On Tuesday we marked a year since the start of the first Covid UK lockdown. We had a minute’s silence to remember all those who have died and to think about those who have been sadly bereaved. There have now been over 126,000 deaths, and behind each of those numbers is a family member and friend who is now much missed by those they leave behind. My heart goes out to all those who have lost someone during this difficult year, especially when visiting family and friends became no longer possible and people were forced to grieve alone. The vaccination does give us hope for the future, but we must not forget those who have died, and we must continue to support those who are struggling as a result of the impact of the crisis.
I was pleased to start the week with the debate on the Trade Bill in the House of Commons. I was speaking in support of the Alton Amendment which wants people with judicial experience to have a greater role in examining allegations of genocide of countries with whom we intend to trade. The UK Government’s approach to the whole issue of determining whether a genocide is taking place stinks of rank hypocrisy. They have always ducked the question of whether the Chinese regime is committing genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang by saying that the determination of genocide is a judicial decision, not a political one, and that it requires legal determination. In fairness, that has been the position of successive Governments, but this Government know that there is no international mechanism that will enable a legal determination on genocide against the Uyghurs because China will use its veto. None of the options for competent courts under international law is viable. If the Government are acting in good faith, I cannot think of any reason why they will not accept a role for the judges panel in the House of Lords, as per the Alton amendment, to assess countries’ suitability for trade deals with the United Kingdom.
I was able to speak in the debate on the amendments suggested for the Fire Safety Bill by the Bishop of Saint Albans which would mean leaseholders do not have to foot the bill for remediation work. We know that the cladding calamity that has befallen so many of my constituents did not come about because leaseholders have failed in any way. All the costs that are attributable to the cladding scandal are down to failures by developers and successive Governments, who have presided over shocking regulatory failure which has pushed thousands of wholly innocent people to the brink of financial ruin. The costs of this failure must not fall on the ordinary people who are not responsible for this mess. There are other ways, I believe, that the Government can raise the necessary money. They should introduce a levy on developers and the construction industry to fund the cost of remediation —both cladding removal and remediating the many other fire risks that many of us in the House have been raising for quite some time. It’s time the Government listened to the cross-party consensus that is building in the House and does the right thing by leaseholders and our constituents.
I am continuing to tackle the Government on their atrocious behaviour towards leaseholders and have written a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government with the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street. This just goes to show the cross-party strength of feeling on this issue. We know this year many more developments in the West Midlands will find out for the first time that they have significant and unsustainable increases in insurance, and many leaseholders will get first sight of the bills for tens of thousands of pounds they are currently expected to pay to remediate their buildings. We need more effective solutions from the insurance industry and we need the Government to take action on this.
We received some answers in response to written questions I submitted to the Department for Transport regarding the Clean Air Zones this week. I wanted to ask the Department to review the £2 charge levied on access to the central services unit for Clean Air Zones if evidence shows a delay between required payment to his Department and the collection of the fee to road users by local authorities. The Government have said that motorists that are required to pay a Clean Air Zone charge must pay the charge no later than one week from the day of travel. Clean Air Zone charges collected by local authorities are available within 7 days of payment. Invoicing terms are subject to agreements between local authorities and the department, but local authorities will be required to pay to use the CAZ Central Service no more frequently than every quarter. Invoices will cover use of the CAZ central services in the previous quarter and will be required to be paid approximately two months after the end of the same quarter. I’m still not happy with how the Government has managed the introduction of this charge, and its impact on local authorities, and will be writing a further letter to the Department.
I am concerned at the rising unemployment statistics that are continuing to come out of Birmingham – as of February, the unemployment rate for the population of Birmingham Ladywood aged 16-64 was 14% compared to a UK average of 6.5%. Anecdotal evidence currently shows that the Government’s KickStart scheme intended to place 16-24-year-olds who are on universal credit into work placements is not living up to expectations, with businesses ready to offer employment but being held up waiting for approval from the Department for Work and Pensions. Getting people back into employment, back into the community, and earning and spending on our high streets is crucial for a recovery that encompasses the whole of the UK, not just the affluent areas in the South East. Getting young people into employment is paramount – they are the future and we cannot fail them before they’ve had a chance.
If there are issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy – and please, keep washing your hands!