On Monday, the UK Conservative Government refused to endorse an anti-sleaze report by Lord Evans of Weardale, chair of the Committee on Standards of Public Life. In hindsight, this was an early indication of the Prime Minister’s stance that he would take on Wednesday when he opposed the Standards Committee’s report into the conduct of Owen Paterson MP. The report stated that Mr Paterson should receive a suspension of 30 days for being paid nearly £9000 a month by Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods to promote commercial interests, and by misusing his position as a former Government Minister, when he set up meetings for Randox and Lynn’s with UK Government Ministers and officials.
On Tuesday, as a member of the Petitions Committee, I attended the first evidence session of tackling online abuse since the resumption of the Committee’s enquiry into this matter following the UK Government’s publication of its draft Online Safety Bill earlier this year. The Committee will be holding 3 evidence sessions this month, and will focus on the lived experience of people receiving online abuse; social, regulatory and technical solutions to online abuse; and the availability and enforcement of legal penalties for online abuse. In this first session we questioned 2 panels of 3 expert witnesses. The first panel consisted of Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive of Stonewall since June 2020; Danny Stone MBE, Chief Executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust since 2009; and Matt Harrison of Mencap, Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium. The second panel was made up of Ruth Smeeth, former MP, and CEO of the Index on Censorship since 2020; Dr Chara Bakalis, Principal Lecturer in the School of Law at Oxford Brookes University; and Dr Joe Mughal, Senior Researcher at HOPE Not Hate, an anti-fascism and anti-racism organisation.
The Budget debates which started on the day of the Chancellor’s speech on Wednesday 27th October concluded on Tuesday night. We voted against the budget because the UK Conservative Government has no plan to: tackle the growing cost of living crisis; remove the enormous tax burden placed on working people and businesses; and to improve growth to boost our economy. And Wales was much maligned, as usual. Unfortunately, we lost the votes, and the budget was passed.
As I’ve mentioned, on Wednesday the Leader of the House, Rees-Mogg, brought forward a motion on the report of the Standards Committee report which had endorsed the conclusions of the Standard Commissioner (Kathryn Stone) investigation into the lobbying conduct of Owen Paterson MP. The cross party Standards Committee, chaired by Chris Bryant MP for Rhondda, which includes 4 Tory MPs, had endorsed the Commissioner’s 30-day sanction for breaching the rule on paid advocacy. Normal convention dictates that these reports are accepted by the House without divisions. However, as you have probably read in the media, Andrea Leadsom Conservative MP, former Leader of the House, tabled an amendment to the motion in order to save Mr Paterson from the report’s conclusion of a 30-day suspension, which would probably have triggered a recall petition, and could have resulted in a by-election for Mr Paterson’s seat. The amendment also linked the report to overhauling the standards system, that had found Mr Paterson guilty of paid advocacy, to change the rules retrospectively, and support cash for access. This was a blatant attempt to change due process, at the last stage of the process, to save a named individual who was a Conservative MP. All Conservative MPs were on a three-line whip to vote for the amendment, which means that they were ordered to vote for the amendment, because the Prime Minister had made it known that he and his Government supported the amendment. However, some Tory MPs rebelled and voted against the amendment and some abstained, so the amendment was passed by only 18 votes, whereas the Prime Minister normally has a majority of 80 at votes taken in the Commons.
The Leadsom amendment included a proposal to set up another standards committee made up of 8 backbenchers, 4 Tories, 3 Labour, 1 SNP – and the chair had already been chosen – former Tory minister John Wittingdale MP. It is ironic that when Leadsom was Leader of the House, and brought forward the motion to set up the original Standards Committee on 7th January 2019, she said that the committee provided the right balance – having 7 lay members with independent experience and 7 Parliamentary members. Leadsom’s new standards committee would have no independent input, and be a rival to the original standards committee.
The Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip seriously misjudged the magnitude of the backlash to this manipulation of Parliamentary process. The opposition Parties subsequently refused to take part in the new Leadsom committee and many Tories made it known publicly and privately that they disagreed with changing the rules at this time in order to save one of their own MPs.
Leadsom and the Prime Minister’s victory was short lived. On Thursday morning Rees-Mogg announced a U-turn in the Commons. He accepted the Standards Committee’s report, the sanction for Mr Paterson, and he scrapped the setting up of a rival standards committee. Then on Thursday afternoon Owen Paterson resigned as an MP – avoiding his 30 day suspension sanction, a recall petition, and a by-election. But of course there will now be a by-election to replace him, and the repercussions of the Prime Minister’s actions have continued with many senior Tories, such as former Prime Minister John Major, publicly criticising Boris Johnson.
As a Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Boxing, I was honoured to chair the “Women in Boxing” virtual event. We had 5 amazing female guest speakers who told their stories about the challenges and obstacles that they have experienced in their chosen sport. Natasha Jonas, who was the first female boxer to compete for GB Boxing and the first female boxer to qualify for the Olympics. Natasha is a professional boxer who has fought for the WBC and IBO female super-featherweight titles in August 2020. Hilary Lissenden, former board director of England Boxing, the CEO of London Community Boxing, and Head of Sport at the Mayor of London’s office. Dr Kathy Adcock, is founder of “In Your Corner”, a boxing club which helps children and adults at risk of, or under referral to mental health services, and is a registered HCPC Clinical Psychologist, a boxer, and accredited England Boxing coach. Holly Hefferon is a young female boxer at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Club, and Sameenah Toussaint is a young female boxer at New Kings Boxing Club. It was a full and frank discussion with many online participants asking questions of our guests. There was general agreement on the practical and social issues facing women in boxing, for example: feeling intimidated by male boxers and male coaches; boxing is an old fashioned sport biased towards men; there are no female changing rooms in most clubs; when sparring, males either took it easy or went full on; a lack of female coaches; the chest protective gear is so uncomfortable that many females don’t wear it; there are no separate rooms at weigh-ins and the supervising officials are male; there are less weight divisions than in male boxing, which leads to mis-matches; the massive gender disparity in prize money; and many social media negative comments such as – female boxers not being feminine. But on the positive side – after the 2012 Olympics – female boxing has become more accepted; more females are taking part; with more funding opportunities; there are more female coaching staff and more female referees and judges; and better designed female boxing kit. However, the participants in the meeting concluded that, even though great progress has been achieved, there was still a long way to go before female boxing achieves parity.
Members of the Petitions Committee have the opportunity to open debates, and on 15th November I shall be opening on behalf of Parliamentary Petitions 323926 and 575620 which relate to road traffic offences for fatal collisions. The petitions call for tougher sentences for hit and run drivers who cause death, and seeks to introduce “Ryan’s Law” which proposes to change the written definition of death by dangerous driving. The current maximum penalty for failing to stop after a vehicle collision is licence points, plus 6 months custodial sentence. And the penalty for causing death by careless or dangerous driving is a custodial sentence of 5-14 years.
I held a virtual meeting with the petitioners – Louise Smyth and Helen Wood, whose sons Matt aged 25, and Paul aged 23, both died in separate motorbike accidents and in each accident, the person who caused the accident left the accident scene. Matt and Paul were best friends, and died within 9 months of each other. Leanne Saltern whose brother Ryan (Ryan’s Law) aged 31, died in a road accident, and their parents, Helen and Mark were also in the meeting. I listened to their harrowing accounts of the accidents, the deaths, and how it has affected them, and the reasons why they are fighting for justice for people who may be killed in similar circumstances in the future. It was a very emotional meeting, and I shall do my very best to represent the petitioners at the forthcoming debate.
This week the annual Poppy Appeal started in Parliament with a Poppy Ride. It’s such an important time of the year for raising awareness of those who have given so much in service to their country. The Royal British Legion are not just around in November, however, and work tirelessly throughout the year to ensure that serving personnel, veterans, and their families are supported with the challenges that they may face. The Legion are there with everything from physical and mental wellbeing to financial and employment support and it’s our donations that help make that happen. You can donate in any way you choose – whether that’s buying a poppy on the high street, making a donation online, or taking part in a charity event. See the website for more information. I am very honoured to be asked to deliver the reading, the Gospel of St. Mark Chapter 1 vv 14-20, at the Remembrance Service in St. David’s Church in Neath on Sunday 14th November, led by our Rector, Canon Lynda Newman.
Last week was UK Parliament Week – a great way for people to learn more about politics in the UK and how to participate actively. A thriving democracy relies on participation and communication between elected representatives and our constituents. It’s especially important to engage young people in politics – this is their country and many of the challenges that we face today will have to be dealt with by the younger generations. However, whenever I speak to young people in our schools and visiting local activities, I am thrilled to see the passion and engagement in the issues that they find important. UK Parliamentary outreach happens throughout the year, not only during this week and there are plenty of ways to get involved. Find out more on their website.
This week applications opened for the Queen’s Green Canopy Project. This is a fantastic scheme which ensures everyone in the UK has the opportunity to contribute to tree-planting, so I’d encourage schools and community groups in Neath to apply for their free tree and commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee at the same time. Together we can help the UK plant enough trees to reach its 2050 carbon net-zero target. Find out more about the scheme and apply for a tree here.
This Trustees week I gave my thanks to the 137 charities in Neath and their trustees who play a vital role in running a charity, volunteering their time to help make important decisions about their charity’s work, and providing advice and guidance to help charities make a difference. We can all be proud of our community champions who support so many people in our area and do great work for Neath. If you are interested in becoming a trustee, find out more about what this involves here.
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.