Monday 27th January - 10,774 steps I spend most of the day preparing for “Oral Questions” to the Ministers from the Department for International Development on Wednesday. This is always a high profile occasion as it happens just before PMQs. At this time, when we are leaving the EU, it is vital that we send clear messages across the world that we will continue to stand by countries that need our support. My role as the Parliamentary Private Secretary is to anticipate what questions MPs are likely to ask and make sure they are well briefed, so I contact all those who have been “drawn” to ask questions. Many of the questions are on environmental issues such as deforestation and tackling plastic waste, as well as vaccinations and education. These are areas where the UK has been working hard in developing countries.
In the House of Commons, I join MPs debating the NHS funding bill. This will put record investment into the NHS over the next four years. I’m pleased to learn that the extra funding to train more doctors and nurses is in addition to the main funding commitment. The debate runs late into the evening with many speakers in support.
Tuesday 28th January – 11,837 steps More preparation for the Oral Questions, I have now tracked down nearly every MP who is likely to ask a question. Given that over 150 MPs tabled questions this has been a big job. I join a meeting of MPs listening to the Saudi Arabian Foreign Secretary who is visiting the UK. Given the history of this country regarding women’s rights, it’s interesting to hear about the work they are doing to support women in employment. They still have a long way to go.
In the Chamber we have Health Questions, unfortunately I am not called. I am keen to ask the Secretary of State for progress on approving the drug Kuvan. This would be a life changer for one of my young constituents. However, we do get a useful update on information to give to constituents who are in the area of China affected by Coronavirus.
MPs then debate the new Agricultural Payments Bill. I am glad to hear that this will give more certainty to our local farmers who have had a challenging time as they could not plant their winter wheat crop due to the very wet weather before Christmas. The Foreign Secretary comes to update the house on the decision that has been taken regarding Huwaei and 5G. I listen closely. I meet University Vice Chancellors from across the UK and have a helpful catch up with the Defence Secretary. Late night speech writing.
Wednesday 29th January - 17,768 steps Last minute preparations for Oral Questions, and into a packed Chamber. As ever, the session goes incredibly quickly. I breath a huge sigh of relief when all the questions are answered and PMQs starts! I pop into a session on Family Hubs, Chelmsford was one of the first places in the country to open a Family Hub and it has helped many hundreds of families locally. It is located in Central Library. I’m keen to encourage more MPs to support these initiatives. We hold the AGM for the All Party Group for Women in Parliament. This group supports women standing for election and when they have been elected. I am honoured to be re-appointed as chairman.
Off to the airport for a flight to Sweden. In Brussels MEPs have been voting on Brexit. My phone explodes with love from former colleagues from all across Europe wishing us luck and goodwill. Very moving.
Thursday 30th January – 7,885 steps In Stockholm to meet senior representatives from our sister party the Swedish Moderates and to speak at a seminar with them. They have always been our closest allies on issues such as free trade, and a well-regulated economy. I have come to tell them that we wish to remain close and work together on key issues such as environmental policies, as well as explaining how important it is that we complete our UK/EU trade negotiations this year. It is a very sensitive time for our relationships with other countries and I am impressed by the warmth and affection they send back to the UK.
Back to Chelmsford for a deeply moving Holocaust Memorial Day event in Chelmsford. This year is the 75 Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is vital that we all remember the horror that mankind is capable of unleashing when fuelled by hate.
In Chelmsford we heard the testimony of Henri Obstfeld. He told his story of life as a very young child in Nazi occupied Holland and being hidden and cared for by a non-Jewish family. We also remembered the many other genocides that have taken place since that time. In Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica and more recently in Sudan as well as the plight of the Rohingya. Most importantly, we were also reminded of the rise in anti-Semitism and religious hatred, even recently in Essex. Thank you especially to students from KEGS, New Hall School and St. John Payne School for their brave and inspiring contributions, and to the Chelmsford Jewish Community for organising this event.
Friday 31st January – 4,920 steps After a good catch up with my Association Chairman and a few errands, I went to Beeches Road where some residents are still having problems with their housing. CHP were extremely helpful and have arranged to send out a specialist contractor. I then had a very busy constituency surgery covering a huge range of individual issues. It was an important night for the UK as it marks the end of our membership of the EU. I’d like to thank all the Chelmsford constituents who stopped to speak to me in the High Street where I was very pleased to see posters for the Apprenticeship Fair I’m hosting next week.
Saturday 1st February I spoke to the District Commander of Chelmsford and Maldon Police about the terrible murder in Writtle last night. The names are not public, but I had been warned that some Chelmsford residents are very sadly involved. My thoughts are with their friends and family. The police confirmed that the victims were almost certainly known to the attackers and that four people have been arrested. The police would also like to thank all the members of the public who have given information and intelligence recently. In recent months many more police have been added to the local team and they have been making significant arrests. Information from the public is extremely helpful.