As patron of the ladies teams at Seven Sisters RFC, I watched the first team play Ynysddu Ladies at the Seven Sisters RFC ground. The weather was glorious and we were treated to a fantastic display of skilful, open rugby by all players. It was more like a sevens match. My team won 89 points to 7, with 3 tries each for Melissa Gnojek and Nia Harries, 2 tries each for Lowry Davies, Jami Davies and Cari Pritchard, and 1 try each for Chris Llewelyn, Holly Cooper and Rachel Rees, who also converted 7 of the tries. Massive congratulations to Caris who made her senior debut. Captain Bethan Howell is an exceptional leader, and she is so proud of her team. So too is their coach Julian Hopkins, former star player for Abercraf and Ystradgynlais.
I welcomed the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales, David TC Davies MP, to the Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Onllwyn. Simon Jones, the Director of GCRE Ltd, gave a presentation of the work so far and the future plans for this first and only test track and infrastructure for trains operating with use of alternative technologies to be built in the UK. We gave David a warm Neath welcome and a tour of the site. He didn’t know much about the proposal before his visit, but he appreciated the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of this once in a lifetime project.
In Westminster, my week began with a visit to the Migraine Trust drop-in event. Migraine is so much more than a headache. It’s a painful long-term brain condition that disrupts work and personal life. Research by the Migraine Trust found that migraine is poorly understood, not adequately addressed, and research is underfunded. The overall UK economy loses up to £10 billion from 43 million lost workdays every year. New calcitonin gene-related peptide monoclonal antibodies (CGRP) drugs are available for the most severe migraine cases, but patients must exhaust other options first. In Wales, two CGRP drugs have been available, Erenumab and Fremanezumab, through the New Treatment Fund since 2020.
As vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hospitality, Major Events, Food and Drink Businesses in Wales, I joined in its Wales Hospitality Week meeting, chaired by Jess Morden MP Newport East. David Chapman of UK Hospitality told us that he had attended a Wales Hospitality event with Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart MP and hotel managers in the Marriott Hotel in Cardiff that morning and lobbied for the UK Government to help the sector. We heard from hoteliers, food and drink manufacturers; events organisers; and pubs in Wales who told us about the recruitment crises, where hotels have capped their bookings to 60-70% because even though paying staff above the real living wage, including £7 per hour for 16/17 year olds, there are not enough workers. That fish and chip shops are closing all over Wales because of the rise in energy costs up 90%, payroll up 16%, and the increase costs of fish and potatoes, plus cooking materials. The Food and Drink Federation told us that businesses can’t attract staff so production across the sector is down and there are shortages. It was agreed that the UK Government can help the sector by: reversing the VAT increase which was raised to 20% on 1st April; reforming business rates; reversing the Employers NI increase; and controlling the increase in inflation.
On Tuesday, I attended six events and in the late evening, I voted to support our opposition amendment to the Queens Speech, which we lost by 248-310 votes.
At 9.30 am, I attended my first event, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) APPG of which I’m a vice-chair, which was chaired by John Howell MP. We discussed the Ministry of Justice’s Call for Evidence on Dispute Resolution, specifically the question of mandatory mediation. The APPG members put a series of questions to 4 expert witnesses after they had given a presentation: Dr Isabel Phillips, Director of ADR and Mediation Development CIarb; James South, Chief Executive CEDR; Gill Mansfield, International Commercial Mediator; and Andrew Miller QC of 2 Temple Gardens. The Ministry of Justice issued a call for evidence in August 2021, which closed on 31 October 2021, and it included: drivers of engagement and settlement; quality and outcomes; dispute resolution service providers; financial and economic costs and benefits of dispute resolution systems; technology infrastructure; and public sector equality duty.
At lunchtime, as vice-chair of the Restorative Justice (RJ) APPG I attended an update on the 4 workstreams which were set up following the publication of our APPG Inquiry Report “Restorative Practices in 2021/22” which sought to assess where the sector is and what steps can be taken to improve and co-ordinate various services to improve outcomes for victims and offenders. Ray and Vi Donovan who set up the charity “The Chris Donovan Trust” in memory of their son have attended all our meetings to support and advise the APPG. The report brought together over 50 leading RJ practitioners and over 200,000 words of evidence were submitted. We hope that the UK Government will recognise the enormous benefits of RJ and adopt the sensible and practical recommendations made in our report. It was good to meet in Portcullis House after so many meetings have been held virtually since the first lockdown in March 2020. We also had a presentation from the only RJ officer in the Metropolitan Police Force, and the challenges he has faced in promoting RJ. He said that he has been publicising RJ to the force, and will soon be increasing his team to three, which will make his work of offering internal RJ training to Met staff easier to roll out. And he has engaged with the Police College, to encourage that RJ plays a more prominent part in police cadet training.
After the RJ APPG, I rushed off to the Battersea “Here For Every Dog and Cat” drop-in event to support their #RescueIsMyFavouriteBreed campaign. During my lifetime, my family has rescued many animals, and it was an absolute pleasure to meet some rescued pets, and the wonderful Battersea staff who care for the animals before they are adopted and eventually re-homed to families.
My Tuesday afternoon started when I attended the weekly Petitions Committee meeting and volunteered to present the Repeal Breed Specific Legislation petition on behalf of the committee and the petitioner Anita Mehdi on 6th June. I asked the clerk to the committee to arrange confidential meetings with the petitioner and stakeholders so that I can understand the issues associated with repealing breed specific legislation.
The next event I attended was hosted by my friend Jess Morden MP Newport East and it was a networking drop-in to meet the Equal Power Equal Voice Mentoring Team and the diverse group of people who are part of the mentoring scheme, which aims to get more people from underrepresented backgrounds in Wales into public and political life. This innovative programme is a cross-equalities initiative between Disability Wales, Youth Support Team (Eyst), Stonewall Cymru, and Women’s Equality Network (Wen) Wales. I met with some very inspirational people who have overcome challenging circumstances in their personal lives in their determination to represent their communities. Special thanks to Jeni of the Parliamentary Workplace Adjustments Case Management Team who used her sign language skills to help me have some wonderful conversations with mentees who were hard of hearing, or profoundly deaf.
Late Tuesday afternoon I attended the AGM of the APPG for Sport. I was honoured to be re-elected as chair, and I look forward to an action-packed programme of APPG events which will include working with the other APPGs who have connections with sport.
Wednesday began with the AGM of the APPG for Steel and Allied Industries. Stephen Kinnock was re-elected chair, and I was re-elected as one of the vice-chairs. We received briefings from UK Steel, Community Union, and discussed forthcoming campaigning events. Gareth Stace of UK Steel updated us about carbon costs, renewables, and network distribution. The UK Government has listened to our campaign and introduced 100% compensation for carbon costs from 1st April. There will be a consultation document on renewables out soon. Ofgem maintains that network is the UK Government’s decision and vice-versa. Gareth said that safeguards had been extended by UK Government to 2020 in 10 of the 17 product categories, and it’s time-guarded to two years to allow free trade. The Minister says it’s within WTO rules or class all 17 as “steel”, and protect them all, but this decision has to go to the PM? It’s confusing! Community said that they had successfully negotiated a 2% pay deal for 2021 for members backdated to 2020, and that the UK Government has a role to play in the transition to Cleaner Greener Steel.
After the meeting I dashed off to the Christian Aid drop-in event and was honoured to meet Dr John Sentamu. This year’s Christian Aid campaign looks to turn hunger into hope.
After PMQs I attended the AGM of the APPG for Industrial Heritage and was re-elected vice-chair. It is vital that we protect and promote our industrial heritage in Neath. I’m proud of the amazing work of the volunteers who are restoring the Neath Abbey Ironworks, and I am hoping that the APPG will organise a visit for its members to see the Ironworks.
I attended the AGM for the APPG for Music and was delighted to support my friend Kevin Brennan to become chair. Kevin is an accomplished musician and singer songwriter who has recorded many of his songs and cover versions. In 2004, he formed the group MP4 made up of MPs Pete Wishart, Greg Knight, and former MP Ian Cawsey. The group has produced many recordings and regularly play live gigs. I was honoured to be elected as one of Kevin’s vice-chairs. We heard from Matt and Hannah of UK Music about the challenges that Brexit has brought to musicians and road crews travelling in the EU, including reduced visas and loss of data sharing. Even though events are on again after Covid, attendance numbers are down, which may be the cost of living crisis, and VAT had risen to 20% on cultural tickets from 1st April, which is double that in EU. The Welsh Labour Government was praised for introducing a national plan for music education in schools, costing £13.5 million. The General Secretary of the Musicians Union, Naomi Pole, told us about pay increases, treatment of freelancers, and hotel and travel costs for her members. Most members turn up at least an hour before a performance for which they are not paid, and there’s no double payment at weekends. There is no career path for orchestral workers who are on the same salary for life. Travelling with a large musical instrument is challenging, some companies treat it as freight, and Eurostar require proof of ownership.
May 23rd to 27th is Dementia week, and I called in to support the Alzheimer Society event in the Jubilee room. This year’s focus is on dementia diagnosis, and reminding people that symptoms such as memory loss, are not a natural part of aging. I had the opportunity to speak with people affected by dementia, clinicians involved in diagnosing dementia, and I pledged my support for this very important campaign.
The last event I attended before the Division Bell rang to summon MPs to vote was the AGM of the APPG on State Pension Inequality for Women. Andrew Gwynne MP was re-elected chair, and I was elected as one of the vice-chairs. We discussed our priorities for the year ahead and pledged to continue campaigning for all women who have been disadvantaged by the UK Government’s changes to pensions.
Late Wednesday evening we voted on the final stages of the Queen’s Speech. We lost Amendment W by 312-229 votes, and voted against the Humble Address Main Question which we lost by 312-229.
On Thursday morning, in Transport Oral Questions, I asked the Minister for Rail Wendy Morton about the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) being developed in Onllwyn to test the capability and reliability of alternative to diesel rail technologies and whether she would add “Test British” to her “Buy British” approach so that all new and upgraded rolling stock is subjected to a fault-free running period before being introduced into service in the UK. Unfortunately, the Minister’s response indicated that she lacked knowledge of the GCRE, and was very disappointing, but not surprising.
The Private Members’ Bill (PMB) Ballot was held this week. Every backbench MP had the opportunity to put their name into a draw and the first 20 names successfully selected in a secret ballot drawn made by the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Ways and Means Dame Eleanor Laing MP can submit a PMB which has a good chance of being supported by the UK Government and becoming law. This is one of the very few opportunities that opposition back bench MPs have to make legislation and I’m absolutely delighted to have been drawn at number 17.
My week in Westminster ended on Thursday afternoon when I chaired a debate in Westminster Hall secured by Marion Fellows MP (SNP) that this House has considered reforms to Child Maintenance Service (CMS). Ms Fellows listed the failures in the CMS which included reading out some very distressing constituency cases and asked the Government Minister David Rutley a number of pointed questions as to how his UK Government were going to address these failures. The SNP Spokesperson Chris Stephens, the Opposition Spokesperson Ali McGovern, and backbench speakers all agreed with Ms Fellows that the CMS system is not working, and asked the Minister some more questions. Mr Rutley delivered the UK Government’s response, but explained that this area was not in his remit, because the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is Baroness Steadman-Scott of Rolvenden, in the other place, and any questions he couldn’t answer he would refer them to the Baroness, who would respond in writing.
Back in the constituency on Friday morning, I attended a SBUHB confidential briefing which updated local MSs and MPs regarding Covid health capacity and the proposed spring and autumn Covid vaccination programme, plus the proposed autumn Flu vaccination programme. The overall message is that Covid has not gone away, and although hospital and community Covid levels have decreased, community testing has been largely discontinued, so it may be that the data does not reflect the actual situation. The autumn will be very challenging because the previous two years has shown that when the weather deteriorates, the prevalence of Covid increases and this coincides with the period that people suffer with Flu. I spent the afternoon dealing with constituency queries in my Neath office
On Saturday, I was very proud to watch the re-enactment of the kidnap of St. Patrick in Banwen. The event involved some shows run by Roman re-enactment group, Comitatus, and was held on the field opposite Dove Workshop. The weather was glorious and we were given an oral presentation of the history of the Romans arriving in the UK by Comitatus leader John Conyard, which was followed by a display of Roman battle techniques by John’s Roman soldiers which included: archery, axe-throwing, and spear-throwing. All the Romans were dressed in battle gear and later on during the display the soldiers mounted their horses and performed some impressive riding skills to add to their weapon skills. Some stalls had been set up on the Hardcourt Sports Area. The event was very well attended and the children in particular enjoyed every minute. On Sunday, the live re-enactment of the kidnapping of young St Patrick from Banwen took place, where members of the local community played the parts of the Irish Raider pirates, St. Patrick (known then as Maewyn) and his sister Darerca (who was also kidnapped – and also went on to become a Saint!).
Many thanks to Onllwyn Community Council and Banwen RFC for putting on such a great day. And massive thanks to our famous local historian George Brinley Evans and local legend Tom Marston for their work in discovering and writing about all the details of the capture and kidnapping of young St Patrick and his sister from Banwen. Please visit the very impressive St Patrick’s Stone on the side of Roman Road in Banwen which was erected many years ago by George and Tom. There is a service at the Stone every year on St Patrick’s Day, attended by George, Tom, Roy Noble, Dove Workshop, Onllwyn Community Council, local school children and many residents from the Dulais Valley.