PRIME MINISTER'S QUESTIONS
On Wednesday, I was selected to ask a question of the Prime Minister during his weekly House of Commons appearance.
I chose to focus on the crucial issue of those who may lose their home this Christmas, or in the coming months, as they cope with rising mortgage or rental costs. In my question, I asked the Prime Minister to put a temporary block on household repossessions over Christmas, something which was done during the pandemic, and in the equivalent period last year. I also asked him to do the same for rental evictions, as no struggling family or pensioner should be living in fear of losing their home over the festive period.
Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister denied my request, instead choosing to highlight the measures already put in place by the Government. Of course, these measures are nowhere near enough and over the past few months, the Liberal Democrats have proposed a range of policies to help households with their housing costs. There is of course more to be done and we will continue to press the Government on this in the new year.
Should you wish to view my PMQ, you can do so here.
VOTER IDENTIFICATION REGULATIONS
On Monday, I voted with my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the House of Commons against a statutory instrument which would have brought in elements of the Elections Act that would require any voter to carry photo identification if they wished to cast a ballot.
Though we were defeated in the Commons, on Tuesday morning Liberal Democrat Peers tabled a 'Fatal Motion' in the Lords in the hope of halting this new restriction on voting in its tracks. This kind of motion is the strongest opposition which can be taken in the House of Lords. However, despite our best efforts, the Conservatives voted it down.
Voter identification has no legitimate positives and a wealth of negatives. The Government claims that it will be needed to cut down on election fraud, however during the 2019 General Election, there were only 6 confirmed instances of a person trying to cast another individual's ballot. Additionally, I am extremely concerned that this change will mean that when the next election comes, many people who are not prepared will simply be unable to exercise their democratic rights. Furthermore, evidence from abroad has repeatedly demonstrated that voter ID laws disproportionately impact specific groups such as voters from ethnic minority backgrounds.
On Tuesday, my colleague Baroness Pinnock spoke on this subject in the House of Lords, asking that peers stop this policy. You can watch her speech by clicking the link here and jumping to 16:21:30.
VISA PROCESSING TIMES
On Wednesday, I attended a Westminster Hall Debate led by my colleague Wendy Chamberlain MP, which covered the on-going visa delays at the Home Office. My office deals with a high level of correspondence related to visa wait times, and I am acutely aware of the frustration and distress often caused as a result of delayed visa applications.
I raised a particularly urgent case that had been delayed for months, despite overwhelming compassionate grounds. I stressed that if the Home Office are to continue to have extremely stringent criteria under which visas can be expedited, they must be treated with the urgency they demand. If you require assistance with an outstanding visa application which has exceeded the service level agreement processing time set by the Home Office, please contact my office with the link here.
APPG FOR ETHNICITY TRANSPLANTATION AND TRANSFUSION
Earlier in December, I officially registered the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ethnicity Transplantation and Transfusion, which I have established with the help of the Team Margot Foundation.
This Foundation was set up in 2015 in memory of Margot Martini. Margot was just a toddler when she was diagnosed with two rare types of Leukaemia, and her mixed family background was a key obstacle to finding her a “perfect” tissue type match. Margot’s family established the charity to raise awareness of the need for more people, particularly those from Black, Asian, mixed heritage & minority ethnic communities, to register as blood, organ, stem cell and bone marrow donors.
I will be working with Team Margot to further their objectives on a national level through the APPG. It will do this through promoting policy change such as mandating accurate recording of NHS patient and donor ethnicity. I am really pleased to be elected as the Chair of this APPG and look forward to determining a full programme of events in the new year.
To read more about Team Margot, you can visit their website here.
HOMES FOR UKRAINE UPDATE
This week I received an update from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, regarding changes to the Ukrainian refugee sponsorship scheme, Homes for Ukraine. I was glad to hear that the ‘thank you’ payments will be extended from 12 months to a maximum duration of two years and that the minimum ‘thank you’ payments for hosts will be raised from £350 per month to £500 per month after 12 months residency. This applies to all families hosting anywhere in the UK.
In terms of Ukrainian refugees who require re-homing outside of a sponsor agreement, the Government has also launched a £500 million Local Authority Housing Fund. I understand that this will allow councils to address the immediate pressures as well as build a sustainable stock of affordable housing for the future. Indeed, Richmond and Kingston Councils have released new guidance for any Ukrainian refugee who is planning to move out of their sponsorship agreement. You can find this here for Richmond, and here for Kingston councils.
I recently recorded a video for Richmond Council about my own experiences hosting a Ukrainian refugee and the advice I would give to anyone also considering taking part in the scheme. You can find this video on my Twitter page here.
TELECOMS ANTENNA - KINGSTON
Last week, I met with residents from the Albany Flats in Kingston who have been recently made aware of plans to raise a telecoms antenna on the roof of their building despite residents' fierce opposition. I was shocked to discover that the company responsible are claiming powers to erect it on private property without the permission of the owners, an action which appears to be permitted under the terms of the 2017 Telecommunications Code.
It was shocking to learn that a company can build a structure on top of a building without the occupants' and owners' permission. Since the meeting, I have sought further clarification on the legislation that allows this action and requested a meeting with relevant government ministers to discuss this issue.
VISITS TO RICHMOND PARK'S STREET MARKETS AND CHRIST'S SCHOOL CITIZENSHIP DAY
It was a pleasure to be able to spend Sunday afternoon visiting the East Sheen Christmas Market and the Latchmere Rec Street Market. I was glad to see that despite the blistering cold, so many Richmond and Kingston residents came out to do their Christmas shopping and support their local businesses.
A few days before, I was lucky enough to visit Christ's School to view their Year 11 Citizenship Day projects. The pupils did fascinating projects on a range of subjects including the effect of social media on mental health, substance abuse, poverty, racism in sport, the environment and allergy awareness. They also addressed political topics including political participation and austerity. I found the pupils extremely well informed, passionate and articulate about their subjects. It was a pleasure to hear their thoughts.
Photo in Christ's School by Josh Pantlin, who shadowed me for the morning to take photos for his GCSE Photography project and also joined me in Parliament on Wednesday
WINTER WATER SAFETY
Following the terrible tragedy in Solihull, I wanted to encourage all of the parents in the constituency to talk to their children about the danger of walking on a frozen lake or pond. I would especially recommend this for children who travel independently. Ice that looks and feels solid can give way at any moment, so it's vital that we keep all of our children off of it.
Healthwatch has written to ask me to share some advice with constituents:
CHILDREN'S FLU VACCINATION: Flu can be serious for children. There is a simple nasal vaccination available, and if your child hasn't had their vaccination yet, community 'catch up' clinics are available. No appointment is needed. These are intended for children in years Reception to year 9 attending schools in Kingston and Richmond, or home schooled. CLICK HERE to read about the children's flu vaccine.
Monday 19th December: 9.30am-13.00pm at Sheen Lane Centre, Main Hall, 74 Sheen Lane, East Sheen, SW14 8LP
Tuesday 20th December: 9.30am -13.00pm at St. Mark’s Church Hall, Church Hill Road, Surbiton, KT6 4LS
Friday 6th January and Friday 13th January: 14.30 -16.00pm at Teddington Health and Social Care, Queens Road, Teddington TW11 0LR
STREPTOCOCCUS GROUP A: Group A streptococcus (GAS), also referred to as Strep A is a common bacterium. Lots of us carry it in our throats and on our skin and it doesn’t always result in illness. However, GAS does cause a number of infections, some mild and some more serious. It's spread by close contact with an infected person and can be passed on through coughs and sneezes or from a wound. Strep A can also lead to developing other illness such as scarlet fever. CLICK HERE for NHS advice about GAS CLICK HERE for information about scarlet fever.
PRESCRIPTION MEDICINES: With the holidays approaching next week, if you take prescription medicines, order and collect anything you might need in good time to prevent running out. Many pharmacies will close or have shortened hours, and there might be supply issues. You can order repeat prescriptions using the mobile NHS App or NHS Online, or contact your surgery practice by phone or in person. CLICK HERE for NHS online health and prescription services.
NHS 111 FIRST: If you've got a medical problem that might be urgent, please think 111 first. NHS 111 is open 24/7, every day of the year, and offers expert advice and support. If you need an urgent appointment with a healthcare professional, they can set this up for you. And if you do need to be seen in Accident & Emergency departments, they can often arrange an arrival time for you so that you don't have to wait as long as turning up unannounced. CLICK HERE for NHS 111.
If you're in a mental health crisis you can call 111 and select option 2 for urgent support, and if you or someone you care for is receiving palliative care you can call 111 option 3 for palliative care advice.
As usual - if you think something is life-threatening ring 999.
REMARKABLE HAM - THE UNTOLD STORY BY GORDON ELSDEN
While at the Latchmere Road Recreation Grounds on Sunday, I had the chance to speak to Ham resident and local historian Gordon Elsden. Gordon's book Remarkable Ham, starts 60 million years ago and carries readers on a journey through Ham's perhaps surprisingly chaotic and intriguing history up until the modern era.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of our local community, you can pick up a copy at Parade's End Bookshop at 406 Richmond Road.
THEFTS OF HIGH VALUE VEHICLES IN RICHMOND
Some of you may have seen the story about the increase in vehicle thefts in the borough. Many of these thefts were reported as being keyless thefts of high-value vehicles and the police are urging residents to take extra precautions.
Below are a few tips about how you can protect your vehicles from keyless theft
How to protect your keyless entry car
When at home keep your car key (and the spare) well away from the car.
Put the keys in a screened or signal-blocking pouch, such as a Faraday Bag.
Re-program your keys if you buy a second-hand car.
Turn off wireless signals on your fob when it's not being used.
Use a steering wheel lock or alarm.
Remember to also remove all visible bags and items from your vehicle to avoid being a victim of theft from vehicle offences. To an opportunist thief any bag, even if you know it has nothing valuable in it, could be reason enough to break into your car.