Today's debate on the Queen's speech was on 'Europe, Human Rights & Keeping People Safe at Home & Abroad'. Here is my speech from earlier:
"I would like to say a few words about the counter-extremism Bill and human rights. First, however, I pay tribute to the shadow Foreign Secretary for his speech, with which I strongly agreed. It was profound, principled and progressive, and without wanting him to think that I want some sort of promotion—I am so beyond that at this point—I should say I thought it was exceptionally good. He does great credit to our party, to the House and to politics, and I thank him for what he said.
I was glad to hear the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is a weighty Member of this House and speaks as a former Home Secretary, Justice Secretary, Health Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is well and truly a “former”, and I agreed with an awful lot of what he said. In fact, I agreed with everything he said about prison reform and Europe. I find that quite traumatic, because when I was first in the House, he was sitting in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet and was not to be agreed with on everything, or indeed anything. However, today I agreed with what he said. I also now find myself elevated to the status of a “former”, albeit not one as weighty as the right hon. and learned Gentleman. In this House, one thing about “formers” is that we must crack on with our speeches and not make them too long—that was a reference to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), not to the right hon. and learned Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe.
I want to mention two measures in the Queen’s Speech. The first is the counter-extremism Bill. I have the privilege of chairing the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), who sits on the Committee and has a particular interest in mental health and human rights, is also in the Chamber.
The Government have a duty to protect us—a responsibility that any and every Government take with the utmost seriousness. That is undoubtedly uncontested ground, but when it comes to how to tackle terrorism, specifically the task of countering Daesh-inspired terrorism, there is no consensus. The Government’s approach, set out in the counter-extremism strategy, appears to be based on the assumption that there is an escalator that starts with religious conservatism and ends up with support for jihadism, and that religious conservatism therefore is the starting point in the quest to tackle violence. However, it is by no means proven or agreed that extreme religious views, in particular religious conservatism, are in and of themselves an indicator of, or even correlated with, support for jihadism. If there are to be, under the new Bill, banning orders, extremism disruption orders and closure orders, it has to be clear that they are banning disruption and closing something that will lead to violence, not just something of which the Government disapprove.
The second issue is that if the Government are going to clamp down on Islamic religious conservatism in the cause of tackling violence, is that discrimination that can be justified, or will it serve merely to give rise to justified grievance? Everyone seems to agree that the most precious asset in the fight against terrorism is the relationship between the authorities—the police, the schools and the councils—and the Muslim communities of this country. We must guard against any undermining of the relationship between the authorities and the Muslim community, which would thereby make the fight against terrorism even harder. The last thing we must do is anything that fosters the alienation that can lead to radicalisation.
The third issue is the problem of taking conservative religious views in the Muslim community as an indicator of future terrorism if the same beliefs in evangelical Christianity or Orthodox Judaism would not be seen as prompting the need for any action. Are the Government going to discriminate and seek to justify that, or will they be indiscriminate and annoy and concern everybody?
The fourth issue is the question of definition. This was hinted at by the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) in his intervention. Even if there was reliable evidence of the escalator from extreme views to violence, if the law, in the form of banning orders, closure orders and extremist disruption orders, is to be invoked, there needs to be clarity and consensus around the definition. It is far from clear that there is an accepted definition of what constitutes non-violent extremism, or, indeed, extremism. In the counter-extremism strategy, the Government describe extremism as the:
“vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
Now, I am not tolerant of the beliefs of those who are homophobic and I do not respect those who regard women as inferior. Which is the extremism: their beliefs or my intolerance of their beliefs? If we denounce our judiciary as biased Islamophobes, is that undermining the rule of law or is that the exercise of free speech? I have done a certain amount of denouncing the judiciary for all sorts of things in the past, but I would not have regarded myself as extremist—I was just pointing out that they were sexist and needed to be replaced by many more women judges.
The fifth issue is whether it is better to suppress views or to subject them to challenge. Many in the higher education sector say that for their students they believe it is better to challenge abhorrent views rather than to repress them, but do we allow the same approach for school-age children? Some have argued that it simply should be seen as a question of child safeguarding, but although there is a consensus around the nature of child neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse, from which children have to be safeguarded, there is no such consensus around the definition of extremism from which children should be safeguarded. We can all understand the definition of safeguarding; it is just a question of what we are safeguarding children from. In relation to extremism, there is no such shared consensus or definition. The difficulty around these issues should lead the Government to tread with great care. They should publish the Bill in draft and allow extensive debate and discussion. We should listen with particular attention to those who would be expected to apply for and enforce these orders, such as the police, educational establishments and councils, and to the Muslim community.
I completely agree with everything that the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said about the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights. We have not yet seen the consultation, but, when we do, it will again be important that the Government tread carefully. They should ensure that human rights remain universal, rather than simply retaining the popular and carving out the unpopular. The legal protection of human rights is important for everyone, even those who are justifiably the subject of public hostility.
The Government should not do anything that makes it more difficult for people here to enforce their rights in the UK courts, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said. I had to trek all the way to Strasbourg to get my rights. Had we had the Human Rights Act, I would have been exonerated seven years earlier and at much less expense to the Government. Neither should they do anything that would disrupt the devolution settlement in Scotland or the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, of which the Human Rights Act is part, as was made clear to us on our visit to Scotland and in evidence submitted to our Committee from Northern Ireland.
The Foreign Secretary acknowledged that this country is seen as a champion of human rights around the world, and the Government should be mindful of how what the UK does affects those in other countries who are fighting for their rights but who do not have the democracy and rights we have. Our adherence to the framework of international human rights standards, which includes the European convention, is a beacon to which those campaigning for rights in other countries look and demand in their own countries. That was made clear to us when we visited the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where people, whether from Poland or Russia, basically told us, “If you leave the European convention, we’re done for.” If our Government were to abandon the convention, it would have a devastating effect on the progress of human rights in other countries.
No Government like any court telling them what to do. Legislators, elected as they are, do not like to be constrained by unelected judges. Parliament does not like to be so restrained. Governments, having got elected and into government, like even less to be constrained. That feeling is multiplied when the judicial ruling comes from—perish the thought!—abroad, but even the best intentioned Government need to be subject to the rule of law. Governments can abuse their power, on purpose or by mistake, so oversight by the courts is essential. International standards, presided over by international courts, are important abroad and to us too. If the Government do not agree with a court ruling, they can gnash their teeth or try to get the court to think again in a subsequent case, but their disagreeing with a judgement does not justify their rejecting the jurisdiction of the court concerned.
In conclusion, it is easy to promise to tackle extremism, to whip up hostility to court rulings and to make “human rights” dirty words, but when it comes to legislating on counter-terrorism and amending our human rights framework the Government need to tread carefully, consult widely and work on the basis of consensus. What I have heard in the debate so far gives me confidence that there are Members on both sides of the House, as there are in the House of Lords, who will make sure the Government do exactly that."
You can read the full debate here.
Queens Speech Debate: Government need to tread carefully and consult widely on counter-extremism and human rights
Today's debate on the Queen's speech was on 'Europe, Human Rights & Keeping People Safe at Home & Abroad'. Here is my speech from earlier: "I would like to...
Earlier today Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities), Seema Malholtra MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), Angela Eagle (Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills) and I held a press conference at Church House, Westminster to highlight the importance of women in the campaign to remain in the European Union.
Earlier today Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities), Seema Malholtra MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), Angela Eagle (Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation &... Read more
Earlier today, I joined the Britain Stronger In campaign, alongside the Prime Minister, to talk to Asda workers about how leaving the European Union would see the cost of the weekly shop go up.
Former high street bosses warned that leaving the EU would be catastrophic for consumers. Marc Bolland, Sir Ian Cheshire, Justin King CBE and Sir Terry Leahy said that renegotiating trade arrangements and changes in regulations would hit customers at the tills.
Earlier today, I joined the Britain Stronger In campaign, alongside the Prime Minister, to talk to Asda workers about how leaving the European Union would see the cost of the... Read more
It’s been very sad to hear about what tenants and residents at Solomon’s Passage in Peckham Rye have been going through after they were told by their housing association Wandle that they would have to leave their homes.
Just 3 weeks ago, the 85 families who live in Solomon's Passage, overlooking Peckham Rye, heard the devastating news that they’ll all have to leave their homes because of fundamental defects in the blocks built only 6 years ago. 2 blocks will have to be refurbished and the residents will have to move out. And 2 blocks are so badly built they’ll have to be demolished. Families face months of uncertainty.
I met with them today to offer my help as they face an anxious and uncertain future. Peckham Rye Councillor Renata Hamvas was also at Solomon’s Passage and pledged her support for her constituents. It was clear from everyone I spoke to that trust is a really big issue for everyone at Solomon’s Passage and Wandle really need to work to rectify this.
It’s been very sad to hear about what tenants and residents at Solomon’s Passage in Peckham Rye have been going through after they were told by their housing... Read more
Please find my monthly report for April & May here
Please find my monthly report for April & May here
It’s over a week now, but I’m still buzzing that Sadiq Khan is our new mayor of London.
It means it’s a really hopeful time for London. We can look forward to more homes being built and sold or rented at a price people can afford. He’s promised to put a cap on spiraling transport fares. It’s going to be a time for new plans and new ideas. Whether it’s keeping our air cleaner or our streets safer, or helping new businesses start up and tackling the inequality which still scars London, Sadiq has said he’ll be a Mayor who listens and innovates. And it’s an incredibly proud time for London. We’ve elected as our new Mayor a man who was brought up on a Tooting council estate, whose parents emigrated here from Pakistan – his father to work on the buses and his mother to work as a seamstress. He went to University and set up his own legal firm. And he’s the first Muslim to be elected to lead our great City – the first of any city in Europe.
I feel proud that our city could enable someone from Sadiq’s background to rise to be Mayor. I feel relieved that he was elected – with Londoner’s rejecting the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith’s deplorable attempt to give voters the entirely false impression that Sadiq would be soft on terrorism. The Equality and Human Rights Commission should bring out the declaration which all party leaders signed in the 2001 pledging not to allow racial or religious divisions to be used for party advantage. No party should seek to get their candidate elected by whipping up racial tension. It’s time David Cameron signed it.
I agree with Sadiq that now he’s elected it’s important that he’s “the Mayor for all Londoners”. He will reach out not just to Labour voters but to those who voted Tory, UKIP or Green – or who didn’t vote at all. He will engage with people of all faiths, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews – as he showed at his inauguration at Southwark Cathedral. You can’t build unity in the city by playing one community off against another.
I shall be supporting our Southwark council leader Peter John as he seeks the backing of the Mayor to build more council and affordable homes. And I shall be knocking on Sadiq’s door to insist that in City Hall and in everything he does he supports women to make more progress towards equality.
I’m delighted to see the back of Boris Johnson as our Mayor. He’s certainly a big celebrity but I can’t forgive his insult to our African communities here in London when he talked about “picannnies” or about their “watermelon smiles”. And he neither knew nor cared about people who work hard but struggle to get on the housing ladder or to make ends meet.
I hope, and expect, that the Government whether it’s the Prime Minister, Chancellor or Transport Minister will work with Sadiq.
It’s over a week now, but I’m still buzzing that Sadiq Khan is our new mayor of London. It means it’s a really hopeful time for London. We can look...
Thank you so much for letting me come and talk to you today about women at work and the European Union.
You work here in the financial services industry, an industry which is crucially important to the economy of this country and for the employment of women.
Financial services generate over £126 billion for our economy every year and half a million women work in it. Not just here in London but in Leeds, Edinburgh, Bristol and throughout the country.
The work that you do in financial services powers that industry and provides the income for hundreds of thousands of households.
Your work is important to this sector and I know that it's also important to you and your family. The fact of the matter is that there are few households, and no regions and no sectors which could manage without women's work. Our work is vital to household budgets and to our economy. The workforce is now women and men. But despite that we are still not equal at work or at home. We've made great strides at work, and you can see that with women's earning power increasing. But the higher up you get in any workplace the fewer women there are. And there is still not equal sharing of family responsibilities - whether it be for bringing up children or caring for the elderly or disabled. Though men are doing more at home, in the overwhelming majority of households, the responsibility still rests firmly with women.
So the rights and protections that we have at work remain important- the right to be paid equally, not to be discriminated against, not to be harassed, not to be oppressed because you're a part-timer, a right to return to work after having a baby, to have a right to take time off to go to ante-natal appointments, the right for fathers to have time off when their children are young.
One of the great social changes over the last 30 years has been the progress that women have made. Women now have equal educational qualifications to men and expect to be able to work on equal terms with men in whatever field they choose. Womens’ attitudes have changed - we're no longer prepared to put up with being second-class citizens.
This is a huge, and quite recent change. When I first started work there was no right to equal pay - job adverts showed the woman's rate and the man's rate for the same job. Employers could and did advertise jobs for men, which women couldn't apply for. And when you got pregnant you usually kept it secret to try and keep your job for as long as possible. When you left work to have a baby your job went. You had to apply to go back to work like a new employee - even to your old job. Most women worked part-time and were completely the poor relations at work - not allowed to be in the workplace pension scheme, first to be made redundant, and denied access to training and promotion.
For women starting out in 2016 rather than in the 1970s when I started work, all this might seem positively prehistoric. But remember that the changes that we achieved didn't come through hoping something would turn up - but through action.
The women's movement saw women demanding change - prepared to fight against the government, employers and even their own trade unions to assert their rights to work and be equal at work with laws to back them up. And that is what has happened year on year over the decades. And the EU has been a massive ally in this process.
People undecided on the EU
You may have seen the opinion polls on the EU referendum which will be on June 23rd. The latest show that 42% are for staying and 40% are for leaving. But I've met so many people who are undecided, who haven't made up their mind, who want further information and are still thinking about it. And twice as many women as men haven't yet decided how to vote in the referendum.
Change in women's lives
It doesn't help anyone make up their mind to see men shouting at each other. So, rather than joint them, I want to bring some facts into the debate.
It's easy to overlook, but it’s impossible to overstate, how important the EU has been in our struggle for women's rights at work. Some of our rights came directly from the EU, some rights were enhanced because of the EU and our rights as women at work can't be taken away, as they are guaranteed by our membership of the EU.
This is a paradox because the EU is every bit as woefully male-dominated as our own political institutions. But despite that, the historical fact is that the EU has led and strengthened our rights as women at work in this country. And we should never take that for granted. Faceless bureaucrats they may be - but the EU has been a strong friend to British women at work.
The rights that we now have at work did not just arrive out of thin air. They came from a combination of what our governments have done and what the EU has made them do. I would rather we got all of our rights from our own government. Half the population are women and we are a democracy - it doesn't seem too much to ask for our own government to back us up. It feels odd to get legal rights handed to us from Brussels rather than from Westminster. But if it's a case of having them coming from Brussels or not at all, let's not be in any doubt that wherever they come from, these rights are essential for women’s progress in their lives. No government likes a Directive - let alone from abroad - telling them what to do or a Court - and God forbid a foreign court - forcing them to make changes. But EU Directives and European Court judgments have been making our government back women up at work. So if it comes to a choice between Directives or fewer protections for women at work - I'll take the Directives any day.
I want Brussels to be there to guarantee these rights. I don't want our government to have the "sovereignty" to take away those rights. Over the years we fought for those rights and they should be there for you now.
For most people, what goes on in Parliament is baffling enough, let alone understanding the complex interplay of our Parliament and Brussels. But when people come to vote about whether to stay or leave Europe, it's important for them to know what Europe has done which has made a difference to their lives. The language might be impenetrable and the institutions baffling, but the fact is that the EU has been a strong friend to women at work.
Let me explain specifically about women's rights at work. And these are facts here - not spin, not conjecture, not predictions - plain facts. And although this goes back some decades, it's not "historical" because I was there fighting for those rights, for the progress which was hard won, inch by inch, and these rights are still important for you now and I don't want to see them threatened by our leaving the EU.
Take equal pay for women. The founding treaty of the EU, the Treaty of Rome which everyone has to sign up to when they join the EU, requires that women should be paid equally and get equal treatment. When we signed up to the EU in 1973 that was a right that all women in this country got.
In 1970 the Equal Pay Act came into force and said that you could get equal pay but only if there was a man doing the same job that you could compare with. Because we were in the EU our government was required, in 1976, to extend that to where women were doing work which was not the same as a man but where they could show their work was of "equal value". This gave hundreds of thousands of women better pay. Like the women at Ford, who in 1984 got a pay increase claiming their work as machinists was of equal value to the higher paid men.
Like low paid women council cleaners who claimed the same pay and bonuses as the higher paid men in refuse collection. I was there in Cabinet Committees when my colleagues gnashed their teeth at the European Court for telling our councils that the agreement they'd reached with the unions would have to be changed. They said it wasn't the right time for the women to get the same pay as the men. But it's never "the right time" for government or employers to be able to afford equality for women. And this is not a luxury, its basic fairness.
Equality for part-timers
Take the situation for part-timers. Our Equal Pay Act covered pay, but didn't cover pensions - nor did the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. Most part-timers were women - they still are. And part-timers were excluded from companies' workplace pension schemes, making certain that women would be worse off in retirement than men. In 1986, an EU ruling said that excluding part-timers from occupational pension schemes was sex discrimination, that pensions were "deferred pay" and should be covered by the Equal Pay Act. This meant that hundreds of thousands of part-time women got access to pension schemes for the first time, and part-timers were still protected.
The EU is full of guarantees for working women as we have our babies. The EU guarantees that women have to get some maternity pay. The 1992 Pregnant Workers Directive required that women who were off work on maternity leave had to be paid an "adequate allowance" not less than sick pay.
Going back to work
The EU guarantees that women have a right to return to work after they've had a baby. The Pregnant Workers Directive guarantees women at least 14 weeks’ maternity leave and a right to return to their old job. Our government gives women more than that - extending maternity leave to a year - but the EU Directive guarantees that women can never have their right to return to work abolished.
New rights for fathers
The EU gave, for the first time, a right to fathers to take time off when they have a baby. In 1996 the EU issued the Parental Leave Directive which requires EU members to give fathers as well as mothers four months leave in the first eight years of their child's life. This was the first time fathers got rights in law and that's important not just for the child and the father, but also for the mother.
EU Directives and court rulings mean that our government has to ensure that employers give women time off work to go to ante-natal appointments. They have to protect breast-feeding women, and they have to give parents a right to time off for urgent family reasons - like a child falling ill.
Tackling harassment at work
The EU has waded in against sexual harassment at work. The 1975 Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal for a woman to be harassed at work. And that can't be repealed because it's guaranteed by the 2006 EU Equal Opportunities Directive which ruled that sexual harassment is unlawful discrimination
"Those rights are now secure"
We fought hard for those rights, in Brussels and in Westminster. That's a fact. If we leave the EU, the guarantees of those rights will be gone. That's a fact too.
Some people will say, “OK the EU helped us to get those rights, and guaranteed them, but we don't need Europe anymore because those rights are accepted by everyone now. We don't need the guarantee anymore."
Would that it were the case that everyone now agrees that women's rights at work are paramount. But they don't.
Every time any new right for women has been introduced, whether it's come from Westminster, our courts, or Brussels - it's been bitterly opposed. There was opposition to the Equal Pay and the Sex Discrimination Acts. The Tories voted against the Equality Act as recently as 2010. In the past, even unions opposed equal rights for their part-timer women members. The CBI and the Chambers of Commerce oppose new rights. Even the Labour government which I was part of complained about European Court of Justice rulings on women's rights. It's naive to suppose that everyone now suddenly agrees with them. Women's rights are in the firing line whenever there's a call for deregulation or "cutting red tape". Bright ideas pop up to give businesses "greater freedom" in this sector or that region. Right now, though few will say they oppose women's rights, given half the chance, the covert hostility to these rights would soon rear its ugly head. They argue that it's about saving government money or cutting red tape on business, but women's rights would be sacrificed.
And why should we trust the likes of Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan-Smith or Nigel Farage with our rights as women? And even if they say they'd guarantee not to go below the rights for women that the EU guarantees, I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. It's your rights which are at stake here - so nor should you.
We need more rights for women - not fewer
Instead of fighting to stop us going backwards, we should be pressing for more rights for women at work. I want to see the laws on preventing discrimination against older women brought into force. I want to see rights for carers to take time off. I want to see mothers able to share their maternity leave with the child's grandparents as they can now share their maternity leave with the child's father. I want maternity leave to be longer and maternity pay to be better.
We've made huge progress over the years but we are still far from equal. The last thing we need now is to have to fight to defend and protect the rights we've already got. But that is what would happen if we left the EU. We've got used to being able to rely on the EU to underpin those rights. Let’s not take them for granted and find that we have to fight for them all over again. We need our energy to be going forward, not to prevent ourselves going backwards.
So if you think it's important that women at work have rights at work, to equal pay, to opportunity, as parents, stand up for those rights and vote to stay in the EU. Don't be complacent about those rights. Protect them by voting to stay in
Jobs as well as rights
It's not just your rights at work which Europe is important for, it’s also those jobs themselves.
Women are now working in every sector, in every region. Those sectors are bolstered by our membership of the EU because the EU helps our economy generally. It’s our biggest trading partner, with EU countries buying nearly half of everything we sell abroad.
We're here in the City of London at the heart of our financial services sector. If you look at the people at the top of financial services, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's all men. But that is far from the case. Half a million women work in financial services - women like you who work hard, do well and are ambitious - and 41% of those financial services we sell abroad go to Europe. If we weren't in the EU, Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin would be looking to hoover up those jobs. A study by City Link and PWC estimates that around 50,000 women working in financial services would lose their jobs if we left the EU.
And what about other sectors where women work?
Over half of the chemicals and pharmaceuticals we export go to Europe. Over half our food exports go to the EU. What would happen to the 1 million jobs of women who work in that sector if we leave?
Many reasons to stay in EU
My decision to vote to remain is based on a whole range of issues:
*Jobs and investment.
*UK influence in Europe.
*UK influence through the EU in the rest of the world.
*The EU as a body of countries committed to human rights.
And my general belief that it's best to look forward and outward rather than backward and inward - especially in a globalised world.
Opting out for a quiet life was never a way to make progress on anything. And outside the EU it wouldn't be a quiet life but one of frustration and ineffectiveness. A quick adrenalin boost of "going it alone" followed by long endurance of problems and marginalisation leaving us as a weaker, poorer country.
I think we should have the confidence to recognise that we make a big impact in the EU. Why wouldn't we want to continue to do that when they are our nearest neighbours and our biggest trading partners? Our history has been about being a leading country in Europe, not cutting and running.
Over the last few decades there's been a transformation in women's lives, with women going out to work as well as caring for children and elderly. Regarding ourselves as equal citizens whose contribution in the world outside the home is important and should not be undervalued.
Over the last three decades (when I've been an MP) we've struggled to make our way forward towards equality at work. The objective fact is that through those decades the EU has been a friend to women in this country. Let's stick with them and let's work to make further progress.
Speaking at Lloyds of London today I argued that Britain’s women are stronger, safer and better off thanks to British membership of the EU. And said that leaving would put women’s...
When I talk to people in Southwark about the EU referendum on June 23rd, most people say they still haven't made up their minds, they want to know more about it and want to think about it further. It certainly makes sense to find out all the issues at stake because this is one of the biggest decisions that will affect our country for decades to come.
To contribute to this important debate, here are the reasons why I'm voting for the UK to remain in the EU.
The EU is important for equality, human rights and has backed equality, and rights at work. Voting to leave would put at risk equal pay, paid annual, maternity and paternity leave and the protection of agency workers. The EU ensures minimum standards and without this guarantee it would be left just to the Conservative Government, who have never stood up for human rights, and equality or fought to improve living conditions for most people.
The EU is important for jobs, for our businesses and keeping the cost of living down. The EU has a population of 500 million and is the biggest consumer market in the world, putting Britain in a great position for trade and investment. 540,000 jobs in London are reliant on our membership of the EU, 26,000 London businesses trade goods within the EU (worth £4.7billion) and every year £26.5 billion is invested in Britain by other EU countries.
The EU is important for our health service. And leaving it would be thoroughly bad news for the quality of care that people in Southwark receive. Our health services need people who come from other European countries to work as nurses, doctors and care workers. If we left the EU, and they all had to apply for visas to come here, many wouldn't and our NHS would lose out.
Kings College Hospital is a centre for medical research and treats a great many local patients. The UK has received over £700million of EU funding for medical research projects. A further £60billion of funding has now been made available to EU countries with the UK receiving the most approved grants so far. Leaving Europe would turn off the tap of funding for medical research that provides hope to patients.
The links we form in the EU give Britain the power to speak with a louder voice than we would alone. The EU has the world’s largest aid budget, and using the collective voice EU countries have led on efforts to tackle climate change, clamp down on corruption, start to end tax avoidance in developing countries and extend human rights across the developing world. Any contributions that we make towards EU aid spending count towards Britain’s 0.7% spending target.
The way the EU works at present is not perfect but it is better to have a seat at the table than to throw stones from outside with no say. The referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union is on the 23rd June and you must be registered to vote by the 7th June.
I hope you will join me in voting to remain a member of the European Union.
When I talk to people in Southwark about the EU referendum on June 23rd, most people say they still haven't made up their minds, they want to know more...
I asked Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP (Attorney General) about the Governments position on the UK's membership of the European Convention on Human Rights:
Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
The more the Attorney General and the Justice Secretary say that they have not ruled out the UK leaving the European convention on human rights, the more it sounds to me like exactly the direction of travel they intend to take, and I find that chilling. The Attorney General cited the proud tradition of this country in establishing this international system of guaranteeing human rights here and abroad, yet it is that very proud tradition that he appears to be about to kick into the gutter. Does he recognise that we cannot both be a signatory to the European convention and reject the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights? It is not just about having these substantive rights and paying lip service to them; it is about accepting the jurisdiction of the international court to enforce those rights. Does he recognise that every Government in this country needs to have that restraint? All Governments are tempted to abuse their power, and this international system is an important guarantee. Does he recognise, as Conservative Members have said, how important it is for those who are struggling for human rights in other countries to be part of a system that we play a part in guaranteeing? I hope that enough Members in this House and the other place will share that view, so that, if the Government drift towards a position of trying to leave the European convention, this Parliament will stop them.
Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP - Attorney General
I will start at the end of what the right hon. and learned Lady has said. She is quite right to say that the example that we set to other countries is something that should occupy our minds. Again, I make the point that the example we set comes from our actions—from what we do—and I do not think that there is any prospect of this Government or any other likely British Government moving away from a clear wish to protect human rights in this country and abroad. I have set out some of the ways in which the Government have done that.
I think that the right hon. and learned Lady attaches too much significance to the convention and the Human Rights Act. I understand why those who were in office in the Labour Government that introduced that Act feel very attached to it. She must also recognise that that Act and what it attempted to do—no doubt from the best of motives—have been tarnished by a number of cases that followed, which have led many of our constituents to believe that “human rights” is a term to be deprecated, not a term to be supported and celebrated. I am sure that she and I agree that we need to get back to a place where all our citizens are keen to support human rights and their protection.
My final point is this. In terms of restraint and what we are prevented from doing, as the right hon. and learned Lady would put it, by our membership of the convention on human rights, I am surprised that a former Law Officer overlooks the role of our own courts, which are robust in the way in which they hold Government to account and restrict the freedom of manoeuvre of Ministers—quite rightly so. I do not believe that we need to rely solely on the exercises of foreign jurisdictions to restrict our Government appropriately.
You can watch my question to the Attorney General and his answer here.
I asked Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP (Attorney General) about the Governments position on the UK's membership of the European Convention on Human Rights: Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC...
Many people say that prostitution - men paying for sex with women - has always been with us and always will be. But I don't agree with that view. Prostitution is bad for women, men and neighbourhoods and there is something we can and should do about it.
There are a number of contested propositions about prostitution. Some argue that it is a choice women make and that they should be allowed to make that choice. They say that just because I don't want to be a prostitute I shouldn't interfere with their choice, their right to sell their body for sex. I think there are only a very small number of women for whom prostitution is genuinely a free, positive, strong choice. Most women find themselves in prostitution because of mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction. Many have had troubled or abused childhoods or have been brought up in the care system. Many have been tricked into prostitution by human traffickers who have brought them from abroad and then forced them into the sex trade. These women need protecting and help to lead a better, safer life. If that means interfering with the "right" of the very few women who choose to sell sex or the "right" of men to buy sex, then so be it.
Some argue that prostitutes are "sex workers" and that their "job" should be protected not eliminated. But prostitution is not the sort of "work" that anyone would like to admit their mother does. Who wants their daughter to grow up to be a prostitute? - No-one. Surely we have higher ambitions for women than that they should sell their body for sex.
Some say that I should listen to the voice of organisations like "The English Collective of Prostitutes". I have, and I don't agree with them because I have also listened to the voices of women who were victims of trafficking whose cases I dealt with when I was Solicitor General in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Some say that it's a way for a woman to earn a lot of money. Most money in prostitution doesn't go to the women but to pimps and criminal gangs.
Some say that it's not just about women, there are male prostitutes too. I think the arguments about protection of women apply in the same way to men who fall into prostitution.
What about a man's "right" to pay for sex, especially if he couldn't get sex anywhere else? His right to pay does not justify his exploitation of women. Some say "but if men can't pay for sex they'll resort to rape instead". Men do not have a "right to sex" and if they commit rape they should be put in prison.
Some say that if you make it a criminal offence to pay for sex you will drive it underground and make women even more dangerous for women.
I think we should follow the example of the Nordic countries where the woman prostitute is treated as a victim and helped and men paying for sex are guilty of a criminal offence. We should tackle the criminal gangs who deal in guns, drugs and women's bodies. And I think we should ban the small ads in local newspapers which are advertising prostitution.
Many people say that prostitution - men paying for sex with women - has always been with us and always will be. But I don't agree with that view. ...
The proposed closure of ticket offices at Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye and Queens Road will hit local people who already get a raw deal on public transport. Passenger numbers are going up but not the frequency of train services.
Ticket offices provide reassurance to passengers and provide more services than those offered at a ticket machine. At a ticket office, passengers have access to a wider range of tickets both in terms of price and in terms of the type of ticket they are buying. Passengers, especially those who are vulnerable or disabled, feel reassured by a ticket office. Govia Thameslink must put passengers first.
In her letter today to Govia Thameslink CEO Charles Horton, Harriet Harman MP demanded answers:
Ticket offices provide a range of services to many of my constituents. Denmark Hill station services passengers from nearby hospitals, Kings College and Maudsley. Ticket offices provide reassurance to all passengers but especially those who are vulnerable and may struggle to use ticket machines due to mobility or sight issues.
I am very concerned that the above ticket offices are set to close in June of this year and would be grateful if you could answer the below questions:
- How many customer contacts does each of the ticket offices have each day
- If the ticket offices close, will the ticket machines on the platform be upgraded so passengers can purchase monthly, quarterly and yearly travel cards?
- If the ticket offices close, will more ticket machines be installed to prevent long waits?
- What provisions will be made for passengers with a disability who struggle to use ticket machines?
The proposed closure of ticket offices at Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye and Queens Road will hit local people who already get a raw deal on public transport. Passenger numbers are...
Please find my monthly report for February 2016 here.
Please find my monthly report for February 2016 here.
Brayards Estate Tenants and Residents Association Community Hall was the venue for the Brayards Estate coffee morning. Many thanks to TRA Chair Lorraine Beck for arranging the venue and for all her hard work as Chair.
30 tenants and residents attended to talk about the issues that affect them most ranging from housing and immigration to anti-social behaviour and air/noise pollution.
Local Nunhead Councillors Fiona Colley, Sunil Chopra and Sandra Rhule, representatives from the Nunhead Safer Neighbourhood Team and representatives from Southwark Council also joined us to listen to tenants and residents’ concerns.
Brayards Estate Tenants and Residents Association Community Hall was the venue for the Brayards Estate coffee morning. Many thanks to TRA Chair Lorraine Beck for arranging the venue and for... Read more
Six years after the last Labour government left office, one of the things that is still there for people is the Equality Act.
The Tories are making it harder for people with disabilities and for people on low incomes. The progress that Labour made for women has stalled but the power and effect of the Equality Act is there for people to turn to.
When Labour were introducing the Equality Act the Tories opposed it, but they haven’t repealed it so it’s still there for people to use. An important objective of the Equality Act was to help women get equal pay but over five years after the Act was brought into force the pay gap still exists. The Equality Act has a clause to bring about a step change towards equal pay through transparency. Everyone can see that nationally there is a gender pay gap, but because businesses haven’t had to publish their own figures they have been able to claim that ‘it isn’t happening here’.
This clause gives women the power of knowledge, to be able to look at their own companies and see their employers record on the pay gap and what they are doing to tackle it.
The Tories opposed this clause at the time, saying that it was a burden on business, but they have recognised that it is necessary and are now at last bringing it into force. The Government must ensure that companies publish clear, simple and straightforward information.
One of the Conservative’s policies that has hit people in Southwark hardest is the bedroom tax. Along with all Labour MPs, I spoke out against it but the Government pushed it through, even though it is unfair especially on people with disabilities and victims of domestic violence.
It felt like nothing could be done to make the Government recognise this injustice but a group of tenants, on behalf of people with disabilities and victims of domestic violence, took a case to the Court of Appeals under the Equality Act and won. The Bedroom Tax is a problem caused by the Tories but Labours’ Equality Act is still protecting the most vulnerable people even after all these years.
For months the Health Secretary has been trying to impose new junior doctor’s contracts despite constant criticism of their demanding conditions. The British Medical Association is now challenging these contracts on the basis that the Conservative Government has not carried out an Equality Impact Assessment as provided for in Labours Equality Act.
The Equality Act continues to prove that Labour is the party of equality and is protecting people even after six years of the Tories being in power.
Six years after the last Labour government left office, one of the things that is still there for people is the Equality Act. The Tories are making it harder for...
Over 1.6 million people across the country are unemployed and looking for work and in Camberwell and Peckham there are an above average proportion of people (3.9%) claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit.
The last thing anyone expects when they are offered a job is for that offer to be put at risk by the Disclosure and Barring Service. Not because they are criminals and have done something wrong, but because of the DBS missing self-set targets on timeliness which leave applicants unable to take up their jobs, get paid and putting them under financial strain.
The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was established by the Labour Government in 1997 and supported the police in providing checks on applications for jobs that work with children, young people and vulnerable adults and ultimately deciding whether or not a person was suitable for that job. In 2012, the Coalition Government merged the CRB with the Independent Safeguarding Authority to create the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). It is vital that these checks are carried out thoroughly so that vulnerable people are properly protected. However, it is not right that people are facing financial hardship when they have done nothing wrong.
Between April and December 2015, the DBS only met their target, of 95% of disclosures to be issued in eight weeks, four times.
I have been contacted by many local people experiencing long waits for checks for all sorts of jobs; from chauffeurs to doctors. A number of residents in Camberwell and Peckham have lost income and are worried about how to pay their rent and other bills because of these delays. One of my constituents told me about how she had to use her savings to pay for essential bills and even had to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance as she couldn’t take up the position that had been offered to her until her DBS application was complete.
I’ve asked the Home Secretary how many DBS applications from Camberwell and Peckham had taken more than 60 days to process in the last twelve months. Between February 2015 and January 2016, 2,371 applications for Camberwell and Peckham residents took longer than sixty days and the delays only seem to be getting worse.
Over 1.6 million people across the country are unemployed and looking for work and in Camberwell and Peckham there are an above average proportion of people (3.9%) claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance...
Figures recently uncovered by Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman show that local people are being prevented from getting work by delays in processing applications by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
Constituents that have been in contact for help on this include:
Mr Z, a chauffeur, whose private hire driving license expired at the end of 2015. His application was delayed because his DBS check had not been processed. He was losing income and worried about how he was going to pay his rent and other bills.
Dr Q was offered a job in a North London hospital but was unable to work for over 4 months due to delays with her DBS application. Dr Q had to use her savings to pay for essential bills and reached a point where she had to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.
In her letter to the Home Secretary today, Harriet Harman MP said:
“I have been contacted by a number of constituents who have had to wait many months for their applications to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to be completed.
These include a doctor who had to use her personal savings to pay for essential bills as she couldn’t work until the check was complete and eventually had to sign on and claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance to support herself while she was waiting. It is not right that people who have done nothing wrong are being put under such financial hardship when trying to find work.
Earlier this month, I submitted a written parliamentary question asking how many applications to the DBS from people living in Camberwell and Peckham have taken more than 60 days to process. Karen Bradley MP answered that between February 2015 and the end of January 2016, 2,371 applications from Camberwell and Peckham have taken over 60 days to be completed.”
Harriet Harman MP demands that Home Secretary takes action as delays in criminal checks stop more than 2k local people getting work
Figures recently uncovered by Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman show that local people are being prevented from getting work by delays in processing applications by the Disclosure and Barring...
The panoramic views from Nunhead Reservoir are second to none, and today I visited the site with Peckham Rye Councillor Renata Hamvas, Richard Aylard (Director of External Affairs & Sustainability) and other senior representatives from Thames Water. We discussed the history of the site and what options there are for public access. I am pleased that Thames Water have agreed to meet with the local community to discuss the possibilities of opening the site to the public.
Nunhead Reservoir is a private site owned by Thames Water. It regularly falls victim to vandalism, break-ins, graffiti and littering.
The panoramic views from Nunhead Reservoir are second to none, and today I visited the site with Peckham Rye Councillor Renata Hamvas, Richard Aylard (Director of External Affairs & Sustainability)... Read more
You can find my article for Newsweek here.
You can find my article for Newsweek here.
Please find my monthly report for January 2016 here.
Please find my monthly report for January 2016 here.