As the Article 50 Bill is now continuing its passage through the House of Lords some of my meetings in the region last week highlighted the work that needs to be done to protect people and their rights following the Referendum result. Sadly, we have seen a rise in abuse of people who come from other countries in recent months and this has been one of the most depressing fallouts from that result. We also witnessed the Government reneging on its commitment to honour the Dubs Amendment and give safe refuge to 3,000 vulnerable, unaccompanied child refugees.
However, what is not talked about enough is the positive response of so many people who go out of their way to welcome and give support to people in our communities. A shining example of this is the work that SARI do in supporting and advising victims of hate and promoting equality and good relations between people in Avon and Somerset. It was my privilege to be able to talk to their AGM this week. I also met with the group of expert women I am working with to plan our next steps in the campaign to raise the profile of women’s rights that we have got through the EU and to ensure that these are protected into the future.
We must always remember to celebrate the good that is done by people who are willing to stand up against injustice and in support of others, particularly when we are living through challenging times, and I for one derive great strength from the inspiration they provide to the rest of us.
I was in Strasbourg for the Parliament’s plenary session 13-16 February, as ever it was a packed week and an important one for the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). On Tuesday, MEPs voted on a report which highlights how clinical research and practice still fails to take adequate account of differences between men and women in terms of health, illness and treatment. The report calls for a holistic approach and stresses that the Commission and Member States’ policies must take due account of gender differences in research and healthcare, in terms of prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Women are dramatically underrepresented in biomedical research, despite making up over half of the EU population. Failure to improve women’s representation in clinical trials and biomedical research results in putting women’s health and lives at risk.
Looking ahead, we are beginning to work on an important new report on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.
In 2014, whilst the UK government continued its austerity driven cuts across the country, the EU sought to invest in regions and communities with its Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI). Two years on EFSI has commitments to help achieve the EU's climate targets under the COP21 agreement, and it has invested in a number of projects around the UK. The EU recognises the success of investing in regions to combat economic decline, so now it is seeking to renew and extend EFSI until 2020. As a member of the budgets committee, I am supportive of any well-designed investment plan which seeks to help local communities. But I will also be critical and table amendments to ensure that this EFSI fund provides added value, and is not just replicating investment from elsewhere. It is essential that a successful EU investment fund should be targeted, efficient and always ensure that it is adding value, not replicating, and not diverting money or efforts from investments better suited to grants or other programmes. I will be monitoring the progress of this renewed EFSI fund through committee, and will welcome any proposals that seek to plug the serious gap in funding caused by this Tory government's economic failures.
I had a meeting with the Socialist Rapporteur for the EU space strategy. I highlighted my concerns about the use of EU research money in space policy to fund defence research. I was clear that Galileo and Copernicus serve important commercial and humanitarian missions, and their legal bases are exclusively civilian. Moreover, I highlighted the importance of UK and especially South West aerospace companies to the EU space programmes. I am concerned this Tory's government's ideological drive for a hard Brexit will mean we are locked out of the EU's space programmes, with huge consequences for the South West's manufacturing industry. The Independent published an article on this subject here:
I also worked with Socialist colleagues to draw up our demands for the EU's 2018 budget. I was clear that we must defend funding for science and research in the face of a serious budget squeeze. For too long, science money has been seen both in the UK and across Europe as an easy piggy bank to raid during hard times. This is wrongheaded thinking and hurts UK and European economies in their world-leading industries. I and my parliamentary colleagues are committed to ensuring well-funded research programmes that benefit economies and communities around the UK and the rest of the EU.
We welcomed a delegation from Georgia to Strasbourg for the 4th meeting of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee (PAC). The Parliamentary Association Committee acts as an open forum for debate about all aspects of relations between the EU and Georgia and issues of mutual interest. It was a particularly useful two-day meeting and I was pleased to be able to meet with Georgian colleagues once again to discuss recent positive developments including: EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation, the consolidation of democratic reforms in Georgia and economic development plans and social policy.
During the week there were also important votes on the role of whistleblowers in the protection of EU´s financial interests, promoting gender equality in mental health and clinical research, cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments, Aviation Strategy for Europe and the reinforcement of checks against relevant databases at external borders.
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