This week my focus was on policing and crime, which I know is of great concern to my constituents.
On Tuesday I met with Richmond's Metropolitan Police Inspector Jon McLoughlin and Southwest London Borough Commander Lis Chapple to talk about their investigations into local crime and their preventive efforts, including ongoing work in Kew, Richmond, East Sheen and New Malden. Then on Thursday I met the Kingston police team in the town centre to take about public safety in Kingston. They shared a number of initiatives with myself and Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton. I was particularly pleased to hear about the additional patrols going into Canbury Gardens in North Kingston.
I know that my constituents are eager to see more police on our streets and in our communities. I have joined my colleagues in calling for a return to community policing, where officers are visible, trusted and known to local people. So I was sorry to learn this week that the Government has recruited fewer than half of the 4500 additional Metropolitan Police officers they promised London in 2019. I am calling on them to redouble their recruitment and training work to keep this promise.
I am frustrated that Kingston and Richmond’s need for regular policing is often overlooked. So I am fighting to make sure that Richmond and Kingston get their fair share of locally assigned officers and return to full staffing levels.
On the national front, the Government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill) is now in its final stages. Throughout the country, including in Richmond Park, police need the officers, resources, and time to focus on preventing and solving crimes. Sadly, the PCSC Bill in its current form is not the answer.
Although there are some measures in this Bill that I support, other measures are extremely disturbing.
The Bill’s measures continue the failed approach of encouraging longer and longer mandatory sentences, despite a lack of evidence that longer sentences actually improve public safety, and despite the high cost to the public purse of keeping prisoners in custody.
Even more concerning is its new protest crackdown laws, giving police new powers to disrupt protests, marches and assemblies, and criminalise their organisers and participants. These new powers pose a significant threat to our human rights obligations and our civil rights, while lacking an evidential basis to justify their introduction.
I also stand with my Liberal Democrat colleagues against plans to allow police to stop and search anyone at a protest “without suspicion” and to give police the power to impose conditions on protest marches. We must particularly protect Parliament Square as a place to protest.
I do not believe the Government is upholding its duty to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in pushing through this legislation.
THE FUTURE OF THE BBC
In the Public Accounts Committee yesterday I spoke to BBC Director General Tim Davie about the licence fee, and the six year settlement they recently received. I was interested to hear that the Director General, like the rest of us, was surprised when the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport decided to use Twitter to announce that the next BBC licence fee announcement will be the last.
During the hearing I also asked him how he planned to support under-served areas. Local democracy reporting is vital to keeping the BBC relevant across the country and supporting regional government. He replied that they will be investing heavily in local news, which is a goal I welcomed.
You can see my question about the funding settlement and the Director General's full reply here.
BRITISH SIGN LANGUAGE DEBATE
Today I attended a debate on the British Sign Language Bill, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Rosie Cooper MP, which would require promotion and facilitation of BSL when making public service announcements, and encourage other service providers to do the same.
For members of the Deaf community who use BSL, everyday barriers are an unavoidable and unfair reality. It was therefore great to see the government lend its support. I hope this will prove a positive sign in enabling deaf people to play a more prominent role in society. To see my contribution, click here.
I was delighted to read today that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will be working with the Competitions & Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate buildings insurance, including secret commissions.
This is a serious ongoing issue which has led to leaseholders suffering unfair practices by third-party freeholders, insurance brokers and managing agents. As a result, in September I wrote to the CMA urging them to intervene to eradicate bribes and hidden commissions from the sector, and to take action against companies which have been engaging in market distortion and unfair and anti-competitive practices.
In response they confirmed they would examine whether the market was working well for consumers and that they would assist leaseholders. Today's announcement by the FCA is therefore an encouraging sign that positive steps are being taken.
TAMIL FESTIVAL IN NEW MALDEN
I enjoyed a wonderful day celebrating Kingston's Tamil connections last Saturday. The day started with the unveiling of a plaque marking New Malden's twin city, Jaffna in Sri Lanka. In the afternoon, attendees were treated to a parade, exhibitions of Tamil music and dancing, Tamil food and a lovely civil service. I was delighted to be asked to wear a beautiful sari for the occasion and be a part of celebrating the diverse cultural heritage that makes Kingston such a strong and rich community.
Photos above courtesy of Tamil Guardian. You can see their article on the city twinning and festival here.
HIGHWAY CODE CHANGING TOMORROW
As of tomorrow, the Highway Code will be changing to offer better protection to road users who may be more vulnerable in the event of accidents, such as pedestrians and cyclists. For example, road users must now give way to pedestrians waiting to cross. The new rules apply to all road users. Please make sure you are aware of the new rules. Find out more about the updated Highway Code.
UPDATE ON E-SCOOTER TRIAL
Today it was announced that University College London has teamed up with London’s rental e-scooter operators TIER, Lime and Dott, to research and develop a “universal sound” for rental e-scooters to alert pedestrians and other road users of their approach. As I’ve mentioned before, I am eager to find out whether E-scooters can be introduced in a way that is safe, legal and environmentally beneficial. I know that the visually-impaired community in particular have been concerned about the extent to which e-scooter use endangers them, so I am encouraged to hear today’s news.
Development on the project will begin next month and I look forward to seeing how the initiative progresses. In the meantime I expect to receive the latest rental trial statistics next week and shall endeavour to share any relevant insights.
AUSTRALIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT - LINK CORRECTION
In last week's newsletter the link to the Public Accounts Committee hearing on the Australian Free Trade agreement was faulty. For those of you who would like to see me questioning the Department for International Trade's Permanent Secretary on the topic of projected UK exports to Australia , you can see part of my contribution here.
VACCINATION WEBINAR FOR EXPECTANT MOTHERS
If you have questions about being vaccinated while pregnant, you might like to join this Zoom webinar on Thursday 3 February at 1pm, where you will have the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns and receive expert advice on the COVID-19 vaccines. The panel of senior health experts will include:
Nina Khazaezadeh, Deputy Chief Midwife for London
Dr Oge Ilozue, GP and Senior Clinical Advisor, COVID Vaccination Programme
Ayesha Mosin, Maternity Action Trustee
You can see more information and register to attend here.
VACCINATION FOR TEENS AT CHRIST'S SCHOOL TOMORROW
There will be a pop-up vaccination clinic for young people aged 12-17 at Christ's School in Richmond, tomorrow, Saturday 29 January, from 10am - 5pm.
All 12-15 year olds need to be accompanied by an adult with parental responsibility. Please do not attend if your child has had either a Covid-19 vaccination or a positive Covid-19 test within the past 12 weeks.
You can see the flyer with a booking link and phone number (if you want to make an appointment) here.
MOTHER AND CHILD CLASSES IN KEW The LiveWell Kew centre, which I had the pleasure of visiting in November, has written to me to share their concern about the social isolation of mothers of babies born during the pandemic. To address this they are running Baby Massage and Toddler Tennis classes, with a Baby Talk programme launching imminently. Their aim is to build social interaction between both mothers and their children.
The LiveWell Kew centre delivers local community-focused programmes to promote healthy living alongside Richmond Medical Group. Please contact them for more information about their new LiveWell centre and how it is striving to change the way we approach our health and wellbeing. Key to this is making everything they do financially accessible for all.
You can see more about the Centre here
JOIN THE CITIZEN'S PANEL FOR KINGSTON TOWN CENTRE
The Mayor of London and central government have set required housing targets of 964 homes per year for Kingston borough. Whilst listening to views as part of the Local Plan further engagement, many local people told Kingston Council they find it hard to afford a home in Kingston, and that it's important to make sure new developments are of high quality and respect the character and heritage of our area.
The Council is therefore setting up a Citizens’ Panel to create new design guidance for the Kingston town centre area. Selected panel members will be given £150 in vouchers to join three half-day workshops in 2022 - the first on 12 March. Find out more and apply to join the panel.