BREXIT: I was ticked off by Mr Deputy Speaker today as I used a statement on the UK-EU negotiations to ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office about Keir Starmer’s tendency to go to ground on the big issues, especially the big Brexit-related issues, and how it’s vital that by contrast the Government is resolute in ending the transition period on the 31st December and Freedom of Movement along with it.
My question was quite political and this is what the Deputy Speaker picked me up on. But while I appreciate that Keir Starmer wasn’t there to respond, frankly I felt I had to ask someone about his position given that the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t seem so sure himself.
On a serious note, I think many members of the public are understandably confused about whether Starmer’s Labour Party supports an extension to the transition period. We know that the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens support an extension and so does the Labour Party in London and Wales, but we are still no clearer to knowing what the position of the Labour front bench is.
This is a case and point of how Starmer consistently ducks big judgement calls on key issues, and when he finally can’t duck them any longer, his message is often muddled and indecisive. This is a world-away from the leadership needed on this issue and it’s vitally important that by contrast we work to retain the public’s confidence by ending the transition period on time, and by delivering on fundamental aspects of the Brexit vote like ending Freedom of Movement.
I am glad that Michael Gove reaffirmed the Government’s complete commitment not to extend the transition period, and I thought his comment that we don’t know if Keir Starmer is the Scarlet Pimpernel or the invisible man was particularly apt.
Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, has welcomed the Government’s decision to reverse course on its earlier plans not to extend the Free School Meal Voucher Scheme over the summer holidays. The Government announced today that a new £120 million Covid summer food fund would be set up to ensure 1.3 million children in the most hard-pressed families receive a food voucher worth £15 a week over the 6 week summer break.
The Government’s change of course follows a number of efforts made by Hunt and other parliamentary colleagues behind the scenes to stress the importance of these vouchers to families facing hardship during Covid-19 and to urge the Government to extend them over the summer holidays. Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford also made a high profile intervention in support of the extension of the Scheme yesterday.
On 5 June, Hunt penned a letter to the Minister for Children and Families, Vicky Ford MP, detailing his support for the extension of the scheme and highlighting its importance to many families in Ipswich undergoing severe financial pressure and struggling to make ends meet. Hunt’s letter also came in the wake of a study finding that one in four children in Ipswich are living in relative poverty.
Hunt’s correspondence on the 5 June followed an earlier letter which Hunt co-signed as a Member of the Education Committee on 13 May which urged the Minister for Children to look early on into what can be done to extend the free school meal voucher scheme over the Summer holiday.
Today before the Government’s new plans were announced, Hunt was ready to vote against the Government in a motion calling for money to be available to disadvantaged children over the summer holiday.
Following the Government’s announcement today, Tom said:
“I am pleased the Government has listened to the concerns raised and has decided to extend free school meal vouchers over the summer as part of a new fund. This is an issue I have been intimately involved in as a member of the Education Committee and I know that for many families in Ipswich these vouchers are an essential source of support during Covid-19.
“In my letter to the Minister for Children almost two weeks ago, I raised the fact that there are 3 million children at risk of holiday hunger in the UK and that many of them will be children in Ipswich. This is a scenario which must be avoided and I was ready to vote against the Government today on this issue. But I am glad the Government has listened and will now provide a £90 food voucher for the most disadvantaged children over summer.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has been an exceptional time and it’s important we are ready to implement exceptional measures to ensure that no child is left behind. We will be dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on children’s education for many more months and years to come and it would only have compounded these issues if we didn’t do everything it takes to ensure children come through the summer holidays well-nourished.”
Following my interventions in Parliament last week raising concerns about the violence that has taken place at the recent protests in London I was invited this morning for a special briefing by the Metropolitan Police. The National Lead for Protest Policing was present as well as other of senior Officers. I expressed my disgust at the way a number of war memorials have been defaced and damaged as well as the Churchill monument.
My own view is I think the policing over the past week weeks should have been more robust and that the Policing around protests isn’t quite where it needs to be. It was interesting to learn more about why this is and the Officers I spoke to outlined a number of ways in which the law can be changed to allow them to take a more robust approach. I know this is an important area for many of my constituents, rest assured I will remain on the case. I also took the opportunity to thank the Police for their work over the past few weeks. A large number of Police Officers have been injured and have shown great bravery in looking to protect the public.
Following last week’s meeting with Highways England on implementing the speed limit solution to the closures of the Orwell Bridge, I have now written to City University of London about the urgency of getting their wind tunnel up and running to complete the final safety checks.
The wind tunnel is currently closed and I do have concerns that this could become an issue which causes the timeline for implementing the solution to slip. That’s why it’s important we get on top of this now.
I appreciate that City University is dealing with Covid-19 pressures but I have asked the President of the University to ensure that work starts on this important piece of work as soon as possible. We mustn’t go into the windiest months of another year without a solution in place.
Today I asked the Leader of the House about the 10 people who failed to attend Court last month in connection with the horrific mass brawl on Norwich Road in November. The behaviour of these 10 individuals demonstrates an appalling level of contempt for our justice system and all those in Ipswich who were affected by the incident.
I have been in contact with Suffolk Constabulary since these 10 individuals failed to attend, including to offer my support in getting the full force of the Government behind catching these fugitives. While one of the 10 has now been arrested, the other 9 are suspected to have fled to another EU country.
That’s why I urged the Leader of the House to work with colleagues across Government and with Suffolk Constabulary to bring the remaining 9 back to this country to face our courts, including in the issuing of any European Arrest Warrants if necessary. Bringing fugitives like this back must also be something we can continue to do after the EU transition period is over, especially if those who fled did so under Freedom of Movement rules.
I am glad that the Leader of the House shares my outrage and that of many Ipswich residents about what has happened in this case and that he’ll be raising it with the Home Secretary shortly. I’ll continue to work with the police and with Ministers to ensure that those who have flouted our justice system are brought back to justice and receive the appropriate punishment for this serious crime.
Earlier today I used an urgent question on the UK-EU negotiations to ask the Cabinet Office Minister about the unacceptable increase in illegal immigration across the English Channel and how we can take a more robust approach after the transition period has ended. Here’s what I said:
“We have recently seen an unacceptable increase in the number of illegal migrants entering this country through unauthorised crossing of the English Channel. Does my Right Honourable Friend agree with me that being tied to EU rules and regulations during the transition period makes the return of illegal migrants more difficult and that this underlines the importance of ending it on the 31st December? And will he assure me and my constituents today, that the UK will rebuff any EU attempt to make a new deal on illegal migration contingent on us conceding in other areas of negotiations?
I used Justice Questions today to ask the Lord Chancellor if he was confident that the law was on the side of the police and the law-abiding public in light of the disruptive Extinction Rebellion protests last year and the criminal damage and violence we saw over the weekend. Here’s what I said:
“Following the immensely disruptive Extinction Rebellion protests last year and the violence and criminal damage we saw committed over the weekend by a small minority of thugs, is my Right Honourable Friend confident that the law as it stands is on the side of the law-abiding majority and our brave police officers who have really stood up and been counted over the last couple of months?”
Today I was able to ask the Home Secretary about the atrocious violence towards police officers and the criminal damage we have seen over the weekend, including the defacement of the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square on the 76th Anniversary of D-Day.
The minority of thugs and vandals behind this must be brought to justice and face robust repercussions for their ignorant actions.
After the Extinction Rebellion protests last year and the disorderly scenes this weekend, it’s vital that the right balance is struck between upholding people’s right to peaceful protest and ensuring police have the powers to come down hard and fast on criminal damage and mass disruption.
The law-abiding public expect us to get this balance right and I’ll work to ensure the police have everything they need to maintain public order on our streets.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in about with their latest views on the Government’s plans to introduce a quarantine for international arrivals from next week. On Wednesday, I got the chance to share them in a question to the Home Secretary in the Chamber.
It is disappointing that the quarantine was not introduced earlier when there were deep concerns during the peak of Covid-19 that 15,000 people were still flying into the country every day and the impact this could have on public health. I called on the Government at the time to introduce much stricter controls at the border.
Now on balance I think it’s right that this quarantine still goes ahead because preventing a second wave of the virus must be the top priority. But we also have to factor in that we aren’t where we were a number of weeks ago and other considerations are becoming increasingly important. In the Chamber I mentioned the particular contact I’ve had with people who have loved ones, including spouses, in other countries who are now hoping to make plans to visit them after months apart.
That’s why I called on the Home Secretary to take a flexible approach towards the quarantine moving forwards. We need robust health measures at the border but we must also be prepared to strike a balance where it is safe to do so.
Yesterday (05/06/20), Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, made a speech during the third reading of the Sentencing Bill in which he called for criminal sentencing to be tougher, clearer, and more honest to build public confidence in the justice system.
Hunt welcomed this particular Sentencing Bill which will pave the way for complex sentencing law to be simplified. Currently the complexity of the law often leads to the justice process being drawn out and more successful appeals due to errors made by judges in sentencing. Hunt was clear that the greatest beneficiaries of this will be victims who are the ones who suffer the most from protracted court cases and confusion about what the law really says.
While Hunt welcomed this Bill as a step in the right direction, he was also clear that there is more work needed to be done to build up the public’s confidence in our sentencing regime.
Hunt said sentencing must be clearer across the board. He specifically raised the Court of Appeal’s decision to reduce the sentence of Kyreis Davies, one of the men convicted for the murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in 2018, from a minimum of 21 years to just 16 years. In an emotional moment in the chamber, Hunt described how the opaque appeals process and the lenient result the judge had come to had left him and Tavis’s family confused and frustrated, and without a clear explanation of what had happened. Hunt said that while this Bill would make sentences easier to understand, a more comprehensive approach is needed across the whole justice system to make justice clearer to victims and the public.
In his speech, Hunt also emphasised the importance that sentences are honest and ‘do what they say on the tin’. Currently, many petty criminals are still let out automatically half-way through their sentences, undermining transparency in sentencing and the public’s faith in the justice system’s ability to deter crime. Hunt’s focus on more honest sentencing yesterday follows his readiness in the past to fight against any early release of prisoners. Last month, Hunt had indicated his readiness to rebel over Government plans which would have seen some prisoners released even earlier than the half-way point in their sentences. The plans were cancelled at the last minute.
Hunt’s third call in the Chamber for tougher and firmer sentences has been one of his focuses since his election. Just this week, Hunt was also at the heart of the campaign for tougher sentencing for pet theft, as he chaired a Zoom conference with the figures behind the campaign who launched a petition which is now before Parliament with well over 100,000 signatures.
Following his speech Hunt said:
“This Sentencing Bill is quite a technical piece of legislation but ultimately it will make sentences clearer for the public to understand and reduce the number of appeals and drawn out court cases which are so difficult for victims and their families.”
“This is undoubtedly welcome but it was important to make the point yesterday that we still have a long way to go in building up public confidence in our sentencing regime. I raised the appalling decision to reduce Kyreis Davies’s sentence for the murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens. For Tavis’s family this process has never been clear or accessible and they weren’t able to participate in it. I’ve written to Government about this but we are still no closer to understanding why this regrettable decision was made. Going forwards a more comprehensive look needs to be taken at transparency in our courts and putting the law back on the side of victims.
“It’s also crucial that sentences are honest and it’s no longer the norm that prisoners are let out before they have served their full sentence. The majority of the public can’t understand why sentences just don’t do what they say on the tin and prisoners walk free before serving their full debt to society. And there is of course I made the point that there is no substitute for tougher sentences. The sad reality is that when sentences are handed down now there is almost an expectation they will be too lenient and not represent an appropriate punishment nor an effective deterrent against further crime.
“Since my time as a candidate, I promised Ipswich residents I would push for more robust action on law and order, and I will continue to fight for tougher, clearer and more honest sentences in Parliament over the coming weeks.”