It’s hard to believe it’s a year since the first cluster of coronavirus cases was discovered in Brighton and Hove. A GP surgery and pharmacy were closed for deep cleaning, and many people were worried or confused about what they should be doing and what measures like self-isolation actually meant. There was a lack of clear, timely information and unfortunately the situation didn’t improve for many weeks.
To mark the anniversary, I took part in a live debate with the city’s other MPs, organised by the Argus. We talked about issues including the mortality rate in Brighton and Hove, the impact on the local economy, the unique issues our city has faced and the incredible generosity and kindness with which so many people and communities have responded. The podcast of the discussion is available here.
Challenging the Government over PPE contracts
The judicial review I’m part of was heard at the High Court earlier this month. I and two other MPs, supported by the Good Law Project, launched the legal challenge because of the Government’s failure to come clean on coronavirus contracts. £4 billion of public money is not accounted for. We want to know what the money was spent on, who got the contracts and why they were chosen. The Department of Health’s legal team admitted that it wasn’t always known who was accountable for some PPE procurement decisions – unbelievable when the safety of front line workers was at stake and millions of pounds of public money was involved. Judgement will come at a later date.
Coronavirus and re-opening schools
There is a lot of speculation about when schools might re-open, and whether the re-opening might cover both primary and secondary schools. I am a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, and we’ve been hearing evidence about the impact schools have on transmission rates. It was disturbing to hear evidence of pressure being put on parents to send children back to school when other members of the family are shielding. This has to be factored in on any decision about schools. There cannot be a blanket rule for everyone.
Education questions in Parliament
I had a chance to directly question the Universities Minister and asked about the support package being offered to students who have had a terrible time during the pandemic, not only with disrupted studies but many facing serious hardship. The Government has launched a hardship fund, but it is nowhere near enough in the face of what’s needed, and is much less than students in Wales are being offered by the Welsh government. Needless to say, I didn’t get a satisfactory response.
It’s been really encouraging to see the take-up of the Covid vaccine in Brighton and Hove, and that nationwide, 15 million people have been offered a first dose. But this is a global pandemic and I am very concerned that many countries in the global South not only don’t have access to sufficient doses, they are also having to pay more. I raised this with the Health Secretary in Parliament and was fobbed off with an insultingly patronising response. It was also discussed at an Independent SAGE press conference I took part in last Friday.
We need to ensure that World Trade Organisation policy on international patents doesn’t prevent the vaccine and other critical knowledge and information reaching poorer countries, and insist that vaccine deals are made public. This is not only a question of what is morally right. It is epidemiologically right too – we are only safe from Covid when we are all safe.
Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill
I secured a so-called “Adjournment” debate in Parliament (which takes place at the end of business) on the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEEBill) which I introduced into parliament as a Private Members’ Bill last September. It now has the support of nearly 100 MPs from eight different parties. Our climate law desperately needs updating to reflect the latest science, to take account of the ecological crisis as well as climate, and to give people a meaningful say in the transition to zero carbon emissions. You can read my speech here.
Discussing the climate emergency with local schools
I had a chance to talk about the CEE Bill in a question and answer session with students from a number of secondary schools in Brighton and Hove. The city’s two Labour MPs and I were joined by a Conservative councillor from BHCC, and fielded questions on everything from how young people can best make a difference to why we can’t have better waste recycling in the city (Answer: because previous administrations locked us into a 30-year PFI contract with Veolia which we can’t break without forfeiting over £200m). It was inspiring to hear how committed so many of the students were to pushing for strong action on the climate emergency. 2021, when the UK will be hosting a major UN climate summit, is the year when fine words need to urgently translate into bold action.
The Dasgupta Review was commissioned by the Treasury to look at the relationship between economic growth and the protection of nature, and it published its report this month. Professor Dasgupta’s conclusions were hard-hitting: GDP is totally unsuitable for judging the progress of economies over time. Yet it remains the fixation of the Treasury, and my attempts to persuade the Government to move towards different measures of progress, via an amendment to the Environment Bill, weren’t successful. I wrote about the Review and about how we cannot afford to go on pursuing economic growth regardless of the cost to nature in my column in Metro.
Trade Bill – genocide clause
The Trade Bill has been working its way through Parliament – I’ve written about many of its shortcomings in previous newsletters. When it came back to the Commons last week, I gave my support to an attempt to amend the Bill, giving judges in this country the power to determine whether genocide is happening, rather than waiting for the international court, which is so often blocked by vested interests. The amendment was triggered by the terrible repression being suffered by the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in north west China, including forced sterilisation, slave labour, the splitting up of families and the detention of a million people in sinisterly-named “re-education camps”. I wrote about why this amendment is so important in the Independent. There was a long list of MPs wanting to speak in the debate, and sadly I wasn’t reached this time. The amendment was lost by 15 votes. But the fight goes on against the Government’s refusal to stand up to this evil.