General Election Now
Boris Johnson announced that he will be resigning as leader of the Conservative Party, remaining as Prime Minister until a new leader has been elected. He may be the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had and his sense of entitlement saw him cling onto power long after he should have left. More than 50 government ministers have resigned but it is odd that they only just discovered that Boris Johnson is not fit to be Prime Minister at this time when their jobs are at stake. Lifelong learning never ceases to amaze.
I have been a member of the House of Commons, on and off, for nearly 40 years but this is one of the weirdest episodes I’ve ever come across. I’ve seen many Prime Ministers leave office but never with the degree of shambolic incompetence we have seen. The government is in meltdown and this is a bad moment for our country. Boris Johnson had already lost any authority he had but he did have to resign. A Tory Party leadership contest is now taking place and we’re seeing contenders dragging the Conservatives to the right, focusing on tax cuts for big businesses and ‘anti-woke’ nonsense. Whilst this may well appeal to their membership, the reality is that there is a war taking place in Ukraine, we have crises such as climate change, spiralling costs of living and the NHS and social care, and we have got an economy which needs a Chancellor to make sensible decisions.
But changing the person at the top of the Conservative Party is not the fundamental change our country needs. We need a change of government and a fresh start. We should say to the British public ‘what do you want now?’, and that must be in the form of a general election. I spoke to That’s TV news about this, which you can watch here.
Council of Europe
In June I attended the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya (pictured), the real victor of Belarus’ stolen Presidential election, addressed the Assembly sharing a message of hope for a better Europe. Belarus has drifted out of the news because of the war in Ukraine and that is understandable. However, over a thousand political prisoners in Belarus have got to be an ongoing cause for concern.
The European Court of Human Rights
Suella Braverman, incumbent Attorney General and Tory Party leadership contender, has said that the ‘scuppering’ of Boris Johnson’s Rwanda flights proves the UK needs to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights. Labour politician Ernest Bevin was one of the founders of NATO and the Europe Convention on Human Rights in the late 1940s to rebuild a democratic and free Europe (pictured above is the street where the European Court of Human Rights is located). The UK simply cannot tell other countries what to do with their human rights and not accept that it too is part of a greater network of human rights decisions. It cannot criticise the human rights records of Turkey or Russia and not accept that just occasionally – and it is very occasionally – we too will be criticised. Simply because a judgment appears to have gone against us, we cannot just storm off.
Rochdale Grooming Gang
I am astonished by the news that the ringleader of the Rochdale grooming gang will not be deported to Pakistan but those whose lives were badly hurt by this gang are still being let down by the authorities. Priti Patel had promised me that she would take every action to deport gang members. If she knew at that time that one of them was already beyond recall, she failed to tell me and she betrays the women who came forward to put these men in jail. They can have no faith in her and for me that would render her unfit to be Home Secretary. I spoke about this on BBC North West Tonight, which you can watch here.
Early diagnosis in breast cancer
I joined a Parliamentary event organised by the research and care charity, Breast Cancer Now. Early diagnosis is key to effective breast cancer treatment but yet in Rochdale breast screening uptake was 60.4% in 2020/2021. This is significantly lower than the national minimal standard of 70%. The Faster Diagnosis Standard (FDS) was intended to bring a focus on rapid diagnosis, but the current lowered ambition for the target of 75% instead of 95% could give a false perception of success whilst increasing the time it takes to get a breast cancer diagnosis. That has to change, and that is why I’m calling on the government to do much more to clear this backlog and get people screened and checked much faster.
Miscarriage care improvements
I have written to the Health Secretary calling on the government to commit to improving miscarriage care. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and one in five women will experience a miscarriage. That of itself is a massive personal family tragedy but the support women receive is not consistent nationally and varies depending on where they live and which medical setting they attend. Shockingly, before women can access support and receive tests to find out what causes the loss, they must currently experience three miscarriages in a row. This means women with undiagnosed underlying health issues are forced to go through multiple miscarriages, many of which may be preventable, before receiving treatment. Every woman should be entitled to receive care after every miscarriage. The government has previously said it would ensure this but there are concerns that this will not make it into the upcoming Women’s Health Strategy. I’m calling on the government to do the right thing and to improve miscarriage care.
Combating toxic air pollution
I visited a Parliamentary drop-in event on Clean Air Day and called on the to take decisive action to reduce levels of toxic air pollution. Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, yet air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health. Air pollution contributes to 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year and many others suffer from chronic conditions and reduced life expectancy. There are things the government could be doing to tackle this, such as reversing its decision to end the plug-in grant for cars and commit to a new programme of investment in electric vehicle provision and infrastructure. And a change to the MOT to include Diesel Particulate Filter emissions testing would also make a difference in improving air quality, as it would identify broken filters that emit harmful particulates. There is no time to waste in combating these air pollutants that blights our communities.
I attended a Remembrance Service as part of the Srebrenica Memorial Day at Manchester Cathedral. The genocide is one of the darkest periods in modern European history and it is still shocking to think ethnic cleansing on such a scale happened in mainland Europe just over 25 years ago. We must remember those who lost their lives and ensure that such wickedness can never happen again.
Bees and Pollinators APPG
I chaired a meeting for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Bees and Pollinators, discussing the vital work that needs to be done to protect our bees and pollinators. In 2018 the government published their 25-Year Plan on what they intend to do to improve the environment within a generation. I tabled a written question, asking the government what steps they have taken to implement this plan’s commitment to ensure that light pollution management eases potential impacts on wildlife. You can view this here.
The Rugby League World Cup
The Rugby League World Cup will be held in England shortly and I’m hoping we see a game played in Rochdale. The men’s, women’s and wheelchair cups are all being played and with Rochdale’s traditions around Rugby League it’s great to see these event showcasing the best of rugby league.
It was great to join Milnrow & Newhey branch members at this year’s Milnrow Carnival. It was a fun event and good to see local Labour members supporting the NHS (pictured above).
Lamet Habayeb Association
I attended Rochdale’s Arab Community’s Arabian Food Bazaar event organised by the Lamet Habayeb Association. It was great to be with them and the food was delicious.
Rochdale Children’s Literary Festival
I visited Rochdale’s children’s literary festival, held at One Riverside. I met with Abigail Norris (pictured) from Sandbrook Primary School, who read me her amazing story.
Charity Plant Sale
I popped by Duncan Hannant’s plant sale in Newhey. The sale was in aid of the RKT Trust – the children’s charity. Money well spent, and well-done Duncan.
Slavery and Human Trafﬁcking (Deﬁnition of Victim) Regulations 2022
The Home Office seems hell-bent on helping as few survivors of modern slavery as possible. Without the backing of a single survivor-led group, sweeping changes to survivors’ rights have been proposed in order to make it much harder for victims to secure support such as access to safe housing, caseworker advocacy, counselling or legal help. I asked Ministers to explain why that decision was made because there clearly was a decision not to have a formal consultation.
The whole point about having a definition of a victim is that it gives victims protection. Once we begin to give protection to victims, there is a genuine possibility that they may become co-operative in identifying the traffickers. That is of fundamental importance, so if we get the definition wrong we are not simply letting down the victims but preventing our criminal justice system from acting forcibly against those who we would want to see taken out of business.
I also raised the case of women who are trafficked ultimately for the purpose of prostitution. We ought to protect people engaged in prostitution who are ultimately given very little choice but who may not meet the definitions included in the regulations. Again, not only is that about the victims themselves, but importantly it is also about the breaking the control of the traffickers. You can read my contribution in full here.
Ambulance Service Concerns
I have been raising my concerns about the ambulance service over the years. Rochdale is especially vulnerable because people have to travel to A&E services elsewhere. I am due to meet the Chair of the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) to discuss this but he told me recently that “it is no secret that UK ambulance services remain under intense pressure, with demand at its highest ever level and showing no sign of abating. NWAS is no exception to this.” Hot weather has given a new peak to the ambulance crisis but the government has got to act and frankly we’re not seeing that action. I raised this in the Commons, which you can watch here.
State Pension: Cost of Living
Around one million pensioners who should be in receipt of pension credit are still not receiving it. They lose out not simply on the credit but on all manner of other benefits. I told the Minister to show some urgency and compassion for those struggling with increasing costs of living. Watch.
Disability Benefits & Poverty
4 in 10 of those who are refused a disability benefit don’t appeal. For those who do 2 in 3 win their appeal but it is months and months before they come before a tribunal. This is about poverty among tens of thousands of people. I asked the DWP Secretary if she is ashamed of that. Watch.
Functioning of Government
There are two major Bills before Parliament affecting Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is very much the Prime Minister’s own decision, while the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is very much the handiwork of the now-resigned Northern Ireland Secretary’s province. I asked the Cabinet Office Minister for absolute clarity at this critical moment in the history of Northern Ireland and its relations with both the rest of the UK and Ireland, that we will get some sense from this Government about how we take these important matters forward. Watch.
Access to Justice for Victims of Crime
Victims and their families are still treated in an appalling fashion in too many cases. Cases that do not come to court, trials that are cracked and all the things that go wrong give victims the impression that they are simply an adjunct to the Court process. I asked the Attorney General what she is going to do about it. Watch.
The Nation’s Cultural Treasures
The bulk of the nation’s cultural treasures are held in London. Many of them do not see the light of day from one year to the next and they are not even seen by people with access in the south-east. I asked the Culture Secretary what she will do to make sure that the nation’s cultural treasures are spread among the nations and regions. Watch.
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
People from every party represented from Northern Ireland have spoken, at one stage or another, strongly against what this Bill seeks to do and indeed against individual parts of the Bill. That reflects the mood not only of victims and victims’ groups but the opinion across the piece of the North of Ireland. Rather than being something that moves us towards reconciliation, the Bill will set free people who should be convicted of the most serious crimes like murder. Watch.
CHOGM, G7 and NATO Summits
There is no doubt about the strength of support in NATO and the G7 for this defence of Ukraine and this defence of the legitimate freedom of Ukraine, but there are reports that it is now becoming increasingly difficult to get weaponry and ammunition across the globe. I asked the Prime Minister if this raised at NATO and for a guarantee that the supply of armaments and the supply of ammunition will be available. Watch.
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Getting rid of the Northern Ireland Protocol risks a really serious breakdown in our relations with the European Union. Things will be dramatically worse for the people of Northern Ireland but equally so in Rochdale and across the whole of the country. There are some difficult issues to be solved but they will not be solved by this Bill even if we amend it. I told the Minister to get back to the negotiating table and deal with the practical issues. That is the sensible way forward. Watch.