Thangam In Parliament

Thangam at International Trade questionsOn Thursday 22 February, I asked the minister for International Trade what assurances he could give to Bristol's creative industries that they would be supported if - reluctantly - we are to leave the European Union. The government have had few - if any - answers to reassure the cultural sector in Bristol about the challenges we face by our departure from the European Union. The Musicians' Union are campaigning to ensure that musicians who tour across countries in Europe retain free movement across borders, because their members are concerned that the loss of visa-free travel to our nearest neighbours will make it impossible for them to make a living.

More than 600 businesses in Bristol contribute to the creative and artistic life of our city, employing actors, artists, musicians, filmmakers, animators, video game designers, writers, technicians, directors and much more besides. A recent survey from Bristol City Council indicated that cultural organisations across the city had an economic impact of over £90 million to Bristol's economy.

Music, arts, and digital creative industries are a major export for Bristol and our cultural influence is felt all over the world. A responsible government would look to protect the contribution Bristol's art and culture makes to our economy, to our global reputation, and to our quality of life. It's beyond frustrating that so often the government offer platitudes to the challenges that Brexit poses, rather than the answers and security we so clearly need.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

The creative sector in Bristol West—particularly the music industry—is important, and trade in that sector is a service industry. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the creative industries, particularly the music industry, are supported as we leave the EU?

Greg Hands (Minister for Trade Policy)

The hon. Lady is quite right to point out the importance of services to our trade. Overall, services represent 80% of our economy and 79% of jobs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the whole team are working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that we continue to grow exports from our creative sector and that investment from abroad continues to come into the sector. We often visit places such as Tech City UK and techUK, and we are working closely with them to ensure that we have a flourishing future for our creative industries.

You can watch the exchange here:

Question to the Minister for Trade Policy, Thursday 22 February, 2018

On Thursday 22 February, I asked the minister for International Trade what assurances he could give to Bristol's creative industries that they would be supported if - reluctantly - we...

Thangam asking about air qualityOn 22 February 2018, I asked Thérèse Coffey – the minister in charge of air quality – to take real action to ensure we are all breathing cleaner air. One day prior a court ruled for a third time that the government's current policy on air pollution is 'unlawful' and has demanded changes.

Bristol City Council has been given government funding to work towards establishing a clean air zone in the city. But this ruling shows that the government need to go much further in their plans to tackle air pollution, and stop passing the buck to local authorities.

One thing that would help reduce pollution for those who regularly travel through Bristol city centre (for example pupils who attend St Michael on the Mount primary school), would be for the government to introduce a scrappage scheme for diesel vehicles - and especially for larger vehicles like buses and taxis.

I put this proposal to the minister as she took questions from MPs about the government's defeat in the courts. I will keep urging the government to do more to ensure we are all breathing cleaner air, and to stop the premature deaths that occur every year due to lung complications arising from breathing polluted air.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

Although I am grateful to the Minister for the funding she has given to cash-strapped authorities such as Bristol for consultations on clean-air zones, I would like her to move a little further and think of the children who are at school in one of the worst-polluted areas in the centre of Bristol, St Michael on the Mount Without. Will she urgently consider a scrappage scheme for cars and other vehicles, such as taxis and buses?

Thérèse Coffey (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have discussed air quality with the hon. Lady before. She will be aware that I have had direct discussions with Bristol City Council. She will also be aware of the funding that has already gone in to help the uptake of electric vehicles and the buses that are being provided from transport funds. Bristol is making good progress. It is one of the councils that we mandated last year to come forward with action; I believe that it is on track, mainly, with its process and I look forward to receiving its final considerations later this year.

You can watch the exchange here:

Urgent question on air quality, Thursday 22 February, 2018

On 22 February 2018, I asked Thérèse Coffey – the minister in charge of air quality – to take real action to ensure we are all breathing cleaner air. One...

Thangam in Northern Ireland QuestionsOn Wednesday 7 February 2018, I asked the government how they would protect the Good Friday Agreement given their current approach to the Brexit negotiations.

The Good Friday Agreement was one of the most important legacies of the last Labour government. Just before Prime Minister's Questions, I asked the minister for Northern Ireland, if Theresa May's bungling over the border issue meant that the destruction of the Good Friday Agreement would be his government's legacy.

The minister responded that the agreement the EU and UK made before Christmas would protect the Good Friday Agreement, but Theresa May's needless insistence that we must leave the Customs Union raises the spectre of a hard border between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

The Good Friday agreement was one of the greatest legacies of the last Labour Government. Is the Minister content that messing up the border issue could make destroying the Good Friday agreement one of this Government’s legacies?

Shailesh Vara (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)

I assure the hon. Lady that the joint report published in December this year by the European Commission and the United Kingdom makes it absolutely clear that the Belfast agreement remains intact, and all of it will remain intact.

You can watch the exchange here:

Question to the Minister for Northern Ireland, Wednesday 7 February 2018

On Wednesday 7 February 2018, I asked the government how they would protect the Good Friday Agreement given their current approach to the Brexit negotiations. The Good Friday Agreement was...

On Wednesday 24 January, the Labour Party put forward a motion in Parliament which called for conflict resolution and the protection of human rights to be at the heart of UK foreign policy on refugees. As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, I was proud to speak in support of the motion and to highlight the need for a human rights-centred approach to the global refugee crisis.

Aid and charity - though of course welcome - are not by themselves a human rights approach to supporting and protecting refugees. The 1951 UN Refugee Convention makes it clear that refugees should be able to provide for themselves and their families. The UK government should lead the way in making sure that refugees are able to work, to be educated, and to start up businesses - like the Ugandan government have done for over 1 million South Sudanese refugees. There is not only a clear moral and legal argument for helping refugees to flourish in this way. There is a clear economic benefit when those who are given shelter and protection in other countries are allowed to contribute and develop their knowledge and skills.

I made the case that there are legal, moral and economic arguments for a human rights, rather than benevolence, approach to refugees and refugee policy. I also argued that there are benefits for national security and for our standing in the world.

I hope that if we in this country were ever to experience the difficulties faced by people suffering as a result of conflict and natural disasters across the globe, we would receive a human right response from other countries around the world. A response we should be proud to give and to promote to others, no matter where they are from.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove). I rise to support the motion, and I also speak as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees.

Taking a human-rights approach to refugees means treating them as human beings who have rights, but who also have skills and experience. We in the Labour party can be proud of the leading role that we played in the creation of the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, fulfilling our legal obligations. The current Government have provided financial support for refugees in conflict zones, and that is welcome, but aid and charity, although admirable, are not a human-rights approach. They do not honour fully the spirit or the letter of the 1951 convention, and they deny the humanity of refugees and of ourselves.

The convention made it clear that refugees should be able to provide for themselves and their families by being allowed to seek work, take part in education or start up businesses. It explicitly did not seek to establish a culture of dependency, or structures of confinement or imprisonment. In Uganda, for example, more than 1 million south Sudanese refugees are being helped to get into education or work. There is an economic as well as a legal argument for a human-rights approach. Those refugees are not dependent on aid, are able to keep up the skills that will help them when they return home, and contribute to the local economy. Moreover, they are probably potential customers for our exports.

As well as the legal and economic arguments, however, there is a moral argument. In an ever more closely connected world, we are all neighbours. On this tiny rock in a corner of the universe, we may all need each other one day. I hope that if we in this country were ever to experience the difficulties faced by people in Syria, with record numbers of civilian deaths from airstrikes, we would receive the help from our neighbours that we should be proud to give to others. Do we want to be seen as the one who is ready to help when tragedy strikes, the one with the emergency food who will also help our neighbours to get back on their feet, or as the one whose doors are closed, whose walls are high, and who does not stretch out a helping, enabling hand? I know which I would like as to be seen as.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)

rose—

Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

rose—

Thangam Debbonaire

I respect the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, but time is limited.

I hear criticisms of the human-rights approach, and I have read them on social media. People say that when we welcome refugees we are letting in terrorists, and we should beware of the pull factor. For a start, there is no good evidence of a pull factor; there is evidence only of the determination of refugees to support themselves and their families, and to escape to wherever they can best do that. I strongly urge Members to come to the House on 16 March to support the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, which will be presented by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil).

It is important to unpick the argument about terrorism. The 1951 convention makes a clear distinction between refugees and criminals. Being a refugee is not a crime, but being a criminal, or of criminal intent, means that a host country is entitled to restrict or cease its hospitality. However, leaving people trapped, with their movements restricted and their human rights held down, risks turning once desperate people into very angry people—and anger is a breeding ground for those who would recruit followers to ideologies of hate who wish to harm us. So my fifth and final rationale for a human-rights approach to refugees is a national-security one.

On the basis of moral, legal, economic and national-security arguments, and also for the sake of our standing in the world, we urgently need the Government to take a human-rights approach to foreign policy in general and refugees in particular. I think that we in the United Kingdom are proud to be instinctive humanitarians. We all represent people who want us, in Parliament and in Government, to take every opportunity to broker peace, promote human rights and treat refugees as human beings. I urge the Government to support the motion.

You can watch a clip from my speech below, or you can watch the whole speech at parliamentlive.tv.

Opposition day debate on refugees and foreign policy, Wednesday 24 January 2018

On Wednesday 24 January, the Labour Party put forward a motion in Parliament which called for conflict resolution and the protection of human rights to be at the heart of...

Bristol is a compassionate city, and many of you have written to me concerned about the number of people sleeping rough in the city centre.

This is a top priority for Bristol City Council, who have initiated a range of measures aimed at improving the situation, including by: leasing previously-empty council properties to homeless charities (rent-free); working with local churches to provide cold weather shelters in church halls; and attracting government funding for measures to support homeless people to find a permanent place to live. I’m proud to represent a constituency that knows we need to take action to solve our housing and homelessness crisis. But Bristol can’t help all those who need support finding a place to live alone. We need all local authorities in the region to step up and to play their part.

There is a good network of night shelters, free food provision and other support services in the city, provided by a range of charities and organisations. However, this network is under strain and struggling with a growing demand. Part of the reason for this is that many neighbouring Tory-run councils provide little to no provision, meaning that those who need support in those areas are – directly or indirectly – pushed to relocate to places like Bristol.

Yesterday I asked the minister for the newly-named Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government what the government was doing to ensure that areas with lots of support for homeless people are not taking the strain of other local authorities who are less proactive in tackling homelessness.

I was pleased that the government accept the need to work across local authority boundaries. I will take the minister up on her offer of a meeting after the government's new task force on homelessness and rough sleeping meets at the start of February.

If you see someone who is street homeless, logging the details with Streetlink provides local homelessness organisations with vital information so that they can visit those sleeping rough and let them know about the support that's available.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

Will the Government please commit to reviewing the situation whereby street homeless people are crossing local authority boundaries, going from one where there is little support to others such as Bristol, where there is a great deal?

Heather Wheeler (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Lady asks a very interesting question. The taskforce will be looking at cross-county and rural-to-city issues. Perhaps we could meet to discuss this further after our first meeting on 1 February.

You can watch the exchange here:

Question to the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Monday 22 January 2018

Bristol is a compassionate city, and many of you have written to me concerned about the number of people sleeping rough in the city centre. This is a top priority...

Thangam at Transport QuestionsOn Thursday 18 January 2018, I had a very simple question for the new rail minister: when will works to complete the electrification of the Great Western Railway line be un-paused?

The line between London and Cardiff was supposed to have been fully electrified by this year. Instead, the government announced in November 2016 that works in and around Bristol would be indefinitely deferred, and after the General Election the government cancelled works to electrify the line between Cardiff and Swansea.

Putting new trains on the line is a positive step. But without electrification, commutes in and out of Bristol will continue to take place on slower, and more polluting trains.

Thangam Debbonaire

I, too, welcome the Minister to his post. When will the electrification programme for the railways in the south-west—including the chunk to Bristol—be “un-paused”?

Joseph Johnson (Minister of State, Department for Transport)

We are thinking about how we can deliver the best outcomes for passengers, because that is what is important to us. We are delivering the same benefits more efficiently, and at a lower cost to taxpayers. We are delivering faster journey times and better trains, and I think that Members on both sides of the House will welcome the new fleet of 29 Hitachi trains which will serve that part of the country.

You can watch the exchange here:

Transport questions, Thursday 18 January 2018

On Thursday 18 January 2018, I had a very simple question for the new rail minister: when will works to complete the electrification of the Great Western Railway line be...

Thangam speaking in Westminster HallOn Wednesday 17 January, I participated in a Westminster Hall Debate on drug consumption rooms. Should we have drug consumption rooms in Bristol? A place where illicit drugs can be used under the supervision of trained staff.

For those squeamish about this idea, evidence shows that we already have a drug consumption room operating in Bristol - it's called Bristol. Public spaces, the city centre, the steps leading up to my office - all areas where drugs are taken in our city and are made unsafe as a result.

And it affects all of us. According to Bristol City Council, the estimated cost of drug related admissions to the BRI in 2015/6 was just over £1 million. That puts an obvious strain on our health services, but the harms to all us (whether we use drugs or not) are many and varied.

I believe that our current approach to illegal drugs isn't working and that we need to consider new approaches and ideas. Sadly, the minister in her response to the debate indicated that the government aren’t willing to consider changing their approach. You can read the minister’s full response here.

 

Thangam Debbonaire

Thank you for your patience with the many Divisions throughout the debate, Ms Ryan. I will not repeat what other hon. Members have said, but make some specific, Bristol-related remarks.

I understand why people have an instinctive reaction that drug consumption rooms must be harmful, because they appear to facilitate the use of drugs. To hon. Friends who have doubts, however, I say that we already have a drug consumption room in Bristol: it is called Bristol. It is called the square outside my office, the doorstep into my office and the blocks of council flats at the side of my office. It is called virtually every part of the city centre.

The harms caused by that existing drug consumption room from the drug consumption that goes on there, the resulting drug litter, and the visible harm to drug addicts and to bystanders—people who have no interest in taking drugs but want their children to be able to play in the local playground—are many and varied. They hurt the most vulnerable and the very people we on this side of the House are here to represent, so I encourage all hon. Members to consider the use of drug consumption rooms.

In Bristol, we have very high rates of injecting and of poly-drug use, particularly crack cocaine mixed with heroin that is then injected. Public Health England recognises that we have high levels of complexity in the people who use such drugs and in the high levels of admission to hospital for drug-related harms.

Another harm is more widely shared among us all: the cost of the existing drug consumption room regime to the health economy. The total length of stay in the Bristol Royal Infirmary in 2015-16 for drug-related admissions was 2,758 days, with an estimated cost of ​£1,103,200. I thank Jody Clark for providing those figures from Bristol City Council’s “Bristol Substance Misuse Needs Assessment”. Hospital admissions specifically for injuries caused by injections accounted for 1,005 bed days—36% of all drug-related stays. That is from just 71 individuals who had an average stay in hospital of 14 days each—more than twice the average 6.6-day stay for all drug-related admissions—and an estimated cost of in excess of £400,000.

I urge all hon. Members to consider that if we want to give our health service more money, if we want to make our streets safer, and if we want to save the lives of people who have drug addictions, as I do, we need to invest in drug consumption rooms. However unpleasant it is to have to step over a very aggressive and slightly frightening—sometimes very frightening—drug addict on my office steps, I do not want them to die. I want their lives to be saved and I want the people who live in the blocks of flats near my office to be able to send their children out to play.

For all those reasons, and because nobody has ever died in a drug consumption room that was officially sanctioned and clinically run, I urge all hon. Members to consider the drug consumption rooms we have at the moment and support this alternative.

You can watch a clip of my speech here:

 

Westminster Hall Debate on Drug Consumption Rooms, Wednesday 17 January 2018

On Wednesday 17 January, I participated in a Westminster Hall Debate on drug consumption rooms. Should we have drug consumption rooms in Bristol? A place where illicit drugs can be...

On Thursday 11 January, during Women and Equalities questions, I asked the government to produce an assessment of the economic impact of the value of comprehensive childcare provision, and particularly the impact on gender equality.

I was proud to stand for election last year on a Labour manifesto that promised to redress the chronic under funding of childcare that the Tories have presided over in government. Our manifesto promised to extend the provision of 30 hours of free childcare to all two-year-olds. We would also overhaul the existing funding system which is hard for parents to navigate and results in patchy provision.

Comprehensive childcare is not only important for those vital early years. We also know that when parents can't access childcare, it is difficult for women in particular to be able to return to work at the end of maternity leave.

I'm pleased that the minister was receptive to the idea of carrying out an economic impact assessment. I have already written to him to ask for a meeting and to persuade him to do so.

 

Thangam Debbonaire 

Will the Government carry out an economic impact assessment on the value of investing in a comprehensive childcare provision across the country, in particular looking at the impact on women and gender equality?

Mel Stride (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

As I said earlier, we already carry out a wide variety of different impact assessments, including in the kind of area to which the hon. Lady alludes. If she would like to write to me with further details of the exact aspects she is interested in, I would be very happy to consider them.

You can watch the exchange here:

Women and Equalities questions, Thursday 11 January, 2018

On Thursday 11 January, during Women and Equalities questions, I asked the government to produce an assessment of the economic impact of the value of comprehensive childcare provision, and particularly...

Questioning David Gauke on Parole Board guidelinesThe Parole Board's decision to release serial rapist and sexual attacker John Worboys after only ten years is astonishing - and raises important questions about how women (and especially Worboys' victims) are protected by the criminal justice system.

In response to the understandable outcry at the Parole Board's decision to release Worboys, the new Secretary of State for Justice announced on Tuesday 9 January that he would be conducting a review into the board's guidelines and procedures and their communication with victims. In response to his statement, I urged the government to make sure the review covers the use of evidence-based risk assessments for men like Worboys, which should include evaluation of past behaviour and victim impact statements.

Past behaviour is one of the best predictors for future behaviour in cases like this. So it is vital that when men who have repeatedly committed sexual assault against women become eligible for parole, victims and the public have confidence in the Parole Board's decision-making. These procedures should be evidence-based and provide a meaningful voice for victims.

Thangam Debbonaire

Mr Speaker, the best predictors of future offending behaviour are – unfortunately – past offending behaviour, and victim impact statements also contain information that is important for a thorough and evidence-based risk assessment. So can I ask the Secretary of State to consider, in his review, assessing whether or not the risk assessment tools that the Parole Board are using are adequate, and whether or not the intervention programmes are evidence-based and properly evaluated?

David Gauke (Secretary of State for Justice)

Well, whether as part of the review or whether more generally, the honourable member raises important points to ensure that we have a system that is working.

You can watch the exchange here:

Question to the Secretary of State for Justice, Tuesday 9 January 2018

The Parole Board's decision to release serial rapist and sexual attacker John Worboys after only ten years is astonishing - and raises important questions about how women (and especially Worboys'...

Thangam at Business questionsOn Thursday 21 December, I asked Andrea Leadsom to allow MPs time to debate how we can make the Houses of Parliament more accessible for everyone - and particularly the one in one hundred people who are on the autistic spectrum.

Parliament's buildings are in need of repair and the government will shortly have to decide whether MPs and peers need to vacate the premises while work is carried out. This could, however, be an opportunity to make a refurbished Parliament more accessible to everyone - for the public, for staff and for politicians.

I've spoken before about how Parliament could take the lead in becoming a more autism-friendly institution. I hope that any debates about the restoration and renewal of Parliament take the opportunity to think about what wider changes that can be made to make the House of Commons a truly inclusive and modern centre for our democracy.

Thangam Debbonaire

Will the Leader of the House please press for Government time, during the process of the restoration and renewal debate, in which we can debate how to make both Houses of Parliament truly accessible for people with disabilities, particularly for those one in 100 people on the autistic spectrum?

Andrea Leadsom (Leader of the House of Commons)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for all you have done for those with disabilities and to try to make Parliament more accessible. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the possibility of the House debating easier access once we get into the R and R debate.

You can watch the exchange here:

 

Question to the Leader of the House, Thursday 21 December

On Thursday 21 December, I asked Andrea Leadsom to allow MPs time to debate how we can make the Houses of Parliament more accessible for everyone - and particularly the...

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