I seem to be spending more and more of my time in parliament away from the chamber, sitting in committees. I was honoured to be elected last week to chair parliament’s committee on standards. This committee is responsible for rules governing MPs’ conduct, and in the light of the recently published – and shocking – report by high court judge Dame Laura Cox into bullying and sexual harassment in parliament, our work is rightly under close scrutiny. The committee consists of equal numbers of MPs and external members, and we are in close discussions about what Dame Laura’s report will mean for the way in which parliament handles allegations of bullying and harassment in future. I was glad she stressed in her report that the vast majority of my MP colleagues treat staff and visitors to parliament with courtesy and respect, but action to tackle abusive behaviour by a minority is imperative.
I’m also a member of the Home Affairs committee, and this week has been exceptionally busy for us, with three full meetings of the committee. On Monday, we signed off on our report on policing for the future. It makes very disturbing reading, detailing the pressures the police are under as they seek to tackle serious crimes, such as child sexual abuse and online fraud, maintain high profile neighbourhood policing, and protect vulnerable people. In Greater Manchester, we have lost nearly 2,000 officers since 2010, and a few weeks ago I spent a day in Stretford police station to see for myself the worrying impact that is having. Our report calls on the government to prioritise funding for the police, and with the budget coming up on Monday, the chancellor needs to be listening.
On Tuesday, the committee met again, to hear from experts in modern slavery. This encompasses a truly vile range of activities, including trafficking vulnerable people from abroad, who are then forced to carry out criminal activity, or forcing people to work in hugely exploitative conditions, for no or low pay, and without any employment protections. We’ll be hearing more from specialists in this subject next month, and making recommendations for tougher action.
On Wednesday, we invited assistant commissioner Neil Basu to give evidence to the committee about counter-terrorism, along with Sara Khan, the government’s commissioner for countering extremism. A few months ago, I held an event in Old Trafford to enable constituents to input into mayor Andy Burnham’s work on countering hateful extremism, and I asked Ms Khan what she thought of the report produced for Andy, and about the concerns about the Prevent strategy that have been expressed to me by some constituents. Her replies were long on anecdote, but rather shorter on hard fact – you can watch the session here.
Despite all the time spent in committee rooms, I did make it into the chamber to listen to a statement from the Home Secretary on Thursday, in which he apologised that his department had wrongly demanded DNA evidence from some people applying to come to this country. While DNA can be used as evidence where someone seeks to join a family member already in this country, it seems immigration officials have been acting illegally in insisting it’s provided. It is one more example of how the government’s hostile attitude to immigrants is leading to cruel and wrong decisions. I was very concerned that the Home Secretary couldn’t answer my question about whether DNA evidence which the Home Office has collected without the right to do so would be destroyed. That’s something I’ll be pursuing.
I also managed to make it into a debate in our second chamber, Westminster Hall, ahead of the international day for freedom of religion or belief on Saturday. I know this is something many constituents feel really strongly about, and I’ve been proud to support the fabulous work of organisations like Open Doors UK, who campaign against the abuse of those around the world who face persecution just for practising their religion.
And I was back in the chamber to vote in favour of changes to abortion law, so that a women who has a termination would not face criminal penalties, and to require the government to issue guidance on the compatibility with human rights of Northern Ireland’s ban on abortion and same sex marriage. Both the UN and the Supreme Court have criticised Northern Ireland’s laws as incompatible with fundamental human rights, and it is urgent that the government take action to correct this.
Finally, it was good to join colleagues from Unison as they came to parliament to brief MPs on the ethical care charter, which sets out standards for care workers, including a right to be paid the living wage and for time travelling between appointments. Improving the conditions of care workers improves the quality of the care they’re able to give to the elderly and disabled people they look after, and I am very proud that my colleague Councillor Jo Harding is leading work to introduce the charter in Trafford.
And I was also very pleased to host the Traveller Movement’s briefing on their new report into policing of Traveller sites, and relations between police and Travelling communities. Travellers continue to suffer extreme discrimination and abuse, and while some police forces respond well, there are still examples of prejudice against Travellers among police officers. The report has many practical suggestions to make to address this situation, and I’ll be meeting ministers soon to demand action to ensure better relationships between Travellers, the police and settled communities.