Monday 15th November There are four MPs who are Ministers in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as well as the Foreign Secretary. After many months of limited travel due to Covid it is important that we can go overseas to meet leaders in other parts of the world and help to build shared interests, especially on trade, security and development. However, each week, at least one of us needs to stay in London in case MPs call for questions or debates in the House of Commons. This week is my turn to be on “duty”.
An “adjournment” debate is held at the end of each day in the Commons, when other businesses is completed. Today the subject is on the situation in Hong Kong and I need to answer the debate. New laws imposed upon Hong Kong have restricted freedom of the press and prevented many individuals from standing in elections. Over 67,000 Hong Kong residents who were registered as British Nationals Overseas have moved to the UK.
It is late in the evening when the debate happens. I set out the situation, explain that when it comes to Hong Kong, there is a growing gulf between what Chinese authorities in Beijing say and the actions they take.
Tuesday 16th November An early start hosting a breakfast meeting for MPs in the Foreign Office. I believe it is important that MPs from all parties can get good briefings on issues across the world. The UK High Commissioners in Kenya and South Africa zoom into the session giving their insights and taking questions. After a series of catchup meetings with officials on many different issues, I join the Foreign Secretary to meet with the President of Botswana who is visiting London. He is keen to increase trade and investment from UK businesses.
As part of our year leading the G7 group of countries, the Foreign Secretary brought together an independent group of world leading experts as a Gender Equality Advisory Council. Today they come to the Foreign Office. Women and girls have suffered especially hard during covid, with increases in sexual violence and disproportionate numbers of girls are missing out on education. It is important that women across the world should be able to have access to education and employment and are free to live their lives without fear of violence.
The UK is the world’s leader in investing in girl’s education and part of my role is to take forward this important work. I join members of the Council. We launch a global campaign against the use of rape as a weapon of war. The trauma of sexual violence during conflict is immense. Like using chemical weapons or land mines, this should be a red line that is not crossed.
Wednesday 17th November In the morning I take the train down to Sidcup where a by-election is happening. The former MP, James Brokenshire, tragically lost his battle with cancer recently. Knocking on doors, I am moved by how many local residents tell me individual stories of how James had helped them with issues. He was a truly good man. With our constant news cycle searching for headlines, the work that MPs do for their constituents is often overlooked.
Back in Westminster I answer a debate on Palestine. The Minister for the Middle East is out of the country at a conference bringing together leaders from Israel and Palestine. It is good news that talks are happening.
Thursday 18th November Another busy day in the office. I meet with the Head of “Ecowas” – the Economic Community that brings together West African Countries to discuss security issues and the High Commissioner from Ghana, an important Commonwealth partner. I learn how our investment in Research and Development is helping to combat the impact of climate change, bring stability and economic growth in many poorer countries. I meet with the team focusing on the women’s health projects that have helped to reduce child mortality and save women’s lives across the globe.
Friday 19th November In Chelmsford I meet with First Port, the managing agent for Kings Tower, to get an update on the work they have been doing to remove cladding from one of Chelmsford’s tallest buildings.
I catch up with the work that Royal Mail has been doing to rectify the post problems, the situation is improving but some people are still not getting the post they expect. My assistant Hannah has been working her socks off helping local residents and passing on the post codes of those most affected.
I have a wonderful visit to Moulsham Infant School where they have having a fabulous time raising funds for Children in Need. I enjoy a peaceful time listening to one of the children reading. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic volunteers have not been able to be in schools helping with reading – I do hope this will be able to start again as it is such a huge help for the children.
My final call for the week is with one of the other board members for Essex County Cricket Club. There have been many distressing stories in the press this week especially about Yorkshire. Essex Cricket has responded quicky, appointing a highly respected QC, Katherine Newton, to undertake an investigation and setting up a helpline.
There must be no place for racism or other abuse. It is important that issues that happened in the past are properly looked in to and that those who may have suffered are properly supported. I also believe it is important to understand whether racism, sexism, bullying or other abuse is occurring now (I have not seen any evidence to suggest that it is) and to make sure that everything is being done to prevent it.
Cricket has a huge and positive impact on our community. One of my greatest pleasures as MP for Chelmsford is visiting schools. When I ask the children what they enjoy outside school there is usually at least one child who will give me the biggest of grins before answering “cricket”. This includes girls as well as boys, from across a huge spectrum of diversity. I hope that even at this difficult time we remember the joy that cricket can bring.