Karen Buck

Working hard for Westminster North

News

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I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Thank you also to the children of Edward Wilson Primary School for their excellent Christmas Card designs. 

Christmas Card

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Thank you also to the children of Edward Wilson Primary School for their excellent Christmas Card...

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Thank you very much for your email about Brexit. It is utterly extraordinary that two and a half years after the referendum and with only 18 weeks until the end of the Article 50 period, we find ourselves in this mess.

Please also forgive this being a general response, as I know many of you have written to me before and some have raised specific points with me, but the sheer volume of correspondence I have received means that I would rather send a response quickly than spend weeks trying to reply to thousands of people individually.

Most of my constituents know that I have always believed that Brexit would be a disaster and that no possible deal could replicate the advantages of our remaining in the EU. That is why I campaigned for a ‘Remain’ vote and voted against the triggering of Article 50, which locked us into a ridiculous timescale for the complicated process of negotiating withdrawal. And whilst I respect the deeply held views of many people who voted to leave, the fact remains that the ‘Leave’ campaign was based on a raft of promises which could never realistically be delivered, and a false prospectus was put before the British people. There was the possibility, in the aftermath of the referendum, that we could aim for a  ‘soft Brexit’, which kept us in the Customs Union and Single Market, for example. But this was never the aspiration of the ‘Hard Brexiteers’ who now have such dominance on the governments side. So two years have gone by whilst they tried to square the circle of avoiding damaging the economy whilst ‘taking back control’ from Brussels, and without ever being clear what that means. It is now obvious that they have failed.

The Withdrawal Agreement we have before us exposes all those contradictions. It is, of course, only the first stage of the process, so it has always been essential that it sets out a firm framework for the future relationship. It does not do this - the ‘future partnership declaration is just 7 pages long - which is why it is asking us to agree to a ‘blind Brexit’- the Withdrawal Agreement lays open the prospect of the hardest of Brexits in the aftermath of the transition period, which does not protect jobs, rights or living standards. Despite its considerable length, it is asking us to take a leap into the unknown.

So what is wrong with the Withdrawal Agreement itself?

It won’t protect jobs or the economy.

It won’t deliver frictionless trade. It does not include plans for a permanent customs union – which is vital to protect manufacturing. It is vague on the issue of services, which are the larger part of our economy, the political declaration only seeks the bare minimum – (“beyond…WTO commitments”) and on areas such as financial services it offers no firm mechanism to protect the industry.

In the backstop period there will be significant barriers to trade for firms in Great Britain. This is because Great Britain (though not Northern Ireland) will be out of Single Market regulations for goods, and the whole of the UK will be out of the Single Market for services.

It will weaken rights and protections

It only provides for a’ no-worsening’ clause for workers’ rights and the environment, which means  that we can fall behind the EU as rights develop in future; that a future government could strip away important EU-derived rights and protections – such as TUPE, equal rights for agency workers and paid holidays – so long as the UK Government can argue that the overall “level” remains as per the moment of exit, and it will be very difficult to enforce. Claimants would no longer be able to argue that a specific right or protection has been violated, but instead would need to make a more abstract argument that a “level” had been reduced.

As the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The Government has failed to achieve a Brexit deal that delivers for working people in this country. What’s on offer is a blindfold Brexit. It doesn’t guarantee jobs or rights at work into the future. And it leaves the door open for extreme Brexiteers who want to strip away the protections we already have."

It undermines the integrity of the United Kingdom

The backstop proposes a different constitutional settlement for the UK to the rest of Great Britain, which inevitably raises the potential of further pressure to break up the union from elsewhere, particularly in Scotland.

It doesn’t contain the measures we need to ensure our security

There is no separate security arrangement proposed for the backstop period. That means that following transition (proposed to end on 31st December 2020), existing security arrangements would fall away.

The political declaration also suggests that the Government has given up on key common EU security arrangements – including the European Arrest Warrant arrangements (it speaks only of negotiating “swift and effective arrangements” on extradition, not remaining within the EAW) and it makes no clear commitment to main current arrangements in Europol and Eurojust.

It fails to keep the UK in common EU agencies and to ensure close cooperation

The political declaration relies on incredibly vague aspirations such as achieving “dialogue and exchange in areas of shared interest” and “consideration of appropriate arrangements” – not firm commitments to retain membership or equivalent arrangements in a whole raft of agencies and programmes we would want to remain in (e.g. Erasmus, the EMA, EASA, Horizon 2020).

It offers no certainty over future immigration rules

The political declaration is just two vague sentences and no detail beyond committing to “reciprocity”. This is an extraordinary lack of detail on what was a central issue during the referendum.

This is not a deal I can accept. And, although this is an incredibly fluid and fast moving situation, it doesn’t seem as if the Government has any chance of getting a majority in Parliament.

I also know that leaving with ‘no deal’ would trigger the greatest crisis for this country in modern times - the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has even said he can’t guarantee people would not die as a result.

But we can’t accept that this is a straight choice between a bad deal and no deal.

If Parliament does vote this down in a few weeks time, the only and right option is to give the public the final say on Brexit in a People’s Vote, in which the choice includes staying in the EU.

I believe people are much better informed about the options and the constraints than was the case in 2016. Of course there is a risk involved, but no options now are risk free and I believe this is the only way forward.  

I hope this is helpful.

If you haven’t already, please sign up to my newsletter/mailing list (I don’t bombard people!) so I do my best to keep you informed. Link here.

Thanks again and kind regards

Karen

Brexit Update

Thank you very much for your email about Brexit. It is utterly extraordinary that two and a half years after the referendum and with only 18 weeks until the end...

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I wish everyone a happy Shana Tova and all the best for the New Year.

Karen Buck MP

Rosh Hashanah 2018

I wish everyone a happy Shana Tova and all the best for the New Year. Karen Buck MP

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Best wishes for a very happy Eid to you and your family 

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Karen Buck MP

Eid Mubarak 2018

Best wishes for a very happy Eid to you and your family  Karen Buck MP

I have drafted a number of responses to enquiries about what is happening in Syria which have then overtaken by events, so this is a comment on where we are now in what remains a fast changing situation.

There should be no ambiguity about where responsibility lies for this bloody conflict, now in its seventh year. Bashar Al-Assad has declared war on his own people, slaughtering them in their hundreds of thousands with both conventional and chemical weapons, and triggering a refugee crisis of apocalyptic proportions. That he has been able to conduct the war at scale this way is in large part down to the Russian state’s backing. The use of chemical weapons, whilst far from the only atrocity in this war, is clearly illegal.

All of us who want to see an end to these conflicts want to know that there will be a rules-based system in international law, applied with consistency. This means not tolerating the use of banned chemical weapons, but also upholding the UN charter prohibition on force without either the consent of the country involved, Security Council authorisation or in self-defence. Our national interest extends to this, too- none of us are better protected by a UN and an international legal framework which is routinely marginalised. Unfortunately, not for the first time, these laudable objectives are in conflict and are undermined too by the persistent use of the veto-in this case by Russia- which has closed down many of the preferred options, such as no-fly zones to protect civilians. Given the presence or involvement of some 12 countries in Syria from the US and Russia to Israel and Iran, there is also now, in consequence, the very real risk of escalation.

So are there any options which are consistent with international law and which avoid making a terrible situation worse?

I wish I could say with confidence that I knew the answer. When Parliament considered action in Syria in 2013, I voted against, fearing that it would potentially intensify and extend an already dreadful civil war- one we now know was only in its infancy. Recent precedents, some of which I had initially supported (Afghanistan, Libya) and some I didn’t (Iraq) were all far from encouraging, although our action in Kosovo and Sierra Leone was clearly the right thing to do. In retrospect, what has been largely a policy of Western non-intervention didn’t relieve Syria’s agony -The war has dragged on at the cost of hundreds and thousands of lives. What we can’t say for certain is what course the war would have taken if a stronger response had been made in 2013. It may have been that such a signal would have stopped Assad from using chemical weapons again, or prevented the vacuum opening up into which around a dozen countries are now involved. It may have had little effect, or drawn the Western powers further in, repeating the disaster of Iraq. It is always far easier to see the advantages of the path not chosen. Certainly such limited interventions as have taken place before- including last year’s cruise missile attack in response to the use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun didn’t stop the horrors in Douma last week. And no-one was then or is now advocating action on a bigger scale- involving regime change or occupation, leaving all the consequences of a brutal conventional war unaffected.

The allied  bombing campaign may or may not have degraded some of the Syrian regime’s capacity to deploy chemical weapons, but efforts were clearly made to avoid escalation. This leaves open further questions. Will there be further such attacks, and what will Britain do in such circumstances? If not, was this more of a symbolic action rather than one which has a significant effect upon the nature of the war?  Above all, what happens next, since what we know for certain is that this is not ‘Mission Accomplished’ so far as ending the suffering of the Syrian people is concerned.

The question now is, what else can be done to try and bring about the end we all want to see without more bombing with all its risks of escalation, retaliation or extension.

Firstly, I am clear that Parliament can and should have a say before British forces are committed to action in all but exceptional circumstances.  In this case it is hard to reconcile the Prime Minister’s expressed wish to maintain an ‘element of uncertainty’ about our intentions with Donald Trump’s Twitter announcements several days prior to the raids!

Second, we cannot on the one hand deplore the crimes against the Syrian people and fail to be generous in offering safe haven to our share of refugees.  Quite rightly Britain has been a generous provider of overseas aid, but we need to do more to shoulder a fair share of the responsibility for the people displaced by the war.

Third, we can and must increase the cost to Assad and Russia of prosecuting the war- the point I made when speaking in the Prime Minister’s statement last tuesday. That means tougher sanctions, and restrictions on the banking system.  But it is surprising and worrying that, within days of military action in Syria, it seems as though Donald Trump is climbing down from a tougher sanctions regime. If President Assad and his backers believe the lives of the Syrian people to be cheap we can make the cost higher, and increase the pressure towards a diplomatic solution, humanitarian relief and the reconstruction of the country.

Closer to home, John McDonnell has demanded that the government bring forward key measures for tackling Assad’s assets hidden within the UK It is disappointing that the Chancellor does not seem aware of the value of Syrian assets in the UK and that he has not accelerated the introduction of the full public register of the real owners of UK property, as we have called for. According to international reports, the UK is recouping far less from individuals linked to the Syrian regime in corrupt assets than other countries and any delay in implementing the overseas property register, weakens the ability of our authorities to act.

I hope this is helpful.

Karen Buck MP

My Syria response

I have drafted a number of responses to enquiries about what is happening in Syria which have then overtaken by events, so this is a comment on where we are...

Dear Ms Buck

Thank you for your email about cyclists in Kensington Gardens. I have spoken to colleagues across the organisation, and hope this email addresses your points.

I am sorry to hear of the concerns raised by your constituents about the behaviour of some cyclists in the park. Although most cyclists are law abiding and respectful of other park users, a selfish minority are not and act in an irresponsible and sometimes dangerous manner.

Thank you for enclosing suggestions for possible ways to make improvements. Although, as you rightly note, there are capacity challenges in terms of police resource, officers do run targeted initiatives focussing on a range of Park Regulations offences including illegal cycling. In tandem The Royal Parks (TRP) has organised its open safe cycling open days in Kensington Gardens and we hope to do more of these in future.

It was TRP that asked for the removal of two Santander stations in Hyde Park following reports that they were associated with crime. This measure has had a positive impact. We have no plans to remove other bike hire stations as there is no current evidence of the same link to crime and they offer a valuable service to visitors and encourage more people to visit parks in a sustainable way. That is not to say there are not challenges especially from overseas visitors who are not necessarily familiar with Park Regulations and sometimes cycle off permitted routes.

We agree that there is a case for improved messaging at the hire stations and we will be taking this up with TfL. More generally we have reviewed and enhanced our cycle signage. The challenge, however, is installing signage that is appropriate for a Grade 1 listed landscape and does not result in visual littering of messages. We have recently undertaken works to re-draw the white writing on the ground around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and to install new strike-through no-cycling paragon slabs at every entrance into the parks. These make very clear on which routes cycling is and is not permitted. In addition, the park teams regularly put up temporary A-Board signage at problem areas at the request of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), further helping to support enforcement. The MPS is comfortable with The Royal Parks’ approach.

Dockless bikes are beginning to have having an impact in London. A small number of boroughs have welcomed them but most have yet to decide their approach. TRP has not licensed any dockless bike companies to operate in the park and is looking at measures to effectively manage these new companies in future. We aim to take an enlightened approach to supporting sustainable transport but in a way that does not interfere with the safety and comfort of other visitors. GPS may be part of the solution but these are complex issues.

In terms of cycle couriers, they are not permitted in the Royal Parks without permission. The police do stop them and other commercial motor vehicles but some do still take the risk and knowingly come through. If they do this, they could be subject to a fine.

We have spoken to the Dedicated Police Officer (DPO) for Hyde Park, PC Steve Barnes, and he would be happy to take you through the police taskings for dealing with cycling in Kensington Gardens, perhaps at an on-site visit. Do let me know if you would like to do this.

It is very important that we hear the views of park users and we are grateful to both you and your constituents for taking the time and trouble to write.

Best wishes

Georgie

Georgina Dixon | Communications Officer - Stakeholder Lead

Cycling in Kensington Gardens response

Dear Ms Buck Thank you for your email about cyclists in Kensington Gardens. I have spoken to colleagues across the organisation, and hope this email addresses your points. I am...

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I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I am also very grateful to the children and teachers from St Joseph's RC Primary School
for the lovely design of my card.

Best wishes
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Facebook: KarenBuck4WN
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP

Merry Christmas

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I am also very grateful to the children and teachers from St Joseph's RC Primary School for the... Read more

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Westminster City Council recently announced new and much more ambitious plans for the re-development of large areas of Church Street Ward.

These will affect pretty well everyone living in the area. Some directly, as residents in blocks of flats due to be demolished and re-built, and others because of the scale of the building work and the huge changes that will be made to the area over many years.

Many of the blocks due to be re-built were affected by the original, now much delayed, Futures Plan, which was backed by a vote of residents in 2012. However, this new plan brings in many blocks that were not included at that point. The Council is not planning any further votes on its new proposals.

I am writing to you to say:

This is the biggest and most ambitious regeneration scheme Westminster Council has attempted. The track record of delivery has not been great and it is essential that lessons are learned. Both the consultation with residents and the management of the scheme must be a lot better than in the past.

It is vital that all residents have a say in this process - asking questions and making your views known. Labour believes there should be a final vote on the revised scheme. But whatever happens the Council must ensure that the process produces a scheme that Church Street residents actually want.

Tenants (including some housing association tenants), leaseholders and private tenants will be affected in different ways. Proper and independent advice must be available to all to make sure all everyone’s interests are properly served.

There is a strong case for re-developing some blocks in Church Street, and there has been support for this in the past. Some blocks are not well designed, and are desperately in need of improvement. They have been allowed to decline without investment in recent years. There is also a need for new homes. In the absence of proper Government funding some of these will have to be higher-value private homes to raise money for extra Council and housing association homes and community facilities.

BUT

Westminster has a bad track record on providing truly affordable homes, whether to rent or buy, and we need more of these, not just more expensive luxury flats.

AND

A densely populated place like Church Street needs good community facilities - not just school places and GP surgeries, but support for parents, activities for older residents and things for children and young people to do, are essential. Pleasant open spaces are part of this vision, but they are not enough on their own.

The exhibition setting out the plans is on-line at churchstreetmasterplan.org.uk or on display at the Regeneration Base at 99 Church Street NW8 until 29 October.

Please go to the exhibition, fill in the questionnaire, and talk to your friends and neighbours.

I am keen to hear your views, so please so please email or write to me to let me know what you think. You can email me at buckk@parliament.uk

Church Street Masterplan

Westminster City Council recently announced new and much more ambitious plans for the re-development of large areas of Church Street Ward. These will affect pretty well everyone living in the...

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With Airbnb booking up 130% in a year in London, and Westminster topping the list of boroughs with short-let accommodation, I’ve written to the council for more information on the local impact. I’m all for the ‘sharing economy’ but the sector needs managing and regulating too. 


 

09/08/2017

 

Stuart Love

Executive Director City Management and Communities

Westminster City Council

 

Dear Stuart,

The impact and management of short-let/Airbnb accommodation in Westminster

I am writing to you again regarding short-let accommodation in Westminster, and to ask what further steps the Council are planning to take to respond to the problems this rapidly growing sector poses in respect of loss of residential accommodation and the impact on neighbours and communities. We all agree that this part of the ‘sharing economy’ has advantages for home-owners and visitors alike, but it needs to be properly managed and breaches of the rules swiftly and effectively enforced.

You will no doubt be aware of the research published recently by Colliers International/Hotelschoool The Hague, which found that the number of nights booked in London via the Airbnb site rose by 130% last year, from 2 million to 4.62 million, equivalent to 12,900 bookings a day. The research also indicated that the number of properties listed rose by 57%, to 138,000 and over half were made by hosts with more than one listing. Westminster is the borough with the largest number of listings, with over 150,000 stays in 2016, and five boroughs (Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Kensington and Hackney) account for half of all Airbnb stays in London.

Last year, Westminster Council suggested that 3,000 whole properties were being advertised on short let sites- a figure which rose substantially after the Deregulation Act came into effect and could have risen substantially further more recently if the Colliers research is correct. Far from the original vision of the ‘sharing economy’ we know that this suggests an increasingly commercialised operation, with rental incomes vastly exceeding those charged for Assured Shorthold tenancies

In addition, it is now some months since Airbnb announced their own plans to enforce the 90-day maximum short-let rule. This was a welcome step, but as we know, there are a number of loopholes (scope for owners moving between lettings platforms; potential difficulties in tracking addresses), and the new research clearly suggests that the result has not been to reduce short-lets overall.

As you are also aware, there has been a number of complaints about the impact of short-let properties on neighbours, including those arising from all-night parties in Little Venice and elsewhere.

It would therefore be very helpful to know what the Council is doing to monitor the changing situation and what you consider to be the next steps in:

  • Ensuring compliance with the 90 day limit
  • Helping to make sure we do not see a continued loss of much needed residential accommodation
  • Tackling enforcement issues, from the use of short-lets for parties to routine concerns about noise, rubbish, security and breaches of lease and insurance provisions.
  • Establishing what additional contribution the short-let sector can make toward the cost of enforcement.

Could you therefore let me know:

  1. Does the Colliers research align with the Council’s own monitoring of in respect of the number of lettings over the past two years?
  2. Has Westminster updated the figure of 3,000 properties now largely/exclusively in the short-let sector? Does the council have any means of monitoring occupancy levels?
  3. How many breaches of the 90- day lettings limit were a) reported b) investigated c) resulted in action in each of the last two years, and how many such files are currently open?
  4. Have there been any properties in the social rented sector a) reported b) found to be used for short-let purposes in the last two years?
  5. What steps are being taken to ensure that leasehold properties within CWH blocks are not being let in such as to compromise the lease or insurance arrangements?
  6. On how many occasions have complaints been receiving regarding noise, nuisance or anti-social behaviour and have any actions been taken with Airbnb or other lettings platforms as a result?
  7. What is the estimated net cost to the council of monitoring and enforcement of short let accommodation in the current financial year?

Thank you very much for your assistance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes

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Karen Buck

The impact and management of short-let/Airbnb accommodation in Westminster

With Airbnb booking up 130% in a year in London, and Westminster topping the list of boroughs with short-let accommodation, I’ve written to the council for more information on the...

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The rights of EU citizens in the UK

I already know from my ‘postbag’ about the potentially detrimental effects of Brexit on my constituents including the many thousands of EU nationals living in Westminster North. Citizens of other EU countries resident in the UK were excluded from voting in the referendum, and then left with uncertainty about their future. 

EU citizens not only contribute to our society: they are an essential part of our society, and certainly should not be regarded as ‘bargaining chips’.  It is shameful that the Prime Minister rejected repeated attempts to resolve this issue before Article 50 was triggered, which is one of the reasons I voted against it. 

Government Proposals

On 26 June 2017, the government finally published their proposals. They suggest that EU citizens with five years’ continuous residence (prior to a yet unspecified date) can apply for “settled status”. 

EU citizens who have been in the UK for less than five years (from another unspecified date) will be allowed to stay in the UK with “temporary status” while they build up to the five years’ residency required for settled status.  Building up the five years will mean accepting restrictions on leaving the country temporarily. This is all far too little too late. 

Currently, the majority of the 3 million+ EU citizens in the UK do not need permission to live or work here.  Under the proposal ALL will have to apply for “settled status.”  This even applies to EU citizens who already have Permanent Residency (which requires a form of more than 80 pages) or those who have been here more than 20 years.  Failure to do so would render an EU citizen unlawful and they would be committing a criminal offence by remaining in the UK after the agreed transition period.  There will be an unknown level of fee to apply. 

It is suggested that residents who gain “settled status” will be treated the same way as UK nationals in terms of benefits, pension, social security and access to public services, although unlike UK citizens they may need to show ID cards.  But "settled status" would not give EU citizens the same family or legal rights they currently enjoy.  For example, “settled status” would be lost after two years’ absence from the UK; there would be much stricter family reunion rules, and uncertainty about the right to vote in local elections. 

As your representative in Parliament I want to know what you think about these proposals, and about how the current situation is affecting your life. It would be very helpful if you could fill in  my survey here. I will use the results to campaign for full rights for EU citizens. 

I will also do my best to resolve individual problems on your behalf. Please call my office on 020 8968 7999 or email buckk@parliament.uk 

For further information on the proposals for EU citizens in UK:

EU Letter and Survey

The rights of EU citizens in the UK I already know from my ‘postbag’ about the potentially detrimental effects of Brexit on my constituents including the many thousands of EU...

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