Harriet Harman

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

Current News

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The Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes our report on the Right to family life: Children whose mothers are in prison. After hearing powerful evidence, we propose urgent reform to data collection, sentencing, support for children, and pregnancy and maternity for mothers in prison.

The harmful effects of a mother going to prison start at sentencing and continue for years

When a judge is considering sending a mother to prison, her child's right to respect for family life should be a central concern – but too frequently this is not the case, says the Human Rights Committee in a new report.

An estimated 17,000 children each year are separated from their mothers when those mothers are sent to prison, the vast majority for non-violent offences.

Children whose mothers are sent to prison are more likely than their peers to have future problems. These include an increased likelihood of criminal offending, mental health problems and drug and alcohol addiction.

They are also likely to earn less than their counterparts as adults and stop education at a younger age than is the norm. They are more likely to die before the age of 65.

The Committee makes proposal for urgent reform in four areas:

  • data collection
  • sentencing
  • support for children
  • pregnancy and maternity. 

Human Rights Committee Chair Harriet Harman said:

“The right of a child to family life is only given lip service when their mothers are sent to prison.

The harmful effects of a mother going to prison start at sentencing and continue for years, even after the mother is released.”

Sentencing

The court often lacks adequate information about whether a defendant has children and what the impact of a custodial sentence would be on them.

The report recommends that:

  • when sentencing an offender the judge must make reasonable inquiries to establish whether the offender is the primary carer of a child, and if the offender is a primary carer, the judge must not sentence unless a pre-sentence report is available at the sentencing hearing, unless the circumstances are exceptional
  • judges must ensure that they have sufficient information about the likely consequences of separation of the child from the primary carer, including hearing from the child if appropriate. Judges should state how they have taken this information into account in their sentencing remarks
  • the impact of sentencing on children must be a distinct consideration to which full weight must be given by the courts. This duty, which reflects existing case law, should be given statutory force.

Committee Chair Harriet Harman said:

“Judges can’t respect the human right of a child to family life if they don’t know the child exists.

At the moment there is no guarantee that they have this information; there must be proper checks before sentencing.”

Support for children

The report concludes that in order to ensure that children’s rights to family life are respected, every step must be taken to ensure that children are able to maintain positive relationships with their mothers.

The report recommends that:

  • the Department for Education, working closely with the Ministry of Justice, must revise the framework for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children so that much greater attention is paid to the needs of children and their families when mothers go to prison
  • kinship carers who step in to care for children when their mothers go to prison should be entitled to financial and practical support
  • non-means tested financial help should be made available to allow children to visit their mothers (or primary carers) in prison; and
  • contact should (other than in exceptional circumstances) be premised on the children’s right to respect for family life rather than the mother’s behaviour in prison.

Committee Chair Harriet Harman said:

“Visits of children to their mother in prison should not be part of the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme.

How can it possibly be right to punish children for their parents’ behaviour?”

Pregnancy and maternity

The Committee welcomes the Women’s Policy Framework and supporting guidance issued in December 2018, which ensures that pre and postnatal needs are assessed and addressed for all women in prison.

But the evidence received about women’s own experiences clearly demonstrate that their imprisonment poses a serious threat to their human rights – and those of their babies and very young children.

The report recommends that, other than in exceptional circumstances:

  • if a baby is born during the mother’s sentence, they should both be discharged from hospital directly to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU)
  • when a mother with a baby is sent to prison, the sentence should not start until a place is secured in an MBU.

Data collection

The Committee found a complete lack of reliable quantitative data on the number of mothers in prison, the number of children whose mothers are in prison and the number of women who are pregnant and give birth in prison.

The estimates of the number of children whose mothers go to prison each year range from 2,544 to 17,240.

The report calls on the Government to act urgently to remedy this, recommending that:

  • it should be mandatory to ask all women entering prison whether they have dependent children and what their ages are; this should be cross-referenced with child benefit data
  • an annual census in prisons should ask women whether they have dependent children and what their ages are
  • the data should be collated and published.

Committee Chair Harriet Harman said:

“It’s an indictment of the system that the prison service does not know how many women in the system have children, and that – in 2019 - we don’t even know how many children are separated from a mother in prison.”

Irreparable harm caused to children whose mothers are in prison - report

The Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes our report on the Right to family life: Children whose mothers are in prison. After hearing powerful evidence, we propose urgent reform to...

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Thank you to the 100s of constituents who have taken the time to email me. It is really important for me to hear from you as we face unprecedentedly dangerous times with the Government seeking to override Parliament and the country threatened with leaving the EU without a deal.

As you know, I backed and campaigned for Remain.

I was bitterly disappointed that, by a narrow margin, the vote was to Leave.

I still believe that there is no deal which is better than the one we currently have as a full member of the EU.

The worst of all worlds is No Deal.

In the votes so far I have voted:

• Against leaving the EU with No Deal and
• For a further referendum

Fearing that there is a majority in Parliament against No Deal, the Government is seeking to override the will of Parliament, including by reducing the time available before October 31st by proroguing (suspending) parliament and by contemplating denying royal assent to any Bill to block No Deal.

I will, by working with my Labour colleagues and with MPs across the House of Commons, be seeking to do all I can to protect our country from the dangers of a No Deal Brexit and from an undermining of our democratically elected Parliament.

As the situation is fast-moving, I will report my votes on Twitter as they happen.

Thank you again for writing to me. I share your concerns.

Best wishes,
Harriet Harman

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Hearing from a brave young woman detained in Yarl’s Wood with her mum for 3 months at the launch of the new All-Party Group on Immigration Detention chaired by Alison Thewliss MP. MPs from all parties determined to introduce a time limit of 28 days and to end arbitrary indefinite detention.

 

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We regard ourselves as a civilised society with a respect for human rights. And it is right that we should take extra care to support young people and those with disabilities. But the brutal truth is that we are failing to protect some of our most vulnerable children and young people - those with autism and learning disabilities. And indeed, worse than that, we are currently detaining and inflicting terrible suffering on them and causing anguish to their distraught families.

The horrific reality is that children and young adults with autism and learning disabilities are being sectioned under the mental health act and taken to specialist hospitals with poor conditions, far away from their families. They are being detained for months, or even years on end when they should be in their community. The recent Panorama programme showing the taunting and abuse of vulnerable young patients in Whorlton Hall exposed this horrific reality and it has put the inhumane treatment of people in institutions back under the spotlight, eight years on from a similar scandal at Winterbourne View hospital. 

The pathway from diagnosis to detention is tragic. What happens is this: A family grow worried about their child and raise concerns with the GP and with the child’s nursery or school. It takes ages before they get an assessment and yet more time passes before they get a diagnosis of autism. All the while, families are struggling on their own, without the appropriate help for their child.

Parents who ask for government support soon find they have to battle for it - on top of holding down a job, whilst also trying to provide a peaceful home not only for their child with autism but also for their other children. Their living situation becomes impossible.

As the child gets older, families find it harder to cope. The problems mount and the mother gives up work so she can be there for her child at all times. The family income suffers, which leads to them relying on a complex, inadequate benefit system. Families ask for extra care support, but due to austerity,  find their care package is going to be cut back. There are not enough specialist beds or local services to support the child.

As the situation worsens, parents are told that their child will have to go into hospital temporarily. Families are not being told about the proposal before it goes to the panel which makes the decision. They are not allowed to attend the panel.  Then, the child is taken miles away from their home and placed with strangers - losing the familiarity and routine which is so essential to their wellbeing.

The parents are desperately concerned. They have difficulty visiting their children. But their concerns are treated as hostile and they are seen as a problem. The child gets worse and suffers physical restraint and solitary confinement - which the institution calls ‘seclusion‘. The child gets even worse, so plans to return home are shelved. The days turn into weeks and then months. 

This is such a grim picture, yet they are the stories of families up and down country. And their experiences have come across powerfully in their evidence to the inquiry being undertaken by the parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair. The media has exposed some of this, and we’ve had a compelling report too from the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield.

Action is urgently needed – and the solutions are not complicated. First, there must be extra resources so that diagnosis is prompt. There must be extra funding too to support the child continuing to live with the family at home. (Institutional care is, in fact, more expensive to the public purse but it comes from the NHS rather than cash-strapped councils). Parents must be supported to continue to work. Councils’ housing policies must ensure that families with a child with autism can be appropriately housed.

The family should be recognised as the people who know the child best and care for him/her the most and must be put at the heart of the decision-making process. Residential hospital care - where it’s absolutely necessary and not just because of lack of community support - must be near the child’s home to allow the parents to visit regularly.

The parents should be asked regularly if they are happy with the care their child is getting and any concerns immediately acted on. There should be proper complaints procedures which can be anonymous. And there remains a major question mark over the Care Quality Commission, the regulator of this provision. It had certified Whorlton Hall as ‘good’. In doing so it provided parents with false reassurance and helped shield their children’s abusers. A regulator which gets it wrong is worse than no regulator at all.

Our country is prosperous and values human rights. We cannot turn away from the suffering of these children and their families. It’s time to act.

 

This article originally appeared in the Fabian Society Review, July 2019

Time to act - detention of young people with autism a national scandal

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2 women a week are killed by their current or former partner in the UK. And domestic abuse affects 2 million people - mostly women - every year.

Over the years I’ve been MP I’ve supported women and children in Camberwell and Peckham who’ve suffered this terrible violence. I’ve heard their devastating stories and made their voices heard in Parliament.

Women suffering domestic abuse need to know how they can get help and a safe space.  Refuges provided by councils and charities are vital places of safety for women fleeing violent homes. Refuges save lives.

Yet victims of domestic abuse face a dangerous postcode lottery of access to refuges because of deep government cuts to local council funding.

I asked every local authority how much they had spent on domestic violence refuges since 2010. What I found was shocking. At least 34 refuges have been forced to close their doors since 2010 because of cuts. Every council in London has been forced to cut spending on refuges since 2010.

Locally Southwark Council has worked hard with Solace Womens Aid to prioritise and protect vital DV support services. And last year Southwark was the first council housing service in the country to receive accreditation by the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance. 

But despite their best efforts because the council has faced cuts of almost half of their total budget since 2010, they have had to cut services.  

After years of struggle to improve domestic violence services, with refuges living hand to mouth, the publication of the Domestic Abuse Bill this week represents a historic opportunity to put refuges on a sustainable footing and ensure victims can get the support they need wherever they live.

There are many welcome measures in the Bill - it creates a wider definition of domestic abuse, it establishes a domestic abuse commissioner to champion victims and survivors, it will end the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts, it gives new powers to courts and places new duties on councils, and extends protection to women in Northern Ireland.

Refuges save lives and they need to be on a secure footing. I am urging the Government to set aside a percentage of gross national income to safeguard refuge funding and end the hand-to-mouth existence of these vital places of safety. Southwark Council and over 40 councils are backing this.

The important thing is to establish the principle - the money would be a tiny percentage of government spending overall but be hugely important for women and children fleeing violence.

The Prime Minister will be gone next week and there is no time to turn the Bill into law before the new Prime Minister takes over. Boris Johnson has not been what you might call a champion of the cause of tackling domestic violence. I am urging the new Prime Minister to commit to taking this Bill forward, properly funded.

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2 women a week are killed by their current or former partner in the UK. And domestic abuse affects 2 million people - mostly women - every year. Over the...

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Most of us are starting to change what we can day to day to minimise the harm we inflict on the planet and tackle climate change, whether it’s stopping using plastic carrier bags and disposable coffee cups, doing more recycling, using less water, driving less, or cutting down on our food waste.

Hundreds of Southwark people have contacted me about this and I’ve been so encouraged by the thousands of young people who’ve taken to the streets over the past few months to protest and demand government action on the climate crisis.

Southwark Council were one of the first councils to declare a climate emergency and this month they hosted their first Climate Change Summit, bringing together local residents, NGOs like Greenpeace and central government officials to develop a plan to ensure by 2030 Southwark achieves ‘carbon neutrality’ which means we are removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as we’re putting in.

But the good work of individuals, charities and Southwark Council will never be enough. It needs government action.

The science shows that unless governments back up local work and take strong action on climate change within the next 12 years, it will be too late.

The consequences of unchecked climate change would be catastrophic.  It's already a reality for millions of people around the world – with more wildfires, longer droughts and intense tropical storms. And it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who are always hit hardest. Climate change is forcing increasing numbers of people to abandon their homes and farms and become climate refugees. Last year, climate change displaced 16.1 million people. It is estimated that, by 2050, between 150 to 200 million people are at risk of being forced to leave their homes because of droughts, rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.

Our government urgently needs to play its part in leading action against climate change. Everything the Government and Parliament does must be judged by whether we are making progress on reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

Labour has been leading the fight against climate change in Parliament. In May this year we voted to make the UK Parliament the first in the world to declare an “environment and climate emergency”.

But in the 2 months since then the Government has not taken any decisive action.

The UK is still not on track to meet our targets to cut our use of harmful coal and gas by 2030. 

The Government must use all their powers to achieve this – by increasing the use of clean energy sources such as wind and solar power, stopping big supermarkets using low grade and single use plastics, investing in buses, walking and cycling to cut car use and by making bus travel free for under 25s.

The children leading the climate change school strikes have made a powerful case. They are right to be worried about the kind of planet they will inherit.

We stand in solidarity with them. Their action is a wake up call to the Government and to all of us as MPs. We can see the science. It is our responsibility now to act.

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Most of us are starting to change what we can day to day to minimise the harm we inflict on the planet and tackle climate change, whether it’s stopping using...

Thank you to the thousands of people in Camberwell and Peckham who have taken the time to write to me on this important issue.

I’m totally pro-Remain. I wish we’d never had a Referendum and I wish we’d never lost it. I campaigned all around the country for Remain - even going on the Remain bus with David Cameron to make the case that Labour were for Remain.

I consistently voted against the Prime Minister’s deal because I was concerned it would not protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards, nor ensure frictionless trade for British businesses.

MPs voted on “indicative options” for the next steps in the Brexit process after the third defeat of the Prime Minister’s deal. I voted for a Customs Union, to Revoke Article 50 and for a people’s vote:

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Unfortunately none of the proposals earned a majority in the second round of "indicative votes".

I don’t think there’s any deal which is better than the one we have now as an EU member. I have great fears for a No Deal Brexit which would cause a national emergency and devastation to those on low incomes, the vulnerable and those who lose their jobs.

A people’s vote would break the logjam but I would be concerned that it must not have No Deal on the ballot paper.  

I think 3 years on from the narrowest of referendum results revoking Article 50 would certainly be better for the country than No Deal.

Please be assured I will continue to work with MPs across the House to oppose No Deal being forced on the country.

As your elected representative in Parliament, I welcome your views and comments throughout this process.

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Important moment this week as the Government introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill. After years of struggle on DV. I welcome the new definition of domestic abuse, legal duty to provide DV refuges for women fleeing their homes, the new DV     Commissioner & extension of the Bill to victims in Northern Ireland. But what happens next is crucial. The Prime Minister will be gone next week. The new PM must commit to taking the Bill forward. I will be seeking amendments to increase government funding for refuges & to stop men who kill their wives or girlfriends evading murder charges by claiming ‘rough sex gone wrong’.

 

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Everybody needs to use the internet and apps now for everything they need to do including to apply for jobs or get the benefits they are entitled to. As Chair of the Human Rights Committee I’m leading an inquiry into how we can protect people from human rights abuses as companies carry out extensive gathering of people’s personal data through their use of the internet. It is unrealistic to expect individuals to know about the risks they are taking, the risks to privacy and discrimination, and what steps companies and government should take to protect them. It cannot be down to the individual to know about this. There has to be a very strong regulatory regime. We will report later this year.

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Poets Corner, Camberwell, SE5.

Thanks to Cllr Dora Dixon-Fyle, Cllr Victoria Olisa & Izzie Niven, our CLP Chair!

 

Labour women campaign day in Camberwell Green

Poets Corner, Camberwell, SE5. Thanks to Cllr Dora Dixon-Fyle, Cllr Victoria Olisa & Izzie Niven, our CLP Chair!  

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Great to visit committed staff team led by Headteacher James Robinson, parents & children at Camelot Primary School. Congratulations on your Good Ofsted report!

Camelot Primary School

Great to visit committed staff team led by Headteacher James Robinson, parents & children at Camelot Primary School. Congratulations on your Good Ofsted report!

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Important and powerful case made by Sacred Heart students in Parliament for UK overseas aid to support communities hit by climate change, conflict & famine. I’m backing them all the way on this!

Sacred Heart pupils lobby MPs

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Parliamentary Select Committees are in the ascendancy, carving out a powerful new role in our Brexit-riven Parliament. Led by so-called ‘big beasts’ including Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn & Sarah Wollaston they have grown in authority. This has been an invaluable rebalancing between the Government & Parliament—in Parliament’s favour.

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Moving service at St Giles Church for the 3 women & 3 young children who lost their lives in the Lakanal House fire in 2009 & for all those affected by the tragedy. Thanks to Dave Lewis, Sceaux Gardens Tenants' Association & local councillors Ian Wingfield, Radha Burgess & Jason Ochere for their support to the community.

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Impossible to overstate the importance of tackling climate change. Thanks to everyone who came to Parliament to demand action!

Read my South London Press article here.

 

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Impossible to overstate the importance of tackling climate change. Thanks to everyone who came to Parliament to demand action! Read my South London Press article here.  

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Monthly report - May / June 2019

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Plastic pollution is one of today’s great environmental challenges and the urgency and seriousness of the situation has never been clearer.

A recent report has shown that 14 million items of plastic such as bags, bottles, disposable cups and food wrappers are dropped or blown into UK waterways every year. I believe we need to make it more convenient for people to go plastic-free, and where we use plastic, we must ensure it is not just claimed to be recyclable but is actually recycled.

The Government has committed to working towards a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 and has consulted on several issues relating to plastics, including a tax on plastic packaging and a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers.

The Government has also announced a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. I am disappointed this announcement falls short of EU proposals to ban the ten single-use plastic products most often found on European beaches.

I am frustrated that we continue in a cycle of consultations on issues that have support right across the country, such as introducing a DRS. We must take a root-and-branch, comprehensive approach to dealing with our waste which reduces the amount created, recycles the maximum amount of waste produced and protects our environment from pollution.

The Government published its draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill in December 2018, which proposes creating a new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

At the 2017 general election, I was elected on a manifesto that proposed establishing an Environmental Tribunal which could hold government fully to account, rather than the proposed OEP which would be accountable to the Government and not to Parliament.

While this is a step in the right direction, I am concerned the Bill’s proposals will require a clear commitment to a level of funding which the Government has previously refused to provide for our public services.

I assure you the broader Environment Bill will be carefully scrutinised when it is introduced to Parliament.

Read my recent Southwark News article demanding government action on climate change: https://www.harrietharman.org/demanding_the_government_declare_a_climate_emergency

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Access to affordable, quality childcare is essential for parents to able to work and it helps children get a good start in their life.

 

Yet after all the progress on childcare when Labour were last in government, working parents are now finding it harder to get the childcare they need.

 

Under this Tory government since 2010, the cost of childcare is rising faster than people’s wages. 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres across the country have closed and many more have reduced the services they provide.  

 

And this is hitting hard-working parents in Southwark.  

 

The Government’s scheme of 30 hours free childcare a week for 3 and 4 year olds is not working. Because The Government has failed to ensure that funding keeps up with the rising costs of providing childcare for nurseries to actually deliver the extra hours of free care the Government has promised parents.

 

Providers are being asked to deliver more, whilst facing a real term funding cut between now and 2020. The current funding level was set almost 4 years and doesn’t take into account significant operating cost increases in that time, such as business rate rises, rent, increases to the National Minimum Wage and pensions.

 

This has left parents and child carers subsidising the Government’s new offer. Which is simply not sustainable.

If this funding crisis continues, more childcare centres will close. More parents will be unable to afford a childcare place meaning they will be unable to work and earn for their family. This hits single parents and those on low incomes disproportionately hard.

 

I am backing the parent-led Early Years Alliance’s Fair Future Funding campaign and will continue to do all I can in Parliament to demand the Government properly funds universal childcare. All parents with children in primary school must have the certainty that childcare is available from 8am to 6pm.

 

Universal childcare is the missing part of our welfare state - a product of an old reality decades ago, where women did not get to go out to work, but stayed home to look after children. We need a universal free childcare system to reflect the reality of parents’ lives today and to liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work.

Universal childcare is the missing part of the welfare state - Southwark News Column

Access to affordable, quality childcare is essential for parents to able to work and it helps children get a good start in their life.   Yet after all the progress...

Attacks on MPs are not just criminality against individuals; even more importantly than that, it is a fundamental attack on our democracy.

How does the hon. Gentleman think we should address this issue? Obviously, there are actions the Government need to take, and we know they are concerned, but in a way the issue is wider than that. It is an issue for all the parties and for the House as a whole, not just for the Government. What does he think about the mechanisms for taking action? One of the things I have considered—I do not know whether he thinks this is a good idea or whether he has an alternative proposal—is that we should have a Speaker’s conference on this issue. That would need the Government’s support. It would bring together the CPS, the police, the political parties. 

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that might be a way to go beyond discussion and take action?

Read the full debate in Parliament here

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