On Monday 14th March, I attended the launch of the Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Strategy call for evidence, which will inform the development of the UK Government’s ABI Strategy.
An ABI is defined as a non-degenerative injury occurring to the brain since birth, and includes traumatic and non-traumatic. There are many causes: road traffic accidents, assaults, falls, strokes, infectious diseases, hypoxia, metabolic disorders, and toxins. Our ambition is to prevent brain injuries wherever possible and change the care and support to those with an ABI, so they have the chance of the fullest quality of life.
At the launch we heard very emotional evidence from suffers of an ABI. Chris Bryant is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ABI, and I’m the vice-chair. Chris had a Private Members’ Bill (PMB) on ABI which received its Second Reading on 3rd December 2021, and proposed that the UK Government prepare and publish to meet the needs of children and adults with an ABI. There are over 1.3 million deaths costing £15 billion to the UK economy every year and is cross departmental, affecting Health and Social Care, Work and Pensions, Education, DCMS, Ministry of Justice, and Housing, Communities, and Local Government. Chris gained cross-party and Government support for his PMB propositions. UK Government committed to publishing a strategy, and set up a Call for Evidence overseen by Chris and Minister of State for Care and Mental Health, Gillian Keegan MP.
The Call for Evidence will be open for 12 weeks, and anyone over 16, and stakeholders, can respond. Link to Call for Evidence.
Monday’s business in the Chamber started with a debate on Lords Amendments to the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill. At 6:14pm we voted on Lords amendment 1, which would have tilted the balance back towards Parliament by giving the House of Commons a vote on a dissolution of Parliament, because the Bill as drafted gives the Government power to decide, losing by 217-292 votes.
The next debate concerned the Professional Qualifications Bill, which the UK Government had introduced in the Lords. When the Bill was going through the Lords and at Committee stage Labour argued, without success, that UK Government should be required to consult with the Devolved Administrations before making regulations. However, UK Government has inserted New Clause 1 into the Bill which is on point, and on its return to the Commons, we supported this. We also voted on amendment 3, which would give Scottish and Welsh Governments power to revoke or amend measures in the Bill, at 7.07pm, losing by 210-296 votes. We abstained on the Bill’s Third Reading at 7.26pm.
The next debate was on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which the UK Government again introduced in the Lords. We voted on Labour Front Bench New Clause 1, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to produce an animal sentience strategy and provide an update to Parliament, at 9.27pm, losing by 179-286 votes. We then voted on Deidre Brock’s, SNP Opposition, New Clause 3, which we supported because it would require the Animal Sentience Committee to produce a report on the adverse effects of the UK Government’s welfare of animals policy on experimentation on animals, at 9.42pm losing by 218-288 votes. We supported New Clause 5, tabled by Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat Opposition, which would require the Animal Sentience Committee to produce a report on the impact of polluted rivers on sentient animals, at 9.56pm but lost the division 179-286.
Early Tuesday morning, as vice-chair of the APPG for Steel and Metal-Related Industries, I joined officers of the APPG and representatives from UK Steel, and for a virtual meeting with Lee Rowley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at BEIS. The Minister for Industry set out the UK Government’s overall vision, strategy and plan for strengthening the British steel industry, followed by answering some questions posed by the APPG officers. The Minister spoke of the need to support the steel sector and of the importance placed on our sector by the PM and the Business Secretary. We pressed him on the timeline for action on industrial electricity prices, which he didn’t have any details, but assured us it was a priority of the UK Government. Later that day, the UK Government announced a 35% tariff on iron and steel imports from Russia and Belarus, following similar announcements by the EU last week. The 35% tariff is on top of existing tariffs, including anti-dumping duties and safeguards, and imposes a ban on high-end luxury goods exports to Russia. The EU, however, has imposed a complete ban on finished steel products. UK Steel raised concerns that Russian producers would have strong incentive to export at any cost and undercut the UK market.
After the meeting had concluded, we went to College Green to meet with steelworkers, their families, and trade unions representatives from South Wales and Yorkshire, to listen to their concerns and join in their protest against UK Government inaction on high energy costs that threaten the future of the UK steel sector. The UK Government must acknowledge the importance of steel as a source of jobs, growth, and community. Steelworkers and trade unions were hoping that the UK Government would announce support for the steel sector in the Spring Statement which was scheduled to take place the following week.
On Tuesday afternoon, as vice-chair of the APPG on the UKSPF, I joined officers of the APPG plus Professor Steve Fothergill, Secretariat of the APPG, for a virtual meeting with Neil O’Brien, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We challenged the Minister on his Government’s promise that the UKSPF will work up to an average of £1.5bn, (broadly the same as EU funding after allowing for inflation), by 2024-25, because actual spending on projects always lags behind financial commitments, unless it is possible to commit to £1.5bn a year in each of the next financial years, it is unavoidable that after 2024-25 UKSPF spending will once more fall below this threshold. Therefore, we asked the Minister if funding could be cranked-up in the first 12 months. EU funding was based on a 7 year cycle, so long-term transformative projects were possible, so we asked whether UKSPF could be based on a 7 year cycle. The APPG has been calling for funding to be based on a formula rather than a competitive bidding process, and we are pleased that the UK Government has agreed, but the formula needs to be skewed towards the least prosperous parts of the UK in line with levelling up and to replicate EU funding. I asked the Minister what role the Welsh Labour Government will have in the development and delivery of UKSPF local investment plans, because it had been mooted that Welsh Government would be by-passed in favour of direct delivery by local authorities. The Minister assured me that he wants strong input from the Welsh Government on where the money is spent and on what it is spent on in Wales. The APPG would expect this to be reflected in the amounts of UKSPF allocated to Wales.
On Wednesday morning, I attended the virtual confidential meeting of the Western Gateway APPG, co-chaired by Jess Morden MP (Newport East), with guest speaker Jane Mudd, Leader of Newport City Council, to listen to progress made on the Independent Economic Review, the Digital Accelerator Proposal, and the Nuclear Fusion STEP Project. The working group is developing a unique proposition responding to the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) call for a STEP fusion prototype power plant, which could provide opportunities across the entire Western Gateway geography and beyond. Katherine Bennett, Chair of the Western Gateway, said that the working group is on target to meet the submission deadline of 31st March.
The Petitions Committee had asked me to open the debate on banning greyhound racing in the UK, and in advance of the debate scheduled for 28th March, I met virtually with the Petitioner who wants to remain anonymous, because of the social media attacks that he/she has suffered since creating the petition in October 2020. The Petitioner impressed on me that greyhound racing causes hundreds of greyhound injuries, deaths, being put to sleep for humane and economic reasons, surplus greyhounds due to overbreeding and those discarded because they were not fast enough, in a sector that is driven by online betting. The Petitioner has serious concerns about animal welfare issues at tracks and kennels at registered and independent tracks in the UK. And there are no vets present at tracks.
On Wednesday afternoon I chaired debates in Westminster Hall. The first debate was considering In-work Poverty moved by Grahame Morris Labour MP (Easington), and quoted Nelson Mandela “poverty…is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings…Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right to dignity and a decent life…While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” Mr Morris said that poverty is a Conservative political choice, which this UK Government should be ashamed of. Many MPs from different Parties made contributions to a very lively debate, and David Rutledge MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, responded on behalf of the UK Government.
The second debate was the Future of Soft Power, moved by John Baron, Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay, chair of the British Council APPG. Mr Baron said that democracy is a fragile concept which needs nurturing, encouraging and protecting. And in this new Cold War, we need to talk softly and carry a big stick, because soft power was a key factor in victory in the Cold War. The British Council had been in touch with more than 750 million people worldwide for education, arts, and the English language. Mr Baron asked the UK Government to provide notice of full allocation of funding for the British Council for the spending review period; no further cuts which result in country closures; and to stop touting a 26% increase in funding, because the British Council lost £10 million commercial revenue during the pandemic year, closing in 20 countries. The Minister for Asia and the Middle East, Amanda Milling MP, responded for the UK Government and said that since the start of the pandemic her Government had allocated £560 million to support the British Council, including £180 million in grant aid for 21-22, an increase of £40 million from last year, a generous deal in the current financial climate, which Mr Baron said did not answer his questions.
The last debate was about Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), moved by Sally-Ann Hart, Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye. Ms Hart extolled the benefits of LEPs to local economies – more than 2,000 local business leaders give their time and expertise, which encourages a culture of enterprise and engagement. LEPs broker investment that deliver jobs, environment, and local taxes that local communities need and depend on, but the UK Government LEP review has left the sector in limbo, many talented people have left LEPs, and business leaders are impacted. She asked that LEPs have funding to ensure they play a significant part in Levelling Up. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Neil O’Brien MP, responded for the UK Government, and reassured Ms Hart that the White Paper has made sure LEPs have a future and how they fit with Mayoral authorities, and will be funded appropriately. He spoke about LEPs delivering £12 billion local growth fund and £900 million Getting Better fund, plus examples of successful LEP projects throughout England.
On Thursday morning I chaired the Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee for The Food and Feed Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2022. Edward Argar MP, Minster of State for Health and Social Care, moved the motion whose purpose is to amend a deficiency in Article 53 of the retained General Food Law (Regulation (EC) 178/2002) to ensure that emergency measures that may be applied where a serious risk to health is identified and applied to all goods entering GB. And amend authorisation provisions for feed additives and GM food/feed so that decisions made by UK Government Ministers will be enacted through legislation making these consistent with other retained EU feed and food law. It will provide a time-limited period of adjustment to 30th September 2022 for businesses to meet new UK address labelling requirements for certain food products, which would allow businesses to use up old labelling stocks, without facing enforcement action for failure to label affected products with a UK address during this time. Shadow Minister Daniel Zeichner MP supported the regulations amendments, but sought clarification on certain aspects. The Minister provided answers, and the amendments were passed by the committee without a division.
On Thursday afternoon I chaired a General Debate on Specific Religious Persecution, secured by Jim Shannon MP (Strangford – DUP). Mr Shannon stated that although violations of religion or belief can affect any member of a minority community, women and girls from communities suffering from persecution based on religion or belief face a double vulnerability of being at greater risk, and that these have a greater impact on their lives, than men, and gave some very graphic examples of the persecution of young girls. Several MPs contributed to the debate, and there was broad agreement as summed up by Sarah Owen, MP for Luton North, Shadow Spokesperson, that there is a moral duty to intervene in areas of gross violence, suppression and misogyny. The UK Government Minister for Europe and North America, James Cleverly MP, responded, and said that freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right but is denied to millions of people around the world, and that his Government is continuing to work with international partners on a range of measures.
On Thursday evening I joined Banwen’s virtual celebration of St Patrick’s Day, with guest speaker, and a good friend of mine, Mick Antoniw, MS for Pontypridd and Counsel General for Welsh Labour Government, and long-term advocate for human rights, who spoke about the threat to the Rule of Law by the rise of populism and consequent breakdown of democracy throughout the world. Mick also spoke about Putin invading Ukraine, and that Putin wants to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty. Just before the invasion, Mick had visited his family, who are still living in Ukraine. Another old friend of mine, Tony Lloyd, Labour MP Rochdale, officer of the Ireland and the Irish in Britain APPG who had secured a backbench debate in the Chamber that afternoon entitled “Irish Diaspora in Britain” to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, sent a supportive video message. Banwen claims to be the birthplace and home of Patrick before he became the Patron Saint of Ireland, and this was first put forward in a John Bull magazine in the 1950s, which stated that Patrick was “plucked like a stone from the bog at Bannavem Taberniae, translated as Tafarn y Banwen, a well known local place, and just a short distance from an Iron Age bog. Banwen’s famous local historian George Brinley Evans, now aged 96, and his close friend Tom Marston pioneered this story, and on St Patrick’s Day in 2004 they unveiled a stone at Tafarn y Banwen at an event attended by local schoolchildren and dignitaries to commemorate St Patrick. Last June, Richard Parry, an arts and culture development practitioner, and Roman history specialists Comitatus, were instrumental in organising a re-enactment of the kidnapping of Patrick and his sister Darrerca from Banwen, which included workshops in schools, and Banwen RFC members playing Irish Raider Pirates, who chased, and eventually caught, two children who were cast as Patrick and his sister, as they tried to evade the pirates by running around Banwen. There will be more celebrations this summer.
On Friday 18th March, Parliament was sitting for Private Members’ Bills (PMB), and because my PMB on Marcora Law was listed at number 37 in the Order Paper, there was no likelihood of it being debated. Therefore, my PMB has been re-listed for Friday 6th May 2022.
On Monday 21st March, as a Labour and Co-operative MP, I attended an executive meeting of the Wales Co-operative Council to plan forthcoming events to be held in respect of the founder of the Co-operative Movement Robert Owen, who was born in Newtown Powys on 14th May 1771. He was a Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropist, and social reformer, founder of utopian socialism and the co-operative movement. His aim was to improve factory working conditions, and he promoted experimental socialist communities and sought a collective approach. Last year’s events were held online, but it is hoped that on 14th May 2022, we can hold some physical events in celebration of Robert Owen.
On Monday afternoon the UK Government granted Labour an Official Opposition Day Debate in which we considered P&O Ferries and Employment Rights. We pushed the debate to a division after 6 hours of protected time, but as is becoming the custom of the UK Government, they once again instructed all Conservative MPs not to take part in a vote that we push to a division at the conclusion of our Opposition Day Debates. We won the vote 211-0, in which all opposition Parties joined us in the Yes Lobby, but once again, this victory is symbolic.
On Tuesday morning, I pledged my support for a net-zero, nature positive future, for UK landscapes, where people and nature thrive alongside each other when I attended the World Wildlife Fund Earth Hour event in Parliament. The rise in global environmental movement in recent years has shown how many people care about our planet. On 26th March at 8.30pm lights around the world would be switched off for an hour in solidarity so people could come together to look after one another and our shared home, at the 15th Anniversary of Earth Hour.
Then I joined the virtual launch meeting of Unite’s “Get Me Home Safely” campaign. We heard from speakers within Unite, organisations supporting the campaign, and former MP Tracy Brabin, now Mayor of West Yorkshire. The purpose of the campaign is to make sure that night shift workers get home safely, because experiences of sexual assault, harassment, violence and stalking are common occurrences on streets and on public transport. Workers have a right to access safe transport at all hours of the day, but many find this difficult after a late shift. Unite representatives said that delayed and insufficient UK Government support for taxi drivers during the pandemic has caused shortages, and in the bus sector, decades of privatisation, legislative failure, a commercialised and unregulated systems have caused cuts to services, increased fares, and a deficit of 4,000 drivers. The campaign seeks to organise workers from across the sectors and committees of Unite to take ownership of the safety and wellbeing of workers by extending their duty of care to implement safe transport home principles for night shift workers, which would include: free transport home as a prerequisite for late night venue licences; risk assessments for individual worker’s journey times and potential hazards after leaving work; lobbying the UK Government to ratify ILO Convention 190 to end harassment and violence in the workplace; trained staff, enforcement, and reporting of sexual harassment and violence on public transport; clear and operational CCTV on all public transport; municipal ownership of buses; national minimum standards for taxi and private hire vehicles and an end to cross border hiring.
On Tuesday afternoon I attended our weekly Petitions Committee meeting to discuss the petitions delivered in Westminster Hall during our regular weekly Monday night slots, and to receive information from the clerks to the committee about petitions that have reached the threshold of signatures and will be debated in the future, including Government responses to petitions that have recently been received.
As a member of the APPG for Mutuals, which has over 100 members from both Houses, I attended its AGM and programme of work meeting for an update on our campaign to prevent LV= being taken over by a private equity firm. I was re-elected as treasurer of the APPG. The APPG was disappointed it had to conduct an inquiry into the planned demutualisation of LV=, but members believe we have acted in the public interest, because the company’s leadership had not presented a strong case for the takeover. Our inquiry collected evidence and conducted interviews with the key people involved with the takeover, and found that every demutualisation over the past 35 years has been driven by the board, not the members, so there’s an imbalance which must be addressed. Demutualisation is bad for members, consumer competition, choice and financial market stability. Customers need mutuals. The sequence of events at LV=, when the company converted from a friendly society and was put up for sale 12 months later, requires scrutiny, and our inquiry has added to information that LV= members can draw from. Read the report here. We heard from Martin Shaw, Chief Executive of the Association of Financial Mutuals, who updated us on the lessons learned and the actions needed, following the attempted demutualisation of LV=.
The division bells sounded at 4.15pm calling MPs to vote, so we drew the meeting to a close and dashed off to the voting lobbies. Votes started at 4.19pm with the UK Government voting to disagree with Lords Amendments 4,5,6,7, to the Nationality and Borders Bill, whilst Labour voted to support all these amendments.
Amendment 4 was cross-bench, signed by the Labour Front Bench, to delete clause 9 which extended the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to deprivation of citizenship “without notice”. Lord Anderson added some safeguards which the UK Government accepted. We lost by 318-223 votes.
Amendment 5 added a new clause which stated that nothing in the Bill authorises policies or decisions which do not comply with the Refugee Convention. We lost by 313-231 votes.
Amendment 6 was cross-bench signed by the Labour Front Bench to remove clause 12 which introduced different treatment of refugees by placing them in two different groups. Group 1 would be people who have come to the UK directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened and have presented to authorities without delay. Group 2 would be those who have travelled through a safe third country where they could have reasonably expected to have claimed asylum. We lost by 318 to 220 votes.
Amendment 7 was a Tory backbench amendment supported by Labour and cross-benchers, and provided asylum seekers with a right to work if they are still awaiting a decision after 6 months. The Home Office’s own figures show there are 61,864 applications pending an initial decision after waiting for 6 months. We lost by 291-232 votes.
My week ended with a visit to Hope Rescue Centre, near Llanharan as part of my research ahead of presenting E-Petition 554073, which is asking the UK Government to introduce legislation to abolish greyhound racing by a managed shutdown of activities, and to ensure the welfare of dogs. I met Vanessa Waddon, who sold her house to set up Hope Rescue after a greyhound called Last Hope was discovered abandoned on Caerphilly mountain in 2004, having been shot with a captive bolt gun, and his ears hacked off to hide identifying tattoos. When Last Hope was found, he was alive, but had to be put to sleep due to the severity of his injuries. I also met Alain Thomas from Greyhound Rescue Wales and a volunteer called Malcolm who had adopted Hector, a lovely greyhound who had been rescued from a racing track after breaking his left front leg trying to negotiate the very sharp first bend of the track.
On Monday 28th March, I attended the AGM of the Alternative Dispute Resolution APPG, and was re-elected vice-chair.
On Monday evening, I opened the debate on E-Petition 554073, which asks the UK Government to abolish greyhound racing through a managed shutdown and ensure the welfare of redundant greyhounds by a levy on the industry. The petition closed on 30th April 2021 with 104,885 signatures.
As I have already mentioned, the Petitioner wanted to remain anonymous because of attacks via social media, so it was my responsibility to present their words to the MPs who attended the Westminster Hall debate. The debate was well attended, with MPs presenting contrary views. The Petitioner, Vanessa Waddon, supporters and a rescued greyhound Suzy were in the public gallery listening to the debate.
The Petitioner believes that the welfare of racing greyhounds is not adequately protected by animal welfare legislation, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), independent bodies, and that greyhounds endure suffering on dangerously configured tracks, are raced in extreme weather, and housed in kennels not independently inspected.
Following pressure from welfare charities and campaigners, GBGB have been required to publish annual data of racing greyhounds since 2017, but Dogs Trust and the RSPCA have questioned the accuracy of this data, and it is not broken down to track level, so does not flag remedial action if needed at a specific track.
Nevertheless, the data is very concerning. Between 2017 and 2019, a total of 14,770 were injured, and 1643 were put to sleep for humane or economic reasons. The Petitioner discovered that greyhounds recorded as being in rescue centres, or re-homed as a pet, were still racing. Greyhounds recorded as retired are sometimes sold or given away to race on the 3 Independent tracks in the UK. Therefore, the dual system of registered GBGB and Independent tracks, does not work because greyhounds are being interchanged between the two separate systems.
My speech included details that Vanessa had told me when I visited Hope Rescue. Vanessa supports the UK campaign and in September 2021, Hope Rescue launched the Senedd Petition to ban greyhound racing in Wales, which received 35,101 signatures, and was discussed by the Senedd Petitions Committee on 7th March. The committee agreed a “call for evidence” followed by a debate in the Senedd. Another example of the Welsh Parliament leading the way.
Vanessa told me that she set up the “Amazing Greys” project at the Independent Valleys Track at Ystrad Mynach in April 2018, so that Hope Rescue could provide emergency rescue places for injured and surplus greyhounds before transferring them to Dogs Trust, Greyhound Rescue Wales, or Forever Hounds Trust. Between April 2018 and August 2021, the project took 200 greyhounds whose owners or trainers had links with Valleys Track. 40 had serious injuries and 5 didn’t survive. Many had old undiagnosed injuries, lameness, skin and dental problems, fleas, worms, and suffered with anxiety and fear. 67% of the injured greyhounds were GBGB greyhounds, reinforcing the Petitioner’s assertion that there is no division between GBGB and Independent tracks.
The majority of injuries were broken legs, snapped bones going through the skin. Valleys Track boasts its “eye-watering sharp first bend” on its website. Dr Andrew Knight’s “Injuries in Racing Greyhounds” report 2018, explains that because races are run anti-clockwise, most injuries occur on the left foreleg and the right hind leg, when negotiating a bend the left foreleg is used as a pivot, claws digging into the track, and the right hind leg moves in an arc providing the propulsive force, causing maximum stress. The bones become spongy, and honeycombed. Vanessa and her volunteers were heartbroken when they took the injured greyhounds to Hope Rescue vets, and witnessed their immense suffering. There were no vets at Valleys Track. After publicly sharing the E-Petition, Vanessa was told that Hope Rescue was not welcome at Valleys Track, so the current fate of the injured and surplus greyhounds is no longer known.
Public attitudes to greyhound racing are changing. There were once 77 GBGB tracks and 200 Independent tracks in the UK, but now only 20 and 3 remain. 99% of UK bets on greyhound racing are placed online, so this doesn’t benefit the local economy.
Hope Rescue commissioned a YouGov Poll which showed that 45% of the public support a ban, 17% do not, and 38% are unsure, or don’t support either option.
Andrew Rosindell MP Romford, and Ian Lavery MP Wansbeck spoke in favour of greyhound racing and believed that GBGB are serious about improving welfare regulations. Neil Parish MP Tiverton and Hinton, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee spoke about the report on greyhound racing that his committee produced in 2006, and said that UK Government and the industry should take the petition seriously, and use it as a very positive approach to ensure that welfare of greyhounds is improved.
John McNally MP Falkirk, SNP spokesperson, spoke in support of the petition. Ruth Jones MP Newport West, Opposition spokesperson, stated that the Labour Party do not support a ban, but greyhound racing should have the safeguards and protections it needs: proper guidance on best practice in responsible ownership; statutory minimum standards for racing and welfare; better methods to trace ownership; and a centralised database to record retired greyhounds. Ruth asked the Minister to get on with it.
The Petitioner and Vanessa believe that a ban is the only solution. This can be achieved immediately in Scotland and Wales, who have very few tracks (Valleys Track is the only track in Wales), but in England a ban should be phased-in to ensure that displaced greyhounds can be accommodated, and infrastructure dismantled over time. I asked the Minister if she would meet with the Petitioner, Vanessa and myself, and have followed up with a letter to Jo Churchill MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Agri-innovation and Climate Adaptation, whose brief covers animal welfare. Read the full debate here.
On Monday 28th, the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill returned from the Lords, and at 7.56pm we started voting on Lords Amendments. We supported Lords Amendment 72B, and proposed amendments (a) and (b), and lost the division by 283-148 votes. This would have mandated the police recording of crimes that effectively amount to hostility on grounds of sex or gender, and introduced a stand-alone offence related to harassment or intimidation aggravated by hostility towards sex or gender. We supported Lords Reason 73, and Amendments 74B-74G, and Reason 87G, and lost by 276-202 votes. 73 and 87G would have removed provisions relating to noisy protests regarding making it easier for police to impose conditions on marches and static protests, including powers to impose conditions on a protest public assembly or public procession as “too noisy”. The Government added amendment 74 inserting a definition of “serious disruption”. Amendment 87 would remove the ability of the police to impose conditions on one-person protests. And finally, at 8.23pm we voted in support of Lords Amendment 80G which would have removed increased powers regarding public assembly, and lost by 278-202 votes.
On Tuesday morning, I attended the Pension Clawback APPG and was re-elected vice-chair.
The APPG was set up to campaign for HSBC to remove state deduction (clawback) from the post 1974 Midland Bank Defined Benefit Pension Scheme, and highlight its discriminatory impacts. Over 51,000 HSBC pensioners are subject to indirect discrimination in one of its 23 pension schemes, but almost no one knew of its existence. The campaign group has repeatedly been refused its requests to meet with HSBC to discuss the removal of clawback. HSBC has recently commissioned a market review of the state deduction in the third quarter of 2020, which demonstrated that integration of private pensions and state benefits to target the overall level of benefit remains an accepted and common aspect of UK pensions practice.
This was followed by chairing the APPG for Hairdressing, Barbering and Cosmetology officers’ meeting to plan the work programme for the next Parliamentary session. We decided to continue to focus on our campaign to urge the UK Government to amend the Hair Act 1968 to include mandatory registration for any person who wants to practice in the hair sector. The Hair Council has sole authority under the act, and Keith Conniford, the CEO and Registrar of the Hair Council, has been leading the campaign for mandatory registration for many years, and working with the APPG.
I visited a drop-in event to launch Amnesty UK’s Football Welcomes month, with the Afghan Women and Girls Development Football Team. The team and their families fled to Pakistan after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021. The team members successfully appealed to the UK Government to bring them to the UK and the squad are in temporary accommodation in North of England, but are training again. We heard from Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghanistan team who helped get them out of Afghanistan. The Taliban had prohibited them from playing football. Amnesty International’s Football Welcomes programme celebrates the contribution players with a refugee background make to football and highlights the role of football in creating more welcoming communities for refugees and asylum seekers. On the morning of the event, the Afghan Team had played a match against the UK Women’s Parliamentary Football Club.
On Tuesday afternoon, as vice-chair of the Parkinson’s APPG I attended an event held ahead of World Parkinson’s Day, which is on 11th April. There are approximately 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK, and this is expected to grow by a fifth by 2030. I met with people with Parkinson’s and carers from across the UK to show my support.
I chaired debates in Westminster Hall for the rest of the afternoon.
At 2.30pm Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, moved the motion that this House has considered gambling-related harm. Ms Harris said that after over two years of debate, reports and evidence sessions and years of harm, addiction and ultimately loss of life, the White Paper is very imminent. And that she and colleagues across the House had faced the onslaught from the gambling industry. Ms Harris quoted many figures from many sources, for example: the charity GambleAware estimated that 1.4 million people suffer gambling related harms; the House of Lords Select Committee on the Gambling Industry found that 60% of gambling profits came from the 5% of people experiencing gambling harm; and she called for improvements to be included in the White Paper. For example: an independent affordability assessment with a soft affordability cap where an open banking check would kick in at £100 a month on net deposits because the average level of disposable income in Britain is £450; that Ministers work with the banking industry to ensure that all banks provide a comprehensive gambling blocking facility; a statutory levy of 1% would provide £130 million for treatment and research; stake limits for online gambling; a gambling ombudsman. She said that the whistle-to-whistle ban is not worth the paper it’s written on, she would not support anything Bet365 has done, and gambling companies spent more than £1.5 billion a year on advertising. Ms Harris welcomed the reforms introduced by the Gambling Commission such as, identity and age verification, banning credit cards, and customers having information on winnings and losses. But she stated there is more to do.
The debate was well attended and there were some lively interactions from MPs on either side of a very emotive subject. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nigel Huddleston MP, responded for the UK Government. He said that it was 17 years since the Gambling Act 2005 was passed and a review and reform is needed, but he was not able to announce what will be in the White Paper, which will be published in a few weeks. He said that the White paper would set out conclusions of the UK Government’s call for evidence regarding a statutory levy, advertising and sponsorship, gambling black market, and gambling premises licences.
Carolyn Harris MP wound up the debate by saying that she congratulated Bet365 for mobilising speakers and she hoped that its protection of vulnerable customers is as tenacious as its ability to get MPs to come and speak on its behalf.
The second debate was about progress towards a smoke-free England secured by Sir Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, and he quoted from the UK Government’s “Towards a smoke-free generation”, July 2017, which stated that over 200 deaths are caused every day through smoking, smoking rates are three times higher amongst the lower earners compared with highest earners, accounts for half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest, and its vision is a smoke-free generation. But Sir Charles asked what this would look like in 2030, and said that it would be 5% or less of the adult population smoking, according to the Lancet. Currently more than 14% of the adult population smokes averaging £10 per pack, and it could be higher because of lockdown. Cancer Research UK thinks it will be 2037, but Sir Charles thinks 2037 is optimistic. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maggie Throup MP, responded for the UK Government and stated that her records state 13.5% of UK adults smoke, but it’s too high, and there is more to do. She said that the UK Government will publish a new tobacco control plan later this year, which will set out a comprehensive package of new policy proposals and regulatory change, following a review led by Javid Khan, former CEO of Bernardo’s.
The last debate was moved by Dr Kieran Mullen, that this House has considered Crewe’s bid for the headquarters of Great British Railways, and said that Crewe is at the heart of rail industry, and has 360 degree connectivity. Crewe was born from the railways when in 1837, the Grand Junction Railway Company placed a station in Crewe that connected Liverpool with Manchester railways, and London and Birmingham railways, and now has 6 railway lines. More than 3 million people live within 45 minutes commute by road or rail, 12 major universities within an hour commute, and 3 international airports. There is cross-party support from 12 MPs, and Pete Waterman. And all MPs who spoke supported Crewe’s bid. The Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Wendy Morton, responded for the UK Government and said that this was the fourth debate on bids for the GBR HQ that she’s attended in the past few weeks. She said that she’d recently found out that her dad was born in a railway cottage, railways are close to her heart, and mentioned the Williams-Shapps plan for rail. The competition for GBR HQ was launched on 5th February and closed on 16th March with 42 submissions from towns and cities outside London and across the UK against the 6 criteria: alignment to levelling up objectives; connected and easy to get to; opportunities for GBR; railway heritage and links to the network; value for money; and public support. The bids will be shortlisted and then put to a consultative public vote. There will also be regional divisions of GBR HQ organised in line with Network Rail’s “Putting Passengers First” programme, which reflects how passengers and freight move across the network today. Cities and regions across England will have greater influence over local ticketing, services and stations, stations in partnership with local and regional government.
That evening Labour voted against the draft Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No 2) Regulations 2022, and lost by 268-195 votes.
On Wednesday morning I chaired Westminster Hall debates, beginning with a very important debate moved by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, that this House has considered the role of British and overseas judges in Hong Kong. Before we began the debate I quoted Erskine May “reflections on a judge’s character or motives cannot be made except on a substantive motion” which Sir Iain’s motion was not. Sir Iain said that the debate was meant to be a demand from across parties that the UK Government should intervene and that British judges now serving in Hong Kong courts should withdraw, because their presence lent legitimacy to a brutal, totalitarian regime that has been prosecuting in Hong Kong against the Sino-British agreement terms, and against people whose only crime has been to cry out for freedom. However, just before Sir Iain came to the debate, he discovered that the UK Government agreed and wish the judges to withdraw, and invited the Minister to intervene to clarify the announcement. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs, Vicky Ford MP, stated that it was laid in a written ministerial statement the night previously, published that morning, read out the statement, confirming that it is no longer tenable for serving UK judges to participate on the Final Court of Appeal, and that Lord Reed and Lord Hodge had submitted their resignations to the Hong Kong authorities that day. All MPs agreed with this statement and Sir Iain summed up by saying that it is a remarkable day, as a result of continual campaigning, and for too long we felt we must accommodate totalitarian regimes that have no regard for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. The action taken has sent a signal that freedom matters and he thanked the UK Government for having moved on this matter.
The next debate was moved by Elliot Colburn MP and considered Health Care Outcomes in Carshalton and Wallington, in which he raised issues concerning his constituency, including: cancer outcomes; increase in dementia; obesity and he bravely spoke about his battles with obesity; mental health; and appealed for progress on investment for his local hospital – St Helier. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maggie Throup MP, responded and confirmed that a new hospital for Epsom and St Hilier University Hospital NHS Trust was part of her UK Government’s plans to build 40 new hospitals by 2030.
The afternoon’s debate in the chamber concerned the Lords Amendments of the Health and Care Bill. We voted on a series of amendments starting with amendment 85 at 5.11pm, which we lost by 275-183 votes. This Amendment mandated a consultation about a scheme to regulate the prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers, to use these funds raised by the scheme on anti-smoking measures. Then we voted for Government Amendment (a) in lieu of Lords Amendment 92, losing by 215-188 votes. This amendment allowed telemedical abortion services to be made permanent, followed by a division on Lords Amendment 29, losing by 249-167 votes. This amendment would require the UK Government to publish assessments every two years with current and future NHS workforce assessments and projections for 5, 10, and 20 years in future. Then we supported Lords Amendment 30, which we lost by 265-156 votes. This amendment would remove clause 40 which gave the Secretary of State significant and largely unchecked powers to intervene at any stage of a local service reconfiguration, with no minimum sets of information requirements on which to base a decision. Then we voted to support Lords Amendment 80, which would have removed the £86,000 cap on social care costs, losing by 247-150 votes. And finally, we voted at 8.57pm to support Lords Amendment 90, losing by 259-147 votes. This amendment required that the option of independent mediation is explored before resorting to legal action in disputes over palliative care of children between parents and doctors.