In the House of Commons Chamber on Monday evening the UK Government proposed an “Instruction Motion” to amend the Elections Bill which is at its Committee Stage of the House of Commons. The amendment would broaden the scope of the Elections Bill to include provision for a simple majority voting system for the following elections: the Mayor of London; an elected Mayor in England Local Authorities; a Mayor in a Combined Authority; and Police and Crime Commissioners. The Minister who was taking this Bill through the House has been promoted in the PM’s recent reshuffle, so the Minister of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Local Communities Christopher Pincher moved the motion and set out the reasons for amending the scope of the Bill. He said that the Conservative Manifesto had committed to first past the post and was the majority view (67%) of the British people in the 2011 Referendum. The Labour Spokesperson Cat Smith MP, Leicester and Fleetwood, stated that the Bill had already started, Second Reading has debated the merits or otherwise of the contents of the Bill, and the Committee has already finished taking evidence. As a member of the Panel of Chairs I chaired the evidence sessions, and Cat Smith raised a Point of Order at the final evidence session last week when she saw the Instruction Motion had been added to this week’s Order Paper. Cat asked me whether we could take evidence on electoral systems at that session and I was clear that it was out of the scope of the existing Bill. But should the Instruction be accepted and the scope of the Bill widened, then extra evidence sessions would not be a matter for the Chair, because matters such as this are decided through the usual channels (Government and Opposition Whips). Cat also asked Mr Pincher during the debate why the UK Government had not put this in the Bill from the start, allowing members to scrutinise it on Second Reading and in Committee. Cat also stated that it was in the UK Government’s Conservative 2017 Manifesto but not in the 2019 version, and that the Bill started under the Cabinet Office, but it has been moved to the newly renamed “Department for Levelling Up”. Cat said that the motion stinks of gerrymandering and Labour will be voting against it. The UK Government won the division by 309 to 186 votes. As a chair of the Bill, I am not permitted to vote on the Bill, but I would certainly have voted against the U.K. Government Instruction for the reasons set out by Cat.
Later that evening I attended a celebration in the House of Lords for the GB athletes who had taken part in the Olympics and Paralympics. Parliamentarians had the opportunity to meet the athletes and congratulate them on their wonderful performances at the Tokyo Olympic Games. I met my old friend Tanni Grey-Thompson who was speaking at the event and we had a chance to catch up on various aspects of UK sport, because we haven’t seen one another since pre-pandemic times. Tanni and I share a passion for sport. My dear friend Sue’s grandson Owain Lloyd-Hughes aged 19, was there. Owain is a 100/200 metres runner and a member of Neath Harriers Amateur Athletic Club, and is aiming to be part of the Commonwealth Games Relay Team, but has been suffering with an injury. We wish him a speedy recovery in time for the indoor athletic season.
On Tuesday, I chaired the first joint meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sport and the APPG for the Olympics and Paralympics, of which I am a Vice-Chair. The title of the meeting was “Beyond Tokyo – Securing a Sustainable Future for Local Sport and Leisure Facilities”, hosted by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the secretariat for the APPG Sport, with guest speakers: Lord Colin Moynihan, Co-chair of APPG Olympics and Paralympics, Vice-chair of APPG Sport, Chair of the British Olympic Association 2005-12, and former rowing Olympic silver medalist at Moscow 1980; Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson Liberal Democrat Leader of Portsmouth Council, Chair of Local Government Association Culture, Tourism and Sport Board; and Huw Edwards, Chief Executive Officer Ukactive since 2019, Leisure Sector Champion 2017, and worked for the Olympic Delivery Authority for the London Olympics. Over 35 sport sector agencies joined in the Zoom event and had the opportunity to question the speakers. The speakers found common ground on the need to have increased funding, updated leisure facilities because most Local Authority centres were built in the 1970’s, and that the health and well-being of participating in sport and leisure activities is known to prevent physical and mental illness. Also that the lack of statutory provision for leisure at local government level means that in these times of UK Government cuts, the delivery of social services and looked-after children services would always be ahead of leisure in local government. And that women, people on low income, and ethnic minorities are reluctant to take part in leisure, which is a challenge to everyone involved in delivering leisure facilities at whatever level. But grassroots sport is so important in that it encourages participation and forms the base of the pyramid for international participation. Lord Moynihan was concerned at the lack of joined up thinking across UK Government departments because leisure straddles sport, health, education, local government and there should be a common strategy, and the Lords often succeed in implementing change because they work on a cross-party basis, whereas in the Commons, the UK Government has such a large majority that it is able to implement its legislation without amendments. The opposition can provide scrutiny but is unable to prevent U.K. Government proposals becoming legislation.
Later on Tuesday the UK Government granted Labour an Opposition Day debate, and we laid a motion entitled “Finances of Working People: Government Policy”. Labour Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson MP, Houghton and Sunderland South, spoke about the growing squeeze on living standards caused by the £1040 per year reduction to Universal Credit, the rise in National Insurance Contributions for low and middle income workers, the freezing of the personal income tax allowance from April 2022, the increasing cost of household energy bills, the highest petrol prices since 2013 with the potential for the highest rail fare increase in a decade, the fastest rise in private rental costs since 2008, successive above inflation increases in childcare costs, and rising prices resulting from the supply chain disruptions caused by worker and supply shortages, and she called on the UK Government to change its direction on its policies, because they have created an avoidable and unacceptable burden on working people. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mims Davies MP, Eastleigh, responded by stating that during the pandemic the UK Government stepped in to pay the wages of millions of workers, investing over £400 billion in jobs packages, protecting jobs and safeguarding livelihoods, including kickstart, restart, doubling work coaches, job entry support, job finding support, sector-based work academy programmes, an enhanced youth offer, expansion of the job centre network, assisting claimants with benefits, and harnessing skills in a new way. She said that measures were temporary and now public health restrictions have been relaxed, this support must end. Her message to everyone in the chamber and beyond was “if you want to progress in the jobs market, whoever you are, wherever you are – at any age or any stage – we are here for you. We will get behind you.” I’m sorry, but I don’t think the UK Government live in the real world. Unfortunately we lost the vote on our motion by 222 to 300 votes.
On Wednesday morning as Vice-Chair of the APPG for Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) I joined an officers meeting convened by the chair, Chris Bryant MP, Rhondda, to discuss his Private Members’ Bill (PMB) on Acquired Brain Injury scheduled for Friday 3rd December. Chris has been campaigning to raise awareness of ABI for many years, and has cross Party support for this very important condition. However, as with nearly every opposition PMB, it will require UK Government support to make it to the next stage. Our APPG has written many letters to UK Government Ministers and the Prime Minister seeking support, but to date, we have only received warm words. But we shall keep fighting for justice for ABI sufferers.
Boris Johnson was in the US, so this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions was between the Deputy PM, Dominic Raab, and our own Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, who began by raising the lack of progress being made by the PM n Washington before testing the Deputy PM’s fuse by asking him whether he still thinks that British workers are “the worst idlers in the world”. Angela asked how many days a minimum-wage worker would have to work to afford one night in a luxury hotel in Crete, somewhere not unfamiliar to Mr Raab. The answer is 50 days, but this is without the financial burdens already imposed on working families due to the UK Government policies of £1040 cut to Universal Credit, rising rent costs, soaring food prices, tax increases and the impending energy crisis. Families are faced with choosing to put food on the table, or heat their homes. Angela asked the UK Tory Government to cancel its cut to Universal Credit. I bobbed from the back benches throughout PMQs in the hope that Mr Speaker would call me to ask a question, but alas it didn’t happen.
On Friday morning I joined the regular update Zoom call with SBUHB for Swansea Region MPs/MSs to listen to the latest report of the pandemic situation in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. I can not imagine the extreme pressure that NHS and social care staff must be under. NPT has the highest rates of coronavirus in the UK. The rates of infection are increasing, hospital admissions are increasing, there are very high rates in schools, pupils are taking it home and it is spreading throughout the community. The vaccination programme has been successful and it is this that has prevented the rates being much higher. But people who have been double jabbed are still at risk of being infected because the Delta variant is so infectious, so other mitigating actions, such as social distancing and mask wearing indoors, regular hand washing, sanitising, must be maintained. SBUHB are rolling out the booster vaccination programme and flu jabs, plus vaccinations for 12-15 year olds have started. I thank all the NHS staff and volunteers from the bottom of my heart for working tirelessly to keep us safe.
Later that morning I hosted a McMillan Coffee Morning in Dove Workshop, Banwen, and I want to thank Lesley, Julie and Ellie for all their support organising it, and for Lesley’s wonderful homemade cheese scones! The event was well-attended and I’m pleased to say we raised a fantastic £86 for the Macmillan charity. It was fantastic to be out and about once more in the community and to be chatting with people face to face. Macmillan Coffee Mornings are such a wonderful idea – not only do they raise awareness of the realities of cancer and raise money for the cancer nurses whose work is so vital, but they also allow people the chance to really talk about cancer and any concerns they themselves may have – memories of family and friends who have been ill with cancer and the impact that cancer has on a wide network of people. Thank you so much to everyone who came, to Dove Workshop for hosting us, and to Macmillan for the sterling work that they do day in, day out.
I also met lots of residents at the McMillan Coffee Morning organised by Sacha, Hannah, and Maerdy Youth, hosted by Cllr Sonia Reynolds which took place in Canolfan Maerdy, Tairgwaith, which was also visited by former MS Gwenda Thomas and Cllr Arwyn Woolcock.
As part of the Great Big Green Week celebrations I dropped in to the Friends and Neighbours Community Alliance (FAN) event. FAN was started by Emma Knight when she moved to live in Ethel Street in 2008, and organised a fancy dress Halloween Street Party. Over 50 people turned up and enjoyed themselves so much that FAN was formed by volunteers for the benefit of the community. There is also a junior arm called Mini FANS. Events such as fitness for the elderly, drumming workshops, circus groups, street cleans, and raffles have taken place. FAN has created a community garden growing herbs, vegetables and fruit, with a greenhouse made from plastic bottles. FAN has also organised WWF Earth Hour, Fair-trade events, and is committed to going green, zero carbon, and other climate change measures, for our next generation.
I know that there are many constituents who are concerned about the threat of a rise in energy prices. A basic duty of government is to ensure secure and affordable energy supplies for households and businesses. But millions of families are now set to be squeezed by a triple whammy of rising energy prices, an increase in national insurance, and the cut to Universal Credit. This UK Tory Government has no idea what it is like for working people outside of their bubble where they’ve never had to worry about paying the rent, or meeting the cost of a new school year’s uniform, or watching the forecast to try to ration out heating. Hard-working families are being punished by this UK Government after a decade of austerity and a decade of a complete lack of interest in or care about those struggling to get by on the lowest of pay. That is why Labour is calling for the Government to change course and cancel the cut, drop the jobs tax hike on working people and businesses, and urgently explore further measures to help households alleviate the cost of rising bills, including the option of making automatic and extending the Warm Homes Discount. Pushing more people into poverty, widening health inequalities with ill-heated homes and not enough money for good food is not going to help the economy recover; it will simply mean greater pressures on the NHS and greater pressures on social services.
As always, if you have any questions or issues 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 – we are here to help.