I was pleased to be able to lead a debate in Westminster Hall this week on the proposed Turing Scheme that is intended to replace Erasmus. As one of the first beneficiaries of the Erasmus programme, this issue is close to my heart. I spent a year in Italy, where I not only improved my Italian, but made lifelong friends. I played rugby at Benetton Treviso and expanded my understanding of different cultures, not just European ones. As an undergraduate at Exeter University, the opportunity to study at Ca’ Foscari at the University of Venice was a huge opportunity for a comprehensive schoolgirl from Llanelli.
Over the past 34 years, Erasmus has given this amazing opportunity to more than 250,000 students from the UK, not including those who have benefited from work placements through Erasmus+. Although it is a predominantly European Union scheme, placements are offered in 190 countries worldwide, whereas Turing is an exclusively outward focussed. The loss of income from incoming students has been estimated by Universities UK to be £243 million per annum. How can we retain the links that have been built up and nurtured over many years when we go it alone? All students on Erasmus receive funding to study and work abroad – Turing will not provide the reciprocal funding for foreign students to come to the UK to study. These students are vital for the vividity, creativity, and scope of our universities’ understanding and teaching, as well as for teaching our young people about the wider world and the differences yet similarities that bind us all together. Our withdrawal from Erasmus will, I fear, weaken our universities’ international presence, will lessen our standing in the international sphere, and will leave our students all the poorer for not having the opportunities of Erasmus.
Thankfully, the Labour run Welsh Government established a new learning scheme in Wales to replace the loss of Erasmus. This scheme will enable learners and staff, both from Wales and those who come to study or work in Wales, to continue to benefit from international exchanges in a similar way to the opportunities that flowed from Erasmus+, not just in Europe but further afield.
It was fantastic to be able to speak during a Council of Europe debate on discrimination against people dealing with chronic and long-term illnesses. I took the opportunity to discuss the medication available to children with intractable epilepsy in the UK: that which is prescribed leaves the children with a far reduced quality of life while medical cannabis, despite numerous meetings with Ministers and senior NHS leaders, remains incredibly difficult to get hold of. The discrimination faced by these children for whom conventional anti-epilepsy drugs do not work is unbearable. Unbearable because they do not have the benefit of time, and the priority of medical cannabis under prescription was pushed to the end of the queue because of Brexit and now because of Covid. They are running out of funds and medicine now, but Brexit has placed a barrier between imports from the Netherlands and these children, which is only resolved until the 1st July and until the UK Prime Minister resolves the issue of the supply and access to prescriptions. These children and others are being denied the right to flourish and live their best life. These families are emotionally and financially broken and their children are at risk of being without their life-transforming medicine within weeks. We are awaiting a response to a letter signed by over 100 MPs from the Prime Minister. But the lack of urgency and compassion from this UK Tory Government is an absolute disgrace.
DVLA workers are set to strike again from the 4-7 May in protest at the lack of safety measures in place at their offices. The agency is still insisting that more than 2000 work from their offices in Swansea, despite Covid regulations and despite serious concerns from their staff. The DVLA is a UK Government agency; it is appalling that they have not done more to ensure the regulations are followed and that UK Government employees are protected. Why should private companies struggle through home working and managing their businesses without in-person contact if the UK Government do not? This is an awful case of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do and shows the complete lack of integrity and leadership by this UK Tory Government.
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 email@example.com or calling 01792 899025. My office is not open, 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 increase, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!