Friday, 16 January 2009

Anne Begg's Week

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The new year brings in a return to work, and not just for students. Anne Begg MP is back to work as well and by the sounds of it she's had a busy week.

Week beginning 12th January -A week can fly by in politics.

The Christmas recess is over and it is back to Westminster with a completely full diary. At least the extra week in the constituency meant I had the chance to catch up, well almost catch up, with the backlog of mail and e-mails from the last 2 weeks. Just as well really as there was precious little time to draw breath this week.

I was later down to London than normal on Monday as BA has taken off my usual plane for the whole of January! Therefore, I didn't get into the Chamber to hear David Miliband's statement on Gaza so I had to read it later. There was an excellent turnout outside M&S in Aberdeen for Saturday’s demonstration against the bombing; it was the first time I had ever addressed a crowd using a megaphone.

By the end of the day on Monday, I had managed to put down an Early Day Motion asking the government to consider allowing grandparents, who care for grandchildren while the children’s parents are at work, to be able to qualify for National Insurance care credits.

Ombudsman’s Reports also feature prominently this week. On Tuesday, one report was released into an individual constituent’s case which I had taken to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. My constituent had been made bankrupt by the actions of the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who consistently refused to admit their mistake for a long time. The Report was very critical of the way HMRC behaved and, while I wish it had never had to get to that stage, the report was evidence of how tenacity pays off. The second was the government’s response to the Ombudsman’s report into Equitable Life. I was keen to be in the Chamber for the statement as I have a large number of constituents who lost out when the Society collapsed and I did get to ask a question.

We had 2 meetings of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, a briefing on our new enquiry into the proposed Equality Bill on Monday and a second with the Secretary of State, James Purnell, on Wednesday about the effects on unemployment and welfare reform by the economic downturn. I had a few questions on how those who have been out of the labour market for some time expect to compete with the newly unemployed. I was robust but the Minister was even more robust in insisting that we shouldn't write anyone off or leave them behind. Equality featured quite highly in other meetings this week. One with the new Parliamentary officer of the EHRC and the other with the officials of the Speaker's conference I'll be Vice-Chairing to discuss how we might proceed.

Had so many meetings this I wasn’t able to spend as much time in the Chamber as I would have liked. I did, however, get a question in about breaking the cycle of deprivation at Cabinet Office questions on Wednesday.

And I missed the most exciting thing which happened in the Chamber all week. The monitor was on in the office but the sound was off as I was hosting a meeting so only realised something had happened when the Division Bells started ringing. So what was it? On Thursday, John McDonnell MP took the Mace off its cradle during the government’s statement on the 3rd Heathrow runway and was suspended for 5 days for his bad behaviour. He loses his wages too for the time he is suspended.

Friday will be busy as usual with meetings pencilled in with a local renewables company and a social enterprise business on Rosemount followed by surgeries with constituents. Phew! What a week!

Quite a busy week indeed, and I think you might agree a productive one. I'm sure the constituent she referenced for one will have appreciated having such a staunch advocate working on his behalf against HMRC. Perhaps the public would have a better impression of MPs if they had a better idea of what they do, certainly I feel that reading about an MP's activities helps me to understand the important role they can play in helping their constituents.

Personally I think that the idea of extending tax credits to Grandparents sounds like a fantastic idea; a lot of people cannot afford child care and so have to rely on family, rewarding the work done by a large number of retirees is laudable and also perhaps could help to tackle the marginalisation of the elderly in society by emphasising just one of the important roles they can play.

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