Weekly Round-Up 12 December 2022

A busy week kicked off with a brilliant online event marking the 16 days of activism targeting violence against women and girls. I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on this issue last week, and have been overwhelmed by the response online following my speech. At Monday’s event, I was delighted to welcome Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper to an online “in conversation” event with some of my wonderful Labour women colleagues from across Bristol.

The discussion was engaging and passionate, and Yvette generous with both her time and her insight. As well as recognising the progress made in some areas, there was no underestimating the scale of the challenge that lies ahead to stem the epidemic of violence against women and girls that this country, like countless others, is currently in the grip of.

Tuesday’s meeting of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) focussed on lobbying and access. This followed on from last week’s Greensill report, where we focussed on lobbying. There are many things in common between Greensill and our recent meeting. The systemic failings of the 2014 ‘Lobbying Act’, from regulating the revolving door of business appointments to broader issues covering public appointments, the Ministerial Code and ethics watchdogs all need addressing. The session gave members the opportunity to hear how the EU regime for regulating lobbying operates, and to consider the extent to which some of its features could be adopted in the UK.

During the session, I was struck by quite how quickly the Greensill debacle has faded from public memory, despite the extraordinary shortcomings it exposed. It perhaps speaks to the number and nature of subsequent scandals that have engulfed this Government that a scandal involving a former Prime Minister exploiting his position for personal gain – albeit within the allowed parameters – is almost forgotten.

I was also able to speak in Labour’s Opposition Day debate on Tuesday, focusing on the ever-more-important issue of the NHS workforce. With retention of staff a real and growing problem, I repeated my call for the government to act sensibly and swiftly to address the challenges. With more than 80% of NHS staff homegrown, we need a step change in how we engage with local Further and Higher Education centres, a serious look at housing, and a meaningful move to empower local communities. Only then can we start to deliver a regional solution to the NHS workforce problems.

The issue of probity and common decency in public life that were the focus of PACAC returned in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Keir Starmer, and a number of my Labour colleagues, all pressed the Prime Minister to explain quite how Conservative Peer Michelle Mone apparently came to benefit to the tune of £20 million from the sale of pandemic PPE by a company she helped establish. Despite an avalanche of evidence and revelations, the Prime Minister shamelessly skirted the issue, failing to answer a single one of the simple questions put to him on the issue.

A reminder of everything that is good with our world, however, was to be found at the 90th birthday celebration for Lord Alf Dubbs. A man who has devoted himself for decades to the protection, betterment celebration of others, Alf remains a tireless advocate and campaigner for social justice. The affection and respect in which he is held could be seen by the number of colleagues in attendance, from all political parties and none.

This week also saw the 100 year anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty coming into effect. The excellent House of Commons Library team published a great briefing note on the subject, which also provides some useful markers as to why we are still having some of the debates on the issue. You can read the report here. I was also pleased to see Keir Starmer meeting with Ivana Bacik, the leader of the Irish Labour Party. Their discussion focused on working together to build economic growth and prosperity, and underscored Labour’s commitment to shaping a relationship with Ireland with partnership and an understanding of shared challenges at its foundation.

Like me, Frances O’Grady is a feminist who is proud of her Irish roots. After almost two decades of service at the TUC, including an extraordinary tenure as General Secretary, Frances has been nominated to serve as a working Labour Peer. It was good to join with friends and colleagues to mark the end of her time at the TUC.

If there are issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing Karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk or by calling 0117 953 3575.