Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter with a round-up of news from September. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.
Space prevents the newsletter covering all of what I have been doing over the past month. However, hopefully it provides a flavour of some of the local issues I have taken up as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on the Climate Protests, Thomas Cook and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
At the end of August, the Government announced that it had ordered an independently-led government review into the High Speed 2 project (HS2). The conclusions of the review are due to be reported to Government before the end of this year.
Many people think that HS2 is simply about cutting journey times between Birmingham and London. If that was all it was about, I would not support it. HS2 is also about providing high speed links between London, the Midlands and both the North West and North East. This can provide a transformational step-change in inter-regional connectivity by linking major economic centres across the UK, slashing journey times and catalysing tens of billions of bounds worth of regeneration opportunities across the UK. By putting Birmingham at the centre of this national transport network, the benefits for our region can be huge, with 50,000 new jobs created, and a £4 billion increase in annual economic output.
Although a huge project like HS2 inevitably costs a lot, cost control is still important and Government should be accountable for this. But Ministers also need to be told that it is not good enough to refuse to invest at scale in transport projects that benefit the whole country, whilst they do so willingly for projects in London.
This is why, along with other Birmingham Labour MPs, I have written to Douglas Oakervee, the chair of the review, to emphasise the importance of HS2 to delivering the connectivity, growth and prosperity that Birmingham has long been waiting for.
The weekend before last I had the pleasure of being in Victoria Square for Birmingham’s Climate protest, when so many people of all ages and backgrounds turned out to demand a better future for the planet.
To see such an astounding number of people committed to tackling the climate crisis was especially pleasing, not least because of the scale of the challenge we now face. In the last week, the third special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has underscored once more the devastating impact that soaring global temperatures are wreaking on our oceans and frozen regions. It is a timely reminder that we cannot rest on our laurels. Cities in the UK are not exempt from the threat of rising sea levels and the consequences in the decades to come for those without the means to relocate could be severe.
At our annual conference this month, Labour members voted to commit the Party to a Green New Deal with the ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2030, in what amounts to the most radical collection of environmental policies ever passed by Labour members. We are the last generation who can stop climate breakdown and build a society that works for the many, and now we have a plan to do just that.
The task now is to build on that momentum, working together to build towards a green revolution from the ground up in every town, village and city across the West Midlands and beyond.
2nd Postmortems after Road Crashes
2nd Postmortems following road traffic collisions can be extremely distressing for bereaved families and they are in most cases unnecessary – particularly when non-invasive procedures like the use of digital autopsy scanners are available. That is why I welcome new guidance, recently issued by the Chief Coroner to coroners up and down the country, clarifying that invasive second postmortems should very seldom be authorised.
A huge amount of credit for achieving this result must go to Elaine Gordon who lives locally, and her friend Lucy Harrison from Redditch. Elaine lost her sister, Gina, in a road traffic collision and Lucy lost her brother, Peter. Along with the Road Peace group, both Elaine and Lucy have been tireless in campaigning for consistency and sensitivity on the part of coroners across the country when deciding whether 2nd postmortems should or should not be ordered. They have also made a big difference locally in helping to persuade Birmingham City Council to agree a deal to use Sandwell’s CT postmortem scanner on a trial basis. This brings the real prospect of a lot fewer invasive procedures taking place in the city.
Along with my parliamentary colleagues Preet Kaur Gill MP and Rachel Maclean MP, it has been my privilege to back Elaine and Lucy in their efforts. I couldn’t be more pleased about the result Elaine and Lucy have achieved.
It goes without saying that Brexit continues to dominate both the news and events in Parliament. You will also know that over the past three years I have tried to provide constituents with reflections on developments through regular Brexit Updates that I publish online. I have written two Brexit Updates in the course of September which you can see online here.
As ever, I welcome any feedback from you on the issues raised or on any other aspect of Brexit. Because of the very large amount of correspondence I am already receiving on Brexit, I hope you will understand that I am not always able to reply individually to all the letters, e-mails and online comments that constituents send to me on the subject. Please be assured, however, that all are read.
Thomas Cook Group
Last week, Thomas Cook Group, including the UK tour operator and airline, ceased trading with immediate effect. All Thomas Cook bookings, including flights and holidays, have now been cancelled. As I write this, the efforts of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to bring back to the UK more than 150,000 Thomas Cook customers currently overseas is well underway.
Those of you impacted by the company’s collapse should refer to the CAA’s dedicated website at www.thomascook.caa.co.uk, where details of a dedicated call centre can also be found, together with information on repatriation flights, as well as advice on accommodation for both ATOL and non-ATOL customers.
Customers currently overseas should not travel to the airport until their flight back to the UK has been confirmed on the dedicated website.
Thomas Cook customers in the UK yet to travel should not go to the airport as all flights leaving the UK have been cancelled.
ATOL Protected passengers with future bookings are entitled to a full refund for their cancelled holiday. Passengers currently overseas may also make claims for the cost of replacing ATOL protected parts of their trip, or for out of pocket expenses as a result of delayed flights home. The Civil Aviation Authority will be launching a service to manage all refunds by Monday 30 September, once the flying operation has progressed. This refunds service will seek to process all refunds within 60 days of full information being received.
Further information will be available on the above website in the coming days. Until then, the CAA has requested that Thomas Cook customers refrain from submitting anything to the Civil Aviation Authority whilst the organisation continues to focus on the repatriation flying programme. Information explaining how to make a claim is due to be published by the CAA in the near future.
Although the above steps are welcome, Labour believes Ministers could be doing more in response to the Thomas Cook collapse, in the interests both of passengers and of the thousands of people who work for the company. You can read what Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Andy McDonald MP, said in the Commons last week here.
Locally, Northfield Thomas Cook store manager Emma Lloyd and her team are volunteering their time to help anyone who has concerns regarding their Thomas Cook holiday or who needs any help or advice on completing their ATOL forms. They are no longer able to use The Thomas Cook shop so they will be at the Northfield Community Partnership shop at 693 Bristol Road South on Monday 7th October between 9:30am and 12:30pm. A big thank you to them for being so generous at a time that is already so difficult and uncertain for all Thomas Cook staff and their families.
Annexation of the Jordan Valley
One of my responsibilities in Parliament is as chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Group which works to help end the conflict that has both scarred the Middle East for decades and threatens the security of the wider world.
There can be no lasting peace unless the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians are realised. That is why the group I chair calls for an end to violence by both sides and also why Israel’s direct occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza have to end. The occupation is contrary to successive resolutions of the United Nations and, by colonising the West Bank with a network of settlements on occupied land, Israel is also breaching its obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention.
Unfortunately, in the run up to the recent Israeli elections Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu undermined the prospects for peace still further by threatening to annex the Jordan Valley. In other words, Israel would turn its occupation of the territory into permanent rule. International law forbids the acquisition of territory by war so it would be illegal for Israel to carry out this threat. As the Jordan Valley makes up about a third of the West Bank, annexation of the territory by Israel, together with its settlements, would also destroy the possibility of a viable state of Palestine existing alongside the state of Israel. In other words it would destroy the cornerstone of international agreements to end the conflict.
Along with over 100 other UK parliamentarians from different parties this month I wrote to the UK Prime Minister calling on him to back a robust international response, reminding him that Britain backed international sanctions on Russia when it illegally annexed Crimea. Along with other MPs, I am also calling for the United Nations to publish an international list of companies whose business dealings support and profit from with Israel’s illegal settlements.
As it turns out Israel’s election was inconclusive and, as I write this, we don’t know if Mr Netanyahu will remain Prime Minister or if the annexation threat will be carried out.
Either way though, the UK must stand up for the rule of law. Israelis should be able to live in peace and security, with recognition of Israel’s independent statehood as a guarantee of those rights. Palestinians are entitled to the same rights, but they are denied their realisation. That is why Britain should also recognise the state of Palestine.
The full details of the letter and its signatories are available here.
Labour Party Conference
Labour’s conference took place in Brighton last week and set out some of the key changes a Labour Government would introduce to make the UK a fairer place to live – a society that works for the many and not just the few.
Two of the changes showcased that I am very proud of concern the future of health and social care. The original creation of the NHS by a Labour Government stands as one of our party’s greatest achievements. The next Labour government will build on that legacy by creating a National Care Service to end the crisis in social care. We’ll start by doubling the number of people who get free social care. We’ll also scrap prescription charges.
Action to tackle the climate emergency was also centre stage at the conference with a commitment to a Green New Deal, to decarbonise transport, make homes warmer and energy efficient and to create thousands of jobs by investing in the green technologies of the future.
Other policies showcased at the conference included action to tackle poverty, fairer deal for rights at work and a commitment to make sure that everyone has the right to quality education, irrespective of their background, income or where they live.
You can find out more about Labour’s plans here.