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Sir Bob's weekly working diary

February 5, 2013 10:52 AM

Sir Bob Russell MP in the CommonsEach Saturday, Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell gives an insight into the working week of a local MP.

Yesterday I held my 800th Advice Bureau for residents, representing in excess of 10,000 appointments from when I was first elected as Member of Parliament for Colchester in May 1997. A dozen residents saw me at timed appointments from 9am to 1pm.

A busy week at the House of Commons involved me speaking four times and acting as a teller for a vote, the first time I have done this since the last General Election.

The weekend's snow caused some disruption, but did it really need so many schools to close? I was interviewed on BBC Essex on Monday morning and I contrasted how society coped much better in far worse conditions in January 50 years ago - an observation which prompted much comment, most of it supportive, followed by an interview at tea-time on Anglia TV's "About Anglia" programme. I was at work in my constituency office at 8am, with all four members of my staff arriving safely and on time as usual. My 9am appointment, however, cancelled citing the weather! At lunch-time I travelled by train to London, so well done Greater Anglia and Network Rail.

First event at the Commons was a reception by the Post Office to publish its 2012 Report and provide a briefing for MPs on the Post Office modernisation programme. Next came Education Questions during which I raised concerns over funding of Sixth Form Colleges. As a result Education Minister Mr David Laws MP agreed to visit the Colchester Sixth Form College to discuss the situation with the Principal.

This was followed by a statement by Prime Minister David Cameron on the appalling situation in Algeria. In the light of this, I urged the Prime Minister to reflect on whether it is prudent and in Britain's interests to cut the size of our Armed Forces? His response was disappointingly in the negative. Over the weekend I had been interviewed on Radio 5 Live about the unfolding situation in Algeria.

Main business on Monday was the Committee and Remaining Stages of the Welfare Benefits Up-Rating Bill.

My first appointment on Tuesday was with a representative of PayPoint to discuss issues surrounding their business. There was an Urgent Question in the chamber about 5,000 soldiers being made redundant, which I challenged with a question to a Defence Minister. Next came the weekly meeting of the Liberal Democrat Whips.

In the afternoon I was delighted to meet School Council members of Colchester's Hamilton Primary School. They spent a day at the Commons organised by the Parliamentary Education Unit. Next came the first of two Defence Select Committee meetings this week. Afterwards I attended a reception organised by The Wildlife Trusts where I met representatives from the Essex Wildlife Trust of which I am a member (see photograph). I also visited an exhibition featuring Anglo Saxon burial finds and the latest conservation techniques.

Next was the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sixth Form Colleges, to which I was elected Vice-Chairman. The Group will promote Sixth Form Colleges of which we have a very successful one in Colchester. This was followed by the weekly meeting of Liberal Democrat MPs with the evening concluding with a dinner hosted by Sky News Foreign Affairs Editor Tim Marshall. Main business of the day was the Second Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill.

Wednesday started with me being woken by a pre-arranged phone call at 6.35am from LBC, a London commercial radio station, to do a live interview about a new report on the number of former soldiers who are homeless.

Lepra, the international charity which tackles leprosy around the world, has its headquarters in Colchester. I was pleased to welcome representatives from the charity at the Commons. This was followed by a meeting with an official from the Construction Skills Certification Scheme. Next came Prime Minister's Questions. At lunchtime I attended an event highlighting the illicit trade in tobacco products. Next came a marathon all-afternoon session of the Defence Select Committee with the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP. Afterwards there was a reception for Royal Air Force personnel serving in specialised fire-fighting roles. The evening ended with a dinner, which I hosted, to discuss encouraging medical advances in treating cystic fibrosis. Main business was Opposition debates on (a) Blacklisting, the despicable way in which some firms discriminate against workers; and (b) the private rented sector.

On Thursday morning I had meetings with representatives from (a) the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and (b) Ofcom. In Questions to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs I spoke against building on green field sites particularly those adjoining towns. I then did an interview for BBC TV East as a follow-up to my critical comments about the snow and schools closing. This was followed by a working lunch with the Managing Director of a major Colchester employer about encouraging expansion proposals. In the afternoon I had a meeting with the founder of the UK Noise Association. Main business of the day was a debate on Reducing the Voting Age to 16. I acted as Teller for the "Ayes" and because we won I had the honour of reading out the result. This was followed by a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day. The train journey on Thursday night faced an hour's delay because of an incident on the track.

Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell is the only non-Conservative MP in Essex and Suffolk.