It has been a difficult week in politics. We are desperately saddened by the loss of James Brokenshire. We are still shocked at the murder of Sir David Amess. Both were excellent Parliamentarians and will certainly be missed by all sides of the House.
Closing the loophole on sexual harassment and bullying
This was the first week back party conference recess. On Tuesday, I represented Labour in a debate about sanctions for MPs that break the rules, for example by sexually harassing staff.
Normally, MPs suspended for more than ten days by the House of Commons Standards Commission would be subject to a recall petition triggering a by-election if their constituents choose. But at the moment this does not apply to MPs suspended for sexual harassment or bullying.
As Shadow Leader of the House, I’ve been campaigning to close this loophole. I’m pleased that after pressure from Labour, the rule changed on Tuesday for future cases and from now on, any MP found to have sexually harassed or bullied someone will be automatically subject to recall. However, we need to go further.
I used this debate to put Labour’s amendment forward, which would make the rule change retrospective. This would have ensured that past cases would be treated in the same manner as any potential future cases. Whilst I understand the concerns about making a retrospective rule change, this is only necessary because the MP who has already been recently found to have carried out sexual harassment has not done the decent thing by their staff and constituents and resigned voluntarily and the Tory Party has not managed to persuade him to do this.
Unfortunately Labour’s amendment was defeated because most Tory MPS voted it down. I fear sends a poor message to staff about protecting this person’s career over the safety of their constituents. However, I will continue my campaign to hold Parliamentarians to the highest standards, and for Parliament to lead by example.
This week also saw the return of Business Questions, the weekly session where I question Jacob Rees-Mogg on the government’s agenda.
The Government recently announced the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which includes subsidies for installing new heat pumps in homes across the UK. This is being heralded as a flagship policy, but accounts for only approximately 30,000 heat pumps per year to be subsidised (approximately one in every thousand homes), and for three years only. With some of the least energy efficient housing in Europe, and with COP26 fast approaching, the public urgently need a more comprehensive plan. I asked the Leader of the House to ask the Clean Growth Minister to make a statement on this.
With the end of the year approaching, I questioned the Leader of the House on missing legislation relating to Northern Ireland that this Government have promised to bring forward before Christmas. This is an important part of the power sharing arrangement at Stormont, so it is crucial that the Tories honour their word. Unfortunately the Leader of the House completely ignored my point.
The Online Safety Bill is another promised law change which seems to have gone missing. Keir Starmer questioned the Prime Minister on this at PMQs on Wednesday. Th Prime Minister appeared very confused about his own government’s plan and how to change the law – curious for a Prime Minister but nothing new from this one, I’m afraid. At first he appeared to confirm that the Online Safety Bill would be completed by Christmas, then he changed it so that the first stage will be done by Christmas, and by the evening, Number 10 had rowed back completely, with only a vague promise to bring the Bill back at ‘some point’. This is just not good enough.
We urgently need this legislation to deal with the many threats that the public face online, including extremism, violence, misogyny and homophobia. I asked the Leader of the House to clarify the timetabling of this Bill. We must take online safety more seriously and we must do it now.
After a very tough week I hope that we can continue the congenial spirit we have seen of late across the House, and use this to work together to do right by our constituents.