Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Current News

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Legislation and enforcement need to be improved to ensure adequate protection of workers' human rights, a new report published today by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has found. The report proposes providing more accessible and effective mechanisms to improve access to justice in cases where human rights may have been breached. 

Stronger Legislation

  • The National Action Plan is the UK's statement of intent on human rights - it must be more ambitious and set specific targets by which to measure progress
  • The Government should introduce legislation to impose a duty on all companies to prevent human rights abuses, as well as a criminal offence of 'failure to prevent human rights abuses' similar to offences created for bribery in the Bribery Act 2010
  • The Government should introduce legislation to enable prosecution of a parent company where human rights abuses are found further down the supply chain
  • The Government's proposed 'Great Repeal Bill' must replicate the human rights protections enshrined in EU law
  • The Government should support the proposals contained within the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill (requiring commercial businesses and public bodies to include a statement on slavery and human trafficking in their annual report and accounts)
  • Human rights must be a key component of future trade deals

Stronger Enforcement

  • The Government should extend protections provided by the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority to other industries, such as construction
  • Government procurement must lead by example and exclude companies who do not undertake appropriate due diligence to ensure human rights standards are met
  • The Government should give local authorities the powers to close down business premises found to exploit workers (e.g. where there has been found to be underpayment of wages, lack of employment contracts or where there is a significant disregard of health and safety regulations)

Clearer Routes to Justice

  • The UK National Contact Point (NCP) must be given the resources and government support to be an effective route to justice
  • Tribunal fees must be reduced to remove the disincentive for individuals to bring legitimate claims for discrimination and other abuses

Chair's comment

On publishing the report, Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP commented:

"No one wants to be wearing clothes made by child labour, or slave labour. UK companies need to have high standards abroad as well as here at home and they must ensure that there are not human rights abuses in their supply chain.

More can be done by the UK Government to ensure that human rights are respected by UK companies in their operations outside the UK. The Government must toughen up the law with a new legal duty on businesses to respect human rights when they are operating abroad. Victims of human rights abuses must have access to the courts. And the Government should ensure that when it buys on our behalf it doesn't do so from suppliers who are abusing human rights.

Over the course of this inquiry we were pleased to hear of the growing importance of human rights issues to businesses, consumers and government. Indeed, developments such as the Gangmasters Licencing Authority and Modern Slavery Act have caused real improvements. Yet, all too often, cases were brought to our attention where people were making the products we use every day in conditions that are simply not acceptable. In the UK, this can mean pay below the minimum wage and dangerous working conditions; in other countries it can mean virtual slavery and long-term damage to the natural environment.

The UK must build on work already done and create human rights protections that demand high standards of businesses. Businesses must be required by law to demonstrate how they are ensuring human rights are respected in their operations - if they do not then public bodies must exclude them from procurement opportunities.

Access to justice must be improved and companies must feel the effects of their actions. We would like to see laws enacted to allow victims to bring claims against companies where they have failed to prevent human rights harms from occurring.

Article 50 has been triggered. We are removing ourselves from the oversight of EU law and looking to develop new trading opportunities around the world. Human rights protections must not be lost in the rush. The 'Repeal Bill' must replicate human rights currently protected by EU law. Human rights protections must be a central pillar of future trade deals. If the conditions under which the things we buy are considered unacceptable in the UK then we must not simply export the problem to another country.

We have to make sure that when human rights abuses occur they are uncovered. Routes to access justice must be understood and achievable for those affected. The UK National Contact Point must become the advocate of human rights it is intended to be and the Government must give them the support they need to do this. The Government must further enable victims to seek justice. Excessive charges for access to a tribunal is an often insurmountable barrier. We are talking about exploited workers entering a complex system for the first time. They need support, not charges that they cannot afford to pay."

Case study: Textiles production in Turkey and the UK

A key finding in the report is the importance and difficulty in enforcing best practice throughout supply chains. Major high street retailers will regularly outsource the production of their fashion lines to factories, who may then further subcontract production elsewhere.

Over the course of the inquiry, the Committee spoke to major high street retailers and visited factories in Turkey and Leicester.

The emergence of "fast fashion", where styles seen on the catwalk are available cheaply in shops in a matter of weeks, has shifted production back to the UK where suppliers are able to offer quicker turnaround times than competitors thousands of miles away. Research by the University of Leicester has indicated that this new sub-industry is characterised by frequent violations of work and employment regulations.

"The majority of garment workers are paid way below the National Minimum Wage, do not have employment contracts, and are subject to intense and arbitrary work practices."

Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, University of Leicester

"What the employers do is that they make her sign a paper that she will work either 16 or 20 hours a week at minimum wage. Then they will give her a draft copy of wage slip which will again show that she works for example 20 hours and is paid £7.20 an hour...She worked on average 60 hours a week but only got paid £3 sometimes £3.50 an hour. In that time she also suffered severe back pain because of the number of hours she worked. She was always paid cash."

Written evidence received by JCHR from Ms Sarita Shah

In their evidence to the Committee, major retailers including ASOS, M&S and NEXT placed human rights issues high up their agenda, and noted the increased importance of ethical production to consumers. In many instances, sub-contracting has been explicitly prohibited in contracts and retailers have taken remedial action to improve conditions. However, supply chain dynamics, and the uneven distribution of costs and benefits between retailers and manufacturers cannot be discounted as a major factor. According to local manufacturers in the UK, buyers did not understand the real costs of production and often compared costs to those available overseas. A skewed playing field had been created whereby profit margins for suppliers were so small they left no room for improved wages or working conditions.

Harriet Harman commented:

"When high street retailers spoke to the Committee they told us that maintaining human rights in their supply chain was high up on their agenda, and it is becoming more important to consumers as well. However, serious concerns remain about the lack of speed and ineffectiveness of the action that some companies take when problems emerge. We must guard against any negative impact of the demand for quick, cheap fashion. The buck has to stop with businesses: they must demand that their suppliers pay good wages and have safe working conditions."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

Government needs to step in to protect workers' human rights

Legislation and enforcement need to be improved to ensure adequate protection of workers' human rights, a new report published today by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has found. The report... Read more

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Today, along with my parliamentary team, I attended the Service of Hope at Westminster Abbey. The service brought together people of all faiths in Commemoration of those who died or were injured in the attack on the 22nd March, it also gave recognition to the voluntary agencies who gave their support to all those involved.

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Service of Hope at Westminster Abbey

Today, along with my parliamentary team, I attended the Service of Hope at Westminster Abbey. The service brought together people of all faiths in Commemoration of those who died or were...

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Today I visited the great team at Kings College Hospital to say thank you for their amazing care of those caught in the Westminster attack on March 22nd. Nick Moberly, Chief Executive of Kings College Hospital Trust hosted the meeting and we were also joined by Helen Hayes MP for Dulwich & West Norwood.

 

It was a privilege to meet and hear from the team on duty that day:

Mr Robert Bentley, Clinical Director of Trauma and Emergency Surgery

Dr Shelley Dolan, Chief Nurse and Executive Director of Midwifery

Jennifer Watson, Director of Nursing

Mick Dowling, Head of Nursing, Critical Care

Frankie Northfield, Head of Physiotherapy

Kevin Dennison, Head of Nursing, Planned Surgery and Ophthalmology

Sister Isabella Jewel, Ward Sister, Katherine Monk Ward

Dr Sean Cross, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist

Harvey McEnroe, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Network Care and Silver Command during the incident

Malcolm Tunnicliff, Clinical Director, Emergency Medicine

Jacqui Sahiri & Tracey MacCormack from the Midwifery team. With the lock down of St Thomas’, King’s received their expectant mothers.

Nicola Torrens, Pharmacy Team Leader in A&E

Anna Oviedova, Neurosurgery Registrar

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Visit to Kings College Hospital following the Westminster attack

Today I visited the great team at Kings College Hospital to say thank you for their amazing care of those caught in the Westminster attack on March 22nd. Nick Moberly,...

Simon_Messinger_Flo_Eshalomi_28.3.2017.jpgThis morning Florence Eshalomi AM and I met Southwark Borough Commander Simon Messinger to discuss the Met's proposal to merge Southwark and Lambeth for policing, as part of a wider proposal to reduce borough commanders in the capital from 32 to 12. We expressed our concern about the impact of this on the relationship between Southwark police, and the local community and council, and will continue to oppose these proposals.  

Met plan to merge Southwark and Lambeth for policing

This morning Florence Eshalomi AM and I met Southwark Borough Commander Simon Messinger to discuss the Met's proposal to merge Southwark and Lambeth for policing, as part of a wider...

St_Georges_Primary_School_1_USE_28.3.17.jpgGreat to meet parents and children from St George's Primary School this morning, as well as the new Headteacher Stephen Scott. He and his team are doing good work in taking the school forward but they have a very difficult job to do with the Tory cuts to per pupil funding of £875 by 2020. We'll be working together to oppose the Government's school cuts.

St George's Primary School Visit

Great to meet parents and children from St George's Primary School this morning, as well as the new Headteacher Stephen Scott. He and his team are doing good work in taking...

HH_speech_-_Westminster_terror_attack_23.3.17.jpgI want to thank the Prime Minister for her words here today and also her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. At this very difficult and important time she spoke for us all, so I thank her for that. We’re so proud of the bravery of PC Keith Palmer. So sad for his grieving family. But so grateful for what he did to keep us safe, and I’d like to add my tribute to all the police here in Westminster and the parliamentary staff, who acted with such calmness and professionalism yesterday, and I’d like to pay tribute too, to the emergency trauma team at King’s College Hospital, who are caring for the injured.

This was a horrific crime, and it has cost lives and caused injury, but as an act of terror it has failed. It has failed because we are here and we are going to go about our business. It’s failed because despite the trauma that they witnessed outside their windows our staff are here, and they are getting on with their work. It failed because as the Prime Minister so rightly said we are not going to allow this to be used as a pretext for division, hatred and Islamophobia.

This democracy is strong and this Parliament is robust. This was a horrific crime, but as an act of terror it has failed.

Westminster Attack - Statement in the House of Commons

I want to thank the Prime Minister for her words here today and also her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. At this very difficult and important time...

image1.JPGToday in the House of Commons I asked the Education Secretary Justine Greening MP to protect Southwark schools from the cuts in her so-called fair funding formula.

Thanks to increased investment and the work of teachers, other teaching staff, supportive parents and the local community, standards in our schools in Southwark have massively increased, but our schools are not overfunded. Surely it cannot be right that, per pupil, we will see a cut of £1,000 per year as a result of this so-called fair funding formula. It is not fair. Whatever levelling up the Secretary of State needs to do in other parts of the country, she should please go ahead and do so, but do not cut schools funding for the poorest children.

You can read the full debate online in Hansard.

Question to Education Secretary challenging cuts to Southwark schools

Today in the House of Commons I asked the Education Secretary Justine Greening MP to protect Southwark schools from the cuts in her so-called fair funding formula. Thanks to increased...

Prison_officers_and_self-inflicted_deaths_(public_sector)_portrait.jpgAs prison officers are cut, prison suicides soar. Today I spoke in the Second Reading of the Prison and Courts Bill in the House of Commons to call for a new law that sets out a maximum ratio of prisoners to officers. This is the full text of my speech:

This Bill gives the House, the Secretary of State and her Prisons Minister the chance to do something which should have been done a long time ago - but which is now urgent.  And that is to end the death toll of suicidal mentally ill people who take their own lives in our prisons.

When the state takes someone into custody we have a duty to keep them safe.  Their life becomes our responsibility.  Yet prisons are not a place of safety.  Last year 12 women and 107 men took their own lives while in prisons, in the custody of the state.

The Bill this Government has brought forward affords us the important opportunity to change the law to prevent these tragic deaths and we must seize that opportunity because the problem is urgent and it is growing.

We all know that the issue of prison reform is not one which brings people out onto the streets, or which tops the agenda at election time. And unfortunately I wish I could agree with the honourable member who has just spoken, much of which I did agree with him on, but actually I think that when it does rise up the agenda it is usually not in the cause of liberalising prison regimes but because of demands to make them more draconian.  That makes the job of Secretary of State and the Prisons Minister - in any government - particularly challenging. Which is why, where it's possible, a cross-party approach to this is important and why the Committee which I have the honour to chair, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is both cross-party and comprised of members from both this House and the House of Lords, is conducting an inquiry into suicides in prison.  

Every single one of these deaths is an absolute tragedy for each individual and their family.

As Mark, the father of Dean who took his own life told our Committee earlier this month, "we don't have capital punishment in this country. Yet when Dean was sent to Chelmsford Prison he was sentenced to death."

And so too it was for Diane Waplington, whose mother and aunt came to Parliament to give evidence to our Committee.  Her suffering had been so intense that to harm herself she set fire to a mattress while in a secure hospital and the response was to send her to Peterborough prison, where she took her own life.

The tragedy of suicide in prison is not new but, as the Government acknowledges, it is urgent.  Last year the number of self-inflicted deaths rose by 32%.

It's not that this is a new problem, or even one where no-one knows what to do.  There have, over the years, been numerous weighty reports which Members of this House, members of the House of Lords, judges and many others have contributed to which have analysed the problems and mapped out the solutions.

Successive governments have welcomed their proposals, changed policy, issued new guidelines - but nothing changes.  Except the death toll - which rises.

*In 1991 we had the Woolf Report.

*In 2007 The Corston Report.

*In 2009 The Bradley Report.

*In 2015 The Harris Report.

It's not that we don't know what needs to be done - it’s just that we haven't done it.

We must recognise the reality here.  There is no point in having more reviews or new policies or new guidance.

What is needed is to make sure the changes we all know are needed actually happen in practice.  And for that to happen what is needed is a legal framework which will ensure that the necessary changes take place because they are required by statute. 

Reports and guidance and White Papers are not enforceable and are not enforced.  Law is.  This Bill is the opportunity to put into law the changes, highlighted by the countless, weighty reviews and inquiries. 

The Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry is still ongoing.  But because this Bill is before the House now, I want to ask the Prisons Minister to consider including a number of New Clauses in this Bill in order to put into law the following: 

  • Firstly there should be a legal maximum for the number of prisoners per prison officer. 

When there are not enough staff - sometimes just two prison officers on a wing of 150 prisoners - prisoners remain locked in their cell, medical appointments and educational sessions are missed, they don't get to see the nurse for their medication, calls for help go unanswered.  Prison officers don't have the time to unlock them for exercise, let alone sit down and get to know the prisoners and, in the vacuum, the worst of the prisoners take charge.  Staff become demoralised and defensive, prisoners angry and frightened - the most vulnerable at risk. 

You can either cut the number of people going to prison or you can increase the number of prison officers. But what the Government has been doing is cutting the number of prison officers while the number of prisoners has increased. You can see a clear correlation between the falling number of prison officers and the rising number of prison suicides and I've put the graph on a tweet just now which shows it very clearly. Unless the prisoner/prison officer ratio changes, the death toll will continue to rise.  We have got the opportunity to put into this Bill a legal maximum prisoner/prison officer ratio. 

  • Secondly a legal maximum time a prisoner can be kept in their cell.  
     
    The Government agree that there should be a maximum time for prisoners to be locked in their cells.  It was in their response to the Harris Review, it's in their White Paper. But it doesn't happen.  A legal obligation is required to make sure it does. 

  • A legal obligation for the Prison Service to ensure that each young prisoner or adult prisoner with mental health problems has a keyworker - whether it’s a prison officer or someone else, what matters is that there's an individual who takes responsibility to bring together all the information from the different services inside and outside the prison and, crucially, someone to liaise with the family. 

This is in the White Paper, but I say to the Minister, that unless it's in the Bill, it just won’t happen - it'll remain nothing more than a good intention.

  • Next, unless there is a specified reason that it shouldn't be the case, the relatives of a suicidal prisoner should be informed of and invited to take part in the safety reviews of vulnerable prisoners - ACCTs. Of all the people involved, the family knows the prisoner best and care about him or her the most.

The family of Dean Saunders told us that far from being given the chance to contribute to the reviews of the measures to keep him safe, it wasn't until the inquest that they actually found out that in the two and a half weeks he'd been in prison there had been 8 reviews - conducted by staff who didn't know Dean or anything about him.  

  • Next, a legal obligation to ensure all young offenders and suicidal prisoners should be able to call a specified and approved member of their family.  
     
    One of the most frightening things for a prisoner who's suffering the misery and fear of mental illness is being out of touch with their family.  A desperate, confused and terrified mentally ill prisoner can't stand on a wing queuing for a phone, can't find their way through pin numbers, or get permission.   Phone technology is perfectly advanced enough now for there to be a system for suicidal prisoners to be able to call home.

  • Next, where a prisoner needs to be transferred to a mental hospital, there should be a legal maximum time limit between the diagnosis and the transfer. 

    If a prisoner is regarded as so ill that they can't stay in prison and need to be moved to a secure hospital then that must happen right away. Under Mental Health Act Guidance, that's supposed to be no more than 14 days but it often takes many months. That maximum time limit should be laid down in law.

If the Minister says these 6 things are too detailed and specific for law, I would say look at the law that applies to education, look at the law that applies to health.  You'll find there legal provision for maximum staff/child ratios, legal time limits for referrals for health treatment.  If it's good enough for the education and the health service, why not for our prisons.

If the Minister says that these issues don't need to be in law, or they can be or already are in guidance, I say we've done that over and over again and it hasn't worked.  Now, it’s time it must be put into law. 

If the Minister says that these issues are more suitable for Regulations than being on the face of the Bill - I'm sure I'd have no objection to that.  Whether they are in primary or secondary legislation, is not what matters. What matters is that they should be put into law.

And I know exactly what his civil servants will say when he goes back to his department. They'll say it is unnecessary or they'll say it can't be done.  But I would ask him most sincerely to reflect on this point.  Being a Prison Minister is a great responsibility and a great privilege.  And I know he's committed to his ministerial role so I hope that he'll resist the voices which will urge him to do no more than preside over this wretched status quo.  And I ask the House to help the Minister do what needs to be done by putting these proposed New Clauses into the Bill. 

Nothing will bring back Dean Saunders and Diane Waplington, whose heartbroken families gave evidence to our Committee, or any of the other 12 women and 107 men who killed themselves in our prisons last year alone.

But we in this House, and the Minister, have a chance to make this Bill the turning point where we stop talking about the problems which are costing lives and take action. As Prison Minister, he, more than many other ministers, has an opportunity to make a difference and to save lives.  I hope he will seize that chance.  And we must make sure that he does.

 

New laws needed to tackle soaring prison suicides

As prison officers are cut, prison suicides soar. Today I spoke in the Second Reading of the Prison and Courts Bill in the House of Commons to call for a...

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February/March Monthly Report

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Along with Mrs Anita Asumadu, Head teacher of Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, Councillor Mark Williams and Councillor Johnson Situ I met with pupils and parents this morning to tell them about the detrimental impact the Government’s New National Funding Formula will have on their children.

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It is expected that pupils in Southwark will lose out approximately £1,024 each and this figure increases to £1,103 for pupils at Oliver Goldsmith Primary School.  Many parents expressed concern that their children will be worse off due to these government funding cuts.

Oliver Goldsmith Primary School - Fair funding for schools campaign

Along with Mrs Anita Asumadu, Head teacher of Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, Councillor Mark Williams and Councillor Johnson Situ I met with pupils and parents this morning to tell them...

Sacred_Heart_visit_14.3.17.PNGGreat to welcome sixth form government and politics students from Sacred Heart school to Parliament today. We discussed local issues affecting young people including lack of affordable housing, crime and university fees.

Sacred Heart visit to Parliament

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It is right that abortion is regulated, but this is not a matter for the criminal justice system. I co-sponsored the Bill put forward by Diana Johnson MP to decriminalise abortion and am pleased that today MPs voted by 172 votes to 142 in favour of it passing to Second Reading. The Bill is backed by a range of women's rights groups, reproductive rights campaigners and professional bodies, including:

  • Royal College of Midwives

  • Women’s Aid

  • Fawcett Society

  • Maternity Action

  • the British Society of Abortion Care Providers

  • Birthrights

  • Lawyers for Choice

  • End Violence Against Women

  • Equality Now

  • IPPF European Network

  • Voice for Choice

  • Southall Black Sisters

  • Alliance for Choice NI

  • Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion.

The Current Law on Abortion 

Since the 1967 Abortion Act, women have been able to access legal abortions under a limited range of conditions, provided that two doctors’ confirm that the conditions are met and the woman attends a registered abortion clinic. The conditions for obtaining an abortion up to 24 weeks and beyond 24 weeks are set out below:

  • Up to 24 weeks, women can obtain an abortion on the basis that “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.” 

  • Beyond 24 weeks, women can only obtain an abortion if they satisfy one of three conditions: that the termination is necessary to prevent “grave permanent injury” to the woman’s physical or mental health; that it would pose a “risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated”; or that there is a “substantial risk” that the child would be born “seriously handicapped.”

However, abortion remains a criminal act – both for the woman who has an abortion and anyone who helps her to have an abortion – under Sections 58-59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and other legislation, unless explicitly exempted by the provisions of the 1967 Act. The law states that any woman who procures her own miscarriage could be punished by up to life imprisonment – the harshest criminal penalty of any country in Europe.

I share Diana Johnson MP’s concerns about the impact of the law on vulnerable women who may be in a time of intense private trauma.  For example, women in domestic abuse situations, who may be too scared or unable to visit a clinic, are breaking the law if they procure their own miscarriage.

The Proposal to Decriminalise

This Bill does not propose to do away with existing safeguards. Following decriminalisation, abortion would continue to be subject to a significant body of Parliamentary regulation and robust professional standards, which would ensure that services are safe and operate to appropriate ethical standards. This is a much better way to ensure that women are able to access safe abortion services rather than using the criminal law against women and doctors.

There are examples of a range of countries that have already decriminalised abortion, e.g. Canada and there is no evidence that this has led to a rise in late-term abortions. The same is the case in the United States ever since a Supreme Court judgement in 1973. When Trump suggested that women should be punished for having an abortion last year, he backtracked on his claims after criticism from fellow Republicans and even anti-abortion campaign groups.

Maintaining Necessary Safeguards

  • This Bill will not remove the current 24-week time limit. With decriminalisation, women will only be able to obtain abortions beyond 24 weeks’ under the same circumstances as now. Professional bodies will have responsibility for enforcing these rules. 

  • As now, only properly-trained health professionals, operating to high standards of clinical safety, would be legally able to carry out abortions. Their conduct should be underpinned by a robust code set by their professional bodies, and any cases of malpractice, as now, would be dealt with by these bodies.  

  • On top of these disciplinary rules, there are already a range of laws that protect women from unscrupulous practitioners – from Acts prohibiting unlicensed doctors from operating, to legislation criminalising the selling of prescription-only drugs without a prescription. 

  • The current law is clear that no woman can have an abortion on the grounds of the gender of the child. With decriminalisation, professional bodies will continue to prohibit this as a grounds for an abortion.

I will continue to back the Bill and monitor its progress through Parliament. The Second Reading is expected on 24 March 2017.

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School_cuts_-_JOhn_Donne.jpgThe Tories are about to make the first real-terms cut in the schools budget for over two decades, the steepest our schools have faced since the 1970s. Over half of schools up and down the country are facing cuts and it is unlikely any area of the country will be spared. But the cuts are particularly bad for schools and families across Southwark.

Schools in the borough are expected to lose up to 3% of their budgets per year over the next two years as part of Government cuts, which for schools like John Donne Primary equates to more than £400,000, or about 10 teachers. 

A group of local parents have formed the Southwark Parents Against Cuts to Education campaigning group. On 9 March they held a public forum at John Donne Primary School to organise against the Tory education cuts. I spoke at the meeting along with John Donne Heads Simon Wattam and Nick Tildesley, Cllr Victoria Mills, Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Children and Schools. Kevin Courtney who leads the National Union of Teachers. The hall was packed full of parents, teachers and local councillors, all united and determined to protect Southwark Schools.

Cutting funding for Southwark schools will be a huge backwards step, undoing the good progress they have made in recent years. Helen Hayes MP, Neil Coyle MP, Cllr Peter John OBE and I have written to the Education Secretary, Justine Greening MP protesting and we will be meeting the Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibbs ahead of the consultation closing on 22 March. Read our letter to the Education Secretary here and find out how to get involved in the campaign.

Protesting Tory education cuts - John Donne Primary

The Tories are about to make the first real-terms cut in the schools budget for over two decades, the steepest our schools have faced since the 1970s. Over half of... Read more

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During the debate on the government’s bill to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, it quickly became clear that the residence rights of EU and EEA citizens in the UK would be one of the most significant subjects that would occupy both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The moral and economic issues were considered in some detail by both houses. But one question has received rather less attention during the public debate: the legal position both of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the EU.

These matters were considered by the EU justice committee in the House of Lords and the committee that I chair, the joint committee on human rights (JCHR). In a report published in December 2016, the JCHR noted that if the government tried to negotiate over their residence rights, many EU nationals would be able to go to our courts and seek to establish their rights to remain under article 8 of the European convention on human rights (the right to respect for home and private and family life). Such cases could arise in the unlikely circumstances that the government sought to deport EU nationals in the UK. One could also envisage legal challenges by individuals if the government refused to grant a continuation of their current residence rights post-Brexit. If even a small percentage of the individuals affected launched legal proceedings, this would amount to thousands of cases. This would impose an enormous strain on our court system.

I tabled an amendment on the subject of EU residence rights, which was debated in the Commons, but eventually defeated by the government. However, the Commons now has the opportunity to return to this important question as the Lords has passed an amendment to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) bill to require ministers to bring forward proposals, within three months of notifying the EU of the UK’s intention to withdraw, to guarantee the EU-derived rights (including residency rights) of EU and EEA citizens who are legally resident in the United Kingdom. I welcome this amendment, which should provide the unilateral guarantee recommended by the JCHR.

During the course of the debate in the Lords, Lord Woolf, a distinguished former lord chief justice and current member of the JCHR, made the legal point on residence rights very clearly. He observed: “We are dealing here with residents in this jurisdiction who at present have the right to go to the European court of human rights. We are also dealing with residents in the rest of the European community who also have that right. The present situation in this country is a matter to be dealt with by parliament and not by the courts. I strongly urge us not to force people to seek to go to the courts, as they could in this situation in this jurisdiction.”

Although the government has raised concerns about UK residents in the EU, they too benefit from rights under the European convention on human rights, so it would not be a straightforward matter for EU states to interfere with their residence rights post-Brexit.

People should be entitled to regulate their affairs in accordance with the law that exists when they make decisions

As the Conservative peer Viscount Hailsham QC noted in the debate, for EU citizens who moved to the UK prior to the referendum their decision accorded with the law that existed then and accords with the law that still exists today. If the UK sought to interfere with their rights, that could effectively involve an act of retrospective legislation.

I agree with Hailsham that, as a matter of general principle, legislation and policies that are retrospective in their operation should be avoided. Individuals should be entitled to regulate their affairs in accordance with the law that exists at the time they make their decisions. As he said, to depart from that principle would expose all of us to risk to our freedoms and our ability to make safe choices.

The bill returns to the House of Commons for its final reading next week; I would urge the prime minister not to seek to overturn the residence rights amendment. This would only prolong the uncertainty for the approximately three million EU citizens who make such an important contribution to our country.

You can view the original article as it appears on The Guardian website here.

EU citizens have a right to live in the UK, let’s keep it that way - Guardian article

During the debate on the government’s bill to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, it quickly became clear that the residence rights of EU and EEA citizens in the...

Southwark Fair Funding for All Schools are holding a public forum for parents, teachers and head teachers to oppose the Tory education cuts at John Donne Primary School, on Thursday 9 March, from 7pm.

I will be attending, along with Councillor Victoria Mills, Southwark Council's Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, and John Donne Headteachers Simon Wattam and Nick Tildesley.

The Tories are about to make the first real-terms cut in the schools budget for over two decades, the steepest our schools have faced since the 1970s. Over half of schools up and down the country are facing cuts and it is unlikely any area of the country will be spared. But the cuts are particularly bad for schools and families across Southwark.

Schools in the borough are expected to lose up to 3% of their budgets per year over the next two years as part of Government cuts – which equates to more than £300,000 for some schools. Cutting funding for Southwark schools will be a huge backwards step, undoing the good progress they have made in recent years.
 
We invite all local parents, teachers, and heads to join us this Thursday to oppose these Tory cuts. You can find full event details here.

You can read my recent letter to the Education Secretary challenging funding cuts to Southwark schools here.

 

Oppose the Government's cuts to Southwark schools - Thurs 9 March

Southwark Fair Funding for All Schools are holding a public forum for parents, teachers and head teachers to oppose the Tory education cuts at John Donne Primary School, on Thursday 9 March,...

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Protesting Tory business rates increase in Southwark

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Our high streets, pubs and local businesses are what give London its character. But from rising rents to Brexit uncertainty, it’s an incredibly difficult time for people who work hard running small businesses, and many have contacted me worried about their future in south London.

Instead of giving firms the helping hand they need, the Tories are planning the biggest business rates increases for seven years this April. And it is small firms in London who will be the biggest losers - businesses will pay based on how much their property is worth, rather than how much money they make, so inner London areas such as Southwark and Lambeth, where property values have increased dramatically, will be particularly badly hit.

At the last revaluation in 2010 no businesses faced an increase of more than 12.5% in the first year, but under this Government’s plan many in south London are facing cliff-edge rises - firms in Southwark will have on average 29.6% added to their bills.

The Federation of Small Business warns that micro businesses employing fewer than 10 people will have to find £17,000 a year on average to cover business rates from April. One constituent who runs a photography business in Peckham tells me he just does not know what to do to cover the shortfall, and it is likely he will close his business after four years, potentially declaring himself bankrupt in the process.

For independent cafes and pubs that just get by each month, these increases are simply unaffordable. It is not right that internet giants such as Asos and Amazon who have large warehouses outside of city centres get a cut in their business rates, at the same time as some south London pubs could be hit by a 40% rise.

Public service providers, such as Southwark Council will also be hit – having to pay an extra £1.25m to the Government for their own offices at a time when the Council is struggling to fund social care and emergency housing.

The Government say they plan to reform business rates so that local councils keep 100% of the revenue, but this will be in exchange for other government funding. Currently 70% of the growth in business-rate revenues will be kept by central government.

I along with my Labour colleagues Neil Coyle MP, Helen Hayes MP and Southwark Council will be writing to the Chancellor to urge him to listen to London businesses’ concerns. Business properties with a rateable value of less than £15,000 will receive 100% relief, but this urgently needs to be raised to a more realistic level to reflect London’s inflated property market. 

In the longer term, this outdated system must be reformed to reflect today’s economy, ease the burden on high streets and ensure online businesses pay their fair share. From Brexit to business rates, many of businesses’ most pressing concerns are currently going unanswered. Labour will continue to hold the Government to account, call for an emergency transitional relief fund and stand up for local traders.

South London Press column - Tory business rate increases will hurt small businesses

Our high streets, pubs and local businesses are what give London its character. But from rising rents to Brexit uncertainty, it’s an incredibly difficult time for people who work hard...

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Harriet Harman: Government must protect the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK

Everyone in Southwark will probably know someone who's an EU citizen and whose life has been thrown into disarray by the EU referendum decision last June. As part of our EU membership, EU citizens have been allowed to come and live here.  Some, such as those from France and Spain, have been here for decades. They have children and grandchildren living here. They work in and are part of the local community. It is unthinkable that they would be deported and their families split up because the UK has decided to leave the EU.

Worry amongst EU citizens here is palpable. All MPs have seen it in our advice surgeries. One of my constituents, an Italian woman, has been here for 30 years. She cannot work anymore because she is unwell, and her residency rights are now at risk. Another constituent from France told me she felt like ‘a second class citizen’, and for the first time in 25 years she felt unsure of her future and unwanted in the UK. 

It is not just EU nationals and their families who are worried for their futures, so are the employers for whom they work. How will our NHS find the nurses we need if they seek work elsewhere through fear they will not be allowed to stay? It is not as if we are training nurses and midwives ourselves. With the Tory cuts to nursing bursaries, the number of student nurse applications has fallen by 23% this year.

People from countries which have more recently joined the EU, such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, are working in sectors that could not manage without them—in our care homes, agriculture and our tourism industry. Employers in food production are already reporting more difficulty in getting the workers they need.

The Prime Minister has been sending out mixed messages.  On the one hand, she says that anyone who is lawfully here has nothing to worry about. On the other hand, she says she cannot commit to giving them residency rights because their future must be part of the Brexit negotiations.

It is wrong to use the lives of 3 million people and their families as a bargaining chip. They cannot be used as a human shield as the Government battles it ​out in Europe on behalf of our UK citizens in other countries. It is because of the Brexit decision, not the fault of EU citizens here, that UK citizens will lose their residency rights in other EU countries.   We must decide what is fair and right for EU citizens here, and do it. 

That’s why as chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) I tabled an amendment to the Article 50 Bill to protect the rights of EU citizens who were lawfully living in the UK at the time of the referendum in June, of which there are many in Southwark. Disappointingly the Government voted this down in the Commons, despite support from MPs across all parties.

Labour Peers and Lords members of the JCHR will now work together to press for an EU residence rights amendment throughout the Lords’ debate on Article 50 this week. I will continue to monitor the amendment’s progress and do all I can to secure EU citizens’ rights before Brexit negotiations begin.

 

** Since this article was written the Government was defeated by 102 votes (358 to 256) in the House of Lords on the amendment to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit:

Harriet said:

“I welcome the House of Lords decision last night to protect the rights of EU citizens. This implements a recommendation made by JCHR in its recent report on Brexit and human rights. I urge the PM not to seek to overturn this amendment and thereby prolong the distressing uncertainty for the 3 million EU citizens who make such an important contribution to our country, including the NHS, agriculture, universities and many other sectors.”

Southwark News Column - Government must protect rights of EU nationals in the UK

Harriet Harman: Government must protect the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK Everyone in Southwark will probably know someone who's an EU citizen and whose life has...

Today Southwark Council were prosecuted at Southwark Crown Court for their failure to maintain fire safety standards in Lakanal House. I attended the court hearing, along with Dave Lewis of the Sceaux Gardens Tenants and Residents Association.

3 women and 3 young children tragically lost their lives in the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell on 3 July 2009.

They were Dayana Francisquini aged 26, her daughter Thais, aged six, and son Felipe, aged three; 31-year-old Catherine Hickman; and Helen Udoaka, 34, and her 20-day-old daughter Michelle.

The fire was caused by an electrical fault in a television in a 9th floor bedroom. It spread unexpectedly through the block, in large part due to unsafe renovation work by the council, who own the building, and their failure to carry out a fire risk assessment following this work.

From 2006 Southwark were legally responsible for fire safety checks at its flats, but by July 2009 the council had carried out no such checks at Lakanal. A proper inspection would have spotted that vital fire-stopping material between flats and communal corridors had been removed.

Investment to improve Lakanal House for the tenants living in it instead turned it into a deadly fire trap. The council failed in their responsibilities and they have pleaded guilty.  No-one would have died if the work was checked and if they had re-assessed the fire safety of the block after the work was done.

No-one would have died if the Fire Brigade had instructed people to leave their flats. It was clear to me when I rushed down there on the night of the fire that compartmentalisation in the building had failed, and the fire was spreading.

The Fire Brigade, too, were responsible because as the fire spread and the safety measures failed, they failed to change their instructions to residents.

Those who ignored the Fire Brigade’s instructions to stay put escaped with their lives. Those who accepted the instructions to stay in their flat died.  The Fire Brigade say they too have learned lessons.

This prosecution sends a strong message not just to the London Borough of Southwark but to all landlords, public and private, that their tenants’ safety must be an absolute priority.

Nothing will bring back the 3 women and 3 young children who died in this tragedy, or undo the pain that has been caused to their families and friends. But there are lessons to learn and improvements that can and must be made.

In court today we heard that since 2009 Southwark has reviewed its approach to fire risk assessment across every block in the borough. They have spent £62m on their fire risk programme for social housing and now have a skilled and experienced in-house fire safety team. The Council and fire brigade said they are meeting regularly to discuss operations and safety, and the fire brigade assists Southwark in advising residents on fitting smoke alarms.

 

For more information contact Rachel Smethers – rachel.smethers@parliament.uk
020 7219 2057

 

 

 

Southwark Council prosecuted for safety failures over Lakanal fire

Today Southwark Council were prosecuted at Southwark Crown Court for their failure to maintain fire safety standards in Lakanal House. I attended the court hearing, along with Dave Lewis of...

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My cross-party letter with 47 Peers in today's Financial Times, on why the Government must guarantee EU citizens' residence rights:

On 27 February the House of Lords will debate the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. This provides an opportunity to guarantee the residence rights of the 3 million EU nationals who were lawfully resident in the United Kingdom at the time of the referendum. It is unthinkable that these individuals would be deported, or families divided, as a result of the vote.

Having taken evidence, Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) concluded that providing them with a unilateral guarantee was both morally and legally the right thing to do. These people need certainty. They work here and are part of our community. They are critical to every part of our private and public sector, including the NHS, our universities, agriculture, creative industries and finance.

If the Government tried to negotiate over their residence rights, many would be able to go to our courts and seek to establish their rights to remain under the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family life). If even 10 per cent did that, there would be 300,000 cases. There is no way that our court system could cope with such a challenge.

We call on the Government to end the uncertainty and accept the new clause on the residence rights of EU nationals, proposed by members of the JCHR, cross bench Peers, and others, on a cross party basis. Clearly, this will not be Parliament's final word on the matter and further issues will require resolution (for example, health insurance and rights of residence for those who arrived following the referendum).This does not prevent Parliament providing reassurance by preserving existing rights under EU law. This is the right thing to do and would ensure that negotiations with the remaining 27 EU Member States were commenced in good faith and on a positive note. It would be entirely wrong for the UK Government to seek to use these individuals as a bargaining chip.

Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP QC (Chair, Joint Committee on Human Rights)

Rt Hon Lord Woolf CH

The Baroness Hamwee

The Baroness Prosser OBE

Rt Hon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

The Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC

Rt Hon the Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE CH

Rt Hon the Lord Beith

Rt Hon Baroness Blackstone

Rt Hon. the Lord Bruce of Bennachie

Rt Hon. the Baroness Featherstone

Rt Hon. the Lord Foster of Bath

Rt Hon. the Baroness Kramer

Rt Hon. the Baroness Northover

Rt Hon. the Lord Stunell OBE

Rt Hon. the Lord Wallace of Saltaire

The Lord Alliance CBE

The Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury

The Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted

The Baroness Doocey OBE

The Baroness Falkner of Margravine

The Lord Fox

The Lord Goddard of Stockport

The Lord Greaves

The Baroness Harris of Richmond DL

The Baroness Jolly

The Lord Jones of Cheltenham

The Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

The Lord Lee of Trafford DL

The Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC

The Lord Liddle

The Baroness Maddock

The Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames QC

The Lord Oates

The Baroness Pinnock

The Lord Razzall CBE

The Lord Rennard MBE

The Baroness Scott of Needham Market

The Baroness Sheehan

The Lord Shipley OBE

The Lord Smith of Clifton

The Lord Strasburger

The Lord Taverne QC

The Lord Teverson

The Baroness Thornton

The Lord Tope CBE

The Baroness WALMSLEY

 

Protecting EU citizens' residence rights - FT Letter

My cross-party letter with 47 Peers in today's Financial Times, on why the Government must guarantee EU citizens' residence rights: On 27 February the House of Lords will debate the EU (Notification...

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