Parliament prorogued yesterday. This gives me a further week working in the constituency while Westminster prepares for the King’s Speech on 7th November. This session we have passed 43 Bills with seven being carried over into the next session. It’s been a busy session.
This week events were dominated again by the Israel/Palestine crisis and I have had a lot of correspondence on it. I don’t have much more to say since last week but it is heartbreaking seeing the pictures coming out of Gaza and seeing so many bodies being buried in both Israel and Gaza.
There are increasing incidents in the West Bank too and peace looks a long way ahead. In the meantime, families are suffering and the huge proportion of children and young people in Gaza will be missing education – a bad omen for the future.
The Parliamentary week ended with the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Foreign Affairs) Bill. It's a bit of a mouthful and a mouthful I was not prepared to swallow as I did not support the government on it.
The most important objection for me is that it stifles free speech in public bodies when it comes to foreign investment, and the second is that it specifically mentions Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Golan Heights. The Bill is largely directed towards the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which campaigns to stop investment in Israel. The movement is seen as anti-semitic.
We already have laws in place to combat hate speech and crimes. Although we did not have a vote on the overall Bill at this stage, I voted for Amendment Seven which takes out the clause on Israel, the OPTs and Golan Heights, although we lost. I abstained on the Labour amendments. It now goes to the Lords where I hope it will be much amended. It will be a ‘carry over’ Bill which means it will come back in the King’s Speech.
I was on the order paper on Monday for education questions where I asked about what progress is being made on the new Advanced British Standards. I also asked for a change of name because it is unwieldy, has the same acronym as other things and is difficult to export. I think we forget that other countries do GCSEs and A Levels.
I also added that I hope this will mean the end of GCSEs. The Minister, Nick Gibb, said "no" but I can’t see how the curriculum will work effectively unless we do, especially for vocational qualifications which may need longer than two years to cover the subject matter.
On Tuesday, I had to leave the Education Select Committee early, which was disappointing as it was on Ofsted, to go into the Chamber for FCDO questions where I asked about the change in the Judiciary in Israel. Although the changes have not yet been put in place, it weakens the judges and has caused a lot of protest in Israel.
In between, I had various meetings. I met with the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, next to me in the photo, who updated us on the peace process in Yemen. The Yemeni Ambassador to the UK joined us and was worried about some of the conversation on Iran but we need to talk to everyone if we are going to have peace.
I met with CityFibre to discuss the timetable for connecting some of the harder to reach homes. There should be a lot of progress over 2024 in the Kilmeston/Woodlands area and Owslebury to connect those homes that are not part of the existing voucher scheme.
Other areas to be improved are up the Meon Valley and Bishops Waltham area as well as Waterlooville, and most other bits that do not have fast connection as I looked at the map.
This was a government promise to get to the hard-to-reach homes so I am pleased that this is happening in Meon Valley and was one of my priorities. All the companies providing fast broadband are well aware of this!
I also attended a meeting by Liquid UK which is looking to replace oil and natural gas in rural areas where they are not on mains. This should be far more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels and cheaper to change to than heat pumps. We now must persuade the government to help further.
On Wednesday, I attended a meeting on chalk streams led by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust. They agreed that our chalk streams are improving but there is more to do especially as climate change is affecting them. The Government is about to launch a major Chalk Stream plan so we will feed any ideas into that.
I am still hearing from people that I voted to put sewage into rivers and seas – can I reiterate that this is not true. The amendment which is used to propagate this misinformation was not fit for purpose itself. We have put in much better and stringent regulations on water companies than ever before.
Our regulations are the toughest in the world and our rivers and seas are cleaner than ever. Modern farming is much less nitrate intensive although the legacy of previous use will take time to clear.
This year I am learning about Strategic Command as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme and spent yesterday learning about how we make doctrine and how we are looking to what may be needed in the future. This is very helpful to policy making and was fascinating. We work closely with allies although other countries have their own doctrine.
Today I visited Winchester Job Centre and the Royal Hampshire County Hospital where three of my four children were born. I have also had many other visits as a member of the Winchester and District Community Health Council.
I will be out talking to people this weekend as well as babysitting one of my grandchildren.
Have a great weekend.