Parliament returned from recess this week, and the Government took the decision to end hybrid proceedings and require MPs to attend in person. You may have seen the ludicrous scenes that ensued as MPs queued to vote in a socially-distanced manner; something which is nigh on impossible in a building like the Palace of Westminster. This decision by Jacob Rees-Mogg, as Leader of the House, removed representation from the thousands of constituents of MPs who are shielding or have caring responsibilities at home; they were paired, and could not take part virtually, or vote.
It also puts at risk the health of the many other people who work on the Parliamentary Estate. We should be setting an example in workplace safety, but by abandoning remote working without properly ensuring the safety of MPs and Parliamentary staff, the UK Government is giving licence to bad employers to do the same with their employees. As some of us go back into Parliament this coming week, the rules have been changed to allow proxy voting for those who cannot return, but for the rest of us we will still have to travel long distances across the country, meet in an airless Chamber, and queue for nearly an hour to vote, when we could far more productively do all this from home.
Like many of you, I have been appalled and alarmed by the scenes in cities across the USA this week. The killing of George Floyd by police has shone a light on the racism and hatred experienced by many – including in our own country – but particularly the racism experienced by Black people across the world. It’s up to us all to face up to and address this. I was also shocked and disturbed by footage of US police using excessive force against the people who took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd. UK policy prevents us from licensing the sale of arms to countries using it for internal repression – the same principle applies here. The UK should suspend all sales of tear gas, rubber bullets, and riot control equipment, to ensure we play no part in the violence taking place in the USA. I have written to the Trade Secretrary, Liz Truss, on this, as have many of my colleagues.
I have also written to the Justice Secretary about the very sad case of Belly Mujinga, the station worker who died after contracting coronavirus. The person who spat at her later tested negative, but it was still an assault, and action should be taken.
On Tuesday, I spoke during the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Hong Kong, on the need to challenge China’s human rights record across the board – and not just with reference to current events in Hong Kong. China’s failure to engage in dialogue and huge economic power should not mean that they can continue to do as they please.
I also spoke in the debate on Public Health England’s report – published this week – which proves what we already knew: black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities are at a significantly greater risk of dying from COVID-19. However, it’s not enough just to retrospectively consider why BAME communities are more at risk. The Government must support councils as they work with local communities to try to save BAME lives.
This week saw the start of this year’s Wildlife Trust ‘30 Days Wild’ Challenge. With coronavirus and the lockdown leaving so many feeling isolated and disconnected, it is more important than ever to look to nature as a source of inspiration and comfort. I’ve really enjoyed getting out and about more than usual, and seeing Bristol at its most beautiful. To join the challenge all you have to do is do something wild on each day in June. This can be anything; from feeding the birds to giving up single-use plastics for the month. I’ll keep sharing my contributions on social media and I’d love to see some of yours.
6th June marks the beginning of National Bike Week. Like many of you, I’ve taken the opportunity during lockdown to enjoy some amazing recreational bike rides in Bristol – as well as cycling to work in London for the first time. With fewer cars than usual on the roads I finally felt safe and confident enough to get on my bike in the capital. As shadow Green Transport Minister, making sure we embed some of the short term changes that have encouraged sustainable travel during the crisis is one of my key priorities. We can’t simply go back to ‘business as usual’ on our roads.
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!