The extremely serious revelations surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have made clear that our data isn’t as safe as we may have assumed. Not only have private firms bought and sold our data, and targeted us accordingly, but it seems that such practices have had an impact on politics too. I asked a number of questions on the issue in Parliament last week, specifically seeking to find out what contracts the Government has with these companies - and what they knew about their methods.
This week I asked the Prime Minister whether she would agree to cross party talks to address the dangers of big money and big data in politics. You can see my question here, and witness the attempts by Tory MPs to shout me down. I also spoke in the debate on Tuesday, which you can read here.
Transition Deal and Brexit negotiations
You could be forgiven for thinking that last week’s EU council meeting was a significant step forward in the Brexit process. I just don’t buy the hype - Ministers had to cross just about all of their own red lines, while the crucial issue of the N.Ireland border remains completely unresolved - so I remain very sceptical about the Government’s ability to salvage any sort of decent deal from the wreckage of their Brexit negotiations. With just a year to go until the planned Brexit date, i'm seriously concerned about where the country is heading. I'm especially worried that the Government isn't getting its act together on environmental protection. The case for a People’s Poll on the Brexit deal is growing stronger by the day. You can read my piece on our EU progress here.
Last week I pushed the Government over their new pledge to give £50m of funding to their ‘Integrated Communities Strategy’. After years of cuts to English courses for speakers of other languages (ESOL) I wanted to know if they were willing to commit to helping people with their language skills. Unfortunately the Minister didn’t give a particularly clear answer to my simple question - so i’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and lobby for decent funding for ESOL course.
More Money for Nukes
This week, in Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May slipped out an announcement that she's planning to spend even more money on Britain's nuclear weapons system. Current estimates suggest that this new generation of weapons of mass destruction could cost up to £200bn over 30 years - and now ministers are pledging at additional £600m to the project. I will be asking questions of the government on this decisions, and continuing to urge them to think again about pouring so much cash into a project that simply doesn't serve any purpose for our country.
For a number of years now I’ve been asking the Home Office for permission to visit the Yarlswood detention centre. The centre is well known for its cruel treatment of detainees - and has recently been in the news as people there are on a hunger strike. The Government’s continued refusal to let me visit has been extraordinary - and their most recent reply really did border on ridiculous. They continue to refuse me a visit, saying that ‘In addition to security and safety considerations, visits to view IRCs can affect the regime for detainees and are therefore subject to careful consideration and management to minimise disruption and intrusion.’
It seems to me like they really don’t want me to visit.
Air pollution in Brighton and Hove
Last week I pressed the government on the air pollution crisis in Brighton and Hove. We know that the city has failed to meet targets on nitrogen dioxide NO2, and that high levels of pollution are damaging to our health - so i’ve urged them to expand their monitoring of pollution in the city. I am continuing to press for policy changes to reduce air pollution too - including a ban on polluting cars, improved public transport and clean air zones.
On Wednesday of last week the Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, was jailed for eight months by an Israeli court. This case is really dismaying, not least because Ahed was arrested for allegedly slapping a soldier immediately after her cousin was shot in the head by the Israeli Defense Force. I’ve been urging our Government to apply pressure to the Israeli government on this issue - and will continue to advocate on behalf of the many children locked up in Israel.
On Sunday I was on the Andrew Marr show, being interviewed about a number of topics.The first part of the interview focused on Cambridge Analytica, and we went on to discuss the latest round of talks with the EU. I was really pleased that just 24 hours after I spoke about the issue with Andrew Marr Sheffield council paused the tree felling programme that's caused so much destruction in the city. You can see the full interview here.
Same sex marriage in Northern Ireland
Yesterday I joined MPs from across the political divide in supporting a Bill to bring same sex to Northern Ireland. It's the only part of the UK which doesn't allow equal marriage - and it's high time that changed.
At yesterday's all party parliamentary group on Southern Rail I tried get answers from GTR and Network Rail on compensation to passengers when the line is closed. I believe that those being inconvenienced should be given a refund on their railcards for the weeks when the line is shut. Commuters also need more information on timetable changes and part-time season tickets, and a greater commitment to keep ticket offices open.