This has been a varied, and very interesting, week of parliamentary business. But some of the most important events didn’t take place at Westminster. I travelled to Birmingham at the weekend to attend the Climate Citizens Assembly. The Assembly has been set up by a group of parliamentary select committees to look at options for achieving the government’s target for net zero carbon by 2050. 110 individuals from across the country came to listen to experts, ask questions and debate ideas, including one participant from Stretford. It was a privilege to listen in to the discussions that took place, and I’m full of admiration for the commitment of everyone involved – they will meet on three more weekends to finalise a report and recommendations for MPs.
On Monday, I was offsite outside parliament again, though this time only across the road in Central Hall, to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, and we heard very moving testimony on behalf of the different groups who were persecuted and murdered there: Jews, gay people, disabled people, Roma and Gypsies, children, women and men who were too sick and weak to work and be useful to the Nazis. We also remembered later genocides, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It was a very powerful, painful and moving event, and Central Hall was packed to the rafters. You can watch here.
It was appropriate to find myself later in the week participating in a debate on Gypsies and Travellers and planning policy. 75 years after the holocaust, they still experience abuse and discrimination. Planning rules don’t help, and proposals to make trespass a criminal offence won’t address the fundamental problem: there aren’t enough authorised sites for caravans to stop at. You can watch the debate here or read a transcript here.
I was also able to raise other issues which are of particular concern to my constituents. I participated in a debate on fire safety in high rise buildings. Although Trafford Housing Trust is finally replacing the cladding on blocks in Old Trafford, nearly three years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, many more measures are needed to protect residents in flats and shared occupancy buildings.
And in a debate on NHS funding, I asked the secretary of state about access to dental treatment for cancer patients. This had been raised with me by my amazing constituent Michele, who has started a petition which already has over 100,000 signatures calling on the government to make dental treatment free for those suffering or recovering from cancer. You can add your signature to Michele’s petition here.
The other big story of the week in parliament has been the removal of Northern Rail’s franchise, with the service now taken back into public ownership. I have received complaint after complaint about Northern over the past few years, and finally there is some action. Many of the problems won’t be solved overnight, and will require substantial new investment. But at last government ministers will have to take responsibility for the appalling service my constituents have endured, and act to improve the service. I took the opportunity to ask the rail minister in the chamber about compensation for delays and cancellations you can watch the exchange here or read the transcript here. He’s right to say the answer must be for trains to turn up on time. I’ll be keeping a very close watch to see that happens.
We reach the end of an era this week, with our departure from the European Union. I’m sad, sorry and concerned for the future, but leaving the EU can’t mean cutting ourselves off from our European neighbours. On our second floor corridor, we decided to hold a farewell safari party on Wednesday night, with each MP’s office representing a different country. Mine did double duty for Croatia and of course Scotland, we offered shortbread and Croatian chocolates to our guests, but I have to say the best hospitality was provided by our neighbours next door and across the corridor in Spain and France, with hams, cheeses, beer and wine, and suitable national music. The party came to an abrupt end when we had to go and vote – that’s the reason MPs can so rarely go outside Westminster!