On Saturday 20th February I joined the Llafur Zoom event for the first meeting in their spring series entitled Migration and Wales. Before we heard from the guest speakers, Sian Williams, Vice President of Llafur, Head Librarian of the South Wales Miners Library, and a very close friend of Hywel Francis, gave a very moving tribute to Hywel who tragically passed away on 14th February following a short illness. Hywel founded Llafur, the Welsh People’s History Society, in 1970 and has been President ever since. We shall all miss Hywel, and words are not enough to express how much he meant to me. Sian said that she had spoken to Mair, and that it is Mair’s wish that Llafur events go ahead, because that’s what Hywel would want. Ian Rees chaired the event which examined new perspectives on global Wales and we heard from Rowan O’Neill, Rhys Owens and Lucy Taylor.
On Monday, as part of Wales in London Week 2021, I joined an S4C webinar to listen to its Chief Executive, Owen Evans, being interviewed by Huw Edwards about a wide variety of topics, such as future funding, the licence fee, programming, filming, media news, the challenges of operating during the pandemic, and moving into a shared building with BBC Wales at Central Square Cardiff. Owen described S4C’s relationship with BBC as a close relationship, but there’s always tension, like brothers, sometimes they are pals and sometimes they fight.
Later that afternoon, the Prime Minister made a COVID-19 statement to Parliament and I was fortunate to be selected at number 39 on the call list. I pointed out to the Prime Minister that the UK Sepsis Trust had evidenced the linkage between Covid and Sepsis and Long Covid and Long Sepsis, and asked whether the Prime Minister was including this linkage in the 4 research projects, funded by £18.5 million, and announced by the UK Government on 18th February. I think I received a positive response, but as chair of the Sepsis APPG we shall, together with the UKST, be closely monitoring the research.
On Tuesday I was drawn to speak at number 5 in the Labour Opposition Day Debate on “The Government’s Management of the Economy”. I spoke about more than a decade of Tory ideological austerity and the effect this Conservative policy has had on Wales. I sincerely thanked the NHS staff, public sector workers, emergency services, and many more who are putting their lives on the line every day to keep us safe during this pandemic. I compared the successful business support schemes put in place by the Welsh Labour Government and the gaps in support from the UK Government schemes.
In the afternoon I joined the APPG on Music and was honoured to be elected vice-chair. The music sector has been closed down since March 2020 and the majority of people who work in the sector have received very little support from UK Government schemes. UK Music Chief Executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin welcomed the Prime Minister’s roadmap to reopen the industry on 21st June, but emphasised that UK Government schemes need to be extended so that workers in the industry can be supported until 21st June. And that it takes 3-4 months to plan a music festival, so the earliest festivals can resume is in the autumn. Melvin Benn, MD of Festival Republic, said that it is impossible to get insured, so the UK Government needs to underwrite music events, which would allow promoters to plan the lead in for festivals, which takes a minimum of two and a half months, and take the risk of cancellation. Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Adviser, Greater Manchester, said that the reduction in VAT to 5%, didn’t help the music sector because the industry wasn’t open, so this was 5% of nothing, and the concession should be extended for at least two years. He was also very concerned that small grassroots venues of 150-200 people would find it very difficult to reopen after being closed since 20th March 2020. These venues are the platform for emerging artists. Sandie Shaw said that there should be a Pan-European Agreement put in place so that music performers could tour European countries without needing expensive visas, cabotage, permits, etc. and that UK Government should realise it has lost a very successful export industry. Jamie said that he can’t think of one Whitehall department that doesn’t benefit from the music industry.
On Wednesday I chaired the APPG for Hairdressing, Barbering and Cosmetology. We were delighted to have Labour Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds as our guest speaker. Anneliese was the first woman to be appointed to this post in April 2020, having served as Shadow Financial Secretary from 2017-20. Keith Conniford, CEO/Registrar of the Hair and Barber Council set the scene for Anneliese, describing the extreme difficulties that his sector has faced during the pandemic, and that our APPG had written asking for support to the UK Government many times, but the responses had been gravely lacking in substance. The sector needs to be included in the VAT 5% reduction, and that self-employed hairdressers and new starters had slipped through the gaps in the Chancellor’s support schemes. Keith has been campaigning for mandatory registration for our industry for many years, which would provide regulation and security for customers, and would have helped hairdressers in the pandemic, but the UK Government are not interested. Anneliese said that she wanted the Prime Minister’s roadmap to be irreversible, in that once non-essential retail is reopened it would be disastrous to shut it down again; 2019-20 tax returns should be included; furlough should be extended and made flexible; and that UK business rates should copy the excellent Welsh Government scheme. #SaveOurSalons
Thursday morning, I joined the APPG zoom meeting on Motor Neurone Disease and was elected vice-chair. Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research and Development MND Association spoke about the types, symptoms, prevalence, risks and research into the treatment of MND. And that the International Symposium was held virtually for the first time 9-11 December 2020 with 48 countries taking part. Professor Chris McDermott, Professor for Transnational Neurology at Sheffield University, talked about familial and sporadic MND and the clinical research studies into genetic therapy. The trials have involved the drug Tofersen injected into patients by lumber puncture, because treatment has to by-pass the blood brain barrier, to stop the faulty protein being produced. We heard from Dani Baird who has been a patient in the trial for 4 years. She is the fifth in her family to suffer with MND, four have sadly died. She has a lumber puncture every month and is monitored constantly throughout the trials – breathing, blood tests, heart monitor, muscle tests and she said that the staff are wonderful. Tofersen has not cured her but has stopped the progress of MND. She can still use her upper body and she hasn’t died, but her two daughters are afraid to get tested. Prof McDermott said that the next research step would be to move from monthly lumber puncture to a reservoir under the skin or a one-shot injection that infuses slowly. Jess Morden MP had an Adjournment Debate on Monday to scrap the 6-month rule for terminally ill people who have to prove that they have 6 months or less to live before being granted financial support by the DWP. The lack of support and lack of dignity provided to terminally ill patients by the Tory UK Government is incorrigible. The UK Government said in 2019 that they would conduct a review, but this has not been done. In response to Jess, the Minister said he would set out a timetable in months and that a Green Paper would be published in the next few weeks.
Thursday afternoon I spoke in the Welsh Affairs debate to celebrate St David’s Day. Kevin Brennan MP Cardiff West secured and opened the debate. I paid tribute to my dear friend Hywel Francis, former MP for Aberavon, who suddenly and tragically passed away on 14th February. Hywel was involved in setting up support groups for miners during the 1984-5 strike. He founded Llafur, the South Wales Miners Library, the Bevan Foundation. Hywel was a member since his election in 2001, and chaired the Welsh Affairs Select Committee from 2005-10. Hywel was an Executive member of the Aneurin Bevan Society and was instrumental in establishing the Bevan Prize for Health and Wellbeing which recognises individuals and organisations who contribute to the founding principles of the NHS. And Hywel chaired the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Hywel brought in The Carers’ Equal Opportunities Act 2004 (Sam’s Bill) which had a positive impact on countless numbers of carers and their families. Hywel was a formidable rugby player for Seven Sisters RFC from 1972-79 and has been its President since 2005. Hywel will be laid to rest in a private family funeral on 2nd March, but his many friends will line the streets for his funeral procession as it travels from his home in Crynant to Margam Crematorium.
On Friday, Welsh Labour Leader Mark Drakeford set out the ground on which Welsh Labour will contest May’s Senedd election. In his speech, Mark framed the election as a contest unlike any other, spelling out a bold and ambitious vision of the future. He spoke passionately of a Wales which is optimistic, outward looking and unapologetically patriotic. Mark also unveiled Welsh Labour’s new strapline – Moving Wales Forward.
This Weekend Welsh Labour are hosting a series of Welsh Labour: Spring Forward events that will build on Mark’s keynote speech, setting out the agenda ahead of the election in May. It promises to be a great weekend.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch about matters that fall under my role as an MP, please do not hesitate to drop us an email on email@example.com or call us on 01639 630152. My staff are working from home to comply with the social distancing measures, but, as always, we remain there should you need to get in contact with us.
I hope you stay well, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe.