As ever this week has brought a mixture of local, national and international issues.
On the international side, the Prime Minster came to the House of Commons to debrief MPs about the G7 meeting which happened in Japan. The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, the USA, Japan and the UK were joined by Ukraine’s President Zelensky. Much of the meeting focused on the need to keep supporting Ukraine, as it remains clear that if Russia “wins” then other aggressors in other parts of the world will feel empowered to also invade neighbours.
However, the meeting also united the G7 members on other issues such as tackling global migration and international fraud as well as supporting each other in trade. I co-chair an InterParliamentary Network on Education and was pleased that the G7 also reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring children across the world get access to quality education.
As chair of the All Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan I hosted a meeting focusing on South Sudan, one of the most troubled countries in the world racked by conflict and climate change driven floods. In February, the Pope, the Archbishop and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland visited the country together in a plea for an enduring peace. It was very moving to hear that, despite the civil war raging in nearby Sudan, since the ecumenical visit there has been far less escalation of violence in South Sudan. The UK has an important role in supporting work to move towards democracy and stability, otherwise more conflict and more migration will occur.
I joined MPs in the Commons chamber for a debate on retained EU law. The Government has now clarified which EU laws will be removed from the UK statute book by the end of this year. Having spent many years representing East of England residents in the European Parliament, I am aware that much EU law covers important topics, such as food safety, consumer protection, environmental and business. However, due to the “one size fits all” approach often laws were not well tailored to UK needs. Therefore, I support the Government’s approach to remove or replace laws as needed.
Some environmental lobby groups are concerned about removing some elements of environmental law. The Government has been very clear that it will not water down protections for the environment. During the debate I was able to speak about the work that is going on with developers in Chelmsford to ensure that biodiversity and nature is enhanced when new homes are built. In Chelmsford, I and a local ornithologist have worked with developers to support species such as the barn owl, nightingale and water vole. This is happening because the Government has introduced a “net gain” rule for biodiversity on new developments, a much higher protection than under current EU rules.
The Online Safety Bill is being debated in the House of Lords. Alongside four other colleagues, I “stood at the bar” of the Lords chamber when they were discussing amendments to strengthen protections for children from watching on-line porn. This is a way for MPs to signal to members of the Lords that they care deeply about an issue. It is very clear that increasingly violent pornography is being shared with very young children. I believe that all action must be taken to prevent this.
In Chelmsford, I met with the head of our mental health provider, EPUT. We are awaiting a decision from the Health Secretary on whether the inquiry into historic deaths at mental health inpatient wards will move to a statutory inquiry. I was very pleased to hear that the new Mental Health Urgent Care Unit in Basildon has been very successful. In the past, patients in mental health crisis would be taken to A&E at Broomfield of one of the other Mid Essex hospital. They often waited for hours, did not get specialist treatment and were discharged without a proper care plan. Now patients are seen quickly, by a specialist and over 90% are discharged with a care plane.
I joined year 5 and 6 pupils who were doing a “Bikeability” course to help them to learn how to cycle safely on the roads. This is fulfilling a manifesto commitment to offer these courses to every child. I was extremely impressed by the tutors and the children. It was great to also chat to parents and children who were enjoying the annual school picnic.
I met with the Essex Police and voluntary sector specialists in tackling Domestic Abuse and Domestic Violence. Victims are now supported by independent domestic violence advisors and the police have been trying out new methods to identify and tackle perpetrators. As a result, domestic abuse has started to drop across Essex.
A highlight of the week was taking time to chat with Naomi, the landlady of The Endeavour Pub. Naomi took on the business a year and a half ago and the pub has just been awarded “Essex Pub of the Year” by the Campaign for Real Ale. I was enormously taken by Naomi’s care for her customers. Making sure they all have a warm and friendly welcome, that prices are kept affordable and that the drink and food is of high quality. Well done Naomi and team!