The refugee crisis in Europe is still critical – and some of the worst conditions are a few miles from the British coast. Two weeks ago I held a debate in Parliament on ‘Assistance to refugees in Calais’ which allowed me to describe the appalling conditions I witnessed visiting ‘the Jungle’ refugee camp there just before Christmas. I also wanted to get some answers from the Government on why they were prepared to spend millions on razor-wire fencing around the camp but nothing on the refugees themselves. This despite many being children travelling on their own, whose closest relatives are in the UK. You can read a full report about my visit to the Calais refugee camp here and my debate with the minister’s response here. Local resident Lord Alf Dubs, whose own life was saved by Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport has tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill to grant asylum to the estimated 3,000 child refugees alone in Europe.
I also spoke recently in a Westminster Hall debate on Palestinian child prisoners in Israeli prisons. The injustice of the occupation of Palestine, now in its 50th year, means there is always high demand to speak on the subject and emotions usually run high. In this case a record 50 MPs were trying to get in, so I was lucky to be called . You can read my speech here.
Last week I accompanied Jeremy Corbyn to the Justice Alliance rally in defence of Legal Aid, where he was the main speaker. Jeremy has a 30 year record of speaking up for fair access to justice and was greeted more like a rock star than a politico – and this from an audience of lawyers. You can read more about that event here andhere is some of the work Labour are doing on legal aid.
Sadiq for Mayor
I appeared in the London part of the Sunday Politics to talk about the issues in the Mayoral campaign. I am increasingly convinced Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith’s heart is not in it, and that he lacks the confidence of his own side.
Discussing Sadiq Khan’s promise to freeze fares for four years, which Zac opposes, I was surprised that fellow guest, Tory MP for Harrow East Bob Blackman, preferred a freeze or even a cut to his own candidate’s policy. I am obviously biased, as I worked with Sadiq for five years when he was shadow Lord Chancellor, but I think he will be an excellent Mayor for all Londoners. You find all the information you need to get involved in his campaign to be London’s next Mayor here.
I’ve received a lot of horrified emails about last week’s BBC Panorama programme exposing G4S-run Medway Secure Training Centre. Seven officers at that facility have been suspended for alleged mistreatment or violence towards the children in their care and a number arrested. I secured an Urgent Question in the House of Commons to put the allegations directly to Lord Chancellor Michael Gove. It was a sober and serious debate as befits the subject, but I was unimpressed by Gove’s response which was too accommodating for G4S. I would like all the detention centres and prisons they run to be put in special measures until we are sure the conduct at Medway is not being repeated elsewhere. You can read my Urgent Question here.
I hosted an event in Parliament calling for the introduction of civil partnerships for different-sex couples. This coincides with the judicial review on the issue which two constituents, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, have brought in the High Court. You can read more about that here and see what the Leader of the House Commons said to me when I called for the Government to change the law.
Labour in Europe
I strongly support Britain’s role in Europe and will voting to ‘Remain’ in the referendum, likely to be held this summer. Labour will be campaigning on jobs, to stay part of the world’s largest single market and for a strong voice for our country in the world. Britain’s EU membership has given British workers’ minimum paid leave, rights for agency workers, paid maternity and paternity leave, equal pay, anti-discrimination laws, and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership. You can learn more about our campaign, fronted by one of west London’s finest, Alan Johnson, here.
We have just passed the Housing & Planning Bill through the Commons, despite Labour’s best efforts to stop it. This is truly one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in my ten years in Parliament. It would force Hammersmith & Fulham Council to sell off half its 13,000 homes and remove security of tenure from all new tenants. I finally got to speak in the last few minutes of debate and lament the destruction of stable communities and decent family homes that the Bill will mean for millions of people. Ironically secure tenancies were introduced by Margaret Thatcher: anyone who does not believe the current Government is more sectarian and ideological than hers has only to look at this spiteful piece of legislation.
This month we marked the sad passing of two London legends: David Bowie and Alan Rickman. David Bowie famously “killed off” the Ziggy Stardust persona in a legendary concert at the Hammersmith Odeon.
In Alan Rickman we lose one of Britain’s great actors. He will be Hans Gruber to some, Severus Snape to others. To me he will always be the greatest Sheriff of Nottingham, a film-stealing performance to top the lot. But the international movie star had another profile: as a west London boy, Labour Party loyalist and supporter of the arts in the borough. I was asked to write a tribute to Alan for the New Statesman highlighting his local links. You can read that here.
For more Parliament stuff read my diary for the House Magazine.
The HS2 interchange at Old Oak continues to cause waves as more information on its effect on the surrounding area comes to light. After attending the Parliamentary Committee considering objections to support Acton MP Rupa Huq and her constituents just over the border from us, I gave my own evidence last Monday. I am particularly concerned with the effect on Wormwood Scrubs, which they now want to dig up to re-route a main sewer, and the diversion of traffic into Old Oak Estate, especially when Old Oak Common Lane is closed for up to a year.
A further sign of the times in our NHS came with the announcement this week that the urgent care centre at St Mary’s, Paddington, will now be run by a profit-making private company. I am seeing Imperial (who run St Mary’s as well as Hammersmith and Charing Cross) tomorrow so will find out more about this – and how their plans for Charing Cross continue to change. I now hear the plan for another ‘shard’ on the Royal Mail site next to St Mary’s will take up some of Imperial’s land and may lead to more services being relocated to H&F. Meanwhile, I met the Clinical Commissioning Group, which funds the NHS locally. They are losing more than 10% of their budget over the next three years (about £25 million). H&F is one of only six areas in the country to lose out in this way – so much for beefing up community to make up for the closure of acute services.
On Friday I visited TV Centre to see how the developments in White City are progressing. Stanhope, who bought the site from the BBC, are developing it mainly as luxury flats, though the Labour council has managed to increase the affordable element to 132 out of 950. Sadly, the damage was done under the previous Tory council which gave planning consent for some 5,000 flats here and on the Imperial College, St James and Westfield sites, virtually none of which are affordable. Better news is that Stanhope have bought up the ‘media village’ north of TVC. The BBC are staying in part of it – meaning there will still be more than 3,000 BBC staff left in White City. The rest is being developed for commercial space bringing much-needed new jobs to the area. Stanhope are also negotiating with the council on their ‘joint venture’ to redevelop two blocks of flats in Fulham. This was a scheme by the Tories to convert council homes into luxury flats (one block was emptied out six years ago and left to rot). Now, Stanhope are working with the Labour council to develop genuinely affordable homes on the site.
Some very good causes
I know it was blue Monday this week and people are short of cash after Christmas, but I have been lobbied for some very good causes. So if your New Year resolution is to find a bit more for charity, consider these:
• Jane Vernon, who took on the Tories over the bed-bug infestation in her Askew Road flat, runs a local book club (and is visually impaired, though you would not know it to meet her), has a new challenge. She’s taking part in Water Aid’s Water Challenge – drinking nothing but water this month to raise money for proper toilets, especially for disabled people, in developing countries.
• Larry Culhane, Councillor for North End Ward in Fulham, is running a half-marathon to support the local Baron’s Court Project, which cares for homeless people and those with mental health needs.
• And to finish where we started, local resident Lliana Bird, who co-founded the charity Help Refugees, is asking for donations of cash or goods to help the people in the French refugee camps get through the winter.
I’m very proud to have so many dedicated and generous constituents.