On Monday morning I attended a briefing for parliamentarians, advisers, and officials about the UK Government’s efforts to address Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), the UK’s G7 priorities on the issue, and the urgent need for coordinated action to tackle the threat AMR poses to life saving treatments in the wider global healthcare system. The event was chaired by the UK Government’s Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell of Romford. The first speaker was Professor Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s Special Envoy on AMR who spoke about the UK’s G7 priorities; Susan Rienow Hospital Business Unit Lead for Pfizer UK spoke about industry’s role; Dr Shahed Ahmad, National Clinical Director for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention spoke about the use of antibiotics in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease; Bob Phillips Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Teenage and Young Adult Oncology spoke about the side-effects of cancer treatments in childhood and the use of AMR to combat these side-effects, and Professor Colin Garner CEO Antibiotic Research UK (ANTRUC) spoke about the importance of research charities. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2050 more than 10 million people will die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year. It is vital to raise awareness, find innovative solutions to drug-resistance infections, and improve the lives of patients and their families, on a global scale.
I became an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes at its AGM on Monday afternoon which was held during National Epilepsy Week (24-30 May). My dear friend Valerie Vaz MP was re-elected chair. This year’s National Epilepsy Week’s theme is beyond Covid. It’s extremely important that we raise awareness and look ahead to make sure that epilepsy services are provided with the necessary help and support. Unfortunately, too many people still feel uncomfortable about employing someone with epilepsy. Epilepsy Action has launched an employer toolkit which is an online resource to help employers support employees with epilepsy.
On Tuesday morning, as a vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Steel, I joined members to receive an update about the Trade Remedies Investigation Directorate’s (TRID) ongoing review and its decision not to extend EU steel safeguards. The safeguards have been in place since 2018 and were introduced to limit further increases in steel imports because of a dysfunctional global trading environment for steel, due to global overcapacity, trade diversions resulting from US steel tariffs, and increased use of trade defence measures globally. The safeguards allow for tariff-free imports equivalent to 111% of historic levels, with further relaxations every year, and provide a careful balance of different industrial interests. But the safeguards are due to expire at the end of June 2021, and removing these safeguards is likely to see an increase in imports of that product, which reduces sales of the domestic producer of sections, which in turn reduces the volumes of crude steel required from blast furnaces, increasing the cost of each bloom and billet each company makes. Removing safeguards will decimate the UK steel industry in the long term. I have written to TRID urging it to take into account these holistic factors in their final recommendation to the Secretary of State for International Trade.
On Tuesday afternoon I attended a Roundtable for parliamentarians about the role of agriculture in tackling poverty, biodiversity loss and climate change hosted by the Agreocology APPG. We had a presentation of the report “harnessing the potential of agriculture for people and nature – the role of UK aid” produced by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The repost postulated that the food system – the way we produce, process, trade, and consume food – has a significant impact on the climate, nature, and people. Covid-19 has shone a light on the interdependence between people and the planet showing that some of the root causes of zoonotic diseases, such as the changes in land use for agriculture, are the same for climate change and biodiversity loss. Recent estimates show that around one third of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with land use most of which is caused by changes for agriculture. Global public finance has often contributed to the decline in nature by paying more for its unsustainable exploitation than its protection, causing damage and loss to natural ecosystems and their services. Over the past decade the potentially transformative role of agriculture has been overlooked within the UK’s international development strategy. The report calls for a new strategic vision for agriculture and land use at the heart of UK aid; making all Official Development Assistance (ODA) nature, climate, and poverty focused, using the UK International Climate Finance; a review of current expenditure on agriculture with a commitment to stop funding that is harmful to the environment, climate, and people.
I then joined another Roundtable for Labour MPs to discuss the opportunities hydrogen can bring to the UK, its role in providing consumers with choice about their future energy use, and the activity that should be undertaken to ensure that 2021 is the year that hydrogen economy takes off. Scotia Gas Networks (SGN) made a presentation stating they are at the forefront of research and innovation in low and zero carbon gases. At the end of 2020, SGN secured Ofgem and Scottish Government funding to deliver H100 Fife – a world first pilot project for the UK delivering 100% green hydrogen for heating to customers. SGN believe that hydrogen will play a significant role in decarbonising heat in homes, helping the UK reach its net zero target, and supporting communities of workers in high-carbon industries.
Then I attended the Rail in Wales All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I am a vice chair, entitled “post pandemic cross border connectivity”. The APPG was chaired by Chris Elmore MP. We heard from Mark Hopwood Managing Director Great Western Railways (GWR) who said that the recent problem with cracks in Hitachi trains were resolved and timetables were running at nearly normal schedules. Richard Gibson Stakeholder Cross Country Manager West and Wales said that leisure journeys were an important part of its service post-pandemic. Richard Scott Partnerships and Strategy Director Avanti said that recovery improvements were planned for the North Wales line, including train refurbishment and the introduction of ordering refreshments from seats. Lee Robinson North Wales Development Director Transport for Wales (TfW) was pleased that transport was now included in the portfolio of Julie James MS, the new Welsh Government Minister for Climate Change, and said that integrated transport formed an important part of TfW plans. Andy Scogings Head of Strategic Planning Network Rail said that their recovery plan included, for example, the core valleys lines and the metro schemes, in partnership with Welsh Government and TfW.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and Epilepsy met to discuss the issue of support for young people with epilepsy as they transition from paediatric to adult services. Chaired by Valerie Vaz MP, the group were presented with findings from research carried out by Young Epilepsy, and heard from young people who spoke about their experiences of growing up with epilepsy. There is a campaign for a basic standard of care across the UK and support for young people on self-management of epilepsy.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, in collaboration with the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation and the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-party Group, held an event to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which received Royal Assent on 27th May 1971. The speakers discussed the policy framework of the act – designed to prevent drug use and reduce harm – and speakers presented evidence that the act did not achieve its aims. Professor David Nutt, Former Chair of UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs; Neil Woods, Chair of Law Enforcement Action Partnership UK; Laura Furness, Head of Engagement Royal Society for Public Health; Ray Lakeman, Anyone’s Child Campaigner; Dr James Nicholls, Chief Executive Transform Drug Policy Foundation and Katrina Ffrench, Founding Director Unjust C.I.C. agreed that there has been a dramatic rise in drug use, addiction, and deaths in the UK. And that drugs are getting stronger, new experimental substances are emerging, criminal gangs are growing in power, violence linked to drugs is increasing, and thousands of children and young people are being exploited. Furthermore, that this situation suggests a very serious failing of the drug laws in our country and that discussion of reform is a political taboo, and all speakers would welcome an open discussion about what has gone wrong and suggestions for different approaches.
Sport is very close to my heart, and as vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Olympic and Paralympic Games I attended a meeting to receive an update on the preparations of the British Olympic Association (BOA) for the Olympic Games, which will be held in Japan in July 2021. The update was delivered by Chair of the BOA, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Robertson who stated that these games present unique challenges which change on a day-by-day basis. There are a large number of British athletes still trying to achieve qualifying standards due to the truncated season in each sport, but it is hoped that there will be over 350 athletes in the Olympic GB Team, and it looks like the majority will be female. The GB Team athletes will gather together in a pre-games training camp, and during the games they will stay in the Olympic Village, emerging only to take part in their respective events, and returning immediately following their event. There will be a strict Covid test and WADA test regime in operation before, during, and after the events, and athletes will observe quarantine rules on their return to the UK. Each athlete will be given a “Covid Testing Playbook” so that they know what is expected from them. I expressed my continuing disappointment at Squash not being included in the Japan Olympic Games and also in the next Olympics in Paris, but Hugh encouraged me not to give up and to continue to campaign. The global Squash family has been campaigning since 1976, but the first real attempt was when World Squash produced a bid brochure and video to be included as a demonstration sport in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. From 1978-87 Squash grew from being an unknown sport to over 100,000 players, and projected participation in 1992 was one million players. Squash has National and International championships, European and World Professional Circuits , European and World rankings, for all age categories, and prize money parity, but all our bids to be included as a participation sport have been rejected by the International Olympic Committee since Barcelona.
As vice-chair of the newly constituted All-Party Parliamentary Group for Restorative Justice (RJ) I joined its first meeting to discuss our work programme for this session of Parliament. Our aim is to examine the use of RJ within the UK and provide opportunities for policy discussion and consultation, and we heard from some experienced practitioners in RJ. Jim Simon has been Chief Executive of Restorative Justice Council (RJC) since 2019. The RJC is the independent third sector membership body for RJ, providing quality assurance and a national voice advocating widespread use of all forms of restorative practice. Its aim is to drive take up and enable safe, high quality, restorative practice. Jim is a former headteacher with 21 years service in education, and experience of working with youth offending services and the police force in developing restorative practices within educational and youth settings. Jim has researched the impact of restorative practices on providing a fair and equitable service to those involved in the process. We heard from Tony Walker, Director of Practice Delivery, and Kate Hook, Director of Corporate Services, at Restorative Solutions (RS CIC) which is a not-for-profit community interest company formed in 2004. RS CIC supports front line practitioners working in the community and public sector by creating and managing innovative programmes and delivering training to enable the use of restorative practices. Tony is a retired Inspector, Thames Valley Police, and has organised RJ training for police officers, YOT workers, Local Authorities, Looked After Children, Teachers, Faith and Community Leaders and Voluntary Organisations. Kate joined RS CIC in 2013, after working for 4 years with the Sussex Criminal Justice Board (SCJB) where she led on multiagency RJ programmes for SCJB. Julie Clark is RJ Service Manager for CALM Mediation London which is a charitable incorporated organisation with a core team of employees that has been delivering quality conflict resolution services since 2005, and it achieved the RJ Quality Mark in 2016. They take on cases originating in London, but work with prisons and communities around the UK, and engage with victims and offenders at every stage of criminal proceedings from out of court disposal through to post-sentence, aiming to help all parties involved to move forward.
On Thursday evening I held a zoom meeting with Caroline Newman, the new Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Swansea Neath Port Talbot (CASNPT), to discuss her priorities. In pre-Covid times CASNPT used a room in my Neath office to hold weekly appointment sessions for Neath constituents seeking advice on a range of issues such as benefits, housing, debt, employment, family issues and immigration. I assured Caroline that when my Neath office re-opens CASNPT can resume using my office. Caroline is keen to make sure that CASNPT reaches all communities throughout its region and welcomed my continued commitment. CASNPT advice is free, confidential and impartial, delivered by highly trained volunteers, and is quality assured by its national network. CASNPT look at the whole person, because many people present with complex, interrelated problems. CASNPT have continued to help people through the pandemic by adapting its services to having those important conversations with people seeking advice by telephone, web chats and online channels.
The last meeting of my week involved joining the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Environment to listen to Rt Hon George Eustice MP, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, set out his UK Government’s commitments to halt the decline in nature and biodiversity; implement and deliver the UK Government’s pledge to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030; trees strategy and peat strategy; and ongoing priorities to address the climate and nature crisis.
The UK Government is due to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November. Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges for the world, not just us here in the UK. However, we are seeing more and more extreme weather events here in the UK – including the flooding that we’ve seen in South Wales over recent years – and the impact on communities is immense. Despite statements from the UK Government about their commitment to supporting green innovation and policies, they are pursuing a hugely damaging trade deal with Australia that will not only undercut our smaller Welsh farmers and put their businesses at risk, but will also contribute to damaging practices with the transport of produce halfway across the world that we can source sustainably here. The UK public do not want to see products on their shelves that do not adhere to the animal welfare standards that we expect in the UK, they do not want to see products that have been shipped across the world, and they do not want to see produce that is destroying the livelihoods of local farmers. We are all more aware of how our behaviour impacts the world around us and I think we all expect the UK Government to help people live more sustainably; this trade deal is a negative any way you look at it.
Covid has taken a sledgehammer to many aspects of our economy and has exposed the major inequalities that exist in our society. The global minimum corporation tax being proposed by President Biden is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stop tax avoidance by large multinationals and online giants and to redistribute the advantages that they enjoy to the incredible small businesses that are so important in our communities. Tax avoidance by large multinationals who shift their profits overseas undercuts British businesses who pay their fair share, and ending it will bring in billions in extra tax benefiting Britain. We are the only country in the G7 that hasn’t shown our support. The UK Government needs to put its money where its mouth is and take action to show that they are on the side of ordinary people up and down Britain who are struggling to get by in an increasingly expensive world with increasingly insufficient pay. Greater tax revenues will bring huge benefits for our public services and a fairer, level playing field will help our small- and medium-sized businesses succeed.
As always, if you have any questions or issues that fall under my role as a Member of Parliament and want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org 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.