The Tories are attacking our human rights while limiting our ability to hold them to account.
In 2000, the Labour Government introduced the Freedom of Information Act. This Act has proved a useful tool for many. It has been used to uncover over 200 public sector scandals including MPs’ expenses abuses, extortionate pay of council chief executives, the Army’s involvement in the deaths of Afghan civilians, Michael Gove’s use of private emails to obstruct journalists, the cracks in the Hinckley B nuclear power station, as well as some of the abusive activities of Cyril Smith in the North West.
In the first quarter of this year, the government received almost 13,000 requests forcing them to give out information they would often rather remained private. Inevitably, the Tories have launched a commission that meets in secret to look at making changes to the Act.
Alongside this, the Tory Government are also refusing to rule out watering down the Human Rights Act, another piece of Labour legislation that has served to protect many aspects of life in the UK.
The Act set international standards of respect for common humanity. It has at its heart the principle that no matter what a person’s race, nationality, religion, age or gender that they are entitled to live free from abuse or torture and that they are entitled to freedom of speech and religion. This Act shows that the UK has confidence in the international human rights framework.
Without it, our membership of the United Nations and the European Union can be called into question. At a time of international instability with problems such as terrorism, climate change and economic inequality, all needing cooperation between nations, now is not the time to cast doubt over our membership of the UN.
As if this was not enough to prove that the Tories are closing the door on open, transparent and accountable government, they are also imposing measures to ensure they will be in government for many years to come while quashing any dissenting voices.
In the past few months they have curbed trade union and charity rights to campaign against them with the Trade Union Bill and the Charities Bill and in the Autumn Statement they introduced measures to reduce funding for opposition parties.
This, coupled with their plans to change parliamentary boundaries in their favour, all points to a frightening attack on our democracy. People in Shields can be assured that I and my colleagues in the Labour Party will continue to do all we can to fight to protect your rights and freedoms.
Might I also take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this year, it is a huge honour to be Shields’ voice in Parliament. As well as wishing you all a Happy Christmas, please this year keep in your thoughts those who are alone on Christmas day: the hungry, the homeless, those fleeing conflict, the thousands in refugee camps and those caught in conflict zones.