Last week the usual Parliament February recess was cancelled due to the large amount of Brexit related legislation that needs to be scrutinised and voted on. I had been due to join a cross party group of MPs on a trip to China and Hong Kong, but instead was in the House of Commons where I have been working on a number of local and national issues.
Readers may remember that last year I led a group of 41 Conservative MPs to “Give up Plastic for Lent”. This was an opportunity to think about our own personal environmental footprint and consider what actions government could take. Since then a number of measures have been introduced including bans on microbeads, plastic straws and stirrers as well as the plans for a Deposit Return Scheme for plastic bottles and leading international work to protect the most precious oceans. Last week the Environment Secretary and the Chancellor set out further plans. This will involve packaging producers having to pay the full cost of dealing with their waste and a standard set of recycling requirements, making recycling easier. To incentivise the use of recycled plastic, the government is also consulting on plans to introduce a tax on plastic packaging which does not meet a minimum threshold of recycled content. This Lent I will again be setting myself an environmental challenge – watch this space for more!
The government has also announced further Action on Unauthorised Encampments. These have been a serious issue in parts of Chelmsford and can cause significant distress. The new plans include extending police powers to tackle trespassers and proposals for a new criminal offence for trespass. There is to be additional support for local authority enforcement activities, including powers to deal with unauthorised encampments and measures to address issues around clean-up costs which occur following an unauthorised encampment.
In Chelmsford I have been working alongside Essex County Councillor John Spence and other local councillors for some time in a campaign to improve bus services. This follows a period of appalling delays and cancellations. First Bus Essex have now announced a series of improvement that will start on April 28. These include new weekday evening services to Chelmer Village, an additional bus to cover the Galleywood, Great Baddow, Springfield to Beaulieu routes and additional stopping services to the Vineyards shops. It is vital that the bus services are reliable, and I hope that First Bus Essex delivers on its promise to improve performance.
MPs have also been debating new powers to address serious violence, including new Knife Crime Protection Orders and “Stop and Search”. In Chelmsford, our police have been working hard to target knife and drug-related crime. They use stop and search as a vital part of their toolkit. In the last three months of last year, Chelmsford police undertook about 500 stop and searches—compared with only 80 the year before. There have been a number of arrests of individuals for drugs related offences. The police have been assisted by members of the public passing on information and intelligence. Thank you very much to everyone involved.
Two new laws have also been passed. The Tenant Fees Act gives tenants more protection against rogue landlords. It bans letting fees paid by tenants in the private rented sector and caps tenancy deposits in England. The second law is against Upskirting which typically involves offenders taking a picture under a person’s clothing without them knowing. Perpetrators will face two years in prison and being placed on the sex offenders register.