I’m writing this in the middle of the government reshuffle, watching ministers coming and going. There’s always a very tense mood in parliament when reshuffles are going on – for the Tories, there’s a nervous wait today to find out if they’ll lose, keep or get a new job. For the rest of us, it’s an interesting spectator sport, coupled with a degree of uncertainty about the new ministers we might have to deal with in future. In recent weeks, I’ve been fixing up meetings with a range of government ministers to discuss everything from access to dental treatment to housebuilding standards to chaperone arrangements for children appearing in public concerts – all important matters that have been raised with me in the constituency. I’m now watching anxiously to make sure either that those ministers stay in their place, or that their replacements will honour the arrangements for meetings with me.
The reshuffle isn’t the only change of plan in parliament this week. Having met constituents and the police to discuss crime in the Urmston area last Friday, I was hoping to participate in a debate that had been scheduled to discuss police funding. But the government cancelled it so that it could introduce emergency legislation to prevent those convicted of terrorist offences from being released early from prison without an assessment by the Parole Board. Labour hasn’t opposed this measure, but I did ask the Lord Chancellor why existing powers such as the ability to recall an offender to prison if licence conditions are breached hadn’t apparently been strong enough to prevent the recent terrible attacks at Fishmongers Hall and in Streatham. Meantime, the debate on police funding has been rescheduled for later in February.
On Monday, we debated a number of measures that will affect the so-called Windrush generation, who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries after the second world war to help rebuild our economy. Many years later, when they’ve worked hard and paid their taxes, been joined by their children, many of whom have grown up here, and now have grandchildren who were born here, some were told they’d no right to be in the UK, denied access to NHS care and other public services, or even told to leave the country. The government eventually apologised, and this week announced the compensation scheme that it will introduce for those who were treated so shamefully.
But before we could debate the compensation arrangements, the government got itself off on the wrong foot by announcing its intention to deport a number of foreign national offenders straightaway to Jamaica. The group facing deportation appears to include people in exactly the situation of the Windrush families, having lived here since children, worked and paid taxes, and if they’ve been convicted of a crime, often it was years ago, and they have long since served their sentence. Many haven’t visited Jamaica in decades, and have no family, friends or contacts there. I know many of my constituents will ask why foreign national offenders should be allowed to stay here, but the situation is really complicated, some may even be British nationals, and in fact, later that evening, the High Court actually halted some of the deportations. If you want to read a really interesting explanation of how these cases often aren’t straightforward, I really recommend this by an ex worker in Holloway prison. I asked the minister what action had been taken to protect any children for whom those facing deportation might have responsibility – watch my question here.
This week also saw important announcements from the Prime Minister about funding for HS2, buses, and walking and cycling routes. Greater Manchester’s walking and cycling adviser, Chris Boardman, had been in parliament earlier in the week, and I attended an event at which he was present to discuss the importance of designing safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians – something Trafford Council are now working very hard on. I must admit the Prime Minister’s announcements did sound good, but I’ll believe them when I actually see the cash, and as I pointed out, in Greater Manchester we’re still waiting to hear about funding for ‘greening’ our buses, taxis and freight vehicles. You can watch my question, and Boris Johnson’s (non) answer here.
Parliament now takes a half term break, so I’ll have time to spend in the constituency next week, visiting local groups, and meeting up with constituents. There are always lots of people I want to catch up with – last week, it was great to meet members of Carrington Parish Council, residents at Oakfield Court in Urmston, and the Circle Court Tenants Association. If there’s anything you’d like to discuss with me, or you belong to a group or project that you’d like me to visit, please don’t hesitate to let me know, and we’ll look to get a date in the diary. It does tend to get quite booked up, but I’ll always do everything I can to get out and about to see my constituents.