Updated: May 22
SOARING FOOD PRICES
This week, I appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live’s morning panel to discuss the events of the week. The discussion focused around the cost of living, and particularly on the rising cost of food in supermarkets.
I took this opportunity to highlight the Liberal Democrats' campaign to crack down on supermarkets profiteering from food inflation. Following our calls, the Competition and Markets Authority has opened an investigation into certain businesses.
I also spoke about our 5 Point Plan to tackle soaring food prices. This plan involves boosting food production through further support for farmers, extending free school meals for children for every child in poverty and cutting energy costs for business. Should you wish to see a clip of me on the show, you can do so here, and you can read more about our plan to tackle food prices here.
DIGITAL MARKETS, COMPETITION AND CONSUMERS BILL
On Wednesday, I spoke in a debate on the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which strengthens the regulatory framework to counter the dominance of tech giants and encourage competition. For too long, smaller start-up companies have been driven out of the market or swallowed up by big tech firms engaging in unfair, anti-competitive market practises. I welcome this legislation and urge the Government not to bend to pressure by big tech to water down the Bill.
I am also pleased to see vital consumer protections strengthened in this Bill. These are long overdue and should benefit many constituents. In particular, this legislation includes measures designed to tackle ‘subscription traps’ and to clamp down on fake reviews.
I would like to see the Government go further to protect small businesses selling online. Unlike large organisations, small and micro-businesses do not have the resources to take action when they are treated badly, for example by Intellectual Property theft. In the debate, I raised the case of my constituent Yasemin who owns an umbrella design company. Yasemin has been victim to copyright infringement by her Chinese manufacturer and has been unable to remove counterfeit links from Amazon. You can watch a clip of my contribution here, or read a full transcript of the debate here.
PARENTAL ALIENATION IN FAMILY COURTS
In family courts, unregulated psychologists are often used to diagnose and give expert witness testimony on ‘parental alienation’ – when one parent has attempted to ‘alienate’ their child from the other. This reliance on assessments made by self-declared experts is placing thousands of vulnerable women and children at risk. Allegations of parental alienation are often made against victims in cases of domestic abuse and coercive control, and parental alienation has no accepted definition or academic basis.
I have spoken about this issue with constituents who have told me just how damaging it can be. Professional associations and international bodies including the United Nations have also highlighted the failings of the current system.
During Oral Questions to the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday, I asked the Government to commit to a full inquiry into the use of parental alienation in family courts and to ensure experts are qualified and professionally regulated. I was disappointed that the Minister refused to take action, and will continue to press. You can watch a clip of my question here, or read a transcript here.
MULLIVAIKAL TAMIL REMEMBERANCE DAY
Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal massacre in Sri Lanka. My thoughts are with the Tamil community in my constituency and around the world this week.
I was pleased to be able to sign the book of remembrance in Parliament this week on behalf of my constituents. I also attended a briefing session with the Minister for the Indo-Pacific to receive an update on the current situation in Sri Lanka and action the UK Government is taking to support democratic and political reform. I will continue to use my voice in Parliament to fight for justice for the Tamil community for the genocidal war crimes which took place during the Civil War.
COFFEE MORNING FOR UKRAINIAN GUESTS AND HOSTS
Last Friday I had the pleasure of holding a coffee morning for Ukrainian guests and hosts at Richmond Synagogue. So many organisations have come together to support Ukrainian guests, including the Synagogue, Refugees Welcome in Richmond, the Ukrainian Social Club and both Kingston and Richmond Councils. It was a pleasure to hear so many Ukrainians say how welcomed and supported they have felt by our community.
Olha, who fled here from Luhansk near the beginning of the war, told me how after she arrived with her local host, she was encouraged by her host to bring her infirm mother over as well. Both ladies came to my coffee morning, where Olha spoke movingly about how much she appreciated the kindness she had received from her host and the community here.
Olha also said, though, that she was desperate to go home to pick up the pieces of her life in Ukraine, and was equally grateful to the UK for their military aid to Ukraine. Her words of thanks were a powerful reminder that the assistance we offer to Ukraine as a country is as personal to Ukrainian citizens as the home opened to her in Richmond.
Thank you to Rabbi and Mrs Klein at the synagogue for the use of the hall and the lovely refreshments.
RICHMOND MAY FAIR
I had the pleasure of opening the Richmond May Fair last Saturday. It was wonderful to see this delightful event return for the first time since the pandemic. I enjoyed the food and drink, craft stalls and live music and had a great time speaking to constituents about the pleasure of having the Fair back. Congratulations to the hardworking organisers who put on a wonderful day for the whole community.
I know that many residents have been concerned about the criminal incidents that have taken place in the constituency this week. I am pleased to say that I have seen a genuinely positive response from the police to residents' concerns. Specialist units have been assigned to assist with individual cases and a number of arrests have been made in relation to a mugging in Barnes last night.
Met Police leaders also emailed me this week to ask me to encourage shop owners in the constituency to avoid leaving cash in their tills overnight, following recent burglaries in the area.
The police in our constituency work exceptionally hard and go above and beyond the call of duty, but the unfortunate truth is that after years of cuts, they do not have the resources they need. Please join my calls on the Mayor and the Met to re-establish a police station in the community. If you have already signed, I would ask that you share it as widely as possible. You can find the link to the petition here.
THAMES WATER: RIVER ABSTRACTION PLANS
Many residents will have seen in the media this week that water companies have apologised for dumping millions of litres of sewage into our rivers and streams and offered to invest £10 billion in their sewage infrastructure to prevent further issues. This apology comes with the inexcusable caveat that customers will need to pay for this investment through increased bills for years to come. It clearly demonstrates why consumers have lost all trust in water companies and shows a clear lack of respect for our communities.
Against this backdrop, I was appalled to learn this week that despite consulting with Richmond residents for months, Thames Water have failed to contact the Kingston residents who would be most impacted by the construction of their proposed river abstraction scheme on a section of Ham Lands. Construction will involve several thousand journeys by HGVs, which will travel at least partly along residential roads. Local people should have been advised as soon as plans were released, rather than buried in extensive technical documents.
I have written to Thames Water on this point and urged them in the strongest possible terms to ensure all affected Kingston residents are invited to respond to the next round of consultations. If you would like to learn more about their proposed scheme, you can do so with the link here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE: WANDSWORTH BRIDGE CLOSURE Many residents will have seen that, unfortunately, Wandsworth Bridge will be closed for repairs for 10 weeks from the 24th of July. Combined with the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, this could mean a period of very heavy traffic through Putney. This news has highlighted just how vital it is that the Government finally commits to getting Hammersmith Bridge reopened as quickly as possible. In the coming week, I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Transport highlighting just how damaging his departments inaction has been to our local community and requesting his full support for the Hammersmith Bridge strengthening works. If you would like to learn more about Wandsworth Bridge's closure, you can read Wandsworth Council's information page here. SCHOOLS VISITS TO PARLIAMENT
The Education and Engagement Service in Parliament has asked me to encourage local teachers to bring pupils into Parliament for a visit. They will be releasing their Autumn Term 2023 school visit sessions on Thursday 25 May. These visits are an unforgettable learning experience with a tour of the Palace of Westminster and a curricula-linked workshop. I try to join the pupils from schools in my constituency for a question and answer session during their visit if Parliamentary business permits.
If teachers or schools would like to be kept up to date about these opportunities, please subscribe to their newsletter. This will ensure that you will be notified whenever booking slots go live. Schools will need their postcode and URN to register.
NEW EXHIBITION AT NATIONAL ARCHIVES: SPIRIT OF INVENTION
The National Archives' Chief Executive has written to ask me to let constituents know about Spirit of Invention, a new exhibition at The National Archives, opening Saturday 27 May.
The exhibition has been inspired by the incredible inventions found in the Board of Trade design registers. These huge cloth-bound volumes officially registered ‘useful designs’ or inventions from people between 1843 and 1884. From 27 May until 29 October 2023, the gallery will be transformed into a creative workshop where visitors can experiment, explore and create using a range of materials and hands-on activities to unlock their inner inventor. You can book your place here.
Ahead of the exhibition opening, they invite members of the public to get into the inventing spirit and submit designs for the chance to have them featured as part of the exhibition. Use your imagination and creativity to come up with a new invention. Submit your invention idea here!
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week this week, the local NHS has asked me to remind constituents of the free mental health support services available, and encourage those who are struggling with their mental health to come forward. NHS Talking Therapies offer effective and confidential treatments for common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression. Help is available in person, by video, over the phone or as an online course. You can refer yourself directly without a referral from a GP, or a GP can refer you. If you live in Richmond and want more information click here. And if you live in Kingston and want more information click here.
The 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line - 0800 028 8000 - is there if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis and need urgent help. It is open to everyone: both children and adults of all ages, and to people who haven’t previously accessed mental health services. The crisis line’s team of trained NHS mental health professionals will help you to get the care and support you need.
If you are Deaf, you can call the Mental Health Crisis Line using Sign Live Video Relay Service (VRS) here.
EFFICIENT HOMES SHOW
Constituents are invited to Hollyfield School in Surbiton tomorrow (Saturday May 20) for the borough’s first ever Efficient Homes Show. This free Show has been created to help people learn about ways to make their homes energy-efficient while saving money and reducing their impact on the planet. Over 30 local businesses, universities and organisations will be there on the day, exhibiting a wide range of products and services and providing the opportunity to talk to experts about what could work best for your home and budget. There will be a variety of talks throughout the day for those interested in insulating their home, wanting to find out more about improving their home or are curious about green skills and job opportunities. Attendees will be able to learn about training courses and the prospect of over 600,000 ‘green’ jobs, which will be created in London by 2030. These jobs will be fundamental to achieving the energy efficiency improvements needed across the capital and encompass design, manufacture, installation, project management and more. Full information and free tickets can be found on here.
HALF TERM ACTIVITIES
This half term holiday there are a choice of free and affordable family activities on the Connected Kingston Website including free family tennis and lots of activities in Kingston's parks and recreation areas. Families receiving free school meals will also receive school meal vouchers for the week worth £15. If you think you might qualify for free school meals please visit the council's website.
RICHMOND VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITIES
The Richmond CVS Volunteer Fair will take place on Thursday 25th May at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult Community College from 2pm – 6pm. It's a great opportunity to meet local charities, community groups and other organisations that are actively recruiting volunteers. It's also the perfect chance to have a chat with others who are already volunteering. You can get your ticket here.
Richmond Good Neighbours is also looking for volunteers to help provide local support to elderly and housebound residents. Volunteering is flexible and can fit around other commitments. It might include shopping, befriending, lifts to appointments or taking someone on an outing. Even an hour a month is valuable. If you would like to volunteer please email email@example.com or see their website here.
The Father Thames Trust will work alongside the Richmond Bat Species Action Plan Group, The Thames Landscape Strategy, and Habitats and Heritage to survey bats along the River Thames. If you want to learn more about bats and volunteer for the project they will provide all the training and equipment you need to contribute to the most comprehensive study conducted in the UK on this elusive and fascinating species. They will be conducting surveys with volunteers from May to November. To find out more and to volunteer please contact Ken MacKenzie on: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 07944 698607.
FREE COUCH TO 5K RUNNING PROGRAMME!
As a runner myself, I was delighted to hear that former Council Leader and inveterate Parkrunner, Serge Lourie, is leading a free Couch to 5K+ programme in Kew from 18:30 to 19:30 every Wednesday from 31 May. Joiners will meet at LiveWell in Kew by the Richmond Medical Centre, Quadrant House, Levett Square, Kew, TW9 4FF.
The programme will follow the NHS app and is intended to help people achieve their goals of getting fitter, relieving stress, enjoying themselves and making new friends. Thanks to support from Richmond Council, there is no charge. To find out more or to register, please contact Serge on email@example.com or call 020 8876 3545