The end of "term" loomed last week, with only two days in Westminster before we all return to our constituencies for recess, a little downtime and the chance to catch up more fully with local activities.
But those two days were certainly not without excitement and strange behaviour by opposition parties! On Monday we had the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, in which were sections of the Chancellor's budget to do with changes to the benefits cap- down from £26,000 to £20,000 (or £23,000 in London), cuts to tax credits and the introduction of a national living wage.
This key new policy aims to return more financial responsibility to employers, cutting back on the taxpayer underwriting cheap wages now that the employment market is strong and trade is good. It will start at £7.20/hr for over 25s, rising to £9/hr by 2020. Under 25s remain on minimum wage rates. There are reductions in corporate taxes & national insurance so that employers are supported into this new framework.
Bizarrely, Labour decided to abstain on this Bill, which in my book means that they basically agree with the principles; all except 48 Labour MPs led by leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn MP and those on the furthest left of Labour. They were joined in the lobby by the SNP who seem to think that taxpayers' money grows on trees and should be available ad infinitum for use by the Scottish Government.
So in the end the bill passed comfortably by 308 to 124.
On Tuesday- the last day of term (a time for pranks and attempts to cause mischief since time immemorial!) we debated the second reading of the Finance Bill, which contains the rest of the Budget plans.
Now there are special "rules" for finance bills in the Chamber, in that they have no cut off point, so MPs can talk and talk until the next day if they want to, and there is nothing the Speaker can do. There were rumblings through the day from whips about 3am finishes, but in the end Labour just went home (literally, they just opted out from casting a view on the most important piece of legislation which goes through each year). The SNP put up some opposition, and because Labour had left the building, they moved seats and sat at the despatch box and in Labour's seats! It seems that we have a turf war for supremacy on the opposition benches, which could go on and on.
In between all this shananigans in the Chamber we had our last Public Accounts Committee meeting in public, discussing the effectiveness so far of the Pupil Premium. I was leading the questioning and it was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience to demand answers from the Permanent Secretary and others! It was a particular pleasure that one of the two witnesses to the committee was Berwick Academy's very own headteacher, Alexis Widdowson, who shared with the Committee some of the challenges of a coastal community with low aspiration in a large part of its parent group.
Overall I think we have reached a fundamentally positive view of the Pupil Premium as a focused motivator for schools to ensure those with most needs are better supported. But the push elements to ensure schools which aren't making big strides to shrink the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils (those qualifying for Free School Meals) and the rest, need to be firmer from OFSTED and the Department of Education if the taxpayer's money is to be effectively invested.
The Westminster Term is now ended until early September and we all head home (& off on holiday for some sleep for ten days in my case!).
Local issues make progress and the next few weeks will see us get our application for Enterprise Zones in place amongst other things. Much to do, but a little rest first so that I can be most effective as we fight those battles for a brighter future for Berwick.
Oh yes, and I am now the very proud owner of military uniform for when I visit military bases as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
If you want to catch up on earlier Weeks In Westminster, you can find them at www.teamtrevelyan.co.uk