My week in Westminster began when I joined the Wales All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hospitality, Events, and Major Food and Drink Businesses, chaired by Jess Morden MP, to receive an update from many guest speakers involved in this very important sector in Wales.
David Chapman, Executive Director for Wales UK Hospitality introduced the discussion by highlighting the recruitment crisis in the sector. Staffing is 30% down on 2020 levels because of, amongst other things, less migrant workers, end of the furlough scheme and business rates relief (England), the increase in VAT from 5 to 12.5% on 1st October 2021, which will go up to 20% on 1st April 2022, competition from other sectors that have more regular working hours, and staff isolating because of Covid regulations. Staff that have loyally remained in the sector are suffering from mental health issues and anxiety due to overwork because they are covering other members of staff duties.
The Group Task and Development Director at Celtic Manor Group, which consists of seven hotels and venues, spoke about the high level of vacancies she has in both permanent and casual posts. Many who left in March 2020 have not returned, and that it’s now a candidates market because of staff shortages, so candidates dictate and negotiate the terms of their employment. And even though all roles have received increased wages, many are still leaving for jobs with slightly higher rates of pay.
The Welsh Rarebit Collective represents 200 independent hotels and its representative said that the lack of staff has never been so bad in the Wales hospitality sector. Many of his members have to turn away business because of lack of staff. He had conducted a straw poll amongst his members and only 11% are running at full capacity, whilst 80% are turning away business.
The speakers also agreed that there was a perception in the UK that a job in the hospitality sector was something that is fitted in between school and university, or a temporary job until securing a “proper” career, rather than being viewed as a genuine career itself. And that one of the major challenges is to change this culture, which should begin in schools and colleges.
I dropped in to the Women’s Aid photo session which was held to promote their #DeserveToBeHeard campaign supporting women who have suffered domestic abuse and the barriers they have faced when seeking help. I pledged to #HearHer. Please read more – Mental Health and Domestic Abuse – by Women’s Aid. Reframing the Links: Black and minorities women, domestic violence, and abuse, and mental health- A Review of the Literature – by Ravi Thiara and Christine Harrison University of Warwick.
The APPG for Rare, Genetic, and Undiagnosed Conditions joined with the APPG for Life Sciences Diseases, jointly chaired by Liz Twist MP and Daniel Zeichner MP, to discuss the UK Rare Diseases Framework. This is an important piece of policy development which will change the landscape for people affected by rare conditions. Whilst the population of an individual rare disease is small, there are over seven thousand identified rare conditions, consequently one in seventeen will be affected by a rare condition at sometime in their lives which equates to 3.5 million in the UK and three quarters of all rare diseases affect children. It is estimated that these rare diseases are responsible for about a third of infant mortality in the UK and it takes about four years to be diagnosed with a rare condition. But licensed medical products are only available for a small minority of rare diseases, making it very difficult for patients to access potentially life saving treatment. The Framework was released in January 2021. The guest speakers discussed the development of the UK Government Action Plans that will implement the Framework, and will be announced at the beginning of next year. These Action Plans are vital in leading systemic change so that people with rare diseases are given the care they need.
As a member of the Parliamentary Panel of Chairs, I chaired the Second Delegated Legislation Committee which discussed the Draft Solvency 2 (Group Supervision) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. The draft instrument was made to address deficiencies in retained EU Law. It will ensure that an equivalence decision which assesses that the insurance group supervision regime in another country is equivalent to that in the UK and avoids duplication of supervisory work in relation to insurance groups. HM Treasury explain that the purpose is to ensure that the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) where it is group supervisor of a UK insurance group with a parent in a third country, including the EU, can defer to the supervisory authority in that third country in certain circumstances, if the insurance group supervision regime in the third country has been assessed as equivalent to the UK‘s regime. HMT says that these changes will avoid unnecessary duplication, reduce regulatory compliance cost for UK insurance groups, reduce supervisory cost for the PRA, and reduce the need for co-ordination between third country supervisor authorities and the PRA. The members of the committee debated the draft instrument which was passed unanimously without a division.
On Tuesday 7th December I attended the APPG Wales and the World, chaired by Craig Williams MP for Montgomeryshire, and attended by Simon Baynes MP, Liz Saville-Roberts MP, Robin Millar MP, and Ben Lake MP. The meeting was addressed by Megan Williams, who runs the Welsh North American Association. Megan explained how the Association was set up and since 1929 has organised an annual Gymanfa Ganu. It currently has 2500 members, publishes the Ninnau Newspaper and has links with Welsh Associations across America and the World, including the Welsh Society of Philadelphia.
As a member of the Petitions Committee I was selected to lead a Westminster Hall Petition Debate on 13th December, on behalf petitioner Richard Ackers who set up Justice for Reggie, following the death of his puppy Reggie from Parvovirus within a few days of buying Reggie from an online seller. Richard’s petition, which closed with over 109,000 signatures, calls for regulating all websites where animals are sold, including verification of sellers’ identity and pictures of animals for sale with their parents. Ahead of the debate I held a virtual round table to gather evidence from animal welfare organisations about online advertising of the sale of animals. I met with the Dogs Trust, RSPCA, Cats Protection, British Veterinary Association, Kennel Club, and the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) so that I could include their perspective on the aim of the petition.
I held a separate virtual meeting with the petitioner Richard Ackers and learned how he and his family were heartbroken following the death of his puppy Reggie, and he was outraged to find out that there were no regulations covering UK online animal sale advertising, after buying Reggie, who was advertised on an online website from an allegedly reputable seller. Richard set up his petition to prevent others being duped by disreputable sellers. Read the debate here.
I joined the Western Gateway APPG co-chaired by Jess Morden MP and Mark Harper MP for an update on the Western Gateway partnership whose aims are – connecting communities, championing businesses, creating opportunities for sustainable growth, and bringing together businesses, academia, and governments across the River Severn to work together to attract new opportunities for the 4.4 million people living in this region. Its “Step Fusion” bid could provide a near limitless source of low carbon energy that produces four million times more energy than every kilogram of fuel than burning coal, oil, or gas. Fusion doesn’t emit harmful toxins like carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and nuclear fusion reactors provide no high activity, long-lived nuclear waste. It will be situated at Severn Edge because this site once led the world in the development of nuclear power production, is in the levelling-up areas of England and Wales, and close to many Welsh communities identified by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) left-behind index. It can tap into the local massive supply chain, the UK’s National fusion laboratory at Culham, Bristol University high temperature engineering expertise, and nearby R & D facilities. I look forward to the Western Gateway Powerhouse Conference next year.
I attended the APPG for Down Syndrome online meeting following the Second Reading of the Down Syndrome (England) Private Members’ Bill tabled by Liam Fox MP. The APPG was co-chaired by Lisa Cameron MP and Matt Western MP. Liam Fox said that his Bill was in the “Write Around” stage where all UK Government Departments can pledge their support and can add conditions before the Bill goes into committee, where it will be debated and can be amended. Mr Fox hopes that his Bill will pass through the Lords in one day. We heard very powerful, positive, statements from husband and wife, James and Heidi Carter, who support the Bill, and have Down Syndrome. This absolutely charming, happy, couple told us that it “Doesn’t Define Me”. James said that he works hard to support his wife and has a few jobs. Heidi said that James was very handsome, and they love each other very much.
The Co-operative Parliamentary Group met in person on Wednesday afternoon to listen to Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, but unfortunately, as soon as the meeting began the division bell, rang summoning MPs to the voting lobby. Consequently, the Co-operative Party Officers Joe Fortune, General Secretary, Emma Hoddinott, Assistant General Secretary, and Rob Bates, Political and Parliamentary Officer, decided that instead of holding a formal meeting, it was turned into a sort of informal drop-in event where MPs called in to speak with Rose and the officers, between the series of votes which lasted most of the afternoon.
The Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing MP, who is in charge of the Panel of Parliamentary Chairs convened our Autumn Meeting. We paid tribute to our colleague Sir David Amess MP who was tragically murdered, and held a minute silence. We discussed the forward plan for 2022 covering the responsibilities covered by all the chairs: Public Bill Committees, General Committees, Westminster Hall Debates, and Delegated Legislation Committees. Plus the rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons.
Lord Colin Moynihan co-chair (with the late Sir David Amess) of the APPG for Olympics and Paralympics convened a special AGM of the APPG to pay tribute to Sir David, who, as I have already mentioned, was tragically murdered last month, and to elect a new co-chair to succeed David. I was so proud and honoured to be unanimously elected as co-chair, and pledged to do my very best to continue to work with the members of the APPG in memory of David, who was a dear friend to me, and who helped me so much when I was a newly elected MP. David and I became close friends and we shared a passion for all types of sport. He had a wonderful mischievous nature, a dry sense of humour, and was always happy. David loved to tease me and I miss him more each day.
On Friday, I was back in my constituency at the (socially distanced) switching on of the Melin Christmas Lights at Melin Community Trust, by Neath Town Councillor Keith Finn, who represents the Melyn Ward. There was a good crowd who turned up to support the Trust, and listen to Keith make his debut speech, which was superb. Melin Trust was set up in 2002 to foster community development and regeneration in local areas. It is run by staff, trustees and, over the years, hundreds of volunteers have gained skills and confidence by taking part in the many projects run by the Trust. At the Christmas Lights ceremony, the Trust volunteers handed out mince pies and there was genuine delight at seeing so many old friends in person again after such a long time.
On Saturday, as a Labour and Co-operative Party MP, I joined the virtual meeting of the Wales Co-operative Council to present my report on the work of the Co-operative Parliamentary Group. We have continued work on increasing protection for retail workers as they face increasing levels of violence, threats, and abuse at work. The UK Government has finally conceded to our campaign, led in the Commons by Alex Norris MP and his Private Members’ Bill. It will be bringing forward a U.K. Government Lords amendment that gives greater protection for all public-facing workers, including retail workers to the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which is currently in the Lords. This has been a core campaign for the Parliamentary Group, the wider Co-operative movement, and trade unions for many years, but we shall continue to press the UK Government to ensure the proposed legislation has the desired positive impact on retail workers.
I have been leading the campaign for the introduction of a UK Marcora Law that would give workers and employees the opportunity, the financial support, and advice, to buy-out all or part of their employer’s business when it is in crisis, and establish it as an employee-owned co-operative. In Italy this is done by giving workers their employment benefits as a lump sum advance to use as capital for the buy-out, plus support and advice from the Cooperazione Finanza Impresa (CFI) which runs Marcora Law on behalf of the Italian Government, to make sure buy-outs are successful. Following my Marcora Law Westminster Hall Debate on 8th September, Camillo De Berardinis Presidente of CFI, contacted me to say that he’d watched my debate and invited me to speak at the CFI’s 35th Anniversary, which I was honoured to accept. I shall continue to press the UK Government to introduce a UK Marcora Law and I have a 10-Minute Rule Bill entitled “Co-operatives (Employee Company Ownership) scheduled in the Commons for 11th January.
We have been actively opposing the sell-off of LV= one of Britain’s oldest and largest customer-owned business. The APPG for Mutuals, chaired by Gareth Thomas MP, of which I am treasurer, conducted an inquiry into the proposed sell-off of LV= and our report stated that the proposed sale to American venture capitalist firm Bain Capital would mean millions of LV= customers losing their ownership rights and ability to have a say in the company’s decisions. I’m pleased to report that LV= members have blocked the takeover, scuppering a year long campaign by the LV= board to secure backing for its preferred bidder Bain. Only 69% of the 174,240 members who cast ballots on 10th December approved of the £530m takeover, but the necessary threshold is 75%. LV= said that it would work swiftly to reassess its options, which could be merging with fellow mutual Royal London, one of the rival bidders, whose initial bid wasn’t accepted by the LV= board, despite being a higher bid at £540m, compared with Bain’s £530m. Gareth called for Chief Executive Mark Hartigan and Chairman Alan Cook to resign immediately. LV= confirmed that Mr Cook would be stepping down, but have not specified a date.
Week beginning 13th December
On Monday 13th I was honoured and privileged to present Reggie’s Law on behalf of the petitioner Richard Ackers, who had been given special permission by the Chair of Ways and Means to be present in the public gallery, because visitors are not allowed on the Parliamentary Estate under current Covid regulations. I told MPs that Richard started the petition after he bought his 12 week old Labrador puppy Reggie through a reputable website for his partner for Christmas and then realised that he had unknowingly contributed to illegal puppy farming. Richard concedes that he should have done more research before buying Reggie, and should have walked away, which would have prevented the seller getting more money to continue with acts of animal cruelty, but Reggie would still have died. Richard gave Reggie love, dignity, and pain relief throughout his very short life. Reggie fell ill 12 hours after Richard took him home and he died from Parvovirus two days later. Richard thought that Reggie was from St Helens, but when he returned to the seller’s address, the house was empty. Richard discovered that the microchip number for Reggie did not match the documentation given to Richard and it was registered to Dublin. Richard thinks Reggie was illegally shipped to the UK. Richard’s petition gathered over 109,000 signatures and many MPs attended the debate to support Reggie’s Law, and tell their stories of their constituents who had been duped by online sellers, plus tragic cases of mistreatment of animals. The UK Government Parliamentary Minister, Under-Secretary of State for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaption Jo Churchill MP, was very sympathetic and offered to meet Richard. I summed up the debate by thanking all members for their contributions and urged the Minister to legislate to prevent people suffering the heartbreak that Richard has, and I thanked Richard for his determination not to give up on Justice For Reggie.
On Tuesday 14th I spoke in a Westminster Hall Debate on the contribution of co-operative and mutual societies to the economy and public life. I took the opportunity to continue to highlight my campaign to press the UK Government to introduce a UK Marcora Law. I started by reminding members that Robert Owen, founder of our Co-operative movement, whose vision included villages of co-operation, a “New World Order” of mutual help and social equality, was born in Wales, in Newtown, Powys on 14th May 1771. Also that the Co-op Group can trace its roots back to the start of modern co-operation in Rochdale in 1844, and that 177 years later, the Group continues to put its members and their passions at the centre of its business with a focus on working with others – co-operating. And since it’s launch in 2016, the Group’s Local Community Fund has provided approaching £100m to over 20,000 local good causes, making it one of the largest funding mechanisms for charities in the UK. I told the Minister that too much power and wealth rest with a small number of investors, shareholders, and executives and that decisions are often made for the benefit of the powerful and wealthy, not for the benefit of communities, workers, consumers, and the environment. And that I believe the answer lies in Marcora Law. I referred to my Westminster Hall Debate on 8th September and provided Minister John Glen MP with more facts about the success of the Italian New Marcora Law operated by the CFI, but the Minister repeated his comments that he made in my debate, that the Italian economy is different to the UK, And the unemployment rate is higher in Italy.
But the Minister did offer to meet me to discuss Marcora Law, and I have written to him to request a meeting in the New Year.
As the vice-chair for the APPG Rail in Wales, I was delighted to be asked to chair the Zoom meeting to discuss “Women in Rail” (WIR) with guest speakers Christine Fernandez, Development Lead CAF and chair of WIR Wales, and Gemma Southgate, Social Media Manager TfW and committee member of WIR Wales. Christine and Gemma gave a joint presentation about the aims and objectives of WIR Wales, the role of women in rail, and the need for more women to work in a variety of roles across the rail sector. There are only 13% women in the Rail sector, and only 2-3% are drivers. Women in Rail was set up to create various initiatives to encourage more women to join the sector, including a mentoring programme, upskilling, a peer to peer network for senior women in rail, an EDI Charter, and has plans to engage with schools, colleges and apprenticeships.
As a member of the Panel of Chairs, I chaired Westminster Hall Debates on both Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. On Wednesday Sir Tony Lloyd MP, former Shadow Northern Ireland Shadow Cabinet Minister, led a debate on securing a veterinary agreement in the Northern Ireland Protocol. Sir Tony opened by taking us back to two years ago quoting Prime Minister Johnson who said about form-filling “tell them to ring up the Prime Minister and I will direct them to throw the form in the bin….there will be no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind. You will have unfettered access.” Sir Tony said that his debate was about the operation of the protocol, and it is irresponsible that two years on we have no solution, which is building up tensions and concerns in Northern Island. Sir Tony stated that we need to move on – to some form of trusted trader scheme.
The next debate was led by Ruth Cadbury MP and was about the Free Period Product Scheme for Schools and College in England. Ruth is chair of the APPG on Period Equality, and she welcomed the UK Government’s announcement on 26th November to extend the scheme for all of 2022. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Will Quince, responded by stating that people may think “what does this middle-aged bloke know or care about period products?” But he does care because he is passionate about ensuring that women and girls are supported in education and beyond.
Read Wednesdays debates here.
On Thursday I chaired a three hour Back Bench Debate about preventing surgical fires in the NHS led by Jim Shannon MP who underlined the serious dangers of surgical fires to patients and clinicians. A surgical fire occurs in an operating theatre and has three elements: the ignition source, the fuel and the oxidiser. Ignition sources include electro-surgical units, fibre-optic light sources, and lasers. Fuels can be alcohol-based skin prepping agents used in excess. The oxidiser is an oxygen-rich environment in which nitrous oxide is also present.
Mr Shannon stated that the debate was about raising awareness and making sure that surgical fires no longer happen. Mr Shannon stated that nobody knows how common surgical fires are, because there is a large discrepancy between reporting across the UK and health is devolved. The UK Government accept there is an issue but they do not know the scale of the problem, because they are not monitoring or reporting surgical fires, but there is also a need for education and training. There is currently no national guidance or safety recommendations to prevent surgical fires in operating theatres. And surgical fires must become a “never event”. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maria Caulfield MP, responded on behalf of the NHS in England, and stated that she was concerned that there is no central record of how many surgical fires are taking place, agreed that staff training is a priority, and offered to meet Mr Shannon to look at guidelines to make sure they come forward, because surgical fires can not become “never events” without national guidance or safety recommendations. The Minister ended by stating that she hopes to share some progress with members in the new year.
Read the debate here.
My week ended when I attended the Advent 4 service at St David’s Church in Neath, and as usual I was given the warmest welcome. Reverend Stuart Ghezzi gave a wonderful sermon about the importance that greetings play in our life, and how we have adapted our greetings in Covid times. It was so good to see Neath Benefice Secretary Helen, Rector’s Warden Paul, and many members of the congregation who have become dear friends over the many years that I have been a member of Neath Benefice. Many thanks go to Canon Rector Linda Newman for doing a wonderful job at leading the Neath Benefice during such challenging times.
May I wish you all the happiest Christmas and my very best wishes for 2022.
Please look at my Christmas Message on social media with help from the wonderful pupils of Blaendulais and Ynysfach Primary Schools.
These have been an incredibly challenging couple of years, and I am sure we all want to celebrate with family, please keep yourselves and your families safe: take up the offer of the booster jab, continue to wear your face coverings on public transport and in enclosed settings such as shops, and keep yourselves healthy. You can find the latest Welsh Government coronavirus advice here.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to email email@example.com or call 01639 630152 – we are here to help.