My week in Parliament began when I called in to meet the wonderful Stonewall staff, and to pick up my Stonewall Rainbow Laces so that I could wear them during the Wales v England World Cup match taking place on Tuesday. I put them straight into my black trainers and wore them all week in Parliament, and I think I’ll carry on wearing them. By wearing rainbow laces I am so proud to support the LGBTQ+ community and those in Qatar in particular.
I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Universal Credit (UC) to listen to guest speakers discussing the issues surrounding UC and paid work. We heard from Henry Parkes, Senior Economist IPPR, Dr Kay Jones, Manchester Metropolitan University, Rosie Mears, Welfare Rights Advisor, and Sophie Howes, Head of Policy Child Poverty Action Group, who covered topics such as work coaches, self-employment and the Administrative Earnings Threshold, and research into employers and UC.
I attended the Human Rights Bill briefing delivered by Liberty and the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR). On 22nd June 2022, the UK Government published a new Bill that would get rid of our Human Rights Act (HRA) and called it the “Bill of Rights”, but it is actually the opposite. It’s a “Rights Removal Bill” which signifies the latest step in plans to reduce the responsibility of the UK Government to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights which people rely on everyday across the UK.
Although the Bill of Rights was shelved on 7th September when Brandon Lewis was appointed Justice Secretary, at the start of November Dominic Raab announced his intentions to revive the Bill, after he replaced Mr Lewis. The Bill will be returning to the Commons in the near future, and it will leave no corner of our Human Rights Framework unaffected. If we lose our HRA we will no longer be able to rely on the rights and benefits it places on public bodies to uphold our rights, including economic, social, and cultural. As we enter a winter where people face the choice between heating or eating the last thing we need is the UK Government stripping away our most basic rights, protections, and limiting state accountability. We must continue to stand firm in protecting our Human Rights Act and amplify the voices who rely on its provisions every day and safeguard their human rights, and the human rights of all of us.
As an officer of the APPG Trophy Hunting I was honoured to meet the legendary Dr Jane Goodall at our event to celebrate the Second Reading of the Trophy Hunting Private Members Bill (PMB) on Friday 25th November. It was good to catch up with my friend, fellow vegan, and long time animal rights campaigner Peter Egan.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet with Ali Hood of Shark Trust who has helped me with my PMB to ban the import and export of detached shark fins into and from the UK. Ali has been Director of Conservation since 2002. Sharks Trust is a charitable organisation founded in 1997, and based in Plymouth. It has been campaigning at an international level for many years to safeguard a future for sharks, skates, and rays, through science, education, influence, and action. Its priorities are species protection, fisheries management, and responsible trade. Ali works to secure protection and management for vulnerable species, develop sustainable fisheries, holding governments and industries to account – tackling them when they fall short, but praising them when they achieve. Ali played a big part in 100 additional sharks and rays being listed on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) at their COP19 conference in Panama. The previously unlisted species includes requiem sharks such as reef sharks, tiger sharks, blue sharks, hammerheads, guitarfish, and freshwater stingrays. The listing of requiem sharks is revolutionary because they represent the vast majority, 85-90%, of fins in global trade.
The APPG for Sepsis EGM was called because the vice chair Mike Wood MP has been promoted to serve in the UK Government, and the rules preclude him from continuing as an officer of an APPG. We are delighted to welcome my dear friend John Howell MP as Mike’s successor. Massive thanks to Mark Tami MP, Jess Morden MP and Ed Davey MP for giving up their valuable time to attend the EGM.
I dropped into the International Day of Persons with Disabilities event and met representatives from Disability Rights UK. The erosion of disabled people’s human rights has been rapid and severe, and they have been hit the hardest by a decade of austerity. Disabled people faced disproportionate deaths and barriers during the pandemic, and now fear how they will survive the winter during the cost-of-living crisis. As I have mentioned, Raab’s Bill of Rights will severely impact disabled people.
It was really good to catch up with my old friend Mike Steele, who used to be a reporter with ITV Wales many years ago. Mike runs the London Marathon MPs Team, and has run in the race many times.
The Business in the House included a vote on Tuesday on the Privilege Motion which was carried by 371 to 16 votes.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Finance Bill at Committee Stage was debated on the floor of the House, and divisions were called on the following clauses:
The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Green voted for their amendment to Clause 5 which would require HMRC to contact every individual who become liable to pay standard tax or move from standard to higher rate, and how much additional tax they will have to pay as a result. The official opposition abstained, and the amendment was lost by 55 to 285 votes.
The opposition voted against – that Clause 5 Stand Part of the Bill. UK Government Clause 5 sets out the personal allowance at £12,570 and the basic rate limit at £37,700 for 2026-27, and 2027-28, but was lost by 210 to 285 votes. The official opposition stated that these freezes to tax allowances will mean that an average earner will pay over £500 more income tax per year by 2027-28, and so opposed that this clause stand part of the Bill.
The opposition voted for New Clause 2 which would require the Chancellor to publish an assessment of estimated revenue from the oil and gas profit levy In financial years 2021-22 to 2027-28, if the rate was increased to 38%, the amount of additional investment expenditure reduced to 0% by this Act, but was defeated by 212 to 292 votes.
New Clause 3 would require the UK Government to publish an assessment of the effectiveness of R&D tax reliefs and plans he has to further reform R&D tax reliefs, and was supported by the opposition but was defeated by 212 to 290 votes.
The opposition voted against 3rd Reading, but it was carried by 280 to 205 votes. The Bill was sent to the House of Lords where it will go through similar stages, before being sent back to the Commons.
Hirfynydd Action Group meets weekly at Saran Chapel in Crynant and I accepted an invitation to listen to their concerns about the proposal by EDF to erect wind and solar energy farms on the mountain. Although EDF had held consultations in venues in the Dulais Valley, the Action Group felt that they had many questions that had not been addressed.
My Constituency Surgery was busy with Neath constituents who face many different challenges in their professional and personal life. I have taken up every issue on their behalf, and I thank my staff for all their work.
I went to the Advent Two Service at St David’s Church led by Reverend Coles. It was a pleasure to meet with friends. Advent is a wonderful time in the church calendar with lots of events in the run up to Christmas Day. The Messy Church Christmas Party will take place on Saturday 17th December from 2-4pm in ADS School Hall. The Nativity Scene will be displayed in the Greyhound Trust Charity Shop window. Please see Neath Benefice Social Media for more details of events.
On behalf of the Petitions Committee, Elliot Colburn MP opened the debate on e-petition 619442 on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill which received over 107,000 signatures, and states that “hundreds of thousands of people have signed numerous petitions calling for actions that the UK Government has included in the Kept Animals Bill. The Government should urgently find time to allow the Bill to complete its journey through Parliament and become law. The Government promised to find time to take this Bill through the next Parliamentary stages so that it can receive Royal Assent and become law, yet we are still waiting. For the Government to live up to its claims to be leading the way in animal welfare there must be no further delay to this legislation becoming law.” The Bill was introduced into the Commons in June 2021, received second Reading in October 2021, and passed through committee in November 2021. It was carried over, and reintroduced in May 2022. The Bill is awaiting its report stage, but the Government have stated many times that it will do so when parliamentary time allows. The Bill is important in that it addresses many commitments to animal welfare made in the Conservative Manifesto 2019. There were many MPs from all Parties who spoke in support of different animal welfare campaigns and for bringing back the Bill without further delay. I asked whether the measures to reduce puppy smuggling would also have a positive effect on online puppy sales which are the subject of a campaign otherwise known as Reggie’s Law. On 13th December 2021, I presented E-petition 587654 which stated that many animals are sold online and asked for the UK Government to introduce regulation for all websites where animals are sold, so that websites should verify the identity of all sellers, and for pictures of young animals with their parents be posted with all listings. The petitioner Richard bought a 12 week old Labrador puppy through a reputable website, but unwittingly contributed to illegal puppy farming, and Reggie died from parvovirus two days later. Richard went back to the house where he’d bought Reggie but the seller had vanished. The microchip number for Reggie did not match the documentation and was in fact registered to Dublin, so Richard believes that Reggie was illegally shipped into the UK. Richard set up “Justice for Reggie” to raise awareness and campaign for UK Government regulation so that people who buy puppies online do not suffer the agony that Reggie and Richard endured.
Despite the freezing temperatures, many Parliamentarians and staff turned up to watch Mr Speaker switching on the lights on the Christmas Tree in New Palace Yard. The Speaker’s Chaplain and Lord Speaker attended, and the ceremony was accompanied by carols from the excellent Rock Choir.
The business in the Chamber was the return of the Online Safety Bill, and I listened to the debate, but parliamentary protocol dictates that I am unable to vote on any stages of this Bill, because I co-chaired it at its Committee Stage. The opposition tabled clauses to strengthen the measures in the Bill, and pressed for a vote on New Clause 16 and was defeated by 242 to 308 votes, New Clause 17 and was defeated by 238 to 311 votes, New Clause 28 and was defeated by 240 to 312 votes. The opposition voted against Programme Motion No 4 and was defeated by 216 to 314 votes.
I attended the Western Gateway APPG co-chaired by Jess Morden MP and Sir Robert Buckland MP. The new Director of Western Gateway, John Wilkinson, attended for the first time. I spoke to John before the meeting and was encouraged to know that he has already met with Simon Jones, CEO of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) which is being developed in Onllwyn in my Neath constituency. Chair of Western Gateway, Katherine Bennett, and former Acting Director, James Cooke, gave updates on the future work programme following Western Gateway very disappointingly not securing the Severn Edge bid to bring the UK’s UKAEA’s STEP Programme to the Western Gateway area. But it was encouraging that Western Gateway are discussing with partners an appropriate legacy for the Severn Edge Oldbury and Berkeley sites.
Western Gateway will also focus on its strategic rail vision, and will build on the letter recently sent to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, offering support in shaping the knowledge-intensive cluster discussions, Western Gateway Partnership and Knowledge-Intensive Clusters, which was co-signed by the Vice Chancellors of the G4W Universities demonstrating the potential strength of the partnership.
I invited the APPG members to visit the GCRE, and offered to facilitate a joint APPG meeting with the APPG for Rail in Wales.
Amnesty International UK held its Human Rights Day event and I spoke with campaigners for Chow Hang-Tung, a courageous human rights lawyer and activist who asked people on social media on 4th June 2021 to light candles in memory of protesters killed in the Tiananmen Square crackdown. She was sentenced to 22 months for her activism and faces further imprisonment for allegedly endangering national security through her peaceful actions.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, is a self taught Black Cuban artist who paints, dances and wears pink. On 11th July 2021, he posted a video saying he would be joining one of the largest demonstrations in decades in Cuba. He was arrested and taken to Guanajay maximum security prison where he remains with declining health.
Two years ago, Dorgelesse Nguessan was a hairdresser who had never attended a protest, but in 2020 concerns about the economy led her to protest. She was arrested and charged with “insurrection, assembly, meetings and public demonstrations” and sentenced to five years imprisonment.
For over 20 years, Amnesty’s “Write for Rights” campaign has transformed the lives whose rights have been violated. Millions of people from all over the world have taken part sending messages of hope to those who have been abused calling on those in authority to stop these abuses. The 2022 campaign is calling for justice for those like Chow, Dorgelesse, and Luis, who have paid a great price for speaking out.
It was a pleasure to meet my old friend Andrew Shelly, who was Operations Manager for the Squash Rackets Association (SRA) from 1976 to 1994 and managed 20 British Open Tournaments. Andrew left the SRA to run the Women’s International Squash Players Association and grew the professional women’s tour by 300% during the 15 years he was in post. Andrew became the CE of the World Squash Federation in 2010 and stood down in 2019 after failed bids to get Squash into the 2012, 2016, 2020, and 2024 Olympic Games. Andrew set up and is now Director of the World Squash Library, to “give back” to the sport he loves. The WSL is based at Southgate Squash Club and has already collected information about players, events, courts, equipment and rules going back to the start of Squash in the 1850s. Andrew brought another friend Helena, whose first job many years ago was with the SRA. The quest for Squash to be included in the Olympics continues, disappointingly it has not made the Los Angeles Olympics 2028. Brisbane was recently announced as the venue for the 2032 Olympics, and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently stated that he would like to bid for London to be the venue for 2036 or 2040. Andrew has helped me in the debates I’ve held in Parliament to raise awareness of the enormous positive benefits that squash can play to mental and physical well being, and to urge for its inclusion in the Olympics. We reminisced about squash from the 1980s up to present times, spoke about old friends that we are still in touch with, and those that we should make an effort to contact again. The squash world is one big family and our friends are friends for life. Before the first lockdown in March 2020 we had planned to hold a Parliamentary event to raise awareness of squash with some of the top professional players on hand to speak with MPs and Peers about the wonderful game, but unfortunately we had to cancel it. We plan to try again in March 2023.
I met Nicky Ryan, Welsh Lead on the National Board for the Police Federation of England and Wales, at their Christmas Reception. Nicky told me of the many challenges facing police officers including: staff recruitment, staff retention, staff shortages, mental and physical work stress, poor pay increases, low morale, inflation, and the cost of living crisis. Many officers are leaving the job for one or more of these reasons. Nicky and I will be meeting again in the new year.
As a vice-chair of the APPG on Music, I supported my great friend Kevin Brennan MP Cardiff West in his Westminster Hall Debate about remuneration for musicians and composers. Kevin is a member of the Ivor’s Academy, PRS for Music, the Musician’ Union, chair of the APPG on Music, and guitarist, vocalist and founding member of the group MP4. Kevin spoke about three challenges for songwriters and composers, and asked the Minister to consider the recommendations set out in the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) groundbreaking report on the economics of music streaming; composer buyouts threats to the future pipeline of songwriters and composers; and artificial intelligence (AI) and the implications of the data mining of musical works. I intervened and asked Kevin whether he agreed that the proposed text and data-mining exception to promote AI would remove the need for a licence to reproduce copies of original works, and therefore would take away any opportunity for performers and creators to be remunerated for their talent and work? Furthermore, because there is not an opt out for performers and creators, it will have a severe detrimental effect on their creative personality, because in the future it will be done by a computer. Kevin agreed and stated that any tech company could freely data mine creative output, including musical works, using AI, not an exact copy, but a facsimile in order to commercially exploit it. The composer would not have the ability to give permission and the UK Government would be trampling on property rights, and urged the Minister to reconsider it.
The Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation George Freeman, who has responsibility for the Intellectual Property Office, responded on behalf of the UK Government and stated that songwriters and composers should enjoy a fair share of the value, but the challenge is to get a framework where it is a lived reality without unilaterally moving so hard and fast that it undermines the sector, and the DCMS Committee report underpins the UK Government’s approach. The IPO has established a working group on metadata and has made progress on a code of practice, and has also established a working group to develop a code of practice on transparency. The Minister has also established a small task force of officials from his and the DCMS department to ensure that they get reform of text and data-mining right. His preference is to encourage the music industry to move in the right direction, but will legislate if necessary.
I attended the Guide Dogs Open Doors event to urge the UK Government to strengthen the law against access refusals. Guide dogs can be life changing, offer independence, mobility, and the chance to live life to the full. But being refused access to a shop, restaurant, cafe, or taxi because of their guide dog is a regular occurrence for people with sight loss. 81% of guide dog owners say they have experienced access refusal in the past, and 73% say this has happened in the past 12 months. Access refusals are almost always illegal and discriminatory under The Equality Act 2010. But taking discriminatory cases through court action is expensive, difficult, and places more stress on guide dog owners. The law needs amending to have: a clear process which is easy to follow; meaningful penalties for access refusals; and include clear requirements for businesses.
I called in to the charity Mates in Mind drop in hosted by my friend Liz Twist MP and met Sarah Meek of Mates in Mind, who briefed me on their campaign. The charity has conducted a survey, run on its behalf by Opium, which showed that – 63% of the public believe that the UK Government should be more involved in helping to solve the mental health crisis within construction – two construction workers die by suicide every working day. The charity has worked with over 650 organisations across the construction industry to break down barriers, create a positive culture around mental health, reduce stigma, and concentrate on preventative measures. The UK Government has set out its commitment to improving procurement processes, ensuring there are fair and transparent payment and contractual provisions in government construction projects and programmes in the Construction Playbook, nevertheless, as clients, contractors, suppliers, and consultants all come under pressure to deliver construction projects more efficiently and sustainably, procurement practices, programme and budgetary pressures put an ever-increasing load on those expected to deliver more for less, which leads to work-related stress and potential reluctance to admit the impact on one’s mental health. There are pockets of good practice but there is lack of consistency and priority for mental health alongside health and safety. The charity believes that the identified good practice should be mandated for the entire industry and a proactive model introduced across tendering frameworks to start changing the way in which the industry views mental health.
I attended the APPG for Disability and disability charity Scope Cost of Living Crisis drop-in and heard from disabled people about the choices they will have to make this winter. I also discussed the recommendations in Scope’s recent publication “Do the Right Thing” about the cost of living crisis.
I’ve tabled some written questions to the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, asking: to consider the potential merits of providing part of the Cost of Living Payment to those on means tested benefits his winter; and what assessment has been made on the adequacy of the Cost of Living Payments for disabled people not on means tested benefits and who have higher energy usage.
Plus a written question to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, asking: what consideration he has given to the introduction of an Energy Social Tariff, and what plans he has to consult on this.
My Christmas Card competition has now closed and I’ll be announcing the winner next week. Massive thanks to all those who have sent in their entries. It is always difficult to choose just one winner from such a great selection of wonderful ideas.