Weekly Round-Up :: 20 January 2023

I started the week celebrating the Samaritans Brew Monday. This was a chance to enjoy a cuppa and a catch up with friends and colleagues in Parliament. It was excellent to meet with Samaritans volunteers to hear about the work they have been doing and to learn so much more about how people often just call them to talk and share. Please remember how important it is to share with someone.

It’s important that we take the time to pause, put the kettle on, and have a chat with those around us. It’s too easy to ask, “How are you?”, receive the answer, “Fine, thanks,” and to move on. Sometimes we need to ask more and make it clear that we have the time and the willingness to listen and care. Saving lives cannot wait – the Government have to take action now. As a society, we need to start listening.

The news that serving Met police officer David Carrick commited dozens of rape and sexual offences has shocked society and caused anger at vetting procedures and code of practice. I have previously taken part in the police service parliamentary scheme with both the Metropolitan police and the Avon and Somerset police. During that scheme, I joined police officers going into the homes and situations of the country’s most vulnerable people, overwhelmingly women. That women cannot be confident about police officers is abhorrent. In some of the worst situations that you can imagine, women must be able to trust police enough to reach out for help. The Home Office needs to get a grip, ensure that proper vetting procedures are in place, and that the culture within the police changes so that monsters like Carrick cannot get away with committing such heinous crimes.

This week the UK Tory Government triggered Section 35 of the Scotland Act following the passing of the Gender Recognition Reform Act by the Scottish Parliament. I’m proud that the last Labour Government secured devolution via the Scotland Act, and also passed the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act. It’s vital that these laws work with each other in harmony. This means we need to have a grown-up discussion on how we achieve this. This is now looks set to be debated in the courts.

The second issue that is related to the above is that this serious and complicated debate is not being held in the respectful and calm way the issues warrant. It is not acceptable for people who stand up for women’s rights and who raise legitimate concerns about the fears of women to have their safe spaces removed to be constantly badgered, attacked, and treated as bigots. We, of course, have to ensure that transgender people are supported and protected in law. This is a complete mess created by the UK Tory Government and SNP Scottish Government playing party politics over the rights of individuals. We must ensure that rights are balanced and not made enemies of each other.

Parliament also focussed on two important laws this week. The first is technically known as the EU (Retained Law) Bill. But would better be described as a Whitehall power grab. All laws passed by British MPs, whilst we were members of the EU to ensure everything was compatible, will be scrapped in one fell swoop under this Bill. Not only is this unworkable – many public bodies have said as much – it will see the biggest move of power from you to the Government. I can see this causing so much chaos and confusion for Bristolian businesses and individuals. What’s being advertised as a bonfire of red tape is likely going to spread and set fire to things we desperately need to keep.

The second Bill Parliament focused on this week was the Online Safety Bill. It’s clear for all to see that social media has become a Wild West when it comes to bullying, discrimination and harassment. There are very few levers of accountability and this must change. The Bill is a missed opportunity to right many wrongs. It has achieved the seemingly impossible of both letting social media giants mark their own homework and grant the UK Government unprecedented powers to determine what you can and can’t see. The ‘legal but harmful’ clause is so vague it will allow a minister to determine content not acceptable in the UK when it’s perfectly fine. Freedom of expression campaigners are seriously concerned and so we should.

It’s great to hear that Filwood Broadway has received over £14.5 million in funding. It will be used to build more homes, community and business spaces in the heart of Knowle West. Our high streets and local areas outside the centre are the beating heart of our cities – they are where we raise our families, where we spend time with friends, where we shop and eat. Levelling up areas like this is vital for improving outcomes across the city and for helping everyone raise their families in safe and pleasant environments.

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.