It’s been another busy week of virtual meetings – with lots of opportunities to use the various mechanisms offered by our virtual Parliament. It’s a real credit to those staff working on it that so many Parliamentary functions have been able to be quickly brought online. Ultimately of course, nothing compares to face to face scrutiny, but there’s certainly an interesting debate to be had in the months to come about how preserving some of the methods we’ve used during this unprecedented time might help to make our democracy more accessible and diverse.
On Wednesday, I (remotely!) raised the issue of the difficulties of delivering humanitarian aid through this crisis during International Development Questions. At the start of the pandemic, many African countries closed their borders to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This has left tens of thousands of migrants trapped at the borders with dwindling supplies, often in transit camps or having been abandoned there by people smugglers. The closure of borders also means that delivering humanitarian aid to refugees and internally displaced people in camps is even more difficult than usual. I was pleased to hear that the Government supports the efforts of international organisations to deliver aid, but much more support will be needed from the international community if we are to stop the spread of coronavirus in camps, where sanitation is poor and there is no space for social distancing. The consequences if we fail to act could be terrible.
Thursday saw a virtual meeting of the Petitions Committee – and the first session of the Committee to be broadcast live. I got to ask experts about the potential impact of lockdown on young children’s development – whether the fact they’re missing out on social interaction and outside stimulation will have a lasting effect. Other colleagues on the committee got to ask university students about the impact this crisis will have on them. This week we’ve also had our first ever remote vote – having tested out the system last week – for the Chairs of the BEIS and Standards Committee. Congratulations to fellow Bristol MP Darren Jones who was elected as Chair of the BEIS Committee!
The Coronavirus pandemic is of course affecting some groups in Bristol more than others, and older people in particular may require more support at this time. Age UK Bristol has launched a new Support Hub to help older people and their families to cope with the impact of COVID-19. It offers practical support with errands, as well as specialist advice and also referrals for professional counselling for those who need a higher level of emotional support, including bereavement counselling. If you would like to refer someone for any of these services, please contact the Support Hub on 0117 929 7537.
There’s much debate going on about how we can make things safer for pedestrians and cyclists during this lockdown. There’s less traffic on the roads, but more people out and about, taking their daily exercise. This can make social-distancing difficult and, especially in areas where pavement-parking is a problem, forces people out into the road. As the number of responses to my recent Facebook post about speeding attest, this isn’t always a safe thing to do. Nationally there has also been a worrying spike in cycling casualties. After lockdown we cannot simply return to how things were before. There’s a worry that people won’t want to use public transport, and will instead take to their cars. I’ve written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this week in my role as shadow Green Transport Minister, asking him to back plans to re-allocate road space and support active travel. Many councils – including Bristol – are looking seriously at this agenda right now, but we also need the Government to step up, and to give councils the powers and funding they need. I want to know what plans the Government has to promote cycling and walking following the lockdown, and make sure that active travel can be the natural choice for many.
As you will know, today marks the 75th anniversary of VE day. The pandemic of course means that we will be commemorating this day in a very different manner to that we had originally intended. But it’s still so important that we mark the day and take some time to remember the efforts and sacrifices of all those involved in the fight against fascism and oppression, and resolve to honour their memories by standing up for tolerance, freedom and peace.
On a personal note, this week marked the fifteen anniversary of my election as the Member of Parliament for Bristol East. It’s safe to say that a lot has happened in the past fifteen years! But I’ve really enjoyed the privilege of representing this fantastic constituency and getting to know so many of its brilliant residents. Thank you all for your support over the past decade and a half – I hope to be able to continue to serve you for many years to come.
Although the continuing lockdown means it may be slightly different to usual, I hope you are able to enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend and spend time with your loved ones – even if it’s via virtual means. My office remains reachable by phone or email, and as ever, please do contact us if we can help on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 0117 939 9901. Remember – stay home, save lives, and do keep washing your hands!