On Monday in Parliament, MPs from across the House came together to pay tribute to the life and achievements of the Duke of Edinburgh. I offer my sympathies to the Queen, who has lost her husband of 73 years, and the person she has described as her “strength and stay” during her long reign. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards, which he founded in the 1950s, were commended by many MPs during the tributes and will surely be the Prince’s greatest legacy – young people from all walks of life coming together to take part in activities that enrich their lives and learning and encourage them to go on to achieve great things.
The UK Government Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss MP has finally confirmed that the Government would be bringing forward a Bill to ban the practice of conversion therapy (CT), as set out in the UK Government’s LGBT Action Plan 2018. I attended the cross party briefing to explore what is needed to ensure that all CT practices are banned, and that survivors and victims are protected and supported. We had presentations from LGBT organisations, Stonewall, the Ozanne Foundation, GALOP the LGBT Anti Violence Charity, The Memorandum of Understanding Coalition Against CT. And from the UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Bishop of Buckingham, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, Baptist Minister, and New Horizons in British Islam. There was unanimity that all forms of CT should be banned, globally, and that a good model of legislation is the Australian State of Victoria’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. Six countries have banned CT, Germany, Taiwan, Brazil, US, Spain and Australia, and it is hoped that Liz Trust will make sure that the Queen’s Speech, due in mid-May, will include CT prohibition legislation.
The APPG for Mineworkers’ Pensions, made up of coalfields MPs, chaired by Stephanie Peacock MP, has been campaigning for pension justice for mineworkers and their widows for many years. The BEIS Select Committee is holding an ongoing inquiry into the scheme by live and written evidence sessions, chaired by Darren Jones MP. The UK Government Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan had already given evidence and she said that the 50:50 pension split was justified because the £4.4bn pension scheme surplus which went to the Government was used for the benefit of the taxpayers more generally, but was vague about the £1.2bn held in the Government reserves investment account, which we believe should be returned to the pension scheme immediately. Darren told us that his committee would be writing to the Minister following up unanswered issues. Wales Area NUM Secretary Wayne Thomas stated that the NUM Actuarial Report could not be challenged and that the UK Government should change the split to 90:10 in favour of mineworkers immediately and therefore guarantee a future for our mineworkers and their widows. As part of the evidence, the chair of our APPG, Stephanie Peacock MP arranged for mineworkers and their representatives, Chris Kitchen and Wayne Thomas, NUM, to give evidence to Darren and the other BEIS committee members at our meeting via Zoom. Darren said that there is no other pension scheme like this, and his BEIS committee should be producing its draft report within weeks and that he will present the final report on the floor of the House.
As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I attended the Co-operative Parliamentary Group meeting. We discussed the many candidates that are standing under the Labour and Co-operative banner in the many elections taking place in the UK on the 6th May. In Wales we have 20 Labour and Co-operative candidates (of which 15 are in seats currently held by Labour) in the Senedd elections and all 4 Police and Crime Commissioner candidates are Labour and Co-operative, which is the most we have ever had. And we are proud that all Labour manifestos contain Co-operative policies.
As part of my duties as a member of the Parliamentary Panel of Chairs, I chaired the Back Bench Business debate of the Third Report of the Education Select Committee “A Plan For An Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning Revolution HC 278” which was opened by the Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon MP. There was widespread cross-Party support for the Report amongst MPs, and many emphasised that learning should have no age connotation but should last a lifetime and be diverse and tailored to the learner. There was massive support for apprenticeships, but also that all learning pathways should be properly funded by the UK Government.
The Stress Management Society are currently encouraging everyone to take part a ‘30 Day Challenge’, as they once again look to highlight the causes and cures of the modern-day stress epidemic. The campaign encourages people to pick one action each for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing to carry out every day. Millions of people in the UK experience regular high levels of stress, which can have significant impacts on both mental and physical health. The pandemic has only made the public health challenge of stress even more urgent, with the Stress Management Society finding that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the beginning of the pandemic.
The UK Community Renewal Fund is now open and organisations that invest in skills, local business, communities and places, and supporting people into employment are being encouraged to apply. We have seen some fantastic initiatives in Neath among our communities during the pandemic and I hope that many of these will continue to flourish as we move out of lockdown and, hopefully, back to something resembling “normality”. You can find more information regarding the fund and on how to apply on the Neath and Port Talbot Council website.
The Senedd elections are approaching and for those concerned about the risks of Covid from voting in person, there is still time to apply for a proxy or postal vote. Applications for a postal vote close on 20th April but more information can be found on how to apply on the Government website here. Everyone’s vote is important, and everyone deserves to have their voice heard – difficulties in reaching a polling place or fears of Covid should not preclude anyone from having their say on who runs many of our most vital services here in Wales.
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 email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 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. I hope you stay well, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe.