There are a number of ways for backbench MPs to raise a constituency issue in the House of Commons. You can enter the ballot and try to secure a slot at Prime Ministers Questions (I do this every week) or one of the other daily question time sessions with other minsters. You can try “bobbing” to catch the Speaker’s eye during a Ministerial Statement or Urgent Question. You can put down to speak in a main debate, or try another ballot for the “Adjournment Debate” which happens each day at the end of other business. If you want to propose a new law, or perhaps to close a loophole in an existing law you can try to get picked for a Private Members Bill or put in for a Ten Minute Rule Bill.
There is also the second debating chamber of Westminster Hall. Here debates are also allocated by ballot. The MP who secures the debate always speaks first to outline their issues, a Minister always closes the debate and is expected to reply to the points raised by MPs. This week, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on the Essex Mental Health Inquiry. It is a deeply tragic situation.
Two years ago the Government announced that an independent inquiry would be set up to look into deaths of mental health inpatients in Essex between 2000 and 2020. In January, Essex MPs were shocked to learn that, rather than the 1,500 cases we had initially been informed of, it now appears that there are more like 2,000 historic deaths. Furthermore, of the 14,000 members of staff past and present that had been written to by the inquiry, only 11 had come forward to give evidence.
The Inquiry Chair has therefore suggested that the Inquiry needs to be give reformed on a Statutory basis. This would give the Inquiry the power to name and compel witnesses to give evidence. In preparing for the debate, I spoke to the mother of a young man who had died, hit by a train just a few hours after been able to abscond from the Linden Centre. She explained how important it is for families that the truth is uncovered, accountability is achieved and that lasting change is imbedded to prevent future loss of life.
One survivor shared with me the testimony she had shared with the Inquiry. She described how, during her time as an inpatient in the mid-2000s, she was raped by another patient. When she asked for help, she was laughed at by staff. She was able to attempt suicide on a number of occasions and left to treat her own serious self-harm injuries. Like others, she believes the inquiry needs to establish the answers and ensure that nobody else has to suffer the trauma that she has faced and that will continue to live with for the rest of her life. Survivors who have shared their stories are incredibly brave.
EPUT, the organisation that provides mental health services in Essex let me know of improvements that have been over the past 2 years. However, I believe that unless there is a massive change in staff engagement with the inquiry within the next few weeks then the inquiry will need to move to a statutory basis. This may then involve staff being called to give evidence in public. I strongly encourage EPUT staff to come forward now and share their experiences whilst there is the opportunity to do this in confidence.
Friday was a hugely exciting day in Chelmsford with the opening the new Construction Centre and Institute of Technology at Chelmsford College.
The Construction Centre provides cutting edge resources and equipment to train students and apprentices to become skilled trades people ready for work in the construction centre. It has been funded by Government via the Local Enterprise Partnership and supported by many local construction companies. I joined students learning plumbing, carpentry and decorating skills and was particularly impressed to hear their thoughts on making sure buildings are energy efficient using both traditional materials and high tech new innovations.
The Institute of Technology brings together local tech businesses, colleges and universities to help deliver skills, training and research projects to support growth in areas like the tech, manufacturing and engineering sectors. It was a pleasure to meet so many students, apprentices and trainees as well as a huge range of partners from education and business.
I met up with GPs at the Humber Road Practice to better understand the pressures our primary NHS services are under and had a creative meeting with members of the WI from across Essex who were learning how to take old items of clothing and upscale them into new designs.
In Chelmsford Cathedral, I attended a beautiful service to say goodbye and thank you to the Dean who is moving to a new position is Sussex. Over the past 9 years our Dean, Nicholas Henshall, has been a huge source of energy and inspiration for so many people. We will miss him.
Afterwards, the Bell Ringers invited me to climb a very steep and winding staircase to the gallery where they were ringing a peal of all 12 bells. Chelmsford is one of very few places in the East of England that has a 12 bell peal and one of only 145 places worldwide. There is a national appeal to try to recruit new bell ringers to help “Ring for the King” on Coronation Day. If you are interested to learn more about this very precious art do contact the Cathedral.