The horrific violence experienced by worshippers over Ramadan in Sheikh Jarrah, Gaza and Israel has caused distress to many of my constituents and many of them have contacted me about this matter in recent days. I am deeply concerned at Israel’s actions and by the conflict which rapidly escalated and left millions of Palestinians and Israelis living in constant fear.
Now that a ceasefire has been agreed, it is vital that there is a coordinated international effort to bringing a return to negotiations towards securing a two-state solution. This process should involve an early end to the Israeli government’s blockade, so that vital humanitarian aid can reach those in Gaza whose suffering will have been made worse by the recent outbreak of violence.
Activities such as violations of international law, along with forced evictions of Palestinians and the expansion of illegal settlements must stop. Rocket attacks against Israel must also stop. These things make a lasting peace harder to achieve.
Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live their lives without fear, and in safety and security. The unacceptable outbreak of violence over the last couple of weeks has done nothing to move towards the realisation of that right.
This week, the media has been dominated by one story: who paid for the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat. What has received less attention is the tragic news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been sentenced again, meaning she will be sent back to prison.
Nazanin is an Iranian-British journalist, who was arrested in 2016 by Iranian authorities on spying charges which she has always denied. She was sentenced to 5 years in prison for‘plotting to topple the Iranian regime’ and, since then, human rights organisations and politicians alike have campaigned for her freedom and criticised the unjust conviction.
This week, Nazanin has been sentenced to another year on charges of ‘propaganda activities against the regime’ in Iran. Nazanin’s sentence includes a year’s travel ban, effectively making it a two-year sentence.
During the pandemic, Nazanin was kept under house arrest. This March, when her sentence expired, she was released and had her ankle tag removed.
Yet Nazanin is not free. The Iranian regime has sought to punish Nazanin with more trumped-up charges, adding a year to her sentence and issuing a travel ban. This means she will be forced to stay in Iran for another two years, separated from her husband and daughter.
The Prime Minister has talked about redoubling his efforts to get Nazanin home. I think we all would like to see the Prime Minister be successful in these efforts, but I will not hold my breath. We have no evidence of his current work to secure Nazanin’s release and it was, in fact, Boris Johnson’s failures as Foreign Secretary in 2017 that has caused Nazanin and her family so much pain. At the time, he exposed his complete ignorance of the case and did more harm than good.
Nazanin’s sentences have become politicised, used as leverage for negotiations over British-Iran debt repayments and Iran’s enrichment of nuclear material. We cannot control the Iranian regime’s actions, but the UK Government can control its own. Our Government must make the most of the diplomatic protection given to Nazanin back in 2019 and they should provide Nazanin with consular assistance, as it their right under international law.
Additionally, the British Government should work more closely with the international community to secure the release of Nazanin and the dozen individuals who have faced similar charges recently. In my parliamentary work, I have also raised the possibility of the Government sponsoring an all-faith delegation, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, to Tehran so that they can plead for the release of Nazanin.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held hostage by Iran and is a victim of torture. Boris Johnson and his government must match their rhetoric with action, and work tirelessly and creatively to secure her release. She deserves to be home with her husband and their children.
In 1992, I was Shadow Home Secretary Roy Hattersley’s deputy. This was at the time of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, and I became intimately involved in those controversial cases. Since then, justice has been a key focus of mine and three years ago I helped set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice to coordinate the campaign in Westminster.
With help from my colleague Sir Bob Neil MP, we have built up a group with very good membership in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. To begin, we had very engaging seminar discussions and some lively campaigns. Over time, we narrowed down our focus and put together a commission to look at the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The CCRC was setup in 1997 after several high-profile miscarriage of justice cases. It investigates criminal cases to see whether the convictions are ‘safe’ and passes certain cases on to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal. It is an important avenue of redress for those who have been wrongfully convicted and, over twenty years on from its inception, we thought it was a good time to take stock of the CCRC’s work.
After a year of speaking to experts and taking evidence, our commission has published a high-quality report, with constructive suggestions for improvement and reform of the CCRC. Last week, I secured a Westminster Hall Debate in Parliament to discuss the report with the minister and highlight its conclusions.
The main recommendation is that the CCRC is too deferential to the Court of Appeal, with the current criteria for passing a case onto them acting as a brake on the CCRC’s freedom of decision. There is a need for new criteria – a new test – to encourage more courageous decision making.
The second recommendation concerns resources. The Ministry of Justice has experienced the biggest cuts of any Department in the past decade. There is no doubt that this had had an impact on the amount of miscarriages of justice. At a time when the CCRC has been more needed than ever to address these miscarriages, its budget has also been slashed; the report found that the CCRC urgently needs more resources to fulfil its role. The Government cannot do justice on the cheap.
The third recommendation was about investigative powers. The inquiry revealed one instance where the CCRC had waited over 1000 days for a public body to comply with a disclosure request. The principle of open justice is founded on accountability and transparency. These qualities need to be at the heart of the justice system to maintain public confidence – and the CCRC needs the investigatory powers to reflect that.
In the Westminster Hall debate, I raised the shocking fact that people who are wrongfully convicted can spend decades in prison before finally having their conviction overturned. Then, when they leave prison, some receive not one penny of compensation. I believe that victims of miscarriages of justice deserve far better support, both financial and practical, as they reintegrate into a society that has failed to provide them with justice the first time round.
If you would like to read my speech in the Westminster Hall debate on strengthening the CCRC, as well as the response of the Minister, you can do so here.
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 email@example.com to let me know how I can represent you in my work.
Many MPs come to Parliament with issues they deeply care about. For me, road safety is one of those issues. Having been in a very serious car crash when I was younger, I felt lucky to be alive and determined to reduce accidents on the road.
When I first came to Parliament, it was not compulsory to wear seat belts like it is today. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, seatbelts were beginning to be fitted in cars, but the wearing rate was very low. Despite huge government spending on publicity campaigns to boost the voluntary use of seat belts, the rate didn’t get much higher than 33%. There had been thirteen attempts in Parliament to introduce legislation to make seatbelts compulsory but all had failed.
I put my name in for a Private Member’s Bill and, when I was drawn in the ballot, decided to use my Bill to tackle the issue of seatbelts. I introduced a Bill that would make it an offence to carry a child unrestricted in a vehicle. Sadly, like many Private Member’s Bills, mine was unsuccessful. A Conservative MP at the time shouted “object” to my Bill and this meant it could go no further in the House of Commons. After this, however, a young junior minister at the time, named Ken Clarke, told me he had liked my Bill and recommended that I amend the Transport Bill going through Parliament at the time. So I added an amendment about children wearing seatbelts and it passed, meaning it became law.
The campaign to improve road safety could not stop there; adults were still not required to wear seatbelts in cars which meant many preventable injuries were still being caused by crashes. I knew that we would not be able to pass the legislation required in the House of Commons due to opposition from those who thought compulsory seatbelt wearing was an infringement of personal freedom.
Thankfully, we had some very good friends in the House of Lords who introduced legislation in the Upper House. Of course, this means that the legislation had to come back to the Commons to be approved. In this case, we got lucky! The date that the Bill would be read in the Commons was set to be just before a public holiday for Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding. This meant that many MPs went back to their constituencies earlier in the week so that they could enjoy the long weekend – but we made sure that our supporters stayed in London and came to the House of Commons to vote. Because of this, we were able to pass the law and make it compulsory for everyone in the UK to wear seatbelts in a moving vehicle.
After the vote, the group that had been involved in the passing of the legislation went to the roof of the Houses of Parliament and witnessed a grand firework display, which we said was for our victory in the House (in fact, it was for the royal wedding!). It was a wonderful victory and making seatbelts compulsory for adults and children remains a defining moment in my parliamentary career. The group was so effective at campaigning that we went on to form the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety (PACTS). PACTS is still going strong after 40 years and remains one of the most energetic groups campaigning for evidence-based policies to reduce road traffic accidents.
This July, I am launching a politics summer school for young people in my constituency.
I am consistently impressed by the young people who contact me and struck by their passion for the climate, social justice and education. This summer school is an offer to those who want to understand more about how politics works and how to influence it – an opportunity to learn, debate and ask questions.
The week-long programme is aimed at young people aged 16 and over who want to make a difference. There will be sessions from climate activists, MPs and journalists, taking a look at politics on the local and national level, as well as environmental campaigning and communication.
You don’t need to take politics at school or be a climate expert to get involved; the most important thing is enthusiasm! The workshops and activities will help you understand your influence and how to campaign for change.
If you are keen to find out more about the programme, fill out our online form here to express your interest and be the first to hear when applications open this spring.
A keen focus of mine throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been the issue of education. Education is an area that I hold dear, I was formerly a university lecturer at the University of Swansea and was the Chair of the Education Select Committee for over nine years. I think it is so important that we do not lose sight of the educational needs of each and every child and young person.
Earlier this week, the Labour Party tabled Opposition Day motions to improve the level of support available to young people throughout the pandemic. Our fantastic frontbench team stood up for our children and young people, their access to the technology that they need to learn remotely and urged the Government to take steps to empower them, parents and young people. You can watch my statement on the motion *HERE*.
As more and more children have had to transition to online learning, I think it is vital that teachers and other educational staff are trained appropriately in the use of technology for teaching. Since the start of the pandemic, I have called upon the Open University, with their decades of expertise, to help train teachers across the country in remote teaching. Very usefully, a representative from the Open University contacted me and provided me with resources to pass on.
The Open University has made a wide range of open educational resources available for free on their “OpenLearn” platform (which can be found here). The resources cover a wide span of subject areas, such English, Maths, History and even Politics. The resources are varied and cover a range of different types of learning. Through articles, quizzes and interactive games. The Open University produces most of its content on the “OpenLearn” platform under a Creative Commons licence, which means that it can be shared and reused by educators across the world free of charge.
The content that the Open University provides is aimed at everyone involved in education. Teachers, parents and even pupils themselves. The content is grouped in a number of ways depending on who the content is aimed at. Teachers can find a number of free resources targeted at supporting them in taking teaching online. These can be found here. I would encourage every teacher, that has not already done so, to access this content and allow it to help them develop their remote learning curriculum. I thank the Open University for providing me with these resources to pass on and for all of their hard work, as well as the work of all teachers. throughout this difficult time.
I do hope that, by Easter, with an effective mass vaccination programme we can begin to live our lives and return to some normalcy. Until then however, let us renew our commitment to keeping each other safe, that we follow the rules and ultimately protect the NHS.
Last year, over 60% of journeys in the UK were made by car – accounting for 77% of the total distanced travelled.
Many of us depend on our cars to get to work, fulfil our caring responsibilities and make necessary trips. However, our reliance on petrol and diesel fuelled cars is unsustainable. We have set ourselves the target of net zero by 2050– and, if we are going to meet it, the way we get around has to change.
This matters because the climate emergency is escalating. Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Greta Thunberg and, as her powerful speeches make clear, we risk passing the point of no return in terms of global warming if we do not change course urgently.
In the UK, transport accounts for around a third of all carbon dioxide emissions, and road transport makes up most of this figure. With the government set to ban the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 in a bid to reduce emissions, are electric vehicles the way forwards?
There are certainly positive signs. Last year, the number of public charging points overtook the number of petrol stations in the UK. A new electric car is registered every 9 minutes. Electric car owners benefit from grants and tax breaks, with some local councils also offering free parking.
This is all great news – but the fact remains that less than 1 in every 150 cars on UK roads is powered by electricity. If we are going to increase that number, we need more charging points, better and cheaper technology, and a shift in our attitudes.
Sustainable Huddersfield is holding an online event on the future of transport to ask a range of experts about these challenges and opportunities. Locally, a transport system that meets people’s needs and reduces environmental impact is key to becoming a greener, fairer and more prosperous town.Join us on Wednesday 27th January at 5pm to hear more about we need to do to make cars work for people and the planet.
I used to know the Last of the Summer Wine crew very well years ago and I can recall introducing them to former prime minister Harold Wilson when he opened the Huddersfield Hotel owned by the Marsden brothers.
Bill Owen, who played Compo in the long-running show, was a generous supporter of our party, and opened our former offices in Huddersfield town centre. He also kindly donated a hat for auction, along with a note of authenticity.
A family friend bought it for my daughter who was a big fan at the time. A recent attic reorganisation has seen the hat resurface and now I am happily putting it up for auction with all proceeds to support the Platform 1 charity in Hudddersfield.
Platform 1 are an incredibly valued charity specialising in mental health and have helped so many in our town. You can find out more about their work, and support them directly via: platform-1.co.uk/about-us
How to bid
If you’re interested in owning the hat and accompanying authenticating note from Bill, you may wish to participate in the silent auction. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org titled ‘Bid’, with an amount along with your name and address. Whichever person has made the highest bid by 12 noon on 30th January 2021 will win.
Remember silent auctions mean you don’t know how much other people have bid – so it’s wise to bid high, especially as all money will go to Platform 1
Alternatively, just fill out the below! Ensure your email is correct, as if we cannot contact you the bid won’t count
As a lifelong social enterpriser, I believe in the power of small businesses working for the social good.
This Saturday 5th December is small business Saturday, a day to celebrate the benefits that small businesses bring to our town in terms of social purpose, high quality products, employment, training and community identity.
As a Labour and Cooperative MP, I am proud of the contribution that Huddersfield’s 3,350 small businesses, mutual and coops make to the town. Along with local partners, I founded the Huddersfield Enterprise Foundation 15 years ago to provide mentoring, advice and financial support to start-ups and I am honoured to have seen many of them grow into flourishing enterprises.
Local businesses have adapted brilliantly in the past year, supporting the effort to tackle the virus, keeping local communities safe, and ensuring no child goes to bed hungry. Yet after eight months of difficult trading conditions, I know many are facing a serious cash crisis.
On the national stage, Labour is calling for an emergency support package tailored to small business needs. We are determined to stand up for shops, pubs and restaurants, manufacturers, hotels and hairdressers, beauty salons and suppliers, breweries and bakeries and many more small businesses of all kinds.
That is why, in conjunction with friends and partners from the Sustainable Huddersfield initiative, I am relaunching our start-up support service.
As we rebuild from the pandemic and shape a ‘new normal’, I believe we need new ways to support businesses and to tackle the key social, economic and environmental sustainability issues we face: the climate crisis, systematic inequality, food poverty, precarious work.
We are working towards a local start-up and business support hub called the Huddersfield Green Enterprise Foundation that will particularly target enterprises which want to prioritise sustainability in their development, mission and practices. Ethical business is a powerful tool for good and one that will be vital in revitalising our local economy.
I am proud of the innovations, skills and knowledge we have in our town and I am determined to play my part in supporting local businesses to excel, creating benefits for all of us.