I attended the National Marine Parks (NMP) Parliamentary launch event. The Blue Marine Foundation (BMF) and 12 partners launched a National Framework and Guidance to support the evaluation of NMPs which offers a common purpose, objectives, and principles, for NMPs to evolve in Britain. The BMF partnership’s vision for NMPs is that they could fulfil a role in re-connecting people with sea and deliver more coherent conservation to benefit nature and coastal communities. Over 80% of people across England, Scotland, and Wales believe it is crucial to protect our ocean, but over 50% perceive the health of the marine environment as poor. The BMF partnership has scoped areas across Britain and found there is an appetite to explore introducing NMPs from Dorset, Argyll, to Pembrokeshire. Read the reports here.
I attended the APPG for Christians in Parliament Chapel service with my dear friend Baroness Anita Gale, which is open to all parliamentarians and staff. The Reading was Psalm 130, and Reverend Mark Harris delivered his interpretation of this Psalm.
As vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coalfields Communities, I attended the meeting to welcome the Minister for Levelling Up, Dehenna Davison MP, so that members of the APPG could ask her questions on our APPG Report “Next Steps in Levelling Up the Former Coalfields”, which we launched in Parliament on 12th June 2023. Specifically, recommendations 1, 2, 9, 10, and 12, which you can read here. The Minister confirmed that the next round of Levelling Up funds would be round 3, reflecting previous rounds, and application bids should be shelf ready to go with no conflict in community input and vision. Representatives pointed out that the round 2 bidding process was very complicated with lots of forms to complete, and it should be simplified. Round 2 had built up expectations in councils that their bids would be approved, councils had spent lots of money to formulate bids, which were rarely granted, and there was a lack of private sector support. Also, when a bid was successful it has to be spent in 18 months, which I pointed out is a very short timeframe compared with former European funding which allowed 7 years, with the option of a 3-year extension. And the financial settlement provided to Wales is not enough to level up the coalfield communities in Wales. The APPG was very well attended by MPs and Peers, plus representatives from Coalfields Communities, including: Trade Unions; Councillors; and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
As vice-chair of the Climate Change APPG, I attended the roundtable discussion with Dr Steve Pye, Associate Professor at UCL, who spoke about what climate science says about phasing out oil and gas production and his research focusing on net zero pathways, energy system decarbonisation and securing UK energy independence; Tessa Khan, CEO Uplift, provided an overview of the state of UK oil and gas policy, and how transitioning away from oil and gas production can also tackle issues around energy security, and the cost of living crisis; Louise Borrows, Climate and Energy Lead For the Beyond Oil and Gas Coalition (BOGA), who was on a secondment to the Cabinet Office for COP 26 and was joint head of the energy campaign for the UK’s COP Presidency Year. She led the delivery of multiple projects including ending fossil finance, no new coal, methane, and directing the Presidency’s approach to gas, and she successfully cemented and led the “Glasgow Statement” signatories as a government coalition for change; and Darren Proctor, National Secretary of RMT Union, spoke about worker’s views on moving away from oil and gas and how a just transition can happen. See upliftuk.org
The APPG for Steel and Related Metal Industries received an update on the Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) from TRA officials: Edward Smith, Investigator; Timothy Sharp, Lead Investigator; and Katherine Newton-McGee, Head of Investigations. The members of the APPG questioned the TRA officials on: how the TRA is reviewing the safeguards, what are they doing and how can steel producers and users contribute to the review; and what are the timelines for the review. The TRA has instigated the review regarding the extension of the UK steel safeguards beyond 30 June 2024 covering the 15 product categories that are currently subject to the measure. The maximum they can be extended is another two years to June 2026, and it is vital that this will be the outcome of the review. UK Steel will be presenting evidence to the TRA, and engaging with the relevant stakeholders to ensure the best outcome is achieved. The TRA preliminary determination will be published in February 2024, and the Secretary of State for Business and Trade will make the final decision by 30 June 2024 on whether to maintain the safeguards for another two years. MPs asked the TRA officers how the economic injury would be assessed, in the context of EU safeguards and whilst US S232 tariffs remains in place. Removing UK safeguards would lead to a huge influx of diverted imports from countries that face much lower energy costs, and benefit from subsidies and other unfair competitive advantages.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is the leading dementia research charity in the UK working to revolutionise the way we treat, diagnose, and prevent dementia. Almost 1 million people are living with dementia in the UK today. One in two of us will be directly affected in our lifetime, either by caring for someone with the condition, developing it ourselves, or both. We are at tipping point. New ways of diagnosing the diseases that cause dementia earlier and more accurately like blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease are showing promise. New treatments that can affect the course of Alzheimer’s disease could be available in the UK in just a few months’ time. New insights are showing how we can reduce the prevalence of dementia in the first place by addressing factors that affect our brain health. I support the charity’s recommendations: to set up a UK cross-governmental strategy for the prevention of ill health to address the health and lifestyle factors that affect our risk of developing dementia; invest in the current diagnostic pathway to make it fit for purpose and fit for the future; ensure new dementia treatments are available on the NHS as soon as possible; and establish the UK as a world leader in dementia research. Contact Alzheimersresearchuk.org
Western Gateway held a Parliamentary reception to celebrate the launch of its Western Gateway 2050 Rail Vision published earlier this year. The Vision is transformational – connecting local communities at risk of being left behind; deliverable – building on a pipeline of schemes already underway; investable – ready for the public and private sector to enhance communities and add at least £34bn to the UK economy by 2030. The Western Gateway APPG co-chairs Jess Morden MP and the Rt Hon Sir Robert Buckland MP introduced and closed the event. Katherine Bennett CBE, Chair of the Western Gateway, said that the vision is not about asking the UK Government for instant investment, or building a new high speed trainline, it’s a long-term vision supported by cross-party leaders and the Western Gateway APPG, because the region has huge potential to deliver the UK’s sustainable and net zero future economy and unlock a greener, fairer, future. We heard from guest speakers: my dear friend Baroness Debbie Wilcox, who as the former Leader of Newport Council and former leader of the Welsh Local Government Authority who was instrumental in setting up Western Gateway; Huw Merriman MP, UK Government Rail Minister; Louise Haigh MP, Labour Shadow Transport Secretary; Stephen Morgan MP, Labour Shadow Rail Minister; Council Leaders within the Western Gateway Region; and representatives from Transport for Wales, Network Rail, and GWR. Read the vision report here.
I was honoured to deliver the second reading at the annual Service of Thanksgiving for Victory in The Battle of Britain in St David’s Church Neath, which was organised by Neath & Swansea Branches of the Royal Air Force Association (Neath 617 Branch). The first reading was delivered by Louise Fleet CStJ, JP, the Lord Lieutenant of West Glamorgan and the congregation listened to the usual, thought-provoking sermon by our wonderful Avon Nedd Ministry Area Leader, The Reverend Canon Lynda Newman. After the service, we gathered at the Memorial Gates, Gnoll Grounds, to place wreaths in memory of those service people who gave their lives to achieve peace in the world, and play the Last Post, before a minutes’ silence, and Reveille. We Will Remember Them.
As vice-chair of the APPG on Restorative Justice (RJ) I was honoured to be at the launch of our APPG Investigation: Implementing restorative practices in education, health, and social care report authored by our Advisory Board. The report was introduced by the Advisory Board Chairman, and CEO of the Restorative Justice Council, Jim Simon. The investigation focused on the current implementation and impact of restorative practice in non-judicial settings across the UK. The findings and subsequent recommendations are based on the reported experience of restorative practitioners working in education, health, and social care who embraced the opportunity to contribute evidence of their successes and pointed out improvements that could be made. The APPG calls on UK Government to use this report and its recommendations to shape future public policy and develop a cohesive strategy for the long-term implementation of restorative justice. Read the report here. Jim and our APPG chair Elliot Colburn MP will be meeting the UK Government Justice Minister, Ed Argar MP, on 12th September to discuss our report, the benefits of implementing restorative justice, and the Victims and Prisoners Bill. After the meeting they will fully brief the members of the APPG on the outcome of the meeting. Jim outlined details of the first annual Northern Ireland RJC Conference in Belfast on 14/15th September on which he will report back to the next APPG in October. There will also be an APPG Parliamentary Drop In event on 30th October in the Thames Pavilion which will highlight the work of RJC in education, health, social care, and the devolved nations.
I joined the online meeting of the APPG for Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to hear evidence from voluntary organisations, including: Gingerbread; women who have been let down by the CMS; and MPs who receive so much casework from constituents who are suffering because the child maintenance payments that have been agreed following the split up of partners in a relationship, are not being paid by the relevant partner towards the upkeep of the children. The children, and parent who has custody of the children, are struggling to survive without the maintenance payments that they are owed. The CMS was set up by the UK Government in December 2012. There is a £20 application fee, unless the parent or child is a victim of domestic abuse, or the applicant parent is under 19 years old. There are two methods of payment: Direct Pay which can be chosen by either parent with agreement of the other, there is no collection fee; Collect and Pay, whereby the CMS calculates the amount of maintenance due and collects it from the paying parent, and pays it to the receiving parent, but there is a 20% fee for the paying parent on top of the maintenance payments and 4% is taken off the maintenance paid to the receiving parent. In the interests of fairness, the DWP should consider removing the 4% charge from receiving parents. Since set up in 2012 there is £547.9 million in unpaid arrears, i.e 8%. In the last quarter, to March 2023, of UK Government statistics, £237 million was due by Direct Pay, but the DWP does not measure how much of this is unpaid. £72 million was due by Collect and Pay of which £22.9 million was unpaid. In my Neath constituency my excellent and diligent staff have resolved many CMS cases, mostly where the paying parent has disputed the amount of maintenance they have been asked to pay, stating that they can’t afford the payments, and so lapse into arrears, and are not able to make up the arrears amount. The receiving parent raises this with the CMS, and the paying parent is placed on direct payments taken from their wages, but this is not possible if they are paid in cash. If the paying parent receives a below 25% wage increase the CMS will not trigger a change of circumstances to increase the payments. Also, if the paying parent is receiving benefits, they are obliged to only pay the CMS minimum of £7 per week.
I was pleased to support the WI Week of River Action Parliamentary launch event, which kicked off their new Clean Rivers campaign which seeks to tackle river pollution and to promote the designation of more bathing waters. The WI will endeavour to raise awareness of the ecological state of the UK’s rivers and draw public attention to the importance of clean rivers for people and for wildlife in their communities.
I attended another APPG Christians in Parliament Chapel service with my friend Baroness Anita Gale. The Reading was from Mark 1:14-15, and there was a talk by Paul Woolley, CEO of The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, entitled “Growing confidence: Recovering the Gospel as Good News”.
I supported UNICEF’s launch calling on the UK Government for a Baby and Toddler Guarantee as part of its Early Moments Matter campaign to support families with young children to ensure that babies and toddlers have the best start in life across the UK. UNICEF’s latest research reveals the pressures families with young children are under and how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting children. YouGov polled parents and guardians of at least one child aged 0-4 years old living in Great Britain. Poll findings for Wales (National average in brackets): 79% said the cost of living has negatively impacted their family lives (78%); 65% have struggled with their mental health (61%); 67% believe it’s harder to be a parent now than their parents’ generation (70%); 66% are worried about their child’s future life chances (66%); 55% can’t afford to give their child the life they want (50%); 44% had less time to read, play, cook healthy meals than last year (37%).
I dropped into the ABTA The Travel Association and UK inbound event on potential solutions to improve youth mobility between the UK and Europe. Tourism is a vitally important soft power and a global success story for the UK and youth mobility whether for education, work or travel, makes a significant contribution to both the UK economy and in Neath where in 2019, over 241 jobs were supported by the inbound tourism sector and over 300 jobs were supported by the outbound tourism sector. The youth and student travel market sees 25 million travellers per year; young travellers support over 265,00 jobs in the education sector; and the outward-bound travel industry is worth more than £37.1 billion a year to the UK economy, 1.8% of GDP, supporting 526,000 jobs across the UK. Therefore, it is important for the UK Government to work with the UK tourism industry to reinvigorate youth mobility through expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme, development of collective passports, and digitisation.
As a vice-chair of the Show Racism the Red Card APPG, it was an honour to attend a meeting with parliamentarians, to promote the 9th annual Wear Red Day #WRD23 which will be held on Friday 20th October 2023, organised by the wonderful Ged Grebby, Founder of Show Racim the Red Card, who works full time to stamp out racism at all levels of society. Racism is abhorrent and I was proud to wear my Show Racism the Red Card red t-shirt and stand in solidarity with campaigners.
As a former chair of the APPG for Sport I supported my dear friend Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the chair of Sport Wales, who hosted a parliamentary event to strive to make the UK the most active nation in Europe. The event was organised by Active Partnerships; CIMSPA; Sport for Development Coalition; Sport Recreation Alliance; Local Government Association; UK Active and the Youth Sport Trust. Currently, the UK is the 11th most inactive nation, and the 3rd highest spenders on healthcare costs associated with inactivity. The sport, recreation, and physical activity sectors’ leading bodies are urgently calling on political parties to commit to making it easier for people to play, move, and be active in any way they choose by ensuring that sport, recreation, and physical activity is accessible and affordable to everyone. We can build a future where: all children are given the best possible start, gaining habits and skills to manage their physical and mental wellbeing, living longer and healthier lives; preventing and improving community health leads to significantly less pressure on NHS and other public services; our streets and communities will be safer, happier, and greener places to be; our economy will be boosted by a healthier workforce that increases productivity and lengthens people’s employment. Turning this vision into reality will not be easy, and will take time, but we believe it can and must be done. We urge the current and future governments to put sport, recreation, and physical activity at the heart of national policy making working closely with the sector and devolved governments of all the Home Nations on a programme of reforms including: building a common evidence base of the benefits to drive better funding; more and better targeting investment to create modern sustainable places and spaces to be active to drive up participation unlocking the power of sport for social good. It was a lovely surprise to meet Emily Reynolds, National Programmes Director, Youth Sport Trust, who is from Glynneath and the daughter of my dear friend Gerry Reynolds. Emily has worked for Youth Sport Trust for over 8 years and was deputising at the event for her CEO, Ali Oliver, who unfortunately couldn’t attend, otherwise our paths may never have crossed, and I would not have had the wonderful opportunity to meet Emily, who I am sure will become a close friend too. Read “Unlocking the Potential”
I attended the Asthma + Lung UK transport policy Parliamentary event called “putting the brakes on toxic air” and received a briefing on the Cleaner Travel Access Fund (CTAF). We heard that polluting vehicles are fuelling toxic air and the climate crisis, and millions of people are breathing unsafe levels of air pollution. 97% of the UK’s 33 million cars still run on petrol and diesel, releasing pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide into the air. Road transport is responsible for nearly 50% of all nitrogen oxide air pollution. There is no safe level of air pollution but tens of millions across the UK are breathing levels of air pollution that are against the law. Babies, children, pregnant women, older people, and those with existing lung conditions are more vulnerable. Air pollution is costing the NHS and Social Care services millions every year and contributes to up to 43,000 early UK deaths every year. The least responsible for air pollution are often the most exposed. The poorest people live nearest busy roads and worst air pollution levels are in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods, but there is less car ownership in these groups. The CTAF is a scrappage scheme of £777 million aimed at people on low incomes and those whose mobility is affected by long term health conditions to swap their polluting vehicles in exchange for a £3000 grant per household to use public transport, buy active travel, or put towards an electric vehicle.
I attended the Parliamentary launch of a report by the Women’s Budget Group, funded by the Community Justice Fund entitled Gender Gaps in Access to Civil Legal Justice. We listened to guest speakers: Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP, Labour Shadow Attorney General; Dr Zubaida Haque report author; Isabel Langdale, Project Manager Women’s Homelessness, Homeless Link; and Pamela Fitzpatrick, Director of Harris Law Centre, discuss the findings of the report and what needs to happen to close the gender civil justice gap. The report drew on survey data collected from 115 organisations and services across England and Wales, and explores the gender disparities in accessing civil legal justice, and the pressing needs, barriers, and adverse impacts faced by women. The discussion focused on the types of civil law issues women seek help for, from employment law to family and immigration law, the consequences of the changes in scope including the LASPO Act 2012, and the solutions to help women from all backgrounds. Key findings from respondents include: 85% said vulnerable women are unable to access civil legal aid, 77% said a major consequence of the legal aid changes is women reaching crisis point of problems escalating before they receive legal help or advice, 48% reported domestic violence as a key issue, the most widespread employment law issue is pregnancy/maternity discrimination, and the reduced scope of what is covered by legal aid plus the reduced amount of legal aid available disproportionately affects women. The report’s recommendations included: more research into the impact of LASPO 2012; improving access to legal aid for employment law, thresholds and time limits should be increased; intervene with support sooner to avoid litigation and keep cases out of tribunals; better legal training for solicitors, and embed this in GPs/housing/homelessness/services, and food banks; improve general public legal education at a local level; and more cross-sector collaboration to build on expertise and knowledge and facilitate referrals to legal advisers. Read the report www.wbg.org.uk
I attended a very important event organised by One Million Lives, R;ipple, and Make A Difference Media, held during Suicide Prevention Week. One Million Lives is a free mental health check to help you understand how you are currently coping and provide suggestions for building resilience. Checking is important even if you feel well because the sooner you check the earlier you can make changes to stay well. Alice Henry lost her brother Josh in November 2020 to suicide. Josh had been searching for suicide techniques on the internet. Alice set up R;ipple which is a free digital resource for parents, schools, and charities that discreetly intercepts harmful internet searches and signposts to 24/7 free mental health support. Make A Difference Media provides a global learning space for employers looking to embed preventive strategies that will have a sustainable impact on workplace wellbeing, culture, and environment. We learned how vital language matters to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes about suicide. For example: we must not say commit or committing suicide, because this implies it’s a sin or a crime, rather we should say died by suicide or lost their life to suicide. We must not say you’re not going to do anything silly are you, because you want to show you are not dismissing or making fun of how they are feeling, rather we should say have you been thinking of killing yourself. We must not say successful or unsuccessful suicide, because this implies that suicide is an achievement or something positive, rather we should say lived through a suicide attempt.
I was privileged to be granted a Westminster Hall Debate about Sepsis by Mr Speaker on 13th September which is World Sepsis Day. I began my speech with a tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan, who tragically died in April 2021. I was extremely surprised and honoured to be asked by Dame Cheryl to take over from her as chair of the Sepsis APPG when she stood down in March 2021. It was a shock to me and most parliamentarians when Dame Cheryl died only a month after I took over as chair. Why did Dame Cheryl choose me? It could be that when I became a member of the APPG in 2017, Dame Cheryl and I had a cup of tea because she wanted to listen to my Sepsis story. I am one of the very fortunate people who contracted Sepsis (in August 2013), and survived. I owe my life to my friend Jen Smith who kept taking me back to the NHS when I didn’t improve after many weeks of not being diagnosed with Sepsis, and the consultant surgeon at the Heath Hospital, Dr John Jones, who correctly identified Sepsis and operated immediately to save my life. I have done my very best to chair the APPG but I have had enormous help from Sarah Hamilton-Fairly and Dr Ron Daniels of the UK Sepsis Trust. Sepsis is a global health concern, and it occurs when the body’s responses to infection causes injury to its tissues and organs. It is not known why some people develop Sepsis in response to infections, whereas others do not. My source of Sepsis remains a mystery. Sepsis is often referred to as the “silent killer” because of its ability to strike swiftly and unexpectedly. In the UK 245,000 cases are reported every year, leading to over 48,000 deaths, and the leading cause of avoidable deaths – more than breast, bowel, and prostate cancer combined. Around 40% of people who develop Sepsis are estimated to suffer physical, cognitive and/or psychological after-effects. Most recover after a few weeks but others develop Post Sepsis Syndrome. One of the biggest challenges is early diagnosis because Sepsis can mimic other common illnesses, with similar symptoms, such as fever, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion, and extreme pain. I suffered with most of these symptoms plus a swollen face, so I was diagnosed with toothache and mouth abscesses. The UK Sepsis Trust has worked tirelessly to educate health care providers and the public to improve early detection. Their “Sepsis Six” care and treatment pathway has been implemented in 96% of hospitals across the UK and in 37 other countries to ensure rapid and effective treatment. But there is confusion amongst clinicians because the Sepsis NICE Guideline NG 51 has not been updated since 2016, despite being scheduled for updated publication in June 2023, and which now conflicts with the position statement from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. I asked the UK Government Under Secretary of State for Heath and Social Care , Maria Caulfield MP, who was responding to my debate, to tell the House: the publication date for the updated NG 51; the model and implementation date for Martha’s Rule, which would give families a right to a second diagnosis, advocated by Martha’s grieving parents because Martha tragically died from Sepsis; if her UK Government would replicate the 10 million Swiss Francs (£9 million) of state funding announced by the Swiss Government for implementing Sepsis improvement over a 5 year period; and would she meet with me, Dr Ron Daniels, and Sarah Hamilton-Fairly to discuss setting up a National Sepsis Register, because unlike data for heart attacks, strokes and cancer, Sepsis data is imprecise, and relies on coded administrative data, rather than granular, clinical, data of patient level registries. The Under Secretary said that The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was meeting Martha’s family later that day, and she will update members on the outcome and how Martha’s Rule will be implemented; since 2017 the National Institute of Health and Social Care has funded 14 Sepsis research projects with a combined value of £27 million but stressed that further applications would be welcomed; and that she will meet me and anyone I want to bring with me. Before being elected to Parliament in 2015, the Under Secretary was an NHS nurse for twenty years, specialising in cancer research, and I am optimistic that she really understands the issues surrounding Sepsis. On World Sepsis Day we remember those who have lost their lives, and those whose lives have been affected by Sepsis.
I attended the APPG for Drugs, Alcohol and Justice to discuss the role of the voluntary sector in drug and alcohol treatment and recovery. The meeting was so well attended that we need to find a bigger room in Parliament to hold future meetings. We heard from guest speakers: Jess Mullen, CEO, Collective Voice; Dr Roya Vaziri, Medical Director, Humankind; and Michelle Foster, Founder and CEO, The Basement Recovery Project. All speakers described the treatment and recovery projects they have been successfully running, and the parliamentarians and stakeholders had the opportunity to make comments or question the speakers.