This week, in my capacity as Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson, I responded to an Urgent Question in the House of the Commons regarding the International Monetary Fund’s economic forecast, which predicted the UK would be the only major economy to shrink this year, trailing even Russia.
In my question, I challenged the Minister on the Government’s constrictive economic policies, which have, in addition to precipitating this forecast, led to more businesses closing last year than in any year since the 2009 financial crisis. I wished to particularly highlight the impact that Brexit-related red tape is having on businesses and trade, with many finding the bureaucracy involved in importing and exporting with Europe an impossible barrier to growth.
After six years of Conservative Prime Ministers proclaiming that we would see benefits from exiting the EU, the promised benefits have yet to materialise. I remain firm in my view that our best course of action would be to improve relations with Europe, rejoin important European security, research and professional bodies, and work towards a longer term goal of re-joining the Customs Union and Single Market.
You can see a clip of my question here.
DEBATE ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
On Wednesday, I held a debate in Parliament on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on intellectual property rights for creative workers.
The debate followed months of objection by the creative industry to the Government’s proposal to grant AI platforms an exception to copyright for ‘text and data mining’. This proposal was designed to promote AI and would have allowed AI platforms to ‘mine’ the work of UK creatives without having to pay for a licence or seek permission for the use of their work.
Industry stakeholders had warned this would lead to a huge transfer of value from UK creatives to global tech companies. It could also have been detrimental to future creativity in the UK and undermined the hard work of British creative workers.
To prepare for the debate, I conducted a survey of over 200 creative workers to understand the impact that artificial intelligence has on their work. Many respondents voiced concern for the future of their career in a market which could become flooded with AI-generated content. They urged the Government to ensure robust enforcement of current copyright protections which provide their revenue stream.
I urged the Government to scrap their current plans, and instead work to strike a balance between promoting innovation within AI and supporting creativity in the UK. I am delighted that in response the Science Minister, George Freeman, said the Government would not be proceeding with the current proposals and would be re-opening consultation with industry stakeholders.
AMENDMENT TO STOP SEWAGE DISCHARGES
A Liberal Democrat amendment to tackle sewage discharges was accepted into legislation this week. The amendment, which I signed, ensures that the Government’s new Infrastructure Bank will not invest in water companies unless they produce a costed and time-limited plan to end sewage discharges into local rivers. The prospect of taxpayers' funds going to water companies who are paying their executives millions of pounds in bonuses, while permitting prolific sewage discharges is scandalous.
I am pleased that the government conceded on this amendment. However, there is still a long way to go. The Government is still refusing to ban sewage discharges into swimming water and areas where protected wildlife live. And they are still refusing to ban water company CEOs from rewarding themselves with bonuses while these environmental disasters happen. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will continue our campaign to demand the Government takes action.
SHEEN MOUNT PRIMARY SCHOOL VISIT TO PARLIAMENT
Earlier this week pupils from Sheen Mount Primary School came to Westminster for a tour of Parliament. I had the opportunity to chat with them about the issues that concern them and answer their questions about being an MP. We discussed school-related issues, including the value of homework, whether the school day should start later, and whether 16 year olds should be able to vote. I always look forward to school visits and it was delightful to meet these young constituents.
If you are interested in visiting the Houses of Parliament you can find more information on my website.
HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY
I was honoured to join Mayor of Richmond Julia Cambridge at a Holocaust Memorial Day event at Richmond Synagogue last Sunday. Along with other speakers, we heard moving testimony from Manfred Goldberg BEM, who as a child survived the Riga ghetto, several concentration camps and a death march before eventually being liberated and moving to England. The evening of songs and readings paid tribute to the extraordinary sorrow and loss felt around the world when these atrocities came to light, and reminded us to continue resisting intolerance and aggression.
CELEBRATING TAMIL HERITAGE MONTH
Along with Sir Ed Davey, Council Leader Andreas Kirsch and a number of local councillors, I was pleased to be invited by the Kingston Tamil Heritage Group to join the Tamil Heritage month celebrations last Saturday in New Malden. We took great pleasure in celebrating the Thai Pongal harvest festival, with a programme of Tamil heritage demonstrations and cultural performances.
KINGSTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE EVENT
Earlier this month I attended a breakfast meeting with the Kingston Chamber of Commerce Patrons, which included representatives from Kingston University, Kingston College, Kingston Council, Canadian and Portland, Summers-Inman, DoubleTree Hilton and Pearson Hards Solicitors. (Photo at bottom.)
Kingston Chamber Patrons are key partners in the business ecosystem in Kingston Borough, working to foster growth and resilience in the local economy. The Patrons' work provides additional support and networking to smaller businesses and start-ups. Their meetings provide an opportunity to share knowledge and understand the different dynamics affecting a broad range of sectors from cyber security to hospitality, retail, legal and construction. It was a pleasure to take part and hear their thoughts.
JOIN ME FOR A COFFEE MORNING IN BARNES OR RICHMOND
My first coffee morning of 2023 will take place in Barnes on Thursday, February 23, at 10:30 at a location in central Barnes. I will give a brief overview of what's happening in Westminster at the moment, and tell you about what I am doing as your MP both in Parliament and in the constituency. After this I will open the floor for questions and dialogue with all the attendees. I look forward to seeing my Barnes and Mortlake constituents there.
I will also be hosting a coffee morning in central Richmond on March 16 for Ham and Richmond residents.
You can sign up for both of these events here.
HAM PARADE MARKET
North Kingston, Ham and Petersham residents will be pleased to hear that the first Ham Parade market of the year is back this Saturday from 10-2pm. You can support local, independent traders such as the Wild Fish Project, Palms and Violets Florist and make sustainable, zero waste home swaps from RIVER+PARK: the sustainable lifestore.