Stephen welcomes London City Airport's new Community Fund

Stephen has welcomed an announcement by London City Airport that it has launched a new £75,000 Community Fund. The airport hopes the fund will provide a financial boost to local community groups, charities and organisations, with a focus on East London.

Grants, ranging between £300 to £3,000, will go to initiatives that enable positive and significant change within the community and that represent inclusive and diverse communities across 13 different boroughs.

The airport is seeking applications specifically from groups that either:

  • build stronger, safer and healthier communities

  • create more sustainable and greener communities

  • raise aspirations of East Londoners

  • or create pathways into employment

The application process, details of which can be found here, has been developed so it is deliberately straightforward - to attract grassroots organisations and smaller charities.

Speaking after the launch of the fund, Stephen said: “I welcome this contribution from London City Airport to the local community. The Airport is a vital source of good employment in the area. I am pleased it has taken this new initiative, to offer much-needed funding to organisations doing a great job in our part of London.”

Prospective applicants with questions or queries can contact the Community Fund directly.

Stephen highlights the role of faith groups in national tragedy

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Stephen has spoken at a panel event highlighting London’s growing religiosity and the significance of faith groups in moments of national tragedy. Organised by the University of Kent Understanding Unbelief Programme and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), the event explored belief and unbelief in such crises.

Last year NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey revealed that 52% of people now identify as having no religion. These trends were explored by speakers at the event such as lead researcher for the Unbelief project, Dr Lois Lee.

Stephen commented, however, that this data did not tell the whole story. He highlighted recent research on the desecularisation of London showing that Sunday church attendance in London is now around 10% higher than it was in 1979, and the number of congregations 50% higher. He noted that in Newham around 260 churches had been founded and remain in operation since 1975.

Stephen went on to explore the role of faith groups in moments of national tragedy such as terror attacks or most recently Grenfell, as highlighted in recent Theos research. At the event, those practically involved in pastoral work and crisis response such as Simon O’Donoghue from Humanists UK and Mark Harris of Samaritans noted the need for collaboration, pastoral sensitivity and to seek out nonreligious voices for media comment.

Stephen commented afterwards: “I am convinced that without faith groups, our crisis response would be much poorer. I was delighted to be at the event to explore how people of faith can best support believers and unbelievers in such crises.”

Stephen visits Langdon Primary School

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Stephen has visited Langdon Primary School to speak to the school council.

Stephen told pupils on the council about what the job of an MP involves and what inspired him to stand for election almost twenty-five years ago. The children were then invited to ask Stephen questions about his role locally and nationally.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “I was delighted to visit Langdon and speak to the pupils today. They clearly care about their local area and it was a pleasure to discuss their ideas as to how we can make our part of East London even better.”

Stephen presses Minister on the question of a second referendum

This morning, Stephen raised the prospect of a second referendum with the Brexit Under Secretary of State.

Pointing out that next month marks three years since the referendum, he questioned the Minister on how long the result would remain binding. In a short response, James Cleverly confirmed that the result would remain binding until Brexit was delivered.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: “The Minister's answer was very weak. It is clear from the Government's own analysis that Brexit will make the country poorer. I do not believe that anyone voted for that and it is only right that Mrs May's deal should be put back to the public in a people's vote.”

Stephen welcomes apprentices to House of Commons

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100 apprentices from some of Britain’s leading aerospace, defence, security and space companies attended the ADS Parliamentary Reception in the House of Commons this week.

Stephen joined the apprentices to celebrate the 12,000 apprenticeships provided by the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space industries.

Organised by the trade organisation ADS, and sponsored by Collins Aerospace, the event recognised the valuable contribution apprentices make to our important, high-skill manufacturing industries, and highlighted the world-leading technologies that many of the apprentices are working to develop.

Speaking after the reception, Stephen said: “I was delighted to welcome so many apprentices to the House of Commons. The reception was an excellent opportunity to meet young people working towards highly-skilled and rewarding careers and to celebrate the huge talent working in these world-leading sectors. These apprentices are great ambassadors for the UK’s advanced manufacturing industries.”

Stephen meets with Fossil Free Newham

Stephen today met with representatives from local climate group, Fossil Free Newham. The meeting followed a debate in the House of Commons in which MPs acknowledged a climate emergency.

During the meeting Stephen agreed to sign the Divest Parliament pledge. The pledge, which has been signed by over 200 MPs calls on their pension fund to phase out its substantial investments in fossil fuels.

Last month, the London Borough of Newham passed a motion declaring a “climate and health emergency’”. The authority set a target for the borough to be carbon neutral by 2030. The motion commits the council to a “green audit” of all its services and states that it will provide air quality monitoring devices in all schools.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows seven in 100 deaths of people aged 30 or over in Newham in 2017 are linked to long-term exposure to air pollution. This is one of the highest rates in England.

Speaking after the meeting, Stephen said “We need to work at all levels to address the climate and health emergency we are facing. I am grateful for the recent actions of local climate groups and Newham Council, and I hope the government will act to support these efforts and lead at a national level. In particular, renewable energy has vastly reduced in cost and presents a fantastic opportunity which we need to deliver on.”

Stephen hosts Islamic Relief Parliamentary Reception

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Last week, Stephen hosted an Islamic Relief event in Parliament’s Churchill Room, ahead of the start of Ramadan. The event – also attended by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn – marked the launch of the organisation’s latest appeal, which this year will donate money to support access to clean water for people in Ethiopia.

The UK Government has announced that it will match the first £2 million donated through its ‘Aid Match’ scheme and Islamic Relief estimates that in total 20,000 people will benefit from the project. The organisation - founded 35 years ago this year - developed in response to the devastating famine in Ethiopia. In recent years, climate change has meant that the frequency and severity of droughts is increasing and the people who suffer most are those who rely on the land to make a living.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “Islamic Relief is making a vital contribution to development projects year on year and I am delighted to support this latest initiative, aimed at helping some of the most vulnerable people in our global community. I pay tribute to all those involved in the organisation and to those who made today’s event possible. As chair of the Interfaith APPG, I recognise the important contribution faith groups make to the fight against global poverty and I encourage people of all faiths and none to join together and support this campaign”.

Last year, British Muslims raised over £10 million for Islamic Relief’s Ramadan campaign.

Stephen attends first ever Understanding Autism session in Parliament

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Stephen has attended the National Autistic Society’s first ever Understanding Autism session. Stephen was one of 82 MPs who attended one of three sessions on 1 May, receiving more information on what autism is, guidance on how to create autism-friendly surgeries and tips on how to support autistic constituents.

The sessions were run by four National Autistic Society staff, two of whom are autistic. The Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA), the Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan MP, who hosted the session, noted how crucial it is for parliamentarians to be more sensitive and aware of the challenges autistic people can face. Lots of the MPs who were there agreed that with kindness, patience and sensitivity they could make a big change to the way they support their autistic constituents.

 There are around 700,000 autistic children and adults in the UK, a significant proportion of every MP’s constituency. The National Autistic Society believes that increasing MPs’ awareness and understanding of autism is an important step to improving their ability to support and champion the issues that matter to autistic people in their constituencies and in Parliament too. The charity was delighted that so many MPs attended and will be working with them to ensure support improves for autistic people at both local and national levels.  

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “I was delighted to attend the Understanding Autism session and grateful to the National Autistic Society for organising it.

“I hope the government will continue to do more to promote awareness and improve understanding of autism. I am committed to making our country autism-friendly and ensure that autistic people can access the services and support they need.”

Stephens joins "locked out" campaign

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Stephen has endorsed a campaign by the housing charity, Shelter, which demands that landlords and letting agents end the practice of screening out people on housing benefits from renting properties.

A recent survey of almost 4,000 private renters by YouGov found that almost a third of people receiving housing benefit said they hadn’t been able to rent a home due to a ‘No DSS’ policy in the last five years. This equates to hundreds and thousands of private renters nationally.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s unlawful to indirectly discriminate based on things like, gender, disability or race. ‘No DSS’ adverts and other exclusionary practices can breach the Act via indirect discrimination, as they disproportionately harm women and disabled people, who are more likely to receive housing benefit.

Speaking at a reception in the House of Commons, Stephen said: “I hope this campaign - finally - persuades landlords to end this form of discrimination. It is clearly dysfunctional and not working for huge swathes of those people on benefits.”

Stephen urges Government action on TOEIC victims

Earlier on today, Stephen appeared on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme amidst mounting pressure on the Government over their treatment of English Language students.

The Home Office have accused 33,000 people of cheating in English Language 'TOEIC' tests - a figure that Stephen believes to be grossly inflated.

Appearing alongside two such students - Fatema Choudhury and Wahid Rahman - Stephen urged the government to allow students to resit the test and prove their innocence: "I think that the treatment of these students has been a disgrace. They trusted Britain to provide them with a decent education, instead they have been falsely accused of cheating. They have been given no chance to appeal, their visas have been cancelled and they have been left in limbo for years. I think what should happen now is that the Home Office should allow the students to take a reliable English test".

Home Secretary Savid Javid is expected to announce a decision on the TOEIC students in the coming days.

Stephen seeks assurances after Sri Lankan massacre

During an Urgent Question in the Chamber yesterday, Stephen asked the Foreign Secretary what immediate relief can be provided to children in Sri Lanka orphaned by the Easter church massacre.

Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt - in his response - gave assurances that the Government would “…stand ready to help in any way we could.”

Speaking after the exchanges, Stephen said: “I welcome the Foreign Secretary's words but these must now be followed up with urgent action, both from his Department and the Department for International Development.”

Prior to the Urgent Question, the House of Commons observed a minute's silence.

Stephen probes Culture Secretary on legislation to tackle ‘Online Harms’

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On Monday, Stephen spoke in the House of Commons at the launch of the Government’s ‘Online Harms’ White Paper. Introduced to the Chamber by Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the proposals aim to establish a new statutory duty of care to make companies operating online take more responsibility for the safety of their users.

Stephen – who last year sat on the Offensive Weapons Bill Committee – has taken a particular interest in the new measures, and their potential role in regulating the sale of illegal weapons online. In the exchange on Monday he pointed out that weapons which cannot lawfully be sold in the UK are freely available online, on platforms like Ebay and Amazon.  He asked the Secretary of State how the proposals would tackle this particular online harm, and was told: ‘It is important that we place the obligation on those who operate online platforms to take their responsibilities seriously’.

Speaking aferwards, Stephen said: “I welcome the aims of this White Paper, but we need to see much more detail on how it will be turned into concrete action. Last year I sought to make it illegal for companies to advertise illegal weapons online in the UK. When I raised the matter in Bill Committee the Minister responded that the problem would be tackled in this White Paper on Online Harms. We need action to shut down this trade in illegal weapons, which is fuelling violent crime on our streets.”

The Government is now holding an open consultation on the proposals outlined by the White Paper, which is set to close on 1 July 2019.

Stephen speaks at book launch on food poverty

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Stephen has hosted a book launch in Parliament on behalf of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). CPAG has worked alongside researchers at UCL in putting together a study called Living Hand to Mouth: Children and Food in Low-income Families.

The book includes conversations with 51 children from low-income families in south-east England who describe their experiences of food at home, school and in social settings. The interviews, which form part of a larger European study of food poverty among children and families in Portugal, Norway and the UK, offer an insight into children’s lived experience of food poverty.

The findings also reveal how children whose families have no recourse to public funds – usually because of unresolved immigration status – are not entitled to free school meals, and that while some schools fund lunches for these children, others do not, meaning some youngsters go hungry during the day.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of CPAG, said: “The young people in this study make the case for universal free school meals more powerfully than anyone else could. They should be part of the solution but wider government action is needed – urgently – to eradicate the poverty that underlies children’s hunger. As a minimum, free school meals should be restored for all families on Universal Credit.”

Speaking about the report, Stephen said: “One of the really powerful features of this report is the voices of children themselves. We need it to be well-known just how hard many children are finding life at the moment so that politicians grasp the importance of changing tack to address the problems.

“Figures published last week showed that 4.1 million children were living below the poverty line. One of the factors driving the problem is Universal Credit. I have raised this time and time again with Ministers but they are yet to listen.”

Stephen presses the Home Secretary on TOEIC students

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Yesterday, Stephen asked the Home Secretary for an update on the position of overseas students who have sat TOEIC English Language tests.

Following a Panorama report in 2014 exposing some instances of cheating, the Government issued a blanket response to all those students who had sat the TOEIC tests - taking steps to suspend them from their degree courses and remove them from the country. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that he had held meetings about this matter last week and would be in touch with Stephen shortly.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: “The Government's approach towards these students has been extremely severe. All have been deemed guilty of cheating based on scant evidence and those who protest their innocence have never been allowed the opportunity to resit the test.

“The Secretary of State has assured me on several occasions that he is taking this matter seriously and from his answer today it looks as if new decisions may have been made. I very much hope to hear from the Home Secretary without delay; and I hope too that measures have been taken to end the years of hardship endured by those students falsely accused of cheating on their English Language tests.”

Watch the video here.

Stephen presses Ministers on the Disability Employment Gap

Stephen Timms questioned Work and Pensions Minister, Justin Tomlinson, about disability employment figures earlier on today in the House of Commons chamber.

Stephen pointed out that the Conservative Party has abandoned its 2015 election pledge to halve the Disability Employment Gap and asked what will happen over the next five years. In his response, the Minister conceded that the gap has only closed by 3.6%.

Speaking after the exchange Stephen said: “This answer was very disappointing. Not only has the Government abandoned its 2015 pledge, it has made very little headway on reducing the gap at all and does not have concrete plans on how to make future progress.”

Stephen casts indicative votes in attempt to break Brexit deadlock

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Stephen has – alongside his parliamentary colleagues – cast a series of indicative votes to test the will of the House of Commons on a variety of possible Brexit options. Stephen voted in favour of five of the eight options put to MPs, including an option to revoke Article 50 to avoid No Deal and an option to hold a Public Vote.

Although none of the eight options commanded a majority in the House, two came close. These were the proposal by Kenneth Clarke MP to keep the UK in a Customs Union (voted down by 272 votes to 264) and Margaret Beckett MP’s proposal to make the Prime Minister’s deal contingent on a public vote (voted down by 295 votes to 268).

Speaking after the votes, Stephen said: “Although none of yesterday’s options got an overall majority, two have become front-runners; the Customs Union and the Public Vote. Both of these have significantly more support in Parliament than the Prime Minister’s deal.

”My preferred option is still a Public Vote and yesterday’s result shows that there is scope for this option being approved by Parliament. It is now time for the Government to put its deal to the people to break the Brexit deadlock”
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A Statutory Instrument was also passed by the Commons yesterday, delaying Britain’s departure from the EU. If the Prime Minister’s deal is passed this week Britain will be set to exit the EU on 12 April, but failing this, Brexit day will be set as 22 May.

Stephen questions Government record on Child Poverty

Stephen has today questioned Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd about the Government's record on Child Poverty in the Chamber of the House of Commons. Stephen was the Minister responsible for the Child Poverty Bill of 2009.

New figures show that - despite years of improvement under the Labour Government - the problem is now getting significantly worse again.

Stephen suggested that the issue could be addressed though changes in the delivery of Universal Credit - a key plank of the Government's Welfare Reform Programme.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: "If the system were restructured to scrap the five week wait at the beginning of the benefit claim, countless families could be saved from sliding into the cycle of debt and destitution. Unfortunately, despite agreeing to look at this idea, the Secretary of State has not yet been responsive and I fear that, until she is, many more families will continue to suffer".

Stephen urges West Ham to ban Democratic Football Lads Alliance

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Stephen has joined east London politicians urging West Ham United’s board to ban activists accused of fuelling racism in football.

In a letter to the West Ham, the group - which included fellow MPs Lyn Brown, Jon Cruddas, Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick - called on the club to reject the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA). The letter was also signed by Newham Mayor, Roksana Fiaz and London Assembly member, Unmesh Desai,

The letter stated: “We ask that West Ham United FC issue a clear unequivocal statement that the DFLA form no part of the West Ham family; they are not welcome at West Ham and never will be.” The group added that following the terror attacks in New Zealand – when 50 worshippers were killed in mosques – everyone had to play a part in making sure Islamophobia, racism, antisemitism and hate crime have no place in communities or football.

The politicians also warned that far right activists are targeting matches to recruit supporters under the banner of the DFLA which they accused of fuelling anti-Muslim hatred and organising violent demonstrations.

Speaking about the letter, Stephen said: “West Ham are a huge part of our community. I hope they will work with me and the signatories of this letter challenge groups like the DFLA whose rhetoric is deeply troubling.”

A West Ham United spokesman said: “It is well known that the club is unequivocal in its stance against all forms of racism and discrimination. Islamophobia, racism, antisemitism and hate crime have no place in our communities and no place in football.”

Stephen endorses record petition on Article 50

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Stephen has acknowledged the “staggering” online petition which has asked to revoke Article 50. As of Monday, 6,888 people in East Ham had added their name .

The petition states: “We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now for remaining in the EU.” It has the highest sign-up rate on record.

Speaking to the Newham Recorder, Stephen said: “The petition is a staggering size with so many signing up. This reflects deep anxiety about where the UK is going and the prime minister’s leadership—she just hasn’t got the support.”

“I agree with the million people on Saturday’s march. Now we know what the deal is, we should have a public vote on whether to leave or stay in the EU.”

Stephen pushes Minister for a public vote

During an Urgent Question today in the Chamber of the House of Commons, Stephen asked DExEU Minister Robin Walker whether the Government would commit to a public vote in the event that the Prime Minister's deal is passed by Parliament. The Ministerial response confirmed that a public vote is "not something this Government would ever support".

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: "This is a very disappointing response from the Minister. As we are now faced with the Prime Minister's deeply flawed deal and the prospect of a disastrous No Deal, I am backing a public vote to prevent a damaging form of Brexit being forced on our country".