Great to welcome anti-poverty campaigners ATD Fourth World , Thrive Teeside & Joseph Rowntree Foundation to Parliament on 5th March. We agreed it’s important to have people with lived experience of poverty at the heart of policymaking and we’re urging the Government to implement section 1 of the Equality Act to tackle wealth inequality.
Great to welcome anti-poverty campaigners ATD Fourth World , Thrive Teeside & Joseph Rowntree Foundation to Parliament on 5th March. We agreed it’s important to have people with lived experience...
Jo Cox was murdered less than 3 years ago doing her job as an MP seeing her constituents in an open advice surgery. Since then, there have been a steady stream of people being convicted for offences of threats and violence against MPs. We notice them in a brief press report or on Twitter. But what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve got to start facing up to the rising tide of harassment and violence against MPs. And stop it. What is at stake here is our democracy. Some might think that MPs are only willing to whinge about what’s happing to us. The opposite is the case. There is massive underreporting of threats to MPs. We are hard-wired to be champions of our constituents and rescue them from their problems. The last thing any MP wants is to be seen as a victim. Some don’t report threats worrying it will only increase the obsession of the “fixated individual” who’s stalking them. Some feel at the same time both fearful of their assailant and sorry for them - especially if they’ve got mental health problems. We see our task as helping the vulnerable not calling down the police on their heads. And some don’t report because they think that it will be a waste of their time and nothing will be done about it.
And in response to the rising tide of threat, there’s a steady and worrying trend of MPs changing the way they work. Constituents are less likely to see us going about our work as we are now less likely to tweet in advance of a meeting we’re going to, or identify an estate where we’re off for a walkabout. Many MPs have changed the way we do our advice surgeries. Instead of open surgeries where any constituent could turn up, only seeing them if they’ve got an appointment. No longer doing surgeries in remote community halls on estates and instead holding them in the Town Hall.
MPs are less likely now to travel on public transport on their own. And that’s a shame as it’s when you get the chance to hear from random strangers. MPs who are driven off Twitter by abuse are being denied the important right to use social media to communicate.
And even when they are out and about with their families, MPs report that they get harassed. While many MPs are resigned to enduring abuse it’s not fair for it to be inflicted on our family members. So MPs worry about the safety of their staff. Only last week Peter Kyle’s constituency office was attacked.
Those MPs who do ask for help report a big variation in the response. While some find the police concerned and helpful, others report the police showing more sympathy with the assailant than the MP victim. The police who stood by while Anna Soubry was being harassed as she tried to make her way back to Parliament no doubt thought that they were defending the rights of protestors.
No MP should face a barrage of abuse for doing their work as a holder of public office. It’s in no-one’s interest if, to stay safe, MPs retreat from and become more remote from our constituents. MPs should not, as they have to in many countries, have to live behind bars.
There are competing rights here. The rights of MPs to be able to speak their mind without fear or favour, as they are elected to do and the rights of the public to protest. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is holding an inquiry into the scale of the threat to MPs and how we draw a line to ensure that MPs remain safe to get on with our work while respecting the right to protest.
We’re going to interview a wide range of MPs to get a complete analysis of the origin, object and scale of these threats; the impact of social media, the regional “heat spots”, the correlation with racism and misogyny. We’ll be scrutinising the work of the House authorities, the police, and CPS. We’ll be making recommendations which respect the rights of protesters and protect the safety of MPs. We are not an effective democracy if MPs have to look over their shoulder before they speak or vote.
Link to article as it appeared in House Magazine, Parliamentary Culture Issue, 05 March 2019: https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/government-and-public-sector/house/house-magazine/102291/harriet-harman-members-parliament
Jo Cox was murdered less than 3 years ago doing her job as an MP seeing her constituents in an open advice surgery. Since then, there have been a steady...
Meeting David Quirke-Thornton, Director of Southwark Children’s Services & Cllr Jasmine Ali, Cabinet Member for Children & Schools, to discuss their work to help families get the right school place for their child with autism. I will shortly be publishing my report on autism.
Meeting David Quirke-Thornton, Director of Southwark Children’s Services & Cllr Jasmine Ali, Cabinet Member for Children & Schools, to discuss their work to help families get the right school place...
Or you can click to read it here.
Or you can click to read it here.
.@FaradayLabour cllrs @jackbuck123 @paulwfleming & Lorraine updating me on their sterling work to protect & support #Aylesbury residents. More reliable heating/hot water. Swift fair compensation.
Great turn out for a chilly Old Kent Road campaign session on 9th February! Lots of concern about Brexit from residents and lots of support for local councillors Evelyn Akoto, Michael Situ and Richard Livingstone. Thanks to everyone who came out.
Great turn out for a chilly Old Kent Road campaign session on 9th February! Lots of concern about Brexit from residents and lots of support for local councillors Evelyn Akoto,...
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.
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...
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.
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...
100s of residents on the Aylesbury Estate have been subject to repeated loss of heating and hot water. Cllrs Lauder, Fleming & Buck have been working with Cllr Steph Cryan, Southwark Housing lead, to get the services restored and compensation paid for the cost and inconvenience. I'm working with them and the T&RAs on this. There is also a problem on Barset, Brimmington, Brandon and Wyndham & Comber estates. It’s intolerable in the 21st century to be without basic services and is a particular problem for the elderly, families with young children and those on low incomes.
100s of residents on the Aylesbury Estate have been subject to repeated loss of heating and hot water. Cllrs Lauder, Fleming & Buck have been working with Cllr Steph Cryan,...
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.
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...
Great to welcome Southwark Council’s #FizzFreeFeb launch to Parliament on 29th January. Vital campaign to tackle child obesity and improve health. Thanks to Southwark Cabinet Member for Public Health, Cllr Evelyn Akoto for leading on this!
Great to welcome Southwark Council’s #FizzFreeFeb launch to Parliament on 29th January. Vital campaign to tackle child obesity and improve health. Thanks to Southwark Cabinet Member for Public Health, Cllr...
So pleased that on 28th January MPs agreed to introduce proxy voting for Members who’ve had a baby or adopted a child. And that the very next day Tulip Siddiq became the first MP to vote by proxy—at home with her lovely new son Gabriel!
So pleased that on 28th January MPs agreed to introduce proxy voting for Members who’ve had a baby or adopted a child. And that the very next day Tulip Siddiq...
The decision to detain an immigrant is made behind closed doors by the Home Office. And detention can be indefinite. With no independence, scrutiny or accountability mistakes get made - as we saw with terrible consequences in the Windrush cases. So it is vital lessons are learned and the Windrush injustices are not inflicted on any of the 3m EU nationals who are now to be subject to our immigration laws. The Joint Committee on Human Rights which I chair, is seeking to amend the new Immigration Bill to make the detention decision independent of the home office and to limit detention to 28 days. Watch my speech.
The decision to detain an immigrant is made behind closed doors by the Home Office. And detention can be indefinite. With no independence, scrutiny or accountability mistakes get made -...
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.
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...
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.
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...
Most children with a dad in prison can stay at home with their mother, but only 5% of children whose mums go to prison stay in the family home. The Human Rights Committee is hearing heart-breaking evidence from mums who’ve been in prison, often for non-violent offences, and from the children separated from their mothers, on the impact and disruption going into care, or moving home and school has had on their lives. Our committee will shortly be reporting and making recommendations to the Government about how we make sure that fewer mothers go to prison and the courts properly take children into account when sentencing.
Most children with a dad in prison can stay at home with their mother, but only 5% of children whose mums go to prison stay in the family home. The...
Thanks to the hundreds of Camberwell & Peckham Labour members along with constituents who emailed me ahead of the Government’s disastrous Brexit vote. The Government suffered the largest ever defeat in history—432 MPs voted against the Prime Minister’s deal. I voted against the deal because it would be bad for our economy, security, environment and workers’ rights. All options including a #PeoplesVote must now be on the table and I am working with colleagues across the House to use all mechanisms possible to ensure we prevent a catastrophic No Deal Brexit.
Thanks to the hundreds of Camberwell & Peckham Labour members along with constituents who emailed me ahead of the Government’s disastrous Brexit vote. The Government suffered the largest ever defeat...
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.
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...