The day started promptly at 9.00am in Portcullis House, where I chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Ocean’s first inquiry into the role of Blue Carbon and Ocean Based Solutions to Climate Change. The APPG for the Ocean is a recently launched cross-party group of MPs and Peers of which I am Chair, and it ‘seeks to provide a collective space where all parliamentarians can support and promote ocean research and awareness, to develop greater understanding of the ocean and its role in tackling challenges such as climate change, and to debate wider ocean issues.’
I introduced the meeting and the excellent speakers, underlining that now is the time to collate evidence so that we can encourage investment in blue carbon in order to unlock the potential of our coastlines to reach the 2050 goal for net zero emissions, protect against flooding and erosion, and reverse loss of wildlife - whilst simultaneously helping to provide our coastal communities with jobs and investment where it is most needed.
Our oceans and coastal areas provide an abundance of opportunities for capturing and storing carbon, helping to regulate our climate - and support the economy. The ocean's vegetated habitats, for example, cover less than half a percent of the seabed but are responsible for more than 50%, and potentially up to 70%, of all carbon storage in ocean sediments. The inquiry will cover all corners of the UK and relevant overseas territories and will run until 10th August 2022.
I then had forty minutes or so to catch up on emails and briefings before going down to Prayers and COP26 Oral Parliamentary Questions. Each day in the Chamber starts with Prayers led by the Speaker’s Chaplain. Whilst attendance is voluntary, MPs who place a Prayer Card on a green bench (thereby saving a space - which is particularly useful on busy days such as Prime Minister’s Questions) must turn up. It is bad form and frowned upon not to do so. I rather like Prayers as it is not only an ancient tradition dating as far back as 1558, but also a good way to focus the mind on direction, guidance and why we are all here.
COP26 OPQ’s were followed by Prime Minister’s Questions which were possibly less rowdy than usual albeit with a few rolling eyes, especially from the Labour benches on account of their Leader. It is quite interesting to study their faces – in the same way they study ours.
The Home Secretary followed with a statement on the Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda. In a nutshell, the UK’s domestic courts did not find that the Government was breaking the law by sending illegal migrants to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed, but the flights were stopped by the European Court of Human Rights which did not rule that the policy or relocations were unlawful, but it still prohibited the removal of three of the people on the flight.
Next came the presentation of Private Members’ Bills. Last time I wrote my ‘Day in the Life’, I was hoping to introduce a bill which would enable palliative care leave to be made available for people whose close family members are dying from a terminal illness. Unfortunately, Wendy Chamberlain, a Liberal Democrat MP (and friend!), who is further up the list drawn for the Private Members’ Bill ballot than me, had a similar idea for carer’s leave. Although there are differences, it was considered too similar to warrant a separate bill. I will put in to speak on her Bill and offered it my wholehearted support. The one I presented instead is focused on domestic abuse and the collection of child maintenance – and harks back to my time as a JP, seeing women (and it has to be said that it is women who are largely the victims) and children suffer not just physically and emotionally, but also financially from domestic abuse. Often, abusive men will use child maintenance to continue their abuse of their former partners and children following separation.
The Bill will add the option for moving a Child Maintenance Service (CMS) case to ‘collect and pay’ (rather than the default option of ‘direct pay’), without the consent of the other parent. This will improve the offer to victims of domestic abuse in how they receive child maintenance payments. It is important that children receive the financial support they need to have the best start in life. The CMS is set up for parents who have not been able to make a private arrangement about how their children’s living costs will be paid, and payments lift around 120,000 children across the UK out of poverty every year – this is really important.
Still in the Chamber, I bobbed to speak in the debate on the Government motion on rail strikes. Having already subsidised the rail industry throughout the pandemic to the sum of £16 billion, I feel it is grossly unfair that taxpayers now have their lives and livelihoods hit by these strikes – school children taking exams, businesses, cleaners getting to work and so on. The strikes will particularly affect the lower paid (because they often cannot ‘just work from home’) and our local tourism and hospitality businesses which are still recovering from the pandemic and being hit by the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine. It really is unbelievable that the RMT union, backed by Labour, are doing this to the British public. It is the selfishness which really gets me; playing political games at the expense of the British public is simply unacceptable –this action taken by the RMT is political, aiming to destabilise the Conservative Government. I simply do not agree with these tactics. The strikes are not only to do with pay but also the plans for reform - for modernising the railways - and clearly reforming our railways is key to making them fit for the future. Only through proper thought and consideration can fairness for both the taxpayer and those who work in the industry be achieved.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, later spoke to the 1922 Committee about the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) and the need for reform, which I agree with. There are severe problems with the NIP within Northern Ireland’s communities and whose economy is lagging behind that of the rest of the UK. I have worked with my colleagues on the Conservative Union Research Unit to encourage the Government to take action to protect our union as regards Northern Ireland and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, as both are under threat and the related political institutions have also stopped functioning. These are British interests which need to be protected. The EU refuses to amend the NIP which must not only safeguard the EU single market - north south trade is functioning well - but also safeguard east west trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The NIP does not meet at least one of its objectives – that is to protect the UK’s territorial integrity and our customs union. It is necessary to act to safeguard our essential interest of maintaining stability in Northern Ireland, and to ensure that the unique constitutional structures of the Belfast Agreement are functioning effectively whilst preserving social and economic ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
All in all, a very productive day.