The Government has staggered towards the Parliamentary recess, with Conservative MPs deeply divided over Brexit. Labour has won some concessions, including a concession on Brexit and stopping the Government from allowing Parliament to break up early.
We had late night sitting last Monday on the Trade Bill, Boris Johnson’s resignation speech and a hotly contested PMQs, however, by the end of the week Parliament was starting to get ready for the recess. I have been in Westminster at the end of last week and for a couple of days this week, continuing with Parliamentary work as well as carrying out constituency work in Reading, Woodley and Caversham.
I was disappointed that not enough Conservatives joined Labour to vote for Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit – a point which has been pressed by Jeremy and Keir, as a way of avoiding a hard Brexit and allowing frictionless trade in goods to continue. We lost by a handful of votes last Monday, after Conservative whips threatened their MPs with a vote of no confidence in the Government and a potential election.
However, we are continuing to point out the need for a customs union and the pressure is building up on Theresa May over trade, with the EU and independent experts criticising her Chequers Plan, which would rely on a complex system of tracking goods, creating red tape and other potential problems.
There is a great deal of concern among Conservative MPs and Labour did win an important amendment on trade in medicines by a handful of votes last Monday.
Work with the Shadow Transport Team
I have been highlighting the Government’s failure to support community bus services, where mainly volunteer drivers collect elderly or disabled people and children to take them to day centres and school. Ministers are introducing new regulations which the charities running these services believe are too complex and will make it harder for them to retain drivers.
The Times newspaper published a piece from me raising concerns about the harmful effect of these Government policies on these important services – you can find this piece here
In my view, this is yet another example of the Conservatives showing a lack of understanding of the voluntary sector and vital local services, it is important that Government Ministers listen to charities and do more to support them.
Campaigning for a third bridge
I spoke in a debate on roads in Oxfordshire to point out the need for a third bridge at Reading, to ease traffic congestion in the town centre, Caversham and Emmer Green and in East Reading and Woodley.
I’m also interested in how a new bridge could promote cycling, walking and bus use and I would like to see a project which supported these modes of transport as well as car use.
The new pedestrian and cycling bridge over the Thames at Caversham has been very successful in promoting walking and cycling and it is important that local travel routes are developed which encourage active travel, to ease congestion for those who have to use a vehicle and to help people who want to find a healthier way of getting around.
I received a positive response from the relevant Minister and from one of the Oxfordshire MPs who spoke in the debate, sadly South Oxfordshire District Council remains opposed to a new bridge although new bridges have been built at Wallingford and one is due to be built at Culham.
Visit to Tesco Distribution Centre with Reading West Parliamentary Candidate, Cllr Rachel Eden and Usdaw, the shop workers’ union
The Reading Tesco Distribution Centre reemploys around 2,000 people and the centre, which is in Whitley, on the site of the old brewery, is the largest dry goods facility in the UK. Rachel and I visited on Friday and were shown around by managers and accompanied by reps and a regional official from Usdaw, the shop workers’ union.
I was impressed by the work being carried out to offer training and development to staff, including HGV and other training and the plans to recruit more local people. The union is recognised and is both representing staff and working with management to improve opportunities for staff.
Surgery in Abbey Ward
I held one of my regular surgeries in New Hope Church, off Caversham Road, and I am working with local councillors to respond to a range of local issues, including crime and anti-social behaviour; road works disrupting streets and serious noise problems linked to the railway, which are currently subject to legal action by Reading Borough Council.
Other work in Parliament and in Reading and Woodley
I am also working on a number of other issues in Parliament and locally, with other Labour MPs and councillors in both Reading and Woodley, this includes further campaigning work to oppose austerity, opposing a hard Brexit and campaigning for more council houses, more affordable homes to buy and for a fairer deal for renters.