OK, so it was back to Parliament today, although a scrappy sort of day with random bits and pieces in the Chamber and no votes. Very strange not to have any statements on first day back after recess – a sign I suppose that the Christmas/ New Year period was quieter than most.
I went into Home Office Qs and to the PLP weekly meeting to hear Ed Balls and Liam Byrne talk about tomorrow’s Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, but apart from that I spent the day in my office. The main debate in the chamber, in so far as there was one, was about getting more women onto company boards, but it was already over-subscribed (ie lots of people wanting to speak, five minute time limit imposed). And to be honest I’m a little ambivalent about it – not the argument that we ought to have more women directors, but the priority given to it by this Government, over and above other “women’s issues”. Yes, we want more women to be able to climb the career ladder, but what about the women who don’t even have their first foot on the ladder and are struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage jobs? (This sounds a bit like one of those ‘what about’ arguments I hate so much – of course you can care about both, and flagging up one issue doesn’t mean you’re not doing something about the other but… they’re Tories and they’re not).
So all in all today was a fairly gentle easing into the new term, which is just as well as I did my usual thing of reverting to “Kerry time” during the break, (bed at 7am Saturday…!) Tomorrow will be busy. I’m on frontbench FCO duty for a 9.30am Westminster Hall debate on “Sri Lanka and the UN’s Responsibility to Protect”, then it’s a shadow FCO team meeting, then I’ve got a Topical Q for Nick Clegg at about 11.50am, then meetings with Friends of the Earth and, later, Greenpeace.
And of course we have the main Chamber business, which is the Second Reading of the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill.
Parliament changed its hours in October, so now we start earlier on a Tuesday – 11.30am rather than 2.30pm – and have the last vote(s) at 7pm instead of 10pm. I voted for the change, not because I was particularly bothered one way or another, but because many of my colleagues – especially those with their families in London – wanted it. When I say ‘start’ by the way, I mean Chamber business. The Select Committees will have started at 9 or 9.30am, and there will be Bill Committees too, and Westminster Hall debates.
Being a frontbencher though, I’m not on any Select Committees and being in the FCO team means I very rarely have to do Bill Committees (in fact, never, so far) because the Foreign Office doesn’t tend to inspire much legislation, except on Europe. My colleague, Emma Reynolds, who is shadow Europe Minister, has to do all sorts of committees and she was at the Despatch Box in the Chamber today, facing Bill Cash, Mark Reckless et al.
What I do have though, is quite a lot of meetings, and the advantage of the 2.30pm start on a Tuesday was that I could get through a good few hours worth before going into the Chamber. Now it’s more likely I’ll have to see people while the main debate is going on. Of course I try to reschedule if it’s something I really want to/ have to be in the Chamber for, but that’s sometimes difficult – for example, if it’s a visiting delegation from overseas, or if we’ve only been told that morning about a Ministerial statement or an Urgent Question.
Anyway, I now have a speech on Sri Lanka to finish off…