On Monday, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Restorative Justice (RJ) held its AGM and I was honoured to be re-elected as vice-chair. Elliot Colburn MP was re-elected as chair, and I look forward to working with Elliot to complete our evidence collecting sessions which will form the basis of our report into the current state of RJ in the UK.
The business in the Chamber was the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Restoration) Bill Committee Stage which was debated for 6 hours. There were multiple votes from 8.12pm on opposition and Government amendments and clauses.
Labour voted for amendment 116 to stop disclosure of existing inquests into Troubles Deaths, and lost by 211 to 282 votes. And voted for amendment 114, to stop anyone given immunity from profiting from it, and lost by 209 by 282 votes.
Labour voted against Government clause 39 which sets out the new process for Inquests, Investigations and Inquires, and lost by 211 votes to 282.
Labour voted against DUP New Clause 5 if a person is granted immunity from prosecution but later evidence is submitted which is conclusive evidence that the person’s account was not true, and it fell by 218 to 282 votes.
Labour voted against DUP New Clause 4 which aimed to make receiving immunity an aggravating factor in sentencing for the offence of glorifying terrorism, and it fell by 220 to 283 votes.
Labour voted against 3rd Reading, but it was passed by 217 to 282 votes.
Draft Slavery and Human Trafficking (Definition of Victim) Regulations 2022 was taken in deferred division and we lost the final vote of the night by 217 to 282 votes.
On Tuesday morning I dropped into the River Bathing Waters event hosted by Surfers Against Sewage. They believe that there’s a strong case for designating 200 inland bathing waters by 2030, and call for the UK Government to focus on inland bathing waters in its Storm Overflow Action Plan. Only 14% of UK rivers reach good ecological status and none reach good chemical status. One of the major sources of pollution is sewage, and over 90% of all sewer outflows in England and Wales flow directly into rivers and seas with, 372,533 recorded instances. There is increasing popularity amongst the public for using inland blue spaces for swimming, paddling, kayaking, and more, there is a serious threat of people becoming ill. Polling by Surfers Against Sewage found that one in six have tried wild water swimming and 55% have become ill. And 52% are afraid of wild water swimming because they do not know whether the water will be clean. The campaign is encouraging local communities to apply to Government agencies for Bathing Water Designation of their wild waters.
As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I attended the launch of the Co-op UK social mobility impact report with society Group Chief Executive Officer of Co-op UK Shirine Khoury-Haq, hosted by Jim McMahon MP, chair of the UK Co-operative Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Since stepping down as an MP in 2019, Justine Greening has set up the Purpose Coalition which brings together organisations from across the country who are committed to making changes in order to boost social mobility and improve equality of opportunity. The coalition includes Adecco and Sage, BBC, Channel 4, NHS Trusts, over 20 Universities, including the University of Wales, and the Co-op Group. The report sets out the Co-op Group’s ambition to improve access to opportunities through apprenticeships, its academies, its transition from education to employment, and diversity reporting.
I attended the weekly meeting of the Petitions Committee to discuss the petitions that have reached the threshold of 100,000 signatures required, and to schedule them to be debated at our usual Monday night Westminster Hall slot. Next Monday at 4.30pm petition 602285, relating to the use of real bearskins by the Queens Guards will be debated, followed at 6pm by petition 597171, hunting dolphins and whales in the Faroe Islands.
I joined the PCS Zoom call for an update on proposed staffing cuts and poor pay awards to civil servants in all Government departments across the UK, and how this will affect delivery of benefits, passport applications, asylum applications, and the border forces. We heard of proposed closures to DWP offices across the UK and the proposed voluntary redundancy scheme. But the work for civil servants in all departments has increased due to the cost of living crisis, which may result in UK Government outsourcing and using agency workers. The pay levels are so poor that many workers are getting jobs in Amazon, where the pay is better, and less stress. Some civil servants are in receipt of Universal Credit, and do not want to work overtime because their UC is then taken away. The PCS estimate that there are over 300,000 people waiting for PIP payments. The PCS have tried to engage UK Government in pay talks but the UK Government will not meet with them.
On Wednesday morning I dropped into the Citizens Advice Bureau Cost of Living event to discuss how the Tory cost of living crisis is impacting on the people of Neath. Since October 2021, CAB has helped 573 people in Neath with cost-of-living issues. There is a 101% increase in people in Neath who say they cannot afford the increase in energy bills after April’s price increase, even after cutting back on other essential spending. The CAB have 3 key asks for the UK Government to get money into people’s pockets now, rather than later:
- Insulate households from record energy bills in the long term.
- Encouraging action to crackdown on companies overcharging customers.
- Maximise the support that the U.K. Government can already offer.
I am a huge supporter of CAB and have hosted a room in my office for CAB Cymru Swansea Neath Port Talbot for many years.
Then I attended the Royal Mail/CWU event as part of Dog Awareness Week. Dog attacks remain a hazard for postal workers across the UK, and the trend shows an increase as deliveries have increased after Covid. The objectives of the event is to remind the public to be aware of their responsibilities as a responsible dog owner, and remind post workers not to drop their guard and be alert and vigilant as they deliver to 30 million UK addresses daily. I met Dave Joyce, National Health and Safety Officer, CWU, who told me that there were 33,000 attacks on postal workers in the last 10 years, 6 every day, 450 dog bites through letter boxes, 80% take place at the front door or on the footpath or drive. Dog attacks costs the NHS £75 million a year.
Then I rushed to the Chamber in time for Welsh Questions and was fortunate to be called by the Speaker. I asked the Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart MP….”The Global Centre of Rail Excellence being developed in Onllwyn, Neath, will become the first and the only rail infrastructure testing facility in the UK. It recently secured a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of American Railroads subsidiary, US Venture MxVRail, to work together to advance global rail research and technology. The Welsh Government has provided £50 million, when will the UK Government provide the £30 million it promised so that this world class rail facility can be completed by 2025.” The answer from Mr Hart was very disappointing as usual. He resigned from the cabinet later this evening. In his letter of resignation he said “Colleagues have done their upmost (sic) in private and in public to help you turn the ship around but it is with sadness that I feel that we are past the point where this is possible” He has been Secretary of State since taking over from Alun Cairns in November 2019.
At the AGM of the APPG for Hairdressing, Barbering and Cosmetology I was delighted to be re-elected as chair. Keith Conniford, Registrar of the Hair Council, gave an update of the ongoing problems affecting the sector following Covid and the cost of living crisis. We shall continue to campaign for mandatory registration of practitioners in the hair sector, which we have been lobbying UK Government Ministers to implement by amending the Hair Act 1964, but so far they have not acted.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jenny Hopkins, Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS Cymru-Wales, and we discussed her responsibilities which includes: carrying out prosecutions, setting and maintaining professional ethical standards, representing the CPS locally, contributing to national strategy and policy, and ensuring effective employee relations. CPS Cymru-Wales employees 280 members of staff – lawyers, paralegals, and administrators, in a range of locations in Wales, with three main offices in Mold, Cardiff and Swansea – and its duty is to prosecute the right people for the right offences. Jenny is supported by Deputy Crown Prosecutors Deborah Rogers, and Hugh Rogers, and Area Business Manager Mike Grist. Jenny has faced reductions in MOJ funding, court closures, backlog of cases listed for trial, and lack of judges to hear the trials. I look forward to working with Jenny in the future.
The business in the Chamber was the continuation of Estimates Debates. This afternoon was a debate on Education, followed by International Trade. There were no divisions at the end of the day.
On Thursday morning I chaired the Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee in respect of the Draft Police Act 1996 (Amendment and Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2022. Under the provisions of section 31A of the Act, the Secretary of State may, by regulation, amend any name of a police area specified in Schedule 1. This Instrument will change the name of Hampshire Police Area to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, following the request from the Police and Crime Commissioner. And replaces the name in articles 34 and 35 of the PCC elections order 2012. UK Government Minister Kit Malthouse moved the Motion and said that this would be his final act as Police Minister. The Motion was passed unopposed.
A short time later, it was announced that Kit Malthouse was appointed to a new role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
On Friday I visited Vortex, who have their offices and laboratory in the old Metal Box in Milland Road. I learned about the futuristic technology that they are developing to measure air pollution and met the directors and their staff, most of whom live locally.
On Saturday, I was honoured to be at the opening of the constituency office of my friend and colleague Beth Winter MP for Cynon Valley. I met many old friends that I hadn’t seen since before lockdown, and I was encouraged to make many new friends. Beth’s office is well positioned on the high street in Aberdare and was opened by the First Minister Mark Drakeford. After the opening we visited the adjacent refurbished St Elvan’s church, which has a community cafe, to see the amazing display of recycled metal sculptures, including a massive red dragon called Gareth, made from old tv-dishes, and paper dragon hand puppets made by local primary schools.
On Sunday I attended my church St David’s in Neath to welcome our new deacon, the Reverend Lizzie Tremble who, with the help of our wonderful Reverend Norman Lea, conducted the Seafarers Service to pray for those who work on the sea throughout the world.