The war in Ukraine continues to dominate our television screens and newspapers. It is still hard to believe that in a modern European country people are being bombed, shelled, starved and displaced by another country that has decided to invade them. As I write, the situation in Mariupol is particularly shocking. The Russians are trying to destroy it – it is reported that 90% of buildings have been damaged in some way – and there is no running water or electricity. No wonder the conditions there have been described as medieval.
The Ukrainian people continue to need our support and recently I met four Ukrainian women MPs who had travelled for three days to reach the House of Commons to tell us the story of what is happening. They were very straightforward. They said they need humanitarian aid, fighter jets, anti-tank weapons, body armour and a no-fly zone. They also revealed that the Ukrainian Parliament had met three times in Kiev since the invasion began, despite the risks.
And as the Ukrainian armed forces bravely fight to stop the Russian advance, about 10 million Ukrainians have now been internally displaced or have fled the country across the border into Poland, Hungary and elsewhere. In Britain, including Leeds, we have a long and proud tradition of offering shelter to those fleeing war and persecution, and so we should extend a warm welcome to those fleeing Ukraine who want to come here to be with family members or to seek shelter. The best way to do this would be to offer emergency protection visas. These would lift normal visa conditions other than biometrics and security checks, which can be swiftly done en route, and so provide a quick, simple and safe route to sanctuary for all who need it.
Meanwhile at home, workers at P&O Ferries were stunned recently when the company announced that they were sacking 800 staff so as to replace them with cheaper workers from overseas paid far below the minimum wage. This scandalous action shows sheer contempt for the workforce. Unscrupulous employers must not be given free rein to sack long-standing and loyal workers and replace them with agency staff. We held an emergency vote in Parliament on 21 March demanding that the company reinstate the workforce and calling on the Government to force the company to think again, outlaw fire and rehire and strengthen workers’ rights so this can never happen again.
There is growing concern about the impact that rapidly rising energy bills are going to have on many families in our community. We’re talking about increases that will be simply unaffordable for some households. They will be left in the position of having to choose between heating or eating or paying other bills. What will the energy companies do come this autumn and winter when there are large arrears on energy bills? I’m particularly worried about those on pre-payment meters which is what the companies traditionally fit when customers are behind with their bills. We cannot have a situation in which people are in effect cut off from heat and light because they don’t have enough money.
I recently had an email from someone about the menace of quad bikes in South Leeds. It’s not the first complaint I’ve had, but the sight of these bikes racing around at high and dangerous speeds and churning up the grass is both alarming and depressing.
The police are well aware of the problem, and they had a recent success, after a painstaking investigation by the Leeds South Neighbourhood Policing Team, when six men who took part in two illegal motorbike ‘ride outs’ across Leeds and Wakefield were sentenced. As South Leeds Life reported “they were seen pulling wheelies in the middle of the road, riding on footpaths, jumping red lights, weaving among traffic, and deliberately wheel-spinning on grassed areas making mud fly and damaging verges.”
But it does raise the question of how we deal with anti-social behaviour of all sorts. Quad bikes are one example; noisy neighbours are another. Over the years, many people have contacted me because their life is being made a misery by their neighbours who don’t seem to know how to behave with consideration for others. I recently met the noise nuisance team at the Council to talk about how they are trying to deal with the problem and what new powers might be required to assist them in their work. I now intend to raise the matter in Parliament.
And finally, to end on a happy note, it was a very special day in the House of Commons recently when we looked up at the visitors’ gallery and saw Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella smiling down on us as the Foreign Secretary announced that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori had been freed from detention and the plane bringing them home had taken off. It is shocking that the Iranian regime used these British subjects as ransom hostages, but what really impressed me at the press conference Nazanin gave was her grace and her determination not to let those six dark years separated from her husband and her daughter dominate the rest of her life. It is a lesson to all of us in trying to find something positive from the darkest of days.