Following the return to parliament this week I have wanted to get back writing my ‘Notes from Westminster’ to give greater insight into my role and an understanding of what has been happening in Westminster this week.
The impact of the COVID pandemic is visible everywhere on the parliamentary estate. There are no visitors, no lobbyists, no members of the public watching the debates and the building itself is quite empty. Social distancing remains in the debating chamber and Doorkeepers rush up to disinfect the despatch box after each debate. Unlike the House of Lords, Members of Parliament are not allowed to take part in debate remotely so I will still be travelling to and from London to be able to raise your concerns.
The happening of the previous few weeks in parliament has been quite the collection; from the government deciding to vote against providing meals for hungry children during the half term, the leaked decision to introduce a national lockdown on Saturday resulting in chaos, confusion and an urgent statement from the Prime Minister, version four of the Chancellor’s winter economic plan and the PMs refusal to agree that all votes must be counted in the USA election before any one declares themselves the winner of the presidential election.
During October alone I have managed to speak in parliament and address the government over ten times on such a diverse range of topics such as rights for family members to visit loved ones in care homes, COVID-19 business support, Rugby league, support for the coach industry, greater protection for emergency service workers and support for pubs and hospitality amongst other issues. I get asked about how I decide which issues to raise and it is all based on the messages, conversations, letters and emails I have from people living in Hull West and Hessle.
My involvement in the campaign to support women with endometriosis came from meeting a local constituent called Kate and since then I have become Vice Chair of the APPG for Endometriosis. A few weeks ago, we released our report of recommendations to the government and these included targets for shorter diagnosis time and highlighted the need for more research into the condition. This is just the beginning though and the entire APPG will not stop pushing this in parliament until we get the actions that so many women deserve.
Other actions and votes in October included the Lord Alfred Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Bill where the government voted against amendments that would allow separated child refugees to reunite with families in the UK. Lord Dubs was himself a child refugee who fled the Nazi’s. The governments rejection of these amendments means that unaccompanied child refugees will be left at risk of exploitation in unsafe areas, in awful conditions, and it will see the UK refuse them safety and sanctuary in our country.
On Monday 2nd November 2020, the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons announcing a second national lockdown in England.
Three weeks ago I joined with my colleagues in calling on the Government to implement a short circuit-break in England, in line with the recommendations of the Government’s scientific advisors.
I did not come into Parliament to restrict people’s freedoms, to prevent people meeting their friends and their loved ones, or to decide when people can and cannot leave their home or how many people may attend a funeral. I do not want Parliament to be closing businesses, gyms, bars or places of worship. Indeed, I do not want Parliament to be legislating on any of these issues, least of all after the British public have made so many enormous sacrifices already.
While these new restrictions are not in any way desirable or perfect, I do not believe there is any excuse for inaction or for allowing the virus to continue to spread. It is with a heavy heart, and in the national interest, that I support them.
People in our constituency and across the country will want to know that there is a plan for exiting restrictions. Ministers have so far not set out what criteria will be used to judge whether the lockdown should be lifted, and I hope that they will clarify this as a matter of urgency.
On Tuesday 3rd November 2020 MPs debated and voted on the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. The stated purpose of the Bill is to provide greater legal protections to Armed Forces personnel and veterans serving on military operations overseas.
I voted for a New Clause which would have amended the Bill so that claims by troops or former service personnel were not blocked in all circumstances, as they are under the Bill at present. It is simply wrong for those who put their life on the line serving Britain overseas to have less access to compensation and justice than the UK civilians whom they defend—or indeed than their comrades whose service is largely UK-based.
I was disappointed that the Government opposed and defeated these amendments.
On Wednesday 4th November 2020, the House of Commons considered the Agriculture Bill, which establishes a new farming system following the UK leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
I am once again pressing the Government to adopt a legal guarantee that British animal welfare and environmental standards will not be undercut in post-Brexit trade deals. I voted in support of successful amendments from the House of Lords, which would enshrine in law the Government’s manifesto commitment to not undermine UK food standards in trade deals and would make it accountable to Parliament during this process.
However, these amendments were voted down by the government by 331 to 272, farmers have a genuine and widespread concern about the lack of a legal guarantee, which is still missing.
I shall report back next month with another chapter of Notes from Westminster, so stay safe, work together and hopefully we can all get through this awful time together.