My week in Westminster began at the Barnardo’s Journeys of Hope event held as part of Refugee’s Week, where I was honoured to meet some very brave unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and some young people supported by Barnardo’s. The event also launched Barnardo’s “A Warm Welcome” report which sets out key recommendations for UK Government to establish a fair and welcoming movement for all children, regardless of nationality. Barnardo’s staff told me they are very concerned that the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill will deny children the help and protection they desperately need because in its current form it would prevent children from putting forward their case for asylum in the UK, as well as disqualifying some groups of children who have been identified as victims of trafficking from receiving protection and support. In 2014, the UK Government rightly banned detention of children for longer than 24 hours and its deeply worrying that this Bill would reverse this by allowing children arriving alone or with their families to be detained for longer periods.
The Association of Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) held an event to launch its manifesto “An IRC for the provision of Integrated Retirement Communities (IRCs) in the UK”. ARCO is the principal body representing private and not-for-profit operators of housing with care schemes in the UK. An IRC sometimes referred to as “housing-with-care”, “assisted living”, or “extra-care”, and is specialised housing for older people, distinct and separate to both residential care homes, as well as traditional models of retirement housing such as “sheltered housing” with a visiting warden or manager. The key features of an IRC are: every resident has their own front door, kitchen, and bathroom; 24/7 online support; shared facilities including, lounges, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers, shops, leisure facilities; with the option to buy, rent, or social rent. IRCs are operated by charities, housing associations, and private companies. People are living longer than ever before, and need housing that improves their well-being, with access to services. ARCO maintains that IRCs would save the NHS and Social Care budget up to £1 billion per year and alleviate loneliness, and urges the UK Government to increase IRCs across the UK.
I had the honour of meeting Andy, a survivor of suffering cardiac arrest, and Bernie, who had saved a person’s life who was having a cardiac arrest by administering CPR, at the Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) drop-in at Westminster. RCUK want to raise awareness of the urgent need to have a recovery plan to ensure people who have a cardiac arrest get the follow-up care they urgently need. A cardiac arrest is the ultimate medical emergency when the heart stops beating, and the person is clinically dead. But cardiac arrest survivors are not offered the same well-established rehabilitation services that stroke and heart attack survivors receive. Andy told me that he and his family struggled with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, and there needs to be a consistent formal care pathway across the UK. I support the RCUK campaign “My Right to Cardiac Arrest Recovery“.
I attended Unison’s and the RAC’s launch of their report “Driven out of work: the impact of mileage rates on frontline public service workers”, which highlights the effect of out-of-date rates and the cars they drive: one-in-five is required to drive to do their job; they are paid significantly lower average wages; drive significant distances and can be left thousands of pounds out of pocket; and many use food banks and take out loans. The report recommends that: the UK Government should increase mileage rates to 63.4p per mile; HMRC approved rates be restructured to remove the 10,000 miles cap; urgent action on public sector pay and low wages so staff are not in a vulnerable situation; and investment in public sector electric vehicles.
I met some wonderful hard working, dedicated members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) at their Parliamentary reception to launch their “68 is Too Late” report. The POA has been concerned for many years about violence in our prison system and disagree with the UK Government’s view that prison officer grades along with operational support grades in public sector prisons should have their pension age linked to the state pension age, which will eventually rise to 68. The POA also call on the UK Government to hold a Royal Commission into our prisons and the whole criminal justice system, from probation to courts to policing. The POA want to partner with PCS, NAPO, Police Federation, Community, GMB, Unite, Howard League, Prison Transform Trust, and others to urge the UK Government to have a root and branch review into the state of the justice system. The campaign will be cross-party to make sure that a Royal Commission will be in their manifestos for the next General Election. The Conservative Party included it in its 2019 Manifesto but has failed to deliver so far. General Secretary of the POA, Steve Gillan, introduced the launch and Secretary General of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) Mick Whelan was the guest speaker.
I was elected as a vice-chair at the AGM for the APPG Limits on Growth, which was followed by a briefing from MEP Philippe Lamberts on the impact of the Beyond Growth Conference held last month in the EU Parliament. The conference was opened by EU President Ursula von der Leyen and presented a step change on political thinking on limits to growth. Philippe summarised the findings of the conference, and highlighted the appetite for post-growth thinking across politics and civil society, and the strength of the new youth movement campaigning for change. He spoke about EU green investment plans and how they compare with the Inflation Reduction Act in America.
I attended the ASDA Foundation event to highlight how Asda impacts on local communities through its 391 community champions who operate across the UK. They focus on local grass roots groups, and have a monthly goods donation budget which they use to support local good causes or help to fundraise. Over £550,000 was donated in 2022. And Asda Foundation awarded £750,000 to support 60 projects across the UK. Asda stores have food donation trollies to support food banks, food waste programmes which donated over 5 million meals in 2022. The champions organised litter picks, chatty cafes, and improved community well-being.
I spoke in the Westminster Hall debate secured by Dame Meg Hillier MP on the role of cooperatives in local authorities. I paid tribute to the co-operators who have encouraged and supported me in my co-operative endeavours over the years – Alun Michael, former MP and PCC for South Wales; members of the Wales Co-operative Council, especially former secretary KC Gordon, who has recently stood down after over 20 years’ service; chair and former Wales MEP Cllr Jackie Jones; David Smith; who has campaigned for many years for the co-operative history of Robert Owen to be included in Welsh Curriculum; Karen Wilkie, former General Secretary of the Wales Co-operative Party, who worked to raise the profile of the Wales Co-operative Party for many years; and former MP Huw Irranca-Davies MS, who has campaigned with me for many years for a UK and Welsh Marcora Law, which gives workers the right and the financial support to buy out all or parts of an at-risk business and establish it as a worker-owned co-operative. Huw and I believe that the future of businesses would be greatly improved with a Marcora-type law. I commended Cwmpas, formerly known as the Wales Co-operative Centre, for its work since 1982 to build a fairer, greener, economy and a more equal society where people and the planet come first. Cwmpas has been very successfully led by my friend Derek Walker for many years until he was recently appointed the Future Generations’ Commissioner. Cwmpas works with local authorities and other organisations to advise and support start-up businesses, and also provides ongoing support, recognising that this is an essential pilar of economic development in Wales.
The business in the chamber was the Finance (No 2) Bill remaining stages. Labour Amendment 1 reinstates the lifetime allowance charge on pensions by deleting clause 18, it was pushed to a vote, and was lost by 192-294 votes. Labour New Clause 7 requires the Chancellor to keep the House of Commons updated on progress implementing the OECD agreement on a global minimum corporate tax rate was voted on and was defeated by 202-296.
As a vice-chair of the APPG for Trade Justice I attended presentations by Dr McNamara and Dr Richardson on the consequences of the UK Government signing the CPTPP agreement next month in New Zealand. After which there will be several months in which the Trade and Agriculture Commission will report on the agreement followed by the GRaG period. Dr McNamara had some key messages about the implications of the CPTPP for health, which needs urgent assessment: it contains many of the same provisions that made a potential US-UK free trade deal controversial for public health; it could increase industry influence in setting public health standards, making it more difficult for governments to regulate for health benefits, raise cost of medicines and generate economic insecurity and potential job losses; the UK Government has not conducted a health impact assessment so it needs to listen to public health scholars and professionals. Dr Richardson spoke about the context of the agreement regarding Labour Rights. Parties must: not derogate from or fail to enforce national Labour laws; discourage imports of goods made from forced law regardless of whether from a CPTPP country; maintain fundamental rights defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as well as national minimum wages, working hours, and occupational health and safety; a Labour Council of government officials will report on implementation, oversee co-operative activities, and receive public submissions; and Parties can request a panel under the agreement’s Dispute Settlement chapter in event of non-compliance which can lead to compensation, fines, or suspension of benefits. The problems are: no external monitoring of compliance with Labour Chapter; government officials have discretion over response to public submissions; the route to dispute settlement process involves sustained government pressure on a CPTPP trade partner, challenging legal terrain, and potentially small economic disincentives.
I met with Baroness Maggie Jones to thank her again for taking my Shark Fins Bill through all the stages in the Lords on my behalf, and for an update on its final stage, Report Stage, on 16th June. Then hopefully it will receive its Royal Assent before Parliamentary recess on 20th July.
Dwr Cymru held a Parliamentary event to promote its “Here for You, Not for Profit” cost of living support stakeholder pack, which sets out supporting the most vulnerable in society, because they don’t want any customers to worry about paying their bills. Dwr Cymru wants to raise awareness of its “Our Here for You” campaign, which helps people pay their bills through social tariffs, debt schemes, plus expert support and advice.
The Russia and Ukraine APPGs held a joint meeting with Evgenia Kara-Murza, the wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russia’s second highest profile political prisoner and Bill Browder, who introduced and campaigned for the role of Magnitsky sanctions. Evgenia is a pro-democracy activist and has spoken across the world about her husband’s trial, and her activism against the Putin regime. Vladimir is an opposition politician, journalist, human rights activist, and a British Russian dual national. He was convicted for spreading knowingly false information about the Russian armed forces, involvement with an undesirable organisation and treason. He is serving 25 years in a Russian penal colony since April 2023 for this vocal opposition to Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine, which is the longest sentence to date for a Putin critic. Vladimir was poisoned in 2015 and 2019 in Moscow and was in a coma. He could not walk, talk, or feed himself because he’d had a stroke whilst in the coma. Evgenia nursed him back to health and she told us that unlike her husband she is not a politician and was happy working from home looking after their children, but she took up her husband’s work after his detention last year. She is calling on politicians not to let Putin win the war he caused against Ukraine, not force Ukraine to donate part of its territory to the Russia Federation, not allow him to behave like a bully. Tens of thousands of people are being arbitrarily detained in Russia and their stories must be heard. Evgenia said that the Kremlin has its hands full and don’t notice her going around the world campaigning for Vladimir, but she receives a lot of hatred on social media. If her husband survives and the Putin regime collapses, they will want to be part of building a new democratic Russia.
Allwyn Entertainment Ltd is the new operator for the National Lottery, and held a Westminster event so that parliamentarians could find out about its ambitions, values, and plans. I met Anna Mellit, Director of Public Affairs, who told me that Allwyn aims to grow the National Lottery to be bigger, better, and safer, by implementing its social values of raising more money for good causes, and running its own business in an environmentally and socially-responsible manner. Allwyn plans to create new games that are more fun, better value, with more winners, build the best National Lottery team by integrating Camelot employees to take its vision forward, grow a strong supply UK chain, invest in IT, and enhance retail. Anna told me that they believe it’s a “Win for All”.
As a vice chair of the APPG for MND, I attended the Global Motor Neuron Disease (MND) Awareness Day 2023. MND is a fatal, rapidly progressing neurological condition affecting more than 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time. The disease causes messages from nerves (MD) in the brain and spinal cord that control movement to gradually stop reaching the muscles leading them to weaken, stiffen and waste away. People become locked in a failing body unable to move, talk, and eventually breathe. MND kills a third of people within a year of diagnosis. The MND Association focuses on funding research, improving access to care, and campaigning for people with MND in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are over 11,000 members which forms a network for people with MND, families and carers to get information and support. On Global MND Awareness Day the MND Association sought to highlight the issues and challenges, including accessing benefits, housing adaptations, and the disproportionate impact of the cost-of-living crisis on MND sufferers and their families and carers whilst trying to manage MND.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet the courageous Afghan Women’s Development Football team who had played against and beaten the Women’s MPs team. I was honoured to sign a letter to the President of FIFAfrom UK, Australia, Portugal, and Italy parliamentarians in support of the National and Development teams who have been in exile since the Taliban regained power in 2021. The Taliban immediately banned women’s representation in sports, denying women from national, senior and youth teams to represent their country at international level, in addition to abolishing sports for women at grassroots level. The Afghanistan women’s senior team is in exile in Australia and the development team is in exile in the UK. This year, the World Cup is being co-hosted by Australia, so the time for action is now.
As chair of the APPG for Sepsis it was a pleasure to meet Sarah Hamilton-Fairley of UK Sepsis Trust to finalise arrangements for World Sepsis Day on 13th September. I have applied for a Westminster Hall debate on World Sepsis Day to highlight all the issues and challenges that Sepsis sufferers and survivors face to combat the effects of this serious condition. There is so much that we do not know about Sepsis, and UK Sepsis Trust provide comprehensive support for every person and their families affected by the trauma of Sepsis.
The business in the Chamber was the return from the Lords of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill and we voted on Lords Amendments 5B, 5C, 5D, 4B, and 2B. Lords Amendment 5B would remove the stipulation that Trade Unions have an obligation to ensure that their members comply with a work notice and the responsibility to do so. 5C and 5D are consequential on 5B and will protect trade unions from having to undermine their own otherwise unlawful strikes, and will also remove an employer’s recourse to secure injunctions to prevent trade unions conducting a strike that has been legally balloted. The UK Government voted to disagree with all Lords Amendments – 5B/C/D was defeated by 280-214; Lords Amendment 4B was defeated by 277-209; Lords Amendment 2B was defeated by 283-205.
The Official Opposition Day debate was on the Kept Animals Bill. The UK Government tabled an amendment and the opposition parties did not participate in the vote. Their amendment was won by 262 to 0 votes (253 Conservatives, 2 former Conservatives, and Jim Shannon DUP). The Official Opposition moved their motion to a vote, and lost by 256 to 183 votes.
The APPG Rail in Wales held its AGM and I was honoured to be re-elected chair. The APPG will be holding another event in September with all the railway stakeholders that operate or will be operating in Wales – GWR, Grand Union, Network Rail, Avanti, Transport for Wales, the Global Centre for Rail Excellence, plus Professor Mark Barry, Rail Minister Huw Merrimen MP, Shadow Rail Minister Tan Dhesi MP – to update APPG members on services, infrastructure, and future plans they each have to improve rail transport all across Wales and interconnecting border travel.
I attended the APPG on Compassion in Politics, chaired by my friend Debbie Abrahams MP, to meet, listen and question, one of the Democratic Candidates for the 2024 US Presidential elections, Marianne Williamson, who spoke about the challenges presented to US and UK democracy and the choices ahead for those who want to save it. Marianne provided frontline insight into US politics. She has written 13 books, including 4 New York Times Bestsellers and in the 2020 elections she was the most Googled candidate in 49 of 50 states, and received 4th most attention on Twitter.
I joined my dear friend Baroness Anita Gale at the Active Wales Conference. Anita is its President, and I have had the honour to have known Anita for over thirty years. Chair of Active Wales, Cllr Barry Stephens, opened the conference. The guest speaker was another friend, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Care, Julie Morgan MS, who spoke about the challenges facing the over-sixties and the support provided by Welsh Government. The conference delegates and branch officers discussed health, transport, digital exclusion, TV licences, and many other issues facing the elderly in Wales. Anita made the closing remarks and the attendees stayed for an afternoon of entertainment.
Over the past few weeks, my Shark Fins Private Members’ Bill has successfully passed through all its stages in the Lords and last week received its Royal Assent to become an Act of Parliament. My gratitude to Baroness Maggie Jones for taking it through the Lords on my behalf, and to all its supporters, particularly Bite-Back Shark Conservation, The Shark Trust, and Shark Guardian. It’s not often that a backbencher has the opportunity to make law, and my Bill to ban the practice of catching live sharks, cutting off their fins to sell in the global market, and returning the sharks to the ocean to die barbarically by suffocating or bleeding out, gained cross-party support in the Commons, the Lords, and the UK Government supported it through all its stages.
I really enjoyed meeting old friends and making new friends at Party in the Park, which was held in Victoria Gardens. It was a pleasure to be with Neath Town Councillors, Sheila Penry, Jan and Alan Lockyer, Bob Price, and Lauren Heard to meet and chat with families and individuals enjoying the wonderful displays in the lovely sunshine.
It was a privilege to welcome Huw Merriman, UK Government Minister for Rail, to visit the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE). I invited Huw to visit the GCRE when he responded on behalf of the UK Government to my Westminster Hall debate on Rail Infrastructure in Wales, in which I spoke extensively about the potential and my privilege to be involved in the creation and development of the GCRE since its inception many years ago. The GCRE is a purpose-built site for world class research, testing and certification of rolling stock, infrastructure and innovative new rail technologies. Nowhere in Europe will offer the range and breadth of services provided by GCRE. The 700-hectare site is the same size as Gibraltar and has the potential to offer significant commercial opportunities in complementary areas such as: renewable energy, hydrogen and battery; communication innovations such as 5/6G and spectrum testing; carbon capture projects such as space for up to half a million trees; on-site training in partnership with Further and Higher Education. Huw was given a comprehensive briefing on the history and progress of the GCRE before being given a tour of the site so that he could experience the vast potential of this unique facility that is scheduled to open next year.