RESPONSE TO THE QUEEN’S SPEECH
On Wednesday, I spoke in the final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech to emphasise my key areas of concern for the legislative year ahead. You can read my full speech here.
The debate had a particular focus on achieving economic growth. Earlier this week, the ONS released their latest labour market statistics, which showed that UK unemployment has reached its lowest level since 1974. In my speech, I discussed how these headline figures mask more concerning features of the UK economy such as the widening skills shortage, the lag of wage growth in comparison to inflation, and the impact that increased barriers to trade is having on growth.
It is impossible to discuss economic growth without mentioning the cost-of-living crisis. In the debate, I urged the Government to invest in a comprehensive scheme to insulate homes across the country, especially for those in social housing and for low-income households. Improving household energy efficiency is one of the cheapest and most sustainable ways of dealing with soaring energy bills and would offer families some much-needed protection against rising bills ahead of the autumn, when the energy price cap is set to increase yet again. I also discussed my concerns for the autumn during a panel discussion on ITV London last night. You can see a clip of my contribution here.
The Liberal Democrats tabled a comprehensive amendment to the Queen’s Speech which would have helped deal with the cost-of-living crisis by reducing VAT from 20% to 17.5%, and imposing a windfall tax on the largest oil and gas companies to pay for an emergency support package for low-income families. I discussed the benefit of implementing a windfall tax during Cross Questions on LBC on Wednesday night (clip here). I also highlighted the impact that this uncertainty has on businesses and individuals during an appearance on Newsnight (clip here).
In my contribution to the Queen’s Speech debate, I also pressed the Government on the need to improve access to health services, especially mental health. The pandemic has accelerated a growing trend of increased mental health issues among young people, and both schools and parents are telling me that they are really struggling to cope. The Liberal Democrats are therefore calling for a dedicated mental health professional to be placed in every school. You can see a clip of my contribution here.
In the Queen’s Speech, the Government committed to improving the UK’s transport infrastructure and passing legislation to modernise the railways. I was therefore pleased to speak in the Transport debate on Thursday, in my capacity as Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Transport, to highlight the areas that I believe must be addressed. I spoke about the importance of accessibility, funding for TfL, and increasing uptake of electric vehicles.
I also spoke about the continued lack of a strategic plan for the future of Hammersmith Bridge and I urged the Government to engage more intensively with Hammersmith and Fulham Council on the funding for the strengthening works. I was also able to raise Hammersmith Bridge at a Public Accounts Committee session with the Department for Transport (DfT) on Monday. DfT informed me that they are awaiting the business case for full strengthening works from Hammersmith and Fulham Council, before a conversation on funding will begin. I will continue to keep constituents updated with any new developments.
Further, during the debate I asked the Minister to meet with me to discuss the regulation of rickshaws, which could be included in the upcoming Transport Bill. I believe that rickshaws offer great potential as a means of transport across the constituency, especially for those who are unable to participate in active travel. I very much hope to be given the opportunity to discuss this with the Minister.
You can see a clip of my contribution to the Transport debate here.
SPEECH TO THE RENT REVIEWERS CONFERENCE
In the last Parliamentary session, I tabled a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) to ban upward-only rent review clauses in commercial rent agreements. Such clauses are commonplace in the UK commercial rent market, and they dictate that on review, rent can only go up or remain the same, regardless of market conditions.
I was invited by Index, a conference for rent review experts, to give a speech on upward-only rent reviews and to answer questions on my reasons for tabling the Bill. It was a great opportunity to hear feedback on my proposals from experts in the field. Like many PMB’s, my Bill was not allocated Parliamentary time for a Second Reading and therefore fell at the end of the last session. I was also unfortunately unsuccessful in the PMB ballot to be allocated time for debate in the current session. I am therefore exploring other ways to support businesses struggling with rising commercial rent agreements.
On Monday, I hosted a reception in Parliament to celebrate the NSPCC's 'Fight for a Fair Start' campaign. Attendees included the Parent Infant Foundation and the Institute for Health Visiting. The event was held to call on the Government to rebuild the health visiting service and prioritise mental health support for new parents.
Health visitors play a vital role in identifying new parents experiencing, or at risk of, mental health problems. But the health visiting workforce has a shortage of 5,000 staff. In 2021 some 19% of babies did not receive their 12-month health visitor review by the time they were 15 months old.
Following the reception, the NSPCC presented to Downing Street a petition signed by 22,000 people to call on the Government to take action on this issue. I will continue to fight alongside fantastic charities such as the NSPCC, to ensure every child is given the best start in life.
VISIT TO KINGSTON HOSPITAL
On Monday I was pleased to visit Kingston Hospital with my colleagues Sir Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, and Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham. Chief Executive Jo Farrar and Chief Nurse Nichola Kane were kind enough to speak with us about how things are going at the hospital.
We were pleased to hear that the problems with long ambulance waiting times in other parts of the country are less severe in London. One of the main reasons for the slow response times elsewhere in the country is ambulances unable to discharge their patients into A&E because of a lack of beds. Kingston Hospital is not experiencing this problem, though, and is able to release ambulances relatively quickly.
The hospital reports that they are coping well with the demand for surgical procedures, but they are seeing an increase in the number of patients staying more than a week, primarily because of a lack of capacity in care homes and domiciliary social care providers. Carers who returned to their place of origin because of Covid-19 or Brexit have not returned, and the Government is failing to do adequate workforce planning to ensure we have the people we need to care for those who need ongoing care.
It was wonderful to see how well hospital staff members are working together to give their usual outstanding care to more patients despite the staffing problems. I will be working in Westminster to press the Government to put in place plans to ensure the NHS has the workforce it needs.
SW RAILWAY AND NETWORK RAIL TOUR
Last Friday I joined a group of SW Railway officers, Network Rail officers and community groups to visit a number of the train stations in my constituency. We discussed station projects, including improvements to the walkway along Barnes rail bridge put forward by the Barnes Community Association. We also saw plans for new lift access to Barnes Station, which has been funded by SW Railways' Access for All funding.
We also heard about the Community Rail Partnership, founded to make communities aware of station adoption and encourage rail travel and careers in rail. We then discussed track maintenance and the challenges faced when trying to close lines for maintenance and signalling upgrades.
I will keep pushing Network Rail on access improvements for stations in my constituency that do not yet have step-free access, including North Sheen station and Kew Gardens station.
PARK BREWERY VISIT
Last Friday I also had the pleasure of going to the Park Brewery to meet Barry Watts of SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers), along with Josh and Frankie Kearns, founders and owners pf the Park Brewery.
I was keen to hear about challenges faced by microbrewers in terms of logistics, sourcing materials and selling their beer into pubs and to individuals. It was a very helpful visit and I will use it to inform my work supporting breweries as Liberal Democrat business spokesperson.
The Park Brewery was founded in 2014 by Josh and Frankie Kearns out of a passion for brewing small batch beers. They started in their own kitchen, and have now expanded to producing batches of 3000L in their premises in Kingston. You can learn more about the history of this thriving local business, see all their beers, and find out about their Friday and Saturday night tap room on their website here.
LOCAL POLICING UPDATE
The local Met Police team has sent me this update on some of their recent activities in my constituency:
North Richmond officers and Richmond Council have worked to put up crime prevention signs on Jocelyn Road, Evelyn Road, Selwyn Avenue, Pools On The Park and Richmond Athletic Grounds to remind those parking to take steps to counter theft from motor vehicles in the area.
On the 10th, a North Richmond resident's stolen vehicle was located by a response team within 25 minutes of it being reported. If you see someone looking into cars, or acting suspiciously, please don't be afraid to call 999. This is the best way to get an immediate response.
PC Keen and PCSO Gonsalves patrolled the Garden Road underground car park when residents reported ASB and drug activity taking place. If you have an issue like this please contact your local Safer Neighbourhood Team.
Canbury team was out on patrol on the 10th and had a positive stop and search, leading to an amount of Class B drugs being seized.
CONSULTATION ON FURTHER EXPANSION OF ULEZ ZONE
Transport for London is asking for residents' views on expanding the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) London-wide next summer. Their data estimates the proposed expansion would deter more than 100,000 of the most polluting cars a day.
The current and long-term threat to public health from toxic air pollution is significant. Around 4,000 premature deaths in London in 2019 were attributed to polluted air, with the greatest number in outer London. All Londoners live in areas that breach the World Health Organization (WHO) target for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, and around 500,000 suffer from asthma. It is estimated that harmful emissions will cost the NHS and social care £10.4bn if no further action is taken to improve air quality. It is important that TfL hears from residents about this plan to clean up our air. The consultation closes on 29 July 2022. To respond click here.
NEW BAR-CODED ROYAL MAIL STAMPS
As an anti-fraud measure, the Royal Mail has started issuing a new style of standard stamps that have small bar codes on them next the Queen's image. (See picture below.) All new stamps will be of this type from now on.
Old-style standard stamps without bar codes will be valid until January 31, 2023. Special stamps with pictures on them and Christmas stamps without a barcode will continue to be valid indefinitely. If you have more stamps than you think you can use before next January, you can send them to Royal Mail and they will replace them with the new bar code stamps for free. All the details about the new stamps, including how to exchange your old ones, can be found here.