Happy New Year! I've been back in Westminster this week, but spent Monday morning visiting the University of Lancaster to discuss their involvement in the plans for the new university academy in Stretford, UA92. The plans will have an enormous impact on the local neighbourhood, and I have posted a report of my discussions here.
By coincidence, I arrived in Westminster from Lancaster right in the middle of an urgent statement on the appointment of Toby Young to a new university body, the Office for Students. Over the Christmas break, there had rightly been a huge amount of controversy surrounding his appointment in the light of some very unsavoury statements he'd made on social media. It's beyond comprehension why the government ever thought he was suitable for such a role. I am pleased he has been forced to resign, and a review into what went wrong in proposing his appointment is being carried out by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
There had been other controversies over Christmas too. Huge pressures have been experienced in the NHS, and the Prime Minister was challenged by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour backbenchers in prime minister's questions on the appalling situation patients and staff are experiencing. Meantime, a further increase in rail fares, well ahead of wage inflation, coincided with the Transport Minister sunning himself on business in Qatar. Labour called debates on both these subjects as soon as we returned to parliament, and I was able to highlight - yet again - the appalling service experienced by local people travelling on Northern Rail.
Rows had also erupted over unequal pay at the BBC, and the decision of the Parole Board to release prolific sex offender John Warboys after serving only 8 years in prison. Ministers were called to the chamber to account for the actions of both these public bodies though, as Theresa May's half-hearted reshuffle unwound, we were never quite sure which minister would turn up to answer our questions.
There have been some happier moments in parliament this week. It was lovely to attend the National Deaf Children's Society reception to hear about their campaign for radio aids for deaf preschool children - and to meet some of the families and children benefiting from this technology. And I was very pleased to be at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the use of anti-epilepsy drug Valproate by women of childbearing age. Two amazing mums, Janet and Emma, have been working with me and other MPs since 2011 to draw attention to the failure of drugs companies and government bodies, going back to the 1970s, to warn of potential adverse effects on the foetus in pregnancy if a woman is taking this medication. After years of effort, they have managed to persuade the government to improve information to medical staff, and to put new warnings on drugs packaging. It goes to show that persistent campaigners, working with MPs, can use parliament to get things changed. I am very proud to have worked with Emma and Janet on this over the years.
And just to finish - Valproate is a very effective anti-epileptic drug, important for managing this serious condition. So if you are on this medication, please don't just stop taking it. But if you think you need to know more about the possible side effects, make sure to contact your doctor now.