Sunday 29th September Early morning trip to a rainy Manchester talking to BBC Look East about Party Conference. I always enjoy conference as it is a good time to catch up with many different organisations, learn new things and share ideas. I meet with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (UK) and Alzheimer's Research UK, try out an electric bike postal van with Royal Mail and join volunteers making calls for a residents’ survey in Chelmsford. I take part in a panel discussion on how to ensure actions to address climate change are spread fairly, check out the latest electric vehicle charging technology and join experts from the insurance and financial services sector which involves many jobs in Chelmsford.
Monday 30th September and Tuesday 1st October I join many more discussions on issues including Health, Infrastructure, Women in Science, Homelessness and the Economy. I’ve been asked to contribute to four different sessions on the Environment because of the work I have been involved in on the Science and Technology Select Committee and leading the campaign against unnecessary single use plastic. I rush across Manchester to join representatives from the NHS Federation to hear more about detailed Brexit planning (very reassuring). I have meetings with The Children's Society, Cancer Research UK, The Jo Cox Foundation, The Salvation Army International, Tearfund, WaterAid UK, the World Wildlife Fund, the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders as well as representatives of many different countries. I have a particularly helpful discussion with Greater Anglia on progress with new trains as we should see the first of these coming through Chelmsford later this year. After a very intense couple of days I head back to London late on Tuesday.
Wednesday 2nd October Head over to the Department for International Development to help the Secretary of State and the Ministers who will be answering questions in the House of Commons today. Each different Department takes it in turn and this week we are up. My role is to try to work out what MPs are likely to ask so that Ministers can be well briefed and give detailed answers. Sometimes this is challenging! The Department has been doing a huge amount of work leading discussions at the UN on health, especially women’s health, disease prevention, especially via the global vaccines programmes, and environmental protections where we have been leading a worldwide effort to increase resilience to climate change in some of the world’s poorest countries, reducing plastics pollutions and protecting vital species and oceans. When we get to the House of Commons the ministers answer a huge range of questions – phew!
I join the debate for the vital Domestic Abuse Bill. Thank you to Safer Places Domestic Abuse Support Services from Chelmsford for their expertise on this. It is a landmark Bill which will help prevent violence and protect victims. I raise a few issues that have come up when I have been helping Chelmsford residents such as challenges with joint tenancy agreements and on line “revenge porn”. Very moving speech from Rosie Duffield MP who speaks about her own experience of being in a controlling relationship. The Bill moves forward to its next stage with unanimous support.
Boris Johnson has given his conference speech and sent all MPs copies of his letter to the EU setting out suggestions for a new deal. Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries are called into No10 for a briefing. Its late in the evening but it’s a very helpful session and the mood is optimistic.
Thursday 3rd October Back in the House of Commons this time to ask a question myself of the Digital Minister. I have been working with the Jo Cox Foundation on the online abuse faced by MPs, particularly women MPs. This is putting many women off standing for Parliament. I ask the Government to join up to a new Code of Conduct. I am drawn as a member of a “Statutory Instrument” Committee. This is when MPs scrutinise the details of decisions made by Ministers. The topic is the public loans board which helps fund infrastructure. All nine MPs from the Government benches attend the session but only two from the opposition, so much for the calls for better scrutiny!
Due to the Committee I am a few minutes late when Boris Johnson comes to the House of Commons to speak about the new deal he has offered to the EU. This is annoying as it means I can’t ask a question myself. The session is good, and much calmer than recently – is this because the Speaker has lost his voice? The Prime Minister sets out his case clearly and gets a great deal of support from the government benches. He answers questions for two hours. If the EU agrees to the deal, then I believe it will get through Parliament.
I help colleagues with a debate on Mental Health and another meeting at the Department for International Development before finally getting back to Chelmsford.
Friday 4th October Visit to Helping Hands Essex a local Chelmsford based charity that supports those with alcohol addictions. They are impressively successful, less than half their clients relapse compared to 80% or more from many other “specialist” treatment organisations. I helped Helping Hands with a lottery grant application last year and it is wonderful to see their work flourishing in a new home. I meet a number of people on their program. We discuss drug and alcohol issues in Chelmsford and the connections with rough sleeping and homelessness. They are full of great ideas and I am delighted to help.
Then to meet Mike Adams OBE, who runs Purple – this is the disability awareness charity which launched Purple Tuesday last year with organisations all across the UK opening up to those with disabilities. The next Purple Tuesday is on November 12 and we expect it to be even bigger! This is a real boost to local High Streets as well as to those with disabilities.
Head up to Cambridge where my youngest is about to start his first term of University. It is a very proud moment as a Mum but also rather sad as we become empty nesters. In Chelmsford, I join a lovely evening Songs of Praise at Our Lady Immaculate Church in New London Road.
Saturday 5th October Great to join in the river clean-up and hear the excellent news that there is less litter around this year. In High Chelmer there is an inspiring team of Brownies and Guides campaigning against plastic waste. We have a good discussion about the action the UK is taking both at home and across the world to reduce plastic, enable recycling and protect the world’s oceans. I pop down to Stanford Mill Museum where they are having a Heritage Day. I get shown the ropes behind a 1970s TV camera which is all part of the Marconi history in Chelmsford. In Marconi ward I join volunteers delivering our local survey. Thank you also to those who stopped to talk.