Tomorrow morning our MPs will return to Parliament for the first time since they left just over two weeks ago for Political Conferences. The upcoming business lists several discussions that will take place this week. However, there are no indications that our MPs will be able to discuss or approve the Budget which Kwasi Kwarteng set out on the Friday of the Parliament closure. Indeed, the only element that involves him this week is “Allocation of Time Motion: Health and Social Care Levy (Repeal) Bill” tomorrow. It would be very interesting if any of our MPs would wish to discuss his budget as at least one ex Minister has raised this theme in the last few days. Johnny Mercer stated
“I won’t vote for a Budget that doesn’t see an uprating of benefits and universal credit line with inflation,”
and went on to suggest
“And if that means I get kicked out of the Tory party, fine.”
Given how many reactions there have been to the Budget over the last two weeks it would be very disturbing if there is no discussions in Parliament. On Wednesday there is the first Prime Minister’s Question Time since Elizabeth Truss was appointed so that would be an opportunity for MPs to raise the subject. If that is not achieved, on Thursday Penny Mordaunt holds Business Questions to the Leader of the House and so hopefully by the end of this week there will be a plan to discuss the Budget.
It is always interesting to observe what takes place in Parliament in a previous week. Because Parliament was closed over the last two weeks there were no discussions that could take place but during the week of the Labour Conference, most of the Ministers operated as they usually do during a closed down Parliament. They responded to the written questions from other MPs which included several from some of our Sussex representations. Their comments emerged presumably because the Ministers were working in the Westminster Government Departments. However, when the Conservative Party held its Conference in Birmingham, it would be very understandable that there could not have been any responses to written questions from other MPs. However surprisingly on both Monday and Tuesday there was an answer each day from Gillian Keegan who is the Chichester MP and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office). It is perhaps very good that she did respond as the issues which were “Israeli Settlements” and “Ethiopia: Armed Conflict” but it does seem strange as none of the other Sussex Ministers responded to any questions during their Conference period.
Other themes that emerged last week included an element from the weekly message from Peter Bottomley who is the MP for Worthing West. His element was headlined as “The Campaign against Storm Overflows” and he wrote
“In recent weeks I have been in close contact with Southern Water and the Environment Agency highlighting constituents’ deep concerns about local water quality. Following a recent Urgent Question by Caroline Lucas, I asked for an explanation as to whether the companies, the regulator and the Environment Agency actually know the full scale of the problem. Though the weather is colder and fewer will be swimming, I will continue to press all responsible for urgent action in a timeline that works for and provides reassurance to our coastal communities.”
I was very interested in this because Caroline is my own MP for Brighton Pavilion and the debate that I found on the Parliamentary system was back on the 6th of September on the day that the Prime Minister and her predecessor were visiting the Queen. The debate was headlined “Sewage Pollution” and it was formed by Caroline which initially had a brief comment
“To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on sewage outflows into our beautiful waterways and on our beaches.”
The Minister who responded was George Eustice who had been the Secretary since February 2020. However, his role ended at the end that day. There was a much more detailed comment from Caroline Lucas and a brief contribution from Peter Bottomley along with comments from Mims Davies, the Mid Sussex MP and Tim Loughton, the East Worthing and Shoreham MP. Given the departure that day of George Eustice, perhaps some Sussex MPs will raise this subject again in the next few days for us? Another theme that emerged last week came from Maria Caulfield, the Lewes MP who spoke to Robert Peston saying
“I do think we do need to come together as a party because we know from history that people don’t vote for divided parties.”
It will be very interesting to see how the Conservative colleagues respond in the next few weeks including our representatives from within Sussex!