I was honoured to be re-elected as a vice-chair of the APPG Western Rail Link at its AGM this week. We have been campaigning for many years for the Department of Transport of the UK Government to joint fund with Heathrow Airport a rail link from Reading railway station to Heathrow Airport for passengers and freight, which the Conservatives committed to in 2012. The proposed Great Western Rail Link will go via Langley railway station. The application to construct the new line has been delayed again, with an estimate of sometime this year. Network Rail has said that the delay has been caused by the Court of Appeal’s ruling against expansion of Heathrow airport, and the impact of coronavirus on the aviation industry. When the project does go ahead, a tunnel will be constructed connecting Reading to Heathrow, each journey taking 25 minutes, whereas passengers currently take the Rail Air Bus which takes 50 minutes or have to go via Paddington station to get the Heathrow Express. Reading station and Heathrow airport have already built rail terminals in anticipation of the scheme going ahead. The proposed link is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and planning permission can only be granted by a Development Consent Order. The DfT said that whilst it accepts the link, this is subject to a satisfactory business plan case and settling agreeable terms with Heathrow Airport. But it may be that the Treasury has delayed this, as it has done with many other schemes. The chair of our APPG Tan Dhesi MP for Slough raised the matter in Treasury Oral Questions last December, stating that he understood that a DfT application to fund the link was made to the Treasury as part of the Autumn Spending Review but was rejected. The Minister did not answer Tan’s question.
I was proud to be re-elected as a vice-chair of the Motor Neurone Disease APPG at a virtual AGM followed by an event at which I was a guest speaker on Housing Adaptations and the Challenges Faced by People Living with MND. I spoke about the situation in Wales. At the beginning of 2012, the Welsh Homes For MND campaign was launched in order to highlight these challenges. The campaign wanted the Welsh Government to issue guidance to all local authorities to instigate a transparent, fast-track, non-means tested, process for housing adaptations and to report back on the process. MND representatives met with Welsh Government housing officials to discuss the campaign. There was a back bench debate in the Senedd on the importance of housing adaptations, and following the debate Julie James MS Swansea West Minister for Housing announced that the Welsh Government would remove the means test for small and medium disabled facilities grants, and provide an extra £1 million in grant aid. During last May’s Senedd election, 74 cross-party candidates supported the campaign. After the election, MSs attended a Senedd MND virtual event where people with MND and health professionals explained the importance of a fast-track process. The MND Association collected results from FOI responses from 19 of the 22 local authorities in Wales about fast-tracking and means-testing, which precipitated the launch of the “Adapt Now” report, highlighting that the housing adaptation process from application to installation is too long for people with a rapid progressing disease like MND. The report was officially launched at a virtual event in the Senedd last October where people with MND told their stories of why the reforms in the Welsh Homes for MND campaign are absolutely vital to maintain independence and improve quality of life. Eluned Morgan MS, Welsh Government Health Minister has confirmed that all local authorities should remove means testing for small and medium adaptations by 2022, and the Welsh Local Government Association will look at implementing a unified model later this year.
It was a privilege to be re-elected as vice-chair of the APPG for Archives and History at its AGM and future work meeting. We discussed the exciting proposal for an event about the 50th anniversary of the Watergate Scandal break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Washington DC Watergate Office Building in June 1972. The scandal rocked the presidency of Richard Nixon from 1972 until he resigned on 9th August 1974. The Nixon Administration continually tried to cover up its involvement, but the cash found on the 5 perpetrators was connected to the Nixon re-election campaign by the US Justice Department and the press. Nixon is the only US President to have resigned.
I spoke in the Westminster Hall Debate secured by my dear friend Jess Morden MP for Newport East about the Cost of Living in Wales. In contrast to over 10 years of cuts dealt by the UK Tory Government and handed down to the people in Wales, I praised the approach of the Welsh Labour Government who has supplied a package of £330 million to tackle the cost of living crisis targeted at helping the most vulnerable with support schemes such as the winter fuel scheme and the discretionary assistance fund. I also congratulated the Welsh Labour Government for implementing its basic income pilot scheme for care leavers in Wales which will give care leavers the support they deserve to develop into independent young adults.
As a vice-chair of the APPG to Ban Trophy Hunting I met Peter Egan and Eduardo Goncalves at the launch of a new poster campaign to urge the UK Government to urgently introduce its long-awaited Animals Abroad Bill which includes a pledge to ban trophies from over 7,000 species. The poster was displayed on a huge 5mx3m screen at the George V Statue opposite the House of Lords, and many parliamentarians attended to show their support. The UK Government’s Bill does not have a date, and there have been recent media reports suggesting the Bill may be shelved. Official figures show that British trophy hunters are killing hundreds of lions, polar bears, elephants, leopards, giraffes, and dozens of other species every year for trophies. Opinion polls repeatedly show that almost 9 out of 10 voters support a total ban, and want it implemented as soon as possible. We are calling on the UK Government to set a date to introduce its Bill, or to support the Hunting Trophy Import Private Members Bill promoted by John Speller MP, which has its second reading on Friday 18th March.
As a Labour and Co-operative Party MP, I attended the virtual AGM meeting of the Neath Port Talbot and Swansea Co-operative Party branch and was re-elected as a vice-chair. We selected members to represent our Co-operative Party branch on local Labour Constituencies, and to represent us at the Wales Co-operative Council, which held its virtual AGM meeting on Saturday 26th February. I presented my regular Parliamentary Co-operative Party Group report at the Wales Co-operative Council meeting, and was extremely proud to be elected vice-chair of the Council. Jackie Jones, former MEP for Wales was elected chair, Cllr Sam Pritchard Swansea was elected treasurer, KC Gordon North Wales was re-elected secretary for the twentieth year, and Jackie Owen Wrexham, was elected women’s officer. The Wales Co-operative Party will be holding a fringe event at the Welsh Labour Conference taking place in Llandudno from 11-13th March, with guest speakers Vaughan Gethin MS Minister for Economy and Co-operatives in the Welsh Labour Government, Derek Walker Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, and Huw Irranca-Davies chair of the Senedd Labour and Co-operative Group, chaired by Jackie Jones. The Wales Co-operative Council and the Wales Co-operative Centre are jointly hosting the fringe meeting, together with a Wales Co-operative Party stall at the Conference exhibition centre.
On Sunday 27th February I attended a service in St David’s Church Neath where we prayed for peace and for the people of Ukraine, for their community and political leaders. We prayed for those institutions and leaders around the world who have the influence to work for peace.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01639 630152 – we are here to help.