Spring Statement ‘a kick in the teeth for Rochdale’
Families and individuals are really feeling the squeeze of rapidly rising bills for gas, electricity, food. Chancellor Sunak had a choice: to play the politician and try to con the public, or do something serious to help us all. That would mean a windfall tax on the windfall profits the energy giants are making, it would mean not shoving up National Insurance, it would mean putting taxes up on the better off and not on ordinary households. It was a big ask but it was the right one. Instead, the Chancellor chose to leave households and businesses to fend for themselves in the middle of a cost of living crisis. We’re set to see the biggest drop to incomes on record this year. This is a cynical Chancellor who is asking struggling families to pay for the Tory election campaign.
Russia expelled from the Council of Europe
Russian President Putin’s brutal assault on its neighbour, Ukraine, still rightly fills our TV screens. The unbelievable callousness of this war on children reminds us of Syria in recent years where whole cities, like Aleppo, were destroyed and most importantly, its residents butchered. What is different is the incredible success of the Ukrainian armed forces in resisting Putin’s attacks. What is sadly the same is the steady stream of frightened people fleeing their home and even their country in search of safety. Many countries have offered safe passage and a three-year refugee status for those fleeing this war. Most Rochdale constituents who have contacted me, tell me refugees are welcome and want Britain to help but sadly again, our government has been slow to issue visas and made it difficult for people, even those with strong family connections with relatives in the UK, to travel here. Our government can do better and should do because this is what the public wants.
On 15 March the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe unanimously voted to request that the Russian Federation be expelled from the Council of Europe. This showed the Council of Europe at its best. It showed that we all supported the European-wide ideals of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights. It was very good to see the harmony in the meeting as individual after individual condemned Russia.
📺Watch my speech in the Council of Europe
Fast-track visas for Ukrainian students and academics
I’m calling on the government to create a fast track visa scheme for Ukrainian students and academics, to allow those who have been displaced to continue their studies and carry out research. It’s only sensible that we support the thousands of students and academics that have been disrupted and displaced by Russia’s illegal invasion and occupation of Ukraine. Higher education is one area in which the UK visa system can be expanded. Students studying core subjects such as engineering and medicine must be able to continue their studies, as their skills will be crucial in reconstructing Ukraine. Offering this opportunity with appropriate support in the UK’s higher education system is just one small, but important, step in realising our commitments to the Ukrainian people.
The decision by P&O Ferries to sack 800 of its workforce and replace them with non-UK staff in order to pay below minimum wage pay rates is shocking and disgraceful. The company’s Chief Executive has admitted to a Parliamentary Committee that this action is illegal. They are now trying to brow-beat the existing workers to accept a paltry pay-off with the threat there’ll get nothing if they haven’t agreed by Thursday. A government minister came to Parliament and was pressed to commit to taking legal action to keep people in their jobs on existing terms and conditions, but he was just too junior to give that promise. Boris Johnson has got to stand up now for the P&O staff who kept our goods and people moving during the Covid pandemic and helped keep our country safe. He needs to make it clear that those in P&O who broke the law will be held to account. Prime Minister Johnson knows from his own experience that no one can expect to be above the laws of the land. The sad thing is that the laws of our land could have been much stronger if the government had not killed off a Bill preventing fire and rehire like this, going through Parliament as recently as last October. Crocodile tears won’t save jobs, strong legal protections will.
Pensioners under the cosh with the Tories
Pensioner’s will be hit by soaring prices, a tax hike and a lower State Pension could see 1,279,716 pensioners in the North West £1,400 worse off over the next two years. Many retired people in Rochdale and across the North West work, to contribute to our communities or to supplement their state pension which is facing a real terms cut this April. Pensioner poverty is increasing with older people facing impossible choices between eating and heating. The upcoming NICs rise should be halted this week and action should be taken to reduce energy bills by hundreds of pounds for those who need help as Labour has proposed. It’s disgraceful that working pensioners are facing a triple assault of soaring prices, tax rises and areal terms cut to their state pension. Under the Tories, pensioners are worse off.
Independent Age has put together a handy guide that could help boost your income and cut your bills. Find out more.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
At the recent meeting of the Bees and Pollinators APPG, the Environment Minister set out the government’s targets and policies relating to bees and pollinators. I raised with her the monitoring of progress towards those targets. She said that the Environment Act contains a whole system of reporting on progress and there will be annual reports. But once again government action undermines their words as ministers are now allowing a derogation that permits the use of neonicotinoids, an insecticide which kills bees and other pollinators. This was against scientific advice and saw ministers cave in to the farming lobby. The minister said she has been assured that there will be monitoring of the impacts but frankly that is not good enough.
Bus service cuts
I attended a Parliamentary event hosted by the WWF to show my commitment to cutting emissions while restoring nature. The rise in the global environmental movement in recent years – led by our youth – has shown us just how many people care about our planet. Nowhere is this clearer than in looking at how we use our land. Farming and land use sectors are responsible for 12% of the UK’s territorial carbon emissions and are major contributors to the UK’s global environmental footprint. Recent reports have found that nature-friendly and regenerative approaches to farming could deliver far greater emissions reductions than previously estimated by the Climate Change Committee. We need action now to bring plans forward to slash emissions from farming and land use in order to promote the recovery of our ‘one shared home’.
Colombian Peace Agreement
I attended an event to mark five years of the Colombian Peace Agreement, organised by Justice for Colombia and the Trades Union Congress (TUC). (FARC) and represents the path to lasting peace. I’m proud of the work JFC and all our trade union supporters have done. This is what the labour movement is about.
Living wage for social care workers
Care workers do some of the most important work in our society, but many are paid poverty wages. That’s why I was pleased to join care workers from Greater Manchester in Westminster, and join their call on the government for a real living wage for social care workers.
Sight Loss Councils
I was pleased to meet with the Sight Loss Councils in Westminster to help raise awareness of the challenges and barriers faced by blind and partially sighted people and discuss how the environment can be more accessible for blind and partially sighted people.
Congratulations to Henry Leah and Joyce Kapiamba, who have been elected as Rochdale’s newest members of the UK’s Youth Parliament. They should be very proud to have been elected amongst a very talented group of candidates.
Right to roam
It is 90 years since the mass trespass onto Kinder Scout, which was led by people from the Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire areas. This was an important protest which highlighted that the fact that a vast majority of people were denied access to areas of open country, and undoubtedly contributed to the eventual creation of the the UK’s first national park in the Peak District. These decades on, a staggering 2.7 million people in the UK still have no publicly accessible green space within easy walking distance from their home, and people with low incomes or from ethnic minorities are less likely to live near green spaces. That cannot be right. In Scotland and European countries there is greater provision for the right to roam, yet only 8% per cent of English land is publicly accessible, and only 3% of rivers in England and Wales. The government must bring forward legislation to extend the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to include rivers, woods and Green Belt land. This will bound to improve the public’s connection to nature whilst opening up the mental and physical health benefits of the natural world.
Cash boost for accessible toilets in Rochdale
I welcome the announcement that Rochdale’s council will receive £199,000 to boost the provision of Changing Places toilets in existing buildings. Changing Places toilets are larger accessible toilets for people who cannot use standard accessible facilities, with equipment such as hoists, curtains, adult-sized changing benches, and space for carers. This will make a huge difference to people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well as other disabilities which limits their mobility to use standard accessible toilets. The current lack of these facilities means, for example, some children face being changed on public toilet floors. Some people may even minimise how much they drink during the day to avoid using the toilet, which is bound to have a physical impact on their health in terms of dehydration. No one should face the situation of avoiding to use the loo. These toilets will change this, and allow people to have their toiletry needs met in a dignified way.
Rochdale Sixth Form students in Parliament
I was delighted to welcome Ms Lord and her students in Parliament. They had been learning about how Parliament works, and we talked about the democratic process and how their voices could be heard. We also talked about how they could campaign and petition for issues they are passionate about. I was asked some insightful and pretty challenging questions, and it is inspiring to know that they will soon be informed voters with the power to change their community here in Rochdale. Any school or college can visit Parliament for tours and a full day of events. If people are interested, please contact my office and we will arrange it for them.
Back Our Buses
We asked the Tory government for £200million to deliver cheaper bus fares and more frequent services, but yet we got less than half that. If you want to join the campaign to call on the government to back our plan for cheaper and better bus services, sign the petition here.
Rochdale Grooming Gang
Two years ago, the Home Secretary met me, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the deputy mayor for policing and undertook to deport those members of the Rochdale grooming gang who were not British nationals. For two years, I have been trying to get an update. I raised the issue on the Floor of the House in Home Office questions in November, and the Home Secretary indicated to a junior Minister that she would meet me. Having had no meeting, I raised the issue again in Home Office questions in February, and the Home Secretary again undertook to meet me. I have now had a response from the Home Secretary’s office to say that she is too busy and to ask me to meet a junior Minister. I will continue my pursuit of a real answer to the needs of the women who are the victims of child abusers
War Crimes by Russia
There must be no impunity for those in Moscow, or the commanders and individual soldiers on the ground who commit atrocities. I asked the Justice Secretary what we can do as a nation to help the International Criminal Court get the message across to those in the field. 📺 Watch here. There is absolutely no doubt that the rape of women in Ukraine is one of the burning issues. I asked Ministers what can we do to ensure that those in the command structure of the Russian forces are aware that they themselves become liable to prosecution if they fail to prevent rape from being committed by troops serving under their command? That would be a powerful message to send. 📺 Watch
Compensation for Sub-Postmasters
Sub-postmasters have lost enormously as a result of the Post Office Horizon scandal, and compensation will go only so far. One thing that they want is to know that there is genuine accountability. Where there is individual wrongdoing, it must be properly dealt with.
Economic crime and fraud
Economic crime and fraud is the most likely of crimes to affect ordinary people, and neither the police nor the authorities are equipped to deal with it. I told Ministers that it’s about time that we got serious on economic crime and made sure that we invested in the investigating process that can make a real difference.
Online communications offences
The harm-based communications offence will be very welcome across the whole House. But one problem the police encounter is that they cannot always identify the perpetrators. I asked Ministers how will that be addressed.
Russian Aggression: Support for NATO Allies
Following the brutal aggression of Russia in Ukraine, one lesson for all NATO powers must be to think again about how much we are prepared to spend on defence. I raised this recently with the Minister, and you can watch our exchange here.
I asked Ministers if they have spoken with the Government of the UAE, who have responsibility for DP World (the parent company of P&O Ferries), to say that this situation is simply not good enough and not good for their reputation.
Support for Moldova
It is vital, particularly because of the situation of Transnistria (a Russian-back unrecognised breakaway state), that we are able to offer support to the democratic Moldovan Government, who have already taken in huge numbers of refugees from Ukraine.
Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities
I was astonished when the Equalities Minister suggested that there is no evidence of racial disparity in this country. When the Government smashed up Sure Start, that made a demonstrable difference to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and to the deprived white communities in Britain. Government plans to invest in this area doesn’t go far enough. I asked her to tell the Treasury that if we want to make a difference, only real money can do that.
Irish Diaspora in Britain
There are around 600,000 people who declare themselves to be Irish living in Great Britain, but the true figure, if we look at those who are first and second generation, is probably something like 10% of the population of this country—some 6 million people. On St Patrick’s Day, I led a debate in the House of Commons which rightfully recognised the contribution the Irish makes to the country. Read the debate in full