I confess I am not usually to be found in the House of Commons on a Friday. Not just because the House of Commons no longer sits on every Friday when it is in session, but because the gravitational pull from North West Hampshire, when it does sit, is usually stronger than that of the business on Fridays. It is the only day of the week when MP’s can visit schools, offices and factories without missing key votes.
It was not always thus; when I was first elected, the House sat on every Friday in the session and frequently took Government business, necessitating one’s presence in the House. In those days, when we also used to sit through the night, one MP arrived home on Friday night, after three all night sittings in a row. He found an angry note on the doormat from his wife. “The day before yesterday, you came home yesterday. Yesterday, you came home today. If, today, you come back tomorrow, you’ll find I left yesterday.” Even my temper frayed on one occasion. After a fractious week in the House, I got him on a Friday evening. One of our children was behaving appallingly so I shouted at him “You’re ten now; why can’t you behave like a ten year old?” “Leave him alone said my wife “He’s only seven.”
But a recent Friday found me in my place in the Chamber for the second reading of a Bill which would require child cyclists to wear crash helmets. This struck me as a sensible and proportionate measure to reduce the loss of life and injury on our road; and it was a Bill strongly supported by my constituent Carlie Annetts who tragically lost her son Troy two years ago in a bicycle accident where a helmet would almost certainly have saved his life. The Bill was sadly derailed when not enough MP’s turned up to vote for it. – that particularly Friday clashed with a “Back to School” day for MP’s, promoted by a serious national charity.
The following day, the Radio 4 Today Programme were kind enough to broadcast part of my speech in that debate – albeit at an hour when many of my constituents were still asleep. Of the many powerful arguments I had compressed into my address to the House, the BBC chose one. I had asserted that, thirty years ago, there had been a similar controversy about the compulsory wearing of crash helmets for motorcyclists. But no one now argued that that measure should be repealed, or that motorcyclists were deterred from riding their machines because they had to wear a helmet. No one in the House had challenged that assertion.
After the broadcast had finished, there was a short pause, and then I heard the sound of a letter being pushed through the letterbox. One of my neighbours had been provoked into putting pen to paper. “You have met somebody who no longer rides a motorcycle or scooter because of the helmet law – me”
So I now wear my cycle helmet in the village – when I walk past his house.