As you will know, on Sunday the Prime Minister announced changes to lockdown, with exercise permitted more than once a day and people able to travel away from home to take their exercise. Unfortunately, the guidance on returning to work raised more questions than it answered, as the Prime Minister seemed to effectively tell millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety. I know that many of you have been concerned about this, and if you feel you are being compelled to work in unsafe conditions then I would urge you to get in touch with my office. If you are not already a member, there’s also no better time to join a union. In workplaces across the country trade unions are doing all they can to ensure people can return to work in a safe environment, where social distancing is maintained and proper protective equipment is provided. Join a union now to protect your rights, your employment security, and your safety.
Of course, one of the key issues around returning to work for many of us is how we get there. Social distancing means use of public transport will be restricted, but if everyone gets back into their cars it will have serious implications for air pollution and congestion. I was pleased to hear Grant Shapps’ commitment at the weekend to a focus on active travel, but I’m concerned that it’s once again been left to local councils to take the lead and make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Bristol Council have done some fantastic work on this, and this week announced a comprehensive package of measures to ensure that people can get around the city safely by bike and on foot. But it shouldn’t just be left to Local Authorities to solve these issues – we need a nationwide transport plan to get our public transport moving again once we come out of lockdown especially for those that can’t cycle or walk to work. Simply saying things need to be different on our trains and buses is not a plan for the future.
It’s been a busy week of virtual meetings and Parliamentary interventions. On Tuesday, I took part (via Zoom!) in questions to the Secretary of State for International Trade, asking if the UK will retain the precautionary principle for the chemicals industry in future trade negotiations. This vital principle protects us from the inclusion of potentially hazardous chemicals in everyday products by requiring the chemicals industry to prove that any new chemicals meet safety requirements in terms of human and environmental health before their use. The Secretary of State’s refusal to give a firm answer on this important question is deeply worrying. I’m urging the Government to provide clarity on this issue and to ensure that the precautionary principle is not sacrificed or watered down in any trade negotiations.
Wednesday saw the Third Reading of the Agriculture Bill. I was delighted to have the backing of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the amendments I tabled on financial support for agroecological systems. I know from the many supportive emails I have received from constituents that this is also something that’s very important to many of you. As the climate emergency continues and biodiversity collapses, it is vital that our farming practices compliment nature and enhance our environment. We have a unique opportunity to ensure that this is the case by increasing funding to agroecology practices and ensuring UK agricultural standards remain high in future trade deals. I’ll keep working to make sure this is the case.
On Thursday, we held a live session of the Environmental Audit Committee, discussing COP26 and the green response to Covid-19. As the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark
Carney, said this week, “we cannot self-isolate from climate change”. We need to invest in a greener economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, and make sure we don’t just go back to a status quo that continues to irreparably damage our planet.
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!