There were many Urgent Oral Questions (UQs) and UK Government Ministerial Oral Statements in the Chamber.
UQs included: Migration Update; Iran Treatment of Protesters, and Statements included: UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali; Missile Incident in Poland; Social Housing Standards; G20 Summit in Indonesia; and The Autumn Statement: Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I also attended many events outside the chamber. I dropped into “Bringing Tomorrow’s Science to today’s NHS: Cell and Gene Therapies” which advocated keeping the UK at the forefront of global access to revolutionary cell and gene therapies. These are transformative types of medical treatments which may aim to restore the normal function of missing or faulty sets of cells and genes. And treat the root cause of diseases and disorders by augmenting, repairing, replacing, or regenerating organs, tissues, cells, genes, and metabolic processes in the body. These revolutionary treatments can have life changing and life saving potential for patients with previously incurable diseases, for example, severe combined immunodeficiency disorder, spinal muscular atrophy, and lymphomas. I support the call for the UK Government to bring different parts of the system together and ensure patients gain the earliest possible access to forthcoming cell and gene therapies.
I attended the “Famine in East Africa Cannot Wait” event hosted by 12 charities. Over 21 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia face acute hunger, more than double the number who experienced acute hunger in the 2011 drought, when more than a quarter of a million died. Currently, 1.8 million children in the region are severely malnourished due to ongoing drought. Climate change shocks have contributed to people already facing poverty, conflict, weak social protections, destroyed food and income sources, so food is hard to find and money to buy food is minimal. But are responsible for a mere 0.1% of global emissions. The UK Government should commit funding to local communities, in advance of anticipated crises, deliver UK climate change targets, support a financial facility to address loss and damage.
The EGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sport elected Kim Leadbeater as chair, and I was elected vice chair, along with my dear friends, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Lord Addington, and Baroness Amanda Sater. Molly Hartill represented the Sport and Recreation Alliance who continue as secretariat for the APPG.
As vice chair of the APPG for the Environment I supported its event to launch its first published report, “The 10 point plan for climate and nature“, which is a cross-cutting report providing UK Government with a menu of policies to reach net zero by 2050 and to restore nature by 2030.
I dropped into the Law Commission’s launch of its report “Celebrating Marriage: A New Weddings Law” hosted by the Association of Independent Celebrants Ltd (AOIC), which proposes a move to an officiant-based system for marriage ceremonies in England and Wales. The report calls for regulation of the officiant not the venue, and universal rules for all weddings. The AOIC wants to provide celebrants with the support, Continuous Professional Development, and resources they need to create truly special ceremonies for every one of their clients. The UK Government has 6 months to provide an interim response and a full response within 12 months. If the UK Government accepts the Law Commission proposals, it will introduce a Bill to make it law.
I attended the Bhopal Gas Disaster event hosted by my friend Navendu Mishra MP to raise awareness of the tragedy that took place 38 years ago and was the worst industrial catastrophe in history, when 25,000 people were killed in the event or later of their injuries, and 120,000 remain seriously ill with no hope of being cured. I pledged my support to the “Action for Bhopal” groups who have been campaigning for justice for the victims of the tragedy.
I joined the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Justice meeting for updates from the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA); His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Common Platform; Police Federation; the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO); and University and College Union (UCU). The POA is campaigning for MPs to support its call for a Royal Commission on Prisons and the Wider Criminal Justice System. The UK Government promised this in its 2019 manifesto and Queen’s Speech but have not yet delivered. It is needed now more than ever because prisons have changed from being places of support and rehabilitation to engines of criminality and have not recovered from 12 years of Tory austerity. The POA plan to publish a series of documents looking at different parts of the prison system and will highlight previously transformative accepted recommendations that have not been implemented. The HMCTS roll out of the Common Platform (CP) courts case management system has been a disaster, causing high levels of staff stress, impacting on the timeliness and quality of delivery of justice. The roll out was paused by the Senior Presiding Judge in August 2021 and this was followed by a 10 week testing phase in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire. The CP is supposed to be a shared interface between all criminal justice process users where all details of a case can be entered, recorded and accessed as appropriate by each agency. PCS warned from the start of the roll out in September 2020, that the CP is flawed because it is unfeasible for Legal Advisors and Court Associates to digitally record the outcome of cases in real time without the assistance of administrative staff, and all criminal courts are not the same. Crown courts are different from Magistrates courts, where for legal reasons, charges and indictments are drafted in different ways. The PCS maintain that the CP is not fit for purpose, for example, last week in Cardiff Crown Court, Judge Jeremy Jenkins stated he was unable to proceed with a case after he and a prosecuting barrister could not work out from the CP which offences a defendant had pleaded guilty to and which he had asked to be taken into consideration. The judged told the court it was the fault of the IT system, which is supposed to assist not do the opposite. The CPS are now using their own case management system in preference to the CP, and the Lord Chief Justice has admitted the CP has a lot of technical problems. The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) launched a campaign #SimplifyDG6 last August after the Attorney General’s Review of Disclosure was made public. The Review, published in May, recognised some of the shortcomings in the CPS Disclosure Guidance 2021 leading to significant pressure on police officers regarding submission of police files to the CPS for charging decisions, but failed to make recommendations to mitigate.
The campaign resulted in the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) engaging quickly with PFEW, and produced revised Joint Principles for Redaction, plus the inclusion of Ben Hudson, chair of Police Federation National Detectives’ Forum (PFNDF) on the National Disclosure Improvement Board. However, even though the revised guidance will reduce the redaction burden on police officers whilst complying with the legal framework, the current requirement for personal data needs amending so that the police can share data with the CPS, and remove the requirement for redaction until after cases have been charged, freeing up thousands of police officers hours, allowing them to be in their communities.
The National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) updated us about the continuing staffing and workload crisis in the Probation Service. A decade ago officers were on the equivalent salary of a Police Sergeant but today it’s comparable to a Constable. Stress related absences are at a record high of 40%, with many suffering severe mental health issues. This poses a direct risk to public safety, with a recent HMIP report warning that very little meaningful rehabilitation taking place with clients.
The University and College Union (UCU) Prison Educators updated us on the negotiations between the four main prison education providers: Novus, Milton Keynes, People Plus and Weston College. Novus staff balloted to strike in October, but after talks at ACAS, accepted the improved pay and conditions offer where the lowest paid receive 8.4% and most members receiving 5-6%, and the pay review will move from November to April 2023. Milton Keynes staff accepted a pay increase of £1500 for staff up to £33,000, £1000 for staff over £33,000, capped above £66,000, backdated to 1st July 2022. People Plus staff accepted an improved offer of £4.5%. Weston College agreed a pay deal averaging 3.5%. But the Prison Education Service should set unified pay scales for all its staff.
I was very honoured that my Shark Fins Private Members’ Bill, which will ban the import and export of shark fins which have been cut off sharks whilst they are still alive, and the sharks are then thrown back into the sea to die a horrendous death, passed through its Committee Stage with a unanimous vote. My Bill now progresses through the House of Commons to its Report Stage, which will be held on Friday 20th January 2023. It was wonderful to have cross party support from all members of the Committee. There were some excellent interventions from Tracey Couch MP, Kevin Foster MP, Virginia Crosby MP, and Peter Dowd MP. The opposition spokesperson for the SNP, John McNally MP, and the official opposition spokesperson, Alex Sobel MP, extolled the very positive progress that my bill will make to improve marine animal welfare. And the Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, pledged UK Government support for my Bill at Committee Stage and at the forthcoming Report Stage. She said that her UK Government are determined to get banning the import of shark finning into and from the UK into law.
I was among many MPs and Peers who supported the PCS “Care 4 Calais – Safe passage for refugees: humane alternative to the Rwanda policy” report launch chaired by Olivia Blake MP with guest speakers including Lord Alf Dubs. The UK Government announced in April 2022 that they intended to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in an attempt to deter people from making the journey across the English Channel, and since this was announced the numbers have hit an all time high. The policy’s legality is being challenged in the courts. The report sets out the case for a Safe Passage Visa which would allow people a travel visa so they can cross the channel safely and so wouldn’t risk their lives, and break the traffic smugglers’ business model. On arrival in the UK they would seek asylum under the normal asylum procedure and if they fail to satisfy the requirements their claims would fail. A similar system was set up in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and there has been no case of a Ukrainian crossing the Channel in a small boat or drowning. The PCS has called for a quicker and more efficient asylum application system process that would reduce the expense of refugees staying in UK hotels and rented accommodation at taxpayers expense. This could be spent on a better system. The report also calls for reform of immigration detention centres.
I dropped into the “Tackling Gambling Stigma” project which highlighted the feelings of guilt and shame that stop people seeking help for difficulties through gambling, which is made worse by the way gambling harm is seen by the public, media, and policy makers, who often hold negative stereotypes about it. This stigma leads to discrimination in how gambling is dealt with in regulations, financial services, health services, and the justice system. The project is an online resource of the stories of those affected by gambling harm, which is a multi-media website to help others understand through reading, listening, and watching people share their life experiences.
As a vice chair of the APPG for Music, it was a pleasure to support my friend Kevin Brennan MP, who is the chair, at the “Establishing meaningful change in the UK music industry” session delivered by Roger and Cherise of Black Lives in Music (BLIM). Roger told us he has been involved in teaching music for 32 years and the barriers to progression for black and diverse people are still the same today. BLIM has 85 partners in the UK and been collating data. The evidence is that the problem is endemic, including lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. Paulette representing the Music Industry, said that black people are often stereotyped into music that the record companies think they ought to be performing e.g. Reggae. And some have had to change the type of music they want to play in order to get a contract, which causes mental health issues. BLIM want to move from talking to action. Shingy of the Noisettes spoke eloquently about her journey as a diverse artist. She has written the official anthem for the Africa World Cup team.
The PM made a Statement on the G20 Summit in Indonesia, but started by saying that Russia once again has shown its barbarity by launching over 80 missiles at innocent people and infrastructure in Ukraine, and he will stand with Ukraine in the face of Russian criminal aggression. Almost all G20 members declared “today’s era must not be one of war”, and will uphold International Law, and the global economy. Two thirds of Ukraine wheat goes to developing countries, and Russia must not stand in its way.
The Chancellor presented his Autumn Budget. I’ll concentrate on his pledge to provide £1.2 million in Barnet Consequentials to Welsh Government, and what this really means. After 12 years of UK Conservative Government and a decade of austerity, the UK is in deep recession and households are facing the biggest fall in living standards on record. The Autumn Statement was a missed opportunity to give hard-working public sector workers a much-needed inflation-matching pay rise. Additional funding for the Welsh Government of £1.2bn over two years will not fill the gaps. Wales’ settlement over the three year spending review 2022-23 to 2024-25 is still lower than expected in real terms. The impact of inflation means it is £3bn lower in real terms and up to £12bn lower next year. As a result of UK Government post-EU funding arrangements Wales has a £1.1bn shortfall for structural and rural funds. Working-age benefits will be uprated by inflation next year but will still be below real value by 6% of pre pandemic levels, £500 per year for an average out of work claimant, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The Resolution Foundation claims that had wages grown at the same rate before the financial crisis of 2008, they would be £15,000 higher now. The Welsh Government will work through social partnership structures and bring together trade unions, employers, and deliver the best possible outcomes within the funding it has available.
I attended the Young People & The Future of Cooperation in Europe Conference organised by Cwmpas held in the Norwegian Church and Techniquest, Cardiff. The two day conference brought together young cooperators from all over the world to discuss themes including: exploring cooperative perspectives; inspiring a new generation to cooperate; young people and entrepreneurship through a cooperative lens; cooperative solutions for the energy crisis and green transition; Cooperatives Europe Strategy Workshop; and Cwmpas Showcase. Derek Walker, Chair of Cwmpas welcomed all cooperative delegates. Speakers included: Dawn Bowden MS, Deputy Minister for Arts, Sports & Chief Whip; Susan Westhausen, President of Cooperatives Europe; Huw Thomas, Leader of Cardiff Council; Ana Aguirre, President of ICA Youth Committee; Rose Marley, Co-ops UK; George Kokkinidis and Peter Bloom, Essex University; Pete Westall and Amelia Crews, Mid-Counties Cooperative; Lesley Williams, Welsh ICE; Elsa Brander and Emma Pedersen, Kooperationen project Orexund. The President of Co-op France, Jean-Louis Bancel, spoke about the future challenges facing world cooperators. Cwmpas was showcased by Derek Walker, Glenn Bowen, Martin Downes, Catherine Evans, and other staff who made this conference a wonderful experience for all delegates and guest speakers.
It was a privilege to speak with the Cubs of Clydach – 2nd Swansea Valley Scout Group about being a Member of Parliament and how this fits in with different levels of government in Wales. The 16 cubs were very knowledgeable about democracy and asked me some very probing questions. I described Oral Questions and debates in the Chamber; Westminster Hall debates; APPGs; drop-in events; and Committees. We also discussed wide ranging topics from climate change to animal welfare, tax and welfare benefits, and Veganism. My thanks to Neath’s Finest Cub Scout Leader Noel Davies for arranging my visit which was thoroughly enjoyable and I’m pleased that all Cubs received their Democracy Badges.
I joined the University and College Union (UCU) Rising “Enough is Enough” Picket Line at Swansea Bay University. Striking is always a last resort and UCU members do not want to harm student’s education, but management have left them with no choice but to defend pay, pensions and conditions. They are striking because pay has been cut by 25% since 2009; employers have offered just 3%, which a massive cut relative to inflation; USS pensions have been cut by 35%, despite the scheme being in surplus; overwork, insecurity and poor pay impact student’s learning. They are asking for a fair pay deal; closing equality pay gaps; elimination of casualisation; action on workloads; restoration of USS pension benefits; and a new valuation of USS pension scheme. Employers ended 2020-21 with £2.4bn more in the bank than they started with, but have not invested in staff, and the people running universities are paid more than £500,000 plus expenses each. There was massive support on the picket line from staff and students, despite the poor weather.
I joined the Royal Mail Picket Line at Neath Sorting Office. The Royal Mail Group (RMG) made record profits of £758m in May 2022, but allege they are losing £1m per day. Dave Ward, General Secretary of CWU, says that the RMG CEO and its Board have not acted with transparency nor integrity in dealings with the CWU since the beginning of 2022, and are not interested in building a sustainable Royal Mail that serves our communities. Careless mistakes and an unwillingness to listen to the workforce has led directly to the RMG announcing 10,000 job losses, which the CWU can’t accept and would be disastrous for the service. The RMG has not explained: why it walked away from the “Pathway to Change” agreement dealing with the decline in parcel volume and expanding the role of postal workers; prioritising handing £567m to shareholders rather than supporting its workers; why they pressed on with unagreed and unacceptable changes which inevitably led to a national dispute; renaming the Royal Mail company “International Distributions Services PLC”. RMG may be considering approaching the UK Government to end 6 day deliveries. Postal workers and Royal Mail connect communities in a way no other service does, and are part of the social fabric of the UK, serving 32 million addresses on a daily basis. Royal Mail can continue to be a major contributor to the British economy and provide secure well paid jobs whilst modernising, but this can only happen if the Board agree an alternative business approach that can leverage the unique competitive advantage afforded to Royal Mail alongside diversification of new services and products.
I dropped in to the Vale of Neath Trussell Trust Foodbank at Peniel Church Glynneath and met the wonderful volunteers who work tirelessly and compassionately to help those families facing the cost of living crisis. My sincere thanks to Phil and his dedicated volunteers.
On White Ribbon Day, I continued to campaign to end violence against women and girls. We must work together to make sure that this horrific evil ends. Everyday we have a duty to stand up and ensure women and girls are protected against mental and physical abuse.
As a member of St Davids Church Neath congregation, I was proud to attend the amazing Christmas Market church fundraiser. There were many stalls which offered an opportunity to buy some superb homemade Christmas decorations and gifts. Lots of raffles, delicious refreshments, and festive spirit. It was so good to meet up with many old friends and make some new ones.
My Christmas Card Competition is open to all constituents in Neath. I will be using the winner as my 2022 Christmas Card. Please send a photograph or a scan of your design to my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Closing date 9th December 2022. We have received some fantastic designs, but there’s still time to send yours in.