On Monday, as part of my duties as a member of the Panel of Chairs, I chaired the Second Delegated Legislation Committee in respect of the draft Market Surveillance (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021. The instrument amends the EU Market and Compliance Regulation which, under the Northern Ireland Protocol, will apply from 16th July 2021. The EU Commission has updated its market surveillance rules, and the UK is required to do the same in Northern Ireland, in order to fulfil its obligations under the Protocol to implement EU goods legislation. The instrument defines the authorities responsible for market surveillance and the enforcing product standards in Northern Ireland; sets out their investigatory powers modelled on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and creates enforcement powers; and new offences for certain breeches of the new product standards regulations.
On Tuesday morning I chaired the first evidence session of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill. The provisions in this part of the Bill would close a loophole in the powers to disqualify company directors which applies to directors of liquidated companies, but not to those which are dissolved. There have been regular complaints that the process of dissolving companies is abused by some directors to escape liabilities and to avoid investigation of their conduct. The witnesses were Stephen Pegge, Managing Director, Commercial Finance, UK Finance; David Kerr, Fellow, The Chartered Institute of Credit Management; Dr John Tribe, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Liverpool, and all broadly agreed that this loophole should be closed. The second evidence which took place in the afternoon was regarding provisions to prevent businesses from seeking to alter the rateable value of premises because of any matter “directly or indirectly attributable to coronavirus” largely on the grounds that the Valuation Office Agency could be overwhelmed by the volume of requests, and that a large number of such appeals could amount to a shadow revaluation of much of the non-domestic property. The witnesses were Adrian Blaylock, Lead Revenues Advisor, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy; David Magor, Chief Executive, Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation; Sarah Pickup, Deputy Chief Executive, Local Government Association; Andrew Agathangelou, Founder, The Transparency Task Force; Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive, UK Hospitality; and Duncan Swift, Past President of R3.
On Thursday morning I chaired the line-by-line consideration of the Bill, plus selected amendments, tabled by the Official Opposition Shadow Ministers, represented by Seema Malhotra MP and Jeff Smith MP. The selected amendments were three new clauses. NC1 would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to report the number of former directors of dissolved companies investigated and disqualified by the Insolvency Agency. NC2 and NC3 would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to publish assessments of the rateable value provisions, and the misconduct investigations contained in the Bill. The new clauses were debated, but not supported by the Minister Luke Hall, nor the majority of the members of the Bill committee, so the question that I report the Bill (unamended) to the House was carried.
I took part in a number of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) this week. On Tuesday lunchtime, I joined the APPG on Pension Clawback. Our chair, Clive Betts MP explained that the APPG was first launched in the last parliament, and reconvened in December 2020, its aim is to try and put pressure on HSBC to get a fair deal for pensioners of the Midland Bank post 1974 scheme who discovered they would lose part of their occupational pension upon reaching state pension age. The process is unfair and especially discriminatory against women. Colin Denny, chair of the Midland Bank Clawback Campaign, explained that Covid-19 had frustrated much of the group’s activity, and a resolution to defeat clawback was defeated by institutional voting at HSBC’s 2020 AGM. We resolved to write again to the UK Government Minister; try and enlist support from Local Authority Pension Funds Group; and other organisations such as Pension Investment Research Consultants. Also, to approach Parliamentary Select Committees, and ask them to conduct an enquiry into clawback. And ask the House of Commons Library for advice as to whether – clawback is legal in today’s society; details about clawback formulas; how many companies use clawback; and enforcement or capping details. All members of the APPG agreed that – even if clawback is legal it’s morally wrong.
As a vice-chair, I attended the APPG for Music. David Warburton MP, stated that he had met with the Chancellor, who was still not in favour of extending his coronavirus support package to the music industry, but was interested in discussing how insurance for music events could be developed. Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, Chief Executive of UK Music, stated that the cost of furloughing workers could have been used instead as insurance, because festivals have been cancelled already, due to lack of confidence in the coronavirus situation, without UK Government-backed insurance. Workers in his industry would much rather work than be furloughed. The furlough scheme and VAT exemption will terminate in September, which will be more devastating for the sector, and the chancellor needs to help to make the music sector viable and sustainable. It’s a commercial sector which has never asked for help before. David Martin, Chief Executive of Featured Artists Coalition, stated there was concern that the UK Government had not clarified the situation for musicians to tour the EU post Brexit. The EU market is four times bigger than the US market for musicians, but there has been no progress since January 2021. With the new rules, where musicians can only make three stops in EU countries, touring is not financially viable, unless there is a EU wide solution. Grace Meadows, Campaign Director, Music for Dementia, and music therapist, is leading a campaign for the Utley Foundation to build access to music for Dementia patients. Grace spoke about the power of music to a person’s health and well-being, especially during the pandemic, its use is very important for recovery and rehabilitation, growing back stronger communities and finding the meaning of arts and culture in communities. There are an estimated 2 million people with Long Covid and Grace believes that music will be of great benefit to their healing process.
On Wednesday morning, I attended the APPG on choice at the End of Life, where we heard testimonies from faith leaders about the the religious context of assisted dying. Speakers included Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Dr Taj Hargey, and Dr Bill Crawley, all of which gave impassioned speeches about the case for assisted dying as the most dignified, merciful and compassionate act of a human. Recent research found that 84% of people are supportive of the concept, and 82% of Christians are in favour. We also heard from Dr Stephen Duckworth, a disability rights campaigner and someone who has changed his views on assisted dying. Dr Duckworth is now an ardent supporter of assisted dying and campaigns for changes to the law.
I then joined the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) APPG. We discussed the impact of the end of the European Settlement Scheme (EUSS) on families with no recourse to public funds. The 30th June as the end of the grace period for EEA nationals, and family members living in the UK by 31st December 2020, to apply under EUSS for leave to remain under settled or pre-settled status and secure post Brexit residence rights. EU nationals arriving after 31st December 2020, must apply for a visa and will be subject to NRPF conditions. Amy Grey, Rights of Women EUSS Project, gave evidence about helping women fleeing domestic abuse who are vulnerable, destitute, homeless, have literacy problems, and who are not aware of the need to apply. It is possible to make late applications, but on 1st July the free movement laws that had protected European residents came to an end and they are now subject to UK immigration control and will be liable to detention and removal. The Home Office has said that eligible individuals will be given 28 days to make an application. Barrister Mike Spence of Doughty Street Chambers spoke about the pending legal challenge in the Supreme Court (Fratila and Tanase v SSWP & AIRE Centre) regarding pre-settled status (individuals with less than 5 years UK residence under EUSS) and the lack of access to benefits, which risks homelessness and destitution. On 9th June, the High Court ruled that Home Office guidance, which had excluded non-EU primary carers of British children (called Zambrano carers) from applying under EUSS, if they already had or could apply for permission to remain under a different route. This came only weeks before the EUSS deadline and opened up applications for thousands of eligible families. The Home Office is appealing against the ruling, but has agreed an extension for applications until guidance is redrafted, but many families remain unaware of their potential right to apply under EUSS, and many will need immigration advice for this complex process. Mike Spence believes that the Supreme Court will agree with the High Court, but the problem is that the Secretary of State has lots of discretion to reformulate the rules.
Later on Wednesday, I attended the launch of Diabetes UK “Diabetes is Serious” campaign and heard how the pandemic has caused a rapidly growing health crisis for diabetes care. Diabetes affects 4.9 million people in the UK and a further 13.6 million are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With the right education, care and support, people with diabetes can live healthy lives, but without it diabetes can lead to serious conditions such as amputations, strokes, and heart attacks. Every week, diabetes leads to 185 amputations, over 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks, and 2300 cases of heart failure. In May 2021, Diabetes UK reported cases of diabetes were at an all time high, and diagnosis had doubled in the past 15 years.
On Wednesday evening I joined the British American Parliamentary Group AGM, of which I’m a life member, chaired by the Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing. The Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker were re-elected Honorary Joint Presidents, and sixteen Rt Hons were elected as Honorary Vice-Presidents. Six members of the Government and six members of the Opposition were re-elected as members of the Executive Committee from the House of Commons plus six peers from the House of Lords.
I was moved this week by the news of young Alfie collecting football boots for people who can’t afford them. The 10-year-old from Neath is football-mad according to his mother and he was horrified to learn that some children aren’t able to have their own football boots. After collecting some pairs and coming across the fantastic Boot Room Project, run by Swansea-born Carl Bradley, Alfie wanted to continue to collect boots and allow more children to love the game as he does. It’s sometimes very humbling to look at the world through a child’s eyes – it isn’t fair that some children miss out on sport because their parents simply cannot afford the equipment and we should do something about that. Well done Alfie – you’re an inspiration to us all!
I am disappointed that the UK Government has not seen fit to include added protections for shop workers facing unprecedented levels of abuse in the Police, Crime, and Sentencing Bill. The Labour Party tabled amendments to the Bill that would create a specific offence of assaulting a retail worker with a sentence of up to 12 months, and a new offence for assaults committed as a direct result of workers enforcing statutory age restrictions. This would have given greater protection to retail workers as they go about their jobs, particularly when enforcing statutory age restrictions on the sale of products such as acid and knives. Currently, a shop worker can be prosecuted for not enforcing the law on age related sales but has no specific protection for abuse they may encounter when doing so. This is not fair. These amendments were voted down by the UK Government in Parliament on Monday evening, as they continue to refuse to support a specific law that would protect retail workers. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) 2020 survey of shop workers found that 88% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse, 60% had been threatened by a customer and 9% had been assaulted. Retail staff being asked to enforce social distancing and face masks to keep shoppers safe has put them more at risk of experiencing abuse, with 79% of shop workers reporting that abuse was worse than in 2019. This is simply not acceptable.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch on issues that fall under my role as an MP, 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, enjoy the weekend, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!