Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.
In Birmingham Northfield
Attacks on mosques
Earlier this month, five Birmingham mosques were attacked with sledgehammers overnight. These are appalling attacks which I utterly condemn. West Midlands Police are working with Birmingham City Council to find those responsible and to support Birmingham’s Muslim communities. Such criminal activity is entirely unacceptable and should never be tolerated in our community. All residents of Birmingham, regardless of their faith or any other aspect of their background, have a right to feel safe and welcome in our city. In the face of violence at the hands of those who seek to divide our communities, we must respond with solidarity and unity with those under threat.
I would urge anyone with information about the attacks to contact West Midlands Police online via Live Chat or via 101, or to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Nursery School Funding
Following last month’s announcement by the Government of funding for Nursery Schools until September 2020, the All-Party Group on Nursery Schools organised a mass lobby of MPs in Parliament and a march on Downing Street to call for a long-term funding commitment from the Government. I had the pleasure of attending the lobby meeting, and met with some of my constituents who are fighting for the futures of our nursery schools. This long-term funding is crucial to ensuring that our nurseries can provide the right start for our children. Nursery schools play a crucial role in giving all children equal opportunities early in life, and this cannot happen without proper funding. I will continue to work with other MPs to push the Government to commit to secure, long-term funding for nursery schools in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.
Climate Change Protests
On Friday 15th March, students up and down the country went on strike to protest Government inaction on climate change. I attended the protests in Birmingham and saw first hand the activism of young people fighting for our planet and their future. Last weekend, some of the protesters spoke at a ward forum meeting that I organised along with Northfield Councillor Olly Armstrong. It was a pleasure to hear them speak so passionately about such an important issue, and I look forward to working with them in the future to press for real progress to be made to more effectively tackle climate change.
Peace for Yemen
Britain’s historic associations with Yemen mean we have a large number of citizens whose family origins are in Yemen. One of the largest concentrations of British Yemenis is in the West Midlands. All of us, however, whether of Yemeni origin or not, have been horrified by the brutal civil war that has been taking place in Yemen for the past four years: a conflict which has claimed over 50,000 lives, which has brought millions to the brink of famine and which has witnessed the world’s worst cholera epidemic, with nearly 110,00 new cases confirmed since the start of this year – one third of them children under the age of five. The United Nations has described it as the World’s worst humanitarian crisis. Last Saturday, I spoke at Together for Peace in Yemen, an event which brought together members of Yemeni community from different parts of the UK to discuss what practical action can be taken here to help ease the suffering of people in Yemen and to contribute peace. It was a very successful event with a number of follow-up activities planned. As well as doing what I can to support those as a local MP, I am also a member of the House of Commons International Development Committee which is involved in ongoing work to help ensure that Britain’s humanitarian aid to Yemen is as effective as possible and to encourage both our own Government and the UN to do all they can to promote a durable peace.
You may have already seen that I recently sent out my latest Brexit update covering recent developments in Parliament, which you can read here. Since then, we have had another tumultuous week with a lot going on in and around Parliament. On Monday, I spoke in the debate in the Commons about Brexit, and you can watch my speech here or read it here. I highlighted my concerns about a no deal Brexit, and about the current Brexit logjam in Parliament.
On Wednesday, MPs voted in a series of so-called indicative votes, designed to gauge levels of support for various Brexit options. Parliament voted on no deal, common market 2.0, membership of EFTA and EEA, membership of a customs union, Labour’s alternative plan, revoking article 50 to avoid no deal, a confirmatory people’s vote, and trying to reach a different kind of trade agreement with the EU if no withdrawal agreement is implemented. You can see how I voted in each of the votes here. This first round of indicative votes was inconclusive, with no options securing a majority of votes cast. However, there was considerable support for both a customs union and a confirmatory public vote. Following this, the next few days need to be used to look closely at last night’s votes and draw up a series of options that have a chance of securing a majority of votes in Parliament. This will not be an easy task, but we have a responsibility to work towards securing a majority of support for a way forward. The current uncertainty that is characterising the Brexit process is benefiting nobody. It is causing real frustration among the British people on all sides of the debate, and is damaging to our economy.
Also on Wednesday, Theresa May announced that she will step down as Prime Minister before the next phase of Brexit negotiations. This was followed by her publishing plans to ask the House of Commons on Friday 29th March to agree the part of her deal covered by the Withdrawal Agreement while postponing discussion of the “Political Declaration” – or other part of the deal on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. There are two problems with this. The first is that up until now both the Prime Minister and the EU have always insisted that both documents are package and that one cannot stand without the other. The other and more serious problem is that by trying to separate the two, Theresa May is asking MPs to confirm 22nd May as Brexit day, blind to what arrangements will be in place or possible thereafter. Indeed, her decision to stand down could well mean that we will not even know who will be conducting the negotiations with the EU, other than that it will be whoever replaces her as Conservative leader. I just don’t believe this is reasonable. Our future relationship with the EU after Brexit is far too important to be framed by the internal processes of the Conservative Party. The House of Commons as a whole should have the opportunity to seriously consider and reach decisions on these matters before Brexit takes effect. As I write this report, Parliament is debating the Prime Minster’s latest proposal. By the time you read it, the results of today’s votes may well be known so you may be ahead of me!
As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, knife crime is a particular area of worry in the constituency. The issue has unfortunately been in the headlines in recent weeks following a number of tragic deaths in areas throughout the country.
Earlier this month, I attended a meeting with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner along with fellow Birmingham MPs. We discussed the work that was being done by West Midlands Police to tackle the increase in violence and knife crime. Underfunding and a lack of resources were both raised as issues for the West Midlands Police, with officers being forced to make difficult decisions about what calls to prioritise. The Police rightly prioritise the most urgent cases, such as violent crimes and crimes in progress, but when they are so short-staffed, there is an impact on response times to other calls that are still very serious for the victims involved. Moreover, it affects the ability of the Police to carry out the vital neighbourhood work that they do to prevent crime. This state of affairs is a result of the Government’s cuts to funding for Police forces.
Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister Louise Haigh secured an urgent statement on the Government’s response to knife crime in the Commons last week. The Government confirmed its intention to hold an emergency summit on knife crime in the first week of April. The summit is due to bring together Ministers, community leaders and relevant agencies, and will meet with victims of knife crime to listen to some of these tragic stories and discuss what can be done to tackle this serious problem. The Government has also recently announced a £100 million violence reduction fund, which will be targeted at hotspot areas. While this funding is certainly welcome, it does not make up for the cuts that the Government has made to Police services in recent years, with West Midlands Police alone having faced cuts of £175m since 2010.
Israel and Palestine
The Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, which I chair, has had a particularly busy few weeks. Earlier this month, we heard testimonies from two doctors who were working in Gaza last year at the time of protests, high tension, and deaths along the border with Israel last year. They told us of the immense pressure that the health system in Gaza is under, in part because of the blockade of the region, with scheduled procedures often having to be cancelled due to a lack of resources. One of the doctors was himself shot through both knees by Israeli snipers, despite his clothes clearly marking him as a medic.
Last week, the UN Human Rights Council voted on whether to adopt the recommendations of a Commission of Inquiry report into deaths at the Gaza border. While the resolution passed, the UK abstained on the vote. This is a regrettable decision, which represents a refusal of the Government to uphold respect for the rule of law and human rights. Any viable peace deal for Israel and Palestine must be based on respect for these principles, and with its abstention the UK Government moved away from this rights-focused peace. If the UK is to uphold the principles of rule of law and human rights, it must take steps to condemn countries when they violate these principles. I will continue to work alongside fellow MPs to hold the government to account on this issue.
My full statement on the votes is available here. Along with my fellow Labour MP Lisa Nandy, I co-authored this article published in the New Statesman ahead of the vote calling on the Government to vote in favour of the resolution.