Welcome to the latest edition of my monthly newsletter.
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As I write, the Taliban is taking over cities in Afghanistan and there are reports of awful atrocities. Women and girls in particular are scared of the consequences for their lives.
This is a sad reminder of the complexities of our international responsibilities and human rights obligations which so many of you contact me about. Women’s and girls’ lives under the Taliban regime were dangerous and very restricted. There are many problems with international intervention, but thanks to strengthening civil society and democratic processes over two decades since Taliban rule was removed, women and girls have had access to education and work.
As a result, 25% of Afghan MPs are women, there have been ground-breaking new laws to tackle violence against women and girls, and most girls have been in school. For the last few months ever since the announcement of the withdrawal of NATO presence in Afghanistan, women’s organisations have been warning of the terrible consequences of the Taliban regaining power, something we can now tragically see unfolding as the world’s leaders stand by.
- As your MP, I’m working hard to try to get relatives of Afghani constituents to safety if they already have visas to enter UK, and to get news for others. I’m calling for an internationally coordinated response to prioritise the safety of civilians and help Afghani civil society function.
- As the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, I’m using the support of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) UK to make contact with women MPs in Afghanistan to establish what support they need from us.
The people of Bristol West have always said that internationalism and human rights are important values for us and I will continue to represent that on your behalf.
Meanwhile, of course, climate and ecological emergency is ever-more evident in the weather and catastrophic conditions around the world causing floods, fires and extreme heat.
I’m pushing the government hard in the run-up to COP26 and beyond, including hosting various events and making representations on your behalf to government Ministers, will continue to be a priority. Please see my website for regular updates and news about events and key publications.
Thanks again for subscribing to my newsletter. If you find it useful, please do forward on to others, who can sign up here.
I hope you are enjoying the summer.
Parliamentary votes and speeches in July 2021
In July there were six key sets of votes in Parliament which I know many of you are interested in. I voted:
- AGAINST Tory government proposal to cut international aid. I will be pushing the government to reverse this cut now that the national income is picking up – their reason for cutting the percentage rate of income.
- AGAINST the third readding of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill after voting FOR three amendments, which didn’t pass. This Bill now goes to the House of Lords.
- AGAINST the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill, after voting FOR Labour’s Reasoned Amendment, setting out our reasons for not supporting the Bill as it is. Further stages in the Autumn including line-by-line scrutiny in committee.
- AGAINST the second reading of the Health and Care Bill, after voting FOR Labour’s Reasoned Amendment, setting out our reasons for not supporting the Bill as is – more in the Autumn including line-by-line scrutiny in committee.
- AGAINST the third reading of the Armed Forced Bill, after voting FOR three amendments, defeated by the government. This now goes to the Lords.
- AGAINST the requirement for care home staff to have the Covid vaccine. Vaccination rates are increasing and so far the health bodies tell me that encouragement and answering people’s questions is working well to maximise vaccine uptake.
As Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, I spoke on the following:
- Business Questions – my weekly speeches challenging Jacob Rees-Mogg’s presentation of the government’s priorities in Parliamentary business. On 1st July (on Matt Hancock resignation), 8th July (Gareth Southgate, NHS, Climate emergency), 15th July (COVID inquiry, schools catch up, climate emergency) and 22nd July (review of government failure over the last few months).
- Point of Order following the use of racist language by a government Minister. I have now written to the Speaker to ask for further guidance.
- Responding to Leader of the House announcing debate and vote on international aid cuts.
- Point of Order asking for government to provide time to debate the motion I tabled on reforming the rules on the triggering of the Recall of MPs Act when an MP has been found to harass or bully staff so constituents can trigger recall more easily.
- Point of Order on the safety of staff and the risk management in preparation for the return of Tory MP Rob Roberts to Parliament following his suspension for sexual harassment of staff.
- Speech in the debate to scrap the Parliamentary rule ‘English Votes for English Laws’ – a ridiculous piece of legislation creating two tiers of MPs. We opposed it in 2015 when it was introduced and the government has now had to admit we were right.
Climate and nature emergency: Bristol West events I’m hosting
In July I ran the first in a series of public events on climate change. In these events I aim to gather constituents’ views and take them to the government ahead of the critical COP26 climate summit.
You can watch the first event here, which brings together community leaders from across Bristol West. I asked them how we engage people who feel excluded from ‘environmental’ debates – we need everyone on board to respond to this emergency.
The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed how urgent this is. I’ve written about this here.
I plan to organise more events on climate this autumn – watch this space!
The government must ditch plans to sell Channel 4
The government needs to drop its plans to sell off Channel 4. It’s a national asset which supports jobs and talent in Bristol.
Together with the three other Bristol MPs, I wrote to the Culture Secretary asking him to rethink this short-sighted decision.
GCSE, A level and BTEC results
Congratulations to everyone who got their results this week.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve stayed in touch with schools and the City of Bristol college, and I’ve been inspired by how students, staff and parents worked hard through the most difficult circumstances.
Thanks to all the teachers and school staff who have worked so hard.
Asylum and borders
The government’s New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill is currently going through Parliament.
Together with other Labour colleagues, I voted against this sinister piece of legislation, but it passed its second reading.
This Bill undermines the right to seek asylum, going against our international commitments under the 1951 Refugee Convention. It would also make it a criminal offence to help asylum seekers in some circumstances. This could effectively criminalise rescuing an asylum seeker at sea.
In July I met several Bristol-based refugee organisations and discussed their concerns. They told me the Home Office systems are broken – something my caseworkers fight against on a daily basis – and we need better legal routes for people fleeing war and persecution. We should not treat them as criminals.
Join my team!
I’m hiring a part-time caseworker. Take a look at the ad here – and if interested, please apply before 9am on Thursday 19th August.
Challenging the government’s agenda
Since my last newsletter, I’ve raised a wide range of different matters in my weekly speech in Business Questions.
In early July, I used almost all my questions to ask about the government’s weak record on the climate emergency.
In another session, I confronted Jacob Rees-Mogg on the government’s shocking record through the pandemic, and how the government seems more interested in stirring up a culture war than helping people and businesses affected by the tragic events of the last 18 months.
And in the final Business Questions before summer recess, I brought up another recurring theme: Ministers inability to follow even the basic rules which have dictated everyone else’s lives over the last 18 months. From Matt Hancock’s interpretation of ‘social distancing’, to dodgy multi-million pound contracts for Tory friends, to Boris Johnson’s scheme to skip isolation, it has been one rule for us, no rules for them.
Building safety: Another broken promise in the dangerous cladding saga
I have been following the debate around dangerous cladding and building safety for some time.
Government ministers promised that the Building Safety Bill would solve the problem of huge costs imposed on leaseholders for historic fire safety defects. Unfortunately, when the Bill finally had its Second Reading last month, this was evidently another broken promise.
Last month I spoke in Parliament on the removal of English Votes for English Laws, or EVEL. EVEL meant that English MPs could vote on matters related to English law, whilst excluding Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Labour opposed EVEL since it came into force in 2015, as this created two classes of MP; some with the right to vote on all debates put to a vote, and some with restrictions on issues that affect their constituents, particularly those in border areas.
The government has finally agreed to abolish this system – which is positive – but it does mean that a lot of people in the UK have not been properly represented over the last six years.
As Shadow Leader of the House, I lead for Labour on these obscure – but extremely important – issues of parliamentary procedure. I’ve written a blog about what my job covers.
In July I received 260 questions and requests for assistance from constituents. You can see a full breakdown of the types of query we received above. We received policy 166 questions on a wide range of topics including Covid policy, the climate emergency, Channel 4 and refugee policy. It is enormously helpful for me to hear your views and although I am not always able to provide a very detailed response, your communications enable me to take your views into consideration in all that I do to represent the constituency.
We received almost 100 requests for assistance, making July our busiest month this year. Nearly 50% of our casework has been about immigration and visas. The Home Office is particularly poor at keeping applicants updated on progress of their applications and this causes stress and anxiety. I have written to the Home Secretary to raise these systemic problems.
We have had some excellent casework successes this month including several vehicle licensing delays, getting decisions from the Home Office on travel documents and visa applications. We also helped constituents get covid grants they were due. We have assisted in getting refunds for constituents where they have been wrongly charged.
Media highlights from July
- My speeches in Business Questions were covered by a wide range of outlets, including the Herald, Guido Fawkes and Evening Standard (on Matt Hancock) the Telegraph and City AM (on Covid restrictions); the Guardian, Evening Standard, Independent, Times, Al Jazeera (on my football-themed speech arguing for Johnson to attend the “Gareth Southgate school of leadership”).
- On BBC Radio 4, I was a guest on the Westminster Hour and Any Questions? (together with my nemesis Rees Mogg). I also appeared on BBC2’s Politics Live.
- My work to make Parliament safe from sexual harassment was covered by BBC News several times, ITV, Evening Standard, Mirror, the National and others.
- My speech on overseas development aid was covered by the Telegraph.
- When I called out Jacob Rees-Mogg’s use of a racist term, it was covered in Indy100, the Times and the Standard.
- The most fun media appearance was on The Bunker podcast – listen here.