It has been a very busy week both with my diary and the legislation that parliament has put through and here are some of the highlights.
On Monday, I was one of the leads on the Public Accounts Committee investigating Government shared services where we looked at how the different departments are putting in plans to share back office functions such as HR. It might be a bit dry but this is an important long running programme to save the taxpayer money in the long run.
We always question the civil servants rather than ministers and those of you who have watched ‘Yes Minister’ will not be surprised to know it is totally accurate! We have two PAC three-hour meetings a week and the obfuscation is definitely an issue. I particularly saw this on Thursday with the DEFRA officials.
I visited the National Audit offices on Wednesday morning to hear more about how it works as it is the NAO’s reports that the PAC discusses. It audits the accounts of 400 government departments and organisations as well as auditing the various issues within the departments. It is very interesting to be covering many aspects of the functions of Government on PAC. It is a lot of work but I am enjoying it.
We passed the Second Reading of the Minimum Service Level Bill this week. It was in our manifesto and requires essential services to operate a minimum service during strikes without taking away the right to strike. This will enable employers to require enough workers to ensure a service so that the public are looked after. The opposition voted against it. This was not surprising but a little disappointing as these services can be life or death and need protecting.
I want to thank all NHS staff and other essential services who have ensured people are looked after during the strike. This Bill will help employers plan effectively. Our last vote was at 10.30pm so I did not get home until 11.15pm – not a good start to a busy week.
On Tuesday, there was the Online Safety Bill which has been worked on for several years. There were lots of amendments, one of which I had signed about Tik Tok who has been publicising how people can cross to Britain on small boats.
Social media means information is spread very fast and this amendment was proposed by the Dover MP. But most importantly, the Bill will help stop harmful material from being put on various platforms.
We have heard the result of these horrendous sites in the media including how to commit suicide, eating disorders and more recently, misogyny. At the same time, we must defend freedom of speech so it has been a very tricky Bill to put forward. It now goes to the Lords for further amendments.
On Tuesday morning the Education Select Committee looked at the Independent report of Child Sexual Abuse in schools and other institutions. It was a very thorough report but very shocking too. There is much work to do.
We also had the APPG on Liver Disease and Liver Cancer into Parliament to hold an event where you could get your liver scanned. Needless to say, there were a lot of surprised faces in Westminster – probably one of the unhealthiest places to work. Long hours, not particularly healthy food, and easy access to alcohol, although it is no longer subsidised, thank goodness.
Wednesday was another busy day with my All-Party Group for Women and Work as we launched our report following an inquiry on the barriers of women in the workplace. I set this group up in 2015 with Jess Phillips to look at how to improve the workplace for women with the aim that we would publish a report every year to be taken seriously by the Government and change things.
The first report was on older women returning to work and ended with the Chancellor putting £5m into sorting this out. The latest report was attended by the minister responsible for women so I hope that it will help. The meetings are all very well attended and is a good networking opportunity for people too as well as sharing good practice.
We had the launch of the Open Doors World Watch List looking at the places where Christians are persecuted and discriminated against. One of my oldest friends, Henrietta Blyth, is CEO of the charity and works extremely hard to raise awareness. North Korea is once again at the top of the list.
We voted on another important Bill on Wednesday, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. I had talked to ministers and attended meetings on this as it is important we improve our laws taken back from the EU. We have already done this with the Environment Act but we need to make sure that no law falls without something as good as or better is put in place. I am assured this will happen.
I have been on the European Statutory Instrument Committee for three years and have seen first-hand what we have adopted or sent on for further changes. It means that domestic law will be the highest form of law on the UK statute book.
Thursday was partly taken up with an interview about childcare for Newsnight going out on Friday night. Rather bizarrely they made me look at the camera for 10 seconds without talking which was not an easy thing to do. I suppose I will now have to watch it and see why!
I have had a packed constituency day today, including a catch up with East Hampshire District Council, lunch with local businesses, and a visit to Swanmore College to hear about their Holocaust Memorial Day Activities. I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment in Parliament earlier this week.
Finally today I have a New Year drinks with Conservative members.
I will be catching up on emails at the weekend and taking some time to catch up with friends.
Have a great weekend.