Parliament is back in session, HS2 is being considered in the House of Lords, we have had a well-informed public meeting on the terrible problem of air pollution and – on a more cheerful note, Gospel Oak held a very pleasant fund-raising evening in at Ravel's Bistro, a local restaurant! More on all these subjects below.
Brexit means….not really sure
Parliament is back in session, although on the key issue of the day, how to deliver on the Brexit vote Theresa May had little light to shed on the way forward.
In Beijing she had claimed Australia was keen to do a deal with Britain, but it soon emerged that this was not really the case. Australia’s trade minister has told the UK that any post-Brexit trade deal between the nations will have to wait for his country to complete parallel negotiations with the European Union.
Nor was David Davis, her Secretary of state for exiting the European Union, any clearer. He was roundly criticised in Parliament for his vacuous statement.
This is not a good start and underlines how divided the Tories remain on the issue!
Mrs May’s strategy appears to keep the public in the dark for as long as possible, while at the same time ruling out any parliamentary say in how or when Article 50 will be triggered. This is entirely unsatisfactory and we must press for democratic accountability in this – the most important decision to face the country for at least a generation.
Brexit and victims.
On Thursday, I hosted a roundtable brainstorming session on the implication of Brexit on victims’ rights, especially victims of violence against women and girls. We will now press for amendments to the Police and Crime Bill which starts its passage through the House of Lords next week.
Meanwhile, in Home Office questions, I took the opportunity to raise concerns held by leading organisations like Freedom from Torture about the definition of ‘torture’ used by the Home Office when assessing those in immigration detention. It must be wide enough to cover torture by non-state actors such as Daesh. I have a follow up meeting to press the point next week.
HS2 before the Lords
On Wednesday, I spent 3 hours with Robert Latham before the HS2 Select Committee making the case for our local communities facing devastation from HS2. We were followed by Dorothea Hackman on air quality and Bavaani Nanthabalan on behalf of Netley School. See the coverage: http://www.camdennewjournal.com/hs2-schoolchildren
Air pollution – the invisible killer
Talking of air pollution, on Thursday we had a well-attended and very well-informed discussion at Netley School on just what air pollution is doing to all of us in Camden. All our schools are affected by the problem, as well as many people who suffer from respiratory diseases and the very young and the elderly. In 2010, nearly 9,500 London deaths were associated with air pollution – 246 of which were in Camden. If that number of people died from some other cause or incident, it would be front-page news!
It was an opportunity to hear from Camden’s lead on the Environment, Cllr Meric Apak, who outlined the Council’s plan to tackle the issue. A range of local initiatives – from regulating parking and increasing initiatives for walking and cycling to much better monitoring - were outlined. You can find the full Camden plan here: https://www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/cms-service/stream/asset/?asset_id=3478895&
Elliot Treharne, the air quality manager for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, put the risk in context, by pointing out that what was really needed was a plan as radical as the Clean Air Act of 1956.
Sadiq has come up with innovative ideas, including new taxes on the most polluting vehicles within the congestion zone, upgrades to Transport for London’s fleet of busses and help for taxi drivers to buy new, less polluting vehicles.
This was followed by great contributions from Pamela Edwards, co-chair of Camden Air Action, and Melanie Smallman, of SERA – the Labour Party’s environmental campaign.
Pamela produced a range of interesting and sometimes radical ideas, including the suggestion that some streets should be closed when children were coming from or leaving the schools. Melanie welcomed the range of monitors that Camden and the GLA are now using, but pointed out that monitoring was only as good as the action that it led to!
This was followed by contributions from the more than 50 members of the public, many of whom, like Rachel Wrangham, had strong views, about just how the issue should be tackled.
This meeting was our first chance to give detailed consideration to a question that leads (as Meric pointed out) to 26 deaths a day across London. It is a staggering figure.
I took away a series of key points, which we will return to at a future meeting, in the new year. These included:
- A need for bold experiments to reduce pollution and increase cycling and other forms of transport
- Restrictions on rat-runs near schools
- Information awareness raising and websites on pollution and health
- Consider the effectiveness of the enforceability of conditions on appropriate developments.
In the meantime, here are some websites that you may find useful in getting to grips with the problem.
Gospel Oak has a great night out – and raises party funds!
A wonderful dinner and lots of talk and laughter, all in the aid of a good cause: our Labour party. We had 37 people and it was an intimate and fun occasion. Over £400 raised and a four course meal!
You can see all the photographs here on my website, like the one below!
Last but not least, this morning some of UCLs top students explained their work on synthetic biology to me. They are exploring ways of enabling us all to live healthier - if not longer – lives by replicating the way our bodies protect us from illness and ageing. In October, they fly to Washington for a major competition. Good luck!