State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech
It’s two years since Parliament declared a climate emergency and we are at the start of a decade that is absolutely critical in terms of climate action. Yet astonishingly climate was not mentioned once in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, and the background briefing notes released by the Government shortly after had no new initiative or plan to tackle an accelerating crisis.
I tabled an amendment at the start of the debate on the Queen’s Speech pointing out this omission and calling on the Government to adopt the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill). It has the backing of more than 100 cross-party MPs, and many of them joined me in writing to the Prime Minister the day before the State Opening urging him to take up the Bill.
While the CEE Bill is vital if we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change, by itself it is not enough. If we are to transform our economy, get off the disastrous path we are on, and build a fairer, greener and more sustainable future, there are five bills which we need: a Green New Deal, the CEE Bill, a Wellbeing Economy Bill, a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Bill and a Better Business Bill.
I spoke about these in my response in Parliament to the Queen’s Speech (which you can read here), and I wrote about why they were all needed in a comment piece in the Independent (apologies – it’s behind a paywall).
I also gave my overall response to the Queen’s Speech in my column for Metro (that’s free to access!)
And don’t forget the petition in support of a switch to a Wellbeing Economy - please sign it if you haven’t already. I’m delighted to see it getting so much support, now more than 16,000 signatures.
Plans for voter ID and Planning reform
There’s been plenty of justifiable criticism of the Government’s legislative programme and its failure to come up with any plan for social care – despite Boris Johnson saying when he became Prime Minister nearly two years ago that he would fix the crisis in social care with a clear plan that was already prepared.
But I want to mention just two proposed bills: the plan for voter ID and the reform of planning laws.
Requiring voters to produce ID at polling stations is a blatant attempt at voter suppression. Voter fraud is a non-existent problem in this country (there was one conviction after the 2019 election). A senior Cabinet minister let the cat out of the bag when he said “you have to introduce things that keep the electoral system proper before the problem arises”. There’s clear evidence that people without formal ID like passports or driving licences are much more likely to be poorer, and much less likely to vote Conservative. This is a deliberate attempt to squeeze support for other parties.
The proposed changes to planning will rob local communities of any meaningful say over what is built in their neighbourhood. They are a way of rewarding the Tories’ developer chums who will be able to build whatever they want in designated areas, with the local council powerless to stop it. When we have a Housing Minister who has recently given the greenlight to a huge development and removed environmental conditions as “unreasonable and unnecessary”, it’s clear what damage these reforms could do not only to our towns, villages and countryside but also to local council efforts to cut emissions.
Both these proposals have drawn widespread criticism, including from some Conservatives. If they are put forward, I’ll be opposing them at every step of the way.
The violence in Palestine and Israel
The situation in Israel and Gaza is deeply worrying. The UK should end its arms trade with Israel, use sanctions to help enforce international law and take a stand on the forced evictions of Palestinian families from their homes, which was one of the catalysts for the most recent violence. Last month I wrote to the Minister about the evictions, urging him to take action. The forcible transfer of an occupied population is a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as is the transfer of an occupier’s population into occupied territory, which includes East Jerusalem.
The wider context here is Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and internationally condemned practices that include the forcible transfer of Palestinian families and settlement expansion throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. You can read the letter and my statement on the situation on my website.
Public inquiry into Covid
I was very glad that the Prime Minister finally agreed to a public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic but this should start as soon as possible. There is no reason to wait until next spring. Lessons need to be learned now, particularly as this pandemic has not yet run its course.
It is also vital that the inquiry is genuinely independent and wide-ranging, and that bereaved families (who’ve been calling for an inquiry) get justice.
I’ve written before about my opposition to Covid vaccine passports which ministers appear to be pursuing even though they haven’t got the basics right. As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on Coronavirus, I heard powerful evidence about how vaccine passports could be counter-productive if, as feared, they alienate people in the very communities where vaccine take-up is low. Dividing people into the vaccinated and unvaccinated with a passport scheme risks making things worse.
Covid vaccines and global access
I was very pleased to see the US administration give its support to lifting the intellectual property rights on Covid vaccines in order to accelerate manufacture and distribution around the world. I joined more than 400 MPs, academics, NGOs, unions and healthcare workers in writing to the Prime Minister urging him to support this waiver. It would not solve all the problems: there are major issues around manufacturing capability, skills and distribution. But huge amounts of public money have gone into developing these vaccines at record speed, the global pandemic is not under control, and it would be morally wrong to hinder vaccine rollout by protecting the profits of pharmaceutical companies.
The Prime Minister and truthfulness
My attempts, along with two other MPs, to hold the Prime Minister to account for his failure to tell the truth are ongoing. We wrote to the Cabinet Secretary in late March about Boris Johnson’s breach of the Ministerial Code and have now received a reply saying it’s not his role to enforce the Code. That’s true – it’s the job of the Prime Minister who is the one breaking it. But the Cabinet Secretary can investigate a breach and must do so. Otherwise it’s left wide open to abuse, as is happening under the Prime Minister.
Disabled Children’s Partnership
I was pleased to attend a virtual meeting organised by the Disabled Children’s Partnership to hear direct from families about the extraordinary strain and pressures that Covid has added to the challenges facing them. I will continue to raise these with Government, and to lobby for more respite care, and higher pay for carers.
The future of the Hippodrome
I had a meeting with the Hove-based family business, Matsim Properties, which bought the Hippodrome last year to find out more about their plans for the building. The Hippodrome is a jewel in Brighton’s crown - a wonderful Grade II-listed building in the heart of the city - and seeing it deteriorate year after year has been so frustrating. I’m very hopeful that at last its future will be secured and its glory returned.
Local election results
Last but not least, congratulations to the 155 Green councillors who won in the local elections. The results were fantastic and showed a Green spring in every area of the country. I look forward to working with you all to push our agenda for a fairer, greener Britain.