As we wait to find out who our next Prime Minister will be, it is encouraging that Parliament when presented with a new opportunity to prevent him from closing them down, responded differently. The prorogation of Parliament would allow the Prime Minister to ram through a no deal Brexit without any involvement by MPs so the outcome was very good. A week earlier on 9th July as I commented last week, with the exception of Sam Gyimah in Surrey, every Kent, Sussex and Surrey Tory MP refused to prevent Parliament from being closed. However last Thursday a number of them changed their approach and as someone who is keen to see Parliament reformed, not destroyed by our representatives I believe they should be thanked for their decision to ignore the Tory anti-democratic demands. Along with Sam, Caroline Lucas, Peter Kyle, Stephen Lloyd and Rosie Duffield from Canterbury all voted on 9th July to keep Parliament open. Sadly Lloyd Russell-Moyle abstained and because he was in a hustings event, Jeremy Hunt also did not vote. However when it came to last weeks vote, the people already mentioned responded in the same way including Jeremy Hunt, so clearly if he is our Prime Minister tomorrow he would not have sought to close Parliament!
Along with Lloyd and Jeremy who abstained previously, they were joined on Thursday by Peter Bottomley, Greg Clark, Damian Green, Philip Hammond, Gillian Keegan, Huw Merriman, Anne Milton, Nicholas Soames and Tom Tugendhat. Although abstaining can be much less significant than voting, three of the Sussex MPs previously voted to keep the doors open and 12 gave the keys to Boris. On this occasion that number shifted to 3 vs 8 which was significant. Across the region as a whole we went from 5 to keep the doors open and 38 to give Boris the key and this shifted to 5 vs 29. Thankfully the votes in other regions were much more in favour of keeping Parliament open and so it will now remain open apart from the extensive holidays that lie ahead. These 9 abstainers deserve to be acknowledged for their choice not to vote. Let us hope that such a challenge will help prevent the culture in our Parliament from being as poor as it could have been.
Another theme which was touched on in last weeks column was the issue of funding for rural schools that had been raised by Huw in a question. Last Wednesday there was a debate on the subject and while this did not lead to any significant change by the Government, the majority of the people contributing to the debate were Conservative MPs and it included Gillian as well as Huw. Once again Huw mentioned Broad Oak and Gillian referred to Harting School. I know that Fletching which is in Nusrat Ghani’s constituency is also under threat of closure due to the numbers of pupils and the blunt way in which funding is managed. Nick Gibb’s response was limited but he did say “The Government recognise the importance of rural schools and the need to maintain access to good local schools in rural areas, which, as hon. Members have said, are so often at the heart of their communities… given their importance, we have a presumption against the closure of rural schools. Although that cannot mean that no rural school will ever close, the case for closure must be strong and in the best interests of educational provision for pupils in the area.” It would be fantastic for all 16 Sussex MPs to campaign on this matter!
The final element for today’s column was raised by Henry Smith in an urgent debate that also took place on Wednesday last week. The debate related to a Freedom of Information response to the Independent newspaper regarding victims of slavery that are held in Government detention centres. The debate has understandably angered people as on 19th June the Government stated to Parliament that “there is no central record” of such persons, and “The Home Office therefore does not collate or publish the data requested” when a question regarding slavery was raised. However the Independent was informed that at least 500 such people are under detention! Henry pointed out “In my constituency, there are two immigration detention centres, may I seek assurances from the Minister that the staff receive correct and adequate training to ensure that they are identifying and detecting those who may have been victims of modern slavery?” Perhaps in the light of the Governments ineptitude, Henry could change his tactic and instead call for the two detention centres to be closed for good, rather than simply demand that their staff are better trained!