Responding to the Climate Emergency
On the Climate Lobby 26th June
With Brexit such a dominant issue in our politics the danger continues to be that other issues of critical importance risk being squeezed off the agenda. So it was good to see the climate emergency being acknowledged this month, not least with the huge ‘The Time is Now’ lobby of Parliament. I was more than pleased to join constituents at the lobby and commit to supporting a wide range of policies to deliver on the environmental agenda. There is no doubt that we are already dealing with the consequences of catastrophic climate change that is leading to weather extremes, natural disasters and rising sea levels. Whilst many of the poorest countries in the world will be worst affected no-one will escape the consequences. Temperatures in the UK are expected to rise regardless of how strongly emissions are reduced, and it is clear that the Government is chronically failing to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change, putting communities, industry and infrastructure at real risk.
Last month, the UK’s independent climate adviser the Committee on Climate Change recommended that the Government legislate for the country to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It said this target was feasible and deliverable and could be met for the same cost as our existing targets were expected to have when they were agreed over a decade ago.
In June, the Energy Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons to say he was introducing legislation to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 with a new, legally-binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.
I have supported a 2050 net zero emissions target for some time now. I therefore welcome the Energy Secretary’s statement. However, we are currently off-track to meet our existing interim climate targets and since 2015 the Government has systematically dismantled policies designed to tackle climate change. It has effectively banned onshore wind. It has reduced almost all support for solar power. It has scrapped the zero-carbon homes standard. It has also sold the UK Green Investment Bank, removed support for tidal power and promoted fracking.
Legislating for a new net zero emissions target is a welcome first step, but it is also vital that the Government takes the strategic decisions necessary to achieve it. This will require large-scale new investment, co-ordinated planning, new laws, and, as with any emergency, significant Government intervention. These things must be at the heart of the green industrial revolution we need to meet the challenge of tackling the climate crisis and I will be at the launch of the Labour Green New Deal campaign next week to help advance this.
My inbox is really starting to reflect this…
Enquiries June 2019
Since the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations throughout April, and David Attenborough’s powerful Our Planet, people have become more acutely aware of the environmental impact we are having. The number of enquiries I have had about environmental issues has skyrocketed. In fact, May and June are the first months in which it has overtaken Brexit as an issue since June 2016! (although this still dominates by far when looking at the yearly average below.)
On another aspect of the environment…
I mentioned in my last newsletter that I had taken part in an air quality study with King’s College London & Hubbub. Well, the results are in and they are quite concerning. The worst part of my day in terms of exposure to harmful particulates was the Tube. The World Health Organisation guidelines advise that individual exposure to Black Carbon – the particulate being measured in this study – does not exceed 10 (ug/m3). On the Bakerloo Line I was exposed to 140 (ug/m3). The Jubilee Line was about half as bad as this although it is still one of the worst tube lines. This is because both are deep lines which can expose passengers to up to four times more pollution than those on the Metropolitan, Circle and District lines.
Personally, I obviously find it very concerning to exceed the WHO exposure guidelines by 14 times at points as there is now strong evidence that both long – and short-term exposure to particle pollutants in ambient air are harmful to health. But unfortunately, I am by no means unique – 7.9 million Londoners (nearly 95%) live in areas that exceed the guidelines by 50% or more. So, it is not just the climate we are damaging with carbon emissions – it is a serious and immediate risk to human health.
Air quality was high up the list when I met with constituents on June 26th and there was a real sense that on this and other issues people wanted to know what they can do as individuals and what can be done by Government. On the air pollution front the guidance should come as no surprise – walking and cycling reduces your contribution and (in general) your exposure to toxic air. People who spend much of the day travelling in cars and lorries are far more exposed to air pollution than those who use other modes of transport. Cyclists and pedestrians may be exposed to high ‘spikes’ but drivers’ average tends to be higher. If you walk or cycle already, this study found that by finding a quieter route to work you can reduce your pollution exposure by 90 per cent.
As well as looking at personal transport habits, people can make sure issues like air pollution are part of the local policy framework in Westminster by reading the 2019-2040 City Planand submitting comment which has to be done by the end of July.
The City Plan makes positive noises when it comes to environmental issues, saying ‘The move away from petrol and diesel cars towards more energy efficient electric cars is going to be made easier by changes to our roads and more electric vehicle charging points. Reduction in traditional forms of traffic will improve our air quality and considerably reduce our noise pollution. Multiple polluting delivery vehicles won’t be clogging up our streets and pumping out fumes, because better, more convenient, options to consolidate deliveries will exist.’
Yet it is also fair to say that the messages are mixed, including on planning provision for car free housing schemes, and the odd statement that ‘Cars provide a….release from the stress of living in central London’. Whilst we have the lowest level of car ownership in the country, car owners greatly value the personal freedom they offer- but whether driving in central London ‘releases stress’ is a moot point! In any event, whether our focus is congestion, air pollution or climate change, we have to do things differently.
Sadiq Khan has been investing in cycling, and has also successfully introduced the Toxicity Charge, the Ultra Low Emission Zone, cuts to public transport fares and ‘no-car’ days. Labour have also appointed he first ever Shadow Minister for Climate Justice and Green Jobs and she has recently called on the Government to create free bus travel for young people to help reduce the number of emissions-intensive cars on the roads, a ban on fracking and increased support for onshore wind. I want to make sure the current momentum around these issues is not lost and I will be speaking at the next event for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution to discuss the results of the study and the plans of the ‘Air We Share’ campaign that aims to cut Londoner’s exposure to poor air quality.
I know this is just a snapshot of the wider climate and environment challenge we face and I have been hearing about a real range of issues. I would encourage people to continue contacting me and when this involves debates and votes in Parliament, I will do my best to attend and when it involves Local Authority or Government plans I will make sure any concerns are addressed. A big thank you to the constituents who did come along last month and I hope to keep hearing from you.
When Great Britain asked for an extension to the Article 50 period- the two year notice period for leaving the EU, which began in March 2017- we were told not to waste it. We are wasting it. Half of that precious six months will have been consumed by the contest to choose a new leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore our Prime Minister, and that context has itself been marked by a hardening of rhetoric about leaving with ‘no deal’ on October 31st, even if Parliament has to be suspended to enable that to be pushed through against the opposition of MPs
I remain as clear as ever that leaving with ‘no deal’ would be a disaster, and as we would also then have to start the process of negotiating a future trade agreement with the EU in any event, it’s scarcely the end to the process which so many ‘no dealers’ seem to suggest.
With time running out, I can only assure you that I will continue to vote against a ‘no deal’ hard Brexit, if necessary by voting to revoke Article 50. That continues to be the over-riding priority. I would also, naturally, support a new referendum between any deal on offer, with remain as an option, and would campaign for ‘remain’ on the grounds that there’s not a deal which offers us the same advantages as membership.
I am very aware that there has been concern about the Labour Party’s official position, which, to be fair, does reflect genuinely held and deep differences of opinion (mirroring the deep divisions across the country as a whole, whether we like it or not.) Therefore I am genuinely pleased that this position has evolved and we are now formally backing a ‘final say’ with a remain option on the ballot paper.
In my most recent question to the Prime Minister, I challenged the Government on ‘no deal preparations’
Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North
It took time to get there, but the Prime Minister has now recognised that a no-deal Brexit is not a viable option. However, she knows as well as the rest of us that many of her potential successors do not feel the same way. So can she tell us whether she agrees with her Brexit Secretary, among others, who thinks that we should be spending the coming months stepping up the preparations for a no-deal Brexit, or with her Chancellor, who has issued an edict that no more Treasury money should be spent on preparing for a no-deal Brexit?
Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party
As the hon. Lady knows, there is only one way for this House to ensure that we leave the European Union without no deal, and that is to leave with a deal and to support the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill and to take that process through this House. I am sure that she also knows that the legal default position continues to be no deal. Were we to get to 31 October—I want us to leave the EU before then—but were we to get to the 31 October position, it would be a matter for the 27, not just for this country, to determine whether there was no deal or not. This is why it is absolutely right that the Government are continuing to make preparations for no deal.
Crime and policing
There has been a marked increase in levels of community concern about crime recently, ranging from burglary and robbery to serious youth violence and anti social behaviour, and it is deeply worrying.
I pushed for a meeting with Westminster Council and senior police in June and was disturbed to hear that we are down by another 200 police over the last two years, coming on top of a reduction of one third in police strength after 2011 when the cuts to the Met budget began. As I have reported before we are also now dealing with the consequences of the complete withdrawal of funding for youth, after-school and holiday services by Westminster Council in 2016.
On the positive side, Westminster Council has now recognised the consequences of that awful decision and will now be restoring some of that money for youth work. This may not be enough but it is nonetheless welcome.
We are also pushing to maximise police support within the resources the Met has available for the whole capital – obviously it is for the police themselves to decide on operational priorities day to day. I have co-signed a cross-party letter with Westminster Council asking for more help, am meeting with the Met to follow this up, and of course have raised this in Parliament on many occasions.
I naturally liaise with the local police and the Council’s enforcement teams about individual issues, which have recently included concerns about the following:
- Burglary and robbery in St John’s Wood
- A number of serious youth violence incidents, particularly on and around the Warwick Estate
- Anti social behaviour in the Harrow Road area, the Maida Hill junction and surrounding streets and in Church Street
- Crime and anti-social behaviour in and around Inverness Terrace and in Bayswater.
This week I was very pleased to have Sadiq Khan come down to meet with me and to hear first hand about these issues. He confirmed that he has raised his Council Tax precept to the maximum possible and raised Business rates to put some additional police back, and I was also able to introduce him to some of our inspiration youth workers as we lobby for support from the Young Londoners Fund.
As I know that many people are not quite sure about how police funding works, and what the balance is between the responsibility of the Mayor and the Home Office, this is helpful from the independent fact-checking charity, Full Fact link here.
Two years on from Grenfell, what progress have we made on fire safety?
The worst residential fire since World War 2 happened just a few hundred yards outside Westminster and many hundreds of residents living locally, including in high rise buildings, watched the horror unfold.
Two years, change has been painfully slow. The decision to retro-fit sprinklers into social housing high rise blocks has been complicated by the issue of access to private leasehold flats ( some will be fine, others may not be.) The removal of cladding on privately owned blocks is tied up in arguments about who is responsible, and the Government only moved last month to offer £200m towards the initial costs, which is very little and very late compared to the scale of the problem.
In the last two years the London Fire Brigade has made over 1200 visits to high rise premises with suspected flammable cladding. Of these, 316 visits have been conducted at premises with confirmed flammable cladding.
These break down as follows:
|Barking & Dagenham||1||Hillingdon||2|
|Brent||23||Kensington & Chelsea||2|
|Bromley||1||Kingston Upon Thames||0|
|City of London||1||Lewisham||3|
|Greenwich||45||Richmond Upon Thames||0|
|Hammersmith & Fulham||5||Sutton||3|
I raised a number of these issues in my speech in the Grenfell anniversary debate, which you can see here.
Meals on wheels? Try Deliveroo, say Westminster Council…
A constituent wrote to me about an neighbour, alerting to me a serious problem which I took up with Westminster.
I am writing to you on behalf of the more of a thousand residents who are presently receiving meals on wheels in Westminster. I am not sure how many of your constituents receive them, but my 93 year old neighbour does. (She) received a phone call from Adult Services, informing her that the meals home delivery services will stop at the end of August. She made a couple of suggestions, namely Wiltshire Farmfoods, Apetito, who do not deliver in this area, Oakhouse , which she hadn’t heard of… she also mentioned Uber eats and Deliveroo.
Westminster have not renewed their contract with Sodexo and apparently there are no plans to use another. Frankly, and I am sure you will agree this is appalling.
Not all of those who receive meals on wheels are able to fend for themselves and some will be on benefits, so the meals will be subsidised, plus they may have carers who tend to them.
The stoppage of meals on wheels will place more strain – financially and otherwise – on social services and the agencies who are under contract to provide carers for those who need them. The time carers spend with their clients is already very limited (unless they are able enough to pay themselves.)
It turned out that residents across Westminster who currently receive a ‘Meals on Wheels’ service through a Council contracted service by Sodexo had been left worried and confused about the changes that will see the contract ended and not renewed on September 30th. The Council wrote to residents explaining that by the end of September they will be able to ‘choose from a menus of options’ but have provided little clarity on how this will work. Different companies have been suggested but there is no suggestion that a direct alternative providing daily deliveries of hot meals was available as an option for residents.
From the start of June residents have been receiving phone calls from social workers that in some cases, rather than providing reassurance, have led to a number of residents contacting councillors and my office very concerned that they, their friends or relatives won’t get the assistance they need after September. There needs to be urgent clarity from Westminster Council about what exactly their plans for meals on wheels are going to be when the current contract ends in September. If Westminster is not going to provide this service for the elderly that many rely on there needs to be urgent clarity on how they will ensure all residents, particularly the most vulnerable, are able to get regular hot meals. They will need will need to ensure all residents are not left paying more or forced to cook ready meals if this would not be practical or desirable for them. The Council must also ensure that these changes don’t lead to even greater social isolation.
Access to justice
I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, and campaigning for proper access to justice, including early legal help, is incredibly important to me. Whether in the criminal justice system, family law, homelessness or disability benefits, getting good advice at the outset is crucial to allow people to exercise their rights, and the earlier it is given, the more it can be possible to avoid complications and greater costs further down the line. Our group has been trying to deepen Parliament’s understanding of the system, including by our ‘Take your MP to work’ day in partnership with Law Centres and other legal firms. I wrote about it for the House magazine.
School budgets under pressure
A survey conducted by Labour Councillors has revealed the widespread impact that cuts are having on schools in the Westminster area.
Councillor Tim Roca, Labour’s Education spokesperson, invited schools to take part in the survey, with 22 head teachers responding from primary, secondary and specialist schools across the borough. Most reported cuts to staffing, books and equipment with further cuts anticipated.
Headline figures from the survey include:
On staffing levels, Westminster schools said that since 2015:
- 95% have had to make staffing cuts due to funding pressures.
- 93% said teacher numbers had either stayed the same or fallen.
- 91% said that teaching assistant numbers had stayed the same or fallen.
- 77% said the number of SEN staff had stayed the same or fallen.
On cuts to spending on other school resources since 2015, Westminster schools said that:
- 65% have cut spending on books and equipment.
- 60% have cut spending on teacher training and support.
- 50% have cut spending on external student support.
- 35% have cut spending on extra-curricular activities
Councillor Tim Roca said:
“We have phenomenal schools in Westminster with dedicated and hardworking staff. However, they need to be funded and resourced properly rather than being treated as a Cinderella service. We want our schools to be able to continue delivering a first class education to our children.”
“I will be asking Conservative Councillors at our next Scrutiny meeting what they are doing to bring pressure to bear on their colleagues in national government to fight for the money Westminster schools deserve.”
My work on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
The committee just started an important inquiry into the ‘Right to privacy and the Digital revolution’
This is looking at whether new safeguards to regulate the collection, use, tracking, retention and disclosure of personal data by private companies are needed in the new digital environment to protect human rights.
The key human right at risk is the right to private and family life but freedom of expression freedom of association and non-discrimination are also at risk. Lots of us love the power of the internet to connect us and answer our searches for information but there is potentially a more sinister side to the uses of the data we hand over so easily, and it may be that the concept of ‘consent’ to this use is not the best way of ensuring that regulation is effective. You can read about it here.
We have also been examining the disturbing issue of the inappropriate use of detention and restraint of children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals, and the threat that such placements pose to their human rights. After hearing evidence from parents and people who had themselves been subject to restraint and confinement, we asked questions of the Care Quality Commission regarding the inspection of some of the units involved.
Local round up
Whiteley’s construction problems
Following the local outcry against the appallingly high levels of noise from the Whiteley’s construction site, a public meeting was organised in late June and residents have now formed themselves into a group – Whiteley’s Noise Action Group. It is clear from the meeting that this demolition and development is causing real issues for people and in some cases effecting there metal health and ability to work. Ward councillor Maggie Carman and I are continuing to urge the Council to take action to reduce the daily noise from the demolition contractors. Residents from all over the area have made contact with their daily experience of the noise and disruption.
The Council say the following actions are being taken to minimize and mitigate the noise:
- The site is being monitored by Officers with regards to the compliance with the agreed 2 hour-on and 2 hour-off working pattern.
- The site has set noise and vibration limits with 4 continuous noise/vibration monitors located on the 4 boundaries.
- An automatic alerting system is in place to notify the site if the set levels have been exceeded and the site has confirmed that since the works have commenced no such alarm has been activated to date.
- The Environmental Sciences Team are actively monitoring data that is received from the site and will check for compliance.
- The company managing and undertaking the construction works are looking at the possibility of alternative machinery to see if they reduce the impact of noise/vibrations from the site.
Taking up residents’ concerns on the Brindley estate
I’ve been doing some concentrated work on the Brindley Estate in W2 following my recent coffee morning, when a number of residents came to see me about persistent issues with housing management, structural problems in the blocks, uncollected rubbish pest infestation, including rats, and anti-social behaviour. This involved Network Stadium, the police and the Council’s Environmental Health team. Sadly some of these relatively new blocks of flats have some of the most severe problems and far too many people are living in unacceptable conditions. Whilst my team is very small I am very happy to take up these complaints on behalf of residents.
It’s always sunny for the SEBRA summer party
The South East Bayswater Resident’s Association is an absolute powerhouse and their events are always well attended and enjoyable- perhaps especially the summer party where the sun always seems to shine. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to write a piece in the regular magazine and you can see more on the website here (and do join if you live in the area.)
At the launch of the re-furbished St Jude’s Hall
St Jude’s hall in Queen’s Park is one of our lovely iconic buildings- it was here that Queen’s Park Rangers started life and over the years it has met a whole range of community needs, from different faith communities to youth and pensioner clubs. Sadly it was plagued by maintenance problems and I have been in there myself when buckets were in place to catch the water coming through the ceiling. I was really pleased to cut the ribbon on the refurbished building which should give it a new lease of life for local use.
Some of the things you have been writing to me about this month
I strongly condemn the Iranian authorities’ continued imprisonment of Nazanin and I believe she must be released immediately. Nazanin has been illegally imprisoned on what I believe to be completely false charges for over three years.
I share the understandable concerns about her treatment in detention. The Iranian authorities must not only end their inhumane treatment of Nazanin in prison but end her unjust detention altogether and allow her to come home with her daughter without any further delay.
Last week, therefore, I went to the Iranian embassy and met Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe who has now joined her on hunger strike. We have been asked to do so if we can to show solidarity with Nazanin and her family in these incredibly difficult circumstances, and I was pleased to have to opportunity to demonstrate support.
In October 2016 I also co-signed a letter to Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary asking the UK Government to do more to ensure Nazanin’s liberty and it is incredibly disappointing that in this time the Government has been unable to negotiate her release. The Government must continue to engage with the Iranian authorities and firmly press for this innocent British woman to finally be reunited with her family.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will continue to follow any developments closely.
Thank you to everyone who has written to me about the Saudi Arabian-led conflict in Yemen and the deeply concerning use of arms sold by the UK. My understanding of recent developments are that last month the International Trade Secretary made a statement on a High Court judgement on military export licences to Saudi Arabia. This followed a judgement from the Court of Appeal that UK arms sales to the country were unlawful. The Court of Appeal’s ruling is a damning indictment of the Government’s handling of export licences to Saudi Arabia. The UK is supposed to be a guardian of international humanitarian law. The failure to assess our own past violations of this law is a clear breach of the Government’s legal obligations.
The Court of Appeal found that the Government had made no attempt to make an overall assessment of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past during the conflict in Yemen. It said the Government must reconsider the matter and estimate any future risks.
Responding to the ruling, the International Trade Secretary said the Government took its export controls seriously. He said the Government had always considered the historical record of Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law. He further said the Government disagreed with the decision and would seek permission to appeal. At the same time, the Government will consider the implications of the judgement for its decision-making. It will not grant any new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners that might be used in the conflict in Yemen in the meantime.
I am pleased that for now the Government have agreed not to grant any new licenses to Saudi Arabia but the decision to appeal the Court’s judgement is, in my view, shameful. Given the serious breach of its duty of care on this issue, I agree that there are clear grounds for a thorough investigation into the Government’s handling of export licences. There must be a full parliamentary or public inquiry to find out how this failure happened and who was responsible.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP