Harriet Harman

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

Current News

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 –...

The Human Rights Committee has published our report into human rights and trade post-Brexit. We were concerned that human rights are not part of the consideration in new free trade deals currently being negotiated by the Government. The Human Rights Minister told us he didn't even know if human rights were in the newly signed Israel-UK trade deal! Rights should not be an  ‘add-on’ to international trade agreements, but be embedded from the outset. We are demanding Parliament’s Human Rights Committee remit is widened so we can check these agreements.

 

UK must not become weak link for human rights post-Brexit

The Human Rights Committee has published our report into human rights and trade post-Brexit. We were concerned that human rights are not part of the consideration in new free trade...

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Great to meet teachers from Nell Gwynn & The Grove Nursery, and staff & very impressive pupils of Oliver Goldsmith Primary School at the nursery funding lobby in Parliament. Nurseries provide vital services especially for low-income children. I’m backing their demand that government ring-fence nursery funding. #SaveOurNurseries

 

Backing local nurseries

Great to meet teachers from Nell Gwynn & The Grove Nursery, and staff & very impressive pupils of Oliver Goldsmith Primary School at the nursery funding lobby in Parliament. Nurseries provide...

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#IWD is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’ve made but also take stock of just how much further we still have to go. It was great to welcome Camberwell & Peckham Labour Women’s Forum for a tour of Parliament to mark the day! Women are still change-makers and that is a battle. Things are much better in my generation than they were for my mother, and they’re better for my daughter’s generation, but we cannot rest. Read my #IWD2019 articles in The Times & Harpers Bazaar.

 

International Women’s Day 2019

#IWD is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’ve made but also take stock of just how much further we still have to...

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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...

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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.

 

People are the experts to reducing poverty

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...

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Or you can click to read it here.

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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. cllrs & Lorraine updating me on their sterling work to protect & support residents. More reliable heating/hot water. Swift fair compensation.

 

Faraday Councillors

.@FaradayLabour cllrs @jackbuck123 @paulwfleming & Lorraine updating me on their sterling work to protect & support #Aylesbury residents. More reliable heating/hot water. Swift fair compensation.  

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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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