This afternoon I made clear my view that it’s critical that despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 there is no extension of the EU transition period. I was reassured by the response I received from Michael Gove. “Thank you, Mr Speaker, Over the recent weeks we have seen how the European Union’s response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has been fraught with internal divisions, as the German Federal Court ruled the European Central Bank overstepped their legitimate competence with its £2 trillion rescue policy. Does my Rt Hon Friend agree with me that it is now even more essential that we press ahead with negotiations and end the transition period by the end of the year, so we can regain complete control of our money, borders and laws, and therefore have the flexibility and nimbleness in this country to chart our own path to recovery from COVID-19?”
My hair has become increasingly ridiculous over the past few weeks. The situation is unsustainable. Therefore I have decided to shave it off for a good cause. The clippers have been ordered and will be with me imminently. I will be raising money for Age UK Suffolk. Never have they been more needed as an organisation. They have provided invaluable support to elderly members of our community over the past few months and they really need and deserve all the support we’re able to offer.
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Today (15/05/20), Tom Hunt, Member of Parliament for Ipswich met online with a number of Primary School Heads from Ipswich and Suffolk to discuss the challenges they are facing in the run up to the phased return of some pupils to school from the beginning of June. The Heads set out a number of concerns they have including around the provision of personal protective equipment, the need for clear guidance and the impact of potential new systems on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Hunt set out his support for a phased and safe return of more children to school from June. But he acknowledged that nobody knew better than Headteachers what will work for their own school on the ground. Hunt emphasised the importance that Headteachers have flexibility when it comes to opening up classrooms to more children and warned against any attempt to impose a top-down approach. This includes Heads being able to set up rota systems where they deem it appropriate. Hunt promised to stand by local teachers and to raise the concerns they have in his ongoing work on the Education Committee. He also committed to supporting them to have a high degree of discretion and flexibility as the phased reopening takes place.
In the meeting, Hunt drew on the large amount of time he has spent on the Education Committee exploring what impact of school closures on children, particularly the most disadvantaged. This includes children who have SEND, who don’t have suitable access to online learning resources, or who may be vulnerable to abuse at home. It is becoming clearer that vulnerable children and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are most at risk of falling behind during this pandemic. Hunt is keen to see that these children return to school as soon as it is safe to do so.
Following the meeting, Tom said:
“It was important to meet today with a number of Headteachers of schools in Ipswich and Suffolk to hear their latest views on the planned phased return of some primary school pupils from the 1st of June.
“This crisis has interrupted the education of all children and particularly some of the most vulnerable and deprived children in our community who may not have access to things like online lessons or who may even be suffering abuse. There are also concerns for children in key year groups like reception and Year 1 and their readiness and well-being as they prepare to move through the school system.
“This is why the phased reopening of schools to more children from 1 June has my support but I’m also aware that each school is different and each headteacher has their own concerns. And it was good to go into the detail of this during today’s meeting. It’s clear that our local Headteachers must have a degree of autonomy in how children are brought back and there must not be a one-size-fits-all approach across the board. Nobody knows better than them what is needed in their own school and it was encouraging to see the amount of thought each Headteacher I met with has given this subject for each of their schools.
“I will do everything I can as the local MP to support Ipswich’s headteachers in using their discretion and knowledge of their own school to guide this phased return to school. And I will always be ready to make the case to the Government if they need additional support to make sure the phased return to school is as safe and as effective as possible.
“As well as headteachers, I am also listening to the concerns of teachers at all levels and parents in my constituency. I am also supportive of their discretion and I welcome the Government’s announcement that parents will not be penalised for keeping their children at home even if they’re eligible to attend. This phased return to school will work best if all involved are allowed to work together as partners.”
Last night I received this letter from the Prime Minister and I thought I would share it with you all. More details will continue to come out over the next couple of days and today the Prime Minister will make a statement in Parliament setting out in more detail what was explained in his statement to the nation last night. As more information becomes public I will of course post it as soon as possible letting you know how we as a country are starting to move forward with our fight against COVID-19.
I have now written to the Attorney General about Kyreis Davies’s sentence reduction from 21 years in prison to 16. Despite some important steps from the Government to get tough on sentencing and law and order over recent months, it’s clear that certain judges remain frustratingly lenient and out of step with public opinion.
I’ve asked the Attorney General to take every appropriate action to address this issue within our justice system and build public trust. At the moment some judges’ interpretation of justice just doesn’t line up with the public’s. Our justice system must be on the side of victims and their families who should have confidence that those who do them harm will be behind bars for an appropriate stretch. I’ll continue to push the Government on this issue over the coming weeks.
I was appalled to hear that Kyreis Davies’s sentence has been reduced from 21 years to 16 years. This means that he will be let out in his early thirties, having taken away the life of Tavis who had his whole life ahead of him. When the original 21-year minimum sentence was handed out, there was a general sense that the justice system had been robust and that justice had been done. And this has been sadly undermined by this sentence reduction.
I am not persuaded by any suggestion that Kyreis Davies’s age at the time of the murder justifies this sentence reduction. Being 16, he was certainly old enough to know right from wrong. And in fact, he was given a shorter original sentence than two of his older accomplices who were also found guilty of murder.
Unfortunately, this appeal adds to the sense that justice hasn’t been settled in Tavis’s case. It follows multiple instances of social media use in prison of those convicted of Tavis’s death. These harmful actions only cause additional pain for Tavis’s friends and loved-ones and they should never have been allowed to happen. After Callum Plaats, who was convicted of manslaughter, posted on social media in January, bragging about how he only had five year’s ‘light work’ left to serve half his sentence, I raised it directly with the Prisons Minister and I stressed the importance that he receive further punishment. I was given assurances that punishments were being brought but whatever punishment was dispensed in this case, it clearly failed to deter Aristote Yenge who was caught posting on social media in April. Aristote Yenge was convicted of Tavis’s murder.
Tavis’s death was dark moment for our town and we must be able to move on as a community. This means that justice must be upheld and that those responsible serve their full sentences. This isn’t just a fundamental question of justice, but these sorts of despicable crimes must be deterred in the future. I will continue to raise this case at the highest levels and I’ll be writing to the Attorney General to express my deep concerns about this latest sentence reduction.
A response to one of my written questions states that the maximum penalty for those found guilty of using coronavirus as a weapon against emergency workers has increased from 6 months’ imprisonment to 12 months. It will be up for the Courts to make sure that where necessary these sorts of sentences are handed out. As I’ve stated before I think its appalling that certain individuals have taken to deliberately spitting and coughing on Police officers over the past few weeks, effectively using the potential spread of COVID-19 as a weapon.
About 10 days ago I tabled a written question to the Ministry of Justice requesting that the law come down extremely hard on such individuals. Please see below the response I have just received. A key element of the Ministerial response: “It is vital that offenders using coronavirus to threaten others during this pandemic face the full force of the law. Such behaviour is an assault and where this is directed at an emergency worker we have recently doubled the maximum penalty for assault from 6 months to 12 months’ imprisonment. We have already seen significant sentences imposed on those using coronavirus as a threat.”
My view is that no school should be awarded a Good our Oustanding rating unless they provide adequate support for those with Special Educational Needs. Today as part of the Education Select Committee I quizzed the Chief Inspector of Ofsted (the body that scrutinise and assess our schools). I asked a number of questions but perhaps the most important was the one I asked about the extent that they place importance on SEND provision in schools. I have to say I was slightly concerned to find out that under the new Ofsted framework a school can still be awarded a Good or Outstanding classification whilst also having significant deficiencies regarding SEND provision.
Personally I think unless a school can at least meet expectations when it comes to supporting those with special educational needs then they shouldn’t be getting a Good or Outstanding rating. There is much that is good about the new Ofsted framework but its very important that all schools are strongly incentivised to provide first class SEND provision and are properly held to account if they don’t. A number of teachers in Ipswich and parents have raised concerns with me about the way the previous Ofsted framework worked in this respect and the current one needs to be more than just a slight improvement. I will be writing a follow up letter to the Chief Inspector seeking a range of assurances.
A number of constituents have contacted me over the past few days with concerns about the open border policy that the Government has adopted during the coronavirus outbreak. I must say I share many of their concerns and today I’ve written to the Home Secretary in order to express them. Many countries have decided to take a different approach and I can well understand that at a time when we’ve all been asked to socially distance and abide by tough lock down restrictions, it’s slightly perplexing to see around 15,000 people every day continuing to enter the country. I understand that this is well down on the average amount of people coming into the country through our airports but it’s still too high and it does concern me that many are coming from countries where there have been strong outbreaks of COVID-19 and very little testing has been done on our borders.
My view is that you should only be able to come to our country at this current time if there is a critical need and it really is “essential”. I appreciate that in the past many food producers have been reliant on seasonal workers from abroad and that some attempts were made to advertise these positions to people who currently live within the country, but there is a question as to whether every effort was made. Clearly having to import labour at this time is far from ideal.
Over the past few weeks a number of constituents have written to me to say that we need to do something to show how thankful we are to all the NHS workers who are working so hard to save the lives of many of our loves ones. Some have suggested a special medal, others have suggested a monument. Clearly there also needs to be a look at the pay and conditions of some of those who work in the NHS and carers once we finally get through this. One way or another I’m very confident that as a society we will find a way of demonstrating unequivocally to all those who work in our NHS how eternally grateful we are for all they are doing Rest assured as your MP I will very much add my voice to the chorus.