Parliament returned this week as MPs were recalled to London after recess. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the UK Government took the decision to end hybrid proceedings and require MPs to be in the Chamber and to vote in person. He seemed to be under the impression that if we weren’t in the building, we weren’t working. Now, I don’t know about Jacob, but, like so many of you, I myself have regularly spent 12-hour working days at my kitchen table over the past couple of weeks - speaking in hybrid Parliamentary debates, working on constituency casework, and attending meetings via zoom. Forcing MPs to return effectively disenfranchises the constituents of those who are shielding or have caring responsibilities at home, as they are unable to attend. It also puts at risk the health of the thousands of people who work on the Parliamentary Estate. We should be setting the example on how to protect employees. Instead, we risked giving license to bad employers to put their employees at risk. I am deeply disappointed with the Government's reckless decision.
At the start of the Parliamentary week I had the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, on the issue of access to medicinal cannabis for children. I am furious that despite his promises, families across the country are still denied this access. Teagan Appleby - who many of you will have heard me mention before - has been in intensive care twice in the last 10 weeks because her family have been unable to pay for the medical cannabis that they need to keep her alive. Families of epileptic children have seen their health and welfare put on the backburner first by Brexit, then a general election, and now the coronavirus. The sums of money we are talking about that would allow them to get a prescription on the NHS (as they are now legally allowed to do) are tantamount to what the Secretary of State’s Department spends on paper clips. He needs to right this wrong now and ensure that these children are given access to the medication that can help them so much.
I also spoke during Welsh Questions when I asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he could explain to the people of Wales why he is standing by while the UK Tory Government short-changes our incredible, hard-working carers by taxing the one-off thank you payment from the Welsh Government. The hypocrisy of the Welsh Tories who are going out to clap on their doorsteps and then allowing the UK Government to take away from an already underpaid and undervalued group of people is appalling. Our carers have continued to carry out their duties at great personal sacrifice to care for our vulnerable and often elderly loved ones and the Welsh Government are rightly acknowledging this. Our carers deserve better.
As you will have seen, this week the Welsh Government announced its plans for schools to return. They propose that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week to end on 27 July. In the next academic year, beginning in September, the autumn half-term break will be extended to two weeks. In each school, year groups will be split into different cohorts, with staggered starts, lessons, and breaks to try to limit the number of pupils inside school buildings in small spaces at any one time. Smaller classes will support social distancing as well as providing dedicated time with teachers and classmates. Further education colleges are also intended to reopen for face-to-face learning with appropriate measures from 15 June. The Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools and further education institutions next week with advice on managing facilities and logistical arrangements. It’s important that we bring children back into schools but that we continue to follow scientific guidance and only bring them back when it is safe to do so.
We have all been shocked this week as we watched the appalling scenes from America in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police. These events have shone a light on the racism and hatred experienced by many - including in our own country – but particularly the racism experienced by Black people across the world. This is something we all need to face up to and address.
The Welsh Government has taken steps in Wales to understand why people from BAME communities are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus as new evidence shows that they are four times as likely to die from the illness. A new risk assessment has been launched to help protect BAME key workers in our NHS and social care as they continue to carry out their essential jobs.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01792 899025. My staff and I are working from home, but my email and phone are still being monitored and responded to. You may experience a slight delay in receiving a response from us as the demand has increased, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Stay local, keep well, and remember – keep washing your hands!