On Tuesday afternoon I welcomed Alun Michael, South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, to Neath as part of his South Wales Community Walkabout tour. We were accompanied by Inspector Matt Otteson, Cllr Leanne Jones, Sergeant Carys Lewis, Cllr Dean Cawsey and Sarah Mahon, Engagement Officer SWP, as we walked around Neath town centre. In the short time available to us, with consideration to Mr Michael’s busy schedule, we visited the railway station, market, Ambassador Hotel, and Victoria Gardens, and listened to many people who approached us as we walked around Neath. Mr Michael will schedule another visit in the near future.
On Wednesday morning, as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sport, I was a panelist at the Sport and Recreation Alliance Conference looking at the policy making landscape in the UK. Sport has been a very important part of my life. I went to judo classes from 11 years of age. I was awarded a junior black belt at 12, a senior black belt at 13, and retired as a 4th Dan at 19. I was a member of the Great Britain Youth Team to the Munich Olympic Games. I played many sports at comprehensive school, including tennis and hockey. I discovered squash in my early twenties and played over 100 times for Wales. I worked as a national coach for Squash Wales and I’m still the only racket sports coach to have been awarded the Sport Wales Female Coach of the Year. The panel discussion focussed on the role of Parliament and Government in setting and influencing sports policy and the different arms and reach of each. The role of MPs and Peers in checking, challenging and influencing policy. The parliamentary options for influencing policy, and their strengths and weaknesses. When and how to engage ministers and parliamentarians, and the role of devolved administrations. The panel was chaired by Leigh Thompson, Head of Policy at the Sport and Recreation Alliance, and I was joined on the panel by the former chair of the APPG for Sport Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield. There were over 100 sports organisations taking part in the event. Government ministers make policy, whereas backbenchers use Commons debates, Westminster Hall debates, written and oral questions, Urgent Questions, Select Committees, Private Members Bills, APPGs, and write letters to ministers. I’ve been in opposition since being elected in 2015, used most of these Parliamentary procedures to raise issues, and worked cross-party in collaboration with backbenchers from other parties to try and influence policy, but as a Conservative MP, Ben has the advantage of being able to have a direct line to most Conservative Government ministers.
Most backbench MPs apply to be drawn in the ballot to be called by the Speaker at Prime Minister’s Questions held every Wednesday at 12 noon. Last week was the first time that I have been fortunate to be drawn. I told the PM that my constituents were angered by the treatment of DVLA staff and in particular the disgraceful online harassment of PCS Union rep Sarah Evans. And with cases rising significantly in South Wales in the third wave of the pandemic, I asked him why he feels it acceptable for the DVLA to have returned over 450 staff to their Swansea site, contrary to UK Government advice, as some can and have been working effectively and safely from home. The PM didn’t have a clue what was going on at the DVLA and quoted statistics that he couldn’t back up. Disappointingly, he did not respond to the point I raised about Sarah Evans.
I subsequently wrote to the PM on 2nd July, informing him of the current case rate at the DVLA, thus correcting the record. And informing him that a further 120 staff on fixed term contracts have also been brought back on site that day, which does not indicate that staff safety is a priority for the DVLA. I asked him to make it clear to the DVLA that the unwarranted online abuse of Sarah Evans was completely unacceptable, and asked him to make this clear to the DVLA. I also asked the PM to make sure that the agreement reached by PCS Union and senior management at the Department of Transport, which was suddenly withdrawn without explanation on 1st June, should be satisfactorily concluded.
Wednesday evening saw a last minute u-turn by the UK Government over the proposed removal of steel safeguard tariffs on cheap steel imports. Based on recommendations from the independent Trade Remedies Authority (TRA), the UK Government was set to remove 9 of the 19 safeguards at midnight, when other countries were renewing their safeguards. I spoke in the Commons debate called by the Labour Party on 21st June urging the UK Government not to accept the TRA recommendations. On 30th June, with only 5 hours to the deadline, the UK Government announced that the 5 most important safeguards would be extended for a further year, and that the decision powers of the TRA would be reviewed. This is a huge victory, but I will be demanding that the UK Government’s review should consider reforming the TRA to represent views of workers and industry, and to consider the impact of its decisions on communities in Neath. And we need a long-term plan for investment and modernisation to make the UK a world leader in low carbon steel production, putting British steel at the heart of every major infrastructure project.
On Thursday I became an officer of the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Banning Trophy Hunting. Roger Gale MP was elected chair. The Secretary is Eduardo Gonclaves, former chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, and founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, an eminent author of books on this subject, who has spent 30 years opposing cruelty to animals. Trophy Hunting is a form of hunting in which the hunter’s explicit goal is to obtain the hunted animal’s carcass or body part, such as hide or head, as a trophy to represent the success of the hunt. I have long campaigned against trophy hunting, and importation. Since the 1980’s British hunters have imported approximately 25,000 hunting trophies into the UK and about 5,000 were from species at risk of extinction. Hunting Trophy Imports of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) increased by 79% in 2019 – the latest data available. The UK Government propose to introduce a ban on imports of trophies from endangered species, based largely on the EU’s Wildlife Trade Regulations plus endangered/critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. But we are concerned that there may be loopholes in the Bill, for example, the “blood money” exemption whereby a wealthy British trophy hunter would be allowed to shoot and import a trophy of an endangered animal provided they paid a substantial fee to ostensibly “support conservation”, which was controversially first applied in the US to allow this to happen to Black Rhinos, classed as Critically Endangered by IUCN. A March 2021 survey by Survation found only 4% of the public supported this exemption whilst 85% opposed it. And 85% of UK voters believed a trophy ban should apply to all species, but only 3% wanted it to apply to only endangered species. The UK Government may publish a draft Bill before recess, which we will scrutinise, and lay amendments to try and close any loopholes.
On Saturday I was honoured to present the Lifetime achievement awards at the British Indian Orthopaedic Society (BIOS) online conference. It was my good fortune 15 years ago to be referred to Mr Amit Chandratreya with my self-inflicted knee problems due to a lifetime of playing all types of sport. Amit and I became friends and his innovative BIOS treatment improved my quality of life considerably. Through Amit I learned of the tremendous work of the BIOS and I was so proud to host an event for BIOS in Parliament in pre-Covid times, and I hope to repeat the event when Parliamentary restrictions permit. I presented the first Lifetime award to Mr Amit Sinha who has worked for the past 22 years in North Wales. Amit was born in a remote village in Bihar, India, and after qualifying, came to Rhyl as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. Amit has held many positions including President of the Welsh Orthopaedic Society from 2015-17 and President of the BIOS from 2010-2013. I presented the second Life award to Mr Srirama Murti Gollapudi born in Vishakhapatnam, India, moving to Wakefield, Yorkshire in 1980, after working as an assistant professor in Orthopaedics at Andhra Medical College. Murti was a founder of the Indian Orthopaedic Society and worked towards it becoming BIOS in 2016. He was instrumental in the educational role of BIOS and the annual Indo-British travelling fellowships. In retirement he learnt to play the piano and is compiling a travelogue of his past 15 years. I presented the BIOS Rearch Recognition award to Mr Kodali Prasard from Prince Charles Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil, who is an acclaimed researcher, editor, and peer reviewer in the international arena of trauma and orthopaedic surgery by the application of clinical practice and research, which enriches both in pursuit of excellence. Kodali graduated from Guntur Medical College, Andhra Pradesh and was awarded the Special Merit Scholarship for top scholars from 1966-72. He joined the NHS in 1978, has been at Prince Charles Hospital since 1994, and is the first and only International Assistant Editor and only Editorial Board member from the UK and India for Foot and Ankle International and Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. He has been selected an unprecedented three times as an elite reviewer for the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. He has won several international awards including the Mahatma Gandhi Samman award, and been involved with BIOS for many years.
The Samaritans annual Talk to Us campaign began this week, to raise awareness of the vital work the charity carries out and their 24/7availability for anyone struggling who may need a chat. Branches across the UK will be holding local events in aid of the campaign, so keep an eye on social media for details of what the local branch have planned. If you’re interested in supporting the cause by raising funds, the Samarathon is taking place all month, with the aim to run, jog or walk 26.2 miles over 31 days.
I am thrilled to welcome Kim Leadbeater as Labour’s newest MP for Batley and Spen. Kim ran an amazing campaign, even in the face of some really nasty and personal attacks from other candidates, and her passion for the constituency – previously represented by her sister, Jo Cox – and its residents, really shone through. Batley and Spen thoroughly rejected the politics of hate and division and I’m looking forward to seeing Kim in Parliament next Monday.
As always, if you have any questions or issues that fall under my role as an MP 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.