This week is Parliamentary recess – which means there are no debates in the Houses of Parliament. So what do MPs do during this time?
Well, I spend a lot of recess days in Bristol West. This is valuable time when I try to help as many people as possible who are struggling with the impact of government policies, through my casework. Sometimes this is done via a constituency surgery, but often my team are able to resolve problems faster than waiting for a face-to-face appointment. Recess is also a good time to be out and about meeting different organisations, from businesses to schools, charities and community groups.
Casework and spending time with different organisations is how I find out what I need to say and do in Parliament so I can better represent the constituency.
To give you a flavour of what this means in practice, here is a selection of my appointments over 48 hours last week.
I started off Tuesday morning with one of my regular constituency surgeries, which are to help respond to individuals’ questions or problems. A typical surgery session may include a wide range of individual circumstances, from complex immigration cases to difficulties accessing benefits, housing problems to the concerns of local businesses. I also help people who are having a difficult time with a government agency such as HMRC or a local government licensing department. Sometimes people want to discuss policy changes they feel strongly about. This week this included discussions about agriculture policy and the medicines available on the NHS.
We followed up the surgery by submitting several Written Parliamentary Questions for Ministers. I also wrote to several government departments asking them to look into particular cases. I often follow up these meetings researching particular issues. Last week that included delving deeper on the process for medicines to get licensed and approved on the NHS.
A ride-along with the police
After the surgery, I was privileged to shadow officers from Avon and Somerset Constabulary as they went about a typical Tuesday evening shift. PC Ben Spence and Sergeant Richard Jones (who you may recognise if you watched episode 1 of Drugsland on BBC One) from the Neighbourhoods Team, and PC James Bowles and PC Jenny Daly, from Response, took me on their respective beats and answered my many questions.
Ben and Rich took me with them as they visited several extremely vulnerable people who have become victims of ‘cuckooing’ – where they are exploited, coerced, threatened and sometimes hurt, until their home is taken over by drug dealers. This is clearly a very distressing aspect of the modern drugs trade in our city, but I was pleased to see the force's commitment to protecting those who are caught up in it, as well as of course prioritising protection for the public. However, it was clear that this is really challenging work and shows the disturbing ways that Bristol’s drugs trade has evolved.
After this, I went out with James and Jenny from the Response team – officers who respond to calls from dispatch as emergencies are reported to the police. After attending an incident with them I saw how they arrest and book someone in to the custody suite in Keynsham. I learnt more about the dangers our police face every day, while keeping us safe, and how hard they work doing that despite funding cuts. I am backing the 'Protect the Protectors' Bill initiated by Holly Lynch MP to improve how we protect those who protect us.
The police are stretched at the moment, with officer numbers across the country at their lowest levels for 30 years. Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens recently warned that funding for the service is at a tipping point. Seeing the vital work that these officers do in the flesh has made me even more determined to stand up to the government and demand that our police forces are given the funding and resources they need to keep us all safe.
Investigating cancer care at Southmead Hospital
The next day I visited the Bristol Breast Care Centre and NGS Macmillan Wellbeing Centre at Southmead Hospital. The Centre has a huge personal significance for me, as I had treatment here as a patient in 2015 - 2016 and support from the Macmillan Centre. It was very moving to be able to return as an MP.
The Breast Care Centre routinely screens 60,000 women each year from Bristol and the surrounding area, and cares for around 10,000 patients who develop symptoms each year. The advantage of the single site is that diagnosis, treatment planning and many other aspects are all done in the one place, by staff who only work on breast cancer.
Emotional and practical help is on hand just next door thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers from Macmillan who support patients and their families. This facility was invaluable while I was undergoing treatment and it was wonderful to be welcomed back to meet other people benefitting from it.
Meeting victims of domestic abuse at Next Link
Later on Wednesday, I visited Next Link, which provides mental health help, domestic abuse support services and support for victims of rape and sexual abuse, across Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
I spent time meeting staff from the crisis team and then discussing the impact of current laws and policies with a group of staff and clients. We discussed the draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill which is currently out for consultation, the ways court and police practices can affect victims and children and the effect of chronic housing shortages.
Talking Brexit with Bristol businesses
On Thursday afternoon I went to a meeting about our departure from the EU organised by Business West. It brought together large and small businesses from across the region.
I was concerned to hear how these companies still face a lot of uncertainty when we leave the EU – which is now less than a year away. The UK risks becoming much more challenging for any business which moves goods, parts or labour around the EU, especially when regulations change in the EU after we are no longer bound by them in the UK. This will create problems when exporting, in turn affecting job security, which has a further impact on the wider local economy.
I am trying to meet as many businesses and individuals as I can to help make them better informed and prepared. By building a clear picture of how these organisations could be affected by Brexit, I can challenge government to meet these needs. And I want to hear from you about how you or your business will be affected by Brexit. You can complete my latest Brexit survey here.
A time to take stock
These were not my only appointments this week. For example, I also gave the keynote speech at one of the regular meetings of the Women in Banking and Finance Network, about how I got into politics and what it’s like being a female MP.
During these 48 hours I also worked with my staff on responses to casework and policy questions coming in through emails and petitions.
Recess is also a good time to prepare for upcoming debates in Parliament. Last week I dedicated time to reading briefings on refugee policy as we have a Bill coming up on immigration. I am working with colleagues across both Houses of Parliament to try to get amendments put down to help improve refugees’ rights – watch this space...
Last but not least, I also launched a new Facebook campaign page for my work on improving Bristol’s air quality – join the conversation on #BristolBreathingBetter!
As you can see, recess periods are often busy, but they do allow us to take stock of the work we do as Members of Parliament, looking at the priority areas in our constituencies. I’d like to thank all the great people and organisations I have met this week. It is good to be working with you.