It’s been a busy and frantic fortnight in Parliament. We started with the King’s Speech, where King Charles III set out the legislation which the Government aims to deliver for the year ahead. From my own portfolio, I was pleased to see rail reform start its legislative journey. This bill, which will start with a scrutiny committee, will bring our track and trains together under a new arms-length organisation called Great British Railways. In addition to this welcome rail news, we were also able to reach agreement with the RMT union which, if approved by a membership ballot, should end the strikes for all workers on the railway except the drivers. To minimise the impact of drivers striking, and from as early as Christmas, I tabled regulations last week which will ensure a minimum rail service operates on strike days. These positive developments for rail came on the back of data showing more passengers are returning to the railway. We are, however, well down on numbers and revenue so difficult decisions will have to be taken to ensure we balance the books.
The media was dominated by debates around protests coinciding with Remembrance services. This issue had been heightened by words used by the (now former) Home Secretary which was critical of policing operations. These words came off the back off her freelancing views on homeless people opting for a life on the street as a lifestyle choice. I strongly disagree with that assertion.
It being UK Parliament Week, I found myself discussing these issues, and other matters, with students in Battle and in Heathfield last Friday. We talked about the Middle East conflict, Britain’s place in the world and conflicting rights. We have some very enlightened students in our constituency.
As for Remembrance Sunday itself, I was moved by the church service in Battle. The Very Rev Lee Duckett, Dean of Battle, delivered a thought-provoking sermon which focussed on the sacrifices and what we can do to honour and respect those who gave up their lives for our freedoms. It was an honour to join the High Sheriff, local Councillors, armed forces and emergency services representatives and those from the scouts and brownies to lay a wreath at the memorial.
Back to Parliament, on Monday a reshuffle took place in Government and we were all taken aback with the surprise announcement that David Cameron was returning to politics as our new Foreign Secretary. I was first elected as your MP under his leadership and I always respected him as someone dedicated to public service and with a belief that we govern by respecting our institutions and trying to do the best for those who need the most help. He’s a compassionate person. The reshuffle saw the departure of Suella Braverman and other comings and goings.
I had spent my morning in Stratford looking at a vast regeneration opportunity which could be delivered off the back of a developed station. Rail has the force to deliver not only transport but homes, offices and leisure. Having got back to Westminster, I was asked by No10 to explain the changes to the media.
The next day I was off to Bradford and Leeds, to discuss plans for a new £2billion station for the former and a mass-transit scheme for the latter. I go up to the North and Midlands once a week now to discuss our new post-HS2 plans for rail investment across the cities and towns. Last week it was Rotherham and Sheffield, the week before it was Manchester and Liverpool.
We also have investment nearer to home. On Wednesday, I had a meeting with the Levelling Up Minister to discuss a further sum of money, in the region of £20m, which will be coming to Rother from the Government. This is on top of the £40m we have been given over the last year. I was asked where I felt it should be invested and I am looking forward to working with our local leaders to come up with a plan. It has to be started within 12 months.
I am aware that the conflict in the Middle East causes sadness and dismay for many constituents. I share that. It’s led to some difficult moments in Parliament and on our streets. After the heinous atrocities, Israel has the right to defend herself, free hostages and root out those responsible. All of this must be done within the parameters of international law. I hope that our place in the world, and our experienced new Foreign Secretary, can play our part to deliver peace.