I do not want anyone to be in any doubt about the right of the Windrush children who came to the UK between 1948 and 1971 to remain here.
We're not aware of any evidence that anyone has been wrongly deported. There have been a very small number of cases of former Commonwealth citizens who have the right to be here being subject to removal action and detention. This is not acceptable and should not happen again.
The Home Office is setting up a new dedicated team that will work across Government to help individuals identify and gather evidence to confirm their existing right to be in the UK. The team will include a dedicated contact point and aim to resolve cases within 2 weeks once the evidence has been put together. We recognise that some of these people may struggle to evidence when they arrived and how long they have been in the UK, so this dedicated team will work with other departments and any other relevant bodies to help people provide the evidence they need. They won't need to just rely on formal records. Any information they can provide, from schools they attended to places of work, family or former addresses will help build this picture.
No one should be left out of pocket as they go through this process.
Any thoughts that the UK is going to engage in a bombing campaign of the civilian population of Syria have been proved to be very wide of the mark. Theresa May took the decision to undertake a small, limited and targeted strike against the chemical weapons facilities of Syria. The decision has been supported by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the Prime Minister of Denmark, the Spanish Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister of Australia, the NATO Secretary General, the ...Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of the EU Council and the Chancellor of Germany, amongst others. It was also spported by many Labour MPs. They have taken this view because I believe the evidence is very clear that the Assad regime was responsible for "the foaming at the mouth, the floppy bodies of children, and the particular terror those weapons deliberately inspire".
The UK has been operating in Syria with humanitarian assistance and will continue to do so, as far as it is possible. It is making a real difference, providing life-saving and life-changing humanitarian support to the people of Syria, and those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Since 2012, across Syria and the region, UK aid has delivered over 26 million food rations that feed a person for a month, 10.3 million medical consultations, 9.8 million relief packages, and over 8 million vaccines. In 2016/17 alone, UK aid reached over 5 million people with clean water. We are te second largest aid donor in the country. That shows a real concern for the humanitarian situation amongst Syrians.
I disagree with claims that more bombing of the type we undertook would increase the suffering of the Syrian people. I believe the limited and targeted nature of this bombing avoided this but still achieved our objective. We cannot sit by and accept the use of these vile chemical weapons simply because they run the risk of a confrontation with Russia. The lack of humanitarian concern that this implies would be surprising in the extreme. How many more children have to gasp for life in the face of these chemical weapons particularly as the regime prepares for an attack on Idlib. It also suggests that we live in a world where the Russians always have the whip hand.
The view that Theresa May should have sought the permission of Parliament first is more complex. This to some extent is an issue of judgement. Having listened to the Statement that the Prime Minister gave in the House, I believe the need to act with speed and to alleviate further humanitarian suffering were paramount. These happen to be the circumstances in which a Prime Minister is encouraged to act and I believe it was appropriate. It is sad to observe that the political and diplomatic route had failed. Attempts to involve the UN were frustrated by Russian vetoes, preventing any meaningful dialogue.
I have had discussion with the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that he is aware of the local issues and have also put these concerns in writing to him. I am of the firm opinion that the route should utilise existing roads wherever possible rather than carve a new path through Green Belt land or damage other areas of environmental interest. I do not agree with the idea that a southern route should be chosen to bring Aylesbury into the equation. Houses there would be a comuter belt for London rather than support the corridor.
I have also raised concerns about the transparency of the work on this project. A project of this magnitude should have ready access to as much information as possible in the public domain. I accept that some competitive data needs to remain private but feel that the lack of information is adding to speculation. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene so that as much information as possible can be immediately put into the public domain with explanation as to what is being held back and why. I have also asked him to ensure that there is full public consultation before a route is decided and not just on the preferred option.
Iain Stewart MP has been appointed Government Champion for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc (as it is known at present) and I am in regular contact with him to try to make sure that we keep abreast of developments. I have arranged for him to visit the constituency shortly to meet with Parish Councils.
I would also encourage people to make their views known to the Leader of the County Council, Ian Hudspeth (email@example.com) and Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership (firstname.lastname@example.org). Although both of them have written to me to say they are not supporting a southern route, both organisations have influence on this through their work as part of the Oxfordshire Growth Board and it is believed that they favour a southern route. It is important that they are aware of the views of our local communities rather than simply passing the responsibility to Highways England.
I have held important meetings with Henley town council and with Thame town council separately on the question of revising or up-dating the Neighbourhood Plans. We have covered issues such as the purpose of Neighbourhood Plans, what work will be involved, how this relates to SODC and whether a Referendum would be required on any revisions.
Progress on the situation with parking fines at Townlands Memorial Hospital
I have had a letter back from NHS Property Services in reply to one of mine in which they say "the current situation is unacceptable and urgent changes are expected to improve the experience of patients." They also say that they have "interceded to ensure all those users who have been incorrectly or harshly issued with penalty notices have had them rescinded."
A good first step and I will shortly be posting here the name and address for people to write to seek the rescinding of their fines.
Smart Parking has treated people in an appalling way which is unacceptable.
I want to turn to a subject that can have a big effect on people – the Welfare System. The Welfare System that we have today has been over a century in the making and is the work of each political party that has held office in that period. The system has grown and adapted as society has changed and thus it is likely that it will always need reform to meet new challenges and circumstances. By and large, the system works well to help get people into work so that they can support themselves and their families. In this constituency, we have one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country. This does mean job opportunities for some and in-work benefits where necessary. It also means support for the minority who cannot work through sickness, disability or personal circumstances. It is a mark of a civilised society that we look after those who cannot look after themselves. This may be life-long support for someone or support through a temporary difficult time.
In recent months, I have been concerned with the operation of aspects of the current system, particularly Personal Independence Payments which are in a period of transition, and may not be meeting the needs of some people. Thus some of the very people we seek to support are falling through the gaps. For example, I am concerned at the time assessments can take and also at the quality of some assessments. Where there is a discrepancy in an assessment, I am concerned at the time it can take to raise a concern and for reassessment. I am concerned, too, at the difficulties that seem to arise when assessing medical conditions with debilitating symptoms that are intermittent or erratic and which may just happen not to be apparent at the time of assessment.
I am concerned that this may be failing some of the vulnerable people in our society and therefore I have raised my concerns with the new Secretary of State for Welfare as a matter that needs addressing urgently. I await her response.
I share the concerns of those who have written to me about the NHS and the perceptions in the media. But the NHS has been fully funded according to its own requests and they write as if we have never had a winter crisis in the NHS. We have had a winter crisis of some kind or another every year and this year's is increased by the rising number of flu cases. As was said yesterday in the House of Commons by a member of the Opposition, "the normal pressures have been added to this winter by freezing weather and influenza."
However, in 2009/10 the Conservative shadow Health Secretary chose not to try to take advantage of the then near flu pandemic at the time because he recognised that there were operational pressures on the NHS and it was not down to him to score party political points. At that time, tens of thousands of procedures were cancelled to provide capacity to cope with the emergency at the front doors of our hospitals, many of them at the last minute. So, the approach we have taken of cancelling operations in advance is a much more humane and sensible way to do things and it provides much more opportunity for hospitals to cope with the pressures that are coming through the door.
Despite tight public finances, the Government has actively supported the NHS's own plan for the future. The total spent by the Department of Health in England is about £145 billion. We are increasing NHS spending by at least £8 billion in real terms over the next five years.
Over the next three years, the Government will provide the NHS with an additional £2.8 billion resource funding. By the end of last year, the NHS had received £335 million to manage winter pressures; a further £1.6 billion will be invested in 2018-19, and in 2019-20, £900 million will be provided to help address future issues. Furthermore, the Government is currently offering local councils an additional £2 billion to help them fund adult social care services in a time of great pressure.
Here in Oxfordshire, the snapshot report of Delayed Discharges of Care (so-called bed blockers) for the end of December shows a massive reduction compared with May 2017. Delayed Discharges of Care can contribute to the problems faced by the NHS at this time. This is in line with the trajectory agreed with the Department of Health and I hope you will join me in congratulating our health workers for achieving this significant improvement.
This improvement has been achieved through recruitment of more staff and commissioning extra packages of care and interim nursing home beds to mitigate pressure. So more people are leaving hospital with a care package and that is driving the reduction we have seen, together with tightening up and streamlining assessment and other internal processes. The reduction in delays has been achieved by getting the right resources to those patients who need them to return home, and not due to people going home without the support they need.
I believe fully in the NHS and its values, and I would like to assure you that the Government is committed to a tax-funded NHS, free at the point of use, wherever and whenever you need it. That is why it is increasing NHS spending. Ministers will continue to ensure that the NHS is given the priority it deserves.
I know the NHS is extremely busy – as it always is at this time of year – but staff are taking the necessary steps to make sure patients continue to get seen as quickly as possible.
In Scotalnd where the health service is controlled by the SNP similar pressures are being felt and similar action is being taken. In Wales where Labour run the NHS it is also a similar picture.
Let us be clear that the NHS has record levels of funding, with the Government supporting it over winter with an additional £437 million as well as £1 billion extra social care funding this year. And with planned action now rather than piecemeal actionn over the next few months.
So, the NHS has been better prepared for this winter than ever before. There are more beds available across the system. We have reduced the number of delayed discharges of elderly people who would otherwise have been in NHS beds rather than in social care (so called Bed Blocking). More than one thousand extra beds have been freed up in our NHS since February and we have extended the flu vaccination program.
We have been able to deliver more money for our NHS every year through adopting a balanced approach to the economy.
We are all well aware of the challenges the NHS is facing this winter in light of rising patient numbers, a flu epidemic, and the increasingly complex needs of an ageing population and we have planned for them. Our NHS was recently ranked as the best and safest healthcare system in the world and we want it to continue to deliver outstanding care.
Let me begin by sending my very best wishes to you all for a very Happy New Year. As I send greetings, I am aware that New Year is often a time of mixed feelings. The optimism of New Year is so widely celebrated that it can leave some people in low spirits as they look forward to the year ahead. As a New Year begins, I try to anticipate with optimism what we can achieve.
We should think of all those who volunteer across our society and provide valuable services to our communities; we take them for granted at great cost. In 2017, I was grateful for the opportunities set before me. For example, the chance to thank and help a number of individuals including medical charities focused on a wide range of illnesses both physical and mental. I also gave my support to ending the threat of closure of Chiltern Edge School and to trying to secure more funding for our schools.
As I look forward to 2018, I hope it will be a happy time for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they marry at Windsor. I will be playing my part in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April, travelling to Nigeria as the Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to the country and to Strasbourg as a Parliamentary representative on the Council of Europe, playing a part in the successes they can bring for the country.
Nearer home, I hope to see the continuation of important activities such as Neighbourhood Planning, and to engaging with constituents at a number of different levels. Most of all though, I look forward to everyone enjoying a peaceful and prosperous time. The Henley Constituency is beautiful, with thriving communities and much goodwill. I hope we will all focus on things that can improve life for those who live here and ensure that they can take advantage of the opportunities that life has to offer.
Some people say we live in 'interesting times'. In truth, all times are 'interesting' and I hope that together we will be able to have constructive discussions about how we can make the most of the opportunities they offer.
I am delighted that the UK is leading the world in clean growth, reducing emissions faster than any other G7 country.
A BBC web site reported today that the UK has achieved its greenest year ever in terms of how the nation's electricity is generated,. The figures are produced by National Grid. It also revelaed that he rise of renewable energy helped break 13 clean energy records in 2017. In June, for the first time, wind, nuclear and solar power generated more UK power than g...as and coal combined.
Britain has halved carbon emissions in the electricity sector since 2012 to provide the fourth cleanest power system in Europe.
British wind farms produced more electricity than coal plants on more than 75% of days this year.