I was in Westminster this week from Monday till late Thursday. Many MPs – those who have underlying health conditions, or live with someone who does, or have childcare problems – have been paired and do not have to attend. After complaints that this left many constituents disenfranchised, provision has been made for some MPs to once again take part in proceedings virtually, and to vote by proxy. The Palace of Westminster is almost deserted, with most MPs’ staff still working from home and no visitors allowed. We are only permitted to go into the Chamber if we’ve made it on the ‘Call List’ to speak, to allow for social distancing, so the rest of the time most MPs who have made it to London are in their offices doing emails and making Zoom calls. It’s far from ideal, and the voting system is ludicrous (as you may have seen!) but I am trying to make the most of the opportunities I get to speak.
Last weekend we saw historic scenes in Bristol as protesters taking part in the Black Lives Matter demonstration removed the controversial statue of Edward Colston. Although, of course, I do not condone criminal damage, I am pleased that the statue has been removed, and that Bristol Council has taken the decision to put it in a museum, rather than replace it on the plinth. This should have happened a long time ago. Of course, there are still many other examples of places and institutions bearing Colston’s name in Bristol, and we need a city-wide debate about the appropriateness of commemorating someone who was involved in the enslavement and deaths of many thousands of Africans.
I was also deeply disappointed to read that the Home Secretary took the unprecedented step of calling the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police and demanding an explanation as to why the police took the decision not to intervene to protect the statue. As I told her in the Commons on Monday, the police have my full support for a decision made in difficult circumstances. They are also operationally independent and already have directly elected police and crime commissioners to hold them to account, so it is completely wrong for Priti Patel to get involved in this way. Avon and Somerset Police demonstrated they have a good understanding of our communities in their handling of protests over the weekend. This is to be commended, not criticised by politicians without any understanding of the area.
Monday marked #WorldOceansDay, and I took part in a webinar for the launch of a new manifesto: An Ocean Recovery Manifesto – a vision for restoring our seas by 2030. The manifesto would help us address over-fishing, damaging fishing practices like bottom-trawling, plastic-pollution and climate change. Particularly interesting is the idea of a ‘blue carbon restoration project’ to help us harness the positive carbon impact of healthy oceans. The UK’s record on Marine Conservation Zones is mixed, with many acting as ‘paper parks’, which sound good in theory but do not offer the protections needed in reality. An independent review published this week recommends establishing a minimum of five Highly Protected Marine Areas in UK waters, which go further than the existing Marine Conservation Zones/Protected Areas. Adopting the recommendations of this review would be a good start for a Government serious about protecting our oceans, but it is still not the ecologically coherent network we desperately need. I urge the Government to show global leadership and act now to protect our vital marine ecosystems so they can be allowed to recover and thrive.
On Tuesday, I spoke during Justice Questions in the House of Commons. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the already huge backlog of crown court cases in our justice system. People are innocent until proven guilty, and this backlog is leading to people being kept in remand for longer than is necessary. I asked Justice Ministers to ensure that this backlog is dealt with quickly to ensure that justice is served for both the victims of crime and those accused.
Wednesday saw me speak from the despatch box for the first time in four years – this time in my new role as Labour’s Shadow Minister for Green Transport – to scrutinise the Government’s regulatory regime for aviation once we leave the EU transition period. Decarbonising our transport system must be a key focus in the crucial years ahead, and it’s vital that changes such as these are not rushed through by the Government — particularly given the constraints the Covid-19 pandemic has put on our Parliamentary scrutiny procedures I’ll be keeping a close eye on how this progresses.
On Thursday, the Government announced that the part-privatisation of the probation service it has pursued since 2014 will be abandoned. This disastrous experiment – initiated under former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – was always doomed to fail. There is no place for profit in probation. Speaking in the Chamber, I welcomed the announcement and asked the Minister to support services like Eden House in Easton, which provide an alternative to custody for vulnerable female offenders.
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!