As Parliament returns from Easter Recess, I thought it would be a good time to update my constituents on my work in recent weeks.
Earlier this week, I was given the opportunity, as the longest-serving MP on the Opposition benches, to pay my respects to Prince Philip in the House of Commons chamber. Prince Phillip has been a key figure in our national life for almost a century and my thoughts and prayers are with Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family at this truly difficult time.
This year, my central focus is of course the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine across Huddersfield and the country. I was pleased to see that the initial success of the vaccine rollout has continued into February, March and April, leading to a gradual reopening of the economy and of communities across the UK. The success of the vaccine is down to the hard work of our National Health Service – we truly are indebted to key workers across our health and social care sectors. However, I have raised my concerns in regional disparities in vaccine delivery and uptake and I will continue to press Matt Hancock on this to ensure an equitable return to normalcy.
On more than one occasion this year, I have raised the plight of the Uyghur people in the province of Xinjiang in China and their brutal persecution at the hands of the Communist Party. Images of slave-like conditions and mistreatment continue to shock the world. I urged the Foreign Secretary to be tough on China and its complete disregard for human rights and democracy. Its subversion of democracy in Hong Kong, alongside its appalling disregard for the human rights of the Uyghur people, must be condemned in the strongest terms.
In addition to this, I also questioned the Government on remote education on behalf of the many pupils and students in Huddersfield. I asked the Government to learn from the true masters of remote learning, the Open University, and to give teachers the support they need to deliver their lessons.
In February, I pressed the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, on air pollution. The levels of air pollution in Britain puts the health of six million elderly people at risk. Every person in the world has the inalienable right to breathe clean air and I will continue to remind the Government of this.
Last week, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on the topic of miscarriages of justice nationwide. The impact of wrongful convictions is devastating. Our justice system must be reformed and probably funded to ensure that no innocent person is punished for another’s crime. The APPG on miscarriages of justice has recently concluded its report on the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an important route to overturning wrongful convictions, and I welcomed the chance to debate with the minister for this area.
In addition to this, I questioned the Justice Minister Chris Philp on the backlog that our criminal courts system faces. The legal system in England and Wales is one that should be the envy of the world, yet the evidence shows that there has been serious issues with it for years, pre-dating Covid-19. The Government is using Covid as a fig leaf for the fact the justice system is in crisis, under-funded and under-resourced. The Justice Department has faced the harshest cuts, as a proportion of its budget, than any other Government department. This needs to change; true justice is not a cheap commodity.
In February, the Government released a white paper on the future of the health service in our country. I questioned the Health Secretary Matt Hancock on his proposals, asking if he would slow down the reforms to the health service and spend more time on consultation to make sure he gets these crucial changes right. I told him that he needs to the listen to the public, NHS workers and patients, and that, for these reforms to be a success, he would have to work on a truly cross-party basis.
The month of March brought the annual Budget. It is custom for every MP to get a turn to speak on the Budget, but with Covid measures in place, it was difficult to fit everyone in. I managed to make contribution on the final day. In my speech, I said that I hoped that the Chancellor would stay the course and not simply move onto the next stage of his career like previous Chancellors have. I spoke about the priorities of the people of Huddersfield: the need for good jobs with good pay, a modernised welfare state, and the need to use good science, good technology and good manufacturing to save our planet from climate change.
I also questioned the Defence Secretary on the Ministry of Defence’s review of the armed forces. I pointed out that we need to embrace modern technology in the armed forces, but this should not come at the expense of personnel. I said that the Russians and the Chinese will view our reduction in armed services personnel and think we have run up the white flag. The Government’s Integrated Review did not convince me, nor my Party, that the Government are credible or capable when it comes to our national security and forging a foreign policy which can do good across the world. There are still so many questions for the Government to answer – from why they are opting to increase the number of nuclear warheads we as a country possess, to the slashing of international aid.
It is important to me that I represent my constituents’ views and priorities in Parliament. Do get in touch with me via firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how I can represent you in my work.