Monday 29th November On the way to Westminster, I detour across the River Thames to the vaccine clinic at St Thomas’s Hospital. There is a bit of a queue but after a short wait I am boosted. I’m pleased to hear that more vaccination centres will be opening up as getting the booster is so important.
Arriving in the Foreign Office, I get the news that Braintree MP, James Cleverly has just tested positive for Covid. James is one of the more experienced ministers in the Foreign Office team and was due to lead our responses to “Oral Questions” tomorrow. This is the question time when MPs can quiz the ministers in the House of Commons. Usually, we have five foreign office ministers available to answer these questions, as they can be about issues anywhere in the world. However, the Foreign Secretary is out of the country at an important meeting of NATO partners, the Minister for Europe and the Americas is in Barbados with the Prince of Wales attending the ceremonies when they become a Republic and with James unwell we will only have two ministers available to answer questions. I work late into the night with the other Minister, looking at the topics that may be raised.
Tuesday 30th November Taking many deep breaths, I arrive in the House of Commons for the Oral Questions, ready to do my best stand in for the Foreign Secretary. The questions flow thick and fast, as I give answers on issues in Belarus, the Baltics and Bosnia, small boats in the Channel, what we are doing to help get vaccinations to less developed countries (lots) and many different African countries. My colleague answers questions on support for the people of Afghanistan, China and Israel. It is a highly intense session, but we complete the session.
In the House of Commons we vote on the Finance Bill, which sets government spending for the year ahead.
Wednesday 1st December An early start hosting a breakfast meeting for MPs on the work we are doing internationally to reduce violence against women and girls. It’s a traumatic subject with so many women across the world facing sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and child marriage. But the UK is doing a huge amount of good work. We are the largest donor to projects that reduce violence and abuse towards women, particularly in conflict zones. We are planning a big global push to encourage more work on this and working on hosting a global conference next year.
As Duty Minister I attend a COBRA meeting with colleagues from across government and then meet the Vice Chair of the World Bank who is visiting London, an impressive woman who is leading work to reduce gender inequality across the world.
Thursday 2nd December It is by-election day in Old Bexley and Sidcup. The previous MP, James Brokenshire, was a good man and a good friend. In the very early hours of the morning, I head down to Sidcup where I join volunteers for the “dawn raid”. Very quietly, so as not to wake people, we post the first leaflet of the day through letterboxes reminding people to vote today. I am back in London for a breakfast meeting with the PM.
I work on some internal meetings and meet the Head of UK Export Finance to discuss the work they are doing across the world to support UK Exports, and improving infrastructure in many less well-off countries. I catch up with the team who are monitoring the spread of the Omicron variant across the world.
Friday 3rd December My Chelmsford day needs to take place online as the House of Commons is sitting today, so I need to be there for votes. I have a busy constituency surgery and then a very detailed meeting with the Army and Navy Task Force. Over 5,000 people visited the virtual exhibition to find out about the different options for a new junction. Over 9,000 people visited the website. The vast majority of those who took part in the consultation supported the “Hamburger” style junction design which will enable traffic to pass through the roundabout, as well as around it.
We agree to move forward with the Hamburger junction as the preferred option, making some changes to improve pedestrian crossing and on Van Diemans. This is a major step forward in getting a long term solution to improving the Army and Navy. Detailed work will now start on a full business plan so we can get the funding agreements finalised.
I meet with the Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Highways to discuss potholes, pavements and other issues in Chelmsford.
Saturday 4th December Its Small Business Saturday and I pop into the Christmas Fair at Chelmsford Cathedral. It is full of good cheer. For the first time, the fair has expanded down the high street and there are lovely stalls selling hand made products, and unique gifts. Its lovely to see everyone getting ready for Christmas and, with more people getting their booster vaccine, I am hopeful that it will be a much happier Christmas than last year.