brain drain. In this area, the Minister’s response was inadequate.

He states that UK institutions will be able to access Horizon funding (the EU’s research and innovation funding programme) until the end of the current budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework or MFF. What he fails to mention is that this is due to expire at the end of 2020 – just a couple of years away. What then? Several constituents carrying out world-changing research have told me they need longer term clarity.

Universities and technology companies are vital if we are to stay competitive outside the EU. This is yet another area where the shambolic Brexit negotiations are jeopardising our future. I will continue to hold the Government to account throughout this critical phase.

TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

SPEAKER: Thangam Debbonaire.

THANGAM: Mr Speaker, the Minister mentions that we want to attract the brightest and the best, but he missed some of what the Hon. Lady’s question was about, why my constituents at the University of Bristol are very concerned about. This is the free flow of researchers and scientists around the European Union and the exchange of knowledge. They say they are already struggling; scientific firms in my constituency say they are struggling. What further clarification can he give?

MINISTER: Well, I say to the Hon. Lady, we’ve reached some important agreements already with regard to the Implementation Agreement and the continuation of our existing membership of Horizon until the end of the MFF. What we want to do now is to secure the science and innovation pack which we’ve been discussing in our meetings with the Commission, and those meetings have been constructive and positive.

Challenging the Brexit Minster: How can we maintain a world-leading science and technology sector after we leave the EU?

Will the UK be able to continue to recruit the best scientists and researchers from across Europe after we leave the EU? Today I asked Brexit Minister Robin Walker to...

Thangam at BEIS questionsAt Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Questions on Tuesday 12 June, I had the opportunity to ask the government why they continue to drag their feet over a decision on whether to support the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project.

One of my major interests in Parliament is exploring what investment and infrastructure we need to clean up our energy supply in the UK - to ensure homes are powered by green, renewable and sustainable energy sources, rather than polluting carbon fuels.

I recently met with the team who are leading on the Swansea bay project. In addition to hearing about the jobs and benefits this project would bring to South Wales, I learned about the huge opportunities for jobs and businesses across the South West of England and in Bristol that the project would create too.

But this project cannot get off the ground while the government remain on the fence and refuse to commit to invest in the project. That they won't support such a landmark clean energy project outright is frustrating enough, but the continued silence on the matter is creating unacceptable uncertainty and means we're falling behind in the global race to create new renewable energy infrastructure.

And at a time when we should be leading the way in delivering clean energy, that delayed decision becomes ever more irresponsible. I'll continue to push the government to invest in key infrastructure like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, and ensure that the expertise and talent in Bristol to meet our future clean energy needs is harnessed.

Thangam Debbonaire

Will the Secretary of State please think of the 150,000 homes that it would power, the thousands of jobs that it would create, the supply chain business that it would support in Wales and the west, and the climate change that it would tackle, and get off the fence and announce Government support for Swansea bay tidal lagoon today?

Claire Perry (Minister for Energy and Clean Growth)

Of course, the whole House will shortly be able to pass the price cap Bill, which will assist all consumers with the cost of energy, and this comes on top of the prepayment meter and vulnerable consumers price caps that are in place. We are determined to continue supporting vulnerable consumers through such things as the warm home discount, winter fuel payments and through repurposing the very large energy company obligation scheme to tackle fuel poverty.

Business questions: the government should get off the fence and invest in Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

At Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Questions on Tuesday 12 June, I had the opportunity to ask the government why they continue to drag their feet over a...

People who beat their partners and family members are very likely to go on to reoffend. In many cases, they go back to the same partners or remain abusive in new relationships. Even if they spend time in prison for their crimes, they often return to the same patterns of violent, controlling behaviour.

In my previous work for domestic violence organisations, I saw first-hand how specialised perpetrator programmes can change attitudes and behaviour, preventing violence. To be successful, they must have the safety and welfare of victims and children at their heart.

Today I asked Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke MP whether the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill will include programmes for prisoners serving time for crimes involving domestic violence. This seems like an obvious opportunity – prison could be a good environment for these programmes.

As I stated in a separate Parliamentary question this week, evidence shows that such preventative programmes have the potential to save billions of pounds in costs, in addition to immeasurable benefits for would-be victims.

The Domestic Abuse Bill has the real potential to save lives. I will be working with MPs from across all parties to keep up the pressure on the Government to make sure it does.

Prison is an opportunity to change violent behaviour

People who beat their partners and family members are very likely to go on to reoffend. In many cases, they go back to the same partners or remain abusive in...

Domestic violence destroys the lives of the victims and the perpetrators. It also has a hidden cost to the economy.

Today I raised this in Parliament, asking Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins whether she was aware of influential research on the costs of domestic violence.

Professor Sylvia Walby’s research, first carried out in 2004 and updated 2009, demonstrated that domestic violence has a serious cost to society. For the year 2008, this was estimated cost services such as the criminal justice system, healthcare and social services almost £4 billion. Domestic violence was also estimated to cost the economy £2 billion in lost economic output and impose human and emotional costs of almost £10 billion.

Ten years on, the numbers may have changed but the core idea is still relevant: domestic violence has a huge cost, so it is worth investing significant resources in prevention.

Of course, there are other reasons for addressing domestic violence. The most serious costs of abuse are not measured in pounds but in ruined lives, injuries, shattered families and deaths. These effects are not so easily quantified.

Nonetheless, I hope the Government considers the economic costs of domestic violence in the drafting of the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill.

Economic calculations demonstrate yet another reason that prevention is better than a cure. Educating young people about domestic violence, in a compulsory programme of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education could change abusive attitudes from a young age. And programmes to educate perpetrators of domestic violence can reduce the chances of reoffending. Both would pay for themselves many times over.

I will be working with MPs from across all parties to make the Domestic Abuse Bill an effective, practical piece of legislation.

Failure to prevent domestic violence has a high cost

Domestic violence destroys the lives of the victims and the perpetrators. It also has a hidden cost to the economy. Today I raised this in Parliament, asking Home Office Minister...

It is outrageous that in 2018, some disabled passengers are still seriously disadvantaged by the lack of step-free access in Bristol’s local train network. Wheelchair users in Lawrence Hill can only access the platform to travel in one direction, which means that if they want to travel to the main station at Temple Meads, they need to travel up the line, cross the railway and catch another train down.

This changes a five-minute journey to more than 35 minutes in some cases – and that includes a quick change of a few minutes which may be impossible for some disabled people. If you need more time to change trains, the journey could take almost an hour – an incredible waste of time for a direct journey of around a mile.

Step-free access at this station has been promised for some time, yet my Lawrence Hill constituents are still suffering this indignity.

I asked Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani what will be done to change this. She agreed to meet me and Margaret Hickman, Councillor for Lawrence Hill. I hope we can change this situation quickly. This would benefit disabled people and anyone else needing step-free access, including parents with buggies.

Transcript and video below:

SPEAKER: Thangam Debbonaire.

THANGAM: Thank you Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, disabled passengers in the Lawrence Hill area of my constituency are not being served with step-free access yet they have been promised it for some years. They have to get a train up the line, then get another train down the line on the other side, before they can get to Temple Meads to get a mainline train.

Will the Minister meet with me and Cllr Margaret Hickman to discuss this urgently?

MINISTER: Of course I’m happy to meet with the Member to talk about accessibility within her constituency. As I mentioned before, the Access for All funding is available for all train stations, if she is alluding to a Tube station that would be obviously a different situation altogether, but as it’s a train station, I’m more than happy to meet with the Member.

Challenging the Transport Minister on accessibility of Bristol's local train network

It is outrageous that in 2018, some disabled passengers are still seriously disadvantaged by the lack of step-free access in Bristol’s local train network. Wheelchair users in Lawrence Hill can...

Before becoming an MP, I worked to end domestic violence. I feel very strongly about this subject. I have also built up a great deal of expertise in this field, which I hope to use in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Perpetrators of Domestic Violence that I set up last week.

This week I spoke in a debate on the Serious Violence Strategy, which sets out the Government’s response to serious violence and recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. A key aim of this strategy is to catch young people early, encouraging them to make positive choices.

This is important. Education has a vital role to play in preventing all forms of violence, from gang-related knife crime to domestic violence.

Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education which teaches respect could be transformational. And it should be compulsory, for all children, whatever their background and wherever they are at school.

In my work with perpetrators of domestic violence I have seen first-hand that education works in changing belief systems and ending controlling, violent behaviour. Unfortunately, many perpetrators only receive this education after years of violence, destroying lives and families. For these men (and some women), this training often sparks a revelation which comes tragically late. How much better it would be to teach these principles in schools – and change the course of otherwise violent lives.

Watch a clip of my speech below, or the whole speech here.

Debate on the Serious Violence Strategy: how education can help

Before becoming an MP, I worked to end domestic violence. I feel very strongly about this subject. I have also built up a great deal of expertise in this field,...

Yesterday I asked Work and Pensions Minister Sarah Newton about the increasing administrative burden on disabled people who are entitled to assistance to help them work.

I asked this question after I was approached by a constituent who depends on a support worker to do their job. The support worker is paid via the Access to Work scheme, which gives grants to help disabled and seriously ill people. This scheme is life-changing. And it is not just the recipients of the grants who benefit – we all gain when these people can fully participate in society, including in work. Sadly, it seems the administrative burden of claiming these grants is becoming more and more onerous.

My constituent has worked hard to comply with the requirements of the scheme but the demands have now crossed over to onerous and unnecessarily bureaucratic. I am even concerned that the new requirements may break data protection rules and will check on this. It is certainly a waste of time to add to the already large amount of ongoing admin. Indeed, this person has already been thoroughly assessed and was found to be entitled to the Access to work scheme.

The Minister agreed to look more closely at my constituent’s individual case, so I will take this up with her in the coming weeks.

 

THANGAM: Thank you Mr Speaker. Would the Minister care to explain to my disabled constituent how new claim rules for Access to Work require filing confidential contracts and employment information of the disabled person’s personal assistant, and how those square with the new data protection regulations?

MINISTER: Well the Hon. Lady raises a very specific case and of course I would be very pleased to look into that. But let’s be clear: Access to Work is providing valuable support that is enabling many more people with disabilities to play their full part in society including work. We’ve recently made a number of changes which have been widely welcomed.

Question about Access to Work grants - are increased bureaucratic demands legal?

Yesterday I asked Work and Pensions Minister Sarah Newton about the increasing administrative burden on disabled people who are entitled to assistance to help them work. I asked this question...

In Parliament on 10 May 2018, my colleague Afzal Gorton was granted an 'urgent question' to ask Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom to make a statement on the government’s policy on introducing money resolutions for private members’ bills.

A money resolution must be agreed to by the House of Commons if a new bill proposes spending public money on something that hasn't previously been authorised by an Act of Parliament. Money resolutions are normally put to the House for agreement immediately after a bill has passed its second reading in the Commons.

This urgent question was about the government refusing to bring forward a money resolution for Afzal Gorton’s Boundary Review Bill.

Like Afzal, I believe the actions of the government are undemocratic. The private member’s bill on parliamentary constituencies is of fundamental constitutional importance. It passed its second reading unanimously. The government is trying to frustrate the democratic will of Parliament and to block the bill by procedure.

I asked:  “I understand what the Leader of the House has just said, but does she not accept that, to the people whom we represent, this will look like she is actually the Cabinet’s representative to the legislature? We need action on this and on so many other private members’ bills so that the people whom we represent can truly feel that we are able to represent them on the issues that matter to them.”

Andrea Leadsom's response ignored my point: “I think people will be delighted at the progress being made in some very important private Members’ Bills, including Bills to prevent assaults on emergency workers, to provide better support for parents who have been bereaved, and to provide better support for those who have mental health problems and are taken into secure units.”

The government is clearly taking an inconsistent and partisan approach to granting money resolutions to private members’ bills. Whatever arguments can be made for or against the Boundary Review Bill, it should take place in the debating chamber, between MPs and in front of the public, rather than in the backrooms of government offices.

And I’m concerned that the precedent the government is setting will not only block this bill, but will allow the government to halt any future private members’ bill – such as the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, which passed its second reading with enormous support from across the House.

You can watch the exchange here:

Urgent question to the Leader of the House of Commons: democracy

In Parliament on 10 May 2018, my colleague Afzal Gorton was granted an 'urgent question' to ask Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom to make a statement on the government’s policy on...

I was encouraged by the response from the Attorney General to my question today about domestic violence and the importance of perpetrator intervention programmes in preventing such abuse.

I was also able to sneak in a little plug for the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Perpetrator Programmes I’m launching in Parliament next week!

I asked: “Mr Speaker, following prosecution, effective perpetrator interventions like those I worked with before I became an MP – so I do declare an interest – can help prevent domestic violence offenders becoming repeat offenders, so will the Attorney General encourage members across the house to join the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Perpetrator Programmes, which I am launching next week?”

Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP, the Attorney-General, replied: “Mr Speaker, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do endorsements but I entirely agree with what the honourable lady says and, may I say, what she has referred to is incredibly important. And I’m sure that across the house we’d all wish to pay tribute to the work she has done in the past. And it’s important because we need to make sure that across the spectrum of activities we can carry out we do all we can to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse before it happens. Far better to do that than to deal with these matters by prosecution, as she says. And I hope she’ll be able to contribute to the consultation that’s under way at the moment, and give the benefit of her wisdom to it.”

You can watch the exchange here: 

Oral questions to the Attorney General: perpetrator programmes

I was encouraged by the response from the Attorney General to my question today about domestic violence and the importance of perpetrator intervention programmes in preventing such abuse. I was...

Today I challenged the Government on their lacklustre approach to the Brexit negotiations. A huge number of people in Bristol West have written to me with their concerns that the Government is making a catastrophic mess of their future.

And it’s not just the people of Bristol West who can see the disaster unfolding. A recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that if the Government were to get “a sense of scale, throw in some simple arithmetic and sprinkle a basic understanding of trade” it would be “obvious that the economic costs of leaving the customs union must outweigh the benefits.”

I put this to Brexit Minister Suella Braverman. Unfortunately, the answer I received was characteristic of the Government’s attitude to expertise throughout the Brexit process - she casually dismissed the opinion from one of our most respected, politically independent research institutes.

With this attitude to financial expertise, it is not surprising that many people are worried about their finances in coming years. Many constituents have asked me whether they will be able to continue to claim pensions they have accrued in the EU-27, or, conversely, claim UK pensions while living in these other countries. I asked Brexit Minister Robin Walker MP what the government was doing to protect people’s pensions.

He said the continuity of pensions has been agreed as part of the current negotiations. This should give my constituents some reassurance, though as the negotiators are fond of saying, 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So I will be watching these negotiations closely and will continue to hold the Government to account on these matters.

Questions on Brexit: How will pensions be affected?

Today I challenged the Government on their lacklustre approach to the Brexit negotiations. A huge number of people in Bristol West have written to me with their concerns that the...

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