As we find ourselves getting to grips with the Government’s new three-tier Covid-19 restrictions, I know that this will be an enormously challenging and unsettling time for all. Whilst there is no short-term prospect of a return to normality, I hope you are staying as well as possible and continuing to look out for each other through this continued crisis.
In the constituency:
The return to school led to a presumably predictable rise in tests, and as in other parts of the UK, constituents shared their experiences with me of outrageous delays both in finding tests and receiving results.
As ever, constituents have written to me on a broad range of issues, although the after-effects of Brexit and the current coronavirus pandemic dominate – encompassing concerns about the passage of several significant pieces of legislation; the Agriculture, Trade and Overseas Operations Bills.
Constituents in Bedford and Kempston are hugely concerned about protecting Animal Welfare and Food Standards in post-Brexit Trade deals. I am also seeing many letters and emails about the need to protect the creative and hospitality industries and their employees from the financial effects of Covid-19 as well as people seeking clarification about the ever-changing lockdown rules.
I’m seeing very long waiting times for Universal Credit claimants trying to get responses to their complaints, waiting up to a year for a decision maker to look again at a payment decision, which should take a matter of days or weeks, and with the Department for Work and Pension’s own ‘Independent Case Examiner’ experiencing an unacceptable and extraordinary backlog of around 18 months.
I continue to be contacted by many constituents who are rightly very concerned about the restrictions of visits to loved ones in care homes and hospitals, and I have met with representatives of local care homes sharing their experiences of a multitude of issues including that costs of PPE have doubled and will soon be unaffordable, and that slow Covid-19 test results have meant staff don’t know if they are safe to work or not, amongst others.
On the advice of the speaker, my staff continue to work from home wherever possible and I will carry on holding my weekly surgeries virtually, with constituents able to book in between 3-5pm on Fridays via Zoom. Email the office on email@example.com to book in.
Conference Season was very different this year because of Covid with Labour swapping the seaside for a virtual world. Labour’s online event, Connected, ran over 4 days whilst Parliament was still in session and featured a strong keynote speech from Keir Starmer. (https://labour.org.uk/labourconnected/)
In the HCLG Select Committee this month, we focussed on Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill and building materials in response to the Grenfell Tower Tragedy. The Committee launched a new inquiry to investigate Government proposals to reform the planning system and relaunched its inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on tenants, landlords and rough sleepers.
Notable votes in Parliament included the Internal Market’s Bill which despite opposition sailed through Parliament with its infamous undermining of the EU Withdrawal Agreement – showing the Government’s intention to break international law. MPs did not get a chance to vote on amendments to the Coronavirus Act extending the government’s emergency powers. Speaker Hoyle said the Government were treating Parliament with “contempt” by rushing through new powers to tackle coronavirus without debate but he was unable to select any amendments ahead of a vote on the renewal of the powers to avoid “undermining the rule of law”.
In the Agriculture Bill, I voted for amendments to require imported food to meet domestic legal standards from 1 January. All but 14 Tory MPs (none of them in Bedfordshire) struck down a Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill to force trade deals to meet UK animal welfare and food safety rules.
The Government also voted down Labour amendments to the Fisheries Bill to enshrine in law a commitment to keep fishing quotas within the sustainable limits advised by scientists and an amendment aimed at banning supertrawlers from marine protected areas was also defeated by 331 votes to 197.
I’m deeply concerned about the latest CQC report into the East of England Ambulance Service Trust which has again gone into special measures. I’ve had two meetings with the CQC, government ministers, this week including a representative from the EEAST. The Trust has endured serious problems for the last decade and the feeling amongst MPs is that the Trust area is simply too big and unwieldy.
I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:
29th September – HOC Chamber: Questions to the Secretary of State for BEIS, on the job support scheme: https://bit.ly/378jv3D 1st October – HOC Chamber: Questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on food standards: https://bit.ly/3dwmyDL 12th October – HOC Chamber: Questions to the Education Minister, on pupils from disadvantaged pupils: https://bit.ly/37f7zxf 15th October – HOC Chamber: Question to Health Secretary about blood test shortages: https://bit.ly/2Her12c