The media presents a particular image of the work of an MP, most often the exchanges in the Chamber at Prime Minister's Question Time. This is my least favourite session in a week and the heckling is a far cry from the orderly and polite debates at most other times. The range of activities that an MP gets involved in in the line of duty is many and varied and it has recently been suggested by constituents that I write a piece on this. They suggested a format of "A month in the life of an MP." As October gives way to November this is just such an In Touch.
October started with the Party Conference. On Sunday 1st I travelled to Manchester and attended three short sessions that evening; each of these aimed at briefing people on a different topic. The next two days were full with fringe meetings and meetings with individual organisations that had asked to meet with me. I was a panel speaker at four of these fringe meetings and chairman on another. There were also roundtable discussions, thankfully a couple over dinner! I had to leave Conference before 6 am on the Wednesday to make a call to Nigeria and for meetings in London. It is always difficult to get the diary right but the job as the PM's Trade Envoy to Nigeria is important particularly as it is a country that is on course to be the third most populous country in the world by the middle of the century.
On 5th October I was back in the constituency and headed to Goring for a discussion with members of the Goring U3A. I think that U3A is an excellent organisation. What was particularly good was to have a wide-ranging conversation without any of the rancour and anger which characterise the way politics is too often conducted. Of course, we did not agree on everything; I recall we had various opinions on international matters. But it was a civilised conversation. The next day also saw another civilised conversation when the author, academic and barrister Philippe Sands and I were in conversation at the Henley Literary Festival about his new book "East West Street". We may not have the same political views but in a polite and engaging conversation there was much we could agree on and much depth to his book and his observations. It was a good conversation which I thoroughly enjoyed and I take much away with me from reading the book. That same day I also attended the Chinnor Rugby Club business lunch. Chinnor Rugby Club is an organisation of which I am Patron. As MP I am Patron of 8 organisations within the constituency. It is an honour to be asked to be Patron to an organisation and in accepting I do what I can to help. Finally, for this week, on Saturday 7th October I went to Thame and joined in a councillor surgery with Thame Town Councillor Linda Emery. I also visited the Friends of the Earth Green Faye where I was very interested in what they were doing to promote awareness of the need for clean air. Finally, I couldn't resist a visit to the Fayre at St Mary's Church in Thame where I was filmed at the "soup kitchen".
Between 8th October and 13th October I was in Strasbourg to fulfil my duties as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This is a non-EU organisation set up in 1949 There are 47 member states of the Council and 327 parliamentary members who are all MPs in their own countries. We stay as members despite Brexit. It actually becomes more important as a means of participating in Europe as Brexit proceeds. It also gives us the moral high ground on human rights and the rule of law. Just before this October session the President of the Assembly fortunately jumped before he was pushed and resigned after a disastrous visit by him, by Russian military plane, to meet and greet President Assad in Syria without telling anyone. During the week I spoke on corruption, on Catalonia, on crimes of genocide by Daesh, on Jordan, on Ukraine, and, on the activities of the OECD and how they could have been more helpful in allowing more aid to the Caribbean to be part of our 0.7%. I also spoke on genetic technologies and helping intersex people. Finally, I asked the President of the Czech Republic what we should do to bring peace in the Middle East. It is vitally important that we are part of this organisation if we are to stay part of the international community.
On Monday 16th October I was back in the House of Commons where I participated in debates on housing, on Iran, and on Culham and Euratom. I also spoke in debates about young people with learning difficulties and health in Oxfordshire. Around these events I entertained the Nigerian Agriculture Minister to dinner with a number of State Governors and gave a keynote speech to a conference on doing business in agriculture in Nigeria. I was also invited to contribute to the development of a new trade policy Bill. Finally, I attended the annual defence training industry dinner. During this time we also had several meetings of the Justice Select Committee of which I am a member. In the first session we were questioning Nick Hardwick of the Parole Board and Justice Minister, Sam Gyimah. In the second, we quizzed the Lord Chancellor. Through Select Committees we can really hold the Government to account and in this case get to grips with future Government policy.
During this week I spoke to a high-ranking delegation of Chinese officials about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) - arbitration and mediation - where I am chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on ADR. It took a while to explain to them that an APPG does not have powers to order people to take up ADR but is a cross-party forum for informing. Speaking to visiting groups of foreign delegates is an important part of ensuring Parliament's continued role in the world. In this week I also set up a new All Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Fusion of which I am the chairman.
During a week when Parliament is sitting all these activities take place around the debates going on in the Chamber. This is why the Chamber can at times seem empty. It is not that MPs are not bothering but rather that there are many other meetings and committees taking place in parallel. Around my other commitments I also managed to get in at PMQ this week to ask a question to the Prime Minister on the activities of RAF Benson in the Caribbean during the recent hurricanes and how the Puma 2 helicopter had performed so well. The latter was a theme I took up with the Leader of the House the following day.
By Thursday evening I was back in the constituency and chaired the Rail Action Group in Goring and South Stoke in their meetings with Network Rail (NR). Over the next few days, I continued my revisits to some of the 53 state schools in the constituency. I visited Langtree in Woodcote and Dr South's School in Islip. At Langtree we had a very good discussion about the capital needs of the school and the future of the school. It was very good to have this conversation in a calm environment where real issues could be discussed. On Saturday evening I continued the theme of refugees and joined a panel of speakers in Thame for a seminar organised by Bread and Roses Thame on the refugee situation across the world. It is sobering to remember that the situation in Syria is not the only refugee crisis and that the number of refugees in the world comes to 65.5 million.
Sunday is often the quietest day and recently I have been out and about delivering an 'In Touch'. Sunday is a good day for this as there are lots of people about and so the opportunity for casual conversation with constituents. On Sunday evening I frequently go into Oxford to attend Evensong at the Cathedral.
On Monday 23rd October it was back to Westminster for another round of debates, meetings and committees. This week I chaired a parliamentary meeting with Marcus Sheff of Impact-SE to discuss the bias in school text books in Palestine. IMPACT is a research, policy and advocacy organization that monitors and analyzes education. It aims to prevent radicalization of children and youth as the most vulnerable members of society.
This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and this week I spoke in a debate on this in Westminster Hall. In this week's round of meetings was one with a group of MPs lobbying the Department of Transport for safety improvements to the A34, the CLA on rural housing and further meetings on my role in Nigeria. The committee work with the Justice Committee continued and I also had a meeting of the Industry and Parliament Trust of which I am on the Board of Trustees and Deputy Chairman. The IPT is an independent, non-lobbying, non-partisan charity that provides a trusted platform of engagement between Parliament and UK business.
Once again back in the constituency on Friday I started the day chairing the regular meeting of Oxfordshire MPs and the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group. There was good news this time in that the number of Delayed Discharges of Care had beaten its Government target. I then went to Culham to talk to residents over their concerns on the District Council emerging Local Plan and the inclusion of building in the green belt. The day ended with an MPs surgery in Thame which involves a series of short meetings with constituents on a range of issues that they want to bring to me.
In addition, to all this there is still the work to be done for individual constituents and the answering of emails which often take the form of organised campaigns. Unlike some MPs I do not at this stage just post a response on my web site but try to answer them all individually. I am of course, ably supported by a small team of staff who work in the background to support me.
I hope this has given you a good feel of what an average month in the life of an MP feels like. I hope it also explains why it is impossible to have meetings in the constituency between Sunday night and Thursday afternoon. Those of you with a keen eye will realise that I have not once mentioned Brexit. Brexit is of great interest to the press but for those of us in Parliament there are other important ongoing issues to consider.