Thank you very much to everyone who attended my Fairtrade coffee morning last week. It was great to be able to host this lovely event once again, after two years when it couldn’t take place due to the pandemic. I’m thrilled to report we raised £160 for Action Aid, to help their work supporting producers in developing economies. Special thanks to Shirley, who baked the fabulous cakes.
Congratulations also to the wonderful women of Trafford who were recognised for your contribution to our community at our International Women’s Day awards ceremony last Friday. Thanks to Cllr Jo Harding for organising and to Flixton Girls’ School for hosting the event.
Parliamentary business has rightly been dominated by the continuing appalling situation in Ukraine, and on Tuesday, Ukraine’s President Zelensky gave a very powerful address via video link to members of the House of Commons. MPs are unanimous in paying tribute to his leadership, and to the courage of the Ukrainian people. We also receive informative daily briefs from the Ministry of Defence about what is happening on the ground, and what we are hearing is horrifying. We are all especially disgusted at news of the attack on a maternity and children’s hospital, and shocked at the images that we are seeing on television and social media.
On Monday night, the House of Commons rushed through the Economic Crime bill, so that we can take stronger action against Russian oligarchs in the UK. We’ve waited far too long for this legislation, and while it is a relief to see progress at last, Labour continues to push for it to be tightened further. Similarly, while it’s welcome that more wealthy Russians have faced sanctions against their assets in the UK, we are still way behind other countries who have sanctioned many more.
On Thursday, the Home Secretary announced some changes to the visa scheme which enables Ukrainian refugees to join family members here. From next week, some information can be provided online to speed up the application process. But with hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, Labour continues to press for a much more generous and extensive humanitarian scheme.
No one can doubt the terrible impact of the war on Ukrainian families. But its economic effects are also going to be felt here in the UK. Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday to highlight concerns about soaring energy prices – and pressures in the international oil and gas markets as a result of the war will only make things worse.
It was good to welcome Kellogg’s to parliament this week to hear about their impressive work with RNIB on making packaging accessible using NaviLens technology. Information on packaging is often too small for blind and partially sighted people to read, and this new technology enables shoppers’ smartphones to detect a unique on-pack code and access all labelling information such as the description, allergen details, ingredients, and calorific values. The first accessible boxes of Special K appeared on the shelves in January, and Coco Pops (manufactured in Stretford) are coming next, so do look out for them!
I was delighted to meet my constituent Zoe Ashbridge, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, and a finalist in the Chemistry category at the STEM for Britain poster conference. She carefully described her work on knotted molecules to me, and it was absolutely fascinating – although I can’t pretend to have understood all of it!
I finished my week in Westminster on a tour of parliament’s basement. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I’m a member, will hold a hearing next week into the restoration and renewal plans for the Houses of Parliament, and we went to see what work needs to be done. The building may be iconic, but I was shocked at what I saw, and the conditions in which engineers and others are working. A massive restoration programme is needed to update the heating system, ventilation, fire safety and digital access; to improve accessibility, repair the stonework, replace roof tiles and tackle water leakages; and to address a host of other issues. But despite the desperate need to make the building functional and safe for visitors, staff and MPs, work has been stalled by political agendas. I’m absolutely clear that we need to begin on this major programme as a matter of urgency, and that we will have to vacate the building and move into temporary premises while significant structural and other work takes place. That will ensure the restoration can take place as quickly as possible, and provide the best value for money, not just for today’s taxpayers, but for many generations to come.