Harriet Harman

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

Current News

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Too often I’ve sat with grieving mothers of knife crime victims in Camberwell and Peckham. They have said goodbye to their son in the morning before school or work and they’ve never returned. 

11 people have tragically lost their lives to knife crime in Southwark since April 2018. That’s one every month. For families and communities torn apart this is not just a newspaper headline, this is their lives and it’s every mother's worst nightmare.

One mother from East Dulwich told me she is too scared to let her 11 year old son walk to and from school on his own. Another mother living in Camberwell told me that during the last school summer holidays her 14 year old son stayed in their flat alone all day everyday while she went to work, because youth centre provision had been cut back and he didn’t feel safe out alone on their estate –their home.

The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. Since 2012 there has been a 93% rise in the number of young people stabbed. Last year 285 people in the UK lost their lives to knife crime, the highest level since records began.

All of us watching the news are outraged and mystified that after 5 people were murdered in just one week in London last week the Government has refused the Met Police’s request for extra money to tackle knife crime. The Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, says the Prime Minister can no longer deny that cuts to police numbers have had no effect on rising crime. Under the Tories the Met has lost £1 billion and they are at full stretch. Southwark alone has lost 200 police officers and Police Community Support Officers since 2010.  

That’s why on 10th March every London Labour MP - including shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott; Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, and Rosena Allin-Khan the MP for Tooting who is playing a leading role on tackling knife crime in parliament and I – wrote to the Chancellor to redouble our demands that the Government give the police the resources they need to fight the rise in violent crime.

Police numbers are one important part of the picture, but the causes of this worrying rise in violence are complex and have been developing over a number of years. Cuts have hit every service, from child and adolescent mental health, to A & Es, GPs, schools and youth centres, and hampered the ability of agencies to step in when they suspect a youngster is getting involved in crime before a problem develops into a crisis.

No one single department or service can deal with this crisis.

Back in the early 2000s when there was a rise in violent street crime and robberies when Labour were in government we brought together an emergency cross-government COBRA committee and established a target for bringing this crime under control. It was run from Downing Street at the centre of government, with the Prime Minister regularly personally involved, and it worked. Within 6 months there was a 10% reduction in street robberies.

It is time for Theresa May to step up and give this crisis focus and leadership. Labour are calling for an emergency committee, backed up with the money it needs, to come out with a clear vision from all parts of government and to lay down clear actions for the police, prevention programmes, youth centres, schools, councils and mental health services.

South London is a great place to live.  But too many people are dying violent deaths.  We need leadership and more resources from government, and an end to the cuts. We can not let any more mothers go through the agony of waving their children off to school and work, not knowing whether they will return home.

 

Article published in South London Press, 14th March 2019

It’s time for the Prime Minister to take the lead on knife crime and set up a cross-government emergency response

Too often I’ve sat with grieving mothers of knife crime victims in Camberwell and Peckham. They have said goodbye to their son in the morning before school or work and...

Writing ahead of the Tony Benn Memorial Lecture, Harriet Harman says Brexit may have caused instability and division in bucketfuls. But it has also reminded us just how much Parliament matters – and that’s something worth fighting to retain:

Parliament "As the government struggles there’s a new sense of just how much Parliament matters," Harriet Harman writes
Credit: PA

Nearly everything in politics has been changed by Brexit – and parliament is no exception. Long-standing tensions about Europe in the Tory party have stormed into the public domain and with that a giddying turnover of ministers. Cabinet ministers used to be able to count on courtesy and respect from newly elected backbenches – but no longer. On the Labour side, our divisions on Brexit, though less ideologically toxic than the Tories’, have a problematic regional dimension. Labour friends find their positions pulled apart by whether their constituency voted leave or remain.

The normal set patterns of the parliamentary year have been thrown up in the air with recess cancelled, business changed at the last minute and no-one knowing what’s going to be happening until the day before.

The toxic combination of Brexit and the anonymity of social media has turbo-charged threats against MPs which demand to be dealt with. No MP should have to put up with threats to themselves and their family, of rape and murder.

People hate instability and division and Brexit has brought that in bucketfuls. But paradoxically, some of the changes precipitated by the chaos are, nonetheless, valuable.

There’s a dramatic weakening of the power of the whips. Government whips who manage to lose a vote by 230 don’t seem invincible any more. And on the Labour side some of the Whips themselves voted against the whip and yet remain in their role. The default position of Members voting with their whip can no longer be taken for granted. MPs can’t just be told how to vote, a case has to be made and won. Loyalty to the party which chose and elected you is valuable but it’s a good thing that blind loyalty is less prevalent.

Select Committees have grown in authority. Important figures who’ve left the government over Brexit now find themselves chairing select committees – Nicky Morgan chairing the Treasury Select Committee is the Government’s loss but Parliament’s gain.

Brexit has been complex and beset by detail. Step forward the Brexit Committee under Hilary Benn, the Home Affairs Committee under Yvette Cooper and the Business Committee under Rachel Reeves to expose what’s really going on. That ascendancy of the select committees is an invaluable rebalancing between the Government and parliament – in parliament’s favour.

Parliament has discovered it can put its foot down when the government is treating it with disrespect. For some time the Government has been boycotting Opposition Days and ignoring parliament’s expressed view. That’s come to an end with the House ruling that the Government was in contempt of parliament and ordering that the Attorney General’s advice be made public. As the government struggles there’s a new sense of just how much Parliament matters.

With the weakening of the party power hierarchies and the strengthening of Select Committees has come a new phenomenon of cross-party working. Working with others from different parties used to be for grandees who’d given up on party politics or for single issue campaigns. But it’s become entrenched now in a completely new way.

As a newly elected Member, it was years before I even spoke to a Tory MP but just as the profoundly important issue of Brexit has opened up fissures within the parties, so it has created new alliances across the parties.  

The new members – from both sides – who arrived in 2017 are as likely to search support for their campaigns from the other side as they are from their own. And that’s a good thing too.  

It’s hard to know if the positive changes that have emerged out of the Brexit chaos will endure when Brexit is no longer an issue (if ever that day comes). But the constitutional crisis it has precipitated has reminded parliament that we, not the Government, are democracy. And that’s invaluable and worth fighting to retain.

Harriet Harman will deliver the third Tony Benn Memorial Lecture tonight in Speaker's House. 

Brexit chaos offers Parliament an opportunity to take back control - PoliticsHome Article

Writing ahead of the Tony Benn Memorial Lecture, Harriet Harman says Brexit may have caused instability and division in bucketfuls. But it has also reminded us just how much Parliament matters –...

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International Women’s Day is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’re making on women’s equality and bemoan just how much further we still have to go.  But having made monumental change from the position of women in my mother’s generation, we have learnt a few lessons.  *change is possible - even when everyone is telling you it isn’t. *it needs resilience and persistence - even the most obvious change can take decades. *you will face a backlash which is often personal and threatening.  The more progress you make and the more women’s voice are heard the greater the misogynist backlash.  And it’s always nasty. *It’s not possible to make change as a woman acting alone.  It’s the solidarity of women working together which does it - not a few inspirational leaders. *don't stand around waiting to be popular.  Women who fight for equality are labelled awkward, aggressive or abnormal. But *women sticking their neck out for change will always have the support of millions of women who, like us, rail against unfairness and the discrimination they all face in their own lives.

And that’s how we’ve gone from a situation where women were defined by their role in a household dominated by a man - daughter, housewife, mother, - to a situation where nearly everyone agrees that women are not inferior to men.  But though we’ve won the arguments the reality still needs more work.  Few would argue that women should be paid less than men at work.  But 8 out of 10 employers still pay their women less than their men.  No-one condones domestic violence - like they used to. But still women’s eyes are blacked, their ribs broken and their children terrorised by men who are their husbands or boyfriends.  No-one would, any more, argue that men should make the decisions and women should abide by them.  But where decisions are to be made whether it’s in politics or business or any other field, it’s the men making the decisions even if they have to rely on women to implement them!

But though it’s depressing to see misogyny centre stage in America’s White House and the burning injustice of women in the developing world, we shouldn’t understate what we’ve achieved.  The Women’s Movement’s quest for women’s equality has been the most enduring successful political movement of my lifetime.  And the prospects for more progress are strengthened by the arrival in Parliament of more women than there have ever been.  And whilst it used to be only on the Labour side that women were arriving in numbers, there are now women in the Tories who see themselves as feminists and are pressing for progress.  With more than 200 hundred of us, if we women MPs can find a way to work together on a consistent basis, we might just turn out to be the most coherent force in a fractured parliament.

Original article appeared in the Times on International Women's Day - 8th March 2019 https://t.co/Bupu4d9CMY

 

Women need co-operation, not inspirational leaders - The Times

International Women’s Day is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’re making on women’s equality and bemoan just how much further we...

Thank you to the 2000+ people in Camberwell and Peckham who have taken the time to write to me about a further referendum. 

I share your concern at the way our withdrawal from the EU has been handled. I believe the Prime Minister's Brexit deal will not protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards, and will not ensure frictionless trade for British businesses.

There is a majority in Parliament against a No Deal Brexit and I will continue to oppose a Brexit based on the Prime Minister's rejected deal.

All options must remain on the table to break the Brexit deadlock and that includes the option of a further referendum.

Thank you once again for contacting me on this issue.

 

Further Referendum

Thank you to the 2000+ people in Camberwell and Peckham who have taken the time to write to me about a further referendum.  I share your concern at the way...

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Monthly report January/February 2019

Or you can click to read it here.

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Opposing proposal to cut 24 posts from King's Community Midwives

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It is so dismaying that EU citizens who have been such an important part of our community, who have had families here and lived in Southwark for decades are now facing the anxiety of having to ‘settle their status’ as the UK leaves the EU.

The Government says that EU citizens are “our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and we want them to stay.”  They will only have to prove they are existing residents.

That is, of course, exactly what was said to the Windrush Generation. But everyone now acknowledges that terrible mistakes were made and people who were here for years were wrongly detained as illegal immigrants.

With no independence or accountability in the system Home Office mistakes are inevitable. So it’s vital that as the Government subjects 3m EU citizens to our immigration system, they make sure lessons have been learnt from Windrush and those injustices are not repeated.  

As Chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights I’m leading an inquiry into this. We heard harrowing evidence from people wrongly detained, separated from their children and threatened with deportation. The evidence on their files that they were long term residents was ignored, the pleas of their families swept aside.

I have helped countless people in Camberwell and Peckham challenge Home Office decisions. Like one Chinese man who was detained for 33 days and threatened with removal. He is now back home with his partner.

Those we get to hear about are only the tip of the iceberg.  But we know that £21m was paid out by the Home Office in just 5 years to compensate people for wrongful detention.

If you are suspected of a crime you can’t be detained by government - only by the police - who are independent of government.  If the police need to detain you beyond 36 hours they have to bring you to court - also independent of government.

But if the Home Office suspects you of being in breach of immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision-making. A civil servant – nameless and faceless behind closed doors - ticks a box to detain you.  The first you’ll know about it is there’ll be a banging on your door in the early hours of the morning, you’re bundled into a van and taken to a detention centre.

You have no idea whether you’ll be in the detention centre for a day, a month, or a year. The Criminal Justice System imposes time-limits at every stage of detention. But the Home Office can hold you in immigration detention indefinitely. 

It should not be the case that you have fewer protections as an immigrant than you would if you had actually committed a crime. For any individual traumatised by indefinite detention, that’s reason to change the policy. But it is now happening on such a scale that it is really important to deal with it. 

In the 1990s there were only 250 detention places. Now there are over 2,500 and more than 27,000 people are detained every year. 

I am working with Yvette Cooper MP, Hilary Benn MP, Dominic Grieve QC MP, David Davis MP and Andrew Mitchell MP to amend the Brexit Immigration Bill to ensure that in future no-one is deprived of their liberty unless the decision is taken independently and to make it illegal for anyone to be held in an immigration detention centre for more than 28 days.

In light of the injustices exposed by Windrush and the fear that this could happen to EU nationals after Brexit, I am confident the Government will accept this change which has widespread support across Parliament, from the SNP, Lib Dems, the DUP and the Labour frontbench.

Unaccountable, arbitrary, indefinite detention is a human rights abuse. It’s long overdue to end this historic injustice.

 

Strip Home Office of power to indefinitely detain migrants

It is so dismaying that EU citizens who have been such an important part of our community, who have had families here and lived in Southwark for decades are now...

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Nurseries are vital for a child’s development, especially if families are in a small flat, for disabled children and to enable parents, particularly mums, to train and work. On 5th February I presented petitions from 250 parents & teachers at The Grove Nursery, Ann Bernadt & Nell Gwynn nurseries in the House of Commons as part of a National Day of Action to oppose Tory nursery funding cuts, organised by Lucy Powell MP & the APPG on Nurseries.

 

Backing the #SaveOurNurseries Campaign

Nurseries are vital for a child’s development, especially if families are in a small flat, for disabled children and to enable parents, particularly mums, to train and work. On 5th...

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Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, Second Reading, House of Commons

This Bill repeals the law relating to free movement and brings EEA nationals and their families under the general UK immigration control.

When EEA nationals and their family members become subject to our immigration laws they will be required to have leave to enter and to remain under the 1971 Immigration Act.

The government have said that the 3m EU citizens are “our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and we want them to stay.” They will only have to register that they are existing residents.

No one doubts the government’s sincerity on that but that is, of course, what was said to people of the Windrush Generation and everyone now acknowledges that terrible mistakes were made by the Home Office and people who had been here for years were wrongfully detained as illegal immigrants.

So it’s right as we subject 3m EU citizens to our immigration system, that we should at this point ask ourselves whether we’ve learnt the lessons from the Windrush cases and that we do not repeat those injustices on EU citizens.

In our inquiry into immigration detention it was clear to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that there are 2 problems which need to be addressed:
1 - the lack of independence in the detention decision and
2 - indefinite detention

If you are suspected of a crime you can’t be detained by government - only by the police - who are independent of government. If the police want to continue to detain you beyond 36 hours they have to bring you before a court - which is, of course totally independent of government.

But for someone who the Home Office suspects of being in breach of our immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision-making.

A civil servant - nameless/faceless - behind closed doors can tick the box to detain you. The first you’ll know about it is that there’ll be a banging on your door in the early hours of the morning, you’ll be bundled into an immigration enforcement van and taken to a detention centre.

With no independence in the decision-making and with no scrutiny or accountability, mistakes are inevitable. Those we get to hear about are probably only the tip of the iceberg. But we do know that £21m was paid out by the Home Office in just 5 years to compensate for wrongful detention.

And terrible mistakes are certainly what happened with the Windrush cases.
It is routinely said that they were unable to prove their residence here. That is not the case for the detainees we saw. We looked at their Home Office files (which the Home Sec was good enough to release to them) and it was not that there was no evidence of their residence here. There was masses of it. Including records of National Insurance Contributions going back to the 1970’s. If there had been any independence in the decision-making these people would not have been detained. Yet they were detained not once but twice - the papers on their files ignored, the pleas of their families swept aside.

After the right to life, the right not to be unlawfully detained is one of the most important human rights.

It should not be the case that you have fewer protections from wrongful detention as an immigrant than you would if you had actually committed a crime.

We should ensure that in future no-one is detained unless the decision is taken independently. The Home Office must make their case. But someone independent must take the decision if you are to be deprived of your liberty.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights will put forward an amendment to this bill to that effect and we hope that the Government will agree to it.

Another of the deplorable aspects of our immigration system - which under this Bill EU citizens are now to be subject - is that there is no time-limit when you are detained. You are taken from your home, or your workplace and you have no idea whether you’ll be in the detention centre for a day, a month, or a year.

Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights identified the indefinite nature of the detention as one of the most cruel aspects of it.

The Criminal Justice System imposes time-limits at every stage of detention. From the first bringing before a magistrate to the sentence which sets out the time in prison.

But the Home Office can hold you in immigration detention indefinitely.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights agrees with the Hon Member for Royal Sutton Coldfield (Andrew Mitchell); for Beaconsfield, (Dominic Grieve); Leeds Central, (Hilary Benn); Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); and Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) that there should be a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention.

And we will bring forward an amendment to the Bill which lays down that if the detainee is not deported by this time then they should be released or they should be brought before a judge where the Home office could apply for a further 28 days.

We hope that the Government will accept this amendment which has widespread support in the House. Including from SNP, Lib Dems and DUP and the Labour frontbench.

This is not a party issue. The Labour government should have ended the scandal of indefinite detention - but we didn’t.

Here in the UK we pride ourselves on our commitment to human rights - so how is it that indefinite Home Office detention has been a feature of our system for so long.

I suspect one of the reasons is that it used to be only a very small number of people, exceptional cases, where immigration detention was used. In 1993 there were only 250 detention places. Now every year about 27,000 people are detained.

Unaccountable, arbitrary, indefinite detention is a human rights abuse. It is a cruel anomaly in our system and I hope the government will use the opportunity of this bill to end it. It is long overdue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's time to end the injustice of indefinite immigration detention - Speech

Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, Second Reading, House of CommonsThis Bill repeals the law relating to free movement and brings EEA nationals and their families under the...

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Today in parliament there was a brief - and rare - moment of cross party delight!  Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom announced that, at last, MPs will have baby leave.

2 weeks for men and 6 months for women when they can, if they choose, vote by proxy.  

Until now MPs’ babies have been invisible to parliament’s procedures. The rules were for a Parliament that was for men (93% men when I was first elected in 1982) while their wives looked after their families so they could decide the affairs of state. 

The handful of women that there were in the House either had no children or their children had grown up. So I shrouded my 3 pregnancies under tent-like maternity dresses and depended on the whips to grudgingly grant me permission to be off when I was in labour and in the weeks after. I either had to be in the Commons wracked with guilt about my tiny baby or at home wracked with guilt about my constituents. 

Fast forward to now. There are more women - now 32% of MPs.  And they are younger. Last year 4 babies were born to women MPs. And the men have changed too.  Many of the younger men have been brought up by feminist mothers and believe that they should respect their wife’s work and play an equal part in the care of their children. The sons of the women’s movement are now in all parties. 

Broadcasting of TV means that you don’t have to be in the chamber to see our debates. Though we set the rules for maternity and paternity leave, we still have no rules for ourselves. New mothers and fathers can be excused from the vote. But you’d have to go and ask your whips’ office and they’d have to get agreement with the other side’s whips. You wouldn’t have to come in to vote but your vote would not be counted. 

Women MPs don’t want to choose between their newborn baby and their right to vote. New fathers don’t want to have to choose between being in the labour ward or the Division Lobby. The new system of proxy voting will, if no MPs object, be brought in on Monday. In time for Tuesday’s crucial Brexit vote. 

New MP fathers or mothers (and those who are adopting) will be able to choose a fellow MP to cast their vote for them.  It’s long overdue. It’s 100 years since women won the right to sit in Parliament - and 31 years too late for me!  But we have a new crop of Brexit babies on the way.  Tories, Chloe Smith and Suella Braverman are expecting as are Labour’s Emma Reynolds and Luciana Berger - who’s due soon. Tulip Siddiq has just had baby Raphael. She should be able to vote on Brexit decision day next week without having to bring him in. 

Getting change in an ancient institution like Parliament is hard.  We’ve all worked together.  MPs who’ve been there for years have joined forces with the new intake. MPs from all parties have worked together.  Men MPs have backed up the demands of women. Tomorrow we’ll no doubt be back to the shouting and jeering of Prime Minister’s Questions.  But just for a brief moment we can savour a small united step as MPs move parliament into the 21st century.

At last Parliament to vote on MP baby leave - Telegraph article

Today in parliament there was a brief - and rare - moment of cross party delight!  Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom announced that, at last, MPs will...

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I am delighted that the Government has announced that MPs will get the chance to vote to approve a one year pilot on voting rules for MPs who have had a baby or adopted a child on Monday 28th January 2019 - almost a year after Parliament first agreed to implement proxy voting for new parents. 

This would be a small steps into the 21st century, which is long overdue. Women MPs who fought to get into parliament don't want to be excused, they want to exercise their votes and represent their constituents.

We don't want tiny babies to have to be brought into the division lobbies for these important Brexit votes, nor is it acceptable for women to be excluded from voting. 

It sets a terrible example that the babies of men in parliament are invisible and now that's not what men MPs want either.

My speech in the Urgent Question in the House Commons to welcome the Government announcement:

This has been a collective endeavour. First, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who has been a champion of this for pressing reasons and reasons of principle. I thank her for securing this urgent question, and thank you for granting it, Mr Speaker. You have always been on the side of progress in respect of parents. As the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) said, you were a champion of the crèche here, and she explained why this measure is so necessary.

We must also thank the Procedure Committee and its Chair. As soon as the House passed the motion, the Committee cracked on with it and did a thorough and excellent job. Who knew how exciting the Procedure Committee was? I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). This is me railing ineffectively, but she had the idea that we should go to the Backbench Business Committee, to enable the Chamber to debate it. I thank the Committee for its role.

It is 31 years too late for me, but I am delighted about this, because it is really important. There are many babies of Members on both sides of the House in the offing. They are blissfully unaware of the Brexit debate, but these Brexit babies cannot wait, so I am delighted that we are getting on with it.

Finally, I pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who I am in no doubt has always been on the right side of the argument. I point out that I, too, was Leader of the House, and I failed to get this through. Whoever succeeds in these long decades of progress and these baby steps into the 21st century, all power to your elbow.

Watch my speech here.

 

Government announces Parliament to get vote on baby leave for MPs

I am delighted that the Government has announced that MPs will get the chance to vote to approve a one year pilot on voting rules for MPs who have had...

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Monthly report - December 2018/January 2019

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Autism used to be something that most people knew nothing about.  Now there is growing awareness of the effect on someone of being on the Autistic spectrum - a lifelong developmental disability that means someone has difficulties with communication and social interaction and how they experience the world. But public services and support for people with Autism and their families still have a long way to go.

I’ve been contacted by an increasing number of constituents who have a family member with autism and who need help on a whole range of fronts. The biggest concern I’ve been asked for help with is housing. You might be perfectly settled in your home but as an autistic child grows you become concerned about their safety if you live high up or by a busy road. So moving becomes a necessity.  You might have good relations with your neighbours but end up with complaints if your autistic child is noisy at night, banging on the walls. And you might end up with complaints of the noise your child makes in the garden in the summer. Again, you’ll need a move. All children need their own space as they get older. But it becomes particularly acute for a teenager sharing a bedroom with their autistic sibling. They might be woken many times at night and be too tired for school.  A larger home then becomes essential.   

All children need stability and security and constant moving is never a good idea. But if a family with an autistic member is given notice to quit their private rented home they can end up in a hostel or temporary accommodation. Disruption and change is particularly hard for an autistic child and it is difficult for them to cope in shared accommodation such as a hostel and if they also have to change schools, or make a long journey to their existing school.

Parents complain to me about delays in getting their autistic child assessed which can delay them getting the diagnosis and the support that they need. This is especially important to ensure that they are in the right school with the right support. Parents complain that if it’s to be a special school, they are not fully included in the decision about where their child will be placed.

And meeting the care needs of one or more family members who are autistic can affect the ability of the parent to work and therefore involve claiming benefits. That’s a challenge for any family but for someone who doesn’t speak English or who’s new into the country, finding their way through the benefits system and finding the right help by way of services can be a problem.

The council has a strategy on services and support for families with autism which they agreed with the local health service. But all the services are overstretched. The council needs to be providing more help to those with autism and yet their budgets are being cut.

As chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights I’m leading an inquiry into the Assessment and Treatment Units where some autistic young people are detained.  We are particularly concerned that the concerns of parents about whether the place their child is being held is right for them are not listened to and that parents’ concerns are treated as a nuisance rather than an important warning that things are not right. The Human Rights Committee will be publishing our report later this year.

I’m proposing that the Government ensure that every council has a detailed strategy for supporting people with autism and that they ensure that both the council and health services are fully funded to meet those needs. It’s important that autism is more recognised and understood. But it also essential that with that comes the support to which those families should be entitled. 

Government must properly fund autism support - South London Press Column

Autism used to be something that most people knew nothing about.  Now there is growing awareness of the effect on someone of being on the Autistic spectrum - a lifelong...

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it was awful. It’s her job to have opinions. She’s elected to speak up not keep her head down. Everyone said it overstepped the mark.

We have been here before (remember the harassment of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children). About every six weeks there’s an ugly incident and we all gather in the chamber to wring our hands and do nothing.

Attacks on, and threats to, MPs are commonplace. Jo Cox was killed, Rosie Cooper could have been killed and others are threatened with death. This is serious and we don’t know the half of it.

Most assaults or threats against MPs are not even reported, for a whole range of reasons. We are hardwired to present ourselves as tough champions of others — not victims. We don’t want to make the assailant even worse. We don’t want to look like we’re using up scarce police resources when families on our council estates complain to us that their community police are vanishing.

We’re afraid of being called a “snowflake”, who doesn’t have what it takes to be an MP.

Way back when I was a new MP with three young children at home a violent ex-offender threatened me, waited outside my home, came to my surgery, wrote hundreds of lying letters to MPs and ministers. For years I buried my head in the sand.

There were enough people saying that parliament was no place for a young mother of three children. They’d say if I couldn’t stand the heat I should “get out of the kitchen”. It was only when the Maudsley hospital insisted I tell the police as he was telling them he was going to kill me and they believed him, that I faced up to it.

Daily I hear of MPs beleaguered by threats at their home, in their constituency office, in the street and online. Some report and some are driven to taking out injunctions. But we don’t have the official overall picture as no one collects this information.

Parliament is keen to get on with tackling other people’s problems but notoriously slow to address our own, fearing accusations that we’re feathering our own nest. (We’ve been legislating for maternity leave for decades but still don’t have any baby leave for MPs!).

And we’re rightly even more wary if it could be alleged that what we’re doing is against the public right to demonstrate, their freedom of expression and protest.

But we can’t have a situation where MPs are looking over their shoulder, keeping their head down, restricting their advice surgeries, reluctant to go on public transport on their own at night. Yet that is what is happening.

Supposing it had been Tulip Siddiq MP (eight months pregnant and 5ft nothing) rather than Anna Soubry? Would the police still have stood by?

Many different people and organisations need to be thinking about this. The police, the CPS, the leader of the House, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many more.

We need a process to look to bring this together and consider the balance between the competing rights of demonstrators and the right of MPs to get on with the job for which they were elected. We need to make sure that MPs are not at risk.

Ken Clarke MP (father of the House) and I, (mother of the House) are jointly calling for a Speaker’s conference to look seriously into all this and make proposals. And no one would dare call Ken a snowflake!

Link to story as it appeared on the Times Red Box here.

 

Threats to MPs can’t go on: they are an attack on democracy - Times Red Box Article

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it...

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Most of us who live in Southwark think it’s a great place to live.  Vibrant and close to the heart of London, it has so much going for it. 

But there’s an issue which casts a shadow over our borough, and indeed our great city, and that is the increase in the number of murders.

2018 saw the highest number of people killed in London in a decade.   Last year 132 people were killed.  And for each one of the victims there are devastated parents, husbands, wives, children, friends and communities left behind.

Many young people involved in crime will have problems at home, been expelled from school at a young age, or themselves have been victims of crime.

For every young man who ends up in the dock accused of a killing, there are parents, teachers, neighbours and many others who’ve seen the warning signs and who’ve been unable to prevent the downward drift into crime.

That means better information for parents who are worried about a child but don’t know who to turn to.

It means a quick response and effective support when parents do call out for help with a youngster who’s getting into trouble.

It means a higher level of support for young people leaving care.

And we need to ensure that all the agencies have the resources they need to step in before a problem develops into a crisis. That means the child and adolescent mental health services as well as the police.

This approach would be what is described as a “public health” approach to youth crime.  Seeing it in the same way as an infectious disease, treating people early but above all prevention being better than cure.

Lewisham and Deptford’s MP Vicky Foxcroft has been pressing for this approach by setting up the Youth Violence Commission.  Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones has set up an all-party group of MPs on knife crime – of which I’m a member.  And the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, is setting up a new Violence Reduction Unit to address the root causes of violence.

But there can be no doubt that all this work is hampered by the cuts to school budgets, to youth services and to the police.

Southwark has lost 200 police officers and Police Community Support Officers since 2010. Eight  years of cuts from the Tory government have undoubtedly made the problems worse.

There has, rightly, been a big focus on the lives of young men lost to gang violence. But we must never lose sight of the fact that there also remains a persistent high number of women being killed by their husbands or boyfriends – domestic homicide.

In London last year almost as many people lost their lives to domestic violence as to gang violence. The loss of women’s lives at the hands of the men they live with also needs to be focussed on.  It cannot be treated as something that is inevitable and that we can do nothing about.  As with gang crime there are nearly always warning signs which could and should have been acted on.

Southwark is a great place to live.  But too many people are dying violent deaths.  It needs working together, but it must mean more resources from government and an end to the cuts.  Otherwise the horrific death toll will just get worse.

We need to tackle violence as a public health issue - Southwark News Column

Most of us who live in Southwark think it’s a great place to live.  Vibrant and close to the heart of London, it has so much going for it.  But...

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As Mother of the House of Commons I am working jointly with the Father of the House, Ken Clarke, to propose a Speaker's Conference on protecting our democracy by guaranteeing the ability of Members of Parliament to go about their work without threat, harassment, violence or intimidation

The fundamental principle of democracy is that MPs are elected by the voters and once elected no-one must stop them carrying out their duties.  They must be able to get on with their job.  Yet, now, on a more or less daily basis, MPs are threatened with physical violence. Where MPs are threatened just because they are an MP that is a "contempt of parliament" and an undermining of our democracy and demands action.

The advent of social media means that the whereabouts of MPs whether at home or at work, are very widely known.  Social media is important for MPs to communicate directly with their constituents and account for what they are doing on a regular basis.  But it is also used by people who anonymously threaten MPs and by those who whip up hostility and violence towards MPs. 

Now, more MPs are women, living away from their families on their own during the weeks when parliament is sitting. MPs are high profile and when there’s an atmosphere of hostility to politics and politicians they are vulnerable.

BBC 5 Live has conducted a survey of women MPs asking about our security. It showed:

  • More than half of women MPs questioned had faced physical threats.
  • An overwhelming majority of women MPs have received online and verbal abuse from the public.
  • Two thirds felt "less safe" following the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox.

This is a problem for men MPs as well as women.  While MPs are away from their home during the week their families, living at an address which is well-known locally and easily found on the internet, can feel vulnerable.  This applies to elderly relatives who might be living with them as well as spouses and children.  A police officer stood by while a member of the public shouted out at the young children of Jacob Rees-Mogg.  If their parent had been a member of the public rather than an MP it’s surely the case that the officer would have stepped in and asked the ranting member of the public to “move along now”.

Women MPs, particularly younger women and most particularly ethnic minority MPs, are subjected to the greatest number of threats. A study by Amnesty International in 2017 found Diane Abbott received almost half of all abusive tweets ahead of the June 2017 General Election and black women politicians are almost twice as likely as their white peers to be abused on Twitter.

There has always been a level of threat against MPs but we don’t know the scale of the problem because MPs are reluctant to report and many threats and offences go unreported.  

We also don’t know the full extent to which MPs are altering the way they work and travel because of these threats. Their priority is to get on with their job, not to talk about their own personal safety.

Parliament has taken many steps to protect MPs both before and in particular after the murder of Jo Cox as she held her constituency advice surgery.  MPs can apply for funding from IPSA for extra security in their own homes and constituency offices. 

MPs who are threatened all deal with it differently.  Some ignore it hoping it will go away.  Some call the police - and depending on which police area they are in get widely differing responses.  Some take out injunctions against the threatening individual - hoping that so doing will inflame them less than a police intervention or worried for the threatener’s mental health if the police are involved. 

When an MP is threatened by a member of the public the response of the police and the CPS varies in different areas.  On some occasions the Criminal Justice Agencies react on the basis that it is their job to protect the MP.  Sometimes their response is based on the sense that they regard it as their job to protect the rights of the public, to demonstrate, to have free speech in relation to their MP, to challenge their public representative. 

Over the past years the concern has mounted but there’s been no comprehensive consideration of the issues at stake and the measures needed to address them.

Unless we respond to threats and abuse we are colluding with the notion that we deserve to be denigrated and abused. We cannot just denounce every ugly incident but take no action.

The responsibility for ensuring that MPs are able to get on with their work, vote without looking over their shoulder and freely engage with their constituents and the wider public lies not with them as individuals or their party or the Government.  It lies with Parliament.  Parliament must step forward to address them. 

MPs must be able to represent constituents free from threat - Speaker's Conference Proposal

As Mother of the House of Commons I am working jointly with the Father of the House, Ken Clarke, to propose a Speaker's Conference on protecting our democracy by guaranteeing...

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Monthly report - November/December 2018

Read more

Every year I carry out a report into parents’ first-preference secondary school applications.

My 2018 report finds that:

  • Over a third of parents in London missed out on their first-choice secondary school again this year – leaving 31,305 children unable to attend the school they wanted to in September. This is compared to the national average of 17.9%.
  • This is a problem which only seems to be getting worse - 2% more parents in London missed out on their first-choice school this year than in 2017.
  • In inner London boroughs the situation is even worse - only 63% of parents received their first preference and over 11,000 children were left without their first-choice school.
  • Locally in Southwark only 59.7% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school in 2018, compared to the national average of 82.1%.  
  • This is the 8th lowest of all the local authorities in England. The lowest 10 local authorities for first preference school choice are all London boroughs.

Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House of Commons, said:

“The Government must ensure the right steps are taken to make every school a good school that parents want to choose.

“They cannot continue to cut back on school funding in London and expect schools to be able to continue to improve.

“I have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, with a copy of my report to raise parents’ concerns and to propose that Ofsted’s terms of reference are changed so that when they are inspecting a school they look at the views of parents who don’t want to send their child to that local school as well as the view of parents who do have children in the school. This would enable government and councils to act on the concerns of local parents.”

ENDS

For further information contact Rachel Smethers: rachel.smethers@parliament.uk / 0785 2213 922

Notes to Editors:             

  1. Full report: ‘Are parents in Camberwell & Peckham getting the choice of secondary school they want for their child?’ attached.

  2. Data source: Applications and offers for entry to secondary schools in England for academic year 2018/19, DfE. Data collected from local authorities on Secondary National Offer Day - 1 March 2018.

PRESS RELEASE: THIRD OF LONDON CHILDREN MISS OUT ON TOP SCHOOL CHOICE - GOVT MUST ACT

Every year I carry out a report into parents’ first-preference secondary school applications. My 2018 report finds that: Over a third of parents in London missed out on their first-choice...

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Having a good local secondary school to choose for your child is rightly one of the most important issues for people living in Southwark. So every year I carry out a report looking at the number of parents in Camberwell and Peckham who are able to get their children into their first-choice secondary school.

The teachers and support staff in our secondary schools work incredibly hard.  Parents, pupils, teachers, Southwark Council and the local community all want our schools to continue to improve. My report this year shows that 3 of the 8 schools serving children in Camberwell and Peckham – Charter, Ark All Saints and Sacred Heart – were oversubscribed. And St Thomas the Apostle increased their first-choice applications from parents living in Southwark by a third in just one year.

5 of the 8 schools serving children in Camberwell and Peckham were undersubscribed for first choice applications from parents in Southwark. The lowest were Harris Academy Peckham (23% of places available), Harris Boys Academy East Dulwich (27%) and Harris Girls Academy East Dulwich (37%).

Only 59.7% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school in 2018, compared to the national average of 82.1%. That is the 8th lowest of all the local authorities in the country and means 1,180 children in Southwark were left without their first-choice school. In comparison 98.1% of parents in Northumberland got their first preference[1].

This is the story across the whole of London – indeed the bottom 10 local authorities in England are all London boroughs. A third of new pupils missed out on their first choice in London this year, compared to the national average of 17.9%. And this is a problem which only seems to be getting worse - 2% more parents in London missed out on their first-choice school this year than in 2017.

But I am concerned that the progress that’s been made is under threat as the Tories push ahead with the first real terms cut in Southwark school budgets for over two decades, despite the strong opposition voiced by local parents, headteachers, Southwark Council and myself and fellow Southwark MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle.   

The Government cannot expect schools to improve without proper resources. It is ludicrous to suggest that Southwark schools can manage with less, and somehow make cuts of £500 per pupil by just reducing electricity and IT bills.  Local headteachers have been clear to me that they will not be able to make the cuts from those efficiency measures alone. They fear they will be forced to cut teachers, support staff for SEN children and after school clubs, and are looking at their budget sheets wondering how they’ll possibly maintain current standards.

While I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget of an extra £400m for schools to provide what he called ‘little extras’, this hardly gets close to replacing the money local schools have lost since 2010. Many schools in Southwark don't have enough funding to deliver the essentials let alone provide 'little extras'. What they desperately need is improved central government funding - I am calling on the Government to end the cuts and back Southwark Council up in their action to improve schools in the borough. I have forwarded a copy of my report to the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds MP to ask what steps he is taking to ensure every school is a good school that parents want to choose.

[1] Source: Applications and offers for entry to secondary schools in England for the start of academic year 2018/19, DfE. Data collected from local authorities on Secondary National Offer Day - 1 March 2018.

Southwark News Column - Government must ensure every school is one local parents want to choose

Having a good local secondary school to choose for your child is rightly one of the most important issues for people living in Southwark. So every year I carry out...

Women_MPs_of_the_World_group_photo.jpgThe Mother of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman MP, has today published the findings from the first-ever Women MPs of the World Conference which saw women from 100 parliaments and 5 continents debate in the historic Chamber of the House of Commons on 8th November 2018.

The summit considered a wide range of issues and found:

  • virtually all the women MPs face opposition to their participation in public life.  That ranges from abuse online, threats in person and threats to their families.
  • some women had fewer children than they would have wanted because of finding it a struggle to combine their political duties with their family responsibilities.  Some women found that their husband struggled to accept their role in public life.  One was told by her husband to choose her marriage or her politics.  She said her choice was politics but when she became successful he relented, becoming happy to share the limelight.
  • once in parliament, many women MPs find that they are overtly discriminated against - they reported not being called to speak and not being able to sit on committees let alone chair them.  They spoke of being criticised for their appearance including having the temerity to wear lipstick.
  • in many countries there was abuse and manipulation of the quota systems to support women MPs.  This ranged from men putting their wives, girlfriends, mother’s or sisters into quota seats so that they could control them. 
  • women found that working in women’s caucuses across party was essential to ensuring their demands could be acknowledged and met.

  • there was a strong strand of work by women MPs on women’s safety - at home, at work and on the streets.  Many countries are bringing in tough new laws against street harassment.

  • some younger women MPs reported being sexually harassed by older male members of their legislature.

Harriet Harman MP, Mother of the House of Commons said:

“There are now women in nearly every parliament in the world.  We have fought our way in past prejudice and discrimination, often in the face of threats and violence. 

“Women in parliament are pioneers.  We have been elected to sit alongside men in our legislatures.  But we are, as yet, not on equal terms.  We are still in a minority and are relatively new arrivals in legislatures which are male-dominated.

“Most global summits are male-dominated or even men only. For men MPs the international network is well developed, but it isn’t for women. 

“Out of our conference has come a powerful global network of committed women who want to work together for progress for each of our countries and all of our people. There was a strong desire to hold the conference annually in different parliaments around the world so we can continue to support each other and share ideas. Women in politics are a new force for global change.”

ENDS

For more information contact Rachel Smethers rachel.smethers@parliament.uk / 07852213922

Notes to editors:

  1. Full report attached.
  2. This conference was supported by the FCO, DFID, GEO, Wilton Park, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, IPU and CPA.
  3. The Chamber was used for the plenary sessions. The “breakout” sessions were in the Commons Committee rooms.
  4. The plenary sessions in the Chamber were broadcast live and a Hansard transcript was produced.
  5. The chairs of breakout sessions were women MPs from the UK and other countries jointly.
  6. Women make up 24% of global legislatures. The UK is ranked 38th in the world, with 208 women MPs (32%).
  7. Twitter: #WomenMPsoftheWorld

 

WOMEN MPs WANT INTERNATIONAL NETWORK

The Mother of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman MP, has today published the findings from the first-ever Women MPs of the World Conference which saw women from 100 parliaments...

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