Jun 16 2014
The State Opening of Parliament is a perennially grand affair - never more so than when we know it is the last before a General Election. It is relatively rare for Government's to serve out full five year terms in recent post-war history, but the change to fixed-term Parliaments now means that no politician of any colour has the opportunity to 'cut and run' after just four years.
So MPs listened with interest, as ever, to see whether there were any surprises in the Queen’s Speech above and beyond what has already been discussed in the newspapers. Of course so much of what Government does has no need of a specific Bill – the Queen’s Speech just announces new Bills. Focusing on securing economic recovery, and embedding the reforms in education, health, immigration and welfare are as much about focusing on delivery and implementation as passing new laws for the sake of it.
But the Queen’s Speech can often act as a chance for politicians to reflect on the previous four years and look ahead to the next year – and in Parliament, it is a slightly strange time as the Queen’s Speech is followed by a week’s worth of debates with no votes. Debates occur on general topics, but MPs are at liberty to talk about whatever they like within reason – a rare privilege. My focus though was on the adjournment debate I had secured on the Monday after the Queen’s Speech. My chosen topic was the implementation of the Children & Families Act for children with epilepsy. Those parents with children with special educational needs and/or health needs may well be familiar with the changes that are about to start happening, but the implementation of the new Act is fraught with challenges, but offers a real potential to turn what has been a very adversarial process for parents seeking to get the right education for their children, into a more collaborative process, not least by putting a duty on school governors to ensure the medical as well as educational needs of children in their care are met. You can read a bit more about the debate here. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2014-06-09a.381.0&s=maynard+epilepsy#g384.0. Due to a European Scrutiny debate preceding it, we finished at an even later than usual time of 10.46pm – which demonstrates how late we can sit as a Parliament sometimes!
The same issues that arose with epilepsy also impact children with cerebral palsy, and I am currently running an inquiry with the charity Action CP into the specific problems faced by parents of children with cerebral palsy. Last Tuesday we had an evidence-gathering session with parents from up and down the country who also spoke of the struggles they had faced dealing with local councils and schools as they sought the right education for their children. Late diagnosis was often a problem – which compounds matters for children with CP as the ages 0-2 are the ‘golden period’ when most difference can be made – but the most common theme at all was how professionals often lowered parents expectations of what their children would achieve, which blighted them with low expectations throughout childhood that were simply not reflective of their true potential. The stories were awe-inspiring, but they brought home to me that not all children with complex difficulties are fortunate enough to have parents vocal enough to fight on their behalf and navigate the complex system.
My first meeting after the Queen’s Speech was very much a statement of intent in that I went to lobby the Transport Secretary one more time over direct train services to Blackpool from Euston (I think we’re getting there, but then that was British Rail’s slogan many years ago). I also wanted to draw attention to the ongoing situation with the concessionary tram cards for Wyre residents to look at whether there was any obligation placed upon Lancashire County Council to fund the disabled concessionary fares since part of the objective was that the new trams and platforms were wheelchair-accessible unlike the old-style trams. I finally raised my concerns about the A585 and my frustration that neither the LEP nor the County Council seem to regard it as of sufficient importance to lobby Government to include it in the forthcoming County growth deal. On all three, I’ll be waiting for a response!
Other highlights of the past week have been:
Lastly, but by no means least, we had Damian Green (Minister of State for Policing & Criminal Justice) in town on Thursday meeting with the Police & Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable, as well as visiting Blackpool Build-Up (another arm of Blackpool & Fylde College!) to look at work done with ex-offenders there. We then went on to a policing forum which I note recipients of this Letter were invited to, which I hope those who attended (over 100 of you, our biggest yet) found robust but enlightening (the need for roving microphone next time noted!) and which will certainly lead to a specific meeting about the issues raised in and around Warbreck
And that’s just one week ... Who knows what next week will bring.