Welsh MP who represents UK on the Council of Europe yet to vote or speak in a single plenary session after 21 months
A Welsh Labour MP who represents the UK on the Council of Europe has not voted or spoken in a single plenary session since taking up the role 21 months ago – and last week missed a historic vote to remove Russia.
Newport West MP Ruth Jones was chosen by MPs to be one of 18 UK representatives to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in June 2020, along with Welsh Labour MP for Gower Tonia Antoniazzi.
All eyes were on Strasbourg last week as the human rights body, which is not a European Union institution, voted to end Russia’s 26-year membership.
But neither Jones nor Antoniazzi took part. It means Jones has now failed to take part in all six plenary sessions which have taken place since she became a member.
The only activity listed on her Council of Europe profile is the signature of a written declaration, the equivalent of a statement of opinion in the Senedd or early day motion in the Commons, about Ukraine made by another member.
Jones also tweeted last Tuesday to say she had “attended a virtual meeting of women of the Council of Europe” on the situation in Ukraine.
Nation.Cymru contacted Ruth Jones for a response before this article was published. After the article was initially published, she responded to say that Covid and Westminster businesses made it difficult to take part in the meetings. However, she said that she had been present virtually for two plenary meetings.
Her full response is below.
Atoniazzi’s participation in the plenary sessions of the Council has also been patchy.
The Gower MP took part in 7% of votes at the previous plenary in January.
She took part in three of the four sessions last year, but her participation in votes at each of them ranged between 2% and 50%.
It was left to Swansea West MP Geraint Davies, a substitute member, to represent Wales at the Council’s extraordinary two-day plenary on the invasion of Ukraine.
He said: “Putin’s unprovoked barbaric attack on the Ukraine is an attack on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As such, it is an attack on the very founding principles of the Council of Europe set up after World War II. And so Russia must be ejected and excluded without delay.
“The fact that Ukraine was considering joining the EU and NATO to protect its economy, to protect its security, is not a legitimate pretext for Putin to invade a sovereign democracy led by President Zelenskyy, a Jewish person farcically branded by Putin as a Nazi.
“It is Putin himself who has all the hallmarks of a fascist dictator: oppression at home, aggression abroad.”
MPs who are members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly do not receive extra pay but can claim back travel, accommodation and subsistence expenses. None of the Welsh MPs named have done so.
Nation.Cymru contacted Ruth Jones for comment, and she sent a response after initial publication.
“I was elected to the Council of Europe on the 26th of June 2020. At this time I was a PPS to both the Shadow Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As such, I wasn’t leading on any front line work as a frontbencher,” she said.
“You will be well aware that thanks to the pandemic the UK delegation has not been able to attend the Council of Europe since I was elected to it. Although the option to attend virtually is available, it does mean having to juggle online attendance with actual attendance at debates and sessions in the Commons. Of course, all of this comes in the wake of the views of the constituents of Newport West as their democratically elected representative and my need to vote for them, speak up for them and deliver for them.
“In the Council of Europe, a plenary session is three hours long and as a front bench shadow minister with responsibility for a significant portion of the DEFRA brief, including air quality, waste, recycling, animal welfare and chemicals, I am not able to devote the full three hours to attend a virtual session when not slipped by our Whips. I agree this is not ideal but it speaks to the constant challenge of getting everything done. According to the records held by the Parliamentary PACE secretariat, I have participated in two plenary sessions, on the 22nd of September 2020 and the 17th June 2021.
“I do attend the UK delegation meetings which are held in Westminster and I am fully up to date with the plans for votes and debates. The delegation comprises of MPs and Peers, which their Lordships being the most prolific attenders and speakers at debates due to their different workloads and not being accountable to constituents in the same way a member of the House of Commons is.
“Within the Council of Europe structures, I am a full member of the Equalities Committee and I have joined regular meetings of this committee and voted on motions and reports when necessary. These meetings are shorter and therefore easier to fit in to a busy Parliamentary schedule. I am also an alternate of the Health and Social Care Committee and again I have attended a number of virtual sessions of this group. Another committee I sit on is the subcommittee for the European Social charter and again I have attended this committee albeit virtually.
“I am also involved in a project designed to empower school children as they learn about democracy and this will hopefully culminate in a visit of a group of children to Strasbourg to see the Council of Europe in action. However this project has been delayed, again due to the pandemic and the need to minimise the number of visitors to my local secondary schools. It is hoped that this project will now pick up pace after Easter.
“I took a great interest in the emergency sessions of the Council of Europe last week where the conduct of Russia in Ukraine was discussed and appropriate measures taken to remove Russia from the Council of Europe. I was well aware of the voting as I was following the discussion but I was also required to give several speeches as the shadow Minister for animal welfare at the same time in Parliament so I was not able to vote.
“The final point I would make is that as I have not been able to attend the Council of Europe in person and so I have not claimed any expenses.”
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