Last week saw me have two days taking evidence for the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bill has three main objectives, these are to increase the fairness of the system to better protect those in need of asylum; to deter illegal entry into the UK; breaking the business model of people smugglers and to remove more easily those with no right to be in the UK. Over the sessions we took evidence from a variety of people and organisations. These were both physical or virtual and included the Red Cross, Police, Immigration Service; UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency), ECPAT (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking a leading children’s rights organisation working to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation), Refugee Council, Councillors; Anti-Slavery commission; and the Australian High Commissioner. These representations will be given consideration as we spend the next four sitting weeks reviewing this Bill line by line.
My participation in the Bill Committee is frustrating some of my attendance at the BEIS committees but I was able to join for most of a session we had on the problems being experienced in the gas supply market. For BEIS I attend a briefing meeting most weeks with Ministers and last week saw us meeting the new members of the team following the Ministerial reshuffles. One of the new Ministers is George Freeman MP who was appointed to look after Science, Innovation and Research. At the meeting I asked him to come and see NETPark at Sedgefield where we have some incredible businesses, and it was amazing for him to then come and see us as soon as last Friday. We met with a number of the businesses as well as representatives from Durham County Council. We were able to educate the Minister as to local plans for investment in infrastructure and the Businesses spoke to him about what they would like to see him focus on. Mr Freeman has spent a huge part of his life working on business innovation; indeed, he was actually at NETPark 27 years ago when it was a green field and the plans were being proposed. His engagement was particularly impressive, and it was an absolute delight that his first visit since appointment was to us in the north east.
The 1922 committee this week had Grant Shapps join us and we were able to discuss several very current issues. These included the current concerns around HGV drivers and the changes to international travel rules. I was able to remind him that the Restoring Your Railways bid for Ferryhill Station is prepared and on its way to DfT and I asked him about the safety implications around changes to the rules for articulated driving licences and the concerns of businesses delivering this training. I encouraged him to look at a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) type of certification.
Being in Westminster on Thursday for the Bill Committee I was also able to bob for a question in ‘Business Orals’, this gave me the opportunity to again raise the incomprehensively lenient sentence that was handed down in the case of Thomas Gill. The first week of conference recess, when the Labour Party conference takes place, gives me the opportunity for time in the constituency and I held surgeries at Bishopton, Middleton St George and Middridge as well as visiting businesses, coffee mornings and Acle Scout Group amongst others. The Scout Group at Aycliffe Village was particularly enjoyable with the Beavers and Cubs meeting outside and it was a pleasure to see them having fun. Next week I will be at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, then the week after I will take a week off.
We continue to see society moving closer to normality. This is hugely underpinned by the vaccine rollout and I will continue in my encouragement for you all to make sure you take the opportunity when you have it. We, of course, are seeing the boosters soon but also it’s flu vaccine time. I have had my invite so I am sure many of you will be the same, please be sure to take this opportunity too. For now please continue to respect the virus and Hands, Face, Space.
Stay safe.
Paul Howell
Member of Parliament for Sedgefield