Parliament is back in session after the summer break. But it doesn’t feel like the government’s made much progress over the summer. Brexit is as stuck as ever, with the frightening prospect of the UK leaving without agreement about how we’ll work with the EU in future. I for one would like to know there’s a plan in place for what will happen about transport links, passport controls, trade and tariffs, environmental, health and safety standards, and cooperation on crime and security.
But if the government hasn’t a clue about this, I’m glad our mayor, Andy Burnham, has been thinking about what it will mean for Greater Manchester. I was very pleased to introduce him as he made an important speech in Westminster this week about Brexit and devolution. Like me, and the vast majority of my constituents, Andy thinks crashing out of the EU without agreeing a deal would be catastrophic. In those circumstances, he suggested it would be essential for the government to hold a People’s Vote to gain legitimacy for a sensible way forward. But the first priority must be to try to secure a good deal for the UK, and Andy said that meant if we needed to take a bit longer to achieve a deal, by extending the so-called article 50 process beyond next March, then we should ask the EU to agree that we do so. It was one of the most thoughtful, practical speeches on Brexit I’ve heard for a while. I hope the government is listening.
Away from Brexit, being back in Westminster has given me the chance to raise some of the issues constituents have discussed with me over the summer. I attended a meeting with the Treasury minister to press for full compensation for Equitable Life policyholders, who lost out when this pensions company collapsed way back in 2000. Although some compensation finally began to be paid after 2011, at the time, the government argued that pressure on the public finances meant it couldn’t afford to pay full compensation. But many very elderly pensioners are running out of time, and MPs urged the minister to deal with the matter urgently.
I was also able to ask ministers for an update on the compensation arrangements for those affected by the Windrush scandal. Earlier this summer, I met constituents who’ve been affected, who were keen that the Home Office should listen to them. I urged the minister to do so as the government begins to investigate what lessons it must learn from this sorry story. I was pleased she recognised the importance of what I said, and I know the Windrush Defenders Movement in Manchester will be keen to share their experiences. I’ll be working with neighbouring MPs Lucy Powell and Afzal Khan to ensure that they can do so.
It’s also been a week when I’ve been pursuing my longstanding interest in penal policy, meeting organisations like the Prison Reform Trust and One Small Thing, both of which work in this area. Over the summer, I made some fascinating visits – to the Problem Solving Court that monitors the progress of women offenders, to an approved premises which accommodates those released on licence, and just before I returned to London, I was absolutely delighted to be invited to a reception at Manchester’s Clink cafe, which employs and trains ex-offenders. In fact, I’d already been there for lunch a few weeks ago, and I can vouch for its fabulous cooking and the warm and friendly reception. If you’re looking for a great pit-stop in town (it’s on Chepstow Street, minutes from St Peter’s Square), which is also making a difference to people who are trying to get their lives back on track, I thoroughly recommend it. I’m now the proud possessor of a coffee loyalty card, and I can’t wait for my next visit!
Back in my constituency, I was also at Urmston station on Monday morning, chatting to commuters about the poor service local people have been experiencing with Northern Rail for far too long. If you’ve been affected by the Northern service, then please complete my short survey here. I’ll make sure I pass your feedback on to transport Ministers and to Northern.