Pressure from activists and Labour MPs has forced the Government into another u-turn. In the face of massive public support for a full ban on the ivory trade the Government has said it will launch a consultation on banning the ivory trade in antiques in the UK. It has repeatedly promised this before, but caved into to pressure from the antiques lobby before the June election and removed the pledge from its manifesto.
This zombie Government has once again been forced into a u-turn by Labour backed by the support of the public. As with the contaminated blood scandal inquiry, trying to deal with the housing shortage and tackling tuition fees, the Tories are trying to play catch up with Labour’s manifesto which pledged a total ban on the ivory trade.
An ivory trade ban has huge public support, with 95% of respondents polled in a YouGov survey (April 2017) saying they had no interest in buying antique ivory. This is in response the hundreds of thousands of elephants that are poached for their ivory, over 144,000 elephants were killed between 2009 and 2016. This is an ongoing massacre of the largest land mammal in the world. Yet, the poachers need a method of sale, this is often on the black market but the UKs legal market in antique ivory is another option. The antiques market in the UK is riddled with ivory that has been artificially aged to look antique and proper testing is prohibitively expensive, making it exceedingly difficult to reveal fraud. The existence of the legal market in antiques also provides cover to the black market as traders can discourage further investigation by claiming that they only deal in legal antique ivory. We can only eliminated the black market in ivory by removing this cover.
This past weekend marked the fourth annual Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, with people in over 100 cities across the world uniting in the call to save these endangered iconic species and to ban all trade in their tusks and horns. Unless we put a stop to such trade across the globe, the poaching of these animals will continue until they disappear altogether from the wild. I will, together with Labour colleagues and activists, keep up the pressure to ensure the Government follows up on this consultation with clear and comprehensive legislation. I have signed a joint letter to the Prime Minister to ask that she move to ban the domestic trade in ivory in the United Kingdom.
A ban would not be directed at pre-existing pieces in museums and family heirlooms of personal value, but at ending the legal commercial trade in ivory in the UK. The UK is the largest exporter of legal ivory in the world, servicing large markets in China and Hong Kong and providing a back door route to those markets now they have committed to closing their domestic ivory markets.
I hope that together we will be able to make this change a reality.
On 21st July, the Tory Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP, slipped out a written statement in parliament on the last day before the summer break cancelling electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and Swansea. The government have tried to present this as ‘good’ news on the basis there will be no disruption for passengers and residents living near the line as a result of electrification works.
The continued neglect of rail transport infrastructure in Wales by the UK government and this disgraceful broken promise on electrification is in stark contrast to the money that they are happy to pump into London and the South East, never mind their £1 billion bung to the DUP to prop up their minority government.
Wales has 11% of the UK’s total railway lines but we get only 1.5% of UK Government investment in the railways. This recent announcement forms part of a series of failures to provide adequate funding for transport in Wales. The failure to provide funding for basic maintenance and upgrades, such as safety and highway improvements connected to electrification, has allowed our railways to fall behind other UK regions. Most recently, the government’s failure to confirm vital funding for the new Wales and Border franchise agreement, which has cast doubt upon the future of the new South Wales Metro project, is very concerning. The UK government’s unwillingness to work constructively with the Welsh Government to fill the £1 billion funding gap is counterproductive and is letting rail passengers across South Wales down.
All 22 South Wales Labour MPs wrote to the Transport Secretary and the Welsh Secretary urging the government to reconsider the decision to renege on electrification to Swansea, which would include the funding of safety improvements, highway upgrades, and commit £1 billion to secure a sustainable new Wales and Border franchise agreement. In the light of the Government's recent commitment to the £30 billion Crossrail 2 project it is difficult to justify their decision to end investment in rail infrastructure across South Wales. Similarly, if the HS2 rail project goes ahead as planned in England, Wales is owed £2 billion as a Barnett consequential, which would go a long way in helping to deliver the infrastructure improvements required that includes the redevelopment of Cardiff Central railway station.
I have written to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, along with 156 parliamentarians led by my Labour colleague Rushanara Ali MP, calling for government action to help end the appalling violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The letter is below.
Taking the fight to the Government in a Debate on Wales and the Queen’s Speech
Alongside Labour MPs from across Wales, I led a debate on the impact of the UK government’s policies on Wales.
In the face of a poor turn out from Government MPs we covered topics including the impact of Brexit on women in Wales, concerns about future funding for Wales and whether large-scale infrastructure projects like rail electrification, tidal lagoons and linked-up travel in north Wales will get the go ahead with government funding.
I was pleased to lead this debate standing up for Wales and to expose the Tory Government's total lack of consideration for Wales in the Queen’s speech. I highlighted the struggles my constituents were having due to the Governments lack of clarity on immigration, the importance of the EU to Welsh women and the ways the Government was failing to deliver for Wales, which the Queen's Speech did little to alleviate.
A wide range of issues were debated by my Labour colleagues and I, many of which weren’t in the Queen’s speech but should have been. This is a clear indictment of the government’s attitude to Wales.
The Minister was unable to give any reassurance that the repeal bill won’t lead to a ‘power grab’ or loss of rights and protections under existing EU law disadvantaging the people of Wales.
People in Wales are right not to trust this Tory government to look after their interests, and it's Labour MPs who will continue to challenge this desperate government standing up for what matters to people here in Wales. Wales resoundingly rejected the Tory manifesto and this Tory Government at the last General Election, their subsequent bung of at least £1 billion to the DUP and their ignoring of Welsh claims for further funding shows that the Tories have not learned their lesson.
You can find the full video of my speech below;
Last week I joined a Parliamentary reception hosted by the #WeAreInternational campaign, which is supported by hundreds of businesses, universities and organisations to highlight the economic, social and cultural benefits that international students bring to UK towns and cities.
Over 5700 international students study at Cardiff University, and many thousands more at the University of South Wales and Cardiff Met, which also have campuses in my constituency of Cardiff Central.
At the event we heard from leading business organisations about the benefits international students bring to the UK's economy and knowledge base.
This morning I raised the case of Bashir Naderi again in Parliament.
Bashir came to the UK as a child refugee over 10 years ago and has made his life in Cardiff, attending school and college here.
I first met Bashir when his family came to me for help in November 2016. The Home Office were attempting to forcibly remove him from the UK, and have tried to do the same this year.
Bashir is a Cardiffian. He's been educated here and is ready to use his skills to make a contribution to the city he loves.
Along with Bashir and his family I presented a 14,000 signature petition to the Home Secretary. I have also made representations on his behalf directly to the Home Office and in the House of Commons but I have, as yet, had no response from the Home Secretary.
That's why I pressed the government today on their policy on child refugees. I believe it is inhumane and unfair and I want to see it changed.
I asked in Business Questions in the House of Commons for a debate on the government's current policy so that MPs can debate the issue and push for changes.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire, I raised the issue of legal aid availability in Parliament with the Government's Solicitor General. The Government has announced that it will appoint a Public Independent Advocate to support the victims and families of deceased victims after disasters. We don't yet know whether the Advocate will simply be a referral point for advice, or whether the Advocate will legally represent victims and victims' families and that this representation will be provided through legal aid. I also wanted to know whether the many people who live in high rise buildings that don't comply with building regulations and fire safety regulations and who want to bring legal action against landlords, would be granted legal aid to do so.
“Thank you Mr Speaker, can the Solicitor General confirm that if families that live in highrise,
for example but obviously have thankfully not suffered the same disaster that Grenfell has,
wish to bring any legal action on health and safety grounds that they will be entitled to legal aid?”
You can find the Solicitor General's reply in the video below;
Amnesty International found that in the first year after the introduction of the legal aid cuts that the number of cases where assistance had been granted had fallen 46%. This has led to a surge of cases where applicants are representing themselves, or going into debt to afford legal representation. As it stands Legal Aid can only be applied for in cases where a landlord has allowed a rented property to fall into a state of “disrepair”, so it would not have covered a decision to install unsafe material or not provide sprinkler systems for example.
Today I got my chance to ask the Prime Minister a question in the House of Commons. I asked her about what plans her Government had to deal with problem gambling and the Fixed Odds Betting Machines that are now in all of our bookies.
"I know the Prime Minister is well aware of the misery and suffering caused by reckless gambling.
Following her own recent experience of reckless gambling and the turmoil this had led to for her friends and colleagues,
will she now commit to legislating against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, the cause of so much hardship in our communities?
For the Prime Minister's answer, see below;
British gamblers lost a total of £13.8 billion last year, £1.8 billion of this was lost on B2 betting machines, these Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are essentially casino machines that are calculated to pay out in certain ratios. The betting shops set these ratios. This means you are guarenteed to lose out if you use these machines regularly.
The amount lost betting on these machines rose by £57 million last year. Overall the amount lost on these machines has increased 73% since 2009, despite their number only increasing 9%.
An analysis of the location of these FOBTs found that they are clustered in areas of high deprivation. It also found that problem gamblers and the unemployed were the most likely to bet the maximum stake of £100. Study of playing patterns also found that individual players were losing up to £13,777, over half the average UK wage, in just 10 months of gambling.
Following the Queen’s Speech earlier this week, I am supporting the call for the UK to remain a member of the customs union. I have signed a parliamentary motion (Early Day Motion) to that effect. There will be a huge number of issues arising out of the decision to leave the EU, but the issues of the single market and the customs union, along with the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK to remain here, are in my view the most critical.
Almost two-thirds of Welsh goods are exported to the European Union free of any tariffs. So if tariffs (charges) are applied to those goods we export when we leave the EU, the impact on Welsh business will be devastating. This problem is even more acute in Cardiff. Of all the cities in the United Kingdom, Cardiff is the fifth most reliant on EU exports, with 61% of everything we sell going to the European Union.
For all the hot air and reassuring noises we hear from the Tory Government on life post Brexit, those statistics clearly demonstrate that any disruption to our trading links with the EU could put jobs in Cardiff Central at risk.
Being outside the Customs Union would mean that there would have to customs checks for all freight of a certain size entering Welsh ports, and that Welsh goods going to Europe would be subject to significantly greater checks and documentation requirements to be allowed through to Europe. All this makes our businesses and the goods we sell less competitive and less attractive to buyers.
Early Day Motions represent a chance for backbench MPs from any party to support statements that might not make it to the floor of the House of Commons to be formally debated. Whilst the Government does not have to formally respond to them, they can put pressure on the Government. For instance, over 200 MPs signed the Early Day Motion in the last Parliament condemning the proposed state visit to the UK by Donald Trump. There was no mention of the visit in this week’s Queen’s Speech.
You can read the full Motion below;
This House notes the benefits of UK membership of the European Union (EU) Customs Union which removes costly and time-consuming customs processes and red tape for trade with other EU member states, allows the operation of a soft Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border that would be in jeopardy were the UK to leave, and allows the UK to fully benefit from 56 existing trade agreements signed with external countries which by leaving could result in less preferential terms under any other bilateral trade re-negotiations; and further notes that the terms of UK membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are currently governed by its membership of the EU Customs Union, and that by leaving in order to become an independent member of the WTO the UK’s existing WTO commitments would need to be renegotiated; and calls on the Government to negotiate for the UK to remain a member of the EU Customs Union following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
If we needed anything to confirm that Theresa May is in Government but not in power, this Queen’s Speech was it.
A thin, measly script that wouldn’t be fit for one year of parliamentary business never mind the two it will cover. Labour voters can be proud that through their votes they have stripped the Tory manifesto to its bare bones eliminating the majority of its flagship pledges; the possible repeal of the fox hunting ban; scrapping the triple lock and winter fuel allowance for pensioners; the dementia tax; grammar schools in England; scrapping school meals and a possible change of emphasis on the approach to Brexit negotiations. We’ll no longer be having the “Great Repeal Bill” instead, the “Repeal Bill.” Maybe Theresa May has finally realised leaving the EU isn't such a "great" idea after all?
So what are we left with? Having already failed to secure the deal they want with the DUP this zombie Government looks anything but strong and stable. Is legislating against allegedly bogus whiplash claims to boost insurance company profits above the already eye watering £8 billion a year really the government's priority?
Public sector pay will remain frozen whilst our public services and the loyal workforce that keeps them going will be asked to do even more for less. UK growth is at the bottom of the G7 tables, our productivity levels remain stubbornly low and the Government is still refusing to tell us where it wants to go as we lurch towards exit from the European Union.
In complete contrast, the Labour Party's manifesto would move quickly to address the deep seated problems in our economy; investing to boost jobs and infrastructure; introducing a national education service and ending tuition fees; bringing in 10,000 extra police officers and working to end the long squeeze on wages and people’s pockets.
It was the top rate tax cuts and the endless slashing of public service budgets that so angered people, and took away May’s majority, but they remain in place. Students will remain burdened with astronomical debt, the cost of using our railways will continue to increase on the back of public subsidy that ends up in the hands of the German, French and Dutch governments because Tories legislated to prevent public owenship of our railways. Far too many of the very real problems that we have will not be addressed by any of the measures brought forward in this Queen’s Speech. The people have spoken, but once again it seems that the Prime Minister has not listened.