In the Senedd
Two issues have dominated business this autumn:
The Senedd was recalled on September 5th to confront the catastrophic possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal. Now Boris Johnson is trying to avoid MPs properly scrutinising his Brexit Bill by proposing a December General Election.
I fully support our Welsh Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford’s commitment to a referendum before a General Election, and to campaign to Remain in the EU as it is the best option for Wales.
In September I spoke about a £3.5m EU grant awarded to Cardiff University’s Electron Microscope Facility for cutting-edge research in catalysis – speeding up chemical reactions to develop cheaper, cleaner and safer ways to manufacture products. This will help make Wales and Cardiff lead in the transition to a more sustainable low- carbon economy. I contrasted by acknowledging the fears of 4 in 5 university Vice Chancellors who are worrying about how to source toilet paper and food for residential students in the event of No Deal.
I remain concerned that the deal presented by the Conservative Government this month would enable the UK Government to tear up Britain’s environmental and employment standards as the price of any free trade agreement with the Trump administration. This dystopian, de-regulated future is the opposite to what is required to combat the climate emergency facing our planet.
At an Extinction Rebellion Conference in the Senedd, we learnt that 10 local authorities including Cardiff have declared a Climate Emergency. The Welsh Government is aiming for Wales to be carbon neutral by 2030. I have asked the Finance Minister to ensure the 2019-2020 Budget plans are shaped by this target.
I have asked Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Climate Change, Environment & Rural Affairs, to:
- Reduce the use of pesticides in light of the loss of biodiversity in latest State of Nature Report (See the report here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/state-of-nature-2019/) The breeding number of swifts in Wales has fallen by 69% since 1994, much higher than the UK as a whole.
- b) Put a tax on crisp wrappers in line with the polluter pays principle.
A debate this month on banning the use of single- use plastics in Wales, where I praised the Cardiff Half Marathon organisers for their efforts to reduce plastic use (See more: http://www.senedd.tv/Meeting/Archive/17c365ea-271a-4864-9c59-06a48cfb1055?startPos=10248&autostart=True) has led to the Government consulting the public on banning plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and in cotton buds, due to become law early next year.
Whilst measures like the installation of a Mobilane green screen at Tredegarville CiW Primary School are welcome, as are the proposed new electric buses to serve Newport Road, but they will be insufficient to combat Cardiff’s filthy air, which is now worse than Birmingham or Manchester.
I have called for a Clean Air Zone in Cardiff as well as integrated active travel routes to all our schools and school exclusion zones for cars around schools at the start and end of the school day.
In September I mapped the safe cycling route from Llanishen High School to Pentwyn with Cllr Caro Wild, through side streets and the Nant Fawr wood. As Cardiff Council’s Cabinet Member for the Environment, Cllr. Wild is now applying to the Welsh Government to make safe the pinch points where main roads have to be crossed.
Stage 2 of the Senedd and Elections Bill was completed on October 10th. It gives 16 and 17 year-olds the vote in both Assembly and local elections as well as foreign nationals resident in Wales.
On Prisoners’ Voting Rights, I support prisoners serving less than 4 years to get the vote in Assembly and local government elections. Although there is a 2/3 majority in the Senedd supporting this, it is unlikely to be implemented in time for the 2021 Assembly election.
In a debate on GCSE and A-Level results I congratulated Llanishen, Bro Edern, St Teilo’s and Cardiff High schools for the high number of pupils who got 5 A’s to C’s. I singled out St Teilo’s for their outstanding work eliminating the gap in attainment between FSM pupils and the rest.
I have urged Welsh Government to make community-focused schools mandatory so that publicly- funded school buildings can be used by the community outside of school hours.
Prompted by the 500% increase in 1st year students seeking help with their mental health over the last ten years, I organised the National Assembly for Wales Student Mental Health Pledge. This has been signed by 59/60 AMs. I made a statement about it to coincide with World Mental Health Day (See: http://www.senedd.tv/Meeting/Archive/c0093ae6-55c7-4232-bd43-09ac9439df08?startPos=7371&autostart=True).
I have complained about constituents who need to have their ears syringed being referred by GPs to private practices who charge up to £95. I have written to Cardiff & the Vale Health Board to ask how this could happen when it is supposed to be provided by the NHS.
I have asked Ken Skates why the changes to the Over- 60s bus passes was not better organised. If you know people having difficulty getting their bus pass replaced, please ask them to contact me.
I also asked the Transport Minister what incentives can be put in place to encourage people to leave their cars at home when travelling to work and school and use the bus instead.
In a debate on the Blue Badge scheme I spoke about the need to guard against their fraudulent use. 6.8% of the population in Wales are blue badge holders compared to 5.3% in N. Ireland, 4.5% in Scotland and 3.8% in England. In Cardiff 15 fraudulent badges were seized in a fortnight.
I asked the Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport how the Government plans to measure the success of the more targeted free swimming offer for under- 16s and Over- 60s. Neither Sports Wales nor the Government appear to have a strategy to evaluate take up of the revised scheme.
Combatting Hate Crime
I highlighted the work done by Bob Woods (DOD including at St Teilo’s School to tackle prejudice against the LGBT community and the meeting we organised together last year in the Senedd with Just a Ball Game? supported by Neville Southall and Gareth Thomas.
The Climate Change Environment and Rural Affairs Committee has completed the Stage One scrutiny of a Bill to abolish the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. We have established there are no grounds for abolition on animal welfare grounds; the Government is minded to proceed on ethical grounds following the lead of the Scottish and UK parliaments.
The Committee is looking at the draft National Development Framework (See: http://www.assembly.wales/Research%20Documents/19-064%20-%20NDF/19-064-Eng-Web.pdf) which will underpin the area plans of local authorities in the future. This is how we can ban mushrooming student flats and HMOs as well as housing developments in places where there are no proper public transport links.
The Public Accounts Committee has been scrutinising the performance of the Welsh Government and the Assembly Commission against the expenditure reported in their last financial accounts. Other public bodies like Natural Resources Wales will be getting the same treatment.
The Food Cross Party Group hosted a discussion with Patrick Holden OBE, a mid-Wales farmer and prominent campaigner for cleaning up the food system, about the measures needed to deliver a climate change free food plan. A top priority is using public procurement of local food for schools and hospitals.
Black History Month in the Senedd
Thanks to Amarjite Singh for organising the Black History Month in the Senedd sponsored by the Wales TUC and the CWU. Adamsdown and Mount Stuart primary schools told us who their black heroes were. Ex- Sunderland and Wales footballer Shaun Wharton represented Show Racism the Red Card. Shavannah Taj spoke on behalf of the Wales TUC.
Holocaust Survivor at Senedd
AMs and staff had the opportunity to listen to Henri Schachter’s remarkable story of evading the Nazis in Poland, Germany and Holland before arriving in Britain in 1940. Lest we forget.
Palestinian Ambassador at Senedd
Husam Zomlot, the new Palestinian ambassador, met Ministers, the Presiding Officer and AMs from the 3 main parties. He challenged European governments, who established the 1948 settlement following the 2WW Holocaust, to make the international agreement for two states within one nation stick.
Young people regularly visit the Senedd. Most recently Media students from USW and Cardiff Labour Students.
In the Constituency
I met Connor Clarke and Victor Ciunca, Cardiff delegates to the UK Youth Parliament. They will take forward the Cardiff priorities: Protecting the Environment, Ending Knife Crime, Mental Health and Welcoming Refugees to the Youth Parliament meeting in the House of Commons on Nov 7th/8th.
Tackling Holiday Hunger
Over the summer holidays I visited the four Food and Fun programmes operating from Adamsdown, Bryn Celyn, Springwood and St Teilo’s schools. They would not be possible without such truly dedicated staff.
I visited the KICKS after school programme run by the Cardiff City Foundation on Wednesday evenings in Cemetery Park (and at St Teilo’s). Lovely to see how skilfully the coaches encourage children to join in.
Thanks to all who supported the Macmillan Cancer Coffee Morning on Sept 27th The 3rd annual event in Cyncoed raised £208.26 including a £100 donation by Waterloo Tea.
Thanks also to Nicole Williams who organised a fund-raiser at the Powerhouse.
Congratulations to Gwyneth Georgatos of Brynheulog who won a prize for the best garden. St David’s CiW School won the best children’s display.
There was a special prize for the Pentwyn litter pickers.
New Relationships and Sexuality curriculum
I attended a discussion Education Minister Kirsty Williams held with people of all faiths and none at Dar ul Isra mosque. I discussed this further at a dinner at City Hall organised by the Muslim Council of Wales. The First Minister emphasised the need to combat the hate messages promoted by right wing extremists which challenge our Welsh values of respect and friendship.
Neil Kinnock addressed a packed meeting of Cardiff Labour Students. It was a privilege to hear his incisive analysis of the current political situation.
Type 2 Diabetes
We spend 10% of the NHS budget on treating people with diabetes so Prof. Sue Wong’s lecture at the Health Hospital was an important contribution to what we can all do to prevent it and to reverse it once diagnosed. Part of a series of public health lectures organised by Prof. Meena Upadhyaya.
Save Orb Steel
I took part in the Newport March for Orb. The UK Government is ignoring the strategic importance of Orb’s specialist electrical steel, vital for the future production of electrical vehicles.
Success in Film and TV
I attended the Cardiff preview of the Dark Materials starting on the BBC on November 3rd. It will embed Wales’ reputation as a centre of high quality film and TV production.