Europe and America do not Trump My Local Concerns

In the House with Huw Merriman SUS-151007-132058001
In the House with Huw Merriman SUS-151007-132058001

Parliament was this week dominated by the bill to allow Britain to leave the EU and by President Trump’s temporary immigration ban on seven countries across the globe.

On the EU debate, I had taken the view that the debate about whether Britain should leave ended in June when the referendum result was delivered. I therefore avoided repeating those arguments in the chamber. I was, however, one of the 498 MPs who voted for the bill to pass to its next stage in order for Britain to trigger Article 50 and start the exit process. At that juncture, debate should rightly be held on our future place in the world and I will be adding my voice.

On President Trump, the Foreign Secretary answered questions from MPs for 90 minutes and reassured Parliament that any British passport holder would be exempt from restrictions if traveling to the US from any of those countries. Outside Parliament, and very near my office, a mass demonstration was being held for people to vent their feelings. The Speaker decided that the House of Commons should hold a debate so MPs could continue to express their opinions after the Foreign Secretary had sat down. I do not hold much affection for the views of the US President but his election, and holding him to account, is for the American people and their democratic process. In my opinion, Parliament demeans itself when it spends almost 5 hours on an issue, such as this, on which it has no jurisdiction. I think it is better when Parliament pauses, considers the best way to respond and then acts.

The excitement from these two issues gave me time to press for issues which concern me locally. The first is on schools funding. The Government is looking to change the funding formula. For local schools, already facing higher costs due to increases in wages, pensions and other benefits for staff, more will end up losing funding from the new formula than gaining. In a private meeting with the Secretary of State for Education I made my position clear and was backed up by MPs from Lewes and Eastbourne as well as the ever tenacious Sir Nicholas Soames from West Sussex.

Later that afternoon, Sir Nicholas and I lobbied again for Sussex at a meeting to discuss funding for our local authorities. Like many rural MPs, we feel that metropolitan cities are getting a better deal and we need a fairer deal for Sussex. I am concerned that a move towards having local authorities self-funded by council tax and business rates receipts will be a challenge in a constituency where we are low on business and high on adult social care funding needs. We need investment in our roads, rail and broadband in order to stand on our own two feet. Again, we made our points in a private meeting to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

The following day, I had my first policy board meeting at No.10 Downing Street to discuss reform of Adult Social Care. This is hugely relevant to the constituency because we have many elderly residents who need care and help in their advancing years.

It is in these private meetings that I can argue for what the constituency needs and shape policy. Standing up and speaking in the House of Commons is also important, and I do it so often that I am always last on the list on my side of the benches. For this week, I was happy to do my battles in a meeting room rather than debate them in the chamber.