Last week we had the opportunity to celebrate Sussex Day even though large gatherings are not possible currently. However one place where large numbers of people do meet together is the House of Commons and so last Tuesday it was encouraging that many of our Sussex MPs did adopt the Sussex Day priorities in their work. The Sussex focus is “The people of Sussex will undertake responsibility for the general wellbeing of our neighbours, our wildlife and that through custom we will support all local businesses.” It was clear that several MPs did adopt it on the day and so clearly we need to encourage them to continue to do so for the rest of their time in Parliament. Last week many of us called on Sussex MPs to ensure that people on low incomes would have free meal provision for their children over the summer. It was great to see such a widespread support for this issue even though it was in opposition to the Government’s initial plan. On social media Caroline Ansell and Nusrat Ghani expressed their support for the idea and in Parliament there were contributions from Sally-Ann Hart and Andrew Griffith. Another substantial contribution that came from Andrew was what appears to have been the first mention of Sussex Day since 1965. Andrew spoke about it during a debate on Global Britain and referred specifically to our wine industries. Clearly we need for a focus on local businesses to extend beyond one industry, but it was a good start and indeed Huw Merriman referred to the aviation industry which is not something that would be considered as a local business but they do employ many local people. The final aspect came in three questions from Nusrat that were all answered on Tuesday by DEFRA on the subject of wildlife protection so in one day all three of the Sussex Day Themes and a reference to the day itself did get mentioned by MPs from the Conservative Party. This appears to be the start of a new approach by our Sussex MPs and so perhaps we can keep them reminded of this set of themes on a regular basis.
Of course the other three Sussex MPs who represent other political parties also had a great deal to say. Peter Kyle made several contributions during the debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill which is very relevant under the focus of the wellbeing of our neighbours. Caroline Lucas also contributed to the Environment Protection debate and in another debate that related to businesses asked Jesse Norman from the Treasury two questions including to “establish a new taskforce on jobs for nature, to maximise the number of people employed in protecting the natural world, rather than destroying it?” It was very disappointing that her questions were ignored by Jesse whose response was “Having been an energy Minister, I am extremely aware of the many good things that we have done and continue to do, but I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution”. It was encouraging that Kerry McCarthy from Labour chose to challenge Jesse for ignoring Caroline’s questions although he still refused to respond. It is clearly important for MPs to work together on such subjects. Along with these issues Caroline also asked about the extent to which the Furlough arrangements were reaching small companies which is of particular relevance to Sussex as most of our industries are based on Small and Micro enterprises.
One matter that it should be easy for Sussex MPs to work together on relates to petitions that large numbers of Sussex residents have signed up to and which are not party political. The Government e-petitions which started in 2006 were reintroduced in 2011 by the coalition and continue on the Government website. However since the last General Election there are now around 30 petitions that have each been signed by over 100,000 people across the UK including significant numbers of Sussex residents. None of them have been debated in Parliament since the election, even though there is a clear promise that they would be considered for such a purpose. Some of these petitions have a focus on the current theme of COVID-19 and yet the Government is refusing to indicate when they can be considered for a debate. Of the various petitions, a total of nearly 150,000 Sussex residents have signed them with a minimum of 6,400 people in each constituency and a massive number of 22,000 in one of the Sussex constituencies. Some of the petitions are not as well supported by Sussex residents as in other locations but there are also several which have far more Sussex support than across the average for the rest of the nation and so our Sussex MPs should all be calling for these to be discussed!