I was working in my Neath office last Friday lunchtime when the news broke that Sir David Amess had been stabbed at his constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea. I couldn’t believe that it had happened to another MP, following the attack on Stephen Timms in 2010 and on Jo Cox six years ago. Stephen survived, but Jo died. As the afternoon unfolded, it looked as if David would not survive. I thought about David, how we met, and how we became friends.
I think it was during my first week in Westminster after being elected to represent Neath in May 2015. I was wandering around, trying to work out where I should be, and how to get there, and how everything worked in Parliament. I’m still trying to figure some of these things out after 6 years!
This man came up to me and said “I’m David, welcome to Westminster, to the best job in the world. I’ve been told that you’re an Olympian.” I didn’t know who David was, and I said “How did you find out about my best kept secret, but I’m not really an Olympian, I was a member of the GB Youth Team to the Munich Olympics. I didn’t compete, because my event wasn’t included as an Olympic sport.”
David said “ But you went to the Olympics Christina, and that’s good enough for me. You are a little Olympian.” David made me feel good, but that’s what he did, made people feel good. I told David what a great privilege it was to meet him and a massive honour to represent Neath.
We became friends, and I became a vice-chair of his All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Olympics and Paralympics. David teased me and I loved it. I teased David and he gave me his wonderful mischievous smile. David was quick witted, and his “one-liners” made me laugh so much.
And whenever I mentioned it’s a great shame that Squash isn’t an Olympic sport, David said “Don’t worry Christina, it’ll be fine (one of his favourite sayings) we won’t give up.” So after campaigning for Squash to be included in the Olympics for over 30 years, I thought, don’t worry, David will fix it. He gave me hope and inspiration.
David was much loved in the Olympic and Paralympic world, and much loved by every person who had the privilege to meet him. I shall miss David more than words can say.
On Monday the scheduled business following Oral Home Office Questions was cancelled and the Prime Minister moved the Adjournment Debate to give members an opportunity to pay tributes to Sir David. I applied to speak in the debate, but there were so many members that wanted to speak in the two hours available, that I was not fortunate to be called. But I sat and listened to members telling stories about Sir David, and reflected on what an amazing man he was. There was a service for Parliamentarians in St Margaret’s Church at 6pm.
Tuesday was taken up with back-to-back virtual and hybrid meetings, plus drop-in events. I attended the hybrid All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music meeting – my first non-virtual APPG since the opening up of Parliament to visitors – but for safety reasons, limited to 6 people in the room. The CEO for UK Music Jamie Njoku-Goodwin presented the latest report “This is Music 2021” and we discussed the proposed inquiry by the APPG on Music touring the EU under the Trade and Co-operation Agreement as a musician or music worker. The inquiry will focus on visas, work permits, Cabotage, the effect on the music industry and emerging artists and make recommendations. The report will hopefully be published in the new year.
After the APPG for Music I joined a working meeting of the Petitions Committee, where we discussed the forthcoming timetable of Petitions due to be debated in Westminster Hall on Monday evenings. The two debates scheduled for Monday 18th October had been cancelled in tribute to Sir David, because he has been a long time campaigner for both subjects and would have spoken in both debates: “Research into endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome” and “Animal testing”. The former has been rescheduled to 1st November and the latter to 25th October.
I receive hundreds of campaign emails every week, and respond to every person who feels so passionate about a cause, that they take the time to let me know their views. I received many emails from constituents asking me to support local pubs, so I dropped into support “Long Live the Local” and met the Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Emma McClarkin, who told me that locals connect communities by enhancing social and cultural life, and contribute £26.2 billion to GVA, with 936,000 jobs, paying £14.3 billion in wages. But that pubs and breweries are overtaxed, £1 in every £3 spent in a pub is tax, and UK beer duty is three times the EU average.
Then I attended the APPG for Access to Medical Cannabis under Prescription, and we received an update on the ongoing crisis of access and funding. It’s three years on from the change in the law to help patients suffering from severe intractable epilepsy, but there’s a block on attempts to gain funded NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis. This has caused great hardship for families with children suffering from intractable epilepsy, who are continuing to pay up to £2000 per month for private prescriptions, with only three families in three years having received NHS prescriptions. Despite numerous meetings with UK Government Ministers and England NHS, numerous Parliamentary Questions, and an Adjournment Debate, the situation has still not been resolved. An expert witness recently commented in The Times that “The British Paediatric Neurological Association (BPNA) position that only Paediatric Neurologists should initiate treatment is not supported by other National Guidance, and probably not in the interests of children, as it may impede debate and research into the appropriate use of Cannibidiols in refractory epilepsy” which has highlighted the need for better and clearer guidance.
In response to many constituents asking me to attend, I joined the Dignity in Dying webinar and listened to Dr Julian Neal, Baroness Molly Meacher, Rt Hon Baroness Ruth Davidson, and campaigner Kit. The meeting was chaired by Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP. Dr Julian stated that the British Medical Association’s (BMA) decision at its AGM in September 2021 to drop its long-standing opposition to assisted dying and move to a position of neutrality was a very important progression. A survey of almost 30,000 BMA members found that 61% disagreed with its previous stance, only a third agreed, and 50% personally supported assisted dying, with only 38% against, which demonstrates the huge change in attitude in the medical profession towards granting dying people a choice at the end of life. The Royal College of Physicians adopted a neutral position in 2019, and the Royal College of Nursing has been neutral since 2009. The next time assisted dying is debated in the House of Commons it is guaranteed to be informed by the very best evidence from healthcare bodies. Baroness Meacher spoke about the Second Reading of her Private Members’ Bill on Assisted Dying which will be debated in the House of Lords on Friday. Kit spoke about her personal experience of living with a terminal disease, and told us that she speaks with friends all over the world who have terminal cancer and that the UK is so far behind other countries in not granting assisted dying. Her friends don’t understand why the UK does not give terminal patients a choice, and that it should not be denied, even if it’s not taken. The important concession should be “the choice”, and Kit questioned how it could be ethical not to offer assisted dying. People have control over all aspects of their lives, except end of life.
The Future of Multiple Sclerosis Care Roundtable was chaired by Helen Hayes MP, and hosted by Merck and the MS Trust. It was an opportunity for the MS community to share perspectives on improving the lives of people living with the day-to-day challenges of MS. We heard from guest speakers David Martin, CEO MS Trust and Chair of Neurological Alliance; Dr Waqar Rashid Consultant Neurologist, St George’s University Hospital; and Professor Gavin Giovannoni. David spoke about MS patients’ priorities and unmet needs. Waqar presented the clinical perspective of MS. And then the floor was opened up for a discussion on the challenges of Covid-19 on MS services, and the importance of sharing best practice. We all pledged to continue to raise awareness of MS, and lobby the UK Government for more support.
On Wednesday I had an early morning zoom meeting with the APPG on Rare, Genetic, and Undiagnosed Conditions, chaired by Liz Twist MP to update us on newborn screening, access to rare diseases medicines and how this fits into the UK Rare Diseases Framework. Nick Meade, Genetic Alliance UK, told us that in the UK one in seventeen people will be affected by a rare disease, that’s over 4,000 people in any constituency. On average it takes over 5 years to have an accurate diagnosis and most rare diseases have no effective treatment. Newborn screening aims to address earlier diagnosis before any symptoms arise and in some cases can improve the child’s outcome. The heel prick test (HPT) is used for newborn babies, and it tests for 9 rare diseases, but the nine are different in each devolved nation. Unfortunately NICE decided not to add more diseases to the HPT. All three speakers agreed that there are challenges accessing medicines for rare diseases, even when when they exist.
I joined the APPG for Boxing chaired by Chris Evans MP, with guest speakers Lauren Price, Olympic, World, Commonwealth, EU middleweight champion; Karrie Artingstall, Tokyo Featherwight Bronze; Natasha Jones, first female boxer in Olympic Games; and Dave Alloway, GB boxing Senior Podium Coach. The female boxers said that they came to boxing from different backgrounds and sports, but agreed that the training and the competition is thoroughly enjoyable and are encouraging more women to take up the sport. They value the opportunity to train with male boxers, because it improves their fitness and competitive edge. But unfortunately female boxers are not paid on a par with male boxers. There are many disparities in male and female boxing that starts with amateur boxing. I congratulated the boxers on their amazing achievements and invited them to join my campaign to get my sport – Squash – into the Olympic Games. We have World, European, and National Championships, circuits, and rankings, for senior, junior and masters, and have been included in the Commonwealth Games. Squash has been on the shortlist to be in the Olympics, but has never made the final cut. I’ve been campaigning since 1992, and was sure that Squash would be in the London Olympics, because English male and female players were ranked in the world top 3 in 2012, guaranteeing GB some medals. Alas, it did not happen, but we must keep trying.
Then I went along to the Launch of the results from the Climate Calculator, hosted by WWF, Demos, National Grid, and Scottish Power. This was the largest analysis of the public’s climate policy preferences ever completed in order to learn what policies people have chosen to meet the UK climate targets in the next decade. A nationally representative group of 20,000 people were surveyed which showed that the most popular policies were the same, irrespective of where people lived, their household income, or political affiliation. If the UK Government enacted these policies then emissions could be reduced by 42% by 2030.
I went to PMQs and bobbed for over 30 minutes in the hope of getting called by Mr Speaker so that I could ask a question about the delay in pension payments.
Straight after PMQs I rushed back to my office to join the APPG Rail in Wales, chaired by Chris Elmore MP, with guest speaker Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail, and Chairman of the UK Government Union Connectivity Review UCR. Sir Peter published his interim report in March 2021, and made it clear how vital rail infrastructure is for Wales to connect communities with areas of economic activity, and connectivity across the border to England. Sir Peter’s final report is due later this year, and I look forward to reading his final recommendations.
My last meeting of the day was with Dogs Trust, ahead of the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill on Monday 25th October. Since 2014, Dogs Trust has been exposing the widespread abuse of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). The scheme, which was intended for families to take pets on holiday, has been used as a cover for unscrupulous traders who have taken advantage of the simple set up to illegally import thousands of puppies from Central and Eastern Europe into Great Britain. The scheme is not meant for animals to be sold commercially and the puppies often do not meet the requirements for travel – too young, not been treated, with falsified documents. Nearly 4,000 illegally imported puppies have been cared for by Dogs Trust, which would have made £3 million for the illegal importers. And traders now import heavily pregnant female dogs to avoid efforts to crack down on puppy smuggling. These illegal practices continued during Covid, despite travel restrictions. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill introduces new powers to tackle some of the abuses of the Pet Travel Scheme. The Bill proposes a maximum of five pets per vehicle, but the Dogs Trust National Dog Survey 2021 of over 240,000 dog owners showed that 97.7% had fewer than 3 dogs, and by limiting to 3 dogs per vehicle on incoming ferries and trains, families can travel with their dogs, and the system will not be open to abuse. Dogs Trust also want the minimum age of dogs travelling to increase to 6 months, and a commercial ban on pregnant dogs, and those with cropped ears and docked tails.
The Environment Bill came back from the Lords on Wednesday and that evening we voted to support eight amendments that the Lords had passed in order to improve the Bill. We lost all eight votes.
Wednesday was also the day the Labour Party held an Opposition Day Debate on Business Rates. Whilst the Welsh Government have given the most generous Business Rate relief in the UK to Welsh businesses during the pandemic, announcing a 100 percent retail, leisure and hospitality rates relief holiday until April 2022 compared to the UK Government’s 66 per cent offering, local businesses have still been struggling due to shortages and rising inflation. A UK Labour Government would scrap business rates entirely and replace them with a new, modern form of business taxation that shifts the burden of business tax away from small businesses and onto the online tech giants, making it a fairer system for all.
As chair of the APPG for Sport, on Thursday morning I had a zoom meeting with Lisa Wainwright the Chief Executive of Sport and Recreation Alliance to discuss plans for our APPG following the great news that the UK’s bid to host the International Working Group on Women and Sport has been accepted. New Zealand will hand over to the UK for the period 2022-26 and this will include staging the 9th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport in 2026. The IWG works to highlight important issues facing women and girls in sport and physical activity, supports development, encourages inclusivity, and shares knowledge across its global network to empower women and girls to take part.
Later on Thursday, I attended the APPG for Steel to receive a briefing from Gareth Stace, Director General of UK Steel, on the punishing high price of wholesale electricity prices which have quadrupled to over £1000/MWh and are making it uneconomical to make steel in the UK, thus devastating our steel sector. Some companies have been forced to temporarily pause production when the price went “through the roof”. Electricity accounts for up to 20% of the costs of converting raw materials into steel. Gareth said that Celsa in Cardiff are using the equivalent of half the electricity in the city, and that UK electricity prices are three times that of Germany. The UK is selling steel at a loss, and we are asking for a level playing field with Germany. Despite the APPG and the Trade Unions – Community, GMB and Unite – writing to and meeting with UK Government Ministers, we have not had a response. There are 30,000 workers in the UK steel industry, and many of my constituents who work at Tata and Trostre steel plants, are yet again concerned about the sustainability of our foundation sector.
I was horrified to hear recently that MP and MPs’ staff pensions may be invested in Chinese companies accused of gross human rights abuses. As of October 2021, Legal and General remains invested in China’s four largest state-run banks and the company iFlytek which has been blacklisted by the United States for its involvement in the construction of the camps in Xinjiang where over a million Uyghurs are currently incarcerated. I joined colleagues this week in writing to the Chief Executive of Legal and General demanding action to disinvest from these unethical pensions. We must never turn a blind eye to human rights violations.
The first Private Members’ Bill on Friday’s list for Second Reading was my good friend Barry Gardiner’s Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill, otherwise known as “Fire and Re-hire”. There is a well know convention that as soon as Madam Deputy Speaker says “Order, Order” a member moves “I beg to move that this House sits in private” and a vote is taken, which doesn’t pass, but is a method of discovering how many members are in the Commons on a Friday. The result of this vote was 3-336, so a huge number of members had stayed behind to speak on Barry’s Bill. I applied to speak, but unfortunately wasn’t called. It was obvious from the start that the Tories were going to “talk out” the Bill, and so Barry moved “That the question be put” at about 1:20pm, which instigated a vote. We lost the vote by 251-188, and the debate resumed with a lot less Tories present in the Chamber for the last hour of the debate. This is the speech I would have made.
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