Monday Budget day - up early to the House of Commons to put my “prayer card” in. MPs use the little green cards to reserve a seat in the Chamber, but you have to be in “prayers” at the start of the sitting to keep it.
I’ve been asked to take part in a “Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit” this week. It is part of a United Nations initiative to encourage people from different backgrounds to become parliamentarians. This audit involves a committee of 15 people and 10 hours of meetings. As one of only 2 women MP’s in the group I feel a lot of pressure to try to represent the views of all women MPs. Women are still very under-represented in parliament and we have been particularly asked to look at issues female politicians face. It is a busy morning!
Budget starts with a very crowded Chamber. It’s very loud. Am surprised that I am the only MP who takes notes during the Budget speech - there is simply so much to follow. I am pleased to hear the economy is stronger than predicted. More support for small businesses and a tax on giant tech companies, additional funding for the NHS, especially mental health, and some big improvements to Universal Credit, these are all items Chelmsford residents have asked for. There's an extra £420 million for Local Roads which can also be used for bridges. I would like some of that for our Flyover Fund, and decide to write to the Chancellor to make the case for replacing the Army and Navy.
Good meeting with Essex Chamber of Commerce members and our new Police Chief Constable, helpful briefing with ministers on the state of Brexit talks and Health issues.
Tuesday Intensive Science and Tech Committee meeting finalising our report into early years interventions. Its a complicated subject. Early intervention to help children facing challenges appears to make a big difference, but there is not a lot of formal research to back this up with evidence. Essex County Council children’s services have been using this approach. I’m pleased that MP colleagues from across the country put in some very positive comments about the work in Essex.
Over to the Chamber to support ministers for Foreign Office questions. This is the first time I’ve been involved in the full cycle of questions as the team’s PPS. Its been a huge amount of work and a wide variety of questions are raised. The hour long session flies by.
Afternoon seminar with companies on how they are reducing plastics, write to Chancellor, Transport Secretary and Essex County Council re flyover, and join energy experts for dinner.
Wednesday Fascinating morning, chairing a seminar on Genomics. Britain leads the world in genetics science and its really heartening to hear from doctors and patients how new diagnosis tools and treatments are already making a real difference and saving lives.
Off to PMQs before joining colleagues for the debate on the budget. Each MP is only allowed to speak on one day of the budget debate. I have chosen to speak on the day that covers business, and especially on science and research. Teledyne e2v have just won a groundbreaking contract to develop a “quantum clock”, it’s good to get a chance to mention this in my speech!
Very helpful meeting about Universal Credit where we look at some of the details of the changes announced in the budget. The five week wait for payments has been changed, and there is much more funding for families with disabilities. I’m pleased to see experts like Trussel Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are supporting these changes. Long discussion with Schools Minister about some issues raised by Chelmsford schools. In particular about fairer funding and more support for SEND students.
Evening spent listening to a big speech by Foreign Secretary, announcing a huge upgrade in British embassies overseas. This will make us the third largest diplomatic service globally, which is crucial at a time that democracies are under treat. Finish the day at a reception held by Japanese Ambassador meeting Japanese companies wanting to invest in UK.
Thursday Lots of long meetings on the Parliament Audit - but some good recommendations, especially about how to support MPs who have young children and how to address the harassment of those involved in politics, including parliamentarians, candidates and staff.
Useful meeting with the Defence Secretary on the future of Radar. Join the campaign for more support for Armed Forces Veterans who are in prison and to help them when they leave. At the end of the long week of discussion on the Budget we eventally vote. It passes - good.
Friday Lovely day! Start at the Central Library “Ideas Hub” where I meet the mums and toddlers who come for “messy play” each Friday, and the Dementia carers who tell me about their support group which meets in the hub each Monday. The wonderful baking team from Mencap give me a yummy Latte and cake and I learn about the plans for a festival of lights to commemorate the Armistice which will take place next Sunday.
Off to the Prison where the governor shows me some of the work that has been done on some of the older wings. Its a vast improvement, with much better lighting and much cleaner. The Staff tell me about the new mentoring and ongoing training that is being given to new prison officer recruits. I can feel a much more positive atmosphere, still a lot to do but good to know a corner may have turned.
Wonderful afternoon at Maltese Road Primary School where I meet pupils and staff. As a new school it is not yet fully subscribed so it often has students arriving from overseas with little English. It’s wonderful to see how the children support each other and are encouraged by the staff. Great Halloween lanterns too!
End the week at Hylands House joining the Limbless Association for their 35th birthday. People young and old have come from all over the country. They explain how the Association helps those who have lost arms or legs to reassure each other and give practical advice and assistance. What a great group of people.