• Tommy Robinson

    Tommy Robinson was sentenced to 13 months in prison for contempt of court after live streaming on Facebook outside an active trial at Leeds Crown Court on 25 May.

    In the video, Mr Robinson discussed the case and attempted to film defendants arriving at court. The judge had placed a reporting restriction on the trial, meaning details could not be published until it concludes later this year. This is to ensure that the trial is fair. Breaching this restriction can amount to contempt of court. It is also illegal to take photographs or film in a courtroom or its precincts.

    Mr Robinson had previously been convicted of contempt of court after attempting to film and talk to defendants outside a rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court in 2017. On that occasion, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for 18 months.

    Mr Robinson was told that if he broke the law again by filming outside a court during a live trial, he would go prison for the three months of his suspended sentence on top of anything else given by any other court.

    At his sentencing on 25 May, the judge said that if the jurors had seen the video the jury may have needed to be discharged and the case re-tried, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds. The judge also said that a retrial would mean witnesses in the case would have to give evidence again before a jury.

    I agree that freedom of speech is vital and is a cornerstone of our democracy. However, the right to a fair trial is also extremely important.

    In Robinson’s case, the judge emphasised that our rights, including freedom of speech, come with responsibilities to exercise them within the law. He concluded that Mr Robinson’s actions were highly prejudicial to the defendants’ in the trial and therefore interfered with the administration of justice.

  • NHS staffing and Tier-2 Visas

    The Government should remove all health professionals from the cap on skilled workers to tackle the NHS’s growing staffing crisis and ensure that there are enough highly-skilled professionals to care for patients.

    Despite the brilliant efforts of NHS staff who work tirelessly in the face of increasing pressures, years of pay restraint and a failure to invest in and plan properly for the workforce has resulted in vacancies for nearly 100,000 staff, including 35,000 nursing vacancies and 10,000 doctor vacancies. The Government has also abolished bursaries for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals resulting in the number of applications for nursing courses falling by over 15,000.

    Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers. The NHS must be able hire the staff it needs from abroad to provide safe levels of care and I believe Ministers should be doing more to ensure that hospitals can get the right numbers of staff in place.

    The British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and medical royal colleges have written to the Home Secretary calling for the Tier-2 visa cap to be “urgently reviewed”. The BMA has expressed its deep concerns that at a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies, visa restrictions and caps for non-EU workers are preventing overseas doctors from caring for patients.

    I will press the Government to remove the cap on NHS staff visas so that hospitals right across the country can recruit enough skilled medical professionals to provide the care patients deserve.

     

  • Tier 1 migrants

    The Tier 1 (General) visa allowed highly skilled migrants to come to work in the UK without the requirement of a job offer in advance. This visa category was closed to new applicants in December 2010. Paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Rules is one of the general grounds for refusal of leave to remain and – according to Home Office policy guidance – should be used for cases of criminality, threat to national security, war crimes or travel bans.

    Roughly 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain are wrongly facing deportation due to paragraph 322(5), with a large number of refusals made on the basis of minor tax errors which many individuals corrected themselves. This is while our country needs many of these people as NHS doctors, teachers and engineers.

    I believe the Government’s treatment of highly skilled migrants has been shortsighted. These migrants have made legitimate and lawful changes to their tax returns but are being put in the same category as serious criminals. The effect of a refusal can be devastating and long-lasting for those concerned – who could become ineligible for another visa and banned from returning to the UK for 10 years, refused the right to employment or to access NHS services.

    I am aware that the Immigration Minister is conducting a review of Tier 1 (General) migrant cases who were refused due to discrepancies with their HMRC records. I look forward to scrutinising this review when it is reported to Parliament.

     

  • Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI)

    I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by MND. I would also like to pay tribute to the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) for the invaluable role it plays in providing support and campaigning for improved services for those who suffer from the disease.

    As you are aware, the SRTI application process is intended to enable social security claimants who are terminally ill to access support quickly. For example, people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) who are terminally ill and apply through the SRTI process have their claim fast-tracked and are eligible for the enhanced rate of the daily living component from the date of their application.

    However, to be eligible for the SRTI a person must have a progressive disease and life expectancy of six months or less. I understand this can exclude many people with unpredictable terminal illnesses, such as MND. I am also aware that a recent report from the MNDA found that only 28% of individuals with MND claimed SRTI.

    I understand that MNDA is asking the Government to review this criteria, as MND is a terminal condition in all cases, but its progression can vary significantly. I agree that this is deeply concerning and I hope the Government will listen carefully and respond.

    I am also aware that the Government recently announced its intention to end unnecessary PIP reassessments for people with severe health conditions. For too long reassessments have placed a cruel and unnecessary burden on people living with terminal and progressive conditions. However, this announcement falls short of the urgent action needed to end the unnecessary stress and anxiety being inflicted through the PIP assessment process.

    I believe the Government should scrap the current assessment regime, put an end to the privatisation of assessments and work to deliver a social security system in which people can have confidence. I am also in favour of legislating to make terminal illness a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

     

  • policing cuts

    There are currently just under 3,500 police officers in Merseyside Police, serving and protecting a population of nearly 1.5 million, including communities here in St Helens.

    In 2010, this figure stood at 4,500, meaning that eight years of austerity on this Tory Government’s watch has resulted in 1,000 fewer officers across Merseyside – a drop of 22 per cent.

    Ministers said that cutting the number of officers would not affect crime rates, but this has categorically not been the case, with total recorded crime in Merseyside up 25 per cent over the same period.

    It’s particularly concerning that crimes involving violence against the person are up 129 per cent and sexual offences have risen by 186 per cent.

    But new figures that I obtained from Ministers in a series of parliamentary questions show staff cuts and the resulting pressure on police officers has also damaged Merseyside Police behind the scenes.

    The answers revealed that Merseyside Police’s “wastage rate” – which is the number of officers leaving as a percentage of the force of – has increased from 4.7 per cent to 8 per cent between 2010 and 2017, an increase of 3.3 per cent compared to a national increase of just 1.6 per cent over the same period.

    And Ministers could not say how many officers would be in Merseyside Police in the next five years in a refusal to rule out further cuts, meaning that numbers could fall further as crime continues to rise.

    Police officers in Merseyside are working incredibly hard under difficult circumstances, but all the Government has to offer is cuts and a hollowing out of staff as wastage rates continue to climb.

  • The mistreatment of the Windrush generation is scandalous

    The mistreatment of the Windrush generation is scandalous. They were invited here as citizens to help rebuild the UK after the Second World War. This is their home and they have contributed hugely to our country.

    Under the Immigration Act 1971, all Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were granted indefinite leave to remain. However, the Home Office did not keep records or issue paperwork confirming it. It is also the case that in 2014, the Government removed the immigration protection that existed for Commonwealth citizens who had come here previously.

    This whole situation has caused immense distress to the people concerned, widespread concern throughout the country and international disquiet – and is a direct consequence of the “hostile environment” policy for migrants.

    Following widespread pressure, the Home Office has now confirmed that the Windrush generation do have the right to remain, and apologised for any confusion or anxiety. The Home Office has also established a new team to help individuals to evidence their right to be here and to access necessary services.

    It is shameful that the UK has treated the Windrush generation in this way. The Government should restore the protections which were removed in 2014 and confirm the rights of the Windrush generation as British citizens. We must establish the facts on any deportations and the Government must make apologies where necessary and ensure anyone who has been deported in error comes back to the UK immediately.

  • buffer zones outside abortion clinics

    Abortion is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue with passionate views on both sides.
    Given how difficult and stressful this decision is, it is vital that women are able to access confidential medical and psychological advice and support without fear of harassment or intimidation.

    Of course, everyone has the right to peaceful protest and I appreciate that many people that hold vigils outside abortion clinics do so peacefully.

    However, I am very concerned by reports that some women have faced intimidation from protesters as they enter abortion clinics. No one should feel in any way harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice.

    As you know, on 26 November 2017, the Government announced that it would be carrying out an assessment of protests outside abortion clinics and that it would consider what further action could be taken to protect those using or working in abortion clinics. This could include bolstering existing or creating new police and civil powers. The review invited evidence from policing partners, healthcare providers and local authorities as well as groups protesting outside abortion clinics and people who have sought medical assistance or advice.

    I welcome this review because I believe it is important that we look at new ways of making sure women seeking advice, as well as staff working in clinics, are safe and that it should consider buffer zones as part of that.

    The Home Office is currently assessing the evidence and it has been reported that the current Home Secretary expects to make an announcement on the review in September. I can assure you that I will monitor developments closely.

    I am aware that other countries around the world, such as the US and France, have introduced measures that include buffer zones. It is sensible to look at the experience of other countries.

  • personal injury claims and the impact on road accident victims.

    I share the concerns about the planned reforms to personal injury claims.

    The Government has introduced a Civil Liability Bill, which it says will crack down on fraudulent whiplash claims and ban the settling of claims without medical evidence, while introducing a fixed tariff of compensation for whiplash injuries with a duration of up to two years. The Government has also confirmed that it plans to increase the limit for which cases are heard in the small claims court for road traffic accident related personal injury claims to £5,000 and for all other personal injury claims to £2,000. As you are aware, below these levels, generally people will not be able to recover their legal costs, even if their case is successful.

    While these reforms are being presented as being about false whiplash claims, they in fact propose a five-fold increase in the small claims limit for all road traffic personal injury claims. I am concerned that many genuinely injured people may lose out.

    The Government seems to believe there is an out of control compensation culture but I feel this is unfair. I am concerned these changes will undermine the longstanding legal principle that the guilty party pays and that victims could be left unfairly liable for greater legal costs.

    More widely on road safety, I believe the UK’s road safety vision should be reset, and that we should strive for a transport network with zero deaths. I believe road-safety targets should be reintroduced and bold measures set out to improve safety standards on our roads. I am aware the Government is currently undertaking a review into cycle safety and that the second phase of this review will consider road safety issues relating to cycling. This is an important issue and I can assure you I will follow developments closely.

     

  • Reproductive rights in Northern Ireland

    Abortion is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue with passionate views on both sides. It is also a matter of conscience.

    As you know, the recent vote in the Republic of Ireland has brought attention to the situation in Northern Ireland where abortion law differs to the rest of the UK.

    In Northern Ireland, abortion is currently illegal, other than in cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or if there is a permanent or serious risk to the mother’s physical or mental health. The UK Government has consistently stated its view that because abortion is a devolved matter, the law in this area is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    However in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly the UK Government should, in consultation with the Irish Government and Northern Ireland parties, end this anomaly from the rest of the UK and the island of Ireland.

    It is my personal view that women in Northern Ireland should have access to a safe and legal abortion.

     

  • UK military action in Syria.

    The attack in Douma on 7 April resulting in the deaths and suffering of innocent civilians, including children, was horrific and those responsible must be held to account. We know that the Assad regime and others have used chemical weapons throughout the conflict in Syria, and these actions cannot go unchallenged.

    We know that the targeted UK, French and US led strikes that took place on 14 April to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and to deter their use. I believe that before authorising this UK military action, the Prime Minister should have consulted Parliament first.

    In my view there was a moral and ethical case for these airstrikes, but it is unclear how they fit in with any wider strategy.

    Although Parliament was in recess, I believe there was time for the Prime Minister to do this. Indeed, while President Trump indicated on 11 April that the US would likely take military action, the strikes did not actually take place until the early hours of 14 April. Parliament was given a say on UK military action in Syria in 2013 and 2015 by convention, and I believe this convention should be maintained.

    I welcome the investigation being carried out by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into the attack in Douma. It must be allowed to do this work unhindered.

    The ultimate humanitarian priority though must be to end the suffering of the Syrian people for good. The Government’s urgent focus should therefore be on a coordinated international drive to achieve a ceasefire, de-escalation and a negotiated political settlement under UN auspices.

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