I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Choice at the End of Life, so I attended the My Death My Decision (MDMD) campaign for Assisted Dying event held in the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay, hosted by Jayne Bryant MS for Newport West and James Evans MS for Brecon and Radnorshire. MDMD believe that assisted dying is a Welsh Issue because health care is devolved and the Senedd can legislate on matters such as palliative care, which is intrinsically linked to assisted dying. 93% of the public in Wales support assisted dying.
Under s2 of the Suicide Act 1961, assisting or encouraging a suicide is a criminal offence in England and Wales. In February 2022, a Welsh resident was arrested, interrogated by police, detained for 19 hours, and subjected to a 6-month investigation for accompanying Sharon Johnston, a tetraplegic from Cardigan, to have an assisted death in Switzerland. The investigation was dropped but it cost Dyfed Powys police force over £7,000 in overtime and IT.
The BMA survey found that 59% of doctors favoured legalising a right to die for those terminally ill and those who are incurably suffering, and 88% of the public favour this too. It is supported by The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Medicine, Nursing and Psychiatrists, and 96% of 140 UK disability rights organisations do not oppose reform. Limiting the option of assisted death only to those with 6 months left to live would be discriminatory because people with incurable conditions do not suffer less than terminally ill, and they deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect. Austria, Canada, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, and other countries have already legislated for assisted dying for both the terminally ill and the incurably suffering.
90% of the public in UK want a law to allow adults of sound mind who are terminally ill and suffering intolerably from an incurable condition the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death. The UK Assisted Dying Coalition found that more than one person a week who is terminally ill or incurably suffering is now forced to end their life abroad. But many cannot afford the £10,000 costs of travelling abroad. The right to die should not be limited to those with means.
As a member of Unite the Union I was honoured to be a part of the Unite Wales Women’s Network Launch of its “Get Me Home Safely (GMHS)” campaign which was held in the Unite Building in Cardiff. The event was organised by my dear friend, Unite Wales Equalities Officer Jo Galazka and chaired by the Women’s Network chair Caroline Price. Speakers included Alison Spencer-Scragg, Unite National Women’s Officer, who extolled the benefits of getting involved in the Network and the priorities for Unite women. Irina Do Carmo, Unite Researcher and GMHS Lead, spoke about the success of the campaign, which was launched online in the UK in March 2022, and is now an international campaign. I took part in the online launch in March 2022 when we heard from Caitlin Lee, who was sexually assaulted walking home from work after a late Friday night shift working for a multinational hotel in Glasgow. Her employer denied that it had a duty of care towards Caitlin, and wouldn’t help her, so Caitlin and young Unite activists started the GMHS campaign. Caitlin is Unite Glasgow Hospitality branch chair, and she said that many workers in the hospitality industry are forced to choose between affording a week’s shopping or getting a taxi home, even if taxis were available. The GMHS campaign has 8 demands which include: a legislative change to extend an employer’s duty of care to cover a worker’s transport; free transport home for staff as a condition of granting a liquor licence; mandatory training for bus operators on gender-based violence; municipal ownership of buses to improve the shortage of night buses; and a national minimum standard for taxis and private hire. The GMHS campaign has secured support from Abellio in London, National Express in West Midlands, and the European Transport Federation, made up of pan-European trade unions, unanimously adopted it and will roll it out in all its nations. I am delighted that the campaign is now a global campaign and I am committed to help it become a success in Wales. The campaign will encourage employers in Wales to provide safe, free transport for its workers who finish their shifts late at night or in the early hours of the morning in the hospitality and tourism industries.
The inspirational Unite Welsh Women’s Officer, Jos Andrews, delivered an interactive learning session on “Getting Your Voice Heard” where all the many women at the meeting worked together in roleplaying exercises, which were very enjoyable, and we all got to know each other really well in a short space of time.
Sue Da’Casto, Unite Wales Learning Fund Officer, led a session on learning and development opportunities through the Women’s Network specifically through the Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF). Unite in Wales is present in over 2,000 workplaces across all sectors and has over 75,000 members. WULF is a Welsh Government funded programme that has a 20 year legacy. It is designed to encourage wider participation in lifelong learning, support bespoke workplace training, provide a best practice approach to essential skills such as literacy and numeracy, and remove barriers for vulnerable workers. WULF works in partnership with union networks, employers, statutory organisations, stakeholders, training providers and FE/HE partners to help future proof Welsh workplaces and support Unite members. Unite Skills Academy provides 12 different online and accessible training courses which include administrative and secretarial, IT, conflict resolution and social prescribing. Contact Sue at Learnwithunite.WULF@unitetheunion.org for more details.
I attended St David’s Church Service on 7th May to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey on 6th May. Our Rector Lynda prayed that the King has the strength to serve our worldwide family of nations, the courage to defend the Faith in word and deed, and the grace to care for his people.
I was pleased to support the annual ASLEF Parliamentary reception in Westminster and met its Leader Mick Whelan, of whom I am a great admirer.
The Hope not Hate drop-in event in Westminster was about the rise of far-right anti-migrant activism. The MPs and Peers that attended heard that Hope not Hate research has shown that far-right activity around asylum accommodation has increased by at least 102% in 2022 from the previous year, with 253 separate incidents, which included – creating shared content online, leafleting and demonstrating, turning up at asylum accommodation to protest, harassing residents, filming content to boost their online profiles and encouraging anti-migrant activism. The far-right has attempted to generate outrage by drawing on a range of tropes, such as, disgust at the “luxury” accommodation given to “foreigners” compared with UK homeless people, particularly veterans, opposition of using taxpayers’ money during a cost-of-living crisis, and fear for the safety of women and children due to the “invasion” of young men. Some protests and opposition groups are being organised by the far-right locally. In Llantwit, local residents were upset that a site was going to be a new healthcare centre, and potentially become temporary housing for asylum seekers. The Patriotic Alternative, Britain’s most active fascist group, began leafleting in the Llantwit area to inflame local opposition, using the healthcare centre as a Trojan Horse for their extreme ideology.
I was proud to be elected as a vice-chair of the APPG Global LGBT and Rights at its AGM, after being a member for many years. Dame Angela Eagle MP and Elliot Colburn MP were re-elected as co-chairs, and I look forward to working to improve the well-being of the LGBT community in countries around the world.
I have been a supporter of the Dogs Trust for many years, and I was delighted to attend its drop-in to highlight the illegal import of puppies. In 2021, the UK Government made a commitment to tackle puppy smuggling via the proposed Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, including reducing the number of puppies that can enter the UK under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), but the UK Government has not made available parliamentary time to progress this Bill. Whilst we wait, PETS continues to be abused by smugglers who find new ways to avoid detection to illegally import pregnant dogs and puppies who are often underage, unvaccinated, and in poor welfare condition. Since relaxation of PETS in 2012, Dogs Trust has cared for over 2256 illegally imported puppies, if sold to unsuspecting members of the public, would have made over £3 million for illegal importers. Over 75 dogs have had their ears cropped, despite it being an illegal procedure in the UK and EU. The UK Government should make parliamentary time available to debate and progress this Bill as soon as possible.
As chair of the APPG for Rail in Wales, I was very grateful that the Speaker granted me a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on Rail Infrastructure in Wales. I opened the debate speaking about the history of my passion for trains, which started when I was about three years of age and suffered terribly with travel sickness every time that my mother took me on a bus journey. We didn’t have a car, so my mother tried taking me on a train, and I loved it and I wasn’t travel sick. I spoke about my dream that one day the freight lines in my Neath constituency would become available for passenger travel again. And I paid tribute to Banwen’s famous historian George Brinley Evans, who shared my dream and that he had long advocated reopening the passenger line from Swansea to Brecon. We all miss Uncle George who sadly passed away last year at the age of 96. I miss his friendship, advice, and long stories about his life. I emphasised how important railways are to the UK and Wales, but the lack of funding from the UK Government has resulted in the very poor state of many tracks, stations, and signalling systems, which desperately need repair and replacement. The fragmented nature of the rail sector in Wales leads to lack of coordination and accountability – the UK Government via Network Rail own it – Transport for Wales and other rail companies operate services. Despite these challenges, the Welsh Labour Government has made significant investments. The South Wales Metro is being built, a plan for the Swansea Metro is under way, and the North Wales Main Line upgrade will improve connectivity between Crewe and Holyhead, increasing capacity and shortening journey times. I praised the Welsh Labour Government for leading on the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) being developed in my Neath Constituency, which will be the UK’s first net zero testing facility, and will include a campus for rail innovation, R&D, testing and verification, training, and train storage. By coincidence, on the morning of the debate, the GCRE announced that it had signed a deal with Transport for Wales for TfW to use all GCRE facilities, which follows a recent agreement with Hitachi. Great news. I spoke at length about the disappointment that HS2 will not bring benefits to Wales, and I suggested ways in which the rail infrastructure may become fit for purpose in the future. I concluded by thanking the MPs that spoke in the debate for their excellent contributions and for their unanimous support for every aspect of my speech. And I invited the UK Government Rail Minister, Huw Meriman MP; Shadow Minister, Tan Dhesi MP; all MPs in the debate, and the chair Judith Cummins MP for Bradford South, to visit the GCRE.
I supported Holly Lynch MP and Greg Smith MP at their Westminster event with the Directors of the proposed Gratitude Games, co-founders Mike Downard and Simon Rider. The games will be multi-sport, with over 20,000 competitors from 17 emergency service organisations, and the NHS, across 20 sports. The games will highlight and raise funds to help treat the profound mental health challenges and consequent poor mental health experienced by the UK responders. The plan is to stage the games in 2024, but it needs UK Government financial support to establish the games, and create a sustainable long-term funding infrastructure to support ongoing mental health. We listened to Sam Rider and Mike Downard make the case for the games, and from representatives from the emergency services including: Benjamin Pearson, who has retired because of mental health issues from serving as a police officer with West Yorkshire Police, and has since strived to make a difference as to the way people see and deal with mental health issues in the workplace; Ricky Nuttall, serving firefighter with London Brigade for 18 years, and one of the 250 first responders at Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017, has suffered from PTSD as a result of the life-changing decisions he made that night, and now is an advocate for raising awareness of social and workplace mental health. I was one of the MPs and Peers at the meeting who signed individual letters to the UK Government asking for funding to be allocated for the establishment of the Gratitude Games.
I was pleased to attend a meeting to support Anna Firth MP for Southend West, who will be having the first reading of her 10-Minute Rule Bill in the chamber on 23rd May which will criminalise fatal dog-on-dog attacks and hold irresponsible dog owners to account. The Bill will be informally called Emilie’s Law after the late partner of Anna’s constituent Michael Joannou, whose dog Millie was fatally injured when attacked by another dog in 2021. Under current law, dog owners are not liable for any prosecution following an attack by their dog on another dog unless the injured dog is an assistance or service dog, or a human being is injured in the attack. Between 2016 and 2021, there was a 700% increase in dog-on-dog attacks from 1700 to 11559. I will be in the chamber on 23rd May to support Anna’s Bill.
As a member and vice-chair, I attended the AGMs for both the APPG on Legal Aid, chaired by Karen Buck MP, followed by the APPG for Pro Bono and Public Legal Education, chaired by Laura Farris MP, meeting to formally reconstitute the APPGs before dissolving them. Both APPGs will, in the next few weeks, merge to form a new APPG on “Access to Justice”. Karen and Laura will become co-chairs and I agreed to become a vice-chair of the new APPG. It was great to catch up with Baron Willy Bach who chaired the Bach Commission which was founded at the end of 2015 with 13 commissioners, who held evidence sessions to identify key areas of LASPO that severely restricted legal aid access to justice. I was Willie’s vice chair and took over as chair when Willie became the PCC for Leicester in May 2016. The Fabian Society acted as secretariat to the Commission and the final report can be read here.
As a long-time vice chair of the APPG on Acquired Brain Injury, chaired by Sir Chris Bryant MP, I attended a reception in the Jubilee Room off Westminster Hall to talk about better support for those with a brain injury and the strategy which continues to be worked on with officials from the Department for Health and Social Care. The event was so well attended by constituents with brain injuries eager to meet their MPs that the Jubilee Room was packed and there were queues extending into Westminster Hall.
An old friend Rob Palmizi, who now works as Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales, invited me to attend their Young People, Skills and the Future of the Heritage Sector at Westminster. The National Heritage Lottery Fund is the largest dedicated funder of heritage, and has invested over £8.2 billion in more than 45,000 projects since 1994. The event showcased two projects: the New to Nature programme supporting more than 70 full-time temporary work placements in nature and landscape organisations across the UK aiming to increase diversity and enrich the environmental sector, delivered through partnerships with Groundwork, The Prince’s Trust, Disability Rights UK, and Mission Diverse; and the Kick the Dust programme, which was named by young people with an aspiration to stir up heritage. 12 grants of between £5000 and £1 million have been allocated to projects across the UK that will involve more young people and where they can enjoy, learn and lead heritage-based activities in their communities.
I was re-elected a vice chair at the AGM of the APPG for Sport, and we discussed suggestions for Parliamentary events to raise the profile of sport across the recreation sector.
I ended the week by watching the very brave Sue Andrews, Neath MA Reader and President of Churches Together, who had her head shaved to raise money for Christian Aid Week in St David’s Church.