I wrote to Chief Superintendent Lis Chapple, the Commander of the Metropolitan Police's South West Basic Command Unit, about the events at the vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham on Saturday night. I was deeply dismayed by the sight of police officers using force against women who had gathered to peacefully remember a woman who had died in violent circumstances, especially in the context of the fact that the man currently charged with her murder is a serving Metropolitan Police officer. I urged CS Chapple to investigate these events without delay, and am keen to see the resulting report.
In the wake of these events, a great deal of additional attention has been paid to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being considered in Parliament this week. This bill gives the police even more power to break up protests, and I continue to oppose it. The right to free speech is vital in preserving representative democracy, and we know that even under current circumstances it is possible to organise a responsible and safe protest.
My Liberal Democrats colleagues and I have submitted an amendment to the bill opposing it on the grounds that it "contains unjustified and draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly and protest, lengthens prison sentences without any evidence that doing so will deter people from crime or help to improve public safety, fails to address the inadequate criminal justice response to sexual assault and violence against women and girls, and fails to tackle racial injustice, including the disproportionate use of police powers against Black and other ethnic minority communities."
I hope that Conservative colleagues will rethink their support for this bill in light of recent events, and urge the Government to change their approach to policing and sentencing.
COMMONS DEBATE ON BUS SERVICES
I was pleased to be able to speak in the House of Commons debate on bus services yesterday. As the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on transport and a committed environmentalist, I welcomed the commitment to invest £3 billion in improving bus services. We must encourage people to choose alternatives to travelling by car, and better bus services is one of the quickest ways to get people onto public transport. Routes and frequency have been declining for years; our bus system needs bold investment if we are to make it the obvious choice for more travellers.
However, I have to question why the Secretary of State only commits to reviewing the part of the Bus Services Act of 2017 that prohibits local authority ownership, rather than scrapping those provisions altogether. We should not be putting restrictions on who can supply services. Riders just want a well-run and convenient service, whoever provides it. We need to consider these matters in the context of what delivers the best services and nothing else. You can see my remarks here.
WESTMINSTER HALL DEBATE ON EDUCATION
I also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday on the impact of Covid-19 on education. My biggest concern for schools at the moment is funding. Their budgets were stretched to the breaking point before the pandemic and they have not been given enough resources to cope with the added financial pressure.
They have had to cover the costs of PPE, extra staffing and all the measures they needed to
take to welcome children back into school, both now and back in September. Plus their income has been reduced from not being able to hire out their facilities outside school hours.
I am extremely concerned about the shortfall in their finances and wrote to the Education Secretary about it this week. My letter was co-signed by both Twickenham MP Munira Wilson and Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey. You can see our letter, with a more detailed explanation of our concerns, here. And you can see a clip of my remarks in Westminster Hall above.
SUPPORT FOR LEGAL AID
Today, during Justice Questions on Legal Aid sector support, I asked Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland what financial support the Government is offering to defense lawyers, who are only paid when a trial is finished, when their cases are not being heard due to the pandemic-related backlog in the Crown Courts. You can see my question and his not-very-direct response here.
NEW VACCINATION CENTRE AT QUEEN MARY's HOSPITAL
My constituents in the East Sheen, Mortlake, Barnes, Coombe Hill and Coombe Vale areas will be pleased to hear that a new mass vaccination centre opened at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton yesterday. As of today, the NHS booking site is accepting bookings for anyone over the age of 55, but that is expected to drop to 50 years of age this week. You can book your vaccination at the NHS website here.
I would suggest booking yourself into the mass vaccination centres if you can, to help take pressure off GP surgeries and allow them to keep more slots available for those who might struggle to get to a vaccination centre, or might need extra care or reassurance. For constituents in Richmond and Kew, the vaccination centre at the Harlequins stadium in Twickenham will be convenient, and for residents of Ham and Petersham and North Kingston the Hawks Road Clinic is your closest centre. You do not have to use a vaccination centre near home, though. If you travel in to London for work there are a number of centres available there, including one in Westminster Abbey itself!
In this week’s community spotlight, I would like to feature a younger constituent, Saffron of Barnes Primary School, who started the Daisy Project when the first lockdown began as a way to stay connected with friends and neighbours. In her own words, here is the inspiration for Saffron’s project:
"An elderly lady named Elizabeth, who lives opposite us, would come outside to her door by herself on a Thursday evening clap for the NHS. I felt an emotional connection seeing this and would question how she must be feeling on her own. There are 67 households on our avenue, and through using my imagination and thinking about how other people might be feeling -- old, lonely and in need of help -- I drew, cut-out, and hand-painted 67 daisies, posting them to each household with a letter and card asking them to put them in their window to signify they are ok and connecting everyone together.
Tens of daisies started to appear in windows, championing the message of connecting each other together. The message was loud and clear that we were all connected, irrelevant of age and if we lived on our own -- we were all together. It has opened new friendships with old and young which may have never happened before the pandemic of COVID-19.”
Saffron’s Headteacher was inspired by this, and approached Richmond Council to have daisies permanently painted outside of Barnes Primary school. The wonderful results of this are pictured here.
I also want to give a mention to a local business this week, Titfertat Hats in Richmond. Many local businesses have been hit hard during the pandemic and as we navigate the murky waters of a post-Brexit world. I’ve recently been speaking with Mary, who own designer hat business Titfertat Hats. With weddings having been cut back and many postponed, Mary's long-established business is struggling. So if you’re looking for a unique and stylish hat, do visit her collection at https://www.titfertathats.co.uk/
RICHMOND AND KINGSTON NEWS
APPLY FOR A POSTAL VOTE FOR THE UPCOMING LONDON ELECTIONS
On Thursday 6 May 2021, we will be voting for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly members. I am encouraging all of my constituents to vote by post in this election. There is no need to increase Covid-19 transmission by attending a polling station in person, when you can vote conveniently by post. Please register for your postal vote now, as election authorities are expecting a high volume of postal vote applications this year. You can also vote safely by appointing someone you trust to vote on your behalf, which is known as a proxy vote.
Residents who are not already on the electoral register must register by midnight on Monday 19 April.
MENTAL HEALTH HELP AVAILABLE FOR RICHMOND AND KINGSTON CHILDREN
I recently met with the Southwest London CCG team to discuss mental health care for children and young people in my constituency. They told me that they are working hard to meet the needs of the local community despite chronic underfunding of the service. They agree that waiting lists are too long and children do not always get the care they need when they need it.
One of the subjects we discussed was the complexity of the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service structure for parents trying to navigate the services. Following the meeting, the CAMHS team sent me a useful poster showing the different services available based on the child or young person's level of need. I thought local parents would be interested in seeing this visual representation of the services on offer.
NEW SEN REGISTER FOR CHILDREN WITH ADDITIONAL NEEDS
New Special Educational Needs and Disability Registers for both Kingston and Richmond have been launched this week. Achieving for Children will be contacting children, young people, and their families who were already on the old register and asking them to re-register under the new arrangements. All families who have a child registered for SEN Support or with an EHC plan will also receive a letter this week informing them of the new register, and encouraging them to sign up via a new online process.
AfC hopes that a wider, more inclusive register will help them to better understand the needs in the area and plan support. It will also enable AfC to provide information directly to a wider range of families and to consult directly with them about changes to services.
PUBLIC HEALTH VACCINE VIDEO
Residents with questions about the Covid-19 vaccine will be interested to see a new video featuring Shannon Katiyo, Richmond's director of public health. I recommend the video highly, and encourage you to share it with anyone you know who may have concerns. You can see the video here.