Seema Malhotra MP in Parliament
Seema Malhotra MP in Parliament

Last week Parliament was busy once again, with debates on social care, the cost-of-living crisis, Afghanistan and TOEIC tests to name a few. I began the week appearing on the BBC’s Westminster Hour on Sunday evening, discussing various issues including the PM’s future, the cost-of living crisis and Ukraine. The link to the full interview is here.

One of the key debates this week was the Urgent Question on Afghanistan. I know that many constituents have family members who worked with NATO who are still stuck in Afghanistan and are in danger. I asked the Minister to work to work to bring the international community together urgently to accelerate their evacuation and to tackle the humanitarian crisis.

I also spoke in a debate on Children’s mental health on Tuesday. In North-West London, a staggering 71% of children are not seen within four weeks of being referred to children’s mental health services. This is a disgrace. That is why it is right that Labour is calling for a guarantee for mental health treatment within a month for children who need it, for a full-time mental health professional in every secondary school and a part-time professional in every primary school, and mental health hubs for children and young people in every community.

On Thursday, Shadow Business Minister, Jonathan Reynolds, gave a fantastic introductory speech to business at an event hosted by UK Finance. I was proud to attend the speech and look forward to working closely with Jonathan and Labour’s business partners in my capacity as Shadow Business and Consumers Minister.

Below is a review of the major debates that took place in Parliament this week.

Afghanistan Urgent Question:

On Wednesday (9 February 2022), the Government was asked an Urgent Question (UQ) about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has faced a serious and worsening humanitarian disaster since the Taliban seized full control of the country in the summer of 2021. The United Nations has therefore requested nearly $4.5 billion (£3.32bn) in humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people this year. This is the UN’s largest humanitarian appeal on record, reflecting the seriousness of the situation. I am particularly concerned that the Government has so far made no commitment to provide any of the additional $4.4 billion in aid spending requested by the UN. I call on Ministers to use the forthcoming UN pledging conference in March this year to commit more British support to meet the Afghan people’s humanitarian needs. I asked the Minister to work with the International Community to accelerate the evacuation of people from Afghanistan and to work together to tackle the crisis.

Children’s Mental Health

On Tuesday there was an Opposition Day Debate on the vital topic of Children’s Mental Health. This is absolutely vital, and an issue that has been amplified by the pandemic. There are children who have not returned to school and who do not leave their bedrooms because of their anxiety. It is the same across the country. That is why it is right that Labour is calling for a guarantee for mental health commitment within a month for children who need it, along with a full-time mental health professional in schools.

TOEIC English Tests

On Wednesday (9 February 2022), the Government was asked an urgent question about reports of failings in ‘Test of English for International Communication’ (TOEIC) exams in 2012.

A BBC investigation has raised doubts about the evidence used to refuse permission for thousands of people to stay in the UK for allegedly cheating in the TOEIC exams. Whistleblower testimony and official documents reveal the Home Office has continued to try to remove people based on claims made by the international testing organisation ETS, despite knowing of serious concerns about its conduct and flaws in its data.

More than 2,500 people were deported and at least 7,200 more were forced to leave the UK after ETS accused them of cheating in an exam it set and marked. Others who remain in the UK continue to fight to clear their names after enduring years of hardship.

Responding to the urgent question, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration said it was impossible to say that nobody was wrongly affected by efforts to tackle cheating and fraud in the TOEIC exams, and he acknowledged that several appeals have succeeded. The Minister said that the outcome of cases currently before the upper tribunal presidential panel will have a critical bearing on the Home Office’s future approach to ETS TOEIC-related cases. I support the use of English language tests and, of course, efforts to target cheating. But I utterly condemn the blind eye that the Home Office has seemingly turned to ETS failings.

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