As everyone reading this will know, Brexit has dominated the political agenda in recent weeks and consequently the range of other issues covered in this this month’s newsletter is more limited than usual.
The Prime Minister has now set out the terms of her proposed Brexit deal (all 585 pages of it!) and Parliament is about to start nearly two weeks of intensive debate ahead of votes on 11th December. I recently set out my thoughts on where things stand and on the choices facing the UK in an article published by the Birmingham Post and Mail here.
Based on what I know now and in line with the arguments I set out in that article, I intend to oppose Theresa May’s deal which I believe would leave the UK worse off. I also intend to back amendments which call on Parliament to rule out crashing out of the EU without any deal at all – something which I believe would have very severe and damaging consequences for our country.
Remembrance Sunday in Northfield
It was an honour to once again be part of Northfield’s commemoration of Remembrance Day, where two different events gave me and many others pause for thought. Firstly there was the commemoration at the memorial outside Quarry Lane Social Club, where I laid a wreath on behalf of the UK Parliament. At a separate ceremony in Rednal, organised by St Stephens Church, I lit a beacon as part of the ‘Beacons of Light’ commemoration nationwide. This was particularly moving as the names of 25 men from Rednal who died in the First World War were read out.
As you will know, this year marked 100 years since the armistice and the end of the First World War. Though the events continue to slip further and further into the past, the lessons of such a conflict remain as relevant as ever and should not be forgotten. The anniversary also gives us all an opportunity to think about the individual stories and experiences of the war, which many families will have talked or thought over this month. For my part, a couple of years back I wrote about one of my family connections to that war here.
Birmingham pub bombings memorial
There was another important anniversary this month for Birmingham as 21st November marked 44 years since the Birmingham Pub Bombings, where 21 people were killed and some 222 injured. In marking that anniversary this year, a memorial to the victims was unveiled last week outside New Street Station. The memorial, designed by local artist Anuradha Patel, is a set of three sculpted metal trees, each of them consisting of six leaves where the names and ages of the victims is inscribed.
As you may recall from my newsletters earlier in the year, the fallout of the bombings continue today. No one has yet been brought to justice for those murders and there remain big unanswered questions about what happened that night. The families of the victims have had to overcome hurdle after hurdle in pursuit of justice and to get those answers, but after years of tenacity and campaigning, they secured a renewed inquest into the bombings. Those inquests are scheduled to get started in February 2019 and are expected to last for nine weeks.
Before we get to that point however, there are still legal disputes going on about the rules the inquest should follow and earlier this year I led calls in Parliament for the families to be granted legal aid to present their case to the Court of Appeal. Unfortunately, we again hit a brick wall as far as the government was concerned, once again leaving the families having to rely on voluntary donations from the public to enable their case to be heard.
Crime on the Hollymoor Estate
Residents living on the Hollymoor Estate in Longbridge are understandably concerned about a spike in burglaries, car crime and other offences which have been taking place in their area in recent months. Those concerns were underlined by the numbers who attended a public meeting which took place on the estate towards the end of November.
There is no doubt in my mind that the funding cuts that the Government have imposed on our Police have contributed both to the rise in crime and undermined the capacity of the Police to both prevent and respond to crime as effectively as they and the public would want to see. When West Midlands Police has lost more than 2,000 officers since the Conservatives took office, it stands to reason that the level of service to the public would be hit as it has.
At times like this, however, it is more important than ever to keep channels of communication between public and the Police open and that we work together to keep our communities safe despite the impact of cuts. It was therefore regrettable that the Police themselves did not appear to have been invited to the recent public meeting by the Conservative Councillor who arranged it. I have therefore undertaken to arrange another meeting at which the Police are present to hear residents’ concerns and hopefully to jointly agree a plan of action going forward.
Each year thousands of puppies are illegally imported into the UK. Many of these puppies are often too young to be sold or separated from their mother. They are transported for days in unsuitable conditions under fraudulent veterinary records and then sold via online adverts to unsuspecting members of the public. Many of these poor animals arrive in the UK in terrible conditions and with illnesses which mean they often don’t live very long once they get here.
This practice is abhorrent and completely disregards the welfare of the puppies being transported as well as the mothers in the puppy farms around Europe. I have spoken out on this issue a number of times in recent years and pressed the Government for more action to crack down on this practice and I will continue to do so.
If you or someone you know are considering getting a cat or dog, please do consider rehoming those from animal shelters. Alternatively, if you still want to have a specific breed of dog, you can check that the breeder is licensed and assured by checking the Kennel Club website here.