The 2021-22 session of Parliament drew to a close this week, and we have now entered a period of prorogation. The official State Opening of Parliament will take place on Tuesday 10th May, during which the Queen’s Speech will set out the Government’s agenda for the 2022-23 Parliamentary session.
Our final week in Parliament saw some late night voting and multiple rounds of “ping-pong” during which Bills are passed back and forwards between the Commons and the Lords. Despite repeated push-backs from the Liberal Democrats and other opposition parties in both the Commons and the Lords, the Government was unfortunately able to push through its more controversial Bills, including the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Elections Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. There are very troubling measures in all three of those bills and I was sorry to see them passed.
During prorogation, Parliament will not be sitting and MPs will be back in their constituencies ahead of the local elections on Thursday 5th May. I urge all of my constituents to go out and vote next Thursday, and to consider the vital role that our local councils have played in leading residents through the pandemic, while building towards the future with new local initiatives.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those councillors who are not seeking re-election for their valuable service. I have the privilege of seeing just how much our local councillors contribute to our community, although their hard work is not always visible to everyone. I want to particularly highlight the service of Cllr David Cunningham, who is retiring from Tudor ward in Kingston after 32 years' service.
On Thursday, I spoke with Andrew Marr on his LBC show to discuss the council elections. I emphasised the importance of local champions, such as the value in having representatives on the council who understand the area they represent, and fight for local issues that matter to constituents. You can watch a clip of my interview here.
UKRAINIAN REFUGEES UPDATE
Delays at the Home Office are causing ongoing confusion and frustration for those who have volunteered to assist Ukrainian refugees. My staff are working hard to chase visa applications on behalf of constituents, but they are facing queues upwards of three hours at the Home Office drop-in centre in Parliament.
Earlier this month, I spoke with the Leaders of Kingston and Richmond councils, who told me that a key obstacle they are facing is a lack of information from the Home Office regarding the arrival of refugees. This week, I wrote to the Home Secretary to voice their concerns and to urge the Home Office to increase communication with local authorities to make the process of accepting Ukrainian refugees easier. My letter was also signed by my Liberal Democrat colleagues Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham and Sir Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton. You can read a copy of the letter here.
SUPPORTING THE TAMIL COMMUNITY
North Kingston is home to a large and vibrant Tamil community. I was therefore proud to support my Tamil constituents by attending a Parliamentary screening of the docufilm “Continuous Cycles of Genocide and Violence in Sri Lanka” last Wednesday. I was joined by Lib Dem Leader Sir Ed Davey, and other Parliamentarians, to speak at the event and to voice our concerns over the abhorrent human rights abuses suffered by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
MEETING WITH HONG KONG WATCH
Richmond Park is also home to a strong community of residents who have immigrated from Hong Kong. On Wednesday, I met with Hong Kong Watch to learn more about the situation which hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers are facing as they arrive in the UK.
It was extremely valuable to be briefed by Hong Kong Watch, and I will be working with them to continue to press the Government for an extension to the National VCSE Grant Scheme, in addition to pushing for a ‘Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR)’ policy to be implemented for 18–24-year-old Hong Kongers who need to leave Hong Kong immediately, but will not be eligible for the BNO visa until October.
SUICIDE RISK ASSESSMENT CAMPAIGN
On Tuesday, my constituent Philip Pirie attended the AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide Prevention with members of my staff. At the meeting, Philip took the opportunity to outline our concerns on suicide risk assessment procedure, and was invited to become a regular attendee of the group.
The meeting was then addressed by Minister for Care and Mental Health, Gillian Keegan MP, who Philip pressed on the need for Government to take action to remove ‘fundamentally flawed’ suicide risk assessment tools. The Minister was receptive of our concerns, and expressed that she was aware of our open letter, and will pass on our request to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for a face-to-face meeting.
VISIT TO NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting the National Archives in Kew, where I met with CEO Jeff James and a number of his colleagues. We discussed the ways they are now using a blended approach of both online and in-person visits to engage with schoolchildren. They feel that in the digital age it is more vital than ever to teach young people how to look for and examine primary sources.
I was privileged to see the Magna Carta (1297 version) and various other archived documents, such as a 1754 map of Richmond Park and photos of Richmond and Hammersmith Bridge from 1900. I looked at the fascinating design books from the Patent Office including everything from fabric design to designs for hinges and fireplaces.
The Archives have no less than 200 linear kilometres of stored documents – all digitised for online use. Digital access is free to people who come to their facility in Kew. They have regular revolving exhibitions, including the current exhibition on Britain in The 1920s. They will be having further exhibitions for the Platinum Jubilee. They were keen for me to encourage local residents to visit!
DIALOGUE SOCIETY IFTAR DINNER
I was also delighted to be invited to attend the Dialogue Society's Ramadan Iftar Dinner in Kingston at Guildhall last week, with the Mayor of Kingston upon Thames. It was a lovely, inspiring event, and I was delighted to support their message of community cohesion and service to others. The evening also raised funds for the Mayor's chosen charities, Anstee Bridge and Milaap Day Centre. It was great to see such a wide range of Kingston community organisations represented at the dinner.
MY NEXT VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING
My next virtual coffee morning will be next Wednesday, May 4, at 10:00am. If you would like to join me for a brief update on my work followed by informal discussion of local and national issues of interest to attendees, please sign up here.
COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT -- SPACE2GRIEVE
I would like to highlight the work of local charity Space2grieve this week. Space2grieve provides free face to face bereavement support to adults and children who live in the Borough of Richmond. They see clients at the ETNA Community Centre in East Twickenham. They offer experienced, professional, caring support that can help with exploring and reflecting on losses and changes and help find a path forward. You can get in touch by phone on 0751 937 6363 or use their contact form. They will call you back within 24 hours (weekdays) to chat about how space2grieve could support you.
RAIL SERVICE DISRUPTION THIS WEEKEND
I would like to make sure my constituents are away of the four-day closure of the rail line between Barnes and Feltham via Hounslow, for necessary infrastructure improvements. From the start of the day on Sunday to the end of the day on Wednesday, trains will not run between Barnes and Feltham (via Hounslow). Rail replacement buses will run between these stations on this route.
Trains will run as normal between Barnes and Feltham via Richmond and Twickenham. Do plan ahead and check before you travel, though, as the engineering works will mean trains are retimed. The timings of the replacement bus services are now available for people to plan their journeys here.