We are seeing restrictions on Covid loosen as the sun has come out. Although pubs and restaurants have opened and we have a great deal more freedom than last summer, it still is not “business as usual”. We must continue to be careful and to behave responsibly to ensure that Covid does not spread and that we protect ourselves and our loved ones from both Covid and Long Covid. Please continue to wear your masks – it is still a requirement in Wales – follow social distancing where you can, and continue to wash your hands frequently.
I want to say a huge thank you and well done to all the hardworking teachers, teaching assistants, and all staff, in Neath. It has been an incredibly difficult year, one in which they have had to learn an entirely different way of teaching, using new software and adapting their teaching styles to overcome the barriers that computers sometimes put in place. They have continued to teach and support our pupils through this difficult time, and have welcomed them back to school with enthusiasm, despite all the worries and challenges. Thank you to all of you. You are incredible.
The last week in Parliament before the summer recess, has been as busy as all the previous weeks. On Monday, as vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Restorative Justice (RJ), attending the two final evidence sessions, which we held as part of our enquiry into RJ as set out in our Terms of Reference “To examine the use of RJ principles within the U.K. justice system and beyond, to raise the profile of RJ principles within Parliament, and to provide opportunities for policy discussion and consultation”.
I chaired the first session, when we heard from Jim Simon and Dr Gerard Drennan from the RJ Council, followed by Nina Champion from the Criminal Justice Alliance. At the second session we heard from witnesses: Prison Chaplain, Reverend Shawn Verhey, who spoke about the Sycamore Tree Project which is an intensive 5-8 week in-prison programme that brings together groups of unrelated victims and offenders, using a curriculum guide prepared by the Prison Fellowship International (PFI); and Dr Kerry Clamp, Assistant Professor in Criminology, Nottingham University, who spoke about her extensive research into how police are trained to deliver and practice RJ.
This was followed by Linda Millington, of Why Me?, who introduced 4 witnesses that told us about their individual experiences of RJ. Ray and Vi Donovan spoke extensively about the murder of their son Chris in 2001, and the Chris Donovan Trust charity that they set up in his memory to educate prisoners and young people on the impact of violent crime. They have become prolific campaigners for RJ, and have given talks in many prisons, schools, Youth Offending Teams, probation services, and youth clubs across the U.K.
On Tuesday morning I joined the APPG for Hospitality and Tourism to receive an update from Kurt Jansen of the Tourism Alliance, and Richard Clifford of U.K. Hospitality with the peak summer season underway and restrictions being lifted at different times by the nations across the U.K. They spoke about the problems for businesses to survive through the pandemic and the shortage of staff in their sectors. In the hospitality sector, 650,000 jobs have been lost and many staff are unable to work because of being “pinged”. Kurt and Richard would like the U.K. Government to extend the VAT reduction, and provide long term business rates relief, because businesses in both sectors are struggling to survive and the next three months will be crucial to rebuilding balance sheets in order to survive through the winter, into the next season. Kurt said that the situation was much better in Wales because support had been focused, and Richard agreed, and commended the Welsh Government for extending the business rates holiday, illustrating that the Welsh Government believes that hospitality and tourism are such important sectors to Wales.
As a new member of the Parliamentary Petitions Committee I took part in a private meeting with its Chair Catherine McKinnell, its members, and the clerks to the committee to discuss the work programme for the petitions that may reach the required number of petitioners in order to be debated in Westminster Hall in the autumn.
Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair of U.K. Sport, and Mike Sharrock Chief Executive of the British Paralympic Association, gave members a briefing looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics hosted by John Lamont MP. Dame Katherine has 5 Olympic rowing medals, 5 silvers and a gold from London in 2012, is 6 times World Champion, and proudly told us that for the first time, the GB Olympic Team has more women than men. Katherine said that these Olympics are the most challenging of all Games for all the competitors, and that the GB Team are prepared to cope with the extra demands of the pandemic whilst competing, and all its members will do their very best to perform to the best of their abilities.
I spoke about my life changing experience being part of the GB Youth Team to the Munich Olympics, and that many events were not open to female competitors in those days, but how far women’s sport has come in the intervening years. I asked Katherine and Mike what they thought about Squash not being included in the events at any Olympic Games, highlighted the campaign we have been running to get Squash included since the Barcelona Games, without success, and asked whether Katherine and Mike knew the reasons for our failure. They did not, but I was very encouraged to hear that they thought that Squash is a fantastic sport, and should have been included many Games ago. I asked Katherine what was her favourite moment of all Olympic Games, and she said that when she was competing in her first Games in Sydney in 2000. She will never forget the wonderful Australian Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic Flame at the opening ceremony and Cathy going on to win 400 metres gold.
As a life time member of the British American Parliamentary Group, I attended an online briefing with Dr Richard Wike, of the Pew Research Centre, which has studied trends in global perceptions of the US and its presidents for two decades. It’s newest findings, based on polling data collected in 16 advanced economy around the world, explored the public image of Joe Biden, including several of his major policy initiatives and how America’s reputation has changed in the post-Trump period. Dr Wike discussed the new data and compared America’s current reputation in international affairs with public perceptions of China and the European Union. For more information click – Pew Center Research Presentation
On Wednesday I attended a briefing given by Rachael Maskell MP, Shadow Minister for the Voluntary Sector and Charities, who has been meeting with charities and Councils for Voluntary Services (CVSs) virtually across the U.K. to listen to their concerns. The importance of volunteers can not be underestimated, and we will never forget all the dedicated work that volunteers have done to keep us safe throughout the pandemic. We heard about the funding difficulties that the voluntary sector has faced during the pandemic, and will continue to face, due to the complexity of funding applications, which must be simplified, so that this sector has the resources to continue to deliver. Only one in twenty application is successful. Many trusties, who have been involved for many years, are facing retirement, and there is a dearth of new trusties coming forward. We shall continue to urge the U.K. Government to make legislation provisions to support the voluntary sector.
I am shortly going to be going live with my Summer Survey. I want to hear your views on a range of issues that will help inform my work in Parliament in the autumn, and to represent your views and concerns. From the climate emergency to support for community groups and charities, from youth activities to the courts, I want to hear what you think about some of the biggest challenges facing the UK. Covid has brought us many challenges, but it has also compounded many that have developed over the last decade. The U.K. Government has implemented funding cuts to the justice system, the education system, and the health system which has left the UK lacking the resilience to confront immediate challenges such as the pandemic. It is important that the recovery from Covid is informed by the concerns and values of our local communities.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01639 630152.
My staff are working from home to comply with the social distancing measures, but, as always, we are available, should you need to get in contact with us. Massive thanks to all my staff who have worked so hard during very challenging times.
I hope you stay well, enjoy the weekend, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe.