The background to the situation in Ukraine is worth recalling. When Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994, the agreement said that they would be assured by, amongst others, the Russian Federation, that there would be no military attack upon any of those three countries, and in particular on Ukraine. And yet it is Russia that’s taken control of Crimea. It is Russia that has interfered in eastern Ukraine in a way that abrogates that agreement.
This reinforces the concerns of those states that joined NATO post-1990s, that was the right decision: to look to provide guarantees against further aggression. At the time of writing this, that is reinforced by the threats of Russia to Ukraine. We know that any military intervention by Russia into Ukraine would lead inevitably to huge loss of life. It would lead to dislocation of the economy, and we’d see refugees once again flooding across Europe.
It is right that talk of military conflict gives way to talk around negotiation. We want Russia to come to the conference table about things on which we have a common security interest. We do need to see the dialling down of the threat that exists in Ukraine, and also the interference in the activities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who paid such a price in the past, and see that we don’t pay this again in this generation.
📰 I spoke about this at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and you can read my speech in full here.
Many people in Rochdale will already be feeling the financial pinch because of Covid, because times are already tough after the £20 cut in Universal Credit or because energy prices have already shot through the roof. But it didn’t have to be this way. The government got early praise for the support it put in through the furlough scheme and direct support for some businesses when Covid first hit. Then they slammed on the brakes leaving many companies without help and abandoning help for individuals. And as gas and electricity prices shot up, they seemed to be clueless as to how to handle things. I am behind what Keir Starmer and the Labour Party have been demanding of the government not because its good party-political knock about but because it makes sense and it’s fair. We need a windfall tax on the big energy companies. One of those big energy company top managers sounded more like a Mafia boss than a decent member of society when he claimed that their company was now a cash machine as the money keeps rolling in. He was right as they’ve seen prices shoot up for their customers by two and three times, windfall profits at no extra cost or effort. But of course, windfall profits come from somewhere and it’s their customers who are having to fork out to fund this cash machine. That’s why we need that windfall tax on these companies. All this is coming at a time when prices for everything else are growing on a weekly basis.
📰 Read more
Levelling Up plan, government announces more of the same
Virtually every area of England (95%) has received less in funding since 2018 than they received from historic development funds. Rochdale is mentioned several times in the Levelling Up plan, but it won’t be receiving any new money. In fact, funding to Rochdale Council and other bodies has reduced and no successful bids through levelling up funding have delivered compensatory monies, meaning an astonishing £31.2m real-terms loss for the borough since the government’s levelling up agenda was announced in 2018. Weirdly, the redevelopment of the Fire Service museum is highlighted, but if Ministers had actually paid attention they would have realised it was completed and reopened last year. A few pots of money to scrap over or some new tiers of bureaucracy won’t cut it. What the government has given us is more of the same. We need to change the settlement of our country back in favour of those who built it. That means growing our economy, and ensuring jobs and opportunities are spread fairly across the country so that young people in Rochdale don’t have to get out to get on.
📰 Read more
I recently called on the government to provide protection for the secure tenancy of social housing tenants who are forced to move into temporary accommodation due to a threat of violence to them or a member of their household, and to ensure social landlords work together to identify a safe permanent home as soon as possible. No-one should face homelessness because they are threatened with serious violence, yet that is exactly what happens to far too many families who are forced to make an emergency move because a member of their household is at risk. As it stands, social housing providers have no legal duty to protect the tenancy rights of tenants who are forced to make an emergency move owing to a threat of violence. The shortage of social housing can leave families, who are already traumatised by the circumstances of their move, trapped in unsuitable and often overcrowded temporary accommodation, waiting for months or even years to be re-housed. That’s why I’m supporting ‘Georgia’s Law’, a proposal which would ensure social landlords work together to identify a safe permanent home as soon as possible.
📰 Read more
Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone
After much deliberation, the Government finally granted permission to Greater Manchester Authorities to delay the implementation of their Clean Air Zone. There are 152 separate stretches of road across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester where nitrogen dioxide is at illegally high levels. Polluted air is the cause of more than 1,200 deaths per year in the conurbation, and on that basis, it is vital that we have cleaner air. But a Clean Air Zone will only improve air quality if individuals and businesses can access the financial support needed to upgrade their vehicles to be compliant with legal emissions standards. Since the plan was agreed in July last year the cost of upgrading a vehicle has risen by as much as 60% owing to inflation and supply chain issues. This is bound to impact the ability of those who wish to upgrade their vehicles. In January, I tabled a Parliamentary motion to demand the government pause the implementation of the Clean Air Zone to allow further consultation on its implementation and to provide the resources required.
📰 You can read the motion here.
International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Genocide Watch have recently warned that there is a real danger of genocide against Muslims in India. In recent times, the Indian government has passed laws to criminalise the religious practices, good habits and even business customs of Muslim communities. MPs and Peers from all parties wrote to Prime Minister Johnson, urging the UK government to support the call for a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council to address these concerns, and to work with other colleagues on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution to call on Indian Authorities to take necessary actions to safeguard people of all religions in the country.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I joined families and friends of those murdered by British soldiers in what was, and still is, a shocking period in the history of British rule in Northern Ireland. Families who suffered fought long and hard for justice, and were faced with extraordinary obstacles, denials by the British government, and downright lies by those representing our armed forces. It took nearly 40-years for the truth to be officially acknowledged that those who died were innocent, and those responsible should still face the consequences.
Holocaust Memorial Day
On every Holocaust Memorial Day, I light a candle in remembrance of Jakub Wygodzki. We remember that six million Jews, as well as countless others from the Roma community, gay people, and those whose disabilities deemed them unfit for the world that the Nazis wanted to create. But it does help to remember each one of those, like Jakub who was a member of the Lithuanian parliament, who was tortured and killed by the Nazis in 1941 because he was Jewish.
I attended a Parliamentary event to remember over 8,000 who were murdered in the Srebrenica Genocide, the worst atrocity on European soil since the Second World War. We must remember those who lost their lives – and we must ensure that such wickedness can never happen again.
Approximately 37million people facing starvation in Afghanistan at this very moment, and they will continue to unless we see the reconstruction of the Afghan economy. I asked Ministers where is the World Bank up to on this, and what the Government is doing to bring pressure to bear to say, “We need action now, not in months’ time”.
📺 Watch here.
Resignation of Northern Ireland’s First Minister
Despite the the resignation of the First Minister in the Northern Ireland Government, I was surprised that there was no statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The First Minister’s resignation has effectively established the position, both de jure and de facto, that there is now no functioning Executive in Northern Ireland. I raised a point of order in the Commons, saying that there is a duty on the Northern Ireland Secretary to come to the House and explain how the matter will now be taken forward. He has direct responsibility and accountability not only for actions of governance in Northern Ireland, but to this House as to what progress will be made.
📺 Watch here.
Northern Ireland Border
I spoke about the Northern Ireland Protocol, or the “Johnson Protocol” as it should be named. At a time when Northern Ireland is looming into a real crisis because of the threat to collapse the Northern Ireland Executive, it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to be engaged, and it is disappointing that he is not. I asked the Secretary of State to go back and say to the Prime Minister that it is time for him to demonstrate real determination to sort out the overall problem of the protocol.
📺 Watch here.
UK-Andean Trade Agreement: Human Rights
I secured a Westminster Hall debate on human rights and the UK-Andean Trade Agreement. The time has now come to listen to the call, from the Colombian trade unions in particular, for us to suspend this agreement until such time that there is a recognisable road map for human rights, labour standards and environmental improvement.
📺 Watch the debate in full.
Bus manufacture: hydrogen buses
Bus manufacture is an important skilled employment base in the north of England. The zero-emission bus regional areas programme, which is due to bring in innovation in engine technology, is supposed to be technologically neutral, even though we know that hydrogen buses almost certainly create more jobs in the UK. I asked the Chancellor to tell us why every scheme so far has been for electric vehicles and not hydrogen technology.
📺 Watch here.
Northern Ireland: Putting victims first
It took 40 years for the Saville inquiry to clear the innocent victims who were injured or murdered on Bloody Sunday. I asked the Minister to confirm that under the proposals that he will bring to the House a judicial inquiry will still be possible. If not, we condemn victims and their families to the accusation of guilt when an inquiry would prove their innocence.
📺 Watch here.
Covid-19: TRIPS waiver
Just 5.5% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated against Covid. That means disaster for so many nations. Common humanity says we can and must do better. The government is blocking the patent when the in-country manufacture of the vaccine could save millions of lives. I challenged the Minister on this because we have, as a nation, an incentive to see the whole world vaccinated. It would be a tragedy if we vaccinated the whole of our country simply to see mutations develop elsewhere that wiped out that effort.
📺 Watch here.