I am delighted to be one of the 106 Members of Parliament supporting Philip Dunne’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill. I was appalled to see the amount of sewer storm overflows across North Wiltshire, particularly around Box which has three sewer storm overflows discharging into the By Brook. It is alarming to see how widespread this issue is and I am pleased to add my name to those calling for water companies to take accountability for their actions.

You can find out more about the Bill here: www.sas.org.uk/EndSewagePollution-SewageBill

Through the Vaccines Delivery Plan, 63,293 doses have been administered in Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire.

In total, more than 5 million doses have been administered to over 4.6 million people across the United Kingdom – meaning we are leading the world as we ramp up our vaccination programme

Another 65 pharmacy sites across England have been announced today, starting this week and next, to deliver vaccines from as the government ensures all parts are the country are well served 

Mr Gray has welcomed the Government’s Vaccines Delivery Plan – the biggest vaccination programme in British history – that sets ambitious targets as the government continues to ramp up its vaccine rollout. 

Already in Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire, 63,293 vaccinations have been administered, as part of plans to vaccinate the top 4 priority groups by mid-February. In the South West, 415,087 people have received a vaccine, with 467,170 doses administered in total across the area.  

The United Kingdom is leading the way with its vaccination programme. So far, more than 5 million vaccinations have been administered to 4.6 million people – the fourth highest per capita, behind only Bahrain, the UAE and Israel. In addition, only two countries have administered more doses than the United Kingdom – China and the USA.  

The Government’s Vaccines Delivery Plan sets out how it aims to administer 2 million doses of vaccines by the end of January, as well as offering vaccines to every elderly are home resident by the end of the month. So far, more than half of those over 80s and care home residents have received a vaccine.  

On top of this, the Government is opening up new vaccination sites every day as part of our Vaccine Delivery Plan to ensure everyone is within 10 miles of a vaccination centre. 65 pharmacy sites are joining the programme this week and early next week with more to come.

Commenting, Mr Gray said: 

“The NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in our country’s history, has got off to a fantastic start thanks to the hard work of all of those involved.  

“It’s great to see that so many people in my area have received the vaccine as we lead the world in our fight back against coronavirus.  

“I look forward to getting my vaccine over the coming months – and I urge everyone to do the same when they get the call up”.  

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock said:  

“Vaccines are the way out of the pandemic and this historic rollout will cover every corner of the country. Community pharmacists have been phenomenal and will have a pivotal role to play in the continued expansion of the programme. 

“Through the UK vaccine delivery plan, over four million people have already received their jab. From hospitals to pharmacies, sports clubs to places of worship – we’re making sure the vaccine is as accessible as possible. 

“In the meantime, it is vital everyone continues to play their part in this national effort by staying at home to protect the NHS.” 

The idle, easy going side of my character overwhelmed my principled self last week, when I finally surrendered the last vestiges of my independence as a tireless scrutineer of HMG. I gave my vote away to the Tory Deputy Chief Whip to add to the reportedly 250 other proxies he has collected unto himself. It’s all wrong. But  the options are: go against the Speaker’s advice and attend Parliament in person and then do nothing but sit in one’s office dealing with emails, and trip merrily down to the socially distanced (Not) voting lobbies once or twice a day to carry out the whips’ bidding; or to hand that most valuable Parliamentary asset, one’s vote, over to the Whips. What happened to electronic voting? It worked perfectly well, and at least it kept us involved with debates. The Proxy system has removed that last degree of engagement.

Now to be fair to the whips, they say that they will vote however instructed on my behalf. I would love to test that commitment out on some razor-balanced crucial vote, where my vote against the government would result in a defeat. Who could blame the silly old whip for getting in a muddle and casting my vote with the Government by mistake. “Awfully sorry, old boy. Just an admin error. Won’t happen again.”

The reality is that with Westminster Hall and Private Members’ Fridays now cancelled; with one’s contributions to debates, statements or question times allocated by secret ballot; with speaking times limited very often to two or three minutes; with backbench business debates ill-attended and largely irrelevant; and now having surrendered even that sacred vote; with all of that happening, you might well start to wonder “What’s the point in being an MP? What’s the point in Parliament? Are we really holding the Government to account, campaigning for our constituents or accepting collective responsibility for running Britain?” I fear that the answer may well be: No.  Is it not the case that -quite possibly for the best possible reasons-  backbenchers are becoming increasingly disengaged from Parliament? Would a wholly virtual Parliament (including electronic voting), not give MPs more engagement and anyhow be easier to reform once the Pandemic is over?

Now is the moment when we should be turning our attention to what kind of Commons we want to see when that glorious day comes. Should proxy voting be extended for all sorts of reasons beyond motherhood which was the only justification before Lockdown; should remote participation in debates become the norm; are speakers’ lists so convenient for busy MPs trying to plan their days, that that trumps the consequences for proper Parliamentary debate?

Then there are wider questions we should perhaps be turning our attention to. How should the Parliamentary day be arranged? How do we restore the highest traditions of Parliamentary debating? What’s the role of Urgent Questions; how about time limits on speeches? Should there be a House Business Committee? What role for Backbench Business Committee, petitions, opposition days? All of this needs discussing and deciding. And the time to do so is: Now. Once the Pandemic is all over it will be too late and we will risk either a blind return to the old ways of the old days (ignoring some of the best innovations, offered, for example, by the latest technologies), or even worse a sclerotic continuation of some of the innovations brought to our procedures and practices by Covid.

So I hope that the Speaker, the Commons Commission, the Procedure Committee will commission some urgent work on what we would like Parliament to look like when the crisis eases. Let’s decide what we want, what is best for Parliamentary scrutiny and legislation. Otherwise we risk just stumbling into it.

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, rebelled against the Government last night in an important Trade Bill vote.

Mr Gray stated:

“Yesterday evening, I was one of the 33 Tory MPs who rebelled against the three-line party whip and supported the ‘genocide amendment’. This amendment in the Trade Bill, proposed by Lord Alton of Liverpool, would have given the United Kingdom courts the power to decide if a country was committing genocide rather than waiting for international judicial bodies to make that decision. Leaving international judicial bodies to make the decision simply does not work. The most recent example, and the one on which this amendment was drawn up, is the appalling human rights abuses in the Uyghur Region of China. With China’s Security Council veto, there is little hope of a referral to the International Criminal Court, and little prospect of accountability.

It is quite right that the UK should be able to rescind favourable trade tariffs to a genocidal state and I am still hopeful that a slightly altered amendment, perhaps transferring that responsibility from the Courts to Parliament itself will now pass. We must show countries like China that the UK will not sit back whilst they commit such atrocities, and demonstrate our support for those regions such as the Uyghur.”

North Wiltshire MP and Commander of the Order of St John, James Gray, spoke in the House of Commons Chamber yesterday during the debate on Defence support for the Covid-19 response. Mr Gray first thanked all military personnel for all they are doing and further asked of the Secretary of State:

“Will he also acknowledge the huge contribution being made by St John Ambulance, which is training up to 30,000 volunteers, to the highest standard, to be vaccinators? Will he ensure that military planners and those on the ground work hand in hand with St John Ambulance, the Red Cross and the Royal Voluntary Service to maximise the contribution they can make?”

Mr Wallace supported Mr Gray’s statement and commended the collaboration between the military and St John Ambulance, responding that:

“It is another example of this not being just about the frontline or the front trench; often the skill we can bring is in looking after 200,000 or 50,000 volunteers and making sure they are used correctly, in the right part of the system. St John Ambulance will be able to deliver a very efficient group of volunteers, because that is its business and we look forward to working with it.”