It’s always a real pleasure to visit schools in my constituency. A big thank you to Moss Park Juniors, who invited me to their assembly and to meet the school council last Friday. I enjoyed it very much.
Thanks also to Youth Politics UK, who invited me to address their conference in Manchester on Saturday. MPs love to see young people taking such an interest in politics!
It’s been a busy week in Westminster, and an exceptionally interesting one. The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, held fascinating Q&A sessions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with Brexit secretary David Davis on progress (or lack of it) on the Brexit negotiations. Watch the sessions on parliament tv - I think you may notice some subtle differences in tone between the two ministers. Theresa May also made a statement about the government’s plans for future arrangements with the European Union. It all sounded a bit too much like a wish list to me.
The European Scrutiny Committee also had an interesting session with our counterparts in the House of Lords and UK MEPs. This was attended by politicians of all parties, and highlighted, yet again, that some parliamentarians appear to think we negotiate an exit deal with the EU by loudly setting out our demands, and complaining when the EU doesn’t agree. The plain fact is that, as the government is quietly having to concede, there are many areas where we will want to continue to cooperate with the EU - it makes sense on everything from air traffic control to medicines regulation. That means we have to reach agreement, not expect to have everything our way. But I’m more convinced than ever that leaving the EU is an enormously complex and challenging process, with big risks for our country’s future, for which the government simply hasn’t got much of a plan. Alarmingly, a range of groups, from the London Chamber of Commerce to the British Poultry Association, have been in to visit me this week to talk about their concerns.
When not obsessing about Brexit, I’ve been busy on some of my other interests. I attended a very useful briefing with the new Lord Chancellor, to hear his views on prisons policy. I welcome signs of a more constructive approach than we have had from some previous Lord Chancellors, but I am very disappointed at the government’s reluctance to review sentencing policy, as part of its strategy to deal with the crisis our prisons face. The prison population has near doubled in the past two decades, and is significantly higher than in other European countries. Sentencing inflation has undoubtedly played a part in that, and it’s not just me who is saying so - at the meeting, retired Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf made exactly the same point. I am therefore very pleased to be part of a new cross-party inquiry into sentencing of women prisoners which was announced this week.
It’s especially timely that the inquiry was launched on International Women’s Day, 8 March. There’s been a host of activity in parliament to mark this special day. The Traveller Movement held a roundtable to celebrate the lives of Gypsy Roma and Traveller women, while Women for Refugee Women and the fabulous Manchester-based Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) organised a lobby to press MPs to pledge to support the rights of refugee and migrant women here.
So many women turned up for this event that there wasn’t room for everyone to squeeze into the meeting, so dozens of women queued up in the corridor outside, grabbing MPs to make their point as they passed. But I was lucky enough to be invited inside, and onto the platform, to pay tribute to these brave, strong and determined women. And later on, it was great to hear them singing as I passed by the room again - something that you don’t hear in parliament every day.
I’m rounding off International Women’s Day at a dinner for businesswomen in Manchester, women who are really successful in their fields, but who haven’t forgotten their role as mentors, cheerleaders and advocates for all women, everywhere, in every walk of life. We’ve made huge strides in the century since women first began to vote, but there’s still a long way to go till women earn as much, own as much, and enjoy the same opportunities as men. Happy International Women’s Day to all my sisters - and to the men who give us your support!