In the spirit of supporting all women’s sport at all levels, in all countries, I attended the reception hosted by The Football Association for the Lionesses, England Women’s Football team, ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand starting on 20th July. My friend Tracey Crouch MP hosted the event, at which the guests were Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan MP, FA’s Director of Women’s Football, Baroness Sue Campbell, and England Women record goal scorer, Ellen White MBE. It’s gratifying to know how much the women’s game has grown in support and funding, and at senior level, Wales Women Football team has improved so much, despite being semi-professional, and having a smaller population to choose from than England. I am encouraged to learn that grassroots female football in Wales has blossomed due to the success of the senior national team, especially the junior girls’ structure, which is a good sign for the future of football in Wales. I was so disappointed to see Wales just miss out on qualification for the World Cup, but after reaching the play-off final of a major tournament for the first time, I am in no doubt that they will qualify next time, and I will be supporting them all the way!
I attended River Action’s parliamentary reception about the crisis our rivers are facing and the launch of its Charter for Rivers which sets out ten key actions needed to restore our rivers and fresh waters to health by 2030. River Action is a UK environmental charity committed to addressing the severe river pollution, particularly caused by agricultural and food industry practices, and sewage discharge by water companies, and has an Advisory Board with Lord Randall, Ben Goldsmith, Marina Gibson, and Jeremy Wade. The Charter has been endorsed by Wildlife and Countryside Link, The Rivers Trust, National Trust, British Rowing, Nature Friendly Farming, WWF, The Soil Association, and others. Recent River Action polling revealed that 94% of the British public support the need for healthy rivers by 2030, and almost 50% want it to be a top priority in political Party manifestos.
The Business in the Chamber was the Second Reading of the Economic Act of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The Labour Party tabled a Reasoned Amendment presented by Lisa Nandy, which was pushed to a vote, and was defeated by 272-212 votes. The Labour Party then decided to abstain on the Second Reading vote, which was carried by 268-70 votes.
The Environment APPG chaired by Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance, met to discuss Deep Sea Mining (DSM). The deep sea holds vast amounts of valuable metals and minerals used in technologies that will help power the green transition. But research suggests that DSM could have devastating environmental impacts that remain poorly understood and many countries have called for a moratorium or precautionary pause. This new form of mineral exploitation which would likely become the largest mining operation in history were it to start, would significantly disturb the delicate environment of the deep sea, with devastating consequences for our ocean, wildlife, and the people who depend on it. The roundtable discussion explored the key questions concerning the relationship between the nascent DSM industry, the demand for raw materials for the green energy transition, ocean conservation, governance and the scope of the scientific understanding of the pristine habitats and ecosystems of the deep sea. Lara Shirra White, campaigner for Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) gave an overview of DSM. Dr Helen Scales, marine biologist, writer and broadcaster, provided an insight into the environmental aspect of DSM. Hannah Lily, ocean law expert, spoke about the realities of a moratorium and legal pathways to protect the ocean. Libby Peak, Head of resource policy, Green Alliance, addressed the links between DSM, the green transition, and how to resource the switch to renewable energy.
It was a pleasure to meet Baroness Anita Gale in the Lords to have our weekly catch up and share what is happening in the Commons, Lords, Neath and Wales. Anita was the first female General Secretary of Welsh Labour, and a role model for me and many other women in Welsh politics. Anita introduced all women short lists (AWS) in Wales so that women had an equal opportunity of being selected to become an MP or an MS, until parity was reached. I was honoured to be elected the 443rd female MP to Parliament and this was due to an AWS. Anita has been active in the Lords since her appointment in 1999 and has been the frontbench spokesperson for Wales and Equalities. The APPG for Parkinson’s will be holding a reception for Anita to celebrate 30 years of Anita chairing our APPG.
I was re-elected a vice chair at the AGM of the APPG Hospitality, Events, Food and Drink Businesses. Civil servants from the Department for Business and Trade DBT gave us a presentation on the support that it offers to businesses who want to export for the first time, or want to expand the export part of their business. The DBT representatives also told us about their export champions initiative where businesses who have made a success of exporting their goods seek to network with businesses looking to export in order to explain all the processes and challenges, but also outline the support that the DBT can give to smooth the transition from expanding from the domestic market to dealing abroad. The DBT offers the UK Export Academy, Export Support Service, Export Champion programme, and its “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign. It was so good to see Gemma Nesbitt who used to work In Regeneration and Economic Development for NPT Council, before becoming the Sector Lead DIT (replaced by the Department for Business and Trade) Wales, responsible for trade promotion, inward investment for food and drink, agriculture and agritech, life sciences and medtech. Further details contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I met with Phil Jones, chair of Regional and National LGBT+ at Unite the Union to discuss equality issues in Neath and Wales, and the marvellous work that Unite are doing to represent LGBTQ+ and ethnic minorities in Wales. Phil lives in Neath, and I have been proud to be one of his friends for 10 years. Phil and I will be meeting Jo Galzaka who is our mutual dearest friend and is the Welsh Regional Women’s and Equalities Officer for Unite, to make plans to continue with raising awareness of equality issues in Neath and Wales.
I was unlucky again not to be drawn on the Order Paper for Wales Questions, but I “bobbed”, and I was fortunate to be called by Mr Speaker. The Welsh Minister James Davies MP was assigned to answer my question, and I asked him as a GP he knows the value of community engagement, so would he ask the Home Secretary to increase investment in Policing in Wales to ensure an efficient response to tackle crime when bad things happen? The Minister told me that “the Hon Member is aware that there are more police officers in all the forces in Wales than ever before. The Government and the Home Office have been investing in the Uplift Programme and ensuring that there is a strong police presence across Wales.” I subsequently contacted Alun Michael (PCC for South Wales) to ask him to verify the Minister’s assertion because the published statistics for police officers is very difficult to interpret. Ministers, as did the Wales Minister, tend to talk about total numbers, but there are different ways of counting the number of officers in each force, and it is very challenging to derive the facts. Some officers are seconded to national, or other regional forces, some officers have been added through the Uplift Programme, some forces have failed to recruit the additional numbers they have been allocated through Uplift, and some forces have not been allocated the number of officers they lost through the cuts of officers due to the UK Government austerity policies.
I attended the Alcohol Awareness Week 2023 event, coordinated by Alcohol Change UK and hosted by my friend Dan Carden MP. Each year over 5,000 public health teams, workplaces, GP surgeries, pharmacies, hospitals, charities, and community groups sign up to take part. The aim is to ensure people have increased knowledge around alcohol can make more informed choices about their drinking, seek support, and support those struggling. An Alcohol Change UK survey found that the average drinker spends nearly £62,900 on alcohol in a lifetime, 19% stated alcohol was an essential item, 9% prioritised alcohol over other items, 15% said in the last 6 months they were worried how much they’re drinking, citing socialising, and those drinking less (44%) said they did so for mental and physical reasons, and the cost-of-living crisis.
It was a pleasure to meet Michael Rosen at the Great School Libraries event and talk about the joy of reading, and its ability to unlock words for children. Unfortunately, I didn’t read as a child, and have spent every day since making up for lost time. Michael Rosen is an author, poet, presenter, political columnist, and broadcaster. He has written 140 children’s books, served as Children’s Laureate from 2007-2009, and won the PEN Pinter Prize for his “fearless” body of work.
I supported the launch of the APPG for Youth Employment Inquiry Report which looked at place-based approaches to tackling youth unemployment. It’s aims were to: understand challenges facing young people accessing education, training, and employment opportunities where they live; how place-based solutions are working; and what works. The inquiry heard oral evidence from 15 stakeholder organisations from local government, mayors, employers, charities, and young people, plus 18 pieces of written evidence. The key findings about place-based opportunities are: unfairness at a macro and micro level, in all communities; place plays an important role in access to a range of services and positive transitions to employment; interplay between economic and social deprivation and NEET rates; range of challenges including poor career advice, poor connectivity; and place-based approaches to work. Recommendations are that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should: recognise place-based approaches as key to tackling youth unemployment by including a commitment as one of the White Paper missions; review and evaluate the impact of Trailblazer devolution deals to identify best practice; establish a Youth Unemployment Task Force. The DWP should: have an expanded brief for NEETs, funding for local Jobcentres to outreach to young people; and build on Youth Hubs successes. The UK Government should set out a long-term strategy for youth employment.
I dropped into the Building Digital UK (BDUK) event and met the CE of BDUK Paul Norris who explained that this UK Government programme is aimed to deliver gigabit-capable broadband to UK premises in rural and hard to reach areas which are not covered by suppliers’ commercial rollout schemes. Mr Norris confirmed that Building Digital UK does cover households in Neath, and I look forward to a Wales specific event that he intends to hold in the autumn, so that I can learn more about the offers and delivery timescale for Neath constituents.
On the day of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the NHS, 5th July, I attended the Bevan Society Lecturewith guest speaker Professor Sir Michael Marmot, and a panel discussion featuring David Brindle, Sara Gorton, and Professor Laura Serrant OBE, on the future of the NHS. Professor Marmot is professor of epidemiology, University College London, and director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity. He is author of The Health Gap, and has led research groups on health inequalities for 50 years. He published The Marmot Review in February 2010; The Marmot Review:10 years on in February 2020; and Build Back Fairer: The Covid-19 Marmot Review. Professor Marmot’s first review found that the rate of increase of life expectancy slowed dramatically in 2010/11, which reversed a century long trend. The UK Government suggested that the UK had peaked for life expectancy, but comparisons with other countries disproved this. The greater the deprivation, the greater the inequities, and life expectancy for the poorest people living outside London is getting worse. If you’re rich it doesn’t matter where in the UK you live. Marmot says the UK Government was proud of its mission to cut public expenditure, but in cutting it in a highly regressive way, the poorer the community the greater the reduction. UK Government policy increased poverty and made inequality worse. David Brindle is a leading commentator on social care issues with more than 30 years’ experience of the sector as a journalist and non-executive. He joined the Guardian in 1988 and became Public Services Editor in 2020. He has won several awards and is currently chair of Ambient Support social care provider. Sara Gorton is Head of Health at Unison where she runs the union’s UK bargaining, influencing, and campaigning work for members in the health sector. She leads the joint NHS trade unions and interacts with UK Government, employers, and system leaders on industrial and workforce policy, and is currently co-chair of the NHS Staff Council, the England NHS Social Partnership Forum, and the Cavendish Coalition. Sara provided the trade union perspective on 75 years of the NHS. Professor Laura Serrant was the first of her family to attend university and one of the first to qualify as a nurse through a degree. She appeared in BBC4 Documentary Black Nurses: the women who saved the NHS, and after fulfilling many roles, in 2018 was appointed the first black woman to head a school of nursing at Manchester Metropolitan University. In October 2017 Laura wrote a poem “You called….and we came” to recognise and celebrate the contribution made by black nurses to the health system in England, and shone a light on the hardships, prejudice, and challenges faced by brave men and women like her parents who responded to the call from England to leave their Commonwealth Island and rebuild the motherland after WW2. She shared the poem with her musician son Rob Green and musical director Christella Latras, and it was set to haunting music and danced to by the Phoenix Dance Theatre. Laura read her very moving poem at the end of the event.
I was delighted to attend the Age UK where I spoke with Rhian Morgan from Age Cymru who told me about the well-being programmes that they are delivering across Wales, including: low impact functional training (LIFT); Nordic Walking; Tai Chi; Arts and Creativity; independent advocacy; dementia advocacy; and support for carers. Rhian invited me to visit Age Cymru office in Splott so that I could meet the staff and learn more about their superb work supporting older people who are facing some of the hardest challenges imaginable. Some live in poverty or can’t get the care they need. Loneliness is a daily struggle with only the radio or TV for company. Age Cymru’s vision is an age-friendly Wales where older people enjoy good health, live safely, free from discrimination, and active in their communities.
I was in the Chamber to sit next to my friend Rachael Maskell when she presented her 10 minute Rule Bill to provide a statutory definition of bullying at work; enable claims of workplace bullying to be considered by an Employment Tribunal; introduce a Respect at Work Code setting minimum standards for positive and respectful work environments; give powers to EHRC to investigate workplaces and organisations where there’s evidence of a culture of bullying; and powers to take enforcement actions. Rachael’s Bill will receive its Second Reading on 24th November 2023.
As chair of the APPG for Vegetarianism and Veganism it was an honour to introduce a meeting on medicines labelling and ingredients. The aims of the meeting were: discuss the need for clear labelling of medical products which use animal derived ingredients and why this is important to the vegan and vegetarian community and those from faith groups and to discuss any action that could be taken to encourage the use of non-animal derived alternatives wherever possible. We held our first ever APPG event on 6th December 2016 and we heard from consultant gastroenterologist Dr Kinesh Patel on the potential to shape the regulation of medication and medical products after Brexit so they are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. We called on the Health Department to mandate labelling of medicines to indicate if derived from animals and switch to plant-based alternatives where viable in the long-term. But didn’t have a response. We held a follow-up meeting on 26th April 2022 after Brexit negotiations had concluded where we revisited the issues which hadn’t improved and wrote to the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock, but he did not respond. The distinguished and knowledgeable panel at the meeting were: Moussa Haddad, Head of Research and Policy at Vegetation for Life, who spoke about Veganism as a philosophical belief and the reasons why Vegans’ rights should be protected in medical settings; Evie Sier, a vegan patient who suffers from a heart condition which requires regular medication, but this is not available as an animal-free option; Yasmin Aktar, Community Organiser for British Islamic Medical Association, spoke about religious groups’ experiences of acquiring medication; Dr Ishani Rao, former Junior Doctor and trainee GP at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, who spoke about prescribing medicines in the community and the lack of knowledge and provision of animal-free medicines; and pharmacist Paul Fleming, Technical Director for the British Generic Manufacturers Association BGMA, who formally worked for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). There was agreement amongst the panellists that labelling of existing medicines was not clear enough for Vegetarians and Vegans to discern whether content is animal-free. Much of the detailed information is contained on a small print paper included inside the medicine box, is very difficult to decipher, and the animal content information is often at the very end of the paper. There is a need for a knowledgeable website which could provide accurate details of the contents of medicines, which could be easily accessed by Doctors, pharmacists, and the public. There are very few animal-free content medicines options available, and in life threatening situations, vegans and vegetarians have to choose between taking animal content medicines or dying, and Evie spoke very emotionally about this choice that she faces everyday of her life. She has had to forgo her belief in order to live. There is more research on animal-free medicines but pharmaceutical companies are not economically motivated to produce these, and the MHRA is slow to approve them. However, where the actual content of the medicine is animal free, but it is packed into gelatinous capsules, these could easily be replaced by pectin capsules at the same or less costs, which would remove the necessity for vegans and vegetarians to decant these gelatin capsule medicines, which may result in a lower dose being taken, due to the loss of some of the medicine during the decanting procedure. I raised the very concerning data released on 8th July by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. Hampshire and Kent Scientific Services inspectors found that 24 of 61 food products (31%) marked as vegan that they tested contained traces of egg or dairy, including 13 dairy alternatives and 48 meat alternatives; some people confuse the vegan label with free-from allergens such as milk and eggs. The “vegan trademark” denotes products that are vegan as far as possible, which are strict but achievable standards for brands when they register to be awarded the vegan trademark to ensure customers can rely that efforts are made to avoid cross contamination within food services. But this is not guaranteeing free-from allergens because most factories produce non-vegan food and vegan food in the same place, and some cross contamination may take place, which is why some vegan products have “May Contain Milk” on them. But if vegan food had to be made in vegan factories this would drastically reduce provision, and a major problem is that there is no legal definition of vegan food. We hope to discuss these issues at the next APPG meeting in the autumn.
I attended the AGM of the APPG for Compassion in Politics whose aim is to put compassion, inclusion, and co-operation at the heart of politics, to nominate my friend Debbie Abrahams be re-elected chair, and I was honoured to be elected as one of the vice-chairs.
The business in the Chamber was the return of the Illegal Migration Bill from the Lords who had made 114 amendments with cross-Party support, of which 18 were pushed to a vote in the Commons. The UK Government instructed its Conservative MPs to disagree with all Lords Amendments, and won every vote, but 16 Conservative MPs rebelled on Lords Amendment 56. The rebellion was led by former PM Theresa May who spoke in favour of amendment 56, warning that if it is overthrown, “it will consign more people to slavery, no doubt about it”, but the UK Government still defeated the amendment by 285-243 votes, a majority of 42. The votes took nearly 4 hours. I supported all the Lords’ amendments. The Bill was sent back to the Lords so that they could give consideration to the disagreements in the Commons, which took most of the following day, and the Bill will return to the Commons in the near future because the UK Government has indicated that they want the Bill to become an Act before the summer recess begins.
I called in to the Kinship Care event to support the #ValueOurLove campaign, and met Lorna, a kinship carer from Cardiff, whom I have had the privilege to meet before. The campaign is urging UK Government to give kinship carers a right to paid leave, like adoptive parents, not a P45.
I met doctors from Group B Strep Support which is the leading charity working to stop Strep B infection in babies. Strep B is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and of meningitis in children. Approximately 800 babies will develop Strep B every year, with 50 dying, and 70 recovering with life-changing disabilities, which is nearly double the rate of other high-income countries. There is an ongoing landmark clinical trial funded by the National Institute for Health Research named GBS3 is exploring whether routinely testing pregnant women for Strep B will prevent more infections than the UK’s current risk-based approach. GBS3 will involve 320,000 pregnant women, and cost £4.2 million, is run by Nottingham School of Medicine, has 71 sites signed up across England and Wales and will report its results in 2025. Testing-based strategy has been shown to reduce early onset group B Strep by up to 86% in countries which routinely test all pregnant women. Whereas since 2023 the UK has used a risk-factor prevention strategy looking at situations in which a pregnant woman has an increased risk of her baby developing GBS infection has risen by 19%.
There was a Deferred Division because when a procedure motion was presented to Mr Speaker ratifying the Parliament recess periods for the summer, the conference period, and Christmas 2023 under Standing Order 25 was challenged by an MP, who does not have to state the reason. Under Standing Order 41A, the Deferred Division takes place the day after the challenge is made, and MPs are handed out pink papers in the Division Lobby by clerks between 11.30-2.30pm. Each MP who chooses to vote ticks the Aye or Nae box. The clerks then collect the papers and tally the votes. The result was 395-5 in favour of the recess periods taking place on the dates published.
I held a celebration event for my Shark Fins Act receiving its Royal Assent (on 29th June at 11.06am) when the Lords Speaker announced it in the Lords Chamber. My Act prohibits the import and export of detached shark fins and shark fin-containing products in Great Britain, with routes available for conservation related exemptions. It also extends an existing prohibition on shark finning in place for UK fishing vessels to all vessels operating in UK waters. I was very humbled by the number of people who dropped into the event to show their support. The Shark Conservation charities brought along lots of shark fun stuff. Alex from Shark Guardian brought some amazing shark suits, and some children’s books about the history and lives of sharks. Graham from Bite Back Shark and Marine Conservation brought the biggest banner I have ever seen with a picture of a full-size shark on it, and some luggage tags with fins on them. Ali Hood from The Shark Trust brought “The Big Shark Pledge” banner with important statistics about sharks on it. I shall be forever grateful to the Parliamentarians from all Parties who spoke in support of the Bill as it passed through the Second Reading, Committee Stage, and Third Reading in the Commons and the Lords, and most of them called in to have their celebration photos taken. There are too many to mention them all, so I’ll just give you a flavour of my wonderful day. Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch took my Bill through the Lords. Maggie was having a very busy day, but she found some time to call in. Maggie was a pleasure to work with and ensured that my Bill had cross-Party support in the Lords. Maggie and I have become friends. Minister for Victims and Sentencing, Ed Argar MP and I have been friends since we worked together on my first Private Members’ Bill (PMB) to add mothers’ names and occupations on marriage certificates, because in 2015 this wasn’t possible, and hadn’t been since marriage certificates were created. Unfortunately, the UK Government didn’t support my PMB, but consequently introduced its own legislation for this provision. Ed had resigned from the UK Government when my Bill was at Second Reading, so was able to speak in support from the Conservative backbenches. It was timely because Ed was reappointed to the UK Government two weeks later. My friend Steve Double MP was the UK Government Minister who spoke from the frontbench at Second Reading, and I remember how surprised and thrilled I was when he said that his Government were supporting my Bill. Once the UK Government signalled its support, Conservative Whip Rebecca Harris MP, who is in charge of Friday Sittings for PMBs, was a key figure in coordinating support. Rebecca and I have become close friends, and I am indebted to her for her unwavering solidarity. My dear friends Matt and Matt the Doorkeepers, who have looked after me since I entered Parliament, were on duty on the Fridays that my Bill went through the Commons, and I was so pleased that they popped in to see me during their break from Chamber duty. Some people entered into the absolute joy of the occasion and dressed up in Alex’s shark costumes. My wonderful friend Tracey Crouch MP, former Minister for Sport, has been my fantastic friend since she discovered that I share her passion for sport. Tracey dressed up and really got into character by “jawing” everyone who called in. Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP and I served in the Shadow Cabinet together, and we are close friends. John brought his grandson with him, and he dared his grandson to dress up in a shark’s costume, which he did, and John took a photo which he said he would have great delight in circulating to his grandson’s friends! His grandson was really enjoying himself, and he told me I’d made his day. All enjoyed the Welsh Cakes I’d brought from Neath.
I attended the first joint meeting for the Parkinson’s, Crohn’s and Colitis, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) APPGs. I am a vice-chair of the MS APPG, a member of the Crohn’s and Colitis APPG, and the secretary of the Parkinson’s APPG. The meeting discussed 10 Years of PIP, the reasons the criteria do not work for claimants, and suggestions for reforms of the system. Over 130,000 people in the UK have MS, about 145,000 live with Parkinson’s, and over 500,00 have Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. The additional costs in living with these conditions include mobility aids and equipment; treatments; and care. PIP is meant to help manage these extra costs, but many symptoms of these conditions, such as pain, fatigue, incontinence, and cognitive issues, are hidden, and fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour. The present PIP system doesn’t enable people with hidden symptoms to fully explain how their conditions impact on them, and they are denied the help they desperately need. The meeting called on the UK Government to change the following criteria: the arbitrary 20 metre rule – which currently means that if a claimant can walk one metre over this arbitrary figure they can’t receive the highest rate of mobility support; “informal observations” – PIP assessors often make inaccurate decisions made on informal observations- 67% of MS claimants said this did not accurately reflect their situation, and 50% of Parkinson’s said the assessor did not have good knowledge of their condition; the 50% rule – which states that if your symptoms affect you for less than 50% of the month you are not eligible for support; and PIP descriptors should be overhauled to reflect reality.
I was honoured to attend the event supporting people who use urinary catheters, which many do so as a result of conditions such as MS or spinal cord injuries, to live their lives to the fullest. I met representatives from the MS Society, The Urology Foundation, Spinal Injuries Association, Coloplast UK, and some wonderful people who use indwelling catheters. The objective of the campaign is to get people talking about the challenges and barriers faced by people who use catheters. Most people don’t like to talk about wee or toilet stuff which is still a taboo and embarrassing subject. Despite bladder problems being one of the easiest medical problems to solve, too many suffer in silence. There are over 90,000 people in the UK using indwelling catheters, and an estimated 90,000 use intermittent catheters. Optimal catheter care means the right care for an individual’s needs and provided with information and specialist support, which reduces the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), which occur when the bladder is not fully emptied and lead to discomfort and even hospitalisation. The estimated cost to the NHS is £99 million per annum for catheter associated UTIs. Patients need to be equipped with the correct knowledge and skills if they are to safely undertake intermittent self-catheterisation.
I attended the UNISON 2023 Year of Black Workers event to mark the 75th Anniversary of Windrush, celebrating the contributions of the Windrush Generation, and to reflect the work that still remains to be done for those fighting for justice. I pledged to support Patrick Vernon’s campaign to establish “Windrush Day” on 22nd June, which was the day that HMS Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in 1948, carrying over 800 African Caribbean people. Windrush Day will forever remember the contributions of Black Communities, many of whom came to the UK as immigrants. This historic moment has special meaning for UNISON because workers from the Commonwealth helped rebuild public services and transformed our trade unions. Some months ago, I was proud to be shown the UNISON exhibition in their Cardiff Office Building by my dear friend Steve Belcher. The amazing display sets out the history of the trade union, and I still remember how impressed I was with the depth of knowledge and the detail of every part of the story of UNISON, which covers every wall of the entire second floor of the building.
I was honoured to attend the APPG for NI Reception with my long-time friend Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen. Paul was very kind and introduced me to many of his Northern Ireland colleagues who had worked with him to secure the 1998 Peace Agreement. Paul is so well respected in Wales, Northern Ireland, and the UK for his measured and co-operative approach to all matters, but this was particularly important when he played such a crucial role in the negotiations between all parties to bring an end to “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland.
The main business in the Chamber was the return from the Lords for the second time of the Illegal Migration Bill. Last week we voted to support the Lords in 18 of their Amendments, but the UK Government won every vote. The Bill went back to the Lords who voted to send 9 Amendments back to the Commons in another round of “ping-pong”. We supported all 9 Amendments, but the UK Government again won every vote, before sending the Bill back to the Lords. The UK Government are adamant that the abhorrent measures which include detention for accompanied and unaccompanied children; removal of LGBT people; modern slavery victims access to support; safe and legal routes; and the inadmissibility of migrants claims. The UK Government hasn’t made a single concession on this round of ping-pong, and it is determined that this Bill will become enshrined in law before Parliament breaks up for the summer recess. But this Bill will substantially increase the asylum backlog, putting tens of thousands of people in long-term hotels and asylum accommodation, costing billions. It won’t tackle criminal gangs nor deter boats, it will make it more difficult to get international return agreements, harder to prosecute traffickers, and will lock-up children, pregnant women, and torture victims.
There was a PCS retirement reception for its General Secretary, my friend Mark Serwotka, which I managed to pop into for five minutes between votes. Mark was born and brought up in Aberdare to a Polish father and a Welsh mother. He joined PCS on his first day in his first job as a Benefits Clerk in 1979, and became General Secretary of PCS in 2000. After suffering from some heart problems, Mark had a successful heart transplant in 2016. Mark was President of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2019. I wish Mark a very happy retirement.
I was privileged to attend the Compassion in Politics APPG to listen to anti-Apartheid activist Dr Mamphela Ramphele to discuss “Why the world needs compassion: Lessons from post-apartheid South Africa” chaired by my dear friend Debbie Abrahams whose partner fled the apartheid regime with his parents when he was 9 years of age. Mamphela is a medical doctor, former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, a friend and colleague of the late Nelson Mandela, co-president of the Club of Rome, co-founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, and chair of the Global Compassion Coalition. Mamphela was a partner of the late anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, with whom she had two children. As co-founder of the Black Consciousness Movement and founder of ReimagineSA, Mamphela played a crucial role in the campaign to overturn the apartheid regime in South Africa and has been central to the rebuilding of South Africa (SA) in the decades since. Mamphela spoke about the many occasions she had visited Nelson in prison, and since he was released, including just before he died. She said at the end Nelson was a sad old man because the work he had started to defeat apartheid when he was released from prison in February 1990 had not been taken forward. There is still demarcation in SA because all Africans’ minds are imprisoned. SA is not yet free because what is needed are three pillars – Respect, Fairness and Compassion. But it is a global problem in politics. The ANC has failed to build a platform to deliver because it rejected advice and help from outside experts, and because of jail and exile, don’t know what socio-economic system is needed in SA, so it’s not different from the apartheid system. Most young and older people can’t read or write, and 70% of youngsters are unemployed. GDP and well-being should be driving the SA economy but SA Government not listening. Mamphela also said that the ANC edited Steve Biko out of Nelson’s “Road to Freedom” book.
I have been campaigning to ban Trophy Hunting since I became an MP eight years ago. Henry Smith MP has a Private Members’ Bill which passed with all-party support at every stage through the Commons to ban the import and export of trophies, which have been cruelly hacked off defenceless animals that these “hunters” pay thousands of pounds to shoot and kill whilst on a shooting safari abroad. The Bill is now making its way through its stages in the Lords, and at its Second Reading received a very rough ride from Peers on the Tory benches who are members of the “shooting and hunting” brigade. The Bill will be entering its Committee Stage which will be taken in the Lords Chamber sometime in the autumn, and the rumour is that the Tory Lords will table many amendments which will in effect wreck the Bill because the UK Government will not allocate the time needed for all the amendments to be discussed.
I dropped into the Visit Britain Delivering growth for the British Economy event to make sure that Visit Wales was playing a part in being promoted as a wonderful place to visit in the UK. The briefing from Visit Britain told us that tourism is a growing sector providing inward investment, jobs, and supporting SMEs in every nation and region. Tourism usually generates £127 billion and supports 3.1 million jobs every year in the UK. The Treasury saw £12 billion income from the visitor economy in 2019. Visit Britain/Visit England funded by £20.1 million (DCMS), Visit Britain – £7.1 million, Visit England – £18.73 million, from Cabinet Office. Visit Wales is the devolved Welsh Government Tourism Organisation to promote tourism to and in Wales. Tourism is very important to the economy of Wales, and it generates £6.3 billion a year, supporting local businesses, jobs, and SMEs.
I was re-elected vice-chair at the AGM of the Restorative Justice (RJ) APPG, and I look forward to working with chair Elliot Colburn MP, and the Restorative Justice Council to continue to raise awareness of the benefits of RJ. And to lobby the UK Government to adopt and fund RJ throughout all sectors of society.
I was humbled to attend the funeral of Violet Poole in Margam Crematorium. Violet was a childhood and university friend of my brother James, who sadly passed away before Christmas. Violet was born and brought up in The Farmer’s Arms Public House in Cefn Cribbw, and my brother was born and brought up in The Walnut Tree Public House in the adjacent village of Kenfig Hill. James kept in touch with Violet over the many years they were friends, and Violet became my friend through my brother. Cllr Huw David from Cefn Cribbw introduced the funeral service. Violet’s granddaughter Anna sang Imagine (John Lennon) live. Violet’s daughters read out Violet’s words about her memories of the Farmer’s Arms, and Cefn; and the poem Stones by Alfred Kreymborg. We sang Calon Lan, and listened to Violet’s favourite “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. Violet regularly telephoned me, wrote wonderful long letters, and mentored me in many ways when I became involved in politics at a young age. There were many people from all over the world at Violet’s funeral, because she reached out to so many people during her 93 years. I shall never forget her kindness and I shall miss our long chats.