Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25th by a Minneapolis police officer, I have not surprisingly received a very high number of emails from constituents to express their grief, anger and desire for real and sustained change. The widespread circulation of the video depicting George’s murder has rightly caused outrage across the world and has shone a light on the systemic racism evident throughout the US. It is starkly apparent, as shown by the protests across the world, that his murder was not an isolated incident. Instead, it is indicative of appalling racism and brutality against the black community.
I am shocked that in the US, the largely peaceful protests have been met with resistance and brutality, including the widespread tear-gassing of protestors, reporters and children who were posing no threat and exercising their right to peaceful protest. Tragically, I understand that David McAtee was shot dead by police while protesting in Louisville. I condemn this action and the excessive force used across the US. President Trump’s threat to use military force to suppress the protests is unacceptable and goes against fundamental rights.
It is unacceptable too that the US appears to be misusing exported goods from the UK in order to suppress the protests. Following reports that the UK recently issued licences for the export of riot-control equipment to the US, the Labour Party has urged the Government to immediately suspend all licences of riot-related items. I welcome this and am a signatory to a cross-party letter calling on the Government to take immediate action. You can see the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade’s letter calling on the Government to immediately address this here.
However, it is clear that the ongoing injustice is not solely an ‘American problem’. There are very real issues of systemic racism and race inequality which must be addressed across the UK. At a national level, the recent Public Health England review into Covid-19 mortality rates confirms that BAME communities are disproportionately affected by coronavirus, with black men almost four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white men. We know too that racial inequalities are prevalent across the criminal justice system, with black people in 2019 more than three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people. These are gross injustices and must be addressed urgently by the Government at a national level.
Locally, I am aware that several worrying videos have been circulated on social media showing apparent excessive force being used by police against Lewisham residents. Many constituents have rightly raised concerns about these videos with me, and I have met with the Mayor of Lewisham and with Lewisham Police to discuss this urgently. Myself and other elected representatives in Lewisham have made clear that we take this extremely seriously and you can read the detail on this in our joint statement here.
As my constituency covers two London Boroughs, I regularly meet with the Borough Commander in Bromley and I will also be raising these issues directly with him.
I encourage anyone who may have concerns over the way they have been treated by the Police to raise it directly with me and make a complaint to the IOPC, which can be done here.
Yesterday, in memory of George Floyd and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Lewisham Council joined with Councils across the country to light the town hall purple in support for the ongoing protests. I fully supported this expression of solidarity and have written to Bromley Council to request that they do the same.
The outpouring of support and solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement is evident across the constituency, and I thank all those who have taken the time to write to me to express their views. We must work together to ensure that the tragic injustices of the past few weeks, and the widespread public outrage they have caused, catalyses into the real and sustained change which we so urgently need. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the BAME community and will call out racism and inequality wherever I see it – internationally, nationally and locally.
This week I lead a debate calling for Parliament to become a more modern, family-friendly and accessible workplace. Having worked as an employment rights lawyer for many years, specialising in maternity discrimination and family-friendly working before being elected to Parliament, after my election in 2017 I was surprised to find many components of Westminster life that are far from being either modern, family friendly or accessible.
Whilst opinion on this issue varies amongst MPs, there is a considerable appetite to improve the way Westminster operates and remove the barriers that may otherwise prevent some people standing for Parliament. If MPs are to be truly representative of those they seek to serve, then it is so important that people feel able to put themselves forward for Parliament regardless of their background, caring responsibilities or family life commitments.
Much has been achieved in recent years, including the creation of an on-site nursery and changes to sitting hours, but progress is often slow. Even the simple introduction of proxy voting for those Members on parental leave has taken until 2019 to implement in the House of Commons.
In the two years since my election, I always find the House of Commons to be at its most inefficient and inaccessible when we have multiple votes at the end of the day. When the division bell rings, 650 MPs head to the narrow division lobbies where they queue up to give their name to the teller. With each division taking up to 20 minutes, multiple votes can see 650 MPs left walking around in circles through the voting lobbies for hours on end often late at night. This simply isn’t an efficient use of MP’s time which could be more productively spent working on other matters or spending time with their families.
Given the importance of Parliamentary votes, I believe the act of attending the division lobby to be counted is important, but just as clerks have moved from paper to iPads for counting votes we similarly could move to use simple and straightforward technology that allows for multiple votes to be registered at the same time. I know that some colleagues have at times struggled with the cramped and claustrophobic conditions in the division lobbies so instead we could have a series of electronic booths lined up in the lobby which would be simpler, more efficient and accessible to more people.
A constant criticism of modern governance is its inability to keep up with the pace of technological and societal change so starting with reform of our voting system would be an easy and quick step in the right direction.
I think it is also important to look at the certainty of the Parliamentary week. We live in extraordinary political times but there must be ways we can improve the system to promote a degree of routine and certainty. At present, most people in Parliament organise their diaries week to week by finding out the following week’s agenda during the Business Statement on a Thursday morning. If we have late votes on the next Monday evening, that only gives those with caring or childcare responsibilities one and a half working days to secure alternative arrangements.
We should strive to have a clearer Parliamentary timetable set further in advance, with allocated windows for voting or the deferring of votes when sittings run later than planned. All of these would give, not only Members but also clerks, house staff and security personnel a better understanding of their working patterns – all of which are conducive to a more modern, family-friendly and accessible workplace.
There is no magic, single change that will instantly remedy all of Parliament’s outdated practices or bring the institution into line with other modern, accessible workplaces. But by taking small progressive steps – as seen with the introduction of proxy voting – we can ensure our Parliament grows to be as open as possible to those who work within it and those who may wish to follow.
I have been deeply saddened at the recent spate of knife crime across London and I send my condolences to those families who have been so needlessly affected.
In November, Jay Hughes, a 15-year-old child was murdered in Bellingham and, less than 72 hours later, a 22-year-old, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, was killed in Anerley. These tragic murders came just a year on from that of teenager Michael Jonas in Betts Park. I raised these awful events with Ministers soon afterwards, see below video:
Each of these murders shook the community and it was troubling to learn that yesterday (25th March), a 15-year-old boy was stabbed on Dartmouth Road in Forest Hill. I wish to pay tribute to the emergency services who attended the scene and those who helped treat the individual in hospital. I was pleased to later be informed that his condition was improving and no longer considered life-threatening.
Whilst it may appear that Parliament is consumed by Brexit, please rest assured that I continue to proactively engage on this most important issue. I have raised the issues around serious violence in Parliament on several occasions, including most recently on two Urgent Questions on knife crime which can be viewed here:
I have also had meetings with the Home Secretary to discuss my specific concerns and have been in direct contact with both Lewisham and Bromley Police, the Mayor of London’s team, a number of schools and youth services as well as local activists and campaigners who specialise in issues that affect young people.
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has recently admitted there is some link between falling police numbers and a rise in violent crime contradicting the answer I received from the Prime Minister when I questioned her in April 2018 over this link (see below video). Whilst our police do an absolutely fantastic job, they should be properly funded to deal with these serious crimes.
Whilst the £1 billion worth of cuts the Met have faced since 2010 are completely unacceptable, we must also recognise that current knife crime has some other deep-rooted causes. I have long been a proponent of a public health approach to resolving the current issues around knife crime which has previously worked in cities like Glasgow. Locally we have seen cuts to the police, child and adolescent mental health services, schools and youth services. These must be restored if we are to fully tackle this issue and I have previously called for Ministers to commit to a comprehensive joined-up, cross-departmental approach to youth violence. I spoke at length about this in the debates in Parliament on youth violence and knife crime, see below:
These issues are by no means limited to my constituency or London and I will continue to work with national Government, councils, the Mayor of London and the police to do all I can to bring about meaningful actions to tackle the troubling increase in serious youth violence.
If you would like to find out more about my activity in Parliament, you can also find my speeches through the Hansard website: https://hansard.parliament.uk
When the Government’s shambolic handling of the Brexit process has led us to a position that cannot even satisfy their own ministers, we must look at all options that will help us avoid entering a further period of long and protracted political deadlock.
Theresa May and her Brexit plan is currently at the behest of the rampant Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. Any Brexit craved by Jacob Rees-Mogg and his friends is not one that I could ever be comfortable with.
I respect the outcome of the 2016 poll, but it does not mean that we must blindly accept the Government’s approach or their draft agreement. The people need to be given their voice again.
The political landscape has changed drastically since the referendum and it becomes excruciatingly apparent with every week we come closer to exit day that the promises made to the British public during the campaign are far from the reality of today.
Nobody voted for a Brexit that will see Britain giving away control and leaving people poorer. Whether it’s a no deal or this terrible deal, the result would be the same: a miserable Brexit for the UK threatening business confidence, our NHS and the future of young people.
It’s only going to get worse with the biggest issues unresolved while we follow rules over which we will no longer have any say – and suffer long term damage to our economy.
Unsurprisingly, the draft withdrawal agreement presented to Cabinet has been met with a chorus of criticism from both sides of the Brexit divide and even the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has resigned, the second in four months.
I have previously vowed to not support any form of Brexit that would be detrimental to my constituents. London voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the European Union and in Lewisham West and Penge this was by a factor of 2 to 1.
A bad deal would be devastating for London. Analysis has shown a no-deal Brexit could see 87,000 jobs go in London alone and the capital’s economic output 2% lower in 2030 than what would be expected under a softer Brexit. This is the harsh reality we now face.
The June 2016 referendum was the biggest democratic exercise in our nation’s history. The only way we can resolve the democratic conundrum and political deadlock of the Brexit process is to go back to the people once more.
By calling for a People’s Vote, I believe the electors should again be extended their democratic right to have their say in the make-up of our future relationship with the European Union with an option to remain.
This vote should not be thought of as running the referendum again, but what we now face is something that wasn’t on the ballot paper in 2016.
The negotiations have been both chaotic and shambolic and the promises of that campaign are a distant memory. We find ourselves at a defining juncture in our history and it is only fair that the people decide on what comes next.
On Tuesday the Civil Liability Bill will enter its remaining stages in the House of Commons. My Labour colleagues and I have continually warned that the implementation of the Government’s package of measures, formulated under the auspices of tackling whiplash fraud and reforming personal injury claims, will leave deep and long-lasting damage on access to justice.
The Bill, which passed Committee stage in September with minor amendments, will see widespread changes to damages for whiplash injuries by replacing the established Judicial Studies Board guidelines with a rigid tariff system - injured claimants could receive up to 87% less.
The Bill is coupled with increases in the small claims limit from £1,000 to £2,000 in all personal injury claims and from £1,000 to £5,000 in all road traffic injury cases, meaning thousands of injured people could fall out of scope for free legal advice and representation and could be potentially denied justice. This is because costs are not recoverable from the losing party in the small claims court so injured people will either have to pay their legal costs themselves, which can often be expensive, or forego legal assistance altogether.
Whilst genuinely injured people will find it harder to access justice, insurance companies are predicted to save £1.3 billion a year because of these changes. Ahead of the debate at Second Reading, both in correspondence to the Chair of the Justice Select Committee and in response to the Committee’s report on the small claims limit, the Government pledged to bring in an amendment that would mean these savings are passed on to customers.
Yet what we were presented with was little more than a fudge. The Government came forward with an amendment which merely requires insurers to supply information about the effect of the enactment of the legislation, rather than any onus on them to pass on the billions worth of savings. It has become increasingly apparently that this Bill is solely for the benefit of the insurance industry.
The changes made at committee stage have done nothing to address the very real worry that the combined implementation of the Civil Liability Bill and forthcoming adjustments to the small claims limit is predicted to see around 350,000 injured people put off pursuing a claim for an injury that was not their fault. Access to justice should not be considered a luxury yet with the introduction of this package of measures that is precisely what it is fast becoming.
We should be working to strengthen access to justice for people up and down the country, not curbing it. All these measures do is prop up the balance sheets for the insurance companies, yet consumers will see little to no change in their premiums and it will become more and more difficult to pursue a claim and to access justice.
The Bill and its appendages are flawed and damaging. The Tories abysmal record on access to justice will only get worse and the lessons of LASPO or employment tribunal fees have not been heeded. It is becoming patently obvious that the enactment of this Bill will see access to justice eviscerated for many. It is surely time to think again.
Access to justice for all is something which we have prided ourselves on for generations. It forms part of our legal fabric and democratic values. Yet under this Government access to justice is fast becoming a luxury of the few.
The Civil Liability Bill currently navigating its way through the Commons forms part of the latest package of measures which would see widespread changes made to claims for whiplash and personal injury.
At Second Reading on Tuesday 4th September, I outlined how changes implemented by the Bill, such as the measures to replace Judicial Studies Board guidelines with a rigid tariff system will see genuinely injured claimants receive up to 87% less.
The Government would have us believe that we are in the midst of a compensation culture epidemic, but this Bill would do no more than to shore up the profits of insurance companies, currently calculated to be over £1bn per year as a result of the package of measures the Government have brought forward.
The Bill, at present, contains no mechanism to pass on these savings to customers through their premiums, and suggestions from Ministers that they will bring forward an amendment on this is merely an afterthought in their latest ideological attack on the justice system.
Of course, fraudulent claims are wrong but to paint all injured claimants with broad brushstrokes is deeply misguided and one which will severely inhibit access to justice. Insurance industry data has shown that in 2016, 0.17% of all motor claims were proven to be fraudulent; a fall from the 0.25% recorded in 2015.
If the Government are intent on fraud reduction, they should not let the genuinely injured suffer and I welcome the amendments being prepared by my Labour colleagues which will seek to heavily alter the Bill at Committee stage.
We must remember that Tory governments have a horrendous recent track record on legal issues and in the ten years from 2010 to 2020, Ministry of Justice funding will see a real-terms cut of 40%.
The Government were warned at the time of proceeding with LASPO that it would severely impact access to justice, but its effects have gone further and deeper than was ever intended, with the number of civil legal aid matters initiated falling by 84% between 2010 and 2017.
The changes to employment tribunal fees brought in under another Tory Lord Chancellor, which have since been found to be unlawful, caused a 68% fall in the number of single cases received per quarter between October 2013 and June 2017.
The Civil Liability Bill and secondary legislation changes to the small claims limit is predicted to see around 350,000 injured people put off pursuing a claim for an injury that was not their fault.
Access to justice underpins so much within our society. It cannot be banded around and dismissed with the cavalier attitude that is currently shown by this Government. The Civil Liability Bill will see a regression in the ability of genuinely injured people to seek compensation and justice for their injuries.
This cannot be right, and we must not find ourselves deeper in a rabbit warren of legal advice vacuums and stories aplenty of access to justice denied as a result of this Government’s flawed package of measures.
Last Friday the Government announced that it will terminate its contracts with companies that run probation services two years earlier than planned.
Ever since their inception in 2015, privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) have completely failed those they were set up to serve and their failures have also come at an immense cost to the taxpayer.
Just last year the Government had to bailout the service by £342 million and the redrawing of these existing contracts will cost the government a further £170m.
In addition to this, 71% of fines made to the companies by the Ministry of Justice for poor performance have been waived to help keep these companies afloat.
The decision to privatise this service was made by the coalition Government following on from the 2013 “Transforming Rehabilitation” (TR) consultation.
The service was split in 2015 into the national probation service, which is public and deals with high-risk offenders, and the outsourced, private community rehabilitation companies, which work with medium and low-risk offenders.
The reasoning behind this split was an aim to make it easier to reduce prisoner re-offending rates. Whilst the number of people re-offending has reduced slightly, those that do re-offend are committing crimes much more frequently.
Yet, the Justice Committee, of which I am a member, recently produced a report on the TR reforms which found that they are not meeting the then Government’s aims.
The report states: “We are unconvinced that as things stand the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service.”
This was evidenced by the fact that by the end of June 2017, CRCs had met an average of just eight of the 24 targets set under their contracts, with the worst-performing CRC meeting only four.
This consultation was not just about rehabilitation, but also about protecting the public—a linchpin of any justice system.
However, in a recent BBC Panorama documentary, the Chief Inspector of Probation stated that she could not say for certain that every private probation company was managing to protect the public as well as it should.
In its investigation, Panorama spoke to an offender who was released from a short sentence in May. He said that he had not met his probation officer for almost a month after release, in the past, he knew exactly who his probation officer was, but now it was hard to tell.
The documentary went on to reveal that one CRC covering London had a record of 15,000 appointments being missed by offenders over a 16-month period. A whistle-blower from this company said that CRCs are employing fewer staff, so individual members of staff have higher caseloads.
The whistle-blower also said that staff were instructed by the CRC to alter records, so that missed appointments were wiped if they were more than two weeks old.
Probation is ultimately a caring profession and it should be viewed as being a bit like teaching or social work. However, it is clear that those who work within the service are being hugely let down by privatised and profit-driven CRCs.
This profit motive has turned the service into a tick-box exercise, but it is not a profession that should be driven by such targets; it requires a well-rounded approach centred on individuals and their needs, not—as we see all too often—on offenders’ ability to provide profits to the CRC.
It is clear that the privatisation of probation services has failed, and the overarching point, which repeats itself time and again, is that this is yet another example of Government-led privatisation that has gone wrong.
The original arrangement and subsequent contracts were not fit for purpose in the first place, and what we are left with is a system driven by the ideological desire to privatise key elements of our justice system and defend the cause even when it evidently fails.
There are some institutions which when the profit motive is the guiding principle behind the actions, the service stops functioning for what it was set out to do. The probation system is one such service and it is an affront to our justice system that this Government have let this happen.
The Government’s announcement to terminate its contracts two years early is further evidence of this privatisation failure.
It is now time, once and for all, to bring the failed schemes back under public control, so that we can get to the root causes of re-offending and provide rehabilitation services that are fit for purpose.
As chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Backbench Justice Group, I hosted a meeting on the Government’s Civil Liability Bill ahead of its return to the Commons which if passed, I believe, would be detrimental for access to justice.
On the face of it, the Civil Liability Bill’s target is to reduce the number or fraudulent whiplash claims which the Government believe represents an ‘out of control compensation culture’.
However, the whiplash case has been used as a smokescreen to mask a more insidious measure. The Bill, as it currently stands, will take away the right to free legal advice for hundreds of thousands of people injured at work or on the roads every year whose claims have nothing to do with whiplash.
Although not on the face of the Bill, the proposed increase in the small claims limit would see the limit raised from £1,000 to £5,000 for road traffic accident-related personal injury claims and from £1,000 to £2,000 for other personal injury claims.
Below these proposed limits, the injured claimant will have to either fight their case themselves or pay for a lawyer out of compensation meant to be for their injuries and their losses. This means that even if a claimant’s case is successful they will generally not be able to recover their legal costs and therefore not receive the full compensation they need to secure their immediate future.
Around 40% of cases are below these proposed limits which would mean leaving up to 500,000 people a year without the free legal cover they are entitled to. I believe this is an active assault on our access to justice.
Firstly, this undermines the longstanding legal principle that the guilty party pays and thus unfairly leaves victims liable for greater legal costs.
Secondly, the idea that people will have to represent themselves is absurd. The pain and trauma of an accident will make it extremely unlikely that the victim will then take on the further stress and burden of pursuing a claim without legal representation.
This is backed up by a survey conducted by Unison which found that 63% of members surveyed stated that they “would not have proceeded or been at all confident to bring their claim without legal representation”.
Even if defendants were to pursue their case without representation, the already overburdened civil court system would likely be unable to cope with the number of injured people attempting to run their own cases. Despite this, the Government believes that 75% of cases will be run by injured people on their own, without legal support.
However, when similar fees were introduced for Employment Tribunals there was a 90% decline in the number of workers pursuing a claim and the fees were later ruled to be unlawful by the Supreme Court. This leads me to believe a similar decline in cases would occur should this Bill pass.
All in all, the Government seems to believe these measures will be combating an ‘out of control compensation culture’ but I feel this is unfair; is it not the responsibility of the insurers themselves to combat fraudulent claims? If they think a claim is fraudulent then they shouldn’t pay out, it’s as simple as that.
However, it would seem that instead of taking responsibility and resolving this themselves the insurance industry are in cahoots with the Tories to hit out against all injury victims, including those at work which whiplash has nothing to do with.
But for the insurance industry there is good reason to do this. An impact assessment on the Bill suggests the increase in the small claims limit means insurers will get an extra £1.3 billion a year. This figure includes saving £6m worth of pay-outs to the NHS and £140m worth of pay-outs to the Treasury every year.
The recent Justice Committee Report on this matter expressed deep misgivings about where the Government is going with this Bill. It stated that the Government had not set out a compelling case for a further increase in the limits and that the Committee is extremely concerned that any rise could seriously impede access to justice.
I wholeheartedly agree with these conclusions and adamantly oppose the Government’s plans. In our Backbench Justice Group meeting, it was heartening to see the strength of opposition to these proposals from the Shadow Justice team, Thompsons Solicitors and Usdaw.
I have tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to postpone their current plans for raising the small claims limit. We now need to win over support across the House to draw further attention to these damaging proposals.
If they pass, this will severely degrade access to justice and will be direct evidence of the Tories favouring the few in the insurance industry over the many who rely on these measures to receive justice.
On 5 June 2018, the Government presented its final proposal for an airports national policy statement (NPS), which outlined its support for plans to deliver a new runway at Heathrow, with a target date of 2026.
The Opposition has always argued that any airport expansion must meet four tests - that it can effectively deliver on capacity demands, that noise and air quality issues are fully addressed, that the UK's climate change obligations are met in full and that growth across the country is supported. I believe we owe it to future generations to ensure that these factors are dealt with in exactly the right way.
Whilst I recognise the need for additional airport capacity in the south east of England, after careful consideration, I do not believe that these tests have been met. I am of the opinion that Heathrow expansion is incompatible with environmental targets and cannot be achieved without unacceptable impacts on local residents.
I believe that we must support vital investment in our country's transport infrastructure, but every investment must be tested on whether it provides real value for money and sustainability. Unfortunately, I believe that a third runway at Heathrow fails this test.
Although I voted against the National Policy Statement on Monday 25th June, the motion was passed by 415 votes to 119.
The Lords Amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill came back to the Commons this month. I have consistently said that our future relationship with the EU must put jobs and the economy first and must therefore maintain the benefits of the Single Market. This is a firm test that I am committed to holding the Government's Brexit deal against in the future when it comes before Parliament for approval. If the Government's Brexit deal does not meet this test I will vote against it.
Unfortunately, two years on from the referendum, it is clear the Government has no plan for how it will protect jobs, standards, rights and the economy. It is for this reason that I voted in favour of the Lords Amendments including Amendment 51 to stay in the EEA. I believe that staying in the EEA will provide the best opportunity for a close future relationship with the EU and further ensure that Brexit does not lead to a race to the bottom on rights or to new barriers for UK businesses. As the frontbench position was to abstain, I have resigned from my role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary. Please see my resignation letter below for my reasons.
I also supported an amendment that would have put the negotiation of a customs union with the EU back on the negotiating table as a key objective and an amendment that would have enshrined in law the commitment to preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Finally, I have long believed that Parliament must be given a meaningful vote on the final terms of our exit from the EU. This is why I voted for a successful Amendment to the Bill in the Commons last December to require that the Government's proposed withdrawal deal be approved by Parliament. This month, I also voted to retain an Amendment made in the House of Lords that strengthens the terms of this meaningful vote. This will make clear that, should the Government's proposed withdrawal deal be defeated, it is for Parliament to say what happens next not the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, this Amendment was not passed.