This week Parliament was recalled to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. As many of you will doubtless have seen, the contributions made by MPs from all parties were enlightening and often distressing, laying bare the devastating reality of the government’s actions and highlighting the moral and diplomatic responsibility we have to Afghan nationals who have bravely supported our armed forces for 20 years.
As the crisis continues to unfold, millions of innocent people across Afghanistan are fearing for their lives. Women and girls are terrified that their liberties and rights are about to be permanently extinguished. This rapid collapse was not inevitable. It is the direct result of the decisions taken by President Biden, the UK Government and other coalition forces.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for an immediate commitment to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees as a bare minimum. The priority should be to bring those most at risk to safety through an emergency Women and Girls Resettlement Scheme. The Government’s resettlement scheme, with its vague promise of ‘long-term’, kicks this into the grass when Afghans need help now, today.
Various reports in the media this week have further highlighted the unforgivable level of ineptitude that appears to be running through the government at this moment in time. Our position is clear: Dominic Raab must go. At a time of international crisis, it is imperative that our Foreign Secretary acts with the urgency called for by the situation. That he could not bring himself to leave his holiday beach and pick up the phone to the speak to his Afghan counterpart about evacuating translators is shameful. Further reports today appear to confirm that not even his junior ministers made the call on his behalf. His wilful complacency has potentially put the lives of brave interpreters, who supported our troops, at risk. If he fails to leave of his own accord, the Prime Minister must demonstrate leadership and sack him.
I was personally grateful for the opportunity to co-sign a number of letters this week in relation to the crisis. The first was a letter from female MPs to former Afghan MP, Elay Ershad, expressing support and solidarity with her and women MPs in Afghanistan. Elay inspired us when she joined us in the House of Commons in 2018 and spoke of her hopes of freedom and security for the people she represented. To read the letter, click here.
The second letter was sent to the Home Secretary calling on her department to bolster the support it can provide to Afghans in need. Our calls included, but were not limited to, introducing a simplified process to grant immediate protection to Afghans presently awaiting a decision on their asylum application and immediately publishing now guidance reflecting the danger faced by numerous social groups, including women and girls, LGBTIQ+ people and human rights defenders. To read the letter in full, click here.
A number of constituents have emailed me looking for guidance on what they can do to help their Afghan relatives relocate to the UK. At the moment, anyone who qualifies for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) programme is being prioritised. More information on the scheme can be found here, while the application form can be accessed here.
In the event your relative does not qualify for the programme, or if you are unsure, please send through the following information and I will see if there is anything I can do to help:
Relative/s in Afghanistan details:
Date of Birth:
Relationship to constituent:
Home Office reference number:
Passport / travel document number:
Have they already obtained a visa:
Do they have a visa application pending (if so, please provide the reference):
Individual(s)’ contact details:
Any supporting documents
I was also grateful to see that the Aligator's Mouth, an independent bookstore in Richmond, will be donating all of its profits from tomorrow to Choose Love, a charity which provides aid and vital services to women and children who are fleeing the country. The pledge will apply to books bought in-store and through their website (but not through Bookshop UK), so please do consider purchasing a book from them.
The Secretary of State for Health has now instructed the NHS to offer all young people aged 16 to 17 in England a first dose of a vaccine by Monday 23 August to give them protection before returning to school. The drive to offer a first jab by this date will allow the two weeks necessary to build maximum immunity. NHS England has launched a new online walk-in site finder to help 16 and 17-year-olds find the nearest available centre.
Adults and children will now be free to return to work, attend school, and meet friends and family as the protection from vaccines replaces the need for contact isolation from Monday 16 August. However, I would still urge you all to exercise caution. We still have some way to go before full vaccination is achieved, and with schools shortly reopening, we must do all we can do avoid another peak in cases in the autumn.
This week, LBHF announced that it has approved a £6 million funding package for the stabilisation works for Hammersmith Bridge. For those of you unaware of the particulars, stabilisation refers to the first phase of works required to make the Bridge safe for pedestrians and cyclists to cross. Its recent reopening to these groups was never envisioned as a long-term solution, so I am pleased to see this funding approved.
Our attention, however, must now turn immediately to the strengthening of the Bridge, which is the second phase of works and will repair it such that it can carry motor vehicles. The bill for this will be far higher, which makes government funding absolutely imperative. I am concerned, from recent conversations, that despite their positive rhetoric earlier this summer they are once again proving uncooperative. There are still thousands of people who rely on cars and buses, and it’s therefore essential we restore access at the earliest possible opportunity. That starts with a funding agreement, at the centre of which must be a considerable government contribution.
In terms of next steps, according to LBHF, they have commissioned an engineer to consider two current options for the strengthening of the Bridge, with the Fosters + Partners/COWI proposal being one of them. The other is a TfL proposal. For more information, click here. I am hopeful that we hear more news on this in coming weeks as to what proposal is deemed viable and how we can expect it to be funded.
On Wednesday, the July retail prices index was revealed by the ONS to be 3.8%. Typically, annual increases in rail fares are governed by this figure, plus another 1%. It is therefore possible that rail fares could increase by 4.8% in January, the steepest increase since 2012.
This would come as a hammer blow to all the people that have seen their income dwindle during the pandemic and now need to return to their workplace. I am also concerned about the environmental implications of this as I fear it could disincentivise commuters from greener, less polluting forms of transport.
Ultimately, we need fares frozen for at least the next year and fundamental reform of all fares, as well as how increases are calculated. I was pleased to supply comment on this for the Times, which you can read here.
FREE NOW INITIATIVE
FREE NOW, the mobile taxi app, has launched an initiative in partnership with the Department of Health & Social Care as part of its JabCab campaign, which is aimed at increasing vaccine uptake amongst those aged 18+ in London.
Under the initiative FREE NOW will reimburse trips up to a value of £20 per person - 2x £10 for a journey to and from the vaccination centre, subject to terms and conditions. For more information, click here.
Internet Matters, an organisation which provides parents with the tools and guidance they need to help keep their children safe online, has launched a new campaign, ‘Play Together/Play Smart’, in partnership with the leading video games publisher Electronic Arts. The campaign aims to give parents a greater understanding of the benefits and risks for children from playing games online, as well as demystifying the parental controls available to keep children safe.
The campaign provides a one-stop online hub for parents and carers with step-by-step advice on how to set up family controls, set boundaries on screen time, deal with issues such as in-game spending and support their child’s development.
The campaign is informed by new research from Internet Matters (July 2021) which shows parents who get involved with their child’s play are more likely to recognise the benefits for their children – from social development to improving problem-solving skills and concentration levels. The research also shows that despite parents’ increasing concerns around how much time kids spend playing games, and video gaming with strangers (rising 43% and 37% in two years), only 42% speak to their children about safe and responsible gaming and only 37% have set up parental controls. Of those who haven’t set controls, almost six out of 10 parents (58%) are unaware of them, do not know how to set them up, or think it is too difficult. Yet, of the parents who have already set parental controls, 80% said it was easy to do.
THE VINE ROAD PROJECT CONSULTATION
The Vine Road Project team wants to hear the views of young people on the proposals to improve the local park. There has been a fantastic response to the project so far with residents supportive of a redevelopment of the park, however The Vine Road Project wants to know what younger park users’ views are.
If you are 18 or under, make your voice heard - your views are important. The online survey takes just two minutes to complete.
IDLING ACTION’S FLEET AND BUSINESS WEBINAR
Idling Action London is hosting a webinar on September 1st to explore how the Engines Off campaign is supporting businesses and fleet operators to tackle avoidable air pollution caused by vehicle engine idling, thereby protecting the health of outdoor workers and the wider public. The webinar will cover the importance of clean air for occupational health, what business partners are doing to reduce air pollution, and how you can support the Engines Off Campaign.
Register for your place here.
FLY TIPPING IN KINGSTON
Kingston Council is working with its waste contractor, Veolia, to reduce incidents of fly tipping across the borough. Although Kingston had some of the fewest reports of fly tipping in 2019-20, more work needs to be done to deter criminal fly tippers and educate residents and businesses to dispose of their waste safely and legally. Fly tipping has a financial impact on council tax payers by diverting resources away from other essential services, and it has the potential to damage the environment by polluting the soil and water supplies.
To find out how you can help to reduce fly tipping, visit this link.
KINGSTON RIVERSIDE DEVELOPMENT
In Autumn 2020, a partnership of Kingston Council, Kingston University, Kingston First and the charity Creative Youth were successful in obtaining £200,000 from The Mayor of London’s Getting Building Fund specifically for these public realm improvements.
We are delighted to announce that Weston Rengifo Architectural Practice (WR-AP) and Kingston Academy’s design idea will be implemented, creating a vibrant scene at the riverside around John Lewis and Kingston Bridge. As the project starts there will be opportunities for the public, businesses and residents to engage and feed into the design on the Let’s Talk Portal.