It’s about our future relationship with Europe- but much more besides
Many people have been horrified by the plight of EU residents here and Britons living in Europe, who have built their lives on a foundation that’s now been removed from under them. These people should not become ‘bargaining chips’ in the EU negotiations. They deserve to have their positions settled as a matter of urgency. Sadly, there has also been a rise in hate crime and intolerance since last year; totally out of keeping with our values as an open, safe and diverse city, and that is something we can unite against and declare wholly unacceptable.
I voted against the triggering of the Article 50 Bill in Parliament because I was not prepared to accept the risks that Brexit poses for local people, who had, after all, decisively rejected this outcome.
Since the referendum I have also been supporting the case for:
- Maintenance of barrier-free access to the single market;
- Retaining all the rights - workers’, environmental and human - we currently enjoy as members of the EU;
- The rights of EU residents in this country;
- A close, collaborative future partnership with the EU;
- A meaningful vote on the final deal at the end of the Article 50 negotiations- not a ‘take it or leave it’ vote which is no real choice
The Tories used their Commons majority to vote down our amendments to the Article 50 Bill, but I will continue to press these demands and to oppose a hard Brexit.
Let be me clear, if the deal which will be negotiated over the coming 2 years does not deliver for the people of this country I will vote against it.
I’m willing to fight this election on the question of Europe and the crucial importance of not allowing what happens next to be waved through Parliament by an anti-European Conservative party.
But I also want it to be about more than that.
A society such as ours should be able to guarantee a decent quality of life for all and to make the investment- in educating our young people as much as in homes and transport- which will lay the foundations for the future. Of course, as the Conservatives have already threatened, turning us into a global tax haven and slashing protection for workers and consumers will permanently cut our ability to deliver decent services and support for the vulnerable. We must not go down that path. But even before we face any such choices, there are still decisions we can make about which way we want to go as a country.
Spending cuts hit schools for the first time in decades
Government plans to move education funding away from London, together with a funding squeeze overall, will take £7 million out of Westminster school budgets. Not every school is equally hard hit but many primary and secondary schools will lose huge sums. Westminster secondary school heads have written to me to warn, “many of the gains made in Westminster Schools will be at risk”.
London’s deepening housing crisis
Homelessness has risen 130% since 2010. That was not inevitable - in the previous ten years under Labour it fell by three quarters. But this is only the worst symptom of the housing crisis, which sees developers building luxury blocks for sale overseas, while local people cannot afford to rent or buy anything in the borough.
The government will not build affordable homes, will not give meaningful help to lower income people seeking to get onto the housing ladder and will not tackle the high rents and low standards in the private rented sector. All around we can see evidence of luxury flats under construction whilst long-term residents, including many doing the work that keeps the city going, are being priced out.
Our health and social care services
This has been the worst winter for the NHS in many years, as it suffers the biggest financial squeeze in its history. The Imperial Hospital Trust was deeply in deficit in 2016, and I am hearing more and more stories of lengthening waits and cancellations. The deep cuts to social care for elderly and disabled people - down by a third in Westminster - are trapping people in hospitals who should be able to be cared for at home, and this has backed up into problems across the whole hospital service.
And there are lots of specific local issues too.
As your MP I have never stopped campaigning and assisting local people with their concerns. In the last year alone I have responded to over 6000 problems or policy enquiries. And in the last two years I have worked on issues from the threatened closure of St John’s Wood Post Office to the ending of all council funding for Westminster’s youth service and after-school clubs, from fly-tipping to air quality, from basement excavations to the impact of short-lets and from support for our Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams to help for people facing the loss of disability benefits.
I’ll be out talking to residents from now till polling day, but you don’t have to wait until I knock on your door, though. Let me know about what matters most to you - I’ll be pleased to hear from you!
Karen Buck MP
It’s about our future relationship with Europe- but much more besides Here in Westminster North, electors voted to ‘remain’ by a margin of more than two to one. Since...
From Karen Buck:
I am honoured to have received the trust and support of residents here in North Westminster as your Member of Parliament.
At the General Election on 8 June I will stand as a strong voice for our community, helping thousands of residents every year with issues and problems through my constituency work.
We’ve had a Conservative government since 2010, a Conservative Council since 1963 and a Conservative Mayor of London from 2008 until last year. Now Theresa May has called this election - having promised not to - to try and pack Parliament with Conservatives to do whatever they want, over Brexit and many other policies.
- The worst possible outcome from leaving the EU, damaging jobs and businesses, bringing economic uncertainty and already putting a squeeze on living standards
- Going ahead with deep cuts to school budgets, hitting London schools hardest
- Running down our NHS with longer waits for hospital treatment - having already slashed home care for older and disabled people
- Deepening the housing crisis – building more and more luxury flats while local people can’t afford a home to rent or buy, worsening homelessness (already up by 130% since 2010)
It is more important than ever that we have the balance of a Labour MP fighting in the interests of North Westminster residents - and only a Labour vote here can stop the Conservatives.
I’m looking forward to meeting you in the coming weeks, but please get in touch if you’d like to help with my campaign.
From Karen Buck: I am honoured to have received the trust and support of residents here in North Westminster as your Member of Parliament. At the General Election on 8...
“Many of the gains made in Westminster Schools will be at risk” say Westminster’s secondary school heads
The letter below sets out the concerns of our local secondary school heads as they face cuts in funding due to changes in the way the government supports schools- which has the effect of moving money away from London- as well as unfunded cost pressures. I have already initiated a debate on this matter in Parliament, and will be seeking to do more to keep the pressure up for a change of heart. All views welcome.
“Many of the gains made in Westminster Schools will be at risk” say Westminster’s secondary school heads The letter below sets out the concerns of our local secondary school...
Short/holiday lets (and other aspects of the London housing crisis)
Thank you to the many local residents who completed this survey on line or by returning a newsletter.
The growth of the holiday/short-let sector is becoming a significant issue in London- and especially inner London- as figures collected by Westminster Council illustrate. Of course it is reasonable for people to be able to let rooms or their property for short periods without excessive interference. However, there are still rules which do need to be enforced. Short and holiday lets should not interfere with the right of neighbours to have the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, and care must be taken to prevent much needed residential property simply turning into an arm of the hotel industry.
I also asked a few other questions gathering thoughts on aspects of the housing crisis as it most affects us locally.
A summary of the responses are set out below. This information, and the additional detail many people provided, will be of great help when I attend the Greater London Authority summit on short/holiday lets, and introduce my short Bill in Parliament on the subject, so ‘thank you’ again, and please do feel free to keep your comments coming.
1. Short/holiday lets
I asked you questions about the impact of short-lets, including those advertised on platforms such as Airbnb, on your neighbourhood.
- 80% (out of total of 218) thought that it should be easier to enforce the rules that properties should not be let out for more than 90 days (which currently requires planning permission).
- 81% had experience of a property/properties near you being rented out on a holiday or short-let basis?
- 55% had experienced problems.
Some of you questioned whether there is a “real, evidence based problem”. Another pointed out that there is a difference between short-term residential lets (more than 6 months) and Airbnb lets (which are often for holidays and for no longer than 6 months).
Some of you mentioned a positive experience of using Airbnb yourselves or Airbnb use in your building:
‘on a positive note, we have met some lovely people who have rented the flat!’
short lets are a…‘very useful way to get money in people’s pockets’
However, many of you have experienced serious problems with short-term lettings in your neighbourhood. In brief, the problems include:
- Noise – people arriving and leaving noisily in the middle of the night, loud parties, wrong buzzers being used at night
- Security – short term occupants obtaining keys and security codes (leading to at least one burglary?)
- Rubbish left untied, or left out on the wrong days or in the wrong place
- Drugs and prostitution
- Loss of community feeling
You wanted better enforcement again to ensure holiday/short-lets kept within the law and didn’t cause wider problems.
2. Foreign ownership of property in London [Q1]
We are an international city and very much the stronger and better for it. Ownership of property will understandably reflect that fact. However, concerns have risen in recent years, and perhaps especially regarding the ‘off-plan’ purchase of new homes before they are even marketed in the UK. This lay behind Sadiq Khan’s decision to hold an inquiry and establish what impact this was having. Of the 218 respondents a significant majority (84%) supported the Mayor of London’s inquiry into the impact of foreign ownership on the London property market. Around 70 of you wrote comments.
16 of these comments identified a link between foreign ownership and the high prices of properties and rents in London and a few want foreign ownership banned.
‘Foreign investment in London property is making the city unaffordable for anyone except the very rich.’
Some of you are concerned about the “luxury” developments which are aimed at the overseas market. You were also concerned the link between foreign ownership and money laundering, corruption and tax avoidance.
However, many of you felt that the shortage of affordable housing in Central London has many complex causes – planning restrictions being mentioned frequently.
It struck me that many of your comments suggested that the main problem was that property was being left empty.
‘There are new blocks of flats near me where almost no flats have lights on at night.’
One of you suggested that the Mayor’s inquiry
‘should be expanded to cover the impact of empty homes.’
3. Increasing access to affordable homes
I asked you whether London house builders should be required to ensure that at least 35% of homes in all new scheme are affordable.
A large majority (76%) of you agreed with this question [96/127].
In your comments, many of you felt that “affordable” needs to be carefully defined.
Affordability should be related to earnings and not be a % of average rents.
By affordable, it should be within the actual pay range of most people which is 20 – 25K, not 32K.
These should also be properly “affordable” – when the average couple who are both working full-time can’t afford them, how are they “affordable”?
Some of you felt that 35% isn’t high enough and others felt that it was probably too high and would “disincentivise builders from developing”.
Whilst one regretted the disappearance of the “social mix that used to make London so successful” another felt that “people who can afford to live here [Westminster] should live here and those who can’t afford should live where they can afford”.
4. Changing the private rented sector
A great number of you told me that you had wanted to choose all three options (and some of you said that you would have chosen two).
However, a few of you were opposed to all three options and concerned that these measures could limit the availability of property to rent. These comments give me a good indication of your views.
a) Longer tenancies
Many of you supported the longer tenancy option, with some of you thinking that this would result in more stable communities. However, in your comments, a number of you questioned whether it was realistic.
‘Not all landlords will have enough confidence of their financial position in 5 years’ time to want to contractually oblige themselves for this period. Conversely, shorter lets (1 year) are favoured by a lot of tenants who want to retain flexibility.’
A few of you referred to the fact that other countries have a 2-year minimum length of contract. However, a number of tenants said that they would not want to be bound by a long-term agreement. Others felt that there shouldn’t be any restriction on a landlord’s use of their property.
b) Limits on rent rises
Although many of you (but not all) supported limits on rent increases, very few of you expanded on this in your comments. A couple of you suggested that rent rises should be limited to RPI during a tenancy.
c) Limits on estate agent charges
Again, this was supported by many of you, giving examples of “rip off” charges of £300 for reprinting the rental agreement.
Short/holiday lets (and other aspects of the London housing crisis) Thank you to the many local residents who completed this survey on line or by returning a newsletter. The growth...
Karen Buck MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment
Signing the Holocaust Memorial Book of Commitment, a wonderful initiative by the Holocaust Educational Trust
Karen Buck MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment Read more
The independent House of Commons Library has analysed for me the changes in adult social care spending in every local authority since 2010.
As can be seen in the table below, Westminster has had one of the biggest reductions in spending, from £102 million to £66m (a fall of 36%). This is the 4th largest spending cut out of 155 Local Authorities.
The lack of social care for elderly people who could, if support were available, be discharged from hospital, is one of the key drivers of this winter’s NHS crisis.
The independent House of Commons Library has analysed for me the changes in adult social care spending in every local authority since 2010. As can be seen in the table... Read more
Parliament’s role in the UK’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council
Karen Buck MP
Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Day Reception
Monday 12 December 2016
These are challenging times for human rights. Popular disaffection with politics is placing the laws and machinery that protect human rights under increasing strain. The political consensus which underpinned those protections is evaporating fast and the international institutions which protect human rights face a resurgence of isolationist nationalism and a retreat from engagement. Critics of human rights often complain about the lack of democratic legitimacy in human rights decision-making. In the face of these challenges, it is more important than ever that Parliament gets more involved in debates and discussions about human rights.
Because of its constitutional functions of making law and holding the Government to account, Parliament is well placed to be an effective protector of human rights. It can both prevent violations of human rights from arising in the first place, and it can act to implement recommendations where such violations are found to have happened, to prevent them from happening again.
But most importantly, Parliament is uniquely placed to confront directly the growing concern about the democratic legitimacy of human rights. Elected politicians can feel disempowered if the guardianship of human rights is left exclusively to courts and lawyers. The great challenge today is to find ways to ensure that democratically elected politicians have a meaningful role to play in the interpretation and application of human rights standards.
The UK’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council provides such an opportunity. The first two reviews of the UK’s human rights record, in 2008 and 2012, largely passed our Parliament by. There was no questioning of ministers about the UK’s draft Report to the Human Rights Council, and no scrutiny of or debate about that Report in Parliament before it was considered in Geneva.
Today, the UN positively encourages parliaments to play a much more proactive role in the whole UPR process, realising that parliaments are important partners for the international human rights machinery. In June this year, the Human Rights Council held a special session devoted to discussing the contribution of parliaments to the UPR process, and to identifying ways of enhancing that contribution in future.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, is currently doing some important work following up on the recent recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. I hope that this work will lead on to detailed engagement by the Committee with the UK’s UPR in the new year. Parliament should scrutinise and debate the UK’s Report to the Human Rights Council, along with the shadow reports of both civil society and the UK’s national human rights institutions including the EHRC, and that parliamentary consideration should inform the Human Rights Council itself when it conducts the review.
I welcome the EHRC’s Report and I hope that the JCHR will do everything it can to encourage detailed parliamentary engagement with the important issues it raises.
The EHRC’s report covers 12 priority themes on which it makes a number of recommendations to the UK Government and the devolved administrations. I would like to comment on three of those themes, on which I think Parliament has a particularly important role to play.
(1) Our human rights framework
The Government has created a climate of great uncertainty about the future of our legal framework for protecting human rights in this country. It says that it still intends to repeal the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Brexit has compounded that uncertainty, causing widespread anxiety that legal protections for human rights in the UK will be seriously diluted. Parliament must scrutinise both the Brexit process and any proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights to ensure that there is no watering down of the legal protections that human rights currently enjoy.
(2) Access to justice
Effective access to justice is one of the most important human rights, because often the protection of other fundamental rights depends upon it. Yet all of the UN treaty bodies which have recently reported on the UK have expressed concern about the impact of the 2012 reforms to legal aid on access to justice in the UK. Parliament must insist on there being an urgent review of the impact of that legislation on access to justice, and should rigorously scrutinise the impact of it on vulnerable groups such as children, disabled people and minorities.
(3) Child poverty
Child poverty is an urgent human rights issue. Every child has the right to an adequate standard of living and to social protection. Much evidence suggests an alarming increase in child poverty, yet the legal framework designed to reduce it has been seriously weakened, for example by removing legally binding targets which ministers must meet. Parliament must insist on there being mechanisms capable of holding the Government to account in relation to child poverty.
The JCHR will, I hope, play its part in relation to these three themes, but this cannot be the job of one Committee alone: all Committees, and all parliamentarians, must be vigilant to ensure that no opportunity for scrutiny is missed. In these challenging times, it is no exaggeration to say that the long term survival of human rights protections depends on democratically elected politicians taking ownership of them and getting more involved in debates about their implications for law and policy.
Parliament’s role in the UK’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council Karen Buck MP Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Day Reception Monday 12 December...
I share constituents concerns about the welfare of cats that are bought and sold and about the detrimental impact of poor breeding practices on the welfare of cats.
I believe it is vital that all breeders follow the high animal welfare standards enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) 2006, introduced by the previous Labour Government. The AWA, for the first time, embedded in statute clear standards relating to the welfare of animals. This Act makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring the welfare needs of their animals are met and makes it an offence to cause unnecessary physical or mental suffering to animals, including cats. Under this Act, breeders of cats may be investigated by local authorities where there are welfare concerns. It is also the case that a business that sells cats, unless it falls within certain exemptions, needs a licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951. Local authorities have powers of inspection of pet shop premises.
However, I appreciate that while there is distinct legislation for breeding and for selling in the case of dogs, there is no equivalent legislation that regulates the breeding of cats. I agree that irresponsible breeding is a growing problem and I believe poor breeding practices contribute greatly to the number of abandoned animals rescue centres have to deal with.
At the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to improve protection of dogs and cats and my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are currently reviewing inadequate regulations on the breeding and sale of dogs and cats and are committed to ensure that animal welfare standards can be applied to modern trading practices such as online trade.
The Opposition will look to improve standards on the sale of kittens. The evidence shows kittens should not be sold under 8 weeks of age, and as with dogs, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are looking to see if requiring the kitten to be sold with its mother present will enable new owners to see the wellbeing of the mother. This would be one way of ensuring cats being bred are in good health and are not experiencing consequences of over breeding, like prolapse. The Opposition is also looking at how enforcement could be brought to the number of litters a cat has in any given year. I note the call for all cats to be microchipped, which has been introduced for dogs from April 2016. If this scheme delivers the desired outcome, I believe we should look at how this could be extended to other animals.
As you know, the current Government is reviewing animal establishments licensing in England and is looking at the Pet Animals Act 1951 with a view to updating the laws on the breeding and selling of pet animals. I welcome this review.
The Government has proposed creating a single "animal establishment licence" for dog breeding, animal boarding, riding establishments and pet shops. The Government has said that the law will be clear that online and home-based businesses must also be licensed and plans to update the legal requirements for each licensed activity. The Government consulted on this from December 2015 to March 2016 and in September 2016, published a summary of the responses it had received. The Government has said that over the next few months, regulations will be drafted regarding the specific proposals, which will take into account the views expressed in the consultation.
While the consultation included several proposals on standards around the sale of puppies, I understand that Cats Protection made a submission to the consultation and I hope the Government will carefully consider the charity's views when setting out its response. I also note that the Government has recently indicated that it will be looking, as part of the current licensing review, to make it a requirement that both puppies and kittens should not be sold if they are under 8 weeks of age. I am following developments on this closely.
I will certainly continue to support the improved protection of cats and press for the highest possible standards of animal welfare.
I share constituents concerns about the welfare of cats that are bought and sold and about the detrimental impact of poor breeding practices on the welfare of cats. I believe...