This week has been dominated by the news of the Windsor Framework. I hope it will be accepted by everyone so Northern Ireland power sharing can recommence and we have a deal that irons out trade issues while ensuring the Province’s place in our union.
I am not sure the Prime Minister has any time to sleep as he works his way through the negotiations. The Chancellor told me that he only got very little time off over Christmas because the Boss is a workaholic, but we are all very grateful as things are quieter and my inbox is now full of constituents’ issues rather than complaints about the government. This gives us more time to work on them. We have just had an away day so we can discuss policy and how we are working.
My first constituents’ coach trip came up on Monday and the professional tour guides did a great job. I then met everyone in Committee Room 14, famous for the announcement of leadership contests and where we meet every Wednesday at 5pm to hear from ministers. Everyone got to sit on what must be the most uncomfortable chairs we often have to endure for up to three hours in Bill committees.
It was good to answer questions, including those about the boundary changes. It seems the Home Secretary and myself will be competing for the new Fareham and Waterlooville seat probably in April. Whatever happens, I will continue to serve constituents in the whole of Meon Valley until the next General Election.
The next coach tour is on 3rd July 2023 so let me know if you would like to join. Places went very quickly last time. If this is not a convenient date, you are welcome to come up another Monday.
I was hoping to speak in the debate on the new and very welcome Lifelong Learning Bill. Unfortunately I had other events on but I was able to ask the Secretary of State for Education in the Chamber about the age limit for accessing the student loan and whether people on benefits such as carers, could access the loan. These sorts of issues will be sorted in the committee stages and I will be keeping an eye on it.
I was hoping to ask the Education Secretary about the home-schooled register in Education questions too. Although I bobbed, I was not called by the Speaker. I will put it in as a written question instead.
I was lucky to be on the order paper on Tuesday in Energy, Security and Net Zero departmental questions where I asked about people getting their energy grants if they use heating oil. Most constituents who are eligible have already received their £200 but some who could not be identified through their energy accounts might not have done - let me know if you are in this position as there is a process to follow this up.
Owslebury School visited on Tuesday and I was able to have some time with them and take them to the House of Commons Chamber. They were very well behaved as we had to go from one building to another and asked very pertinent questions. As I have said before, we are very lucky with our local schools which are all good or outstanding.
On Wednesday morning, I was asked to deputise for the Prime Minister’s wife as she was unable to visit the London Design and Engineering UTC near London City Airport in the Docklands. The event there was celebrating International Women’s day and 36% of their pupils are female.
It was more like attending an office than a school and the amount of engineering going on, including the use of 3D printers linked into a local manufacturer, was extraordinary. Lord Baker is a great champion of UTCs, and he was also there. We work closely on promoting these brilliant opportunities for young people.
They go on to work with all the household names and I was bowled over by their confidence. I shall report back to the Prime Minister and hope that his wife can go another time
Media wise, I spoke about childcare on Radio Solent at 7.45 on Wednesday morning. My voice has come back but is still very croaky so I hope listeners heard what I was saying. We do need to reform childcare so parents have the choice if they want to go back to work and we desperately need people in the workforce.
In the evening, the Speaker held an event to celebrate Women’s History Month. Betty Boothroyd, the only female Speaker so far, died this week. The walls of the Speaker's House are full of men so we have some way to go. I was the 413th woman to enter Parliament in 2015. I think we are up in the 500s now but still only make up 35% of the present Parliament. We will be reflecting on that this week on International Women’s Day.
As I always say to people who visit Parliament, "look up!" because as you can see in the Speaker's House, a huge amount of skill went into decorating the ceilings all round the Palace.
I have just returned from the Conservative MP’s away day which was a packed event with training and discussion. Everyone was positive about the future and the priorities of the country.
Have a great weekend.