Violence against women and girls
Like so many people across the country, I was shocked by the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard. The fact that a serving police officer has been charged makes it even more shocking.
I’m reminded too of the brutal murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in north London – which were equally shocking though got far less media attention.
It should be a basic right for women to be able to walk home at night, go for a run, pop out to the shops, do any number of normal things without feeling afraid or unsafe and without being judged. And yet we can’t. (See more of my response to this on my website).
It was no surprise that women across the country wanted to hold vigils in memory of Sarah. The police handling of these peaceful events needed to be dealt with sensitively and carefully, in the light of the reality of male violence against women and the need to keep people safe during the pandemic. In both London and Brighton, the police failed to strike that balance. There are serious questions for the Home Secretary to answer and, at time of writing, I’m hoping to raise them in Parliament on Monday.
After months of hearing promises from the Government that it would build back better and greener, we heard a Budget speech from the Chancellor where climate and nature were not mentioned once. This was a moment when we needed to see the Government treating the climate and ecological emergency with the urgency and ambition required. But it fell way short, as did the spending review last November.
There were a few things to welcome, including the change in the Bank of England’s mandate to reflect the importance of environmental sustainability and the transition to net zero, and the launch of green savings bonds. The new National Infrastructure Bank is welcome too, but it has to have a specifically green remit, and there is no guarantee of that, leaving the possibility that it might be funding high carbon investments. Treasury ministers have also indicated that the “super deduction” tax scheme for investment could be used for high carbon spending – which would mean the Government subsidising investments which take us further away from climate targets. It is both completely nonsensical and very damaging.
There was also no mention of any replacement for the Green Homes Grant, the Government’s flagship scheme to insulate and improve energy efficiency in people’s homes. The sudden withdrawal of most of its funding has left householders, and many small businesses who were doing the work, completely in the lurch, with some companies now facing bankruptcy as a result.
NHS staff and pay
The Government’s offer of a 1% pay rise for NHS staff, which would amount to a pay cut once 1.5% inflation is factored in, is deeply insulting to a group of people who have risked their lives to care for others. The hypocrisy of government ministers joining the “clap for carers”, amid promises that they would be fairly rewarded, turns my stomach – especially when I think of the billions of pounds which has been handed out to people and corporations with Tory party connections for Covid-related contracts.
More on Covid/PPE contracts
You may remember that I was part of a successful legal action against the Government over its failure to publish details about those Covid-related contracts. In response to a question I asked him in Parliament, the Prime Minister said that all the contract details were on the record, a claim repeated by the health minister a few days later. In a final judgement on the case, the High Court said that 100 Covid-related contracts awarded up to early October had still not been published – in other words, it was not correct that all contracts were on the record. I raised this with the minister in Parliament, yet again without a straight response. You can see our exchange here.
Covid vaccine rollout
While NHS teams have done an amazing job in the Covid vaccine rollout in the UK, it’s very alarming how any sense of global solidarity has been lost in the race by various countries to acquire as many vaccines for themselves as they can, regardless of need elsewhere.
I spoke at a (virtual) People’s Vaccine Rally where I highlighted the collective effort that had gone into creating the vaccines (unprecedented levels of public funding, tens of thousands of trial volunteers and the commitment of health workers across the world), and how this effort and goodwill was being handed over to a few giant corporations who were deciding which countries got vaccine supplies immediately, which have to wait and who pays what price. The rally is available to watch here. Vaccine equity matters and I’m pleased to be part of a movement to make sure privatisation and intellectual property rights don’t steal it away.
Financial support during Coronavirus
As Vice Chair of the All Party group on the Excluded (ie the self-employed, freelancers and small limited company directors), I attended a meeting to hear from representatives of the hair and beauty sector, who made a compelling case that they should also benefit from reduced rates of VAT, as the hospitality sector already has. As the speakers pointed out, hair salons are responsible for many repeat visits to town centres and have a positive impact on businesses around them too. They also do brilliant work with apprentices. In Parliament, I’ll continue to press for reduced VAT.
International Women’s Day
I marked IWD by chairing a panel discussion on women in climate diplomacy, organised by PRASEG, the all party parliamentary group on renewable and sustainable energy. Together with Amber Rudd, who was the UK minister at the Paris climate summit, and Labour’s Lisa Nandy, we talked about the critical role women played in delivering the Paris Agreement and the role for women in this year’s summit which is being hosted by the UK. It’s available to watch here.
A debate in Parliament on the UN climate summit
As many of you will know, the UK hosts the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November. I spoke in a parliamentary debate on preparations for the summit, highlighting the need for the UK Government to get its own house in order if it is to make a success of hosting the summit. I also said it was vital that everything was done to ensure full and equal participation of the global south and of civil society at the summit – whether it’s held in person, online or a mix of the two. As it’s likely that coronavirus will still be a public health threat in November, access to vaccines is part of that equal access.
You can read my speech here.
The UN climate summit (COP26) & parliamentary scrutiny
As hosts of the next UN climate summit in November, the UK government’s climate record is rightly under scrutiny more than ever. There is now a select committee of MPs, from the Environmental Audit Committee (of which I’m a member) and eight other select committees, who will be meeting regularly this year to hold the Government to account on its preparations for this critical summit.
Last week we questioned the COP President-Designate, Alok Sharma, and I challenged him on the Government’s failure to show climate leadership at home, particularly its approval of a new coal mine in Cumbria (since called in, thankfully, after international criticism). I also asked him if the Government was intending to ban new oil and gas exploration licences in the North Sea. The minister would not make any commitment on this, though the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy later said the licensing regime would remain compatible with the net zero target - which should mean new licences are denied. The full session is available here.
The Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill
I’m delighted that the CEE Bill, which I introduced in Parliament, now has the support of 100 MPs from eight different parties. It’s a real milestone and testament to the hard work of campaigners across the UK who’ve contacted their MPs to urge them to support the Bill.
Equal Votes Lobby
The movement for Proportional Representation held a virtual lobby of Parliament on Friday, calling for MPs to back equal votes and change our bankrupt voting system. Building a better, more equal society means also having a fairer voting system, so that the make-up of Parliament properly reflects the way people vote.