These days, we don’t often have votes in parliament. The government has been stuck in the Brexit mire for months, incapable of progressing either a deal to leave the EU or any other day-to-day parliamentary business. So there was great excitement on Tuesday night when we found ourselves voting five times.
The reason was the Northern Ireland bill which empowers UK government ministers to take executive decisions affecting Northern Ireland while the assembly at Stormont remains in abeyance. That isn’t in itself controversial – both Labour and the government want to see the Northern Ireland assembly up and running again as soon as possible, and we recognise measures are needed to enable government to continue in the meantime. But my very smart backbench colleagues Conor McGinn, Stella Creasy and Diana Johnson had also taken the opportunity to table amendments to the bill, legislating for same sex marriage and abortion rights in Northern Ireland to match those in the rest of the UK.
It is an utter disgrace that women in Northern Ireland seeking a termination have all too often had to make a traumatising journey to England to obtain one, and totally shaming that any part of the UK should fail to recognise equal marriage. So, we were delighted that the changes proposed were carried by very large majorities. There has been a sea change in attitudes in parliament on these matters in just a few years, and I was very proud to vote in favour of them on Tuesday night.
More voting excitement followed, however, with a series of amendments from Tory Dominic Grieve trying to prevent a future Boris Johnson government from pro-rogueing (suspending) parliament in order to force a no-deal Brexit through. The first of these votes was won by 294 to 293, a nail-bitingly close result – and the subject of a heated dispute between Labour and Conservative whips. It turned out one Tory had walked into the voting lobby through the exit door after the entry door had been locked. That’s strictly forbidden, but luckily an eagle-eyed Labour whip had spotted what had happened and was able to have their vote discounted from the final result.
We didn’t win any more votes on Tuesday, but MPs felt pleased with ourselves even so. At last we’d been doing our job, and it was a good day’s work.
Attending and chairing committees has been the other part of my day job in parliament this week. I’ve questioned the commissioner of the Metropolitan police on race discrimination, a group of parliamentary journalists on bullying and harassment in Westminster, and two parliamentary clerks on the arcane but very important issue of parliamentary privilege (after last week’s advertisement in my blog for Erskine May online, this is another one for parliamentary geeks! Click here to find out more).
And there have been some very important constituency related events this past week. As ever, I was honoured to join the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones to the terrible lung cancer mesothelioma, at their annual commemoration event last week. This disease is contracted from contact with asbestos, which many sufferers were exposed to while at work, and even today, the risk remains. Students from Urmston Grammar came to tell me about their important work on brain injury and on autism. I was delighted to visit Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School to hear about their work to protect the environment and see their recycled eco bricks – thank you to Year 1 student Thomas for inviting me. As ever, I really enjoyed Trafford Music Service’s summer concert, held this year at the Lowry. Congratulations to all the young performers. And the annual NHS party in the park was bigger and better than ever, and I was delighted to present my NHS parliamentary award nominees with certificates for their achievements. Well done to Becoming a Doctor, Jenny Maines from Trafford MS Society, the Kramblers walking group, and especially to LMCP Care Link, who, as regional winners, joined me in Westminster at the national awards ceremony this week.
I can’t conclude this blog without reference to two important and devastating reports this week, that I feel deeply ashamed of as a Labour member of parliament. This first is last night’s Panorama programme carrying reports from former Labour party staff about the party’s handling of allegations of antisemitism. The Labour party staff I know, both past and present, are honourable, principled people who work incredibly hard for the party, and I treat their reports with the utmost seriousness. It is totally wrong to seek to discredit those staff, and, as I have said before, it is simply intolerable for our party not to act swiftly and decisively to stamp out all antisemitic behaviour, wherever and whoever it comes from, without delay.
The second report, from Gemma White QC, makes important recommendations to address bullying and harassment of MPs’ staff by their employer MPs. I know I am privileged to be a member of parliament, and that I simply could not do the job without my wonderful staff. No one should come to work fearing bullying or harassment. While Ms White acknowledges many MPs display good employment practice, as chair of the Committee on Standards which oversees MPs’ conduct, I shall be giving this deeply troubling report much attention in the coming weeks.