The Policing Bill
This Government’s authoritarianism is on full display in the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, which is making its way through Parliament. Most worrying is the proposal to restrict the right to peaceful protest, handing huge powers to the Home Secretary and the police to ban protests which are too ‘noisy’ or cause ‘serious disruption’ with the police or ministers able to determine what that means. This is a dangerous assault on a fundamental civil liberty – the sort of crackdown that we would condemn if it was happening in another country – and I supported an amendment to throw it out. My speech in the debate on the Bill is here.
Challenging the Home Secretary over policing of Sarah Everard vigil
I wrote in my last newsletter about my concerns over the policing of vigils for Sarah Everard. I raised these concerns with the Home Secretary in Parliament, saying that handing over more powers to the police, as she proposes in the Policing Bill, when they so badly misjudged the policing of the vigils, would be both foolish and dangerous. You can see our exchange here.
I joined more than 50 other MPs and peers in writing to the Prime Minister on the specific steps he should take to end the scourge of male violence against women. He is proposing more CCTV and streetlights, which go nothing like far enough. We need deep-rooted economic and social change.
I’m also following up complaints about the disproportionate tactics used by police at the local vigil in Brighton.
Changing the rules on asylum
Another sign of the Government’s increasing lurch to the right is the plan to tear up the laws on asylum and turn its back on vulnerable people by dumping them in third countries while their asylum claims are processed – a proposal which is not only inhumane, it’s impractical and will prove wildly expensive.
The proposals will also make it almost impossible for people who arrive in boats across the Channel to successfully claim asylum, and have rightly been condemned by the UN, the Red Cross and other organisations working with refugees. People who come to the UK in small boats do so because there are no other options for them. It should not disqualify them from being granted refugee status. Instead, the Government should introduce safe and legal routes.
I was a guest on the BBC’s Politics Live programme where we discussed the proposals – you can see my comments here.
The Government’s Integrated Review
The Government unveiled its Integrated Review, outlining its vision for the UK in the world in the decades to come. Despite the Prime Minister saying that the climate crisis is the Number 1 priority, there was nothing in the review which addresses this – just billions of pounds on more nuclear warheads which break the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is likely to fuel a new nuclear arms race. I asked the Prime Minister how this was supposed to make us safer – needless to say I didn’t get an answer. Our exchange is here.
Fire Safety Bill
The Grenfell fire tragedy exposed the dangerous condition of many high-rise blocks because they were covered in flammable cladding. This problem has been created by decades of deregulation and the Government is rightly meeting the costs of rectifying this for buildings over 18 metres. But that doesn’t help people living in less high-rise buildings, nor does it help people facing fire safety issues which aren’t linked to cladding – like inadequate internal fire ‘barriers’ which is the case for many apartment blocks in Brighton.
I voted for amendments to the Fire Safety Bill to try to close these loopholes, but the amendments were defeated because the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs voted with the Government. The Bill will now go back to the House of Lords and the fight to get justice for leaseholders, whatever their fire risk is, goes on.
Genocide in Xinjiang
Ministers have rightly spoken out about the appalling human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang, where Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are subject to rape, mass incarceration and forced labour. Any appeasement of this genocide shames our country – as I wrote in a piece with former diplomat John Ashton for the Independent. But the Government is refusing to take action and amend the Trade Bill to stop trade deals with countries committing genocide and it narrowly defeated an amendment to the Bill. There was such a short time allocated to debate that I wasn’t called – but this is part of what I’d planned to say.
If you also feel strongly that we should be signing trade deals with countries involved in genocide, please sign this petition and encourage others to do so too.
Covid lockdown anniversary
Like many of you, I took part in the evening vigil on the anniversary of the first lockdown, remembering the more than 126,000 lives lost to Covid. The loss of so many lives - and the lives changed forever due to long Covid - makes it essential that there’s an urgent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic. I also joined 50 other MPs and peers in writing to the Prime Minister calling for March 23rd to be a Covid Memorial Day, to serve as a reminder to future generations and leaders that lessons must be learned from the terrible experience of this pandemic.
Covid contracts scandal
As many of you know, I have been part of a legal challenge against the Government over its refusal to come clean about all the Covid-related contracts it has signed with private companies, many of them with links to the Tory party. We won our High Court case last month. When I raised this case with the Prime Minister in Parliament, he said all contracts were on the record – which is not the case. Together with Labour MP Debbie Abrahams and the Lib Dems’ Layla Moran, I have now written to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to investigate the Prime Minister over a potential breach of the ministerial code by misleading Parliament. The Conservatives have been very outspoken about Scotland’s first minister (who was cleared of any breach) – but silent about their own leader misleading the House.
Voting against the Coronavirus Act
On Parliament’s last day before the Easter recess, MPs were asked to vote on extending the Coronavirus Act, the emergency legislation that was introduced at the start of the pandemic. Its powers are draconian, giving the Government powers to close our borders, suspend elections and ban protests, with no scrutiny. Police and immigration officials have wide-ranging powers under the Act too. At the beginning of the pandemic, I voted for the Act because the evidence I had seen on the emerging public health emergency warranted it.
But I am worried by the way the Government has used the powers in the Act to go way beyond what is required and to avoid being held to account. I was one of a very few MPs who voted against its renewal last September, and I did so again last week because I don’t think there continues to be a justification for these powers. Instead I am supporting the Protect Everyone Bill being championed by the NGO Liberty - more here.
The Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill
Huge thanks to everyone who took part in the day of action to promote the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill, which I introduced in Parliament last September. There were banner drops, videos posted on social media and so many creative and imaginative ways of asking MPs to back the bill. It now has the support of more than 100 cross-party MPs and I hope more will sign up after Friday’s day of action.
Brighton schools and the ‘Misplaced 62’
I met virtually with the Head of Dorothy Stringer school to discuss the difficulties in accommodating more of the Misplaced 62 at the school, and I continue to be in contact with councillors and officers. I fully understand how angry and upset many families feel over this, particularly coming, as it does, after such a difficult year for our young people. The clear message from both the local authority and the school is that, unfortunately, there’s no extra space, and already far too much pressure on toilets (there’s only provision for 10 toilets for girls, for example), and the canteen etc. I am pressing for funds to be released to enable more toilets, and other improvements, to be built - as they should have been two years ago - but sadly that won’t help the current group of children who haven’t been allocated a place.
The council have told me that no child in the city is without a school place, and whilst it is distressing for those who have not received the choices they hoped for, all the schools in the city are rated as good. I know that journey time is a particular concern for many, and I’ve contacted the Council to urge them to do all they can to support ways of simplifying and shortening travel times.
I've always done what I can to support parents and pupils affected by allocation problems when bulge years have happened in the past. However, with the schools indicating that they simply cannot increase their capacity because of the pressures they face this year, it does complicate the situation and further restricts alternative solutions.
Help our Kelp
I was delighted to see that more than 100 square miles of seabed off the Sussex coast is being closed to damaging trawl fishing to help kelp forests recover. Over the years, we’ve lost 95% of the kelp forests which are so important for marine ecosystems, local sustainable fisheries and the fight against climate change. Congratulations to the Help Our Kelp Partnership for everything they’ve done to achieve this.
The Covid vaccine rollout
I’m delighted to have now joined the 30 million people in our country who’ve had a Covid vaccine. The staff and volunteers at the Brighton Centre were amazing – it was brilliantly efficient and very inspiring to see people coming together to make this happen. Thank you to all of them.
I’m pleased to learn that unpaid carers in England who are the primary carer of someone who is clinically vulnerable can now register for a vaccine using the National Booking Service or by calling 119. There’s more information on the Carers UK website.