On Monday evening, as a member of the Petitions Committee, I was honoured and privileged to lead a petitions debate in Westminster Hall on road traffic offences for fatal collisions. I met the petitioners virtually last week, in person on the afternoon of the debate, and they sat in the public gallery to listen to the debate. When we met, I listened to their heartbreaking stories, which reduced me to tears. I cannot pretend to understand the depth of their grief, but I commend their courage and tenacity in wanting something good to come out of their grief. Louise Smyth and Helen Wood are calling for tougher sentences for hit and run drivers who cause death. Their petition received 104,324 signatures. Louise and Helen both tragically lost their sons, Mark and Paul, aged 25 and 23, in separate motorbike collisions within 9 months of each other. The collisions were caused by drivers who fled the scene, leaving Mark and Paul dying in the road. The maximum penalty for failing to stop and report an accident, also called a hit and run, is a 6-month custodial sentence, whereas causing death by careless/dangerous driving is between 5-14 years. It is no surprise that those in favour of a change in the law say that there is a perverse incentive for a driver who is under the influence of drink or drugs to leave the scene of a traffic collision, thereby avoiding a drink and drugs test by the police. If they hand themselves in to the police later, they cannot be tested because of the time that has elapsed and are likely to avoid a more serious offence or penalty.
Leanne Saltern started a petition entitled Ryan’s Law in memory of her brother Ryan. The petition calls for the UK Government to widen the definition of death by dangerous driving to include failure to stop, call 999, and render aid on the scene until further help arrives. Leanne’s petition received 164,470 signatures.
The petitioners, and many more families who have lost loved ones in road traffic collisions, do not want any more warm words and empty rhetoric from the UK Government. They want the law to be changed.
I read a portfolio compiled by Leanne Saltern that features hundreds of families who have contacted her after losing a loved one in circumstances similar to those of the petitioners. It made me cry. No sentence will ever make up for the tragic loss of a loved one, and families have been constantly told that reform will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. The time is now. I am calling on the UK Government to change the law, as set out in the petitions, and to meet the petitioners and other families in order to give them the opportunity to be heard. They must be heard.
On Tuesday I was delighted to deliver the guest speech at the 35th anniversary of the Cooperazione Finanza Impressa, CFI, which delivers Marcora Law in Italy on behalf of the Italian Government. The CFI has made investments of 300 million euros in 560 companies saving the jobs of 25,000 workers, guaranteeing employment and retaining work skills and experience. Marcora Law was established in Italy by the former Industry Minister Giovanni Marcora to give workers the right and financial support to buy out all, or parts of, an at-risk business, and establish it as a worker owned co-operative. I delivered my speech virtually because the anniversary was held in Rome. I spoke about my Westminster Hall debate where I urged the UK Government to introduce Marcora Law into legislation. The CEO of CFI Camillo De Berardinis had watched my Westminster Hall debate and then very kindly extended an invitation to me to speak at the anniversary. Camillo and I shall work together to campaign for a UK Marcora Law.
As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sport, I co-chaired a joint virtual meeting with Derek Twigg MP, the Chair of the APPG for Mountaineering, about the effects of Brexit on the sport and recreation sector. We heard from guest speakers: Tom Cloke, Chair of the Alpine Sports Group; Nick Chamberlain, Policy Manager of British Cycling; and Martin Doyle, President of British Mountain Guides, before opening up to people on the call for a Q&A.
As a consequence of the EU-UK Trade Cooperation Agreement, UK Nationals can only spend 90 out of 180 days in a EU country. There are certain exemptions for elite athletes, for example tennis players, but grassroots players on talent pathways, and coaches and support staff who spent 6 months in a winter or summer season on the continent, learning and earning a good reputation can no longer do so, and as a result become less qualified in their chosen sport. A visa is required for each separate EU country which is costly, time consuming, and deterring young athletes and coaches from performing in the EU.
Tom said that Brexit was bad for his sport because it affected and diminished the 5 Rs: Revenue, Reputation, Retention, Recruitment and Results. And Snowsports was developed by GB from holiday recreation into a racing sport, and mobility across the EU is critical. Tom advocated: short-term permits; increased mobility for named professional sport doubling from 90 in 180 days to 180 in 360 days; and UK-EU youth mobility schemes.
Nick said that Brexit prevented summer alpine mountain bike guides working seasonally, and prevents young men and women spending one or two years gaining valuable experience racing for a continental team. Youngsters are funded through Lottery and the Dave Reiner Charity, but the 90 days maximum makes this impossible and 3-400 young people have left the sport because they cannot achieve their ambitions, and this has had a dramatic effect on the mental health of youngsters and their families.
Martin said that mountain guides needed to have experience on the bigger mountains in the EU, because British mountains are much smaller. They need flexibility of access because it’s a seasonal occupation and the weather varies so much between EU countries. Brexit has caused eligibility and permission problems. 70% of his members need to move across borders to work and this is not permitted, plus there are no work permits for the self-employed, which are in the majority. His members need to work in EU countries in order to be able to accept each other’s qualifications.
There was commonality between speakers and contributors from other sports who took part in the meeting, that we should campaign for the recent concession made to UK musicians, which provided work-free visas to touring musicians across the EU, to be extended to the sports sector.
On Tuesday lunchtime, I was thrilled to meet Joanna Lumley to discuss the Stop Sea Blasts campaign. The First and Second World War have left a legacy of 100,000 unexploded ordinances in our waters. These bombs, mines and shells need to be cleared for the construction of offshore wind farms, which is done by blowing up the bomb or mine. Our marine life, particularly dolphins and whales, are seriously and negatively impacted by such explosions, dependent as they are on their auditory system for navigation, feeding and communication. In 2011, at the Kyle of Durness in Scotland, 39 long-finned pilot whales were beached following nearby munitions disposals. A Government investigation found that the munition clearances were “the only external event with the potential to cause” the mass stranding.
But there is another way to rid our seas of these dangerous artefacts. A technology called low-order deflagration can remove munitions from the sea floor without using a damaging explosion. Instead, a small magnesium cone is fired against the munition, causing its explosive contents to ‘burn out’ from the inside with no damaging explosion and much less noise. It is vital that we clear these explosives in order to help build our green energy industry, but we need to do so in a way that does not cause such catastrophic damage to our marine life.
Whilst I was meeting Joanna, the UK Government announced that it will aim for undetonated explosives found in the sea to be cleared using quieter, less invasive, methods. Joanna said that, “as far as as she understands it, for the first time, the UK Government has clearly stated that using more environmentally friendly methods of clearing these unexplored bombs, such as low order deflagration, is the way forward and that this was a victory of common sense”.
Tuesday afternoon was taken up with the Petitions Committee’s second evidence session for our enquiry on tackling online abuse. The enquiry is focusing on lived experiences of people receiving online abuse on social media in relation to protected characteristics; social, regulatory, and technical solutions to online abuse; and the availability and enforcement of legal penalties for online abuse. We heard from two panels of expert witnesses. Panel one was comprised of Seyi Akiwowo, founder and CEO of Glitch; Andy Burrows, Head of Child Safety Online Policy at NSPCC; and Stephen Kinsella, founder of Clean Up The Internet. Panel two had Ellen Judson, Senior Researcher at Demos; William Perrin OBE, Trustee of Carnegie UK Trust; and Dr Bertie Vidgen, Research Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute. Committee members had the opportunity to ask questions of the witnesses which lasted for over two hours, and the evidence will form part of our final report.
On Wednesday, as a member of the Panel of Chairs, I chaired three debates in Westminster Hall. The first was secured by Nicola Richards, Conservative MP for West Bromwich East, about the use of Stop and Search in the West Midlands. The second debate was moved by Jake Berry, Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, and was entitled Funeral Director Services Regulation. The third debate was led by Tahir Ali Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, and the subject was Palestine: The Road to Peace. Many MPs took part in these debates and there were some passionate speeches with some lively exchanges.
On Thursday I chaired two Delegated Legislation instruments. The first was entitled The Value Added Tax (Distance Selling and Miscellaneous Amendments No 2) Regulations 2021 (SI, 2021, No. 1165). This seeks to amend the VAT Act 1994, as amended by the Finance Act 2021(FA21), which implemented two VAT simplified accounting schemes; One Stop Shop and Import One Stop Shop. These schemes are part of the e-commerce package that the UK implemented as part of the NI Protocol. These changes seek to correct several minor and consequential errors to improve clarity, and together seek to ensure that the UK’s VAT system operates as required, but do not intend to create any new regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The second instrument entitled Customs Tariff (Establishment and Suspension of Import Duty) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2021 makes amendments to legislation previously made under the Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Act 2018 (TCTA), which provided for the UK’s Customs, VAT and Excise regimes to be in place after the end of the Implementation Period, following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. This SI seeks to make several policy updates, and it also aims to make a series of technical updates including inserting six rates of import duty in the Tariff of the United Kingdom reference document, which was omitted from previous versions of the document.
Both instruments were debated by members of the Delegated Legislation Committee, but were not opposed by opposition members, and so passed without any votes.
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