It’s fair to say that between Matt Hancock’s swift demise, the Batley and Spen by-election and England’s football success, it’s been a busy few weeks!
Huge congratulations to Kim Leadbeater on winning the by-election and being sworn in as our newest Labour MP. It was a very unpleasant campaign at times, but Kim and her team battled through to come out on top.
Debates and question times are still being run by ballot and frustratingly I have not had much luck in getting picked recently. I have managed to get in a few questions relating to my brief, though; more on those below.
With so much focus on the by-elections Parliament has been relatively quiet, but the delaying of the Covid roadmap did of course generate a lot of debate. On Monday the Prime Minister announced that July 19th will likely see the ending of all restrictions, which will no doubt lead to many important questions in the coming weeks. As a party we are also looking to how we should rebuild post-Covid, which is why we have launched ‘Stronger Together: A Better Future for Britain’. This is a major policy-building project to bring Britain together and deliver a fairer, more secure future. It will respond to the challenges and opportunities of the coming decade, with policies rooted in what matters to people in their daily lives.
In a bid to improve victims’ experiences – from alleged crimes being reported to the police, to outcomes in court – the Government launched an ‘end to end’ rape review in March 2019. It was expected to report by spring 2020 but was delayed while a legal case was heard and more research was gathered.
Some of you will have seen that the Government finally published the review and its recommendations on June 17th. While it is good that ministers took the opportunity to acknowledge the failures in the criminal justice system, the review has failed to adequately address the core problems. If you are interested in reading more, I wrote about Labour’s reaction to the review in my latest South London Press article.
Windrush Day 2021
June 22nd was Windrush Day and this was marked in the Commons by a backbench business debate on July 1st. Sadly I was not able to take part this year due to other commitments, but I was pleased to see Nick Thomas-Symonds (Shadow Home Secretary) calling for an independent body to take over the Windrush Compensation Scheme. 2 years on from its launch, it is a scandal that some of my constituents are still awaiting the outcome of their applications.
Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts (PCSC) Bill
Reactions to the PCSC Bill (which had its report stage and third reading in the Commons on July 5th) have generated one of the biggest email campaigns I have received in recent months. My Labour colleagues and I will not support a bill that does nothing to reverse the Tories’ failure to address the epidemic of violence against women and girls, and which imposes draconian restrictions on all of our freedoms including the right to protest.
The bill is full of divisive measures such as locking up protestors who cause ‘annoyance’ and those who damage statues of slave owners for longer than perpetrators of serious sexual assault. This should have been an important opportunity to change the criminal justice system for the better, but all it will do is further divide the country. Rather than being tough on crime, it is tough on the freedoms, rights and civil liberties all of us enjoy.
Shadow Minister for Disabled People
As always, my shadow ministerial brief has been keeping me very busy. My biggest concern at the moment is when the Government will finally publish its long overdue National Strategy for Disabled People. I asked Ministers about this on Wednesday 23rd and Monday 28th June, and each time was told “soon”… Disabled people are hoping for radical policies that improve their lives, but will it just be warm words and no real action?
Another highlight from June was the NASUWT Disabled Teachers’ Conference. It was great to hear first-hand from disabled teachers about the specific barriers they have faced during the pandemic. I was able to follow up with a series of parliamentary questions.
We are also finishing up our series of regional roadshows, which have been a great success. The Westminster team and I are now working on some policy papers to feed into the wider work and pensions team’s future policy development work.
In the Constituency
In June the casework team opened well over 250 new cases. This is down from this time last year (when the consequences of the pandemic were really starting to bite), but is still almost 90% up on our more ‘normal’ stats from 2019. I am also still holding regular surgeries, and this Friday will be running one face-to-face for the first time in 16 months. On the policy side, the team replied to more than 400 enquiries last month (400% up on June 2019). As always, I am hugely grateful to my team and the fantastic support they give constituents day in, day out.
The constituency office remains closed to the public for the time being. If you know anyone who is in need of support, please do encourage them to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8469 4638. More details of upcoming surgeries are available here.
Happy 73rd Birthday NHS
On July 3rd I joined my neighbours Ellie Reeves and Janet Daby, Lewisham councillors and local campaigners to celebrate the NHS’ 73rd birthday. We all took the opportunity to thank NHS staff, past & present, for their brilliant service. It also helped to reinvigorate support and remind everyone that Labour will not let the Tories dismantle our health service.
I was delighted to hear that Wavelengths leisure centre in Deptford has been saved from closure. Dozens of constituents contacted me to let me know how much they value Wavelengths, and I’m so pleased that Lewisham Council has found a way to keep this great community resource open.
Creative Industries Update
Earlier in June, I met with constituents who work in the creative sector for another creative industries roundtable. We heard from Lewisham Council on their ambitious year-long programme of events for when Lewisham is London’s Borough of Culture for 2022. I’m sure that this will help galvanise the area’s creative spirit and bring people together after the difficult 18 months the sector has faced.
We also heard from local people how things are slowly improving for local creative businesses, and the importance of facilitating affordable spaces, especially for young creatives in the area was reaffirmed. I remain committed to supporting local people working in the creative industries and look forward to meeting again at another roundtable soon.
EU Settlement Scheme Update
The deadline for applications to the EU settlement Scheme has now sadly passed. I was reassured to note that 5.6 million claims were made by the end of May and that 95% of these have been granted settled or pre-settled status. Concerns have been raised that whilst the system remains new and based online, this may cause problems with employers and landlords unable or unwilling to access digital records.
In regards to ‘reasonable grounds’ for submitting a late application, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster said “there is no specific time limit to that provision”. The Government assures us that children or vulnerable people who missed the June 30th deadline will remain eligible for the scheme and I will continue to make representations to the Home Office on behalf of my constituents.
Local Policing Update
I know that many members saw the videos circulating on social media of a young delivery driver stopped on Deptford High Street by Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers recently. In light of this I arranged a meeting with the acting Borough Commander, a representative from the TSG unit, local councillors and representatives from Lewisham Council and local police scrutiny structures. Although I cannot outline the exact discussions we had, this is something that I will be following up on. I am also arranging a meeting with the incoming Borough Commander shortly after they take up the position later this month to discuss disproportionality in stop and search and other issues.
I believe that policing should be by consent and must be intelligence led so that every person in our community feels safe on our streets. I know that unfortunately, for a range of reasons, that is not always the case. Since Lewisham Labour’s response to Stop and Search in June 2020 I have been regularly meeting with the police and holding surgeries devoted to policing so that we can all work together to ensure that every person in Lewisham feels that that are able to approach the police.