The Prime Minister has set out further plans today for the nation to emerge from lockdown, but these appear to be based in hope, rather than scientific evidence. I know we are all keen to get back to normal as soon as it is safe to do so but the Government’s response to the pandemic is still a cause for concern. There have been mixed messages around the wearing of face masks, a below par test-and-trace scheme, and now the Government has created even more confusion around whether or not people should be returning to their workplaces. A recently released report says there could be another 120,000 COVID-19 deaths in a second wave later this year, but it turns out the Prime Minister hasn’t even read it! In his situation I’d feel under an absolute moral obligation to read it and to get my head around every last detail. The Government needs to learn from its mistakes, and act now to save lives in the future.
On Tuesday, I was in the Chamber for Justice Questions, but unfortunately the limits on timing meant I wasn’t able to ask my question. If I’d had the chance, I was going to ask about the impact on black and minority ethnic defendants if the Government proceeds with plans to replace jury trials with judge or magistrate led proceedings. The Lammy Review found that jury trials didn’t show bias against BAME defendants, and both the Law Society and the Bar Council have expressed concern about proposals to amend jury trials. The Government has failed to publish any modelling which justified such a move, and I’ll continue to press for an impact assessment on the potential effects.
Bristol was back in the national news on Wednesday when artist Marc Quinn installed a new sculpture on the empty plinth left by the reveal of the statue of Colston last month. Whatever your views on the artistic and cultural merits of the work, I agree with the Council’s decision to remove it. As Mayor Marvin Rees has previously said, the decision about what to do with the empty plinth is for the people of Bristol, and should be decided democratically. This is an important part of the conversation about how best to tell the full story of our city’s history, in a way that captures the bad as well as the good. It cannot be dictated by individuals.
We had welcome news this week with the ruling that refusing to let properties to people on housing benefit is unlawful, and in breach of the Equality Act. For years, many people have struggled to find a suitable place to rent as a result of landlords discriminating against those who receive state support. I hope this means families will be able to access a wider range of suitable rented accommodation, although I appreciate that high rents in the private sector and, too often, poor housing conditions, are still a problem. My constituency neighbour and Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, has called on the Government to properly enforce the court’s ruling to protect these renters from discrimination – I fully support this.
In my role as shadow Green Transport Minister, I’ve written a blog about the future of green transport post COVID-19 for Labour’s Local Government Association blog, which is running a series of articles on the Climate Emergency. A sustainable transport system which empowers as many people as possible to get about on foot or by bike is as much a health and social justice issue as it is an environmental one. Many councils are already taking action, such as Bristol’s exciting plans to pedestrianise the ‘Old City’, but the Government needs to produce a national strategy for greener travel so every area can benefit. You can read more on this here.
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