Two weeks ago the Government introduced a Bill to give compensation to victims of the Windrush scandal. This was when thousands of British residents with every right to live here, many of whom had come to this country from the Commonwealth decades ago, were falsely treated as illegal immigrants by a bureaucracy that couldn’t do simple common sense. I spoke in the debate to support the compensation and to argue for more human and flexible public services across the board. See my short speech here.
I spent most of the week sitting in the Agriculture Bill committee, taking evidence from experts and advocates of different interests in the farming industry. There was overwhelming support for replacing the Common Agriculture Policy with a system which pays farmers for the public goods they deliver, but no consensus on what those public goods are, or whether farming itself – the production of food – is one of them. I had an exchange with the Guardian’s George Monbiot which you can see here. He disagreed with my suggestion that grass-fed cattle herds enable effective carbon sequestration. Mr Monbiot thinks the countryside is harmed by ‘agricultural sprawl’ and that we should let the majority of the English landscape revert to nature, and grow our food in vertical factories. I don’t!
Last week was recess, which meant I could spend more time in the constituency. I spent an instructive afternoon at HMP Erlestoke, near Devizes. The brilliant Friends of Erlestoke Prison are fundraising for an all-weather football pitch for prisoners, which I strongly support – fitness and teamwork skills are not luxuries but necessities for life, and sport has been proven to reduce violence in prison and reoffending on release. Let me know if you’d like to help.
I also had the chance to visit another secure establishment – the new technical accommodation for the Royal Signals – being built by Aspire, the contractors responsible for the rebasing of our troops coming back from Germany. It was tremendous to see this new base and all the glorious kit the Engineers boast.
Highlight of the week was the visit to the Urchfont Community Shop’s 15th birthday party. The shop was launched and is run by local people, with 55 residents on a volunteer rota to man it, 7 days a week. There is a lot of independent energy in Urchfont. Someone has worked out that the place has had 111 different spellings of its name, with ten different initial letters. Anticipating its effort on the shop some years later, in 1929 the village built a hall for itself, which still bears the name ‘Erchfont’, spelt thus. I was delighted to cut the birthday cake for the shop and congratulate the brilliant team who run it.
Just north of Urchfont is the spot we hope to see a new train station to serve Devizes and the district. I’ve had a great response to my appeal for support and suggestions, for this and other railway schemes – please do let me know if you’d like me to represent your wishes to the Government when we submit proposals early next month.
If Urchfont was joyful, Julia’s House was moving beyond words. This is the hospice in Devizes for sick children, including those who do not expect to live long, and who spend time in a lovely room with stars on the ceiling and a painting on the wall of a winged white horse. Julia’s House works with over 50 families across Wiltshire, (and 100 at the sister hospice in Dorset) providing the warmest, friendliest care both for children and for their parents and siblings. They need our support. Please get in touch www.juliashouse.org if you’d like to help.
This week Parliament meets again and we start going through the Agriculture Bill line by line. And, I’ll be at Larkhill on Friday to meet the team planning the new Royal Artillery Museum on Salisbury Plain, and will also meet residents who are opposed to the current plans for the scheme. I haven’t yet decided whether to support the plans or not, so I look forward to hearing from all interested parties. In the afternoon I’m holding a surgery in Durrington so do please book in to see me if there’s anything I can help with; and I’ll finish up at the Dog and Gun in Netheravon at 5ish: do join me for a pint.
Finally, I am very keen to establish an open dialogue with people across the Constituency and I am planning to hold regular Public Meetings where we can discuss local, national and international issues. The first of these meetings is taking place at St Mary’s Church, Marlborough, SN8 1JE on Thursday 5 March at 7:30pm. Please do come along with your friends where I hope we will enjoy a wide-ranging and convivial topical discussion. My thanks go to Marlborough Churches Together for organising this event, and I am looking forward to holding further meetings in other communities over the next few months.