As a government whip, I spend more time than ever before in and around the House of Commons chamber, monitoring debates, checking on progress, communicating with other ministers and helping to make sure that business proceeds smoothly.
One upside is knowing more than ever before about the intricacies of the ‘Order Paper’ where the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of legislation are listed every day (also available online on the Parliamentary website for those who have difficulty sleeping) and another is witnessing some of the pomp and ritual behind the rowdiness of the chamber.
Every day, for example, prior to the sitting of the House of Commons, Mr Speaker processes from his apartments to the chamber. The procession includes the Doorkeeper, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Speaker, a trainbearer, the Chaplain, and the Speaker’s Private Secretary and the group are preceded with a two-tone cry of “Mr Speak-Er”. The House then sits in private for prayers, led by our splendid chaplain, the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and at the end of the day the mace is removed with additional ceremony.
I am all for introducing modern practices into this archaic workplace, and would welcome an attempt to finally get rid of the mice that are dancing on our desks, but I find the unbroken rituals around the way that we do business to be both reassuring and dignified.
I have been busy with a visit this week to Avon Valley College in Durrington to celebrate its academic success and discuss plans for a new sixth form building, a packed advice surgery in the school’s café, a catch-up with local councillors, inspections and consultations on the (thankfully receding) flood threat and then the pleasure of a visit to one of my favourite pubs, the Green Dragon in Market Lavington where I helped to officially ‘open’ the new electric door installed by Wadworth to allow wheelchair users easy access to a pint.
Back in Westminster I arranged a meeting with the Chancellor to press the case for pulling forward funding so we can start the electrification of the rail line to Great Bedwyn in 2016 and also spent time investigating the new plans for increasing the benefits to local communities who allow fracking.
We have a great opportunity to source energy that will reduce both bills and cut carbon emissions but local people must both be involved in the decisions and see real benefit from the extractions.