Whenever our Parliament is open, it in theory provides an opportunity for MPs to support or challenge views or actions from other settings. The extent to which this can take place is partly controlled by the Government that often closes down activity, but it is also set out by the individual MPs. Since COVID, the number of statements from MPs has reduced significantly. Of course, in many other settings meetings have reduced and whilst there are opportunities through video conferencing there are also limitations. This means that many people are having to explore new ways of operating and although things are opening up a bit more now, it may take several years before we reach a level of normality. Even then the conditions may well be very different to what we considered normality in 2019. Last week in Parliament for example on Monday many of us were hoping for a debate and a vote on an amendment to reinstate the Conservative level of Overseas Aid. Sadly, the Government prevented the amendment from being included, even though it was focused on their own manifesto. So instead, a debate took place the following day and it was very disappointing that no vote was involved. So, for those of us who are concerned about this subject, which of course includes the people who support as well as those of us who oppose the change, we are not able to see a response from our local MPs. Sadly, along with the lack of a vote there was also no contribution in the debate from any Sussex MPs which made the issue even more disappointing.
A few years ago, I had a role that covered all of Sussex and one of the elements was engaging with the 16 MPs on behalf of the organisation. One of the MPs kindly added me to his list of postings that he regularly sends out to his constituents and so his comment regarding the Overseas Aid did emerge last week. As it happens Peter Bottomley is now the Father of the House of Commons so his views should be treated as significant as the people like Theresa May who have had previous senior roles. Sadly, neither of them have managed to influence the Government and so until a vote is made possible, it appears that the Foreign Aid reduction will continue unless the Government suddenly gets inspired. The comment from Peter Bottomley included these words.
I am proud to be part of a cross-party group of MPs standing by our 2019 manifesto promise of 0.7% of our income going towards foreign aid. We ‘proudly’ stood by the promise at the last election. Aid, well directed, makes a great deal of difference in our own interests as well as of those we are helping.
Whilst the other MPs may not have made a similar statement perhaps in the context of COVID we could persuade all MPs to do something similar in terms of sending out statements that are available to people outside of their constitutions. Doing so would enable us all to find out what their views are when they are unable to participate in debates and even when votes do take place it would help explain why they voted as they did. This is perhaps even more vital following last week’s announcement from the Boundary Commission that the Sussex MPs will increase from 16 to 17 and that many of us will be moved from our existing constituency to a different one in due course.
This week there will be many themes that our MPs will be interested in. For example, today in Westminster Hall a debate is taking place about two petitions that are both focused on the Israel and Palestine situation. One has nearly 400,000 signatures and whilst the majority came from Manchester, Birmingham and London, here in Sussex there are also higher numbers from Crawley along with Brighton and Hove. The title is “Introduce sanctions against Israel” and although it calls for all trade to be blocked which many people would disagree with, it also calls for “in particular arms” which would be supported by more people, given how our arms do get used in places such as Palestine, Syria and Yemen and cause problems in the World. The other petition has fewer signatures with only 130,000 so far and the same areas have supported it again. That is entitled as “UK Government to formally recognise the State of Palestine”. It would seem important for our MPs to participate in this debate. Another theme that has not yet been listed on the Parliament system for Wednesday is the subject of Sussex Day. Let us hope that all Sussex MPs will make a contribution on that day, either in Parliament or through other settings to promote Sussex.