As ever, it has been a particularly busy time in Westminster. On the one hand, I’ve been getting used to life as a Minister, and on the other, keeping up the pressure on my constituency priorities in South Suffolk – not least the recently launched consultation on the potential redevelopment of Copdock interchange, where the A14 and A12 meet. In many ways, the common factor has been the great joy of being out and about again, enjoying the freedom resulting ultimately from our brilliant vaccine program.
In Ministerial terms, ‘out and about’ has generally meant visiting Courts around the country, and as I have responsibility for sentencing policy and criminal law this has generally meant Crown and Magistrates’ Courts – including Manchester, Birmingham, Snaresbrook and the Old Bailey. Of course, the backlog of cases is a huge issue but it’s not until you visit Crown Courts in person that you appreciate why social distancing rules have made it so much harder to keep justice moving. Thus, on Monday I visited Loughborough where we have just opened a new ‘super courtroom’ designed to try cases with up to 12 defendants, precisely the type of very serious (and often gang related) case that has been a great challenge to dispose of during the pandemic.
One particular highlight of the new job is that I have been speaking from the famous despatch box in the House of Commons for the first time. First, to introduce the Judicial Review and Courts Bill that I am now taking through the Commons, which includes a number of important measures to streamline justice; secondly, to participate in my first departmental oral questions, answering a range of topics including road traffic offences, child sex abuse and pet theft. Stepping up to the same place from which the Prime Minister addresses Parliament was daunting, but also incredibly exciting.
All that said, inevitably the most enjoyable part of properly getting ‘out and about’ again as an MP has been in terms of South Suffolk itself. I have always taken pride in laying a Portcullis-crested wreath at Remembrance Sunday, but after last year’s Covid related disruption, it was brilliant to be back in Sudbury marching with other civic leaders to honour the fallen. It was particularly heart-warming to have such a splendid turnout of local people to join us in showing their respects.
It has been fantastic to be able to fully pack my constituency days with visits and meetings once again. Friday is the key day when MPs are typically out and about in the constituency and last week it was very much a case of all day around town. In the morning I visited Ormiston Sudbury Academy and the job centre; in the afternoon I met with local business owners at Anglia Composites, Caribbean Blinds and Nethergate Brewery in Long Melford. Then in the evening I was fortunate enough to have a ticket to the the FA-Cup tie between AFC Sudbury and Colchester United – it wasn’t to be but the team did us proud, and we had the chance to showcase to the TV viewing public a club that puts the community at its heart.
As I said, events such as these are only possible because of the brilliant way in which our population has embraced the opportunity to receive their Covid vaccinations. As we head into winter, it is imperative that all those who are eligible - i.e. the over-40’s or those who are vulnerable - book in for their booster jab. As soon as 5-months since your second vaccination have elapsed, you will be able to book your booster injection.
Published by the Suffolk Free Press.