The House resumed on Tuesday 19th April, because Monday was a Bank Holiday, and I began by attending the UK Steel re-launch of the UK Steel Charter. The event brought together Government Ministers, MPs, steel producers, consumers, and other supply chain partners to discuss the issues of procurement, infrastructure, and steel’s place within it. The event celebrated new signatories, thanked existing ones, and attendees heard from organisations who support domestic supply chains and maximise social values achieved through procurement activities. But the manner by which public and private organisations source steel will fundamentally change in forthcoming years. We were told that the UK Government’s Transforming Public Procurement and Levelling Up white papers, and the Government’s Steel Procurement Task Force publications, commit to harness the power of public procurement to support jobs and local communities. The UK Steel Charter has encouraged this proactive approach for many years, and numerous public and private sector organisations, including BEIS, and devolved administrations have become supportive partners. MPs and Unions have a pivotal role in maximising opportunities and value for the steel sector. I pledged my continued support for the UK Steel Charter and my ongoing commitment for steel workers, employees, in every region of the UK.
On Tuesday, there were three Government statements in the Chamber: Global Migration Challenge (Rwanda Plan); Prime Minister’s Statement: Government Update; and BEIS Statement: Energy Security Strategy. The first statement was led by Home Secretary Priti Patel who set out her Government’s plan for immigration published in March 2021, which is based on three objectives – increase the fairness and efficiency to better protect those in genuine need of asylum, deter illegal and dangerous routes, breaking criminal smuggling networks, and remove those without a right to be in the UK. The Home Secretary set out the international agreement with Rwanda, which states that Rwanda is a state party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, operates the seven core UN human rights conventions, and has a strong system for refugee resettlement. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper disagreed and said that this statement was unworkable, shameful, and a desperate attempt to distract from the PM’s lawbreaking, and undermining the rule of law. It didn’t include costs of people transferred to Rwanda, but the Home Office had briefed that it might be £30,000 per person to cover 3 months accommodation, and that is three times the cost of dealing with an asylum case in the UK. Ms Cooper said that the top police chief and anti-slavery commissioner said that this agreement will make it harder to prosecute people traffickers. Former PM Theresa May stated that she did not support it for legal, practical and efficacy grounds.
The second statement was led by the PM who stated that on 12th April he received a fixed penalty notice (FPN) relating to an event in Downing Street on 19th June 2020, which he paid immediately, and offered a full apology to the British people, and today on the first sitting day after receiving the FPN he repeated his wholehearted apology to the House. He said that it did not occur to him then or subsequently that a gathering in the Cabinet room just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules. The Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer MP, did not accept the PM’s assertions, and stated that the public has made up its mind and they do not believe a word the PM says. Many MPs questioned the PM during the 80 minute statement, and many read out heart-breaking stories of their constituents who had lost loved ones during Covid but had obeyed the rules that the PM had made, and consequently didn’t have the opportunity to visit, or pay their respects to loved ones who had died. In total, the PM apologised 35 times.
The third statement was led by the Secretary of State for BEIS, Kwasi Kwarteng, who said that the UK Government’s energy security strategy provides a clear, long-term plan to accelerate transition from expensive fossil fuel prices set by global markets, and is based on well-constituted energy policy, security, affordability and sustainability. Mr Kwarteng quoted the Chancellor’s £9 billion support package, including a £150 council tax rebate, £200 energy rebate in October, and decarbonisation of people’s homes saving low-income families £300 per year. Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Minister, Ed Miliband MP, disagreed and said that it’s all hype, promises, and fails to live up to the scale of the energy crisis that families are facing, and once again the UK Government cannot deliver what the national interest demands.
The Online Safety Bill Second Reading was led by the Secretary of State DCMS Nadine Dorries, and was debated for two and a half hours, but was not pushed to a division. Therefore, the Bill was carried over for the Committee Stage, following the Queen’s Speech which will take place on 11th May.
On Wednesday I attended a drop in event to support the Fan-Led review of football governance organised by Fair Game UK to show that we must build a future for football that puts financial sustainability, good governance, equality standards, and fan community engagement, at the heart of football in the UK. I met former England International John Scales and Niall Cooper, the CEO of Fair Game who have both been instrumental in campaigning for reform after the failure of the European Super League. Football fans must play a central role in reform.
I also dropped in to the RNIB and LEGO Group event to celebrate their amazing initiative to develop LEGO Braille Bricks to help young people who have vision impairment to learn braille. This is a concept that is a play-based methodology which teaches braille to children who are blind or visually impaired. Each brick retains its iconic form, but the studs are arranged to correspond with numbers and letters of the Braille alphabet. Each brick also shows the printed version of the symbol or letter, so that sighted and blind children can play and learn on equal terms. Over the past 15 months RNIB has delivered training to 800 teaching professionals and distributed 2,000 sets of bricks to 220 Local Authorities. I met with teachers and students who have benefited from using the LEGO Braille Bricks and took the opportunity to try out the bricks.
I attended the TSB’s “Tackling Fraud Together” event and report launch which is campaigning for better protections for consumers against fraud. Online fraud has a significant impact on the cost of living for many families in the UK. Research by TSB found that in Wales 26% of people would not be able to afford food, and 21% would not afford their rent or mortgage, for one week, if they lost up to £500 through fraud. 53% of the claims seen by TSB are for less than £500, and I’m supporting TSB in their call for stronger action from the public and private sector to protect people from fraud. TSB has refunded 97% of fraud claims since April 2019 compared to the rest of the banking sector which has refunded less than 50%. I’m calling on other banks to refund more fraud victims.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Lords Amendments to the Subsidy Control Bill, the Building Safety Bill, and the Nationality and Borders Bill were debated in the Commons Chamber.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for BEIS, Paul Scully MP, led the first Bill, and the UK Government accepted all the Lords Amendments, apart from 46, which were then agreed to by Members without pushing to a division.
Labour supported the following Lords Amendments regarding the Building Safety Bill when they returned to the Commons:
Amendment 8: major concerns about safety in buildings should be addressed in a timely way.
115: extended the cost protections to leaseholders in buildings of all heights containing two or more residential dwellings.
117: ensured that leaseholders in enfranchised buildings are not excluded from protection.
155: reduced the maximum amount leaseholders could be made liable for fire remediation to zero.
Unfortunately, the UK Government were successful in opposing all these Lords Amendments.
There was a Government concession on Labour Lord’s Amendment 22 which ensured that social housing providers are exempt from the additional financial burden of the Government’s proposed levy, ensuring that council tenants would not subsidise the failures of private developers, and will be enacted through Secondary Legislation. There were 250 Government Lord’s amendments agreed without divisions.
We voted on 12 Lords Amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill when they returned to the Commons late Wednesday night.
Amendment 4B removed the retrospective power of the Secretary of State so that any existing deprivation orders given without notice would have to be reissued through the lawful process in the Bill.
5B ensured that nothing in the Bill authorises policies or decisions which do not comply with the Refugee Convention.
6B ensured that refugees which have been separated into 2 groups, based on whether or not they have passed through a safe third country, should have the equal entitlements. They will be given Convention and family reunion rights.
7B provided asylum seekers with a right to work whilst they are still waiting for a decision after 6 months.
8B ensured that inadmissibility rules cannot be commenced until there are safe return agreements in place.
53B-D removed offshore processing of asylum seekers from the Bill.
10B replaced family reunion rules lost under the Dublin III scheme and provided a route for unaccompanied children.
11B provided that the Secretary of State published a target for refugee resettlement each year and put in place resourcing and infrastructure to support it.
13B provided that it is only an offence if someone arrives in the UK in breach of a deportation order, rather than criminalising anyone who arrives without clearance.
20B ensured that anyone rescuing lives at sea would be protected from prosecution.
25B narrowed the prosecution of those identified as a “threat to public order” to those convicted of terrorist offences.
26B put in place 12 months of support for victims of modern slavery.
The UK Government defeated all these Lords Amendments.
On Thursday the opposition parties tabled and the House debated a censure motion entitled “Referral of Prime Minister to Committee of Privileges”, which contained: fixed penalty notices in relation to events in 10 Downing St; assertions made by the PM with regard to – the legality of these activities under Covid regulations; that no parties and no regulations were broken; appeared to mislead the House; and that this should be referred to the Privileges Committee to consider whether the PM’s conduct amounted to contempt of the House, but that this should not begin until inquiries by the Metropolitan Police have concluded. Sir Keir Starmer MP opened the debate and Angela Rayner MP closed the debate on behalf of the Opposition. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General Michael Ellis MP wound up the debate for the Government. Angela said that she hoped it was the last time that the Minister was wheeled out to defend the indefensible, and that members from across the House have spoken about the heart-wrenching sacrifices their constituents made throughout the pandemic, and about the principles of integrity, honesty, and dignity, which are at stake. She also stated that the debate is a historic moment and it’s about the crucial question of whether the PM intentionally misled the House. The Minister said that the PM has made it clear that he is happy to face whatever inquiries Parliament sees fit, and he is happy for the House to decide how to proceed, so the Tories were not whipped, but free to vote. He also stated that the Government Amendment was tabled last night because it wanted Sue Gray to publish her report without delay and the Metropolitan Police to conclude their investigations, but now recognise that these will happen, so the Government is happy for the Labour Motion to go through. The Minister said that the PM has apologised repeatedly for what has happened. He has asked for the House’s forgiveness and should be allowed to get on with serving the country. The debate lasted for over 5 hours and, as the Minister said, the UK Government did not oppose the motion and it passed without a vote.
The Government also announced that it anticipated that Parliament will be prorogued on Thursday 28th April and will be resumed on Tuesday 11th May, when the Queen will make a speech opening the new Parliamentary session.
On Saturday 23rd May I was honoured and humbled to join many people from the local community who attended the Ukrainian Vigil in Ynysfach Primary School. A committee made up from Resolven Community Council, the ladies from the Welfare Club, and local residents was set up to organise the Vigil, which took place in the school yard. The pupils had made Ukrainian banners and flags with which they had decorated the yard, and they joined in the Vigil. Neal Francis, the Chairman and Mayor of Resolven Community Council introduced the speakers, including a local resident from Tonna who has family in Ukraine and is raising funds to send over much needed supplies including medical equipment; Jeremy Miles gave an update on Welsh Government support; and Reverend Jane Shaw said prayers and a blessing. We listened to the Black Eyed Peas song for Ukraine “Where is the Love” and the Ukrainian anthem. After the very emotional Vigil, we attended a fund-raising buffet where all the food was made by the WI, and held in Building Blocks Family Centre, hosted by the centre manager Ceri Pritchard. The local shops and clubs had sold ribbons, held raffles and collections. The total raised was an amazing £1196.66. Slava Ukraina. Slava Resolven.
The last week of the current Parliamentary session started on Monday 25th April. The business in the Chamber was – UK Government statements, Urgent Questions, and Lords Amendments returning to the Commons, to be voted down by the UK Government.
At 3.30pm on Monday, The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, updated the House on Ukraine. He said that it is 61 days since Russia invaded Ukraine and 74 days since his Russian counterpart assured him that Russia would not invade. The UK Government assessed that 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed, over 2,000 armoured vehicles, 60 helicopters and fighter jets, have been destroyed or captured. Last week the Russians admitted that the Moskva had sunk, and the Russians have refocused to try and capture Donetsk, Luhansk, Donbas, and connect with Crimea via Mariupol. The Minister listed the support he had given Ukraine: 5,000 anti-tank missiles; 5 air defence systems; 1,360 anti-structure munitions and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives. Also, 90,000 ration packs, 10 pallets of medical equipment, 3,000 pieces of body armour, 77,000 helmets, and 3,000 pairs of boots. The Minister stated that the PM had announced another £100 million of high grade equipment and the Minister said that Stormer vehicles will also be gifted to Ukraine. He said that the next three weeks would be key, and the UK is working with Canada, US, and EU, and that NATO is reassessing how it can deter and defend against threats. The Minister quoted the President of Ukraine who said that if Russia stops fighting there will be peace – if Ukraine stops fighting there will be no more Ukraine.
The next statement was the UK Government’s response to the Fan Led Review of Football Governance delivered by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nigel Huddleston MP, but before he called the Minister, Mr Speaker yet again voiced his disappointment that the UK Government had already released its response to the media the night before. Mr Speaker said that it was discourteous to the House and to Tracey Crouch MP who had chaired the review, and had put so much work into this and she has been cut out, but the Speaker would give her more time to speak in the statement. The Minister said that his Government endorsed all 10 strategic recommendations set out in the review, and would Implement its responsibilities, but the football authorities should implement theirs too. The UK Government also published the findings of a study by Kieran Maguire and Christina Philippou, which confirmed there is a widespread issue of fragile finances across English Football Clubs. The Minister said that the UK Government would publish a White Paper in the summer which will set out details of implementing the recommendations, including a new financial regulation regime, an independent regulator, a new directors and owners test, a minimum level of fan engagement, fans consent before changing stadium, colours, and badge, protection of players welfare, and the UK Government will implement these reforms as soon as possible. The Minister said that the Premier League should strengthen its support through the football pyramid. The Minister said that the UK Government will also launch a dedicated review of women’s football, and that the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and UEFA European Women’s final will be made available to free-to-air broadcasters. Tracey Crouch MP welcomed the UK Government’s endorsement, but said she was concerned about the timeframe for implementation, and asked the Minister to clarify: what does summer mean; will he rule out housing the independent regulator in the FA; will the owners and directors test be split into 2; does he share her disappointment that no progress has been made on discussions between football authorities regarding redistribution and parachute payments; what is his position on the transfer solidarity levy; and will there be a veto for fans on heritage matters. The Minister said that he would bring back further information about: the definition of “summer”; the home for the regulator; financial distribution agreement; and the precise nature of fan engagement and heritage assets in the forthcoming weeks.
The debate on consideration of the Lords Message for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill followed the statements, and we voted to support the Lords Amendments. The first Lords Amendment group 73, 74 ABCDEFG, and 87 ABCDEFH, removed provisions for police to impose conditions on “noisy” protests, and in-person impact to people in the vicinity of protests – defined as intimidation, harassment, serious unease, serious alarm, and serious distress. We lost by 300-220 votes. The second Lords Amendment group 80 ABCDEFH removed provisions for police to impose conditions on public assemblies, and static protests. We lost by 302-221 votes.
The next debate considered the Lords Amendments for the Health and Care Bill. We voted on Lords Amendment 29B which required workforce projections to be published every three years rather than two years, to reduce the bureaucratic burden, replacing Lords Amendment 29 which we lost last week. We again lost by 278-182 votes. We voted on Lords Amendment 80 which removed the clause relating to a cap of £86,000 on social care costs, and also stated that Local Authority contributions would not count towards the cap. Lords Amendments 80P and Q ensured that the cap cannot be brought in until results of the Trailblazer pilots schemes have been evaluated. We lost by 282-183 votes.
On Tuesday morning I joined the AGM of the Environment All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and was re-elected as one of the vice-chairs. The Green Alliance was confirmed to continue as the secretariat. Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, who was the UK Government Minister who signed net zero into law, was elected as chair. We discussed the work and events programme for the next twelve months, including meetings on energy security with the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, Greg Hands MP, environment land management with the Minister for Farming, Fisheries, and Food, Victoria Prentice MP, and CBD COP15 with the Minister for the Pacific and International Environment, Lord Goldsmith.
In the afternoon I chaired the Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee which debated The Industrial Training Levy (Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2022. This instrument will enable the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to raise and collect a levy on employers in the construction industry. The levy funds the expenses of the CITB in carrying out its functions encouraging training in the industry under the Industrial Training Act 1982. The purpose is to address market failure in the development and maintenance of skills in the construction industry. A previous instrument in 2018 allowed levies to be collected in 2018, 2019, 2020, but the 2021 instrument allowed for a one year levy to halve the 2018 rate in response to the pandemic. The instrument debated in this committee allowed the rates to return to the 2018 levy, and extended it for the levy periods ending in 2022, 2023, and 2024. The increased threshold for small employers remained unchanged. I called on the Minister, Alex Burghart MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, to open the debate by moving the motion, but he only managed to read the title of the motion, when the division bells rang, and I had to suspend the debate so that members of the committee could vote on Lords amendments of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill.
Labour abstained on Lords Amendments 1 and 5, and voted to support Lords Amendment 11, which introduced a new entitlement for bereaved persons to receive publicly funded representation in inquests where public bodies are legally represented (Hillsborough Law) and we lost by 299-168 votes.
I resumed the Delegated Legislation Committee after all the votes had taken place. The Minister moved the motion and opened the debate. The Opposition Spokesperson Toby Perkins MP responded and asked the Minister questions, but did not oppose the instrument, which was passed without a vote.
The UK Government added the Nationality and Borders Bill to the end of Tuesday’s business. Starting at 10.30pm we voted again on three of the Lords Amendments that we had voted to support last week when we were defeated by the UK Government and sent back to the Lords for “ping-pong” (when Lords Amendments to a UK Government Bill are voted down in the Commons and sent back to the Lords to be re-amended or conceded). Labour again supported Lords Amendment 5D, losing 296-206; Lords Amendment 6DEF losing 299-205; and Lords Amendment 7FG losing 288-212. These amendments were then sent back to the Lords for them to decide whether to concede defeat on these amendments or send them back to the Commons for more ping-pong.
On Wednesday I joined the APPG on Rare, Genetic and Undiagnosed Conditions for Undiagnosed Children’s Day (29th April). Approximately 6,000 children are born every year with a genetic condition likely to remain undiagnosed. There are multiple factors which stop someone from receiving a diagnosis, for example, some people may not be able to access tests to identify their condition, while others may have a condition so rare it is yet to be discovered. We heard from two speakers: Marie Pritchard, representative from SWAN UK, which is run by the Genetic Alliance UK Charity and provides 24/7 support for its members, on her experience of having a child with “a syndrome with no name” and Nick Meade, Joint Interim Chief Executive and Director of Policy at Genetic Alliance UK, who spoke on the findings from the Good Diagnosis report which underlies the importance of diagnosis for people living with rare conditions and sets out some guiding principles for diagnosis: increasing awareness of rare conditions among healthcare professionals; people with rare conditions should receive information and support throughout their diagnosis; and a good diagnosis patient rights charter should be developed. I asked Nick what he thought of the Welsh Government Rare Diseases Implementation Plan and he said that it was clear, ambitious, and achievable.
The Elections Bill came back to the Commons on Wednesday night for some “ping-pong”. Labour has advocated that voting is safe and secure in Britain and Ministers should be promoting confidence in our elections, rather than threatening our democracy, by proposing a voting ID system taken from the Republican Party Playbook. In the 2019 General Election, there was one prosecution for voter impersonation out of over 59 million votes. Three and a half million people of the UK electorate do not have access to any form of photo ID. We saw the severe consequences of the Windrush scandal when communities struggled to provide official documentation. Labour supported Lords Amendments 22 and 23 tabled by Lord Judge which removed clauses that make provision for a power to designate a “Strategy and Policy Statement” for the Electoral Commission which will be drafted by the Government, and will undermine the independence of the Commission. Amendment 22 was defeated by 306-215 votes, and Amendment 23 was defeated by 306-213 votes. Labour supported Lords Amendment 86 tabled by Lord Willets, which added a list of documents that would be accepted as a form of identification for electors voting at polling stations, many of which are non-photographic, but this was defeated 306-213. Parliamentary protocol stipulates that because I chaired the Committee Stage of the Elections Bill I was not allowed to vote on the other stages of this Bill.