I have followed issues about online safety for children for many years and it is good news that a new Online Safety Bill is working its way through the Parliamentary Process with a particular focus on strengthening protections for children. This week I was very honoured to be elected by colleagues to chair the All Party Group for Safety on Social Media. I look forward to working with the Internet Watch Foundation on this. They do world-leading work on tackling online sexual abuse images of children and I have supported the organisation for over a decade.
I am concerned about some recent extreme examples of online bullying that have been raised with me by some Chelmsford parents. It is important that children are aware of how to protect themselves online and feel confident to ask for help. In Chelmsford, I joined children from Trinity Road Primary School for a special “Internet Legends” Assembly. It was also delightful to visit Bishops Road Primary, meet with their school council and hear the choir sing. They recently won an award in a choir competition. Well done!
This week I received an update from the Mid and South Essex NHS Hospital Trust on progress to cut NHS waiting lists locally. The Trust has reduced the number of patients waiting 78 weeks for treatment from around 1,800 patients in November 2022 to 20 patients at the end of March. They are now focusing on 65 week and 52 week waits. I am writing to the NHS Integrated Care Board locally on the need for a strategic plan to increase GP surgery capacity in Chelmsford both in the year ahead and in the longer term.
It is important that the UK continues to focus on what is happening in some of the most troubled parts of the world as instability in other countries affects us in the UK . As chair of the All Party Group for Sudan and South Sudan, I met with representatives of the Diocise of Salisbury who have long standing links with churches across both countries. The situation is extremely worrying, around a million people have already fled their homes.
I met with the Halo Trust who updated me on the work they have been doing to map and clear land mines in Ukraine. The Secretary of State for Defence updated MPs on the situation there, over 23,000 civilians have been killed or injured. He offered to provide me an update on what the UK has been doing to support medical supplies. I also chaired a meeting between the World Food Programme lead on Afghanistan and MPs, again a very troubling situation.
I was very honoured to be asked to represent Chelmsford at a Coronation Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. It was a wonderful afternoon, with thousands of people from all walks of life, many of whom had done exceptional work to support local communities. I enjoy making things and rarely get time with my sewing machine, so it was lovely to spend the Bank Holiday making a pair of wrap around trousers from a bolt of beautiful fabric which I was given in Nigeria. The fusion of Commonwealth and Home Made was something a bit different.
In Parliament, I congratulated the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mourdant on the role she and played in the Coronation. Our new King Charles III is revered across the world for his work on the environment so it seemed fitting to ask the Leader a question on the environment. The UK is a world leader and since 2010 has cut carbon emissions more than any other G7 country.
Thank you to the members of the Chelmsford Round Table who came to visit me in Parliament. It was a delight to show them round the Palace of Westminster and I would like to thank them for all they do, especially for arranging the annual fireworks display which raises huge amounts for charity in Chelmsford.
In Chelmsford, I spoke with businesses in the High Street and City Centre. Many High Streets across the country have suffered in recent years especially as the pandemic accelerated a switch to online shopping. However, it was good to from a variety of different stall holders and shops that trade in Chelmsford is holding up. New retailers are opening soon in some key locations.
I also had a huge amount of fun in Chelmsford over the weekend. On Saturday, I joined the audience for a fabulous concert by the Essex Wind Orchestra, Young Caprice. Outstandingly talented young players of brass and woodwind instruments treated us to a special evening of English music and were complemented by the excellent and enthusiastic choir from Newlands Spring Primary School. Very kindly they had also set a music stand and chair for me, so I was able to dust off my clarinet and join in for one of the numbers!
On Sunday, I went to watch Bangladesh playing Ireland in the last of a series of one day international cricket matches that have been held at the County Ground this week. Supporters had flocked from all over the country to watch and the atmosphere was electric. It was also great to see the ground packed to the rafters and there was a nail biting finish with the result hanging on the last ball of the day. I would like to thank all members of the Bangladeshi Community of Chelmsford and the Chelmsford Muslim Society as well as staff at Essex Cricket for making visitors feel so welcome.
Even though the local elections are now over, I continue to be out and about knocking on doors listening to local people. Thank you to everyone who takes time to talk.