I’m writing this on my way home from London, and the situation in relation to local covid restrictions back in Manchester remains totally unclear. The pace of the rise in the infection is really alarming, and on Thursday morning the deputy chief medical officer warned Greater Manchester MPs that if even if the virus were stopped in its tracks right now, it would be only a further 2/3 weeks till our hospitals would be really struggling. So we desperately need action from the government to halt and reverse the spread of the virus.
But instead of taking the decisive steps needed, the government has failed to offer a sensible solution that will bring down infection rates and support workers and businesses financially. Instead, while MPs of all parties, from across Greater Manchester, were challenging the minister repeatedly to come up with a workable solution, Andy Burnham and local council leaders, including Trafford leader Andy Western, were in an equally fruitless and frustrating discussion with a senior adviser to Boris Johnson.
The government is sleepwalking us into disaster, and yet the latest advice that has now been published from its own independent scientific advisers, SAGE, is clear that what we need is a short ‘circuit break’ across the country, to buy us time to reverse the spread of the virus. Keir Starmer called for that earlier this week, to coincide with halfterm. But it’s disgraceful that the government had this advice three weeks ago, and hasn’t acted. Their three-tier system isn’t enough to protect the NHS and people’s livelihoods. We are not even into winter yet, the situation is desperately serious, and we need bold and urgent action.
Meantime, parliament has been debating another incredibly important matter, the Covert Human Intelligence Source bill. Many constituents have been in touch with me about this legislation, which covers the use of undercover agents to disrupt serious and organised crime, such as human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, and terrorism. These operations work – 27 terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 2017 – but currently they’re carried out in the shadows, and it is essential that they’re governed by proper legislation.
The government’s bill isn’t perfect, and Labour tabled a number of amendments to strengthen safeguards and protect human rights, including to reinforce the prohibitions against the use of torture, murder and rape, and the blacklisting of trade unionists. But with the government having a majority of 80 seats, we had a decision to take to allow the bill to proceed, even though our amendments weren’t accepted. The legislation does not however give undercover agents a licence to do what they like, it isn’t retrospective, and cannot impede campaigns for justice for in the ‘spycops’ cases, the events around Orgreave, or the abuse and secrecy experienced by Cammell Laird shipyard workers. We have to recognise the essential importance of these operations to our country’s security, and it is better that they are covered by statue than left in the shadows.
Dealing with these matters this week has been a sobering reminder of the exceptionally difficult and dangerous times we are living through, and the responsibility I have as your MP to act in the way I believe to be in the best interests of people in Stretford and Urmston, and of our country. I can honestly say I have never in my life known such challenging and testing times, and the decisions I make in parliament have never felt more important. You have my assurance that I treat them with the utmost care and seriousness.