This first week back after the Easter recess was dominated by Partygate, as it was our first official opportunity to respond to the revelation that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were issued fixed penalty notices by the Met Police. On Thursday, following over five hours of debate, MPs decided that the Privileges Committee will lead an inquiry into whether the Prime Minister knowingly misled the house over parties in Downing Street. I strongly support this - our constitution relies on people behaving honourably and Parliament cannot operate if it cannot trust what it is told by the Prime Minister.
On Wednesday the Commons sat late to vote on Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill, one of the most controversial Bills the Conservative Government is pushing through in this Parliament. Alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I voted twelve times to try and block some of the most draconian measures being introduced in this Bill, such as those allowing the Government to strip a person of their British citizenship without notification, and to treat refugees, even if they have a valid claim, differently, depending on how they arrived in the UK.
It is absolutely vital that we combat people smuggling and human trafficking, and prevent people from making dangerous attempts to cross the Channel. The best way to do that is by providing safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK. Nothing proposed in this Bill will solve the dysfunction at the heart of the Home Office, which keeps asylum seekers waiting months or years for their claims to be processed, while banning them from working.
Last night, I was on Times radio to discuss my thoughts on events in Parliament. Click here to listen - my contribution begins around 00.13.
SUICIDE RISK ASSESSMENT
On Tuesday, I launched a campaign with constituent Philip Pirie to change the way suicide risk assessment is conducted. Shockingly, of every 17 people that die by suicide each day in this country, five will have been in touch with mental health services, and four of those five will have been been categorised as at 'low' or 'no risk'.
Philip, who tragically lost his son Tom to suicide in July 2020, has called on the Health Secretary to sit down with us and discuss the problems with the current binary suicide risk assessment tools. Together, we published an open letter in The Times supported by 15 co-signatories, including Steve Mallen, Co-Founder of the Zero Suicide Alliance, General Sir Nick Carter, former Chief of the Defence Staff, Mind, the Samaritans and Papyrus. You can read a full version of the letter here.
To discuss our campaign, Philip appeared on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning. I was deeply moved by his bravery in speaking with such candour about his loss, and the change we so clearly need. A short clip of Philip’s appearance can be viewed here, and the full interview here.
AVIATION CONSUMER PROTECTION
On Thursday, I wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport to raise concerns regarding the Government’s ‘Reforming Aviation Consumer Policy’ consultation. Under current rules, someone on a domestic flight in the UK can claim £220 once their flight has been delayed by up to three hours. However, should this policy be changed as a reult of the consultation, passengers would only be compensated based on their ticket price and length of delay. You can read a copy of my letter here.
I am concerned that alteration to regulation could leave consumers delayed or stranded without adequate financial compensation. The British exit from the European Union should not be used as a way to scrap consumer protection regulation. I have therefore urged the Government to reject these potential changes. You can read my full thoughts on this in an article that I have written for politics.co.uk.
UKRAINIAN REFUGEES UPDATE
I am aware that many constituents have signed up to sponsor Ukrainian refugees under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. I am delighted by the willingness of people across Richmond Park to do all they can to help Ukrainians fleeing war. I understand that Home Office delays are causing significant distress, though. Please be assured that my team is working tirelessly to chase up outstanding visa applications.
On Tuesday, I sat down with Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Chloe Smith MP, with my constituent, Feras Al-Moubayed, to discuss the work the Government is doing to assist people with a hearing impairment. Feras campaigns for better provisions for deaf individuals, and teaches a class on British Sign Language (BSL) to students at Falcon School for Girls, which I had the pleasure of attending last month. In this meeting, we detailed how many day-to-day tasks are made extremely difficult for those with hearing difficulties. We pressed the Minister to ask what the Government is doing to address this. We were pleased to learn that the Government plans to set a ‘gold standard’ in the public sector for deaf provisions, and will continue to fight social stigma against hearing impaired individuals through the passage of the British Sign Language Bill, which I strongly support.
The Minister informed us that should any individual feel they have been discriminated against owing to their disability, they should contact the Equality Advisory Service here. I look forward to following up with the Minister on her commitments, and I hope she will join us for a BSL lesson soon.
In my role as the Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ethnic Minority Business Owners, I then met with Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch MP on Wednesday. The discussion revolved around the issues many ethnic minority business owners face in accessing financial support for their businesses, and how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated their problems. The Minister was extremely sympathetic to our concerns, and agreed that more needs to be done to address the lack of data that surrounds ethnic minority business owners, which could then be used to better target policy to assist them. Further, we raised the lack of consideration given to ethnic minority businesses in the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ proposals, and stressed to the Minister and her team the importance that supporting these organisations could have in addressing structural inequalities across the UK.
Positively, the Minister has asked the APPG to brief her formally on our findings, and to provide her with a list of recommendations we would like to see the Government adopt in their policies to address the issue. I look forward to coordinating with her team going forward.
Should you wish to learn more about the APPG, you can find our website here.
NEXT VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING -- MAY 4
I will be holding my next virtual coffee morning on Wednesday, May 4 at 10:00. As usual this will start with a brief update on my activities as your MP. Then I will open the discussion to your questions and views for a lively conversation. If you would like to join me for this one, please click here.
PRIMARY SCHOOL NATIONAL OFFER DAY
Parents of children who will start Reception year in the autumn were sent offers for places this week. I am pleased to report that all children who applied for a primary school place in Richmond or Kingston borough this year have been offered places.
In Richmond, 90% have been offered a place at their first preference primary school, and 99% have received one of their five preferences. In Kingston, 86% have been offered a place at their first preference primary school and 98% have received one of their five preferences. The remaining 2% of applicants have all been allocated a place at an alternative school within two miles of their home address.
SEND PROVISION NEWS
I was also pleased to hear recently that proposals for a new provision for children with special educational needs in Richmond have been approved, which will provide specialist resources to support up to 14 children. The new provision, at The Vineyard Primary School in Richmond, will be for children with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) who have Social Communication Needs including both Autism and Mild to Moderate Learning Difficulties. Pupils will be able to join from September 2023 and the number of pupils will grow up to a maximum of 14 over three or four years.
The new Special Resource Provision will mean more children and young people can be educated within their home community. It also means they will be able to access mainstream lessons where appropriate with their teaching and learning fully supported through specialist teachers so that they can make the best possible progress with their education. I know how much pressure there is for SEND places across my constituency, so I was glad to hear about this new resource.
Parents of children with special educational needs or other additional needs may be interested to hear about the Government's current consultation on provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND.) The SEND Review - Right Support, Right Place, Right Time, is published here. And if you want to contribute your views, please click here. I encourage everyone to submit their views.
LOCAL POLICING UPDATE
The local police team has been in touch to say they are appealing for witnesses and information after an off-duty officer was injured during an incident in Richmond. At about 19:00 on Tuesday, 19 April the PC was in a supermarket on Upper Richmond Road, East Sheen when he attempted to arrest a suspected shoplifter. The officer attempted to stop the car the suspect got into, but when the vehicle didn't stop he was carried on the bonnet of the vehicle for a short distance. A 40-year-old woman and a 41-year-old man were arrested and remain in police custody at this time.
If you have any information, including phone, dashcam or doorbell camera footage of this incident, please contact police on 101 or report on the website with reference to CAD 5935/19APR22.
The North Richmond team have delivered a letter to the residents of Raleigh Road about replanting trees on the road following contamination via motor oil. The council and local team are investigating the contamination. Please get in touch with them if you know anything about this.
AFGHAN ARTIST'S EXHIBITION IN HAM
Samira Kitman, award-winning entrepreneur and artist and alumni of Turquoise Mountain Foundation will be exhibiting some of her work at Ham Youth Centre on Sunday 29 May from 4pm - 7pm.
Samira was voted Afghan businesswoman of the year, praised by Prince Charles and has had her art displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington. She is the founder of Maftah-e Hunar, an art foundation which trained 80 young, deprived women to become artists. You can learn about Samira's workshops and work (like the beautiful design below) on her Facebook page.
Tickets to the event at Ham Youth Centre include entry and a glass of wine/soft drink. 50% of the proceeds from selling art pieces will be allocated to support other Afghan artists and artisans and to help keep the arts alive in Afghanistan. Please book your ticket here.