To say that these are uncertain political times is something of an understatement! Parliament is currently prorogued until October 14th, meaning that it is not sitting for five weeks. MPs cannot table questions, carry on their committee work, or otherwise scrutinise the work of Government. Important legislation such as the Domestic Abuse Bill (which would, inter alia protect tenancy rights for victims of domestic violence), the Divorce Bill (introducing ‘no-fault’ divorce), the Animal Sentencing Bill (increasing maximum jail sentences for the worst animal cruelty offences from six months to five years), the Fisheries Bill and the Agriculture Bill has been dropped.
I’ve been particularly involved with the Agriculture Bill, which would have seen us move away from subsidising wealthy landowners under the highly-flawed Common Agricultural Policy, to giving support to farmers who respect the natural environment, reduce their carbon footprint, and have higher standards of animal welfare. I was on the Bill Committee, which sat last December, and since then there has, frustratingly, been no progress at all; we will now have to start all over again, with a new Agriculture Bill, after the Queen’s Speech.
We will hear later this week whether the Supreme Court in London will uphold the decision of the Scottish court that prorogation was unlawful. If this is the ruling, it may be that Parliament will return, and I for one would welcome this. With the Brexit deadline of 31st October approaching fast, and a Prime Minister who has hinted that he will simply ignore the fact that Parliament has voted to stop a catastrophic ‘no deal’ Brexit, MPs need to be in Westminster to hold him to account. Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July, Parliament has sat for precisely five days. This is completely unacceptable.
I was particularly disappointed by the decision to prorogue as I had been drawn for Prime Minister’s Questions, something which only happens very rarely. Hundreds of MPs submit questions each week and only 15 are chosen. Others have to rely on ‘bobbing’ up and down to catch the Speaker’s attention. I was hoping to ask the new Prime Minister if he would help get the drug Spinraza for my 18-year-old constituent, Jake Ogmore – something I’d also asked Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions in July – as well as pressing for the drugs Orkambi and Symkevi to be made available on the NHS to cystic fibrosis patients.
The one upside of prorogation is that I do get to spend more time in Bristol. My diary is filling up with school visits, meetings with community groups, and local events, which I am sure will be far more enjoyable than being in the Commons! But I still believe that MPs have an important job to do in Westminster, and that’s where we should be right now.