The Welsh Day Debate, held on or around St. David's Day, is a chance for Welsh MPs to raise issues important to our constituencies on the floor of the House of Commons. The debate is often far removed from the noise and bluster of Prime Ministers Questions, which increasingly frustrates me as much as I think it does my constituents.
If the Prime Minister would just occasionally answer a question, it might help, but generally I am a big supporter of the Speaker's recent attempts to bring some civility to proceedings. However, I would advise anyone turned off by PMQs to watch a Committee meeting or another debate, as MPs of all sides really can work together and debate things rationally and sensibly.
This year, I chose to raise the issue of 'legal highs', something that concerns me greatly, which I have raised before in this column, and which The Argus has led the way on exposing locally.
Legal highs are substances which are often sold in so-called 'head shops', such as the one that was recently closed in Pontnewydd, only for one to unfortunately re-appear in Pontypool. Whilst what they sell is legal, often because it is packaged as 'not fit for human consumption', the substances certainly shouldn't be considered safe. Police officers and healthcare professionals have told me some real horror stories about the effects of this rubbish - like people temporarily blinded, violently unwell or incapacitated. And like their illegal counterparts, as well as the health implications, 'legal highs' threaten to do a lot of social damage to our communities, especially because the sellers often seem to target younger people, via social media and cartoon-style advertising.
I raised the issue again in Parliament because these substances and the people that peddle them just won't seem to go away from our communities in Gwent. The response I got from other MPs of all parties suggests this isn't something isolated to my constituency - Jessica Morden, the MP for Newport East, shared her concerns in the debate, and several MPs approached me afterwards to tell me about problems in the towns and cities they represent.
The response locally has been encouraging too. Our AM Lynne Neagle continues to take the issue on in the Assembly. The Police, Torfaen Council and other agencies are working together to do what they can. And Cwmbran Community Council has taken action too, voicing their concerns and calling for action.
But action is what is needed, for without further action from Government, there is a limit to what can be done to tackle this scourge on our streets. Local communities need more power to be able to close 'head shops'. We must challenge any notion that 'legal' equals 'safe', and highlight how awful the effect of these substances can be. And we need to look at international examples in countries like New Zealand, where the emphasis is placed more on sellers to prove that what they sell is safe. I'll now be putting forward a Commons motion on this issue, looking for cross-party support to take the issue further.