Once again, this week in Parliament was dominated by the crisis in Ukraine.
On Monday, I led the Committee stage of the Economic Crime Bill, which is designed to tackle illicit finance within the UK. The Government have dragged their feet on stopping dirty money flowing through our economy. These measures were first promised six years ago, and even now the Bill will be implemented too slowly and with serious loopholes. My full speech is available here.
On Tuesday, I was in the Chamber when Parliament heard from President Zelensky of Ukraine, who has stayed in Kyiv to lead the Ukrainian people and to fight. In an extremely moving speech, he reminded us that our freedom and our democracy are invaluable and called for more support. I have also been working with local churches and volunteers to boost donations and support for the people of Ukraine. I also attended a meeting and heard from women MPs from Ukraine. It was very powerful to be able to tell them that on International Women’s Day we stood with them and with the men and women of Ukraine.
On Tuesday (8 March 2022), the House of Commons also debated the Government’s planned 1.25 percentage point National Insurance contributions (NICs) increase. It will hit almost 30 million working people and cost families an average of £500 per year from when it comes in in April. It has been opposed by the TUC, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses.
And since the increase was announced, the situation has only worsened. Petrol is more expensive, inflation, food prices, energy bills are soaring. Growth is also expected to slow further. This is the wrong tax at the wrong time. He must abandon the NICs rise and come forward at the spring Budget on 23 March with a plan to make a difference to the cost of living.
On Tuesday I also spoke for Labour in an important debate on competition policy and consumer rights. I called on the Government to bring forward much needed legislation on Competition law. Labour welcomed the Penrose report, which was released in 2021 and outlined reforms that needed to be made, but we also highlighted where it needed to go further. UK markets are becoming more concentrated, and that hits consumers and workers, and stops small businesses in their tracks preventing them from progressing. We also need to see a change to the law to allow for a stronger public interest test for takeovers and mergers. You can read my speech here.
On Thursday, I attended the Urgent Question debate about the Government’s scheme for refugees from Ukraine, where Priti Patel was challenged by Yvette Cooper. On 4 March, the Government launched the Ukraine family scheme, which applies to immediate and extended Ukrainian family members, and everyone eligible is granted three years’ leave to enter or remain. To apply for this visa, Ukrainians have had to travel to a UK visa application centre. None of these remain open in Ukraine, and those open in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and France are experiencing unprecedented demand with people being forced to queue for days in freezing weather.
After a backlash from MPs, the Home Secretary announced that from 15 March applications can be made online, with biometrics taken on arrival in the UK. She added that application centres will then focus on Ukrainians without passports. It is welcome that an online approach is now being introduced. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been anticipated for some time and the Government should have been prepared. Women and children have been pushed from pillar to post in their hour of need. Our country is better than this.