Another week, another round of government ministers trying to ignore and bypass parliament.
So far, we’ve had proposals in the EU Withdrawal Bill for ministers to change the law without needing to hold a debate or vote in parliament. We’ve had Tory MPs sitting out votes, rather than risk the government losing. Committees are being packed with Tory MPs, even though they don’t have an overall majority in parliament. This week, we saw the Tories avoiding yet more votes; a derisory response to a debate from a minister who claimed there wasn’t time for him to answer the points that MPs had raised – and then sat down 10 minutes before the scheduled time for the debate to finish; and Brexit secretary David Davis admitting to a select committee that parliament might not get to vote on whether or not to accept the EU exit deal that’s being negotiated until after we’ve actually left the EU – when it will be too late to do anything about it.
I am genuinely taken aback and furious at the utter contempt for parliamentary democracy that the Conservatives are showing. It’s a sign of their weakness, not their strength, that they’re doing all they can to avoid scrutiny and challenge. But it isn’t stopping Labour from making a difference. I’m delighted that this week, the government’s been forced to climb down on their cuts to specialist supported housing.
These cuts threatened to cause severe problems for providers of housing for elderly people, disabled people (including those with learning disabilities), and young people leaving care, as well as other vulnerable tenants. They’d have made supported housing unsuitable financially, and had already had a chilling effect as providers couldn’t take the risk of building more specialist provision. I’ve been supporting our local housing associations’ #startsathome campaign to reverse the cuts, and I’m very pleased it’s been successful. We’ll have to wait till next week to get more details from the government, but this was a good outcome.
I was also very pleased to get along to an event with young people and children talking about their experience of living in temporary accommodation. Some told me about the appalling conditions they can find themselves growing up in – several children sharing a small bedroom, some in B&B’s sharing bathrooms with other families, in houses that are damp, cold and in poor condition. Being in temporary accommodation also means they can’t settle in at school, make friends, and put down roots – it’s no way to treat our children.
On the brighter side, I really enjoyed meeting refugees at an event organised by Refugee Action and the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. Nour from Syria – who spoke excellent English – told me how lonely and isolated he felt when he first came to this country and couldn’t speak the language. Thanks to English classes, he’s now studying at university and has set up his own business. I was very pleased to support calls to make sure money for English language classes for refugees gets out quickly to people who can benefit.
And it was also good to welcome the Fire Brigades Union to parliament. They’ve had a tough year so far, coping with the Arena attack, a big programme of fire safety checks after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and cuts to their budgets. As have North West Ambulance Service, whose control room I visited last Friday. I’m so impressed with what our emergency services achieve, and their calm professionalism. We’re lucky to have them.
I also feel very lucky that we have such good neighbours and strong communities in Stretford and Urmston, and so it was great finally to see the Old Trafford community mural last Saturday. If you haven’t seen it yet, get along to the corner of Prestage Street and Langshaw Street, and you’ll find it on the gable end of the house on the corner – congratulations to artist Russ, Lemn Sissay for his support, and to Jess, Hannah and all their neighbours who got involved in this wonderful project.