Monthly updates from Laura Farris
MP for Newbury
Welcome from Laura
It is fair to say that we are ending July on an altogether different note to the way that we started it.
The overwhelming feeling at the start of the month was one of relief – as bars, restaurants, hairdressers (to name just a few) – began to reopen. Families and small groups of friends could reunite and it felt as if normality was returning.
However, the month comes to an end on a note of caution – as data from Europe suggests that the virus is returning and local lockdowns are coming into force here in towns where there has been a failure to follow social distancing.
All of this does not detract from two important points: first that the lockdown was a success – especially here in West Berkshire where local data has shown the rate of incidence and infection to have dramatically reduced since the end of March. But second, that “there is still a shark in the water” (as the Prime Minister puts it) and we all have a duty to continue taking sensible precautionary steps - wearing masks, washing hands and observing social distancing as necessary – if we are not going to undo all that excellent work.
The focus in Westminster has rightly shifted to the economic recovery. On 8 July the Chancellor presented his summer statement to the House setting out the most significant labour market interventions in a generation.
As the furlough scheme comes to an end the Government has identified sectors and demographics to receive ongoing Treasury support.
I was particularly pleased to see measures directly targeted at young people (which I had raised earlier in the Commons, which you can watch here):
- The Kickstart Scheme where Government will directly pay the wages of any employee aged 16-24 until January 2021 on the condition that the employer can show the role is new, good quality (includes training), remunerated at National Minimum Wage or more and for at least 25 hours per week;
- An Apprenticeship Bonus of £2000 for any employer recruiting an apprentice into a new role.
- There is also significant support for the housing market with a significant stamp duty cut;
- A ‘Green Grant’ offering direct grants to householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes from September;
- Direct support for the hospitality via a 15% cut in VAT and the Eat-Out-to-Help-Out scheme for participating in restaurants in August – which I strongly encourage you to take advantage of. You can use this tool to find local participating restaurants:
A personal highlight for me this month was the passage of the final stages of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the Commons on 6 July.
I played a leading role in a cross-party campaign with Conservative MP Mark Garnier and the Labour MP Harriet Harman concerning the “rough sex defence” – a grim defence that has seen men who kill their partners in appalling acts of sexual violence establish in court that she ‘asked for it’ and avoid a murder conviction.
We managed to change the law, by getting the Government to introduce a new clause into the Domestic Abuse Bill outlawing this as a defence. We attracted over 80 MPs to the cause (including the Prime Minister) and the change was widely reported in national and international media. You can see my speech here.
I was honoured to learn this week that as a result of this campaign I have been nominated for MP of the Year by the Patchwork Foundation, you can find details of the award and vote for nominated MPs by following this link.
Finally, I made a number of speeches and appearances in the House throughout July:
- A speech regarding the Chancellor’s announcement on time-limited relief on stamp duty. I described how it would positively impact first time buyers, the construction industry and the many tertiary industries which support the housing market, some of who have been excluded from Government support (watch here);
- Measures the Ministry of Justice are taking to reduce radicalisation in our prisons systems, especially in the wake of the appalling terror attack in Forbury Gardens last month (watch here);
- Question to the Health Secretary on the progress of the vaccine trials at Oxford University (read here):
In the Constituency:
Although my surgeries remain over the phone or via Zoom, it has been a real pleasure to finally get out and about more in the constituency.
Earlier in the month, I visited Thames Valley Police Officers at Newbury Station earlier in the month to discuss funding and police recruitment and join officers on night patrol. I received a guided tour of the station from the newly appointed Deputy Commander Shelly Squire (pictured above on the far-right) and met two armed-response officers (also pictured above) who undertake some of our most dangerous front-line work.
At a time when the appalling killing of PC Andrew Harper is back in the news, it was a genuine privilege to talk to officers about the challenges of local policing and commit again my unequivocal support to all they do in Parliament.
I have also undertaken visits to farms (the Bracey’s in Woolley), schools (the Francis Bailey School in Thatcham), the Waterside Centre which is due to become the new home for Berkshire Youth in Newbury, Newbury College and the Fairclose Centre to join their Meals-on-Wheels work.
I have also joined the Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership and the West Berkshire Economic Development Forum in Zoom meetings to develop a strategy with local employers and training establishments so put West Berkshire in the strongest possible position to weather the storm.
It is a genuine pleasure to get back out into the community, work with our local leaders and use the summer recess to develop plans to bid for Government funding schemes (for youth and cycling among others) that will be published in the autumn.