• International Workers Memorial Day

    On International Workers Memorial Day, a large gathering of trade unionists, activists, workers, members of the public and elected representatives gathered in Vera Page Park in St Helens to unveil a memorial to all those local workers who have lost their lives whilst in work.
    I want to congratulate former Pilks worker and Unite the Union member John Riley, and Councillors Martin Bond, Richard McCauley and Paul Pritchard for bringing the idea to fruition in just a few short years. Inspired by The Construction Workers Memorial in Ontario, Canada, the memorial acknowledges those who have lost their lives through accident or industrial disease and for those who have been left behind. I am honoured to be a Patron of the St Helens Workers’ Memorial Charity.
    I recently attended the Golborne Pit disaster memorial – we must always remember and commemorate those who died, and vow to continue the fight for the living.

  • Zimbabwean nationals being refused asylum in the UK

    I share the concerns of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, who have all reported abuses against protestors in Zimbabwe by security forces, including the use of live ammunition.

    The violence that followed the general strike on 14 January 2019 was utterly deplorable. I am further concerned by the Zimbabwean Government’s shutdown of internet services in the days that followed the violence. This action severely disrupted the flow of information and obscured the behaviour of the army and the police.

    In light of the troubling reports of oppression of activists in Zimbabwe, I believe it is important that the UK Government makes clear how it has deemed it safe to return asylum seekers to that country.

    I am concerned that people who may be at risk could be deported and that insufficient regard is being shown for potential human rights abuses. I am clear that deportations should not be happening in any serious case where human rights are under threat.

    More widely, regarding the situation in Zimbabwe, I believe that President Mnangagwa must act swiftly to restore the hope that existed last summer and put an end to attacks on civilians. We do not want history to repeat itself, nor do the Zimbabwean people.


  • the Guide Dogs ‘Talking Buses’ campaign

    Labour has consistently supported calls for buses to have audio-visual communication systems.

    I know that a survey by Guide Dogs in 2014 found that seven in ten visually impaired respondents had experienced a bus driver forgetting to notify them at their stop. I understand that this situation could be distressing and potentially dangerous.

    I agree that introducing audio-visual information could make a vital difference to people with sight loss, as well as elderly people who rely on public transport for their independence.

    As you know, the Bus Services Act 2017 enabled the Department for Transport (DfT) to introduce regulations that require bus operators to provide audio-visual information on local bus services. The DfT has indicated that this would include information on the route and direction of service, upcoming stops, and diversions. A related consultation was launched in July 2018, and the DfT has committed to invest £2 million towards installing audio-visual equipment on buses.

    In March 2019, the DfT said that it was still analysing the consultation responses. It also indicated that it expects to announce the next steps regarding the regulations and publication of guidance later in the year. I appreciate that this delay must be frustrating, particularly as audio-visual information on buses could be a transformative policy that makes a huge difference to people’s lives.

    Labour recognises that bus services are lifelines for many people and communities and has committed to provide the investment and regulation we need across the transport sector to ensure that disabled passengers’ rights and freedoms are protected. As part of this, the Opposition would require all bus drivers and staff at bus terminals to complete approved disability equality training.

  • the Pensions Dashboard

    As you know, in 2016 the Government committed to launch a Pensions Dashboard. It was designed to be a digital platform that allows an individual to view their various pension pots and see how much they have saved for their retirement.

    I believe that it is deeply concerning that many people across the country currently have a limited understanding of the value of their pension. They may be in multiple schemes and as a result, they may have no idea what their returns might be.

    I think the Pensions Dashboard is a welcome step in the right direction, as it will make pensions guidance more effective and give people a better insight into their future earnings after they retire.

    The Government recently published its response to its consultation on the Pensions Dashboard. Under the plans, the initial industry dashboards are expected to be developed and tested this year. The majority of schemes will then begin providing data via dashboards within a three to four-year timeframe.

    It also sets out that state pension information will be included at the earliest opportunity and includes assurances that legislation will be brought forward to compel all pension providers to make consumers’ data available to them through a dashboard.

    There is considerable cross-party support for the Pensions Dashboard and I hope that the Government introduces primary legislation on this as soon as possible. Indeed, Labour has said it stands ready to work with the Government to ensure that this issue progresses to the next stage.

  • the labelling of meat products by method of slaughter.

    As you know, British and EU law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes an exemption for religious slaughter carried out by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

    I appreciate that organisations including the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British Veterinary Association have expressed concerns about the animal welfare implications of non-stun slaughter. However, I am also aware that these are strongly contested by Jewish and Islamic communities.

    Although I would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, it is important to recognise the rights of certain communities and to accept the importance they attach to their religious beliefs. There are no plans to ban religious slaughter in the UK and I agree it would not be appropriate to implement a ban. I believe we must strike a balance between animal welfare law and important cultural and religious practices.

    Each UK nation has national rules which are stricter than the relevant EU regulation and which are aimed at reducing stress and providing greater protection for animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. In addition, it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (in England and Wales) and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (in Scotland) to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

    I am aware that there is concern about meat products from animals that are not stunned before slaughter being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in this way. There are currently no requirements to include information on the method of slaughter on meat labelling. However, any information provided voluntarily must be accurate and not be misleading to the consumer.

    The UK Government has said that consumers should have the necessary information to enable them to make an informed choice about their food and is considering this issue in the context of the UK leaving the EU.

    I believe food labelling must be clear and unambiguous so that consumers know exactly what they are buying, and so that farmers can compete fairly within any new trade deals after Brexit.


  • minimum income requirement this high for those seeking to come to the UK

    The UK’s Immigration Rules were changed in 2012 so that an applicant within this category must be able to prove that their partner has an annual income of at least £18,600.

    Applicants must also prove they have extra money if they have children who are not British citizens, EEA nationals, or permanently settled. Because of Brexit, the Government plans to extend these requirements to EU citizens too.

    The Government has argued that the financial requirement supports integration and prevents a burden being placed on the taxpayer.

    However, I believe this is unfair. Around 40-45% of UK residents earn less than £18,600.
    I do not believe that there should be a minimum income requirement this high for those seeking to come to the UK to be reunited with their family members who are entitled to be here. I would like to see this requirement replaced with a prohibition on recourse to public funds.

    As you know, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. This Bill will make changes to our immigration legislation as the UK leaves the EU. The Bill is now being considered by a Public Bill Committee.

    I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to reviewing the minimum income requirement, so that people with the right to be in the UK also have the right to bring their families without excessive minimum income restrictions.


  • human rights defenders

    I believe the UK should lead the world in promoting human rights and they should be at the heart of our foreign policy.

    In my role as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe, which upholds and champions the importance of human rights and democracy, I have spoken on this issue.

    HRDs champion and fight for the human rights of others, challenging oppression and injustice. It is therefore reprehensible that HRDs and their families continue to be mistreated, arrested, disappeared or killed for standing up for the rights of others.

    As the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs has noted, women human rights defenders, in particular, continue to face systematic discrimination, marginalisation and repression.

    I hope the UK’s diplomatic network will continue to find practical ways to support HRDs and considers groups who may face additional risks, such as those defending the rights of women.
    Such actions could include attending trials, raising cases privately with the host government, making public statements, and lobbying for safe and open space for civil society and HRDs to operate.

    I believe the UK Government should also urge respect for human rights in bilateral discussions with other governments and lead international efforts through the UN and other bodies to ensure human rights are protected and upheld around the world.

    I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to support human rights and those who defend them globally.

  • the netting of hedgerows

    I understand concerns have been raised that hedgerows, bushes and trees are being covered with netting to prevent birds from nesting. I am aware that a parliamentary petition with more than 200,000 signatures is calling to make the netting of hedgerows a criminal offence. The petition will be considered for a debate in Parliament and the Government is due to publish a response shortly.

    Labour has asked the Government what plans it has to strengthen regulations to prevent developers and landowners from putting netting on hedgerows. The Government responded saying that wild birds are protected by law and therefore any development project must consider the impact on local wildlife and take precautionary action to protect their habitats.

    The Government has also recently consulted on plans to make biodiversity net gain compulsory for developments when granting planning permission. It will also review the link between biodiversity and economic growth.

    Hedgerows have an important role to play in enhancing biodiversity. Research has found that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average, with 56% of species, including birds, having declined between 1970 and 2013.

    It is concerning that the budget for Natural England, the body responsible for biodiversity, has more than halved over the past decade. Moreover, the UK is on track to meet only five of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets.

    There is an urgent need for effective action to end the catastrophic decline in species that we are seeing. One of the Opposition’s key priorities for environmental action is reversing the decline of biodiversity and protecting natural habitats.


  • the persecution of Christians globally

    The persecution of Christians is entirely unacceptable. All people should be able to practice and profess their religious faith free from persecution, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
    It is deeply concerning that persecution of Christians has risen across the world in the last year, according to the 2019 World Watch List report by Open Doors. Indeed, nearly a quarter of a billion Christians now face persecution and I was shocked to learn that over 4,300 Christians were killed for their faith in 2018.

    I know the Foreign Secretary has launched an independent review of how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) supports persecuted Christians. I have asked questions on this matter directly to the Secretary of State and you can view a record of this and my other contributions on the Parliament.UK website. This review will be an important piece of work and it is a good opportunity to reflect on the action currently being taken and to consider what more can be done. I hope the review and the Government will look closely at the suggestions that have been made in response to it.

    I believe the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and belief, should be at the heart of UK foreign policy. We must do everything in our power to ensure that people of faith around the world have the freedom to pursue their beliefs without fear of harassment or victimisation. This should include using all diplomatic means available, including bilateral relations and multilateral forums such as the UN, to ensure that international law is adhered to where there are humanitarian issues and breaches of human rights.

    I look forward to the outcome of this review later this year.

  • bowel cancer awareness and diagnosis

    I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by bowel cancer and I pay tribute to Bowel Cancer UK for the vital work it does in funding research, championing improved outcomes and providing information and support to patients and their families.

    As you know, April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. It provides an important opportunity to raise awareness of symptoms, as well as the services and support available to sufferers and their families.

    Early diagnosis is critical to improving cancer survival and investment in local screening programmes can make a real difference. Evidence from Beating Bowel Cancer shows that, when diagnosis is made early, bowel cancer can be cured in over 90% of cases.

    The NHS long-term plan identifies cancer as a clinical priority and aims to boost survival by speeding up diagnosis. It includes a welcome ambition to diagnose three-quarters of all cancers at stages one or two by 2028, a specific commitment to lower the starting age for bowel cancer screening, from 60 to 50, and a modernisation of the screening programme to detect more cancers earlier.

    While the aspirations for improving cancer diagnosis are welcome, I remain concerned that Ministers have delayed setting out a workforce plan. There are more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS and Cancer Research UK has found one in 10 diagnostic posts are unfilled. I am also disappointed that the Government has repeatedly missed the national cancer waiting time target. Nine years of cuts, privatisation and the most significant financial squeeze in its history have pushed our health service to the brink and it is patients who are paying the price.

    I believe the Government must guarantee and uphold the standards of service enshrined in the NHS constitution. I will press Ministers to improve treatment and support for patients and ensure that raising awareness of bowel cancer is a key priority.


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