Parliament will be back on Monday, and I am very glad of it as there is a great deal to be done - Afghanistan, Covid, Brexit aftermath, economy, Planning Bill, Cop26 and so much more.
Quite apart from the main effort- scrutinising legislation and Government action by debates and questions in the main Chamber, in Westminster Hall, and in the 30 or 40 Committee Rooms which are full morning, noon and night, I hope (and expect) that the House will otherwise be pretty much getting back to normal. Some 4,500 people work in the Palace’s 2000 rooms; up to 17,000 a day pass through for one reason or another. As well as MPs and peers and their staff and supporters; Parliament is full of journalists (who spread our message and scrutinise what we do); interest groups of every kind (who perfectly sensibly seek to influence what we say and do), visitors including very large numbers of school children; and of course, a host of police, security, catering staff and the clerks who run the whole huge machine.
Every day is crammed with meetings, social events, committees – often 20 or 30 engagements a day. My own staff of five people will be at full stretch, plus the collective research staff we have access to.
It is alleged that there are 34 catering outlets in the seven or so buildings which make up the Parliamentary estate (although I have never counted them) and they are jammed full most of the time. Much of that of course, is ordinary catering – sandwiches and coffees; but some would be classed as ‘banqueting.’ (And none of it, before you ask, is subsidised in any way at all.) Those social contacts are a vitally important part of Parliamentary life. That is where the real talking, the plotting, the influencing, takes place rather than in the main Chamber.
Aside from my constituency work, which will of course continue apace from now onwards, I will be carrying on my particular interests in Parliament. Defence and foreign affairs also have a real constituency importance. I am Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust; and I am proud to be Patron of Operation Christmas Box, which delivers very special ammo boxes crammed with goodies to all military personnel who will be overseas on Christmas Day. Antarctica and the Arctic are a special interest which I hope to be increasing alongside rural affairs and farming; maritime matters; and the environment and Cop 26. I serve on Mr Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen - senior (not veteran - please) MPs who chair the Committees and Westminster Hall; and occasionally the main Chamber when it’s a ‘Committee of the Whole House’. The Order of St John (and its ambulances), Trinity House (which looks after our lighthouses and pilotage), the Honourable Artillery Company and Royal Geographical Society are amongst my other ‘outside’ (but unpaid) interests.
So after 18 months of what feels like near hibernation for most people, I have the feeling that things are more than back to normal now. Its as if a great stack of engagements, discussions, interests have been stored up in some kind of a reservoir, with the dam just breaking. It’s going to be frenetically busy from now until Christmas; and after a very pleasant summer at home in Wiltshire, punctuated by family weddings; I can’t wait to get started!