Monday 01 April Start the week with meeting of Great Eastern Main Line task force. Good news! The 15-minute Delay Repay compensation scheme is now in place and we are told that Network Rail has nearly finished the overhead line replacement project between Chelmsford and London. Hopefully this means fewer weekend replacement buses.
Parliament is due to do “indicative votes” on a range of potential options for Brexit, I do interviews with Sky and BBC to explain the process. Meet a group of pharmaceutical companies about the challenges of getting drugs for rare diseases approved by the NHS. Join colleagues working on a long-term environmental policy manifesto. Helpful briefings from legal experts on customs union.
In House of Commons MPs are debating the indicative votes. I offer to cover the “PPS” bench to give a break to my colleague who supports the ministers working on Brexit. This means I’m sitting on the second row right behind the ministers when a load of visitors in the public gallery start to take their clothes off – goodness! There really is never a dull day in parliament. We work out that it’s a climate change demonstration. The protestors strip down to their underwear and are covered in blue green body paint. They appear to be singing songs and shouting but the MPs can’t hear them as there is thick glass blocking the sound. Surreal!
Chelmsford police call me to tell me about a knife crime incident in Central Park. Very concerning but I’m relieved to hear that police are on the case. It appears to be a drug gang incident. I am told the risk to those not involved in drugs and gangs is low.
We vote on indicative votes. My preferred option of the Prime Minister’s deal is not even on the list. There is no majority for leaving with no deal, or for not leaving. I decide to give an indication that if there are no other options, I would prefer remaining in a Customs Union (which only covers goods) than staying in the Single Market but with no say on its rules. When the votes are counted none of the alternatives have a majority. One more MP colleague, Nick Boles, leaves the party. Sad to see him go, he is a very deep thinker. Steps: 8,577
Tuesday 02 April Long meeting of the Science and Technology Select Committee. We are doing an inquiry into how new technologies can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus reduce the impact on climate change. Fascinating.
As the PPS, I support the Foreign Office Ministers taking questions from MPs. Not easy as the very experienced minister for the Middle East resigned last week, but the team are very well briefed.
In the beautiful “Speakers House” UK Parliament Awards are being given to local organisations. Maxine Jones, a Chelmsford based Girl Guide leader, has won the Volunteer of the Year award. She arranged activities all over Essex during Parliament Week including getting our local Guides to support their campaign to end period poverty. They explained how girls were missing school. They have helped changed government policy as all secondary schools are soon to have free sanitary products. Meeting with security services to discuss threats to MPs and staff following last week’s protests in Parliament Square.
I join a group of MPs to discuss education funding with the Education Secretary and schools minister. I explain the pressures that Chelmsford schools face, especially with rising numbers of pupils with Special Educational Needs and the fact that growing schools are paid in arrears for the increased student numbers.
The Cabinet are discussing what next to do re Brexit. MPs wait nervously as the meeting goes on and on. Finally, at 7pm we hear the news. As there is no majority in the House of Commons for “no deal” or “no exit” the PM is to ask for another Brexit extension and see if a cross party agreement can be achieved. Many MPs don’t trust Corbyn. I join groups from across the world discussing the Chinese “Belt and Road” infrastructure schemes before meeting MP colleagues for supper. Steps: 10,486
Wednesday 03 April A difficult Women and Equality Select Committee meeting discussing abortion laws in Northern Ireland. We have been working on this for nine months and have heard harrowing stories of women’s lives being put at huge risks, especially those carrying a dying baby. But doctors are fearful to act, as they face risk of life imprisonment. Unfortunately, the two men on the committee decide not to support the committee’s report, even though they had not taken part in the evidence sessions.
At PMQs I ask the PM for an update on knife crime – she gives a very detailed update from the summit that has been held this week.
Back bench MPs introduce a Bill to try to stop a no deal exit. Usually a Bill involves many months of parliamentary debate and scrutiny, but this one is presented, debated, amended and voted on in just a few hours. There were a large number of confusing amendments which conflict each other. This has led to mammoth holes in the drafting. Ironically the wording of the Bill may have made it even more difficult for the UK and the EU to achieve a deal and orderly exit. The Bill was passed by a majority of one vote. It’s nearly midnight when we finish – but at least I’ve had the chance to bend the ear of the Chancellor about school funding whilst we were in the voting lobby. Steps: 7,609
Thursday 04 April Back in the House of Commons, I ask ministers to clarify that a customs union would not need to cover the way we fish, the way we farm, the way we regulate financial services and does not involve free movement. They agree. Help to sort out a complicated issue regarding UK policy with Russia. Many hours catching up with case work and messages from constituents before heading back to Chelmsford. I join Melbourne ward councillors Peter Cousins and Stephen Fowler, meeting residents and discussing local issues. Steps: 8,275
Friday 05 April Excellent day in Chelmsford meeting secondary school head teachers, the boss of Anglia Ruskin University (it really is outstanding) and the Women’s Institute lead campaigner on environmental matters. Busy constituency surgery. Meeting re special needs schools. Finish the week back in Melbourne ward, this time at the excellent youth club run by the Essex Boys and Girls Club. They have just been awarded a big grant from the National Lottery. The club teenagers are extremely relaxed and welcoming. They offer me some cheese on toast which they prepared and even allow me to take a shot at the pool table. Yes! I can still get a ball in the pocket. I am extremely impressed by the club’s leaders, Charlie and Jess. If you know any young people in Melbourne who might like to join the club do let them know – it is great. Steps: 2,524
Saturday 06 April Lovely morning knocking on doors in Beaulieu Park. So many constituents are really kind and happy to talk. They know MPs have been working seriously long hours. We discuss Brexit (of course) but mostly we discuss how important it is that the railway station gets its funding. I will keep fighting for the station.