Unfortunately, I cannot be at the opening today of Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley by the Lord Lieutenant. I have to be in Parliament to help through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill which I know is important to communities. The first thing I would love to do is to give Townlands and all the people who work there my very best wishes. It has been a pleasure visiting and seeing for myself how the hospital works and talking to the medical staff and the GPs involved with it.
The people of southern Oxfordshire, whom the hospital serves, should be very proud that a major investment has been made in its refurbishment, and that it has become an exemplar across the country of how a community hospital can be made to work well for the wider community. I hope that we can now kill the myth that this is a hospital without beds. It does have beds – located in the care home at the side of the hospital – which are well used. The number of beds owes much to careful and patient negotiation with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Incidentally, care homes such as this are also helping to tackle the problem of bed blocking within Oxfordshire.
Feedback from patients has shown that the Rapid Access Care Unit is providing just the services people need. The system of ambulatory care being offered whereby patients are treated as far as possible where they live is endorsed by the Royal College of Physicians, by local GPs and by the NHS. It is in the best interests of the patient as is evidenced by medical opinion. Nevertheless, I am in the process of writing to the County Council on behalf of all the MPs in Oxfordshire that the County Council should spend the money given to it by Central Government for adult social care (an additional £16 million) on hiring social care workers. In addition, some 70% of patients for whom this is an issue want to die in their homes yet we still allow 60% to die in hospital.
The issue of Townlands generated considerable activity for me in Parliament from my question to the Health Secretary on rebuilding Townlands in January 2014 to a debate I initiated on Ambulatory Care and other questions to Health ministers throughout. I also visited a hospital deploying ambulatory care in Welwyn Garden City to see for myself how it worked and had extensive meetings with the CCG.
We are very lucky to have got the hospital we best need at this time and for it to be at the forefront of medical practice in the country. I have invited the Secretary of State for health to visit it.
Hospitals such as Townlands Hospital in Henley are held up as excellent examples of new ways of working that are helping to address health concerns such as the integration of social care and the NHS and the provision of social care at home. The hospital has beds available in the adjacent care home for those who really need them but otherwise works on rapid assessment and treatment of people in day care. This is a model which is being promoted widely elsewhere with Townlands as the exemplar.
Bed blocking as it is often referred to occurs where it is difficult to assess and release patients into social care quickly enough. It is not a question of the numbers of beds which are available – medical assessments suggest we have enough beds. It is a question of throughput of patients. Care homes play a vital role in this in providing intermediary places while assessments are conducted and social care found. The good news is that there has been a distinct improvement in the amount of time individuals have to be in hospital while the social care is arranged and the average time is currently about a week.
Across the country, concern over the provision of adult social care has been a key issue in recent weeks and months. It was also an issue at the top of the agenda in the regular meeting of Oxfordshire MPs and Oxfordshire Health Chief Executives today which I chair. It is important that, where it is medically possible, people are cared for in their own home. This is not simply about NHS efficiency but more critically that time in a hospital bed causes accelerated deterioration of health. The best place to be, if at all possible, is at home – a move backed by the Royal College of Physicians and GPs.
Ensuring there is sufficient staff to meet the need can have a knock-on effect on delayed discharges from acute hospitals. That is why key discussions are taking place between the County Council Adult Social Services team, who are responsible for staffing the domiciliary care, and the NHS teams to seek alternative ways to resource this growing need. It is why we, as MPs, are asking for the money which has been given by the Chancellor to local government to cover social care be spent on hiring suitable carers.
The issue of 'bed blocking' has also been raised in relation to the delay of routine operations. Although this is sometimes the case, more often routine operations are postponed due to urgent cases coming in which necessarily have to take priority. I can well appreciate the distress caused when a planned procedure is postponed at last minute. I am sure most people will understand that life threatening cases have to be given priority. I am assured that every effort is made to avoid delays and addressing the domiciliary care concerns will no doubt help.
In a recent meeting with farmers in my constituency the problems they face with Bovine TB (bTB) were once again raised. Bovine TB is one of the greatest challenges facing cattle farmers. Not only is their livelihood put at risk but the cattle that they have bred and nurtured are often needlessly slaughtered. Bovine TB is the greatest animal health threat to the UK and causes devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities. In the last 10 years over 300,000 cattle were slaughtered.
248 members of this constituency have signed a petition to end the badger cull. I understand their feelings but I disagree with them. Cattle movement controls and testing are being strengthened as is the regime for tackling the disease among other farmed animals. The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme has supported badger vaccination projects on the borders of the high-risk areas such as ours, but there is a worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine which needs to prioritise available stocks for humans. In line with the Welsh Government's decision, attempts to source it for badger vaccination have been suspended.
As part of the approach, culling continues to play a vital role, and, following advice from the Chief Veterinary Office, seven additional licences have now been granted for parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Culling therefore continues to play an important part.
In discussion with the farmers they were sympathetic to those who are concerned for badgers and call for greater understanding of the wider issues. The Government is delivering a 25-year strategy to eradicate this disease and protect the UK's dairy and beef industries. The link between badgers and bTB is known with a 40% infection rate among badgers in hotspot areas. Farmers are working with the government on these restrictions and also by improving biodiversity on farms. Much of this is at their own cost.
Having spoken with farmers and visited farms where they are having to restrict cattle movements I have a better appreciation of the implications of this. It is more far-reaching than generally understood and affects the welfare of farmers and farm stock alike.
There has been recent attention to the issue of EU citizens in the UK and I spoke about this issue on BBC Radio Oxford. In the debate on the Lords amendments to the Article 50 Bill a former Leader of the Liberal-Democrats spoke about the plight of EU citizens in the UK, mainly his mother and his wife. What he did was to sell the 1.2 million British people in Europe down the river. By claiming that we picked the fight and therefore should deal with the issue on our own, he sought to punish the UK for having reached a decision with which neither he nor indeed I agreed. Another speaker described the British people in Europe as old and retired as if this meant that they were not worth protecting. I disagree.
What we are after is reciprocal rights for both EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in Europe. As the Polish Prime Minster said: "Of course, these guarantees would need to be reciprocal. It's also important what guarantees the British citizens living and working in other member states of the European Union will have." It is wrong to describe this as using people as a bargaining chip. It is getting agreement to a principle. The idea that we can act unilaterally on this issue reduces the negotiations to nothing more than a fireside club chat or one in which we seek to set an agenda which the other side can simply ignore having nothing much else to gain. As the Polish Prime Minister said, this is about reciprocity and it is good that it will be high on the issues to negotiate with the EU.
I would also draw your attention to a very good speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords. In his speech he said "neither is the complexity of a further referendum a good way of dealing with the process at the end of negotiation. It will add to our divisions; it will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic; it is unwise. Even if circumstances change ....—even if they change drastically—a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum." It is a thoughtful speech and he ended with the following words: "I have seen two cardinal errors made in seeking to bring reconciliation and building common vision. The first is to complicate the process; the second is artificially to simplify complicated substance. ...... I fear we risk making the process too complex and the substance too simple."
He could have been talking about the same issue as I started this note with. He pointed out that division in our country was something to be healed. Reciprocity of rights is the obvious way to go.
I was disappointed that the Liberal-Democrat candidate didn't do her homework before putting pen to paper in a recent edition of the Henley Standard. The Government is accused of doing a u-turn on a promise to bring 3,000 refugee children to the UK. It has done nothing of the sort. First, the idea that, under what has come to be called the Dubs Amendment, 3,000 children were going to be brought to the UK was defeated in Parliament and an alternative agreed which did not mention any arbitrary numbers. So, the promise was not to bring a specified number of individuals to the UK but it required the Government to consult Local Authorities on how many additional children they could manage. This we have done.
I am sure you can imagine that refugee children coming to a foreign country have complex emotional and often physical needs. It is right that the Dubs Amendment requires the Government to ask Local authorities how many more children they could safely accept.
Second, it is implied that the Dubs Amendment is the only means by which unaccompanied children can be brought to the UK. It is not. In 2016 we relocated almost as many children from within Europe to the UK as the entire EU's relocation scheme.
Each year 3,000 children arrive in the UK and claim asylum and we are taking approximately 2,000 – 3,000 each year through various resettlement schemes. All of these children need support and protection. It is right that we prioritise our efforts on those children caught up in the conflict in Syria and the surrounding area - rather than in safe areas of Europe - so that they can come to the UK safely and directly and with their families.
I am committed to supporting, protecting and caring for the most vulnerable asylum-seeking and refugee children. By the end of this Parliament, we will have resettled over 20,000 vulnerable Syrian nationals and a further 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa and I am pleased that our resettlement programme is one of the biggest in Europe.
Issues raised at Brexit Meetings
Introduction to feedback
I am grateful to all who attended my open meetings on Brexit and to those who have emailed raising issues and concerns. Many of the issues that have been raised are still open for debate and negotiation.
More generally there is much information in the public domain and it is far better for me to steer people to this than to repeat. The House of Commons Library, which is independent of any political party, has a dedicated resource on Brexit and a hub on the Parliament website 'Brexit - next steps of UK's withdrawal from the EU' - where papers on a wide range of specific issues are posted. Those interested can access the hub at this link www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/ . You can also sign up to receive updates as new papers are posted.
In the rest of this note I will summarise the specific issues raised with me thus far and add comment where appropriate. Please note that these issues are not listed in any order of importance. I appreciate that many of the issues raised are deeply personal and important. I have tried to give a factual note on each.
The role of the EU courts
Part of the Leave campaign suggested that the UK would be free of 'interference' by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in decisions of the UK courts post Brexit. This is not correct. The UK signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights ('ECHR') before the EU even existed. We did this as one of the 47 nations that signed up to the Council of Europe which is entirely independent of the EU and which administers the ECtHR.
I think that what was meant was the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way across all EU countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions. My own feeling is that there are circumstances in which the ECJ will continue to apply.
The single market and trade issues
Several issues around trade were raised. This is a key concern for many businesses and one on which we have intention and direction of travel but no answers as yet. Some of the questions raised were general, some more specific.
There is a chapter in the White Paper on trade with the Government seeking to prioritise 'the freest and most frictionless trade possible'. Clearly new relationships need to be established both with EU countries and with other countries around the world.
A series of papers have been written by the House of Commons Library on this and can be found at this link: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/economy-business-and-trade/
Among the issues raised with me are concerns about small business and the weight for negotiations that some larger organisations have. There was also concern that negotiations will be done for specific companies rather than more generally which could lead to exclusivity in the future. Outside of the EU there was concern that agreements with other countries such as the US could lead to the UK having to accept inferior goods and so undermine the UK market.
There was a question on the cost of negotiating new trade deals especially in a climate of austerity. Figures can only be estimated at present.
The referendum and voting
Questions continue to be raised on why we had the referendum, on whether it was advisory, on whether we should take notice of the result, and on whether we should have a second referendum. I appreciate that those who would have preferred to remain in the EU might want to do all they can to turn around the result of the referendum. However we had a vote in which a majority voted to leave and that is what we have to accept. I can see no merit in continually revisiting this not least due to the increased uncertainty that it could cause. As one who voted to remain I accept the result and now see my task as supporting the Government to get the best deal that we can.
Some suggest that the problem of the EU is a Conservative Party issue. It is not; it is an issue for members of other Political Parties and for those who are members of none. A quick trawl of the history of this will show that our relationship with Europe has been a matter for debate for decades. More recently our membership of the European Union has come into question across the board especially with new countries joining and with increasing legislation which some found overly burdensome. It is not a new invention of the current Conservative Party. Indeed, many Labour supporters voted to leave and the Liberal-Democrats had the biggest rebellion proportionally of any party over the Bill on Article 50.
Some ask if Article 50 is revocable. We are in uncertain times with a new President in America and with General Elections in several EU countries but most notably in key countries such as France, the Netherlands and Germany this year. We do not know what the scene will be in two years' time. However we need to keep pace with change and assess the implications as we move forward.
The Model for our Exit.
The Government is not looking for an 'off the shelf' deal such as a Norwegian or Swiss model. The new model the will reflect the UK's unique, existing trading relationships with EU member states. It will be an agreement between an independent sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union.
EU nationals and freedom of movement and EU Citizenship.
One of the key issues in the Referendum debate was about controlling immigration. Leaving the EU will mean that the free movement directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law – which the UK will be able to set. I recognise the importance of this issue to many and especially those who have depended on the freedom of movement in their own lifestyle. The Government wants to secure the status of EU citizens living in the UK. We must remember too that this is as much of an issue for UK nationals living in EU member states whose status the Government wants to protect too. The Government wants to secure the status of both EU citizens living in the UK and that of UK nationals in EU member states at the earliest opportunity.
During the negotiation period, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and of Britons in the EU will not change. The UK will remain a member of the EU in full until it leaves.
The Great Repeal Bill and Transitional arrangements
A new Bill will be laid before Parliament which is anticipated to be called the Great Repeal Bill. It is anticipated that this will be announced in the Queens' Speech, which sets out the legislative programme for Parliament, at the next State Opening of Parliament in May.
The Bill which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 (the ECA) which took us into the EU is expected to incorporate European Union law into domestic law wherever practical. These legal changes are likely to come into effect on the day we leave the EU. The purpose of incorporating EU law into domestic law is to avoid the 'cliff edge' that some talk of where we are left in limbo without law where issues have not been part of the negotiations or dealt with in the run up to leaving. Thus in the short term we would be under the same law as at present.
The Government has indicated that the Great Repeal Bill will contain delegated powers to enable the Government to adapt any laws on the statute book that originate from the EU so as to fit the UK's new relationship with the EU. This could be a huge task. The House of Commons Library has estimated that 13.2% of UK primary and secondary legislation enacted between 1993 and 2004 was EU related. The review of all EU-related legislation, as well as that which will be transposed by the Great Repeal Bill, makes this potentially one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK.
Beyond this Bill I suspect that we will see an implementation period in which Britain, EU member states and EU institutions prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest. This might be about immigration controls, customs systems or criminal justice. For each issue, the time to phase in new arrangements may be different but I do not envisage an unlimited period of transition – this would not be helpful for either side.
The Environment, farming and agriculture
In one sense all of the issues raised have implications on other issues. However there are some issues that may be regarded as 'cross cutting,' having wider implications in a number of areas. One such area is environmental issues and in the short term we must remember that the Great Repeal Bill will give us a holding position.
Farming is important as a local business but agriculture, farming and fisheries are also of much wider concern in relation to environmental issues and food standards. The UK's agriculture, food and fisheries sectors are currently heavily influenced by EU laws, through frameworks such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy. Some of this has been an unnecessary burden and leaving the EU will provide Britain with the freedom to deliver its vision for a world-leading food and farming industry, as well as a sustainable seafood sector for farmers and consumers.
There are many enquiries taking place across both Houses of Parliament and last October the House of Lords initiated debate on environmental and climate change issues going forward. In addition Ministers will be working with environmental organisations and the public to develop new policies tailored to the specific needs of our habitats and wildlife instead of following a one size fits all approach for all the EU countries. Ministers have said that they are committed to seizing this opportunity as they work on an ambitious 25 Year Plan for the environment. Until we leave the European Union, the existing arrangements remain in place. The Treasury has confirmed that any structural fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before our departure from the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even if they run beyond this point.
The safety of the British people is a priority for the Government. Along with France, the UK is the only EU member state with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and with an independent nuclear deterrent. The UK is also one of the few countries in Europe to spend 2 per cent of its GDP on defence as recommended by NATO. After it leaves the EU, the country will continue to play a key role in European security and defence. The UK will seek a strong future defence relationship with the EU and will continue work with EU member states in the fight against terrorism and crime.
Strengthening the union
The Government is working with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to seek to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK. There is a Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) which will allow the leaders of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland governments to help shape the UK's exit from the EU. I think this is a helpful approach but in the end and as it stands, the UK will negotiate and leave the EU as one country.
Currently the Government is taking steps to ensure that any decisions taken by the devolved administrations will remain in place. After leaving the EU, legislation on devolution settlements will be set here in the UK by democratically elected representatives.
As promised at the meetings and at the beginning of this paper I will do my best to keep constituents informed on the key issues that are being raised with me. Some of the debates and enquiries going forward will be of general interest others will be more relevant to particular sectors. Equally some of the issues will attract greater media coverage than others and in that arena some will be sensationalised others played down. This is a cross Party issue and I will do my best to report things as factually as I am able.
I am aware of some issues not covered in this paper such as the protection currently in place for disabled people much of which is enshrined in EU regulations. Again, I offer the comfort of the Great Repeal Bill which will mean that these protections are carried forward.
On others issues too I will take opportunities to pursue them as appropriate and as best I can in the different Select Committee enquiry and forthcoming debates.
The Brexit Hub on the Parliament website mentioned earlier has specific sections on the following, each of which has subsections:
Defence and security:www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/defence-and-security/
Economy, trade and business: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/economy-business-and-trade/
Education, science and research: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/education/
Employment and pensions: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/employment-and-pensions/
Energy and the environment: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/employment-and-pensions/
Farming and fishing: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/farming-and-fishing/
Health and social care: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/health-and-social-care/
Transport and infrastructure: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/transport-and-infrastructure/
Immigration and border controls: www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/eu-referendum/immigration-and-borders/
John Howell OBE MP
For the avoidance of doubt, I did not support the attempt to reintroduce the Dubs Amendment or to amend the Bill.
The Dubs amendment was never intended to be an open ended scheme. If we were to continue the scheme indefinitely then that would create an additional pull factor. It is right that we prioritise our efforts on those children caught up in the conflict in Syria and the surrounding area - so that they can come to the UK safely and directly and with their families.
In 2016 we relocated almost as many children from within Europe to the UK as the entire of the EU's relocation scheme.
This was because of our efforts to support the camp clearance in Calais where we took over 750 unaccompanied children. 200 of those children from Calais were brought to the UK under the Dubs amendment and we have committed to take a further 150 'Dubs' children from France, Italy and Greece.
The Dubs amendment required us to consult Local Authorities on how many additional children they can manage. Each year 3,000 children arrive in the UK and claim asylum and we are taking approximately 2,000 – 3,000 each year through resettlement schemes. All of these children need support and protection. It is right that the Dubs amendment requires us to ask Local authorities how many more children they could safely accept - and that is exactly what we did. Some Local authorities are currently taking a disproportionate share of this burden; they are struggling to place the children in their care and have to pay for children to be supported in other Local Authority areas. We cannot allow a situation where councils choose to prioritise certain children over others and our National Transfer Scheme is intended to support a fairer distribution of vulnerable refugee and asylum seeking children across the UK.
Our aid spending is making a real difference to the lives of children in the conflict zone and the surrounding countries – including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. By prioritising our resources there we are able to reach more children; to provide them with education, with healthcare, and with support. Last year we were able to provide this help to over 800,000 children in Syria and the surrounding countries for the same investment that it would take to support 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under 16 in the UK for one year.
I am committed to supporting, protecting and caring for the most vulnerable asylum-seeking and refugee children and I am pleased that our resettlement programme – which will bring 23,000 vulnerable people to the UK to start new lives by the end of this Parliament, is one of the biggest in Europe. By the end of this Parliament, we will have resettled 20,000 vulnerable Syrian nationals and a further 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa.
The essence of the Kindertransport was to take unaccompanied children from an unsafe area of the world and to give them sanctuary. That is precisely what the Government has done. It is not taking children from countries of Europe which are safe but it is helping to care for them where they are.
We have pledged over £2.3 billion in aid in response to the events in Syria and the region - our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis, and we are one of the few EU countries to meet our commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid. We have also committed over £100m of humanitarian support to help alleviate the Mediterranean migration crisis in Europe and North Africa.
A number of constituents have contacted me about school funding and I appreciate the concerns. Funding for schools in the constituency has been an issue that I have pursued on behalf of the schools over some time. In the last couple of years I have support the F40 fair funding campaign, I have petitioned parliament, I have arranged meetings with local school heads with fellow MPs and have myself raised the issues with Ministers.
The review of school funding seeking a fairer formula was started by the previous Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan and the latest proposals out for consultation are Stage 2 of the review. The figures that have been set out are proposals and the consultation is open until 5pm on 22nd March. There is therefore time for anyone to make their views known through this process.
The following links will lead to the necessary information:
Schools Funding Overview https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula2/
Link to consultation: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/schools-national-funding-formula-stage-2
For my part I have arranged a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the situation personally with her. The meeting is scheduled to take place in early March and I will report back on my website in due course.
I have received emails from individuals which are well-meaning but are somewhat confused. They relate to the so-called Dubs amendment which dealt with unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The original Lord Dubs amendment called on the Government to relocate 3000 unaccompanied children from Europe, as a fair proportion of the estimated 10,000 children who Europol said were missing in Europe. That amendment was defeated, and I have already set out on this web-site my reasons for voting to oppose this arbitrary figure and its concentration on children from Europe. The Government did accept a revised amendment to the Immigration Bill put forward by Lord Dubs, which proposed that the Government consults with local authorities before setting out a plan for resettling children from Europe to the UK. No fixed number on arrivals was put forward, but instead the Government said it would consult with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children would be resettled. This February, 'in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act', the Government announced that it will transfer the specified number of 350 children who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision. This number includes the 200 or so children already transferred from France. It does not include children transferred to the UK where they have close family here.
Work continues in Greece, Italy, and France to transfer further children under the amendment, to strike a balance between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host, support and care for them.
The Immigration Act obliged the Government to put a specific number on how many children it would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. The French, while committing to processing the children who have come from the Calais camps, have said that the hope of being taken into the Dubs scheme and coming to the UK stops children cooperating with the French authorities. In addition, we should not risk incentivising perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children.
In 2016, over 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were transferred to the UK from Europe. This included more than 750 from France as part of the UK's support for the Calais camp clearance. Over 200 of those children met the published criteria for what became section 67 of the Immigration Act (the revised Dubs Amendment). The remainder were transferred under an accelerated process based on the family reunion criteria of the Dublin regulation. It is still the intention to resettle 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa region under the vulnerable children's resettlement scheme and it must be right to focus on helping those outside of Europe, as they are the children most at risk.