THE WEEK IN WESTMINSTER #12

Parliament is still an odd place to be at the moment, with so few staff and visitors, and social distancing measures around the estate as well as in the Chamber itself. And of course a number of our colleagues are still unable to attend in person, though I am glad they are now all able to have proxy votes.

The legislative agenda last week was mostly based around what are called Statutory Instruments. These are new laws that Ministers make, based on the powers that previous Acts of Parliament have given them. They still need to be approved by Parliament, but are not an Act of Parliament in themselves.

The best recent example is the Coronavirus Regulations, which the House debated on Monday. The Health Secretary can make (and then amend) these regulations under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, but the House of Commons still has the power to approve or reject them.

In addition to these Statutory Instruments, there were the usual Question Time sessions and statements - I asked the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, about the measures the government is taking to help firms facing possible insolvency, and I questioned the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, about progress on the various Coronavirus vaccine efforts.

The Science & Technology Committee also held another evidence session this week, though for a change it was not focused on Coronavirus. Instead we heard evidence about commercial genomics - the internet services that offer to study your DNA and tell you about your ancestry and, more controversially, about what diseases you may be at greater risk of.

Understanding our own genomes will bring huge benefits in terms of treatment and preventative measures, but clearly there are a number of ethical questions involved as well - not least because if you discover you may be at greater risk from a disease, it follows that your siblings, children and other relatives may be too. Should you have to tell them? We also need to ensure that firms operating in this area explain what the findings do and don't mean, and that they keep up to date with the latest science - because it is rarely the case that one gene will determine your precise chance of contracting a particular disease.

Back in the constituency on Friday, I met with Newcastle council leader, Simon Tagg, and the chief executive, Martin Hamilton, as well as having a virtual meeting with the Chief Executive of the Royal Stoke, Tracy Bullock. I conveyed my thanks for all that their staff have done to help Newcastle-under-Lyme cope with Coronavirus.

Down to London again tomorrow - amongst other things there are the Extradition Bill and the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to consider.

With all best wishes,

Aaron