23 MAR 2017

Thames Water prosecution

The prosecution of Thames Water for pollution offences and its fine of £20.3 million was right and proper but there should be no triumphalism in the outcome.

The pollution that occurred between 2012 and 2014 was disastrous for the environment and distressing for the public. It is clear that there was a series of failures by management which lead to repeated discharges of untreated or poorly treated raw sewage into rivers. Of particular interest was that these failures occurred at sewage works in Henley and Littlemore (amongst other places) on the edge of the constituency.

The reports on the incidents make depressing reading. However, what is important moving forward is that Thames Water has addressed the problems and made significant changes to management to try to prevent this ever happening again. I am grateful too that I was able to persuade Thame Water to address a serious sewage problem in the village of Sydenham with significant investment. In order to be able to see the changes that have been made in management by Thames Water and in the operation of their sewage works I have asked to visit Thames Water sites.

I am pleased that Thames Water has acknowledged the failures and in a briefing to me have set out the many changes that have been made. The treatment of sewage is a complex business. I am also pleased to learn that the company has made substantial investment for projects to help rivers, wildlife and the local environment.

Thames Water will be holding open days later this year at sites where incidents took place so that local people and other stakeholders can see what has been done. I encourage people to attend.

One concern from constituents has been over who pays in the end. Thames Water has made a statement that the fine will not increase customers' bills but will be paid by shareholders.


23 MAR 2017

The European Arrest Warrant and Justice and Brexit

I am a member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice. The committee has recently published a report, after extensive investigation, on Brexit and the justice system. This is a key area for Government given the international nature of crime and the co-operation which exists across Europe to combat illegal and terrorist activities and is a good example of how Parliament is holding the Government to account over Brexit.

The report welcomes the Government's continuation of its co-operation with the EU in the area of criminal justice. This is an area where we are all inter-dependent. On the question of civil justice the report urges the Government to protect the UK as a top-class commercial centre.

The report points to the £25.7 billion annual economic contribution that law makes to the economy and calls on the Government to promote openness and the current legal rights of practice across Europe.

However, on one issue – the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) – I call for Brexit to provide the opportunity of reform.

What I said was this:

"I welcome this report. It shows how important the law is to our economy. Co-operation across Europe is important. However, Brexit provides an opportunity to improve individual powers such as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The EAW could do with reform by having requests for extradition placed before a UK judge before being granted, with the power to examine all the details of the case. This would stop the current abuse of the EAW by a number of countries including Romania and Poland."

The role of Romania in abusing the EAW has been highlighted by the case of Alexander Adamescu. He is a London resident and a German citizen whose father was arrested and died in a Romanian prison. An EAW has been issued against him by Romania to prevent him telling his story. British police and courts are duty bound to place as much trust in the Romanian state as they do in Germany or Denmark.

Further details of the case can be found at http://www.friendsofalexanderadamescu.org/


22 MAR 2017

My speech on Iran

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I will not cover the points made by others about Iran's being a sponsor of state terrorism, although I may refer to that in a moment. I will pick up on a point that was made in passing by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) about the Financial Action Task Force. In June 2016, the plenary and working group of the Financial Action Task Force—I shall call it FATF to try to speed things up—announced it would keep Iran on its blacklist, citing concerns over the risk of financing terrorism that Iran showed.

FATF is an intergovernmental organisation that sets global standards to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. It warned of the threat that Iran posed to the international financial system and advised the business community to conduct special due diligence exercises when considering business relationships and transactions with Iran. That is something we should all bear in mind. FATF has now suspended mandatory counter-measures on Iran for a year, based on the promises that Tehran would take steps to address deficiencies and implement the action plan that it had set up with the organisation.

The big point is that Iran has declined to abandon its continued support for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror organisations. Iran has claimed it is making progress, as I mentioned in an intervention, by passing a counter-terrorism law last year that, it claims, will enable it to comply with FATF standards and will "send a message of goodwill" to financial bodies worldwide over doing business with its banks. However, the terror organisations, Hamas and Hezbollah, are simply not subject to that law. Iran's central bank deputy for anti-money laundering affairs recently said that "liberation organizations"— which is what he calls Hezbollah and Hamas— "are not subject to this law and the Supreme National Security Council decides who is a terrorist." Iran has given a familiar gesture to world organisations as to what it can do with FATF's statements, and we should resist that.

Let me comment a bit on terrorism and Hezbollah, because I think that is one of the most dangerous examples of Iranian influence. Hon. Members do not have to believe me on that; a top Iranian general told a Kuwaiti newspaper that Iran has established rocket factories in Lebanon that are under the full control of Hezbollah. That indicates, in microcosm, the importance of the debate, which I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing, and the importance of the subject we are discussing.


22 MAR 2017

Comments in yesterday's DL committee on Power of Attorney

Question about the ability of people who have been overcharged with fees for Power of Attorney to get their money back.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

How many people does the Minister estimate are likely to be affected?

Dr Lee

I do not have the number to hand. As I said, 2.5 million LPAs have been granted. The number will be less than that, but I am happy to get back to my hon. Friend with the exact figure.


21 MAR 2017

Question to Secretary of State for Health

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

Schools are often the first point of contact for young people with mental health problems. Does the Secretary of State share my view that we must ensure that school-age children have access to mental health services wherever they are?

Mr Hunt

My hon. Friend speaks very wisely on this matter. In the end, schools are a vital place in which to spot mental health conditions early. We know that around half of mental health conditions become established before the age of 14, and this will be a big part of the Green Paper that we publish later this year.


21 MAR 2017

Meeting with Education Secretary

I had a meeting yesterday with the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening MP. We discussed the situation with regard to funding in schools in Oxfordshire. I pointed out that it was not acceptable that schools in Oxfordshire had received only a small increase across the board that did not keep up with costs and that so many were net losers, particularly when compared with other areas. The consultaion has not yet closed and I shall be discussing this further with the Education Minister, Nick Gibb MP. In the meantime, I urge all teachers, governors and parents to complete the consultation at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/schools-national-funding-formula-stage-2


20 MAR 2017

Contributions to debate on insurance for young drivers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. I got around being a young driver by not getting my driving licence until I was much older—I managed to beat him on that. I wonder whether his approach of dealing with the causes of this issue will overcome that difficulty and tension between the risks and the accidents that occur in this age group and the premiums that are naturally charged.

Steve Double

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He makes the precise point that I will be making, which is that the cost of insurance is based on risk. The reason the cost of insurance for young people is so high is because the risk is so much higher. Rather than imposing an artificial cap, we instead need to look at why that risk is so high and work to reduce it, as premiums will then naturally come down.

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John Howell

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point, but is she worried, as I am, that where people live is not the only factor in the situation? The additional premiums force young people to buy older cars, and if they do that, they are generally buying cars that are less safe.

Mrs Main

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, but for many young people the price of the car is the least of their worries. A fairly reasonable little runaround can be had for less than £1,000, which is about 50% of the cost of insuring the thing. They buy older cars because they have to, but unfortunately those may not have all the gizmos that make them safer or easier to drive, such as the reverse parking sensors that I mentioned. Those are beyond the wildest dreams of many young people, without—this is the thrust of my comments—the bank of mum and dad. I am a bank of mum and dad, as I am sure are many of the right hon. and hon. Members taking part in the debate.


15 MAR 2017

Question in statement on Daesh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and on our success against Daesh in Syria. Has she looked at the impact of that success on the activities of Daesh in other parts of the world—for example, its support of Boko Haram in Nigeria?

Priti Patel

We learn lessons all the time and assess all activities. My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to praise our armed forces—the RAF and others—who have been at the forefront of much of the work we have been discussing.


15 MAR 2017

Henley unemployment ‘top of the class’

I have today issued the following press release on the constituency unemployment figures.

John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for the Henley constituency, has called the unemployment figures revealed today for the constituency, 'top of the class'. The constituency comes 650 out of the 650 constituencies in the UK for the lowest claimant rate.

John said:

"I was pleased to see that the youth claimant count remained the same as in February and that there was no increase. The total number is 10 higher than in January 2017. Since 2010, that means the number of people unemployed in the constituency has gone down by almost 70%."


15 MAR 2017

Intervention in debate on detention of vulnerable adults

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady is telling some really important stories that are bringing the points home to us, but I wonder to what extent she feels the situation would be significantly worse if the people involved had serious mental health problems, and whether the system is capable of dealing with that.

Anne McLaughlin

I will come on to say a little about that issue, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it. One of the most significant issues is that the system is not capable of dealing with people who have mental health problems, and the agreement was that people with mental health problems would not be detained, but unfortunately that is still happening. As I said, I will come to that.


10 MAR 2017

Nigeria - the business opportunities and challenges

PwC Press Release

On Thursday 9th March 2017 the Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to Nigeria, John Howell MP, joined a round table event hosted by PwC to discuss priorities for UK companies doing business in Nigeria.

John Howell MP, commented:

"I am pleased that PwC has taken forward my idea of a business forum for UK companies with an active interest in the Nigerian market and I was delighted to chair it. Nigeria offers substantial opportunities for UK companies across a multitude of sectors in which the UK excels. I hope for this to be the first of many such discussions with the UK business community and for me to represent their interests in Nigeria in my capacity as the Prime Ministers Trade Envoy."

Joel Segal, chair of PwC's Africa business group, said:

"It was encouraging to hear the Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to Nigeria, John Howell MP, speak so positively about the UK's relationship with Nigeria, and the prospects for business there. The round table allowed for open and constructive discussion on the opportunities and challenges of doing business in Nigeria.

"Nigeria's large economy and market have a lot of potential, but the ease of doing business, or lack of, is slowing down the pace of development. The country's dependency on the oil sector has been a main contributor to its recent economic problems, while a foreign currency shortage has curbed growth in other sectors.

"But Nigeria does have a demographic advantage. Its rising working age population is creating a growing workforce, in contrast to many established markets that are already experiencing a contraction in the working age population.

"Cutting red tape, diversifying to become a non-oil dependent economy, improving infrastructure and moving toward a market determined exchange rate are all ways in which Nigeria's government can aid the ease of doing business and improve its appeal to UK companies and investors."


09 MAR 2017

My intervention on broadband

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is this debate not also about the need to educate people about their broadband service? It is no use saying that it will be 20% or 30% faster; we need to be specific and ask for specific things to be detailed.

Matt Warman

I agree, and I will come on to what those things might be. I think we can all agree that is a pretty well attended Westminster Hall debate. That is because we all agree that things are not working. That is a good place to start.


08 MAR 2017

Contributions in a debate on hare coursing

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on both points. On the first point, farmers can, of course, dig ditches and barricade their fences, but many in my constituency are afraid to undertake that work in case there is retaliation against their equipment as a result.

John Glen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As somebody who used to live in his constituency, I empathise strongly with the concerns he raises. I will set out similar examples of my constituents who have shared the same experience.

My first and principal concern is the threat that hare coursing poses to farming communities. Hare coursers are not simply a few individuals quietly chasing hares on unused land: they are, most often, large groups who show serious contempt for the law. This results in a number of significant problems for my constituents. Farms are vandalised, people are intimidated, and often farmers are isolated and unable to count on the law for timely protection.

The National Farmers Union has found that hare coursing is now the most common crime experienced by farmers in Wiltshire. That has a number of troubling implications for rural communities.

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John Howell

In my constituency, the police have set up surveillance areas, but this has become a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, because they are spotted while setting up the surveillance areas and the hare coursers simply move to another field on another farm. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that as a problem?

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Absolutely; on the basis of reports I am getting from constituents, I am beginning to ask myself "where next?" .

For historical reasons, Essex has always felt underfunded, and if any of my Essex colleagues were present for ​ tonight's debate, they would heartily agree, because we are always pressing for more resources. This is now a new situation that has to be confronted.


07 MAR 2017

Debate on antimicrobial resistance

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend cites 10 million deaths, but the effect will not be the same everywhere. Was he as shocked as I was to discover that the figure for Africa is more than 4 million? Does he think that more research should be done to ensure that the right resources are in the right places?

Kevin Hollinrake

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The key element of the fight against antimicrobial resistance is its global nature. We absolutely must not isolate ourselves from the rest of the world—we must collaborate—but we must take national action, too, and I will come on to that shortly.

That figure is of course a prediction—it could be lower, but it could also be higher. Predictions have been made about other contagions, such Ebola, Zika, HIV and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and our scientists, academics and clinicians thankfully have managed to mitigate the worst effects and worst predictions for those diseases. But there are three reasons for us to be more alarmed this time: first, antimicrobial resistance is already happening; secondly, the problem is spreading rapidly and by all available means; and thirdly, research is not being carried out on anything like the scale required.


07 MAR 2017

Fellowship in Law from the IPT

I have been awarded a Fellowship in law from the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT). The award follows a period of sitting alongside judges in courts to observe the conduct of hearings and working alongside law firms. The court visits included sitting in the commercial courts, an employment tribunal, the planning court, the bankruptcy court and on two occasions in the Court of Appeal.

The Fellowship was started by the Lord Chief Justice as a means of ensuring that parliamentarians had direct experience of the court system and to ensure that there was a good understanding of the work undertaken by judges.

In order to celebrate the award of a Fellowship, the Industry and Parliament Trust commissioned cartoons of successful Fellows one of which was presented by the Speaker, John Bercow MP, in the House of Lords on 6 March 2017.

I said:

"The Industry and Parliament Trust provides excellent opportunities for MPs and Peers to understand how business works. I was the first to take up the Lord Chief Justice's offer of a Fellowship. I learned a lot about the courts and about the work undertaken by judges in preparing and hearing cases. I understand the legal system much better as a result."

The Industry and Parliament Trust

The Industry and Parliament Trust has been leading the way for over 40 years with innovative programmes to build understanding between business and Parliament. Its charitable objects are "to promote mutual understanding between Parliament and the worlds of business, industry and commerce for public benefit

The IPT was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in April 1977 and became a registered charity in 1983. Its charitable objects are "to promote mutual understanding between Parliament and the worlds of business, industry and commerce for public benefit"

The IPT was founded to be independent, non-lobbying and non-partisan, with governance provided by a Board of Trustees drawn from both Parliament and business. In 2017 the Industry and Parliament Trust is proud to celebrate its 40 years anniversary..


05 MAR 2017

Trade Envoy visit to Nigeria

On 27 February I undertook a visit to Nigeria in my role as the Prime Minister's Trade Envoy to the country.  Nigeria matters to the UK and the UK matters to Nigeria.  It is Africa's largest economy and by population it is the largest country on the continent. Our bilateral trade is worth some £4 billion per year and the country has the 10th largest proven oil reserves in the world. Here in the UK we have the second largest diaspora of Nigerians.  However, 60 million Nigerians live below the poverty line and the country has an estimated 9% of the world's extreme poor.

The country was badly hit by the slump in world oil prices and has struggled to establish an adequate macro-economic policy including an adequate foreign exchange policy.  However, the election of President Buhari with a credible and far-reaching policy to end corruption is having a positive effect on the country as are his attempts to diversify the economy to include non-oil and gas activity.  The Government continues to push forward economic reform.

The UK is providing assitance across a wide range of areas.  We also have significant commecial interests including Shell, Diageo, PwC and Unilever.  There is signifcant potential for further activity and British business is well placed to capitalise on this. It is widely held that the future of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa hangs on the success of Nigeria.

My visit was made possible by the activities of a highly talented and cross-departmental team of officials who work at the High Commission in Abuja and Lagos.  The team functions well and shows the links that exist between the commercial and poilitical activities of the country and those which rely on aid and technical assistance.  While there I was able to visit the site of an ambitious development at Centenary City where there is plenty of opportunity for UK businesses to get involved and contribute to the project and to the development of future, smart cities.  Expertise in transport and urban design are just two of the areas where UK expertise could be valuable.  I also visited Abuja Tech Village which is an ambitious project to take advantage of the innovation of the country. The Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce is celebratring its 40th anniversary.  They play a vital role in facilitating trade and I was pleased to join them for a useful conference.

In addition, I saw the Minster of Trade and Industry and the Minster of Finance to discuss the Economic Recovery Growth Plan and the role that UK finance can play in taking this forward.  With the Minister of Trade I was able to raise a number of concerns directly from UK companies who are doing business there and to look at how we might contribute to the country's diversification and improve the business environment there. I also had a meeting with the President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and examined the work that could take place on Nigeria's Capital Markets.  Finally, I undertook interviews for the local press and participated in an entertaining and valuable radio programme which looked at the UK's role in Nigeria.

The visit was a great success in ensuring that the UK was seen as a close friend of Nigeria and continued to give tough economic advise as well as the commercial investment to go forward and support the economic recovery.


23 FEB 2017

Question on airplane noise over Henley

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

For most people, night flights include those that arrive in the very early hours of the morning. Such flights affect my constituents in Henley, particularly when planes land in an easterly wind. To what extent will the Secretary of State take their views into consideration?

Chris Grayling

I am very sensitive to issues affecting not just people who live near the immediate approaches to airports, but those who live further away, such as my hon. Friend's constituents. That is why I believe that the better use of air space, particularly with state-of-the-art technology rather than the methods of 40 or 50 years ago, will enable us to provide much more respite for individual communities that are currently affected by aircraft noise.


22 FEB 2017

My speech on Commonwealth trade

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) on securing the debate. I want to use the example of one country to illustrate some of the points that he and other Members have made. The country is Nigeria, where I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I thank hon. Members for that endorsement of my role. My appointment was a pre-Brexit one, although admittedly it has relevance in a post-Brexit world, which goes to show how much this country values the relationship it would like to have with Nigeria. Trade is of mutual benefit—it benefits not just one but both of the countries concerned. We can do enormous good when we operate in a country if, as well as ensuring that our own markets are fulfilled there, we ensure that that country's markets are also developed.

Nigeria's size is significant in that respect—with 170 million people it is, I think, the most populous Commonwealth country in Africa—but it also has enormous regional importance. At a dinner organised for me in Lagos recently, the common theme around the table of Nigerian and British businessmen was that it was impossible to see sub-Saharan Africa taking off without the development of Nigeria. Anything we can do to help Nigeria to develop will bring stability to that part of the world. We need to show that we are doing that, as a good member of the Commonwealth family. It is an important part of the message we want to give.

I am trying to do something about the status of our trade relations with Nigeria, which are currently abysmal because they are based on one factor—oil and gas—that has seen an enormous drop. We and the President of Nigeria are determined to diversify the economy to ensure that British companies across the board have a role to play in the Nigerian market.

In terms of the way of doing business, there is a tremendous amount of low-hanging fruit. I am happy to gather that low-hanging fruit as I go, but I am more interested in the long-term business relationships that will cement the UK-Nigerian way forward.

Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell

I will not. We are too pressured for time.

I know from my experience in central and eastern Europe that those business relationships take a tremendous amount of management time to get right.

There is a way of doing business that depends on getting people together to hunt as a pack, to ensure that all views are known and that we do not act for just one company. I have gathered those companies together in an advisory group that I have set up, with PwC as the secretariat. That group is just about to have its first meeting, and will take forward the approach of operating as a UK group in Nigeria, as our French and German colleagues do with their companies.

I echo the comments made about the diaspora. We have the second largest Nigerian diaspora in the world in this country and I recommend that we make the best use of that.


21 FEB 2017

Question on Israeli Settlements

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

Were the representations on settlements set in the context of Hamas fully restoring its military strength to levels before 2014—an illustration that peace does not entirely depend on this one issue? [908824]

Boris Johnson

We are aware of the preparations being made by Hamas in Gaza and we remain very concerned about the situation. It underscores the reality that while Israel is of course at fault for the expansion of settlements in the west bank—we have made that absolutely clear—on the other hand nobody should underestimate the very real security threat facing Israel. We are firmly on the side of the Israelis as they face that threat.


21 FEB 2017

MP welcomes £239,000 for Oxfordshire

I have issued a welcome for the £239,000 awarded by the Department for Transport to Oxfordshire for schemes to improve road journeys with a focus on users suffering with some form of disability.

The £239,000 is to provide real-time parking information for Blue Badge holders and information about electric vehicle charge points with a particular focus on vulnerable road users. The £239,000 is part of £4 million awarded for tech which gives motorists advance notice of congestion and free parking spaces. Nineteen councils across England will receive between £50,000 - £300,000 each for their ideas to improve journeys through digital innovation.

The Government money will be spent on developing cutting edge technology such as apps and sensors which can be used to cut congestion, improve parking in city centres and alert drivers when electric car charging points become available.

Roads Minister Andrew Jones MP, said:

"I congratulate the cutting-edge, innovative ideas that will transform journeys for passengers and motorists across the country. Technology is rapidly evolving and this important work shows that if we get it right, it can cut congestion, speed up journeys, clean up the environment, and improve accessibility."

I added:

"It is good to see Oxfordshire getting one of the highest bids for projects. I am sure these will make a big difference to travellers and it is good to see technology being brought into use at an early stage."


20 FEB 2017

John Howell MP holds Brexit discussion in Henley

With Brexit being a hot topic and the White Paper setting out the Prime Minister's key priorities for negotiations, I held an open forum in Henley last Friday (17th February) to discuss the key questions and concerns of constituents going forward. Some 40 people attended. Questions and comments indicated that the majority of those attending had voted to remain in the EU but there were people happy to be leaving too. John opened the meeting by setting out where we are with this especially after some high profile media coverage of recent debate in Parliament.

I said

"There is a great deal of confusion over what has been going on and some strong feelings on either side of the issue. I was pleased to have the opportunity to explain just where we are with this. Discussion was inevitably heated at times but overall I think it was a good meeting. There were some interesting points raised and it is helpful for me to know what is upper most in people's minds as debates is and discussions move forward. I am grateful to those who came along the share their thoughts with me."

Among the topics raised were questions on familiar issues such as immigration, free movement, single market, environment and finance as well as some detailed questions on specific issues.

I added

"I held a similar meeting in Thame a few days before this one and will be posting some follow-up on both meetings on my website www.johnhowellmp in due course. There are some questions that we don't have answers for at present and I will continue to comment on my blog in the coming months as more answers come forward."


14 FEB 2017

Local MP tackles Brexit with Thame

With Brexit being a hot topic and the Prime Minister having published her White Paper setting out the key priorities for negotiations, I held an open forum in Thame Town Hall on Monday night (13 February) to listen to the key questions and concerns of constituents going forward. There was a good turnout with some 40 people in attendance and some interesting points were raised. The meeting was good humoured.

I said

"There is a great deal of confusion over what has been going on and one of the first questions was for me to provide some clarity on the situation. During discussion some interesting points were raised and it is helpful for me to know what is uppermost in people's minds as debates and discussions move forward. I am grateful to those who came along to share their thoughts with me."

Among the topics raised were questions on familiar issues such as immigration, free movement, the single market, the environment and finance as well as some detailed questions on specific issues.

I added

"I will be holding another such meeting in Henley and after that will be posting some responses on my website www.johnhowellmp.com There are some questions that I don't have answers for at present and I will continue to comment on my blog in the coming months as more answers come forward."

NOTES

The White Paper is titled: 'The United Kingdom's exit from and new partnership with the European Union' https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/589191/The_United_Kingdoms_exit_from_and_partnership_with_the_EU_Web.pdf


09 FEB 2017

Speech on Israel

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) because, like him and the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), I have been fully involved in visits to Israel and the west bank—six over the past three years—with organisations that encourage co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians. I also chair events here where those organisations come forward and describe what they are doing. I have on several occasions been to Tel Aviv to see Save a Child's Heart, a brilliant organisation that goes out of its way to treat Palestinian children who have heart problems. That involves fine surgery that requires a great deal of skill.

Bob Blackman

My hon. Friend mentioned Save a Child's Heart. Will he confirm that children from other Arab countries and beyond receive life-saving treatment at the hospital in which it operates?

John Howell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The number of Arab children treated by the Israeli doctors at the hospital is phenomenal, and it sets a brilliant example for the whole region.

Ian Austin

I want to emphasise this point—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) is laughing and sneering in his usual way, but he ought to listen to this point, because it is really important. The truth is that we come into debates such as this one and hear a binary—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, hon. Members can shout as much as they like, but I am going to speak.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)

Order. No one can shout as much as they like. The hon. Gentleman will be heard.

Ian Austin

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We hear a binary, simplistic, polarised debate, when the truth about Israel and Palestine is that people on the ground are working together, co-operating, talking and building the peace process that we all want to see. It is about time people listened to that argument instead of laughing at it.

John Howell

I thank the hon. Gentleman kindly for his comments. I was about to come on to that.

Mr Betts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell

I have given way twice, and I am not giving way again.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are having very short speeches, and the interventions have been longer than the speeches. Let us allow Mr Howell to make his speech.

John Howell

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point I was about to make was that here we have a wonderful example of co-operation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and yet we are focusing on one issue—settlements. I would be the first to admit that settlement expansion is counterproductive, but we have heard from speaker after speaker that settlements are not the cause of conflict. They are not the cause of the violence, which long predates the existence of settlements, in this part of the world.

If that is the case, why are we picking settlements out for discussion? Settlements are one of the five final status issues, which also include borders, the status of Jerusalem, security and Palestinian sovereignty. A whole range of issues need to be addressed if the situation is to be moved forward. I was able in a recent meeting of the Council of Europe to expand on the matter for a little longer than I have now, particularly in relation to the activities of Hamas in Gaza. As I have already mentioned in an intervention, the Israelis pulled out 8,000 Israeli settlers, including their dead, from Gaza and they have been greeted by the almost 20,000 rockets that have been launched at them.

The interesting thing about Gaza, as my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has mentioned, is that the restrictions on it are being implemented by Egypt as well as by Israel. I spoke to Anwar Sadat, the leader of the Reform and Development party in Egypt, and he said, "We are not going to sort out the problems of Gaza until terrorism in Egypt stops." That was his message for the area. Settlements in East Jerusalem, for example, account for 1% of the territory.

The motion calls for the internationalisation of the peace process, and I do not think that that is very productive. The question that has been asked on a number of occasions is: what is required? What should we do? Direct peace talks are required between Israel and the Palestinians, without preconditions. Unfortunately, the Palestinian side comes up with preconditions every time, and those preconditions usually involve the release of yet more terrorists. If we look at Israel's record over settlements, we see that in 2010 there was a 10-month moratorium, but the Palestinians allowed nine months to slip by before they resumed peace talks; they did not take it seriously. A month ago, as I have mentioned, Israel evicted 50 families from homes in Amona. In 2005, we saw the situation in Gaza, and in 2008 Israel made a fantastic offer to withdraw from 94% of the west bank.

The issue that needs to be discussed is how that fits in with land swaps. That needs to be dealt with face to face in negotiations between the two parties. At the moment, all that Israel has got out of the process is a denial of its right to exist, an intensification of violence and demands for the release of yet more terrorists. I do not think anyone should ignore the fact that that is happening because the Palestinians are scared of their own elections. Polling suggests that they are going to lose, whether we are talking about the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, and, sadly, they are going to be succeeded by organisations that are in favour of ISIS


09 FEB 2017

Question on International Business

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have a role as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria. In the context of fair trade, will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging the Nigerian Government to share the benefits of trade more widely with their people?

Dr Fox

That is a message I will be taking with me when I make a visit to Nigeria in the not-too-distant future.


09 FEB 2017

Comments on Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank the shadow Minister for so generously giving way. He probably knows that the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is in my constituency. People there told me how concerned they were about this issue, but they decided that the amendments to the Bill were not helpful. They said that it was much better to deal with Ministers directly, and to put pressure on the Treasury to achieve their objectives

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John Howell

My hon. Friend's point is absolutely clear. The management at Culham do want to co-operate, and they want a much larger project. We should do that not by making amendments, but by having discussions with Ministers.


09 FEB 2017

Statement on Devolution in Oxfordshire

Local council arrangements must respect local areas and their needs

John Howell MP (Henley), Victoria Prentis MP (North Oxfordshire), Robert Courts MP (Witney) and the Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP (Oxford East) have released a joint statement following recent speculation about devolution plans for the county.

Together they said:

"We have seen that South Oxfordshire and the Vale of the White Horse are now backing a bid for a county-based unitary authority. We have also seen that this is opposed by Cherwell District Council, Oxford City Council, and West Oxfordshire District Council. So this is not a unified bid across the whole county, does not have the support of the majority of the County's MPs, and fails the criteria for consensus which the Department of Communities and Local Government are working to.

"We recognise that over recent weeks there has been a lot of speculation about the future arrangement of local government across the county. We are committed to the accountability and efficiency of local government. But there are some red lines we would like to draw. It is essential that the distinct identities of the different areas in Oxfordshire are respected, with council arrangements which are sufficiently close and meaningful that they are in touch with and accountable to local residents and their needs. This is an important issue for everyone. It is not something that can or should be rushed. Our priority is to find the best arrangement for all our constituents."


07 FEB 2017

My question on Neighbourhood Planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am pleased with what the Secretary of State said about neighbourhood plans. Will he confirm that he accepts they are an important part of the planning mix and are delivering more houses than expected?

Sajid Javid

Yes, I can confirm that. My hon. Friend speaks with some experience in this area, and the evidence is that the 200-odd neighbourhood plans that have been adopted so far are on average leading to 10% more development than was necessary.


07 FEB 2017

My question on GPs

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

It is not just the need for GPs that is relevant. Surely there is a requirement for GPs to work at weekends, and that should be included in the assessment of demand for their services. GPs should also work with better technologies and work together as groups. [908635]

David Mowat

The Government are committed to GPs offering appointments seven days a week, 8 am until 8 pm, by 2020. By 2018, we will have rolled that out in London. Part of this is about GPs working smarter in integrated hubs of between 30,000 and 40,000 patients, thus enabling them to spread out and to offer services such as pharmacy, physio and social care.


06 FEB 2017

The EU Bill and the amendments

A number of people have written to me promoting amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill currently before the House of Commons. I comment on them individually below.

Parliamentary involvement in debate

There is concern that Parliament does not have enough involvement in the debate on our leaving the European Union. I understand where the concerns on this are coming from but I do not agree that the Government is pursuing "a hard and destructive outcome" as some of the emails I have received have stated. I am glad that the term a 'hard Brexit' has been avoided in these emails because I find such shorthand phrases very inaccurate and unhelpful. Readers may be aware that the Government has produced a White Paper on our changing relationship with the EU ("The United Kingdom's exit from and new partnership with the European Union"). For example, it says that the Government is seeking to take in "elements of current Single Market arrangements" which does not strike me as very 'hard Brexit'.

The same White Paper sets out the amount of Parliamentary time that has been devoted to discussing the EU and various aspects of our departure. The total number of hours spent doing this in both Houses of Parliament is by my calculation some 60. I do not regret this amount of time but that needs to be put into the context that a normal 2nd Reading of a new Bill has some 4-5 hours allocated to it. I fully expect that this allocation of time will continue.

We have a system of Select Committees in the House of Commons which hold the Government to account by carrying out enquiries. These are cross-party. The time spent so far talking about the EU excludes the time spent by Select Committees examining various aspects of Brexit. My own committee – the Justice Select Committee – only last week held yet another morning of quizzing witnesses from the legal profession on what aspects of justice and the law needed to be taken into account and taken forward. We have also visited the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey to discuss similar issues. Other Select Committees are doing the same.

In addition, the Prime Minister has also made it clear that both Houses of Parliament will have a vote on the deal which the Government negotiates with the EU before it comes into force. As the White Paper makes clear "The Government will then put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament." So, Parliament has a key role in the decisions which are being made.

What are required are regular updates and the opportunity for both Houses to debate the key issues arising from EU exit before a final vote. The Government has already promised this. I therefore do not consider that the amendments are necessary.

I am surprised that some are seeking solace with the Liberal-Democrats. It should be borne in mind that the Liberal-Democrats had the biggest revolt amongst its MPs proportionally of any political party when some of its members opted to vote with the Government over the Bill to grant the Prime Minister the discretion to trigger Article 50.

Euratom

I understand and share the concerns that have been raised over this issue and have already had several conversations and met with Ian Chapman, CEO of CCFE. I have also spoken to several Ministers on the matter and spoken about it on the floor of the House. Having visited CCFE on a number of occasions I am indeed well aware of the world class work being done.

The issue over the future of Euratom is not entirely of the Government's making and it is trying to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. I asked CCFE whether any of the amendments being proposed to the Bill were helpful. The general opinion was that they were not and that the best course of action was direct pressure on Ministers to resolve the issue. I do not therefore see the amendments as necessary.

Support for the constituency

A number of people have written to me to point out that this was a Remain constituency. I know; I voted to Remain. But at no point did anyone in the country vote that Mrs May should not have the discretion to decide on Article 50. I repeat what I said in an earlier blog; what we voted for last week was precisely that. It was not to trigger Article 50. It was to put the situation back to where it was before the Supreme Court judgement and give discretion to the Prime Minister.

Personally, I think we have made a mistake in our decision to leave the European Union. But now is not the time to try to change the result of the Referendum or find ways of undermining the result. We need to work together to put the best possible deal in place for the country as a whole. This is not a matter which can be decided on a constituency-by-constituency basis but needs to bring in the bigger picture.

I fully supported the idea of holding a Referendum. This was not about appeasing the right wing of the Conservative Party but recognised that the Labour Party had a growing issue with the European Union. It was a national, cross-party issue. I was sent to Parliament to pursue the national interest. The argument over what is in the national interest was held at the time of the Referendum and it serves no purpose to continually retread old ground on this nor to use the poor tactics of the Referendum to pretend that things are not as they are. To be frank, I cannot see how we serve the cause of democracy or lessen the political uncertainty by trying to obstruct the decision that the electorate made.


03 FEB 2017

Brexit meetings & update

As I have set out elsewhere, the vote in Parliament this week was not about triggering Article 50 to start the Brexit negotiations. We have not triggered Article 50. It remains as untriggered today as it did at the time of the Referendum.

The vote was about whether we give the Prime Minister back the powers she thought she had before the Supreme Court Judgement. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is a very short Bill which simply seeks

"to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom's intention to withdraw from the EU."

A White Paper has now been published which sets out the Government's plan for establishing a new relationship with the EU. I would like to gather comments from constituents on the Paper and to this end have set up two open meetings as follows:

Monday 13th February, 7pm in Thame Town Hall, High Street, Thame.

Friday 17th February, 7.30pm at the Christchurch Centre, Reading Road, Henley.

These meetings are open to anyone who would like to share their thoughts on the proposals with me to help me form a view on the particular issues to look out for in the forthcoming negotiations.

You can read the White Paper at this link

www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/589191/The_United_Kingdoms_exit_from_and_partnership_with_the_EU_Web.pdf

I said in the House of Commons that the term 'hard Brexit' was a piece of lazy journalism. It hid the fact that what is being proposed does not lie at an extreme one way or the other. For example, I was pleased to see in the White Paper the following quote:

"That agreement may take in elements of current Single Market arrangements..."

The process going forward is that Select Committees will continue with their enquiries into their own areas on the implications of Brexit and feed this into Government. In addition there will no doubt be more debates to add to the 60 hours we have already had in both Houses.


02 FEB 2017

Ultra low emission vehicles

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am glad my hon. Friend has mentioned councillors. Does he agree that local authorities have a vital role to play? What they can do can magnificently help low emissions vehicles.

Andrew Selous

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.


02 FEB 2017

My speech on EU Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have listened to this debate for the past couple of days, and I can quite understand why constituents feel that we are voting on coming out of the European Union tonight. We are not. The Bill is a simple and straightforward matter that simply puts us back to what we believe the situation was before the Supreme Court judgment. That is all the Bill does.

I disagree with those who tell me that the referendum was only advisory. In our manifesto, we said explicitly that we would accept the result of the referendum whatever it was. The referendum effectively ceased to be advisory at that point. No one has ever said how voting against giving the Prime Minister permission to start article 50 negotiations complies with that, or indeed how we could ever be trusted again to take democratic decisions in the interests of the people.

Those like me who voted to remain need to accept that we lost the argument and the vote—but I am not throwing in the towel. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), I am doing all that I can to work on the aspects that are needed to take us forward. That includes, for example, this morning's meeting of the Justice Committee in which we had yet another session with leading lawyers about what we need to carry forward in the justice system.

Both Houses of Parliament have already spent 60 hours discussing the EU and our leaving of it. That is 60 hours of debate to which the Front-Bench team has listened.

Let me quickly comment on two things. The first is the term "hard Brexit". It is one of the laziest forms of journalism I have ever heard. It is a great shame that it has been used in this House. How maintaining the common travel area with Ireland and the rights of EU nationals in Britain, and protecting workers' rights and the best places for science and innovation can possibly be called a hard Brexit, I do not know.

I would like Ministers to give us some confidence on the issue of Euratom. The Joint European Torus project is located at Culham in my constituency. I heard what the Secretary of State said yesterday, but I would like some reassurance, because it was negotiating in good faith and then this suddenly occurred.


30 JAN 2017

My defence question today

John Howell

How can small firms in my constituency that have great, innovative ideas bring them to the MOD without getting caught up in a bureaucratic procurement process?

Harriett Baldwin

I am sure that my hon. Friend noticed that, on Thursday, I launched the Enduring Challenge, which is run by the defence and security accelerator. It is designed to be a simple front door allowing anyone with a great idea that could benefit UK defence and security to enter into defence. The funding for that will be available throughout the year. On the other side of that door are helpful innovation partners who will guide small firms through a simplified procurement process, and I encourage firms from across the UK to visit the accelerator website on gov.uk to see how they can develop the next world-beating idea.


27 JAN 2017

Speech on trade agreements at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I want to make a few comments in relation to Ceta and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and to bring out some of the general points about these sorts of agreements. It is necessary to base this on fact rather than widespread conspiracy theories. These treaties are meant to simultaneously cover liberalisation of market access, regulatory and non-tariff barriers to trade, and rules of trade. The intention is to make it easier for EU and American or Canadian businesses to invest, sell and grow in each other's markets. They aim to increase trade and investment in order to increase growth and employment. Additionally, by agreeing a common set of rules and standards for trade they are seen as an opportunity to set standards for the future of global trade, and global trade deals.

TTIP would importantly include a 'safeguard clause' which would allow either partner to remove these measures if "serious harm to domestic industry" were observed. This is an important safeguard and one that is frequently overlooked.

99 per cent of businesses in the US and EU are small or medium sized and I used to run one. The UK Government argues these are the ones most hampered by barriers to trade; without the legal or financial muscle to overcome them, and will therefore benefit from treaties that reflect the latest developments in their own areas.

An investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), would protect companies such as these against discrimination in either region. This would not prevent Governments from enacting regulatory reforms. I think opposition to this ignores the enormous changes that are taking place in the operation of the law and the widespread use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms of not going through courts to settle disputes.in particular these sorts of treaties explicitly will not lower environmental, labour and consumer protection standards.

The UK Government estimates that through additional trade and investment TTIP could have injected £10 billion into the UK economy. Due to a larger choice of products available to consumers, and lower costs to trade, the UK Government have also estimated that TTIP could have saved the average household up to £400 per year.

It had been clarified on many occasions throughout the TTIP process that current, existing and future trade policy would not have affected how the UK runs its public services, such as the NHS. Negotiators from the United States and the European Union repeatedly made it clear that it would continue to be for EU member states to make decisions about whether and to what extent they involve the private sector in the provision of public services. The EU's chief negotiator on TTIP also reinforced that EU countries will continue to be free to decide how they run their public health systems


26 JAN 2017

Speech on France and Germany at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I have read the reports published on the countries covered by the Assembly's monitoring procedures. I understand the difficulties that must have been encountered in examining countries which are either founder members of this Council or are advanced and civilised places. Finland for example is described as one of the most uncorrupt places in Europe. However, it is good that these reports are done. There are issues such as media freedom and the integrity of news editors which need to be examined in every country. As we have seen the Christmas before last, that very integrity has been called into question in Germany and in other countries as a result of the handling of the molesting of women by allegedly Muslim migrants. So it is necessary to keep on top of these issues.

In respect of two countries I wish to make a number of points. The first is France which is suffering the problems associated with terrible terrorist attacks. I think we should all feel great empathy with France in the face of these attacks. Although some of the international press may not see the French reaction as being strong enough I think that the Act of 21 July is to be supported in the powers it has given the police and the way it has approached terrorism. The report speaks of the necessity for balance in France's approach to ensure that the standards and values of the Council of Europe are maintained. But given the scale of the terrorist attacks I think the action of the French government is proportionate.

Turning to the second of my countries, Germany, we need to recognise the impact that accepting so many migrants has had on the country. On the one hand we need to recognise the humanitarian position of the country but on the other accept that this has provoked intense debate and comment. I think the report rightly draws attention to the Islamaphobia and anti-refugee protests that have resulted and the way in which the country has adopted a stance on this.

In both countries two issues cover this subject and that is the prevalence of hate crime and how it is dealt with and attacks on women. This is not just a case of having the right laws in place to deal with the problems. It is also a case of using them effectively to stop both hate crime and attacks on women. Neither of these can be tolerated and both are likely to be on the increase.

The rapporteur calls for balance between tackling the challenges faced by these countries and by the threat of terrorism with protecting values we all hold dear. We do not want these values to be compromised and for the terrorists to have succeeded but we also want to stamp out the terrorism in the first place. This is a difficult balance to achieve but I have every confidence that this is being achieved and that it will not deflect from the rigorous stamping out of terrorism in mainland Europe.


26 JAN 2017

Speech on the Lebanon at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL - There is no doubt that the Lebanon is an extremely volatile country riddled with sectarian tensions and foreign interference. I would love to be able to help the Lebanon in the ways stated by the rapporteur but there is a problem to address. The reason for this is that the election of the president has moved us on very little. Hezbollah the radical Shi'a Islamist terror group mentioned in the report is an Iranian-backed organisation which has de facto control of Lebanon's Government and boasts the country's largest military infrastructure.

A discussion of the help which can be given to the Lebanon cannot be taken forward without an acknowledgement of the role of this terrorist organisation. The EU proscribed Hezbollah's 'military wing' as a terrorist organisation after a UK-led effort. The U.S., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Israel designate the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. In March 2016, even the Arab League announced that they consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Hezbollah has more than doubled its fighting capabilities since the 2006 war, and currently has an estimated 45,000 fighters, many of which have extensive battle experience from their time in Syria. The organisation is deeply engaged in supporting President Assad's regime in Syria, providing thousands of fighters since the civil war began in 2011, of which up to 2,000 have reportedly been killed and 5,000 wounded. Hezbollah is therefore responsible for generating the refugees in the first place.i.

Before leaving office in December 2016, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly expressed concern to the UN Security Council that Iran's supplying of weapons to Hezbollah violates a longstanding arms embargo against the country.

So it is in this context that we need to review the conclusions of the report we are discussing here. I think the report is right to say that "Problems in Lebanon will not be completely solved if Syria is not fixed." The report also brings out the involvement of both Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Lebanon. So the question is how can the Council of Europe be involved in a country like this without giving comfort to a terrorist organisation or by providing resources which will not be appropriated and misused. I think the report is silent on this. I can understand the wish of the rapporteur to concentrate on the problems which the presence of so many refugees have created. But we also need to work towards disarming Hezbollah which is believed to have amassed a current arsenal of up to 150,000 rockets – over 10 times more than the amount it had in 2006 including hundreds of long-range Iranian-made missiles. In June 2016, Hezbollah acknowledged that it is receiving missiles from Iran – likely satellite-guided missiles (GPS). The organisation's rearmament since the 2006 Second Lebanon War has not been prevented, despite the presence of UN observers from UNIFIL. So unless we solve this problem I cannot see why what the rapporteur is calling for will have any ability to be achieved.


25 JAN 2017

Speech on Gaza at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – At the end of the summary of this report, we find the words: "The Palestinian authorities should reject and condemn acts of terrorism against Israel, form an effective and cohesive government bridging the two territories". That goes to the heart of the problem in Gaza and shows why the report is a touch naïve in what it expects can be done.

First, it is not only Israel that is imposing restrictions of movement on Gaza; it is also Egypt, for very good reasons. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, which in its current form can have no place in the future of the region. Anwar Sadat, president of the Reform and Development party in Egypt, told us only last night that Egyptian progress on Gaza would not be made until the terrorist situation in Sinai was under control. I have seen the terrorist tunnels that Hamas has built to bring terrorists into Israel. I have witnessed rockets being deployed by Hamas against Israel, and they are not, as some have tried to say, mere toys.

I mention all of that because if effort and resources were not distracted to those objectives, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza would be ending. Hamas is a despicable organisation that continues to perpetuate the suffering of Gaza's civilians. Some 160 Gazans have been killed digging the terror tunnels, at least nine of whom were children. Video footage posted by Afaq showed links of children walking through the tunnels, which are decorated with posters of Hamas operatives apparently killed by Israel.

No peace agreement will be able to guarantee peace in the medium to long term if a generation of Palestinians are growing up indoctrinated in hate. The history of the conflict between Fatah and Hamas and other organisations in Gaza shows the futility of expecting them to establish a cohesive government in the area. The only good news is the recent polling that showed that both Fatah and Hamas were unlikely to win fair elections. The bad news is the preference for organisations that favour Daesh.

Hamas has a history of misappropriating genuine humanitarian aid. Six miles of tunnels are being dug each month; 600 000 tonnes of concrete are used in that, with another 5 million needed. Up to $90 million has been misappropriated, and the Hamas leadership has refused the Israeli offer of a desalination plant. This report should condemn Hamas outright. Some 550 rockets and mortars have been identified in the 2014 conflict as being launched from sensitive sites such as schools, hospitals and place of worship. That, too, goes to the heart of the real cause of the problem in Gaza. It is generated from within Gaza, just like the double exit system being employed by Hamas to let people out, even for medical treatment.


25 JAN 2017

Contribution for debate on Attacks on journalists and media freedom

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) - This is a good report which highlights the problems facing journalists and media freedom in Europe. However I think to understand fully what it is really about we need to unbundle it a little. I do so as a former member of the BBC in London.

The first unbundling I would do is between journalists and media freedom. The situations in which they can or indeed need to be protected from attacks varies immensely. Journalists are individuals who by and large make up their own minds whether they are going to cover troublesome situations such as wars or other disturbances. In these situations they put their own lives on the line to bring us the stories of the day and take the risks associated with that. In these circumstances, I do not see how it is possible to prevent attacks on journalists.

On the other hand is the sort of situation faced by Alexander Adamescu, a German citizen who lives in London and is the son of a Romanian newspaper owner. Romania Libera is a moderate centre-right paper but is a thorn in the side of Romania's left-wing government. His father has already been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of bribing judges. Now the government is going after the son in the same way — in part to get full control of his father's assets. This type of situation has to be defended to the hilt notwithstanding terrorism legislation. In this case the use of the European Arrest Warrant is to be deplored.

Continuing the unbundling, we must separate off the role of media institutions from the activities of journalists although the two are connected. The emphasis here is in the protection of the institution to report and say what it finds to be acceptable. But with this comes the need for accountability and for the highest standards in editorial integrity. That has not always been present in media institutions even in respected ones in Europe as witnessed by the way during the Christmas before last they dealt with the situation of women molested in Cologne and other places by allegedly Muslim refugees.

In these circumstances while we should uphold the rights of organisations to publish views and stories with which we many not agree we must also uphold the responsibilities of media organisations to follow the highest of standards.


25 JAN 2017

Question to President of Cyprus

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Mr President, I want to ask you an economic question. To what extent will the development of offshore gas resources with Israel benefit the whole of Cyprus and how widely will those benefits be spread?

Mr ANASTASIADES - There is no doubt whatever that this will be for the benefit of all on Cyprus. Of course, any sort of reserves would pertain to the State, and the State belongs to its people, who are made up of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Thus, if a solution is to be found, the benefit will be for the entire island and all the people on it, and will play an important role in boosting the economy of the country in numerous different ways. Also, the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus and its use by neighbouring countries is something from which Cyprus will reap great benefits. We feel that Cyprus will become a major economic centre in the region and play an important role in European energy security. Taking into consideration Cyprus's geopolitical position and, more specifically, its geographic position vis-à-vis the various reserves of natural gas and possibly other energy sources – oil, for example – the benefit will undoubtedly be important and, once again, for the benefit of all on the island.


25 JAN 2017

Question to Commisssioner Hahn of the EU

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Mr Hahn, how robust is your assessment of the economic development of aspirant countries and the effect that that development is likely to have on existing member States?

Mr HAHN - On the economic development of aspirational countries, look at the west Balkans as an example. We should not underestimate the economic potential of these countries; we are talking about maybe 20 million people. As in the case of Ukraine or Moldova, other eastern European neighbours, the growth rates are much higher than in the European Union. In the European Union, markets are relatively saturated but, in these regions, there is enormous potential. We should bear in mind that there are attractive sales markets for European companies in those areas. When I visit companies in Europe, I say, "Do you have any enterprises outside?" They often say that the older ones are in the European Union but that the newer ones are in eastern Europe, because those are the new markets. It is very important that we see that connection in order to support the jobs that already exist in the older markets in the European Union and to look towards the investments in south-eastern Europe. We must ensure that we can keep jobs in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and elsewhere in the European Union. I invite you to bear that in mind in your work and to put that point forward.


20 JAN 2017

John Howell MP: Welcomes traditionally-measured crime falling to a new low

I am very pleased that traditionally-measured crime has continued to fall, now down by a third since 2010, and remaining at historically low levels, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Commenting, I said:

'These figures show that Police reform is working. Crimes that we traditionally measure have fallen, and we are seeing over 370,000 fewer violent crimes a year.

'Crime is changing and what these statistics show us is that the way we measure crime needs to change too so that we can continue to protect families in communities here in the Henley constituency.

'In the Thames Valley crime recorded by the police has fallen by 26% since 2010. This is good news for our area making our community a safer place to live, work and raise a family. I am particularly pleased to see the concentration on rural crime.'

Notes

  • Traditional crimes measured by the independent Crime Survey have fallen by a third since June 2010. Traditionally-measured crimes do not include fraud and computer misuse offences – which were added to the Crime Survey for England and Wales in October 2015 and for which today's figures represent the first full year of data. As the ONS has made clear, 'it will be another year before a comparable time series is available' for these offences (ONS, Crime Survey for England and Wales, Quarterly Data Tables, 19 January 2016, link).
  • Violent crime is down by 370,000. In the past year, we have seen 370,000 fewer violent crimes a year, compared to 2010 (ONS, Crime in England and Wales, period ending September 2016, 19 January 2017, link).
  • For the first time, fraud and cybercrime statistics have been included in the overall figure. We are investing £1.9 billion in cyber security over five years to stamp out fraud (ONS, Crime in England and Wales, period ending September 2016, 19 January 2017, link; HMT, 1 November 2016, link).


18 JAN 2017

John Howell MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment

This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Friday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the lead up to and on Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The theme for this year's commemorations is 'How can life go on?'

After signing the Book of Commitment, I commented:

"Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people from the Henley constituency and across the country to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. As the Holocaust moves from living history, to just history, it becomes ever more important that we take the time to remember the victims and also pay tribute to the survivors. I would encourage my constituents to show their support for such an important day."

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

"Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to John for signing the Book of Commitment, signalling a continued commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust as well as challenging antisemitism, prejudice and bigotry in all its forms."

Notes

About Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day was established following an MP's visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust. Moved by his visit, Andrew Dismore MP proposed a bill, "to introduce a day to learn and remember the Holocaust" on 30 June 1999.

The Holocaust Educational Trust has been closely involved in the establishment and development of Holocaust Memorial Day since its inception in 2000. Holocaust Memorial Day is now coordinated by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

The theme for the UK Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 is 'How can life go on?'

About the Holocaust Educational Trust

The Holocaust Educational Trust was established in 1988. Our aim is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today. The Trust works in schools, universities and in the community to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust, providing teacher training, an outreach programme for schools, teaching aids and resource material. One of our earliest achievements was ensuring that the Holocaust formed part of the National Curriculum for History. We continue to play a leading role in training teachers on how best to teach the Holocaust.


18 JAN 2017

John Howell MP welcomes lowest unemployment in over 10 years

I have welcomed the news that unemployment across the UK remains at the lowest rate for over a decade – down nearly 900,000 since 2010 – according to the latest labour market figures, with 329,000 more people back in work in the South East since 2010.

In the Henley constituency, the number of people claiming the key out of work benefits has fallen by 429 – a 62% drop – since 2010 and the constituency still ranks near the top of the table of constituencies which are dealing with unemployment.

Today's figures also showed that the employment rate amongst women is now at record levels, there are over 500,000 more disabled people in work over the past three years and the number of young people unemployed is now at the lowest level in over 12 years.

I said:

'We start the New Year with another encouraging set of figures, which show the strength of our economy as we step up to the challenges of 2017.

'Since the Conservatives entered government, the number of people in the Henley constituency relying on the key out of work benefits has fallen by 429 – a 62% drop – while the unemployment level nationwide is at the lowest rate in over 10 years.

With a record high employment rate for women and over half a million more disabled people in work over the last three years, we have made real progress creating a strong economy and we will continue that work as we build a country that works for everyone – with more people sharing in our country's prosperity.'

Notes

On 18 January 2017, the ONS published labour market statistics for the three months to November 2016 and the Claimant Count (Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit, not in work) figures for December 2016 (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 18 January 2017).

Key statistics

  • Employment: 31.8 million (up 294,000 over the past year and up 2.7 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 74.5 per cent (up 0.4 points over the past year and up 4.3 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.6 million (down 52,000 in the three months to November 2016, down 81,000 over the past year and down 906,000 since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 3.2 points since 2010).
  • Claimant count (Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit searching for work): 797,800 in December 2016 (down 697,000 since 2010).
  • Unemployment remains at the joint lowest rate for over ten years, down over 900,000 since 2010.
  • The employment rate among women has reached a record high of 69.9 per cent.
  • There are 2.7 million more people in work since 2010.
  • The rise in employment continues to be driven by full-time work, which is up by 2 million since 2010.
  • Long-term unemployment is the lowest it has been since 2008.
  • Wages (regular pay) grew by 2.7 per cent and there are around 750,000 vacancies at any one time.
  • Youth unemployment is down by over 360,000 since 2010 and the lowest in over 12 years
  • The claimant count rate remained at 2.3 per cent, close to its lowest rate since 1975.
  • The number of disabled people in work has increased by 590,000 in the past three years.
  • Since 2010, over 70 per cent of the rise in employment has been from full time work.
  • Since 2010, 95 per cent of the growth in employment has come from permanent employees or people working for themselves.
  • Real wages are continuing to rise strongly.
  • Youth unemployment rose by 44 per cent under Labour – meaning young people were not getting the skills they need to get on in life.
  • The number of households where no member had ever worked nearly doubled under Labour.
  • Unemployment rose by nearly half a million.
  • Unemployment among women rose by 26 per cent.


13 JAN 2017

John Howell MP: welcomes funds to fix potholes

I have welcomed news that local road-users will benefit in 2017/18 from a dedicated £1,315,000 pothole fund, which will keep the country moving and build a country that works for everyone.

This cash is part of a £1.2 billion fund for local roads that the Conservative Government is allocating to councils to repair and rebuild our transport links.

This funding will improve roads, cut congestion and improve journey times includes money from the new National Productivity Investment Fund, announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement and the Pothole Action Fund. It also includes £75 million which councils can bid for to repair and maintain local infrastructure such as bridges, street lighting and rural roads.

The total allocation for Oxfordshire comes to£19,409,000.

Local motorists will benefit from the dedicated funding after the Government announced that nearly £50 million of funding will be made available to local councils over the next 12 months.

The government has today also published further information about what the funding will be spent on - the latest step in our economic plan to stimulate the economy and build a country that works for everyone.

I commented:

'The state of our roads is consistently raised with me by local residents across the constituency and remains a great source of frustration for drivers.

'This funding is welcome news for families and businesses in Oxfordshire who rely on our roads to get around. It builds on the £1,036,000 we got last year in Oxfordshire and is the latest step in our plan to build a country that works for everyone.

'Today's announcement shows that we are delivering on our commitment to invest in infrastructure to attract businesses and secure a better future for local businesses.'


12 JAN 2017

Speech on Restorative Justice

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans.

The difficulty of coming after the previous two speakers is that they have said everything about the report, and I am scrabbling around to find things to say. However, I will concentrate on two issues. The first is domestic abuse and the second is the youth area. On the one hand, domestic abuse is an area where restorative justice perhaps needs to be restricted—or done very well—as opposed to the youth area, where we should use it more and where it should be firmly embedded in the system.

I turn first to the domestic abuse situation. I fully accept the conclusion that we reached as a Committee: that restorative justice should not be excluded from particular types of offence. I do not think that domestic abuse should be outside of the restorative justice area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) will say, in the Thames valley, for example, restorative justice is done very, very well, which is a good example of how things can be brought together. Although some police and crime commissioners do not seem to offer restorative justice in domestic abuse cases, I do not see that as justified, for the reasons I have given.

During the Committee's inquiry, we heard evidence on this point from both sides. We were told about one victim of abuse who talked about how they were more "empowered" by restorative justice in a domestic abuse situation. They said:

"When I walked out of that meeting, I felt as if I could knock out Mike Tyson. I could have taken on anything or anyone."

That is a very powerful statement about the liberating effects that restorative justice has for some people.

On the other hand, we heard from organisations such as Refuge, which argued that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has said, restorative justice simply provided offenders with a means of exerting more control over their victims. That point needs to be taken into consideration and examined very carefully; I will say something about it later, when I consider the context of how the police operate in this area.

It was interesting to hear from the then Justice Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who said that

"it is absolutely wrong for anybody, whether it be the police or any other part of the criminal justice system, to push and cajole someone into restorative justice."

I completely agree with that sentiment. It is fine to have restorative justice as part of the domestic abuse landscape, but it is wrong to force people to use it.

However, whichever side one comes down on regarding restorative justice, what we cannot have is restorative justice being applied differently in different areas across the country. That goes back to what the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said about the postcode lottery, or, as I have said, the possibility of people being pressurised to take part. Again, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has already mentioned, this comes down to how restorative justice is applied in domestic abuse cases and whether it occurs at the street level—the so-called level 1 area. Whatever the Ministry may think about how things are operating, the evidence we heard was that level 1 was still being used by the police. That is something we completely disagree with. I accept that the Government are going to talk to the police about this, but the Government need to emphasise that that should not take place. Street level is the wrong location for restorative justice and using it there takes away all the subtlety and all the benefits that can come out of it.

A tremendous amount of guidance can be provided by the Ministry of Justice for the police. Also, a greater degree of training on restorative justice can be provided by the Ministry right across the board, but particularly in the domestic abuse area, to take this issue forward. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed exactly what the Ministry is doing to achieve that.

The second area I want to touch on is youth system, where I think restorative justice could be used more. We were heartened by how extensively it seems to be used in the youth justice system. I think it is already embedded, but more can be done to ensure that it is firmly part of the youth justice system. Restorative justice helps both victims and offenders to understand what has occurred, what the implications are and why the offence should not be committed again.

As we pointed out in our report, Northern Ireland has youth conferences, which can occur both before and after conviction. However, I understand from the ministerial response to our report that the Ministry is not looking at restoring those for the rest of the country outside of Northern Ireland. I would ask the Minister to have another look at that and see whether there was not something in Northern Ireland that we could apply elsewhere in the UK.


11 JAN 2017

Medical problems?

A handy guide to where to go with a medical difficulty.


10 JAN 2017

Question to the Foreign Secretary

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

In looking at the steps to promote peace talks, what effect does the Foreign Secretary think the current level of Palestinian violence is going to have on that process? [908052]

Boris Johnson

As my hon. Friend will know, the level of violence, as we have discussed, has been down by comparison with 2015, but it is still too high. I think it was important, therefore, that the resolution, which has been so much discussed this morning, had that balance in it and that language in it pointing out the threat that Israel faces. It is important that we stress that, and that we encourage the Palestinians to understand that there can be no hope of peace unless they get their extremists under control.


09 JAN 2017

Question in statement on mental health and NHS

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I welcome the provision of mental health facilities and services for schools, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that the type of first aid that he is proposing will also be made available to MPs and their staff, given the number of people with mental health problems that we deal with during our surgeries?

Mr Hunt

That is an absolutely excellent suggestion, and I will be very happy to take it up.


09 JAN 2017

John Howell MP welcomes new mental health support for local schools in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed new measures to transform the way we approach and deal with mental health in the Henley constituency so more children and young people receive support and care.

There will be new support for every secondary school in the constituency. Each school will be offered mental health first aid training to increase awareness around mental health and help to tackle the unacceptable stigma around the issue. To support this initiative, new proposals will outline how mental health services for schools, universities and families can be improved, so that everyone in the community is supported, at every stage of life.

We will also be reviewing children and adolescent mental health services. This will help to identify what is already working and what we can improve, so more children and young people get the mental healthcare they need and deserve.

These proposals are part of a wide range of measures to improve mental health in the constituency and make sure no one is left behind. There will be an expert review into how we can improve mental wellbeing in the workplace so employees receive more care. There will be more support in the community so everyone in need can access the best support for their needs, more online services will be provided and the system will be made fairer for people suffering from mental health problems.

I commented:

"For too long there hasn't been enough focus on mental healthcare in this country, it has been a hidden injustice and surrounded by unacceptable stigma, leaving many to suffer in silence. Changing this goes right to the heart of shared values and making sure we live in a country where everyone is supported. I have found it very difficult, for example, to get training for my staff and I in basic mental health first aid which is required given the number of people who present with mental health issues at surgeries.

"These new proposals will ensure children and young people in the Henley constituency receive the compassion, care and the treatment they deserve. Mental healthcare will be improved in schools, workplaces and universities and those suffering from mental illness will be able to access the right care for their needs, whilst we tackle the injustices people with mental health problems face.

"This is an opportunity to make sure we are providing attention and treatment for those deserving of compassion and help, striving to improve mental wellbeing and ensure that everyone is supported."


09 JAN 2017

John Howell OBE MP becomes Patron of Chinnor RFC

Chinnor RFC are pleased to announce that John Howell OBE MP has agreed to be Patron of the club.

John is a friend of many years standing and has been helpful in advising the club with its community aims and ambitions. He was awarded the OBE for his work in Central Europe and services to UK business. For more details of John's background please visit www.johnhowellmp.com.

Chinnor RFC President, John Ashfield, welcomed John to the club.

"John is our local MP and friend who has always been most helpful and supportive. He has provided good advice and counsel and we are proud to have him as our Patron. We look forward to building increased links with our community whilst at the same time enjoying the game of Rugby whether played by under 6 or over 60. John will guide our deliberations and add a dimension to our thinking that will be of benefit to us all".

John added:

"I am delighted and honoured to be Patron of the club. It is a club with which I have had very close relationships over the years and I am always delighted to help them where I can. They do a tremendous amount of work in the community particularly with young people and I look forward to supporting them."

To follow John on Twitter @JohnHowellMP


19 DEC 2016

Question in Education Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

What steps her Department is taking to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up apprenticeships. [907949]

The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills (Robert Halfon)

All this getting up and down is good practice for Christmas—

Mr Speaker

Order. If the Minister knows that he is going to answer the next question, he is very welcome to remain standing at the Dispatch Box. No one would think that there was anything disorderly or unreasonable about that, and he should feel welcome to do so.

Robert Halfon

Thank you, Mr Speaker, but it is good for the calories in advance of Christmas.

We are committed to ensuring that apprenticeships are as accessible as possible to all people from all backgrounds, and we are making available more than £60 million to support apprenticeship take-up by individuals from disadvantaged areas. Our get in, go far campaign aims to encourage more young people to apply for an apprenticeship and more employers to offer opportunities. We are increasing the number of traineeships to further support young people into apprenticeships and other work.

John Howell

What measures is the Minister putting in place to overcome the barriers to accessing apprenticeships and to ensure that schools' promotion of apprenticeships is good?

Robert Halfon

I mentioned that we are putting £60 million into deprived areas to encourage trainers to take apprentices from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We are putting a lot of funding into helping 16 to 18-year-olds into apprenticeships by supporting businesses and providers. We are supporting health and social care apprenticeships if the local authority has a health and social care plan. We are also supporting apprentices with disabilities and giving £12 million to the Union Learning Fund. This Government are committed to ensuring that the most disadvantaged people can do apprenticeships and get on the ladder of opportunity for the jobs and skills of the future.


15 DEC 2016

Speech on ADR in debate on Commercial Financial Dispute Resolution Platform

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan). I congratulate him and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on granting the debate. I rise to speak as chairman of the all-party group on alternative dispute resolution. We are about to embark, in tandem with the hon. Gentleman's all-party group, on an inquiry into precisely what he has proposed in the debate. We will be looking at the sort of dispute resolution that could be put into place for these sort of disputes.

I want to concentrate on the part of the motion that refers to the creation of

"not ad hoc compensation schemes, but a long-term, effective and timely dispute resolution mechanism"

that can be used to help solve these sort of issues. The hon. Member for East Lothian has set out admirably the reason for doing that, but I would say that the dispute mechanism already exists in the form of the alternative dispute resolution regime. I shall say more about that.

Businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, are left with no option except prohibitively expensive appearances in court. One of the great advantages that the alternative dispute resolution system brings is the potential to reduce the costs involved. This is not something that is strange to the financial services sector. A large number of commercial sectors automatically include alternative dispute resolution clauses within their commercial contracts.

The all-party group held a meeting on this recently, where we went through subject by subject, looking at how ADR could be incorporated within the system and used more often. We looked at the commercial area in quite substantial detail. One of the great things we were able to do was to bring together quite a disparate body of people who operate in the ADR field to see whether there were some common threads between them in approaching disputes such as those the hon. Gentleman mentioned and taking them forward.

The good news is that there was quite a lot of agreement about what we were aiming for, even though some of the methods of getting there were slightly different. For us, ADR includes arbitration, mediation, adjudication, expert determination, dispute boards and online dispute resolution. We also looked at examples to see how those elements could be—some already are—incorporated by financial services sectors in their contracts. The good news is that these were already being incorporated into contracts, so what we needed to do was to put pressure on the sectors to include them as a matter of course in their contracts, because that would help to solve these disputes.

Richard Arkless (Dumfries and Galloway) (SNP)

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify which sectors of the financial services he is referring to? Is it the retail sector or the business-to-business sector that is incorporating ADR? I have not seen many commercial contracts with ADR clauses in them from the banks.

John Howell

From memory, I think it was the business-to-business sector primarily, but there is absolutely no reason why it cannot include the business-to-retail sector as well. There is a great deal of ability for individuals to bring quite complex cases in a way that does not involve going to the courts, as I shall explain.

We are running out of time, so I shall deal with the issue right now. We all know that trying to bring a case to court is a very expensive business. It requires extremely expensive lawyers. What the arbitration or mediation process holds out is the ability for an individual to sit in arbitration and mediation between people in order to bring the dispute to a much earlier resolution. It could be said that this does not take away the need for a court to be involved, which is absolutely true, because the awards of the arbitration panel or the mediator have to be enforced by the courts. However, that is a long-stop for the ADR process, and I think we will see it being brought into play more infrequently.

Of course, Lord Justice Briggs has commented that he would prefer to see "alternative dispute resolutions" not called that—he wants the "alternative" taken out so that they are called "dispute resolutions". I think that fits well with our own view of things. The other side is the issue of time and stress involved in taking forward cases within this sort of framework. It is absolutely true that the arbitration and mediation process takes away a lot of the stress of appearing in court and allows these sort of issues to be settled in a much more friendly way.

I look forward to the work that our two all-party groups will do on this issue. I think that the framework is already there, and I think we need to encourage banks to include clauses within their commercial contracts so that we can get back to ADR becoming the standard mechanism for resolving disputes, rather than using the internal complaints procedures of the companies as the starting-point and the ending-point of much of the discussion that takes place on these issues. On that note, I am happy to allow another Member to continue the debate.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), a fellow member of the Justice Committee and chair of the all-party group on alternative dispute resolution, of which I am a member. I welcome his contribution, and the motion in the name of the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), to which I was pleased to add my name, as a Labour MP; I support its objectives on a cross-party basis.


15 DEC 2016

Question in Local Government Finance

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Secretary of State is right to point out that this is not wholly a question of money. He mentioned Oxfordshire in his statement. Does he agree that in Oxfordshire, the problems with delayed discharges and care are being solved by a greater use of care home beds, and that we need to see more of that sort of imaginative approach?

Sajid Javid

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am glad he highlights that point. This issue is not just about money. Of course resources play an important role, and today's announcement helps with that, but it is also about finding a better way to deliver services. One of the key things that is required is more integration between health and social care, and Oxfordshire is an excellent example of that.


14 DEC 2016

Neighbourhood Plan update

The Government has moved to end uncertainty over the fate of Neighbourhood Plans and at the same time to encourage local councils to plan for reliable housing growth. It has introduced new rules which apply from Monday 12 December 2016 for protecting Neighbourhood Plans where the District or Borough Council does not have a five year land supply.

The new rules mean that Neighbourhood Plans should not be considered 'out-of-date' where:

  • The Neighbourhood Plan is less than 2 years old or has been part of the local development plan for 2 years or less;
  • The Neighbourhood Plan allocates sites for housing; and,
  • The Local Planning Authority can demonstrate a 3 year supply of deliverable housing sites

This statement applies to decisions made on planning applications and appeals as from Monday.

More detailed rules will be set out in the forthcoming Housing white Paper being produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

I said:

"I am grateful for the Minister acknowledging the points we have been making to him about Neighbourhood Plans. Although Case Law is clear on what should be done where a Neighbourhood Plan exists, but the local council does not have a five year land supply, it is good to put the issue beyond doubt once and for all. This should bring immediate relief to many local Neighbourhood Plan groups.

"I will continue to put pressure on the Minister to follow this line of argument when the Housing white Paper is produced."


09 DEC 2016

Contribution in Ivory debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I apologise, because I will not be able to stay for the whole debate. My hon. Friend has spoken about the decline of elephants in Africa, but there are also Asian elephants. Is he going to say anything about what we can do to help the elephant in Asia?

Jeremy Lefroy

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I will concentrate on African elephants, because I know a little more about them, but I am sure the issue of Asian elephants—indeed, all elephants—will be brought up in the debate.


06 DEC 2016

Question in Urgent Question on Casey Report

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I remember that when language classes were provided for immigrant women in Oxford, the same women went to the same classes year after year without showing any improvement in their ability to speak English. Does the report not point to the fact that it is a question not of throwing money at this, but of making language tuition effective?

Sajid Javid

I agree with my hon. Friend. We must make sure that the money we—the taxpayer—are currently spending on helping people to learn English is spent effectively, which is about making sure the programmes currently in place are effective. We must make sure that any new initiatives that we come up with as we plough through the report are effective in tackling that problem.


05 DEC 2016

Question in Children & Social Work Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In Oxfordshire we have had a situation where children in care have been abused, and that has led to Operation Bullfinch. How will what the Minister has set out make that situation better?

Mr Gibb

The local safeguarding arrangements set out in the Bill will provide a strong statutory framework that puts responsibility on the police, the NHS—through the clinical commissioning group—and the local authority to ensure that a robust safeguarding system is in place, but with greater local flexibility than we have at the moment, so that the arrangements are as effective as possible in meeting local needs. I also believe that the combination of improved national arrangements for analysing serious cases, which I will come on to, including child sexual abuse and exploitation, and for learning from them in a more systematic way, including higher standards for social workers, as set out in the Bill, will enable Oxfordshire and other counties across the country to keep children safer than is currently the case.


05 DEC 2016

Question to Home Office

Caught out the Home Secretary today!

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

How is the Modern Slavery Act 2015 going to affect the burden that is put on local authorities? [907630]

Amber Rudd

On the burden put on local authorities, one of the elements to which I refer them is the controlling migration fund—a new source of funds that I hope they will be able to access to support unaccompanied minors. On the Modern Slavery Act, I will have to get back to my hon. Friend.


30 NOV 2016

No fault divorces

Spoke with Resolution today about the need for no fault divorces to make family separation as amicable and non-confrontational as possible. 


23 NOV 2016

The Autumn Statement

I have welcomed the Government's Autumn Statement, which will help working families in the Henley constituency, finish bringing down the deficit so Britain lives within its means, and tackle the long-term challenges facing our economy so Britain is more productive and our economy is fit for the future.

The Autumn Statement sets out the action the Chancellor will take to put ordinary working families first:

Helping ordinary working families who are struggling to get on.

Bringing down the deficit to get the country back to living within its means.

Tackling long-term challenges and making Britain more productive.

I welcomed these measures as good news for ordinary working families in the Henley constituency. The action announced in this Autumn Statement will help local people who are just about managing, and ensure that our economy is fighting fit. Increasing the National Living Wage, building more homes that local people can afford, ending tenants' fees and continuing the fuel duty freeze for the seventh successive year will help families across the constituency make ends meet.

By backing businesses, investing in our transport networks and securing world-class digital infrastructure, we will keep Britain moving and support our economy for the future. This is about putting ordinary working families in the constituency first, and building an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

Notes

This Autumn Statement provides a stable economic platform as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and tackles the long-term challenges facing the country, while helping to build an economy that works for everyone.

Helping ordinary working families who are struggling to get by

Helping people keep more of what they earn. Raising the tax-free personal allowance has done more to improve the lot of working people than almost anything else. As a result of our changes, someone with a salary of £15,000 pays just £800 a year in tax now compared to £1,705 in 2010. That's a massive boost to the incomes of low and middle earners, cutting tax for 28 million people since 2010 and taking 4 million people out of income tax altogether. We will deliver on our commitment to raising the personal allowance even further to £12,500, and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 by the end of the Parliament.

Boosting incomes to help families make ends meet. As well as taking millions of people out of tax, this is the Government that introduced the National Living Wage, giving a pay rise to over a million people. We will increase the National Living Wage from £7.20 to £7.50 in April 2017 – a further pay rise for 1.3 million people worth over £500 a year to a full-time worker. In addition, a package of additional enforcement measures will make sure everyone entitled to the National Living Wage receives it.

Making sure work always pays. Universal Credit is an important reform to our benefits system designed to make sure work always pays. To reinforce that, from April we will reduce the Universal Credit taper rate from 65% to 63% - equivalent to a tax cut for those in work on low incomes. This will increase the incentive to work and encourage progression for 3 million households across our country.

Putting an end to unfair tenants' fees. In the private rental market, letting agents are currently able to charge unregulated fees to tenants, often running to hundreds of pounds. This is wrong. Landlords appoint letting agents and should meet their fees. So we will ban fees to tenants as soon as possible, so people will no longer be hit by surprise extra charges that can be difficult to afford.

Helping those who depend on their savings. Low interest rates have helped our economy recover from Labour's Great Recession, but reduced the interest people can earn on their cash savings. So we will launch a new, market-leading savings bond which will allow people to deposit up to £3,000 and benefit around 2 million savers.

Cutting fuel duty for millions of hardworking people. Fuel costs can make up a big part of a family budget and there has been significant pressure on prices at the pump. So we will cancel the fuel duty rise that is scheduled for April – keeping it frozen for the seventh consecutive year, saving the average car driver £130 a year and the average van driver £350 since 2010.

Bringing down the deficit – getting the country back to living within its means.

Continuing to get public spending under control. We've demonstrated beyond doubt that controlling public spending is compatible with world-class public services and social improvement. There is more work to do to eliminate the deficit, so departmental spending plans set out in the Spending Review last autumn remain in place. The £3.5 billion of savings to be delivered through the Efficiency Review announced at the last budget will be delivered in full.

Making sure future generations are not burdened with our debt. We have published a new draft Charter for Fiscal Responsibility with three rules: the public finances should be returned to balance as early as possible in the next Parliament and in the interim structural borrowing should be reduced to below 2% by the end of this Parliament. In addition, public sector net debt as a share of GDP must be falling by the end of this Parliament; and welfare spending must be within 3% of a cap, set by the Government and monitored by the Office of Budget Responsibility, by the end of the forecast period.

Making sure that taxes are paid in full by those who owe them. This government has done more than any other to tackle tax evasion, avoidance and aggressive tax planning. This has resulted in the gap between taxes owed and paid at one of the lowest levels in the world, but clearly there is still more to do. We will crack down on corporate tax avoidance schemes and introduce a new penalty for those who enable the use of tax avoidance schemes that HMRC later challenges and defeats. These measures, alongside others announced in the Autumn Statement, will raise around £2 billion over the forecast period.

Tackling the long-term challenges – making Britain more productive

Investing £23 billion in our productive economy. As a result of the decisions we have taken, public investment is higher over this decade than it was over the whole of the last Labour government. Today we go further, with a National Productivity Investment Fund worth £23 billion that provides the financial backbone for the Government's Industrial Strategy. Every penny will be earmarked for high value-generating infrastructure and research, including an extra £2 billion a year by 2020-21 for additional investment in R&D. Our hard-won credibility on public spending means we can fund this commitment, in the short term, from additional borrowing while funding all other new policies announced in this Autumn Statement through additional tax and spending measures.

Delivering a housing market that works for everyone. For too many, the goal of home ownership remains out of reach. We will invest to unlock land for housing where it is needed most, with a new £2 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund to support 100,000 new homes, and an additional £1.4 billion to deliver 40,000 more affordable homes. That means that over the course of the Parliament, the Government expects to more than double annual capital spending on housing in real terms.

Securing reliable transport networks for the whole of the UK. Excellent transport networks are essential for growth and productivity, so we are committing significant additional funding to help keep Britain moving now, and to invest in the transport networks and vehicles of the future. We have reconfirmed our commitment to the Roads Fund, funded by Vehicle Excise Duty, and will invest £1.1 billion more in local transport networks, including £220 million to address pinch points on strategic roads.

Supporting world-class digital infrastructure. We want the UK to be a world leader in 5G technology, with a full fibre-optic network; a step-change in speed, security and reliability. So we will invest a further £1 billion in our digital infrastructure and give 100% business rates relief for five years on new fibre infrastructure, supporting further roll out to homes and businesses.

Backing British business. We will double UK export finance capacity to make it easier for British businesses to export, fund Charlie Mayfield's business-led initiative to boost management skills across British businesses, and inject £400 million through the British Business Bank to tackle the problem of our fastest growing technology firms being snapped up by bigger companies.

Making Britain one of the most attractive countries to do business. Since 2010 this Government has put a business-led recovery at the heart of our plan, cutting Corporation Tax from 28% to 20%. We know how much businesses value certainty and stability, so we will stick to the business tax roadmap set out in March, meaning Corporation Tax will fall to 17%, by far the lowest in the G20. We will implement the business rates reduction package worth £6.7 billion, lower the transitional relief cap from 45% next year to 43%, and increase Rural Rate Relief to 100%, giving small businesses in rural areas additional rate savings of up to £2,900 per year.

Driving up productivity in our regional cities. For too long, economic growth in our country has been too concentrated in London and the South East – we need to drive up the performance of our regional cities. We will give the go ahead to a programme of major road schemes in the North, provide funding for the evaluation study for the Midlands Rail Hub, and allocate £1.8 billion from the Local Growth Fund to English regions. We will recommit to our existing City Deals and grant new mayoral combined authorities in England new borrowing powers. The major increase in infrastructure spending announced today will represent a significant increase in funding of over £250 million to Northern Ireland, £400 million to Wales and £800 million to Scotland.


23 NOV 2016

My speech on the NHS

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My starting point is that funding in the NHS must be used effectively and efficiently. To that end, we expect the NHS to deliver savings and best value for money.

There are a number of issues relating to social care in the NHS where there is considerable scope for solving existing problems, for ensuring that better health care is delivered and for achieving sustainability, and there is no better place to start the discussion of those issues than bed-blocking.

Oxfordshire's historical performance on bed-blocking is poor. It came 151st in terms of headcount last November, with 158 people. Bed-blocking decreases the availability of beds and has adverse effects on patients, particularly when they are elderly—for example, incontinence in the over-65s increases, and muscle wasting in the over-80s after 10 days of hospitalisation is equivalent to 10 years of muscle wasting otherwise.

By September, the headcount had fallen to 113 people, improving the county's performance to 108th—a massive improvement of 50 places over that period. That was achieved through a joint initiative by the clinical commissioning group, Oxford University Hospitals, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the county council, all working to move people out of hospital when they have been appropriately treated.

However, that improvement was also achieved by putting £2 million into funding extra temporary care beds in care homes, where people can stay until they are ready to return to their own homes, move to a permanent care home or receive care in their own homes. That joint and positive thinking is something I would encourage as we integrate social care and the NHS.

Craig Whittaker

Does my hon. Friend agree that one lever for discouraging bed-blocking would be to join up some of the budgets around health and social care?

John Howell

I do, and that is precisely what the organisations in Oxfordshire have been trying to achieve.

The second point I would make relates to how we produce better-serving hospitals. In my own area, the Townlands Memorial Hospital, which is in Henley but which serves the whole of south Oxfordshire, has recently gone through a major reprovision. It now has an increased number of facilities serving the population of the area, but the beds are not in the hospital. Although limited in number, they are in an adjoining care home, whose opening I happened to attend with the Duke of Gloucester only the other day. It is good to see the issues at the hospital finally resolved.

That is the way forward for local hospitals: better treatment for people in their home through a system of what has come to be called ambulatory care. Such a system prevents the problems I mentioned, with patients suffering when they stay in hospital for a long time. This view comes not from politicians but from clinicians both local and national. The national clinicians I would point to are those in the Royal College of Physicians, who are fully behind this process. This method costs more in the first instance but provides better value for money and increases better patient outcomes.

The third area I want to discuss is what can happen when we integrate the staff providing care who are employed by the county council and those who are employed by the NHS. This allows us to ensure that the pay and service requirements of both groups of people, who are doing exactly the same job, can be harmonised in a much more positive way. That sets out a good scope for efficiency in the operation of social care within the NHS model. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), in that I would like to see them fully integrated, but until then I have set out a very good method of being able to operate in those circumstances and to co-operate in order to achieve the outcomes that I have mentioned.

Sustainability and transformation plans focus on organisations working together and are the best hope of improving health and social care services in the long term. That is not my view but that expressed by the King's Fund when it looked at the plans. I fully agree with its assessment of the situation and of these plans, which are working towards achieving the same outcomes.


21 NOV 2016

Question on High Education Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I understand the need for monitoring the financial sustainability of organisations, but the new clause does not say what actions will result if some of them are found to be financially unsustainable. Would my hon. Friend comment on that?

Joseph Johnson

The duty of the Office for Students will be to ensure that it is monitoring effectively the overall financial health of the sector in such a way that it is able to inform the Secretary of State, so that the Government can take appropriate actions. It will not be the role of the Office for Students to bail out struggling institutions—if there are any such institutions. These are private and autonomous bodies, and it is important that the discipline of the marketplace acts on them. It will be the role of the OFS to assist them in transitioning towards viable business plans so that they can continue to provide high-quality education to their students in the medium and long term.


21 NOV 2016

Question in Child Abuse UQ

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I would like to pick up on a point the Minister has already made. This inquiry plays a vital part in protecting vulnerable children for the present and for the future. Will she put it in the context of what else the Government are doing?

Sarah Newton

My hon. Friend is quite right. The inquiry is incredibly important, but is part of an overarching strategy. We want to do everything we possibly can to keep children in our country safe. We are seeing record levels of prosecutions and huge investment in supporting victims, making sure that we take apart the culture of secrecy and cover-up that contributed to the delays we have heard about from Opposition Members.


21 NOV 2016

My question in Work & Pensions questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am glad we are doing so much to help the self-employed get into business, but so many of them are on the legacy system for support rather than universal credit. What are we doing for those people? [907349]

Damian Hinds

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We are launching a test—face-to-face and on a voluntary basis, from Jobcentre Plus work coaches—for self-employed people currently in receipt of tax credits. A range of support material is also available at gov.uk.


19 NOV 2016

Question in debate on Balfour Declaration

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Palestinian people have been badly let down by their leadership? When I spoke to the Palestine Liberation Organisation about duplicating Rawabi, it told me that it did not want anything to do with the project because it involved the private sector. That is a disgraceful approach to a very significant project in the region.

Caroline Ansell

Yes, indeed. I understand that much negotiation was done to bring the project to light without the blessing of the leadership, which perhaps pulls back from wanting the world to see a more prosperous Palestine.

Although leaders need to step up, it is through relationships between everyday people from both communities that a real and lasting peace will ultimately be established. There have been no direct peace talks for several years now, but there have been some recent signs of progress on both sides. We should welcome the fact that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has underlined his commitment to restarting peace negotiations without preconditions, and that PA President Mahmoud Abbas attended the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in September. Recent polling has shown that there is still an appetite for a two-state solution among Palestinians and Israelis; the people.


15 NOV 2016

No threat of closure for Henley Branch line

I have a commitment from Network Rail that the Henley branch line "is under no threat of closure."

The commitment comes in a letter from Network Rail to me following the announcement last week that electrification had been delayed. In the letter, Network Rail say that nothing has been cancelled from its work programme. The question is simply one of when not if.

The Henley Branch Line sees significant passenger usage. That usage has grown since 1997 with an additional 375,951 entries and exits per year along the line. Network Rail go on to say that "It is under no threat of closure. In terms of timescale, Network Rail is currently investigating options for the Henley Branch Line with work provisionally scheduled for Control Period 6 (2019-2024)."

I am glad that I have been able to confirm with Network Rail that the branch line is not under threat of closure. There are some who see everything in a negative light rather than pointing to the positives and what a wonderful place Henley is to live. It is the local equivalent of Project Fear. The branch line is an important part of Henley and I am happy to have corrected this particular myth.

Network Rail added:

"Our work has been streamlined to enable us to secure the most benefits to the most people in the shortest possible time. This means completing the London – Bristol Parkway – Cardiff route as a priority; this includes electrification at Twyford station where the Henley Branch Line connects to the Great Western Main Line."

"Thanks to investment from the Department for Transport and Great Western Railway; passengers on the main line will start to see the benefits of new Bombardier electric trains, already starting to enter service; and Hitachi bi-mode trains, starting to enter GWR's fleet from late 2017. These Hitachi trains will be bi-mode; allowing them to switch seamlessly between diesel and electric power. This means that passengers will be able to benefit from new trains with increased reliability and up to 40% more capacity from next year; even with electrification in some areas being pushed back. Services on the line will also be increased with trains running every 30 minutes throughout the day between Henley and Twyford, with onward connections to London Paddington."


08 NOV 2016

Justice Committee Statement on Press and Judges

The Justice Committee made the following statement by resolution of the Committee.

Right of press to speak freely must be exercised responsibly

"The Justice Committee condemns any personal attacks on members of the judiciary. Free debate should not be couched in terms of abuse of individuals who, by virtue of the oath they have taken and the role they discharge, cannot defend themselves publically. It is quite wrong to vilify or attack judges or attempt to intimidate or undermine them. The right of the press to speak freely must be exercised responsibly; it is not a licence to attack judges in a personal manner or seek to undermine the constitutional principle of judicial independence, which is absolute."


03 NOV 2016

My question today at International Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

One area in which the UK can strengthen its relationship with Israel is cyber, where Israel has 20% of the global market. Will the Minister welcome the UK-Israel cyber-physical initiative and say what is coming next? [907076]

Mark Garnier

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the interest in cyber. In February we led a successful cyber-security collaboration mission of businesses and academics, and we will continue to promote further such delegations.


02 NOV 2016

My question to the PM at PMQs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the Prime Minister join me in praising Henley-on-Thames for receiving its first tranche of community infrastructure levy money at the higher rate because it has a neighbourhood plan? Will she join me in praising neighbourhood planning generally as the best means of giving communities a say over the planning system?

The Prime Minister

I am very happy to congratulate my neighbouring MP and Henley-on-Thames on that achievement. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that neighbourhood plans are a crucial part of the planning system. That is how local people can have a real say over what is happening in their local area.


01 NOV 2016

My Justice question today

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

As the Minister has mentioned, an important element of improving access to justice is reform of the courts system. Would he like to say a little more about the modernisation of that system and, in particular, whether Lord Justice Briggs' concept of an online court will be introduced?

Sir Oliver Heald

Lord Justice Briggs has prepared a report that has been not only revolutionary, but extremely helpful in the modernisation process, and I pay tribute to his work. We do intend to introduce a new online procedure for lower-value civil money claims. This procedure will be a mix of new technology, conciliation and judicial resolution, and will provide a simple dispute resolution process. We intend also to create a new rules committee to design the simpler rules this will require.


01 NOV 2016

Question I asked in yesterday's Improving Lives Statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Those with mental health conditions often require specialist support. What will the Green Paper do for people who suffer from mental health conditions?

Damian Green

It is particularly those with mental health conditions who will be helped by the Green Paper, with the more tailored and personalised support. Very often, people with mental health conditions have conditions that come and go, so they may work full time some of the time, part time some of the time and not at all at other times. The changes to benefits—particularly, perhaps, those to statutory sick pay—will make it much easier for such people to stay in touch with work, perhaps working part time for a period. All the evidence suggests that people with mental health conditions are disadvantaged if they are completely detached from the world of work, because their depression may get worse.


01 NOV 2016

Question I asked in yesterday's NHS Funding Urgent Question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to funding the forward view, the treatment of patients in their homes is not principally about cost-cutting but is part of a radical change in health provision for the future on which clinicians agree?

Mr Hunt

Absolutely. The simple principle for those of us who are not doctors is that it is much cheaper to nip illnesses in the bud than to wait until they progress. Treating someone at stage 1 or 2 of cancer is not only cheaper for the NHS, but much more likely to lead to a full cure. That is the whole foundation of the strategic change that we are making in the NHS.


26 OCT 2016

My comments on the A34

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It will be useful for my right hon. Friend to note that the A34 runs through a bit of the north of my constituency, near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). My right hon. Friend can rely on me to help campaign for the changes he wants to see on the road, which I am sure he will come on to shortly.

Mr Vaizey

I am grateful. My heart always lifts a little when I am on the section of road that runs through my hon. Friend's constituency. Given his track record in working for his constituents I know that he, too, will play an important part in a campaign that, although I expect it to be long-running, we hope will lead to some significant improvements.

_____________________________________________

John Howell

I fully support all the measures that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned and think they would be extremely useful, but will they not come to naught unless the A34 is turned into a motorway?

Mr Smith

That is the logical conclusion of what I said: it needs to be motorway standard to guarantee the safety and capacity that we all want to see. The problems are only going to get worse as the economy grows in the future. As well as a major review of the whole route, we need to look at options for getting traffic across from the A34 to the M40 south of Oxford, to address the additional problems caused by the A34 being both a strategic route to the midlands and the north and a local access road and Oxford bypass.


26 OCT 2016

Cautious welcome for Heathrow runway

I have cautiously welcomed the announcement of a new runway at Heathrow. This is a time for cool heads to evaluate the proposals, not for hot heads to rush off and complain before studying the papers.

I realise that there are many concerns about air traffic in the constituency. But I am pleased that the Government has now announced a scheme which it will be taking forward for consultation. This is an important decision for our national infrastructure and the economy of the country as a whole. However, I am particularly pleased that in the forthcoming scrutiny, issues of noise will be considered and I will be looking to evaluate what impact the new runway will have and to ensure that there is adequate noise mitigation in the final deal.

At a recent meeting with senior personnel from Heathrow I was reassured that in the short term the new runway will ease pressure on traffic and help reduce the need to hold traffic in the holding stack. In the longer term it is anticipated that the review of air space and changing technology will help alleviate concerns.

I will, therefore, be looking at the data which will be published in the New Year to understand the implications of this for constituents especially those currently experiencing nuisance from air traffic. I welcome this long-awaited opportunity for full and robust review and I will be encouraging constituents to engage with the public consultation and share their views with me."

Secretary of State's Statement to the House 25th October 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/airport-capacity


17 SEP 2016

John Howell MP meets survivors of the Holocaust at launch of resources for Holocaust Memorial Day 2017

I listened to John Hajdu who survived the Holocaust in Hungary at the launch event for Holocaust Memorial Day 2017.

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) is commemorated each year on 27 January – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death and concentration camp. HMD provides an opportunity for everyone to learn lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. HMD asks people to apply these lessons to the present day to create a safer, better future.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) promotes and supports HMD activities in the UK. Each year HMDT selects a theme around which HMD activities can focus. The theme for 2017 is How can life go on?

John spoke about his experience of being forced to live in a Budapest ghetto at the age of seven but managing to survive, only to escape the subsequent Communist regime in Hungary in 1956. John recalled his long journey as a refugee with his mother which saw them settle in Great Britain - a distant country where neither spoke English. With determination, John made the country home and whilst sharing his experiences, he encouraged MPs and invited guests to mark the theme of HMD 2017: How can life go on?

I said:

'John's story is a reminder of the importance of marking Holocaust Memorial Day – a day where we remember the millions who were affected by the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. I want to encourage people in Henley to mark HMD on 27 January 2017.'

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said:

'We were delighted that John showed his support for Holocaust Memorial Day. We hope that many more people in Henley will use the free resources available through our website to organise activities for next year's HMD – adding to the record 5,590 activities which took place for HMD 2016.'


15 SEP 2016

Speech on prison safety

John Howell (Henley) (Con) It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

At this stage in the proceedings, there is perhaps little that one can say that has not already been said, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. However, I will add my comments to the excellent work that my hon. Friend does in that capacity.

I was also a member of the previous Justice Committee and I say that for a number of reasons. It is not simply because Ministers come and go, whereas we members of the Justice Committee continue examining these issues, which we inherited and which we return to, time and again. I also say it because in the report that we produced at the end of the last Parliament—"Prisons: planning and policies"—we examined safety issues. Indeed, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), as I think the Government and the National Offender Management Service completely underplayed the deterioration of safety in the prison system.

However, that situation was partially improved—indeed, it became a much better situation—by the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who focused on the issue of safety and admitted that our prisons were in a serious crisis. All the speakers today have acknowledged that. Also, a common theme has emerged throughout this debate and it is about the Government response to our report. I will come to that shortly.

First, other speakers have already asked whether we have a higher or different prisoner population, compared with the low staffing numbers that we have in prison. Nevertheless, the point that we made in one of the Justice Committee reports—namely, that those factors had been there all along—means that they are not the answer to the problem and none of them is the overriding factor that determines that the situation is as bad as it is. We have to consider other reasons why the situation is so bad.

If we consider what action has been taken so far, we see that it has principally been around legislative change, without much emphasis on implementation of legislation. It is very easy for us as legislators to introduce legislative change and then just believe that the job has been done, whereas the real job comes in ensuring that any new legislation is implemented.

One issue that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) raised—fortunately, he did not amplify it, because that means that I can amplify it now—was mental health needs, which fully illustrates this point. It is not operational action that is required to deal with mental health needs, particularly the prevention of suicide; the needs in question go beyond the drugs that are available to treat them, whether those are traditional drugs or new psychoactive drugs. Indeed, the prisons and probation ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, has said:

"It remains the case that I am frequently obliged to repeat recommendations and lessons and it can be depressing how little traction we appear to have on occasions".

That statement applies not only to the issue of mental health but to the whole of prison safety. As a Committee, we ourselves have frequently issued "recommendations and lessons", but there is "little traction" to them and they are rarely taken up. Nevertheless, the mental health needs of the prison population must be taken very seriously. The big area of untapped resource, if you like, is being able to deal with those needs.

Since we are also considering the issue of self-inflicted deaths, I will comment on the Government reaction to the Harris review, which I also found to be a disappointment—indeed, Lord Harris himself found it to be a disappointment. It is a disappointment because the Government have not sought to take into account a number of the recommendations that Lord Harris made and so the issues involved have not been addressed. At a recent session that our Committee had with the Secretary of State for Justice, I asked her whether she was aware of Lord Harris's report or had talked to him. She was aware of the report; I do not think that she had talked to him at that point, but she needs to do so.

[Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

Let me re-echo the point that others have made by saying that I found the Government response to our report flimsy; it was no more than a holding reply. There was a lot of talk about monitoring and some operational improvements; there was the use of what I would call the bogus figure of a net increase of 300 officers, which disguised the reduction in officers; and there was also the hint that we were building five new prisons. I ask the Minister who is here today to comment on those five new prisons and the progress being made on them, to say when we are likely to see them come into operation and to explain how they will improve prison safety.

Philip Davies

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Vaz.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Government response to the Committee's report was thin and "flimsy"; it would be impossible for anyone to disagree with that assessment, really. However, is he being slightly harsh on our ministerial colleagues, given that the Minister who is here today and the Secretary of State have only just taken up their new positions? Perhaps we should give them some opportunity at least to examine these matters themselves before they rush to a conclusion on the Committee's report. Perhaps we should just give them a bit of time to get their feet under the table and give these issues serious consideration themselves.

John Howell

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, but I take a different view. We are still the same Conservative Government who were elected to deal with these issues. Whether it is a new Secretary of State or an old one, the issues are the same. A list of actions was put in place to deal with the issues. I cannot understand why a series of new Ministers want to take the time to throw all those things up in the air and start again. That is precisely what I meant by saying that the Committee has the longevity with these issues to see their continuity on the ground. I do not think I am being too harsh. I bear no grudge against the Minister; I appreciate that he is new to his job, but there are some things that should be continued, and we should be able to pick them up.

One thing that I stress is the changes proposed to the role of prison governor, since those could be introduced pretty quickly. There is a lot in the Government response about empowering prison governors. Can the Minister provide more information on that? I do not mean the detail of how we will empower prison governors or the detail of exactly what powers will be transferred. We should be looking for broader areas of principle to be set out and discussed with the Committee, to show where those are going to go, because governors feel completely left out.

As a Committee, we have come across that issue quite a lot in our visits to various prisons. They see themselves as bit managers of a whole range of different resources that are brought in to their prisons. That situation does not help them get control of their prisons or prison safety. I would like some information about how the role of prison governors will be defined and circumscribed. It will need to be circumscribed, but in the definition we will get the detail of what the Government want for that. What will the nature of the measures be to hold prison governors to account? That is the other side of the question. I do not yet want the specifics of how that will work, but in what areas will that work and how will it continue?

Finally, I want to comment on the action plan. We need considerably more flesh on the bones. That expression has been used by many speakers in this debate. I repeat what I said in an intervention: when we had a meeting with the Secretary of State, I asked how she would take forward the previous Secretary of State's plans. Her response caused the press to argue that we were going back on our commitment.

I fully accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has said about the role of the press, but there is an issue here, and there was no need to put the whole thing into reverse and suggest that we were going backwards on this matter. As the Minister said, dealing with this issue remains a high priority for Government. I am happy to wait to see the detail of the action plan and how it will control safety, but I would like some more information about whether it will move beyond the legislative and the obvious to empower prison officers to take action and get to grips with a major problem in our prisons.


10 SEP 2016

John Howell MP: MP wears it pink in Parliament in aid of Breast Cancer Now

I have shown support for women affected by breast cancer by dressing up in pink and encouraging their constituents to take part in the UK's biggest, brightest and pinkest fundraiser, wear it pink, on Friday 21 October.

wear it pink is back for its 15th year, calling on supporters across the country to add a flash of pink to their wardrobe for the day and raise money for Breast Cancer Now's life-saving breast cancer research.

I joined fellow parliamentarians in wearing it pink in Westminster this week to encourage people across the UK to get involved and help Breast Cancer Now towards their ambition that, by 2050, everyone that develops the disease will live.

wear it pink raises close to £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it's going to be pinker and more fun than ever before. Anyone can take part, whether at work, at home or at school. All you have to do is wear something pink and donate what you can.

When you join the hundreds of thousands of people who take part in wear it pink, you become part of a collective force of scientists, supporters and people affected by breast cancer, passionate about putting an end to deaths from the disease.

What I  said was:

"50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, and sadly around 11,500 women and 80 men will lose their lives to the disease. Together, we must put a stop to this. I have personal experience of this terrible disease through a close friend.'

"Through cutting-edge research, Breast Cancer Now are tackling the disease from all angles to ensure that, by 2050, everyone that develops the disease will live. But we all need to join forces and act now, and in wear it pink there is a fun and simple way for everyone to get involved.

"I'm fully committed to standing up for the women and families affected by the disease in the Henley constituency and I am very proud to take part in wear it pink. I hope everyone in the local community will join me by wearing it pink on Friday 21 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now."

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now said:

"It's wonderful to see so much parliamentary support for wear it pink. It's a great opportunity for friends, co-workers and families across the UK to have some fun, wear something pink and show their support for those affected by breast cancer.

"Far too many women are still losing their lives to this dreadful disease. On Friday 21st October, every cake baked, every feather boa or pink tie worn and every laugh shared will help us create a future where no one dies from breast cancer.

"We will all be standing together, with colleagues and friends, to stop breast cancer taking the lives of the people we love – and we very much hope you'll join us."

Sign up to wear it pink on Friday 21 October to support Breast Cancer Now's life-saving research. For more information or to register, visit www.wearitpink.org.


08 SEP 2016

My speech on the Chibok schoolgirls and Boko Haram

John Howell (Henley) (Con) It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate, which is very timely and on an issue that we should not forget. I am very grateful to him. I thank too all those who have contributed so far and made valuable points. I do not want to say anything that might diminish their points, which I fully support. The situation is tragic not just for the girls, important though that is, but for their families. Some speakers have given weight to the fact that we are talking about girls who are daughters, cousins and members of larger family groups. That is an important feature of Nigeria.

In my short contribution, I want to widen the debate, pick up some of the points about the underlying cause of the situation and try to give some guidance on how it might be prevented from continuing. I do that in my role as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria. I have just come back from a visit there when I was able to raise this on several occasions with Ministers and businessmen operating there. First, I want to echo the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby about the success the Nigerian Government are beginning to have against Boko Haram. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) pointed out the large area that it still covers, principally because Nigeria is a very big country, but Boko Haram is being contained. I like to believe that our advice on counter-terrorism and our practical assistance to the armed forces in Nigeria are helping to do that.

All that is good, but it is not enough and the underlying causes of Boko Haram need to be examined. It seems from conversations that Boko Haram's terrorist threat is linked to the economic situation in the country. The hon. Lady mentioned some of the issues that contribute to that, one being the extent of corruption in a country where 40% of oil revenues are stolen before they reach the Revenue. That is a phenomenal amount of lost revenue that the country could use in the fight against Boko Haram by making conditions much better for people. We must give all the support we can to President Buhari and his Government who, after all, came to power on an agenda to tackle corruption. He is doing that effectively as far he can.

Hon. Members have mentioned peace and justice and I want to pick up on the justice elements because the British judiciary is participating in projects to toughen up the Nigerian judiciary and to give it the ability to tackle these problems in its courtrooms. All that is an important contribution to the work of President Buhari and his Government to try to increase the extent to which the country is tackling underlying causes.

Secondly, the problems in Nigeria will not go away until the currency has been sorted out. Earlier in the year, the Central Bank of Nigeria stated that it would introduce a flexible currency for the future, but we are still waiting for details of exactly what that means. Until then, British companies will resist going into the country. This market will have 400 million people by 2050 and has enormous opportunities for British companies that want to go there. Dealing with the currency problem will have the enormous advantage of ensuring that companies go in sooner rather than later, and by going in sooner they will exert influence over the Buhari Government and their successors and start to take action themselves.

My third point is about the prosperity agenda, which goes across Government and includes the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office. Its purpose is to increase the country's prosperity. All trade envoys are looking out for opportunities to encourage the use of the prosperity agenda, particularly for training.

All that leads to stability in the local marketplace and that too helps the situation. But it is really important that we concentrate on ensuring that the prosperity does not go to just a few rich Nigerians. Boko Haram has such success in the north of the country because it is one of the poorest areas. If that wealth is spread more effectively, we will begin to see the erosion of Boko Haram and, I hope, release of the girls.

Dr Cameron

I am enjoying listening to the hon. Gentleman's expertise in the area. It was marked during our visit that there is little electronic transfer of money in Nigeria. I am wondering whether progress been made on that because the Government were unable to collect many of the taxes that were due because money was being bartered and there was no record of it.

John Howell

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I wish I could answer yes, but I cannot. The situation is confused and in the last few weeks it has got worse for electronic transfer of money. That, too, is something the Buhari Government must concentrate on to make sure there is a free-flowing money system that will tackle directly the Boko Haram challenge and hopefully lead to release of the girls.

I want to pick up on a point that the hon. Lady made about equality. During one of my visits I went to LADOL, a deep-water offshore oil and gas company run by a woman who trained as a surgeon in Oxford. Although she has two brothers, she was invited back by her father to run the company because of her undoubted ability to do so. It was a great pleasure to see her. She set us up with a long line of inspections of the army, the police, customs officials and taxmen, all of whom were stationed on her free trade island in the lagoon at Lagos. Believe it or not, I had to take the salute. It was fascinating.

At a dinner with Nigerian businessmen afterwards, I asked why this woman was not in the Nigerian Parliament and the answer was simply because she is a women. It was as bold and as simple as that and came from prominent businessmen in Nigeria. I do not think they approved of that and I think they took the view that it was bad, but that the fact that she was there—admittedly she was an exception—was a move in the right direction towards more equality.

There is a trend for the middle classes in Nigeria to come to London. While I am a trade envoy, I want to take London to Nigeria because I firmly believe that will build a stronger middle class in Nigeria which will help to press for release of the girls and the ending of the Boko Haram menace.

Also, to the extent that I have not had the opportunity to do this so far, I would like to have discussions with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby offline, because anything that I can do when I go out there to push this agenda forward, I will very happily do to ensure that this issue is taken up and pursued with equal vigour by President Buhari and his Government and the British Government.

DFID does and has done a number of things in Nigeria that I want to pick up. One is that, since 2011, the incomes of 1.1 million people have been raised by up to 50%; 200,000 of them were women. That is a very good targeted use of our money in that country. Similarly, in terms of the focus that there has been on state budgets, looking at both education and health, that money has been extremely well spent. It is useful to reflect that the work being done on privatisation of the power sector also has an effect. It, too, leads to a much broader and more secure economy that helps tackle Boko Haram and this whole issue. I understand that DFID now spends more than 60% of its funds in Nigeria in six northern states, which I think is a very good move. It is one that I am sure we all, across the House, will support and, hopefully, enjoy.

.........

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) and I had the opportunity to discuss Nigeria only a couple of days ago, when we had our first meeting in the capacity of inviting trade envoys for Africa to the Foreign Office. It was timely for us to engage on that matter. I join others in paying tribute to his work. He reminded us of some of the underlying causes that must be dealt with, not least the economy. We can try to defeat insurgencies militarily, but ultimately, we must give the people and communities something better to look forward to. They need a way of life that is successful and more attractive than that offered by an extremist organisation. The detailed knowledge that he brings is much appreciated.

My hon. Friend mentioned the huge challenge that the size of the country presents. I will touch on that a little later. The scale for the military combing through the various parts of Borno and east Nigeria is immense, which is why the international community must work together. Once we have done that and created an umbrella of security, that is when an economic strategy needs to kick in. The ingredients are there. Nigeria is a powerful country in Africa. As he highlighted, there is much that we can do on bilateral relationships. He has illustrated clearly that he is the right person for the job, and we will continue to work with him.


08 SEP 2016

My question on planning reform

John Howell (Henley) (Con) I note that the Leader of the House has announced the Second Reading of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, and wonder whether there is enough time in that to debate the substantial and innovative recommendations of the local plans expert group to simplify the whole process, including neighbourhood planning, or whether he will recommend a second debate.

Mr Lidington

I think there will be opportunity during proceedings on the Bill to have the kind of debate that my hon. Friend wants, but should he be dissatisfied, other opportunities will be available.


02 SEP 2016

John Howell MP welcomes new jobs figures showing the South-East is open for business

Britain has benefitted from record-breaking inward investment by foreign companies, creating over 5,000 new jobs in the South-East according to recent figures which have been welcomed by me.

In the last financial year almost 1,600 new jobs were created every week by foreign direct investment – nearly 390,000 new jobs since 2010. Across the country, 2,213 projects were secured with around 116,000 jobs created or safeguarded as a result of inward investment, the second highest total on record.

This week's figures are the latest confirmation that the UK ranks highest in Europe for foreign direct investment.

Commenting on the latest figures, I said:

'These record-breaking figures show the South-East is open for business thanks to the steps this government has taken.

'Since 2010, we have seen almost a million new businesses across the UK and record-high employment proving the whole country, including here in the South-East, is an attractive place for overseas investors to do business. These results show we are in a position of strength so that we can build a country that works for everyone no matter where you live.'

Notes

  • The Department for International Trade is responsible for promoting British trade across the world. It also helps overseas companies bring their high quality investment to the UK's economy – acknowledged as Europe's best place from which to succeed in global business (Department for International Trade, link).
  • The 2015/16 Inward Investment Report shows that the UK remains the number one investment destination in Europe. Across the country, 2,213 inward investment projects were secured – an 11% increase on the previous year – leading to around 116,000 jobs being created or safeguarded - the second highest number on record (Department for International Trade, Inward Investment Report 2015/16, 30 August 2016, link).
  • Drawing on information from EY's UK Attractiveness Survey 2016, the Financial Times' FDI Report 2016 and OECD's FDI in Figures (2016), the UK ranks first in Europe for FDI projects in total and for FDI projects from high-growth markets. The department records wider types of inward investment projects, including mergers and acquisitions and those that are not publicly announced by foreign investors. Therefore, the FDI project figures reported are different from those reported by external organisations, such as EY and FT, who track FDI project flows mostly based on investment announcements. These external organisations report on calendar year, while the department's statistics are for financial year.
  • On 30 August 2016, the Department for International Trade published the Inward Investment Report 2015/16 showing that 2,213 inward investment projects were secured leading to around 116,000 jobs being created or safeguarded (Department for International Trade, Inward investment results for 2015/16, 30 August 2016, link).


13 AUG 2016

M40 HGV Signage

After much lobbying, I have been able to help get some progress on the call for better signage to deter HGVs using the B4009 from the M40 through Watlington after delays in getting weight limit signage put up around Junction 6 of the M40. In a recent letter from Highways England, it has pointed out that UK Highways M40 Ltd (which is responsible for the safe operation of the motorway between junctions 1 and 15) in liaison with Oxfordshire County Council has identified proposals to improve heavy goods vehicle related signing for vehicles leaving the M40 at junction 6 at Lewknor and highlight the weight limit restriction on the B4009.

A number of us have been badgering Highways England to take action on this for some time and progress on this has been disappointingly slow. However this is a positive step in the right direction and I am pleased that we have at last got to this stage.

We are told that road safety audits, and other related survey and design work will be undertaken in the coming months after which detailed proposals and the programme of installation will be set out. Slow progress but progress none the less – and in writing now.


31 JUL 2016

Henley MP visits NATS Air traffic Control

In the continuing effort to get information on the issue of aircraft noise over the constituency, Henley MP, John Howell, visited the NATS air traffic control centre at Swanwick.  The purpose of the visit was to receive answers to questions raised by constituents on aircraft noise in the Henley area and to see how NATS worked.

Issues of noise from passing aircraft have been raised over time by a number of constituents. Meetings, organised by John Howell, have been held locally with constituents and representatives from NATS and Heathrow and meetings have also been held in Parliament together with MPs from neighbouring constituencies facing similar concerns.

John Howell said

"It was extremely valuable to visit the control room and see the complexity of the operation. Understanding what they do and how they do it is the first step to engaging properly with them.  It was, for example, helpful to get a better understanding of the various factors that air traffic controllers have to take into account when making routing decisions. Once aircraft come into land they are directed from the control tower of the landing airport so there has to be a seamless link between the two. I was grateful for the briefing and opportunity to learn more about this."

During the meeting the MP was given a briefing on the operation and the interface with airport control towers and international air traffic controllers. He was also given information about flights over the constituency.

John added

"Looking at the data, it is difficult to see what has changed in terms of air traffic management now and four years ago.  Of course, airplanes are getting bigger and more accurate.  And there are more of them. The latter means that they can be controlled more accurately.  The planes are also getting quieter. All of this concurs with the information given at local briefings with constituents. That leaves the difference between what people experience today with what they experienced a few years ago still to be explained."


21 JUL 2016

John Howell on unemployment

I have welcomed today's figures showing that there are 321,000 more people in work across the South East and 2.7 million more people across the United Kingdom back in work than in 2010.

In the Henley constituency, the number of people claiming the key out of work benefits has fallen by 522 - a 69% per cent drop – since 2010. The constituency is the third best performer in the UK.

With the employment rate at a record high, the female employment rate at its highest since records began and the proportion of young people who have left full-time education and are unemployed at its lowest ever rate, today's figures show that the unemployment rate has dropped to below 5 per cent – the lowest since 2005.

Today's figures show that employment is growing across all the regions and nations of the United Kingdom as we build a Britain that works for everyone. The number of people locally relying on the key out of work benefits has fallen by 522 since 2010 – a 69% drop.

As the number of workless households is down to an all-time low, we are delivering more economic security and providing opportunities that give families in the Henley constituency the best chance in life. Our job now is to build on this success story and create an economy that works for everyone, so people can benefit from the opportunities that are being created regardless of who they are or where they live.

Notes on unemployment

On 20 July 2016, the ONS published labour market statistics for the three months to May 2016 and the Claimant Count (Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit, not in work) figures for June 2016 (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 20 July 2016).

Key statistics

  • Employment: 31.7 million (up 624,000 over the past year and up 2.7 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 74.4 per cent (up 1.0 points over the past year and up 4.2 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.65 million (down 201,000 over the past year and down 864,000 since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 4.9 per cent (down 0.7 points over the past year and down 3.0 points since 2010).
  • Claimant count (Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit not in work): 759,100 in June (down 33,900 on last year and down 735,700 since 2010).
  • Wages: Pay before bonuses pay rose 2.2 per cent over the last year with private sector pay up 2.4 per cent. Inflation over the same period remained low.
  • Other useful statistics:
  • The rate of employment nationally is 74.4 per cent – the highest since comparable records began in 1971.
  • The Claimant count rate is close to its lowest level in over 40 years.
  • The unemployment rate is 4.9 per cent – the lowest in over a decade. In the Henley constituency it is 0.5%
  • The female employment rate is at 69.6 per cent – the highest since comparable records began in 1971.
  • At 5.6 per cent, the proportion of 16-24 year olds nationally who have left full-time education and are unemployed has never been lower.
  • There are nearly 750,000 vacancies across the country.
  • 86 per cent of 16-24 year olds are in full time study or work – the highest proportion on record.
  • 3.3 million people with a disability are now in employment – up 365,000 over the last two years.
  • Private sector employment is now at 26.2 million – up nearly 3 million 2010.
  • Over the last year, two thirds of the rise in employment has been from full-time work.
  • Since 2010, 95 per cent of the growth in employment has come from permanent employees or people working for themselves.
  • Real wages are continuing to rise strongly.


19 JUL 2016

My intervention in the debate on the contribution made by Poles

John Howell (Henley) (Con) Does my hon. Friend agree that the Polish communities in this country have integrated themselves into British society extremely well? Part of that is due to the excellent work ethic that Poles have shown. For example, in my own service, as it were, I have members of the Polish community, and I would find it very difficult to find a British person who had the same work ethic.

Daniel Kawczynski

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. May I dare to venture that if we wanted the ideal sort of immigrant, it could possibly be a Pole? Hard working, ethical—I will come on to all the attributes that my constituents talk about Polish workers here having, but yes, they make a huge contribution.


19 JUL 2016

Question in urgent question on Turkey

John Howell (Henley) (Con) As a member of the Council of Europe, I was in touch with Turkish MPs over the weekend. Turkey plays a vital role in the Council of Europe. What practical support will the UK Government give to Turkish MPs to help them through this crisis?

Sir Alan Duncan

Again, it is difficult to say at this early stage. However, I hope that our clear voice has been heard. One of the things that we have rightly said, and which the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) pointed out a moment ago, is that we welcome the fact that all the parties in Turkey have joined together to make it clear that they condemn the coup and that they wish to see democratic institutions prevail in Turkey. That echoes our own thoughts and beliefs, and I hope that our influence as diplomats and on the world stage can continue to encourage Turkey to step in that direction.


14 JUL 2016

New Fiver

I joined the Chief Cashier and members of the Bank of England team in Parliament yesterday (Wednesday 11 July) to learn more about the New Fiver before it is issued on 13 September. I was able to try out the new security features and find out how local businesses and the public in the Henley constituency can prepare for the new note.

The new Bank of England £5 note features former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and will be made of polymer, a thin flexible plastic. This means that the note is cleaner, safer and stronger. The introduction of polymer banknotes allows for a new generation of security features which make it even harder to counterfeit. The note also remains in much better condition for longer, and The New Fiver is expected to last at least 2.5 times longer than paper notes - around 5 years.

The New Fiver will begin making its way into cash machines and shop tills from 13 September. Paper £5 notes will be gradually withdrawn once the New Fiver enters circulation and will cease to be legal tender in May 2017, up until then everyone can carry on spending paper £5 notes as usual.

I said:

"It was good to be able to hold the new Fiver and to see how it will hold up to use. I am very grateful for the Bank of England and the Industry & Parliament Trust for arranging for the demonstration."

A new polymer £10 note, featuring the novelist Jane Austen, will be issued in summer 2017 and a new polymer £20 note featuring the artist JMW Turner will enter circulation by 2020. These notes will include a tactile feature to help the vision impaired people distinguish between denominations. The New Fiver will be distinguishable through its absence of a tactile feature.

Readers can see the New Fiver online at www.thenewfiver.co.uk or at one of the Bank of England's regional roadshow events around the UK.‎


12 JUL 2016

My speech at yesterday's event on Nigeria

UKTI TRADE AND INVESTMENT ROADSHOW

MONDAY 11 JULY, LANCASTER HOUSE

Speaking Notes: Trade Envoy

I would like to welcome you, your Excellencies, ministers, state officials and delegates to what is the first day of a week long programme exploring the opportunities across sectors and across Nigeria and we are sure British expertise can help make a difference.

I would like to very much thank the UKTI team, PWC team and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council for working in collaboration to organise this Trade and Investment road show. This is the first time this has been done and we hope it won't be the last.

I've only recently been appointed as the Prime Ministers Trade Envoy to Nigeria and I'm very excited to be taking on this new role because the bilateral relationship between the UK and Nigeria is of great importance to our country.

This event comes at a particular opportune time as I will shortly be making my first Trade Envoy visit to Nigeria later this month; where I hope I will learn a great deal more about the opportunities and indeed challenges, in doing business in Nigeria.

The UK, with our strong historic links to Africa, has so much to offer and I wish to continue to build these business links and help create the economic growth that we all wish to see.

Nigeria remains an attractive export and investment destination for the UK because of its scale, resource wealth and location potential. In 2015, Nigeria was named the third fastest growing economy in the world. Nigeria's economy is expected to grow between 5% and 7% per year by 2030.

UK businesses are well placed to succeed in Nigeria. Nigeria is only 6 hours away from Nigeria which is a relatively short flight.

Nigeria has a familiar legal system – the Nigerian judiciary and legal system are based on the UK's. This simplifies business set up processes and provides guidance in potential disputes. Nigeria is also a member of The Commonwealth, which means we share a lot of similarities.

UK is one of 32 countries that have a bilateral investment treaty (including promotion and protection agreement) with Nigeria and it also benefits from EU-Nigeria trade treaties. Private trade associations such as the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce also facilitate and promote greater trade and investment between the two countries.

UK is home to 2nd largest Nigerian Diaspora – In 2013, UK was home to 184,000 of the 1.1million officially registered first generation Nigerian Diaspora, second only to the US.

Around 18,000 Nigerian students come to the UK which is around 10% of total foreign students to the UK, the third largest after India and China. Nigeria's Diaspora is an asset that can support the UK's export and investment activity. Our interviews with Nigerian entrepreneurs indicate that Diaspora have a keen interest in transferring business ideas and practices from the UK into Nigeria.

UK brands are highly regarded and demanded in Nigeria – UK companies operating in Nigeria often maintain that Nigerian customers highly regard brands associated with the UK.

Although we want British businesses to make the most of the trade and investment opportunities on offer, more importantly we want Nigerians themselves to harvest the fruits.

New areas of opportunity are emerging across a variety of sectors as Nigeria develops and grows. Opportunities exist across sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, Technology, solid minerals, education and training amongst others. We will learn a lot more about the opportunities in these sectors over the next 5 days.

The successful election in March 2015 has helped to solidify Nigeria's democratic credentials and with just over a year in government the administration has made meaningful strides. The extent of success for trade and investment will of course also depend on the success of President Buhari's reforms. We welcome the Central Bank of Nigeria's announcement that Nigeria will move to a more flexible foreign exchange rate policy. This is positive news that international business have been waiting for to encourage greater investment in Nigeria.

Similarly, I welcome the President's commitment to tackling corruption in Nigeria. It is critical to the country's economic prosperity and security, and to reducing poverty and inequality. It creates barriers to doing business and the threat from money laundering and fraud directly impacts the UK.

UK businesses need to overcome a number of challenges when exporting to and operating in Nigeria. Nigeria is dogged by a perception as being a rather difficult place to do business. While these constraints certainly exist, businesses can thrive if they are ready to adapt to the local business environment. The major constraints can be categorized into two:

Infrastructure constraints – utilities (power and water), transport (roads, ports, rails and airports) and ICT (telecommunications and media connectivity)

Other business constraints – expensive and scarce financing (trade and working capital), lack of skilled-labour, security concerns, foreign exchange restriction and higher cost of doing business.

Successful UK companies in the Nigerian market deal with these constraints - Smaller companies tend to partner with local distributors and wholesalers, whereas larger companies typically establish a representative office in Nigeria and then build a supply chain locally

UK investors can be allies in President Buhari's reform agenda. We want to work in partnership with Nigeria to make the Nigerian economy stronger and UK businesses have much to offer in this regard, including help with economic diversification. The private sector is the engine of growth that can mobilise capital for investment, create jobs that will reduce poverty, and generating taxes that will fund the operations of government in these aims. With us working together we can develop an operating environment for business simpler, fairer, more transparent and predictable. Building governance capacity and capability of institutions is key and I am keen to explore how the UK Government might support Nigeria further in this regard.

We hope that engagements during this event will help in building relationships between the UK and Nigeria and open the Nigerian market to UK innovations in product development, technology, capital that would trigger growth and market penetration.

Just to highlight a few capabilities; the UK is the third largest global online retail exporter after the US and China. UK is also one of the leading financial services hub;

The UK is the fifth largest manufacturer of construction equipment in the world. The UK has an advanced transport and technology infrastructure that enables people, goods and information to move freely and facilitates economic growth

The UK delivers world-class capabilities to the global mining sector, with four of the top five leading globally diversified mining companies listed in London.

The estimated export value of agri-tech is £1.2 billion per annum. As with investment, trade opportunities are linked to plant sciences, aquaculture, animal health and precision agriculture.

UK's Defence and Security industry is export focused. The UK has consistently been the number two supplier of defence equipment for the past 20 years, and has managed to keep this position against tough competition.

Lastly, UK has a global reputation for excellence in the field of education and skills that is enhanced by a number of truly international educational brands, many of them with a long tradition behind them.

You may ask how does UK Government support Nigerian Economic Development?

The UK Government currently supports Nigerian economic development agenda through international aid provided by DFID and other foreign policy instruments through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UKTI and other such agencies.

UKTI has people in over 100 markets worldwide. Each market is led by a Director of Trade and Investment who manages a team of British diplomats and locally recruited staff with in-depth country knowledge and contacts. A third of the markets have dedicated investment teams. UKTI Nigeria has a dedicated team (with staff in Lagos and Abuja) to cater for all trade & Investment relations with the Nigeria from the UK. UKTI offers a range of services to UK-based businesses, providing them with advice, expertise and support to ensure their success in international markets.

Such services includes but not limited to:

  • A training and advisory package for companies selling overseas for the first time.
  • Introduction to Export Opportunities in overseas markets – a service offering businesses new international sales leads identified by UKTI people. This is primary role of UKTI overseas teams which is to match UK companies to existing opportunities in overseas markets.
  • Events and missions – participation at UKTI events in the UK and overseas, delivered directly and through partners, to help businesses gain the knowledge, networks and customers to expand their business internationally.
  • Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) – A charged service to connect businesses with UKTI people around the world for help with a range of activities such as market advice, reports, arranging meetings, and visits and events. UKTI's overseas teams help to perform the necessary research and groundwork for UK exporters keen on trading overseas.
  • Tradeshow Access Programme – Support for businesses to raise awareness of their product or service at tradeshows overseas
  • High Value Campaigns – A programme to introduce businesses to international procurement processes for large-scale commercial projects.
  • ITA Support – International trade advisers work with businesses in the English Regions to offer advice and guidance to help them export.
  • Market visit support – funding for businesses to gain access to key contacts and networks in overseas markets
  • Access to UK Export Financing (UKEF). UKTI help to introduce UK exporters to the UKEF to get some form of financial backing in exporting overseas.

Conclusion

The UK Government recognises the great opportunities in Nigeria. Of course we want British businesses to make the most of the trade and investment opportunities on offer but more importantly we want Nigeria itself to maximise its true potential. It is in all our interests to turn these opportunities into sustained growth.


12 JUL 2016

My question in the Statement on the NATO summit

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of Ukraine? The belligerence of Russia is of great interest to the Council of Europe, and at its last meeting, Madam Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot who was arrested by the Russians, was able to join us. What will NATO involvement in Ukraine try to achieve?

Michael Fallon

I had the privilege of meeting Madam Savchenko in Warsaw on Saturday, when she attended with the President of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Defence Minister. Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO, a number of NATO allies are working extremely hard to try to reinforce Ukraine's ability to defend itself. We are co-ordinating our training effort, and doing what we can to stand behind the territorial integrity of Ukraine, not least through the sanctions that the European Union continues to apply.


12 JUL 2016

My question in Urgent Question on prison staff safety

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Prisons & Probation Ombudsman told the Justice Committee about the "pervasiveness" of mental health issues within prisons. What is the Secretary of State doing to address that? How is he improving the response of prison staff when assessing such risks?

Michael Gove

My hon. Friend makes a good point. One difficulty is that many of those in custody have mental health problems—undiagnosed in some cases. ​It is often the case that the prison regime by its very nature and the restrictions that are placed on individuals as part of a sentence may not be the most effective ways of tackling mental health problems and ensuring that offenders do not offend again. We are considering how we can better review mental health provision within the prison estate. More announcements will be forthcoming, but Her Majesty made it clear in the Gracious Speech that improving outcomes for individuals with mental health problems in the criminal justice system is a core mission of this Government over the next 12 months.


10 JUL 2016

John Howell MP reopens the Birdcage in Thame

On 8 July 2016 I re-opened the Birdcage pub in Thame. I also presented a cheque for £250 to Oxfordshire Youth. After cutting the ribbon to open the pub, I said: 

"I am delighted open this pub and look forward to eating here tonight. It is central to Thame and to the life in Thame and I wish it good luck."

Prior to opening the pub, I took my turn in helping the young people who worked behind the bar to pull pints and to fill the celebratory glasses with Prosecco.

I presented a cheque for £250 to Oxfordshire Youth which supports voluntary youth clubs and groups to provide young people with the opportunity to be the best they can be. I added:

"I am also delighted to present this cheque to Oxfordshire Youth and hope it helps them provide the services which do so much for young people."


09 JUL 2016

My interview on trade with Nigeria

 

My interview on trade between Britain and Nigeria.  Given for BEN TV.

 


08 JUL 2016

Interventions in debate on Creative Industries

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady has started in a very positive fashion, which I much appreciate. I used to be the chief executive of a film and video production company that had a rule that 40% of our income must come from overseas. Has she thought about the contribution of the creative industries to this country's exports?

Julie Elliott

Absolutely. The creative industries are almost a hidden gem because they are so good at creating wealth and turnover, exports and imports, but they are not as glamorous as the manufacturing industries. I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point.

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John Howell

I intervene as a fellow graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Does the hon. and learned Lady think there is something in the water in Edinburgh that has helped create those creative industries, or is it just the hard work of the university, which has concentrated on the creative industries and achieved so much for them?

Joanna Cherry

Edinburgh of course now hosts more than one university. Its oldest university is our joint alma mater, but it also has Napier University in my constituency, which I have just been talking about, and Heriot-Watt University. Possibly what the hon. Gentleman refers to is due to those universities, but it is also very much due to an atmosphere across the education sector in Edinburgh, which fosters interest in music and the arts.


07 JUL 2016

John Howell MP BACKS CANCER CAMPAIGN

I am backing a hard-hitting new campaign from Cancer Research UK to remove junk food advertising from TV before the 9pm watershed.

I joined campaigners in Westminster this week (Tuesday 5 July) to find out more about the 'Junk Free TV' campaign, which aims to help tackle children's obesity.

In the South East around one in five (20.3%) children are overweight or obese, and people who are obese as children are more likely to be obese as adults which increases their risk of developing cancer.

Research shows children who see junk food advertised on TV eat more unhealthy food.

While such ads have already been removed during children's TV shows, young viewers are regularly exposed to alluring marketing during other programming, such as family entertainment.

The launch of the campaign is accompanied by a report featuring interviews with eight-12 year olds. It illustrates the persuasive impact of TV junk food advertising on youngsters.

Of one particular advert, a child said: "It makes you feel as if you're happy and excited, and it feels like you want to try it because the guy's dancing in it because he's eaten it and it tastes good."

Another child said they wanted to "lick the screen", while others said they had "begged" and "pestered" their parents to buy junk food they'd enjoyed watching the adverts for.

I said:

"With stark levels of childhood obesity in the Henley constituency and across the UK, it's clear we need to act now to help give children the best chance of a healthy future.

"Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, so it's vital that young people are encouraged to eat healthily and keep active and that healthy choices are easy to make.

"I wholeheartedly support Cancer Research UK's efforts to reduce the influence of TV junk food advertising on children's lives."

Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking and is linked to ten different types including two of the most common cancers, breast and bowel and two of the hardest to treat, oesophageal and pancreatic.

Cancer Research UK is campaigning for a comprehensive childhood obesity strategy from Government to help protect children and save more lives in the future.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's Director of Cancer Prevention, said:

"Junk food is everywhere. Children are bombarded by advertising tailored to tempt them with pretty colours and cartoons which all influence the food they prefer. We need stronger action to help our children have healthier diets, and eat fewer unhealthy foods packed with extra calories.'

"Being overweight and obese is a major cause of preventable illness and death in the UK, costing the NHS billions of pounds each year. We owe it to future generations to reduce the devastating impact caused by the obesity epidemic and help save more lives."


07 JUL 2016

Contribution in a debate on electric cars

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is delivering a passionate exposition of his case. Will he join me in welcoming research such as that taking place at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in my constituency? The centre is particularly researching batteries, not only for electric cars but for driverless cars. The new generation of batteries that are being produced will power such cars for even longer.

Neil Parish

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Battery capacity affects mileage, the length of time between charges and, of course, how long the batteries last. One problem with the early hybrid cars was that their batteries did not last long enough. Such research is therefore key, as is research on hydrogen cars.


05 JUL 2016

My question on health

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  What plans his Department has to increase capacity in general practice and primary care.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt)

We will be investing an extra £2.4 billion a year in general practice by 2020-21, a 14% increase in real terms. The General Practice Forward View, published earlier this year, sets out a package of support for general practice to boost the workforce, drive efficiencies in workload and modernise primary care infrastructure and technology.

John Howell

General practitioners in Henley have recently written a letter to all their patients pointing out the difficulties they face in fulfilling their workload. Will the Secretary of State explain what the Government are doing about that and how what they are doing will help?

Mr Hunt

I am happy to do so. I recognise the picture that my hon. Friend paints—not just in Henley but across the country—of a huge increase in GPs' workload, which they are finding extremely challenging. What have we done? We have almost 1,300 more GPs working and training in the NHS compared with 2010. We have said that by the end of this Parliament we will seek to make available an additional 10,000 primary and community care staff, including 5,000 doctors working in general practice and 1,000 physician associates. We recognise the problem and are doing something about it.


04 JUL 2016

My speech in debate about court and tribunal fees

John Howell (Henley) (Con) It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Justice Committee. The difficulty for me is that they have already covered all the issues I was going to cover, but let me touch on one highlighted by the right hon. Member for Delyn and the Chairman of the Committee: access to justice.

Access to justice has been the key issue for all of us throughout this process. It was a big issue for the Committee, but it is a big issue for the courts and the senior judiciary. Through an Industry and Parliament Trust Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to talk to members of the judiciary about many of these issues, and I can assure the House that they are very concerned about access to justice.

Without the information from the Ministry of Justice, it is difficult to know what the impact of the changes will be. An enormous number of reforms are taking place; it is not just court and tribunal fees that are being put through at a rapid pace by the MOJ. The Lord Chief Justice is a great reformer, and when talking to him one really gets the feeling that he understands the issues relating to access to justice. At the same time, Lord Justice Briggs is taking forward his views for an online court, which could reduce the costs of justice by taking lawyers out of the equation in bringing a relatively small case to court. A lot of work needs to be done to get the detail of online courts right. Nevertheless, it will be there to provide access to justice.

The Committee's report highlights the need to consider other means of determining court applications. One of those comes under the term "alternative dispute resolutions". I happen to be the chairman of the all-party group on alternative dispute resolutions, so it is an area I am aware of. The courts, too, are aware of this. When I sat in the commercial courts, the judges were very keen to ensure that when there was an option of alternative dispute resolution, people took it. Some did and some did not, but it is important that it is offered as an alternative to their carrying on with their day in court. If they do take the option, it is important to ensure that the alternative dispute resolution sector can also keep costs down.

When I sat with judges in the courts, the issue on their minds all the time was how to keep costs down. We went through this with a lot of the cost hearings and cut out quite a lot of the barristers' fees. It is important to ensure that we can tell whether it is the changes to the courts that are having the effect on tribunal numbers, or whether it is the effect of the fees being charged. I say that because as part of the experience I spent a day with an employment tribunal. There were three members sitting and I asked them how long it would go on for. They said that they had scheduled six days for an employment tribunal that could have lasted one day, so the court fees had not had a significant effect on this individual bringing their case. They had assigned six days to it, because it was a litigant in person and they wanted to bend over backwards to provide the time for that individual to make their case. A much more sensible approach would have been to ensure that the case went on for a lot less time, while still preserving access to justice and ensuring that the litigant in person could still achieve what they wanted to achieve.

The senior judiciary have been pursuing one line of cost reduction, while the Government have been pursuing another. There is nothing wrong with pursuing reductions along a twin track, provided that the two groups work together and talk to each other. The criticism that came back to me from the senior judiciary I sat with was that the Government were not talking to them about the changes they were making. That is a great shame, because without that I do not see how we can make sense of, and really get to the bottom of, access to justice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the Chair of the Committee, has already highlighted the issues around the impact assessment of the changes to court fees and the fact that the information is still not available. He also pointed out that the Master of the Rolls was absolutely scathing about the quality of that evidence. I put that on record again, because it is very important when someone as senior as the Master of the Rolls is critical of the Government's approach. I have to say that I share his views. The courts and tribunal fee is not a milch cow; it is a real issue of access to justice. Without the information we still have not received, we cannot assess the impact of the fees on access to justice and what impact they will have.


04 JUL 2016

My education question today

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the Minister use this occasion to reassure parents of pupils at the Europa School in my constituency that they will still be able to play a part in the running of their school? [905631]

Mr Gibb

Yes, I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Of course they will. The Europa School provides an excellent education. Since it became a free school in 2012, it has been rated good by Ofsted, and it continues to provide a very high-quality education.


01 JUL 2016

Interventions on homicide debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has in his mind what the range of sentences should be for second degree murder.

Alex Chalk

Certainly, on any view, life imprisonment must remain the maximum sentence—that is the maximum in the United States for federal offences where second degree murder is charged—but the key point is that the judge should have discretion. The Sentencing Council has done a terrific job of laying down guidelines—not tramlines—and the courts have shown themselves to be well able to dispense justice.

___________________________________________________________

John Howell

I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying about sentencing. Of course, we now have the Sentencing Council and, without wishing to create a bit of a love-in for members of the Justice Committee here, we do have the power to review sentences and comment on them. Is he suggesting that we should take a harder line on those in order to get the sentencing right? I get the feeling that the judiciary are simply following our guidelines.

Philip Davies

My hon. Friend is another member of the Justice Committee who is more talented than me. Yes, we should concentrate more on sentencing guidelines as a Committee and as a Parliament, because these matters are of great importance to our constituents. They are the ones, at the end of the day, who feel that the law comes into disrepute with some of the sentences that are handed down. I do not think we should leave it to unelected people to determine sentencing guidelines. We should be taking a greater role in those guidelines, absolutely.


30 JUN 2016

Question on the Henley regatta

John Howell (Henley) (Con) In a week that has seen the start of the Henley regatta, will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on the important role that rowing plays in our national life, and, contrary to the image that has been created, the contribution that it makes to young people's sporting activities?

Chris Grayling

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I commend everybody in his constituency for the work they put into making the Henley regatta such a successful international event. Rowing is a sport we should be proud of, and a sport we have excelled at in Olympic games. When the Rio games start, I hope that we will again be immensely successful, win lots of medals, and be proud of the athletes who make a difference to our country in that sport. I commend those in Henley for the work that they do, because the regatta is a part of the success that the sport has enjoyed on behalf of our country in recent years.


29 JUN 2016

Intervention on the debate on alcohol guidelines

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The statistics that my hon. Friend has produced are absolutely fascinating. Of course, in the popular press, the one place that is singled out for its continuation of the old culture of drinking is the Palace of Westminster. Does he have a view on what role we should play in setting an example and does he agree that over the past few years the Houses of Parliament have been behaving absolutely immaculately?

Byron Davies

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I can only quote my own example, which is one of extreme caution with alcohol, but it has ​been thoroughly enjoyable at times in the 12 months since I have been here. Of course, we should not be complacent.


29 JUN 2016

Intervention in debate on Bangladesh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have been to Bangladesh on a number of occasions and once during an election period, and they have always been very violent affairs. What is it about this election that makes it different from those earlier elections?

Simon Danczuk

I completely agree that politics runs passionately high in the country, but it is getting unbearable. Some of the points that I will touch on show that things are moving towards a serious situation of civil unrest, and that needs to be addressed. Tensions are perhaps more heightened than when the hon. Gentleman was in the country.


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 6 - no to fear of terrorism

At a special ceremony at the Council of Europe, I stood up to say NO to hate and fear. I committed to follow up on this initiative in the UK parliament. We have to prevent the mutual suspicion and hostility that fear of terrorism engenders as an ill in its own right.


25 JUN 2016

Oxford research team opens lab for diabetes week

People are coming together throughout Diabetes Week (13th – 19th June) to raise awareness of diabetes, a condition which now affects around 4 million people in the UK. To mark this occasion, Diabetes UK-funded researcher Dr James Cantley, at the University of Oxford, will open the doors to his lab on the 16th June to invited MPs and people living with Type 1 diabetes.

Dr Cantley studies the biology of beta cells – crucial cells involved in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. His research aims to provide insight into how the cells work, so that new therapies that can keep the cells alive and healthy for people living with diabetes can be developed.

Dr Cantley's work is just one of over 100 studies that Diabetes UK is supporting all over the country, with over £2.5 million worth of that research happening in Oxford right now. Each project is helping to transform the treatment and prevention of all forms of diabetes, ultimately leading us towards a cure. Diabetes UK relies on public support to fund ground-breaking research like Dr Cantley's. Last year, the charity spent £7 million on new and ongoing research.

Dr Cantley said: "My research is driven by the fact that both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes involve a reduction in functional beta cells, which produce the hormone insulin, in the pancreas. My team is studying the role of a key enzyme that controls insulin and beta cell growth, which we are confident this will lead to new strategies to replace or regenerate functional beta cells to reverse diabetes. We hope our work will improve knowledge of beta cells and how they might be targeted by new therapies in the future.

"Diabetes UK has supported my work for many years, first as a PhD student and now as a lab head, and I'm delighted to have this opportunity to open my doors and explain what we do first hand."

Diabetes UK estimates that there are over 28,000 people in Oxfordshire with diabetes. It is estimated that 90 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 2 and 10 per cent have Type 1. People with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, the hormone that controls blood glucose levels. The exact causes of the condition are unknown, but it's not related to lifestyle factors and cannot currently be prevented. Type 1 diabetes usually affects children or young adults, starting suddenly and getting worse quickly. It is treated with daily insulin doses – taken by either injection or using an insulin pump.

I said: "Diabetes is a very serious health condition affecting millions of people so research that can help us to better understand the condition, and bring about life-changing treatment and a step closer to a cure is really important. Whilst it's fantastic to see this type of research taking place in Oxford, I would like to see more research like this. More and more people both here in my constituency and across the country are developing diabetes, which is fuelling devastating complications and early death. Ground-breaking diabetes research, such as Dr Cantley's work in Oxford, will help to make a huge difference to people's lives so we need more investment in this area".

Dr Emily Burns, Diabetes UK Research Communications Manager, said: "We're very pleased to be supporting Dr Cantley and many other diabetes researchers across the UK. Their incredible research is helping to make the lives of people living with diabetes better, and we are indebted to our supporters for helping us to make this happen. However, we must do more. We need to see the same commitment to tackling diabetes through research as we have rightly seen for other health conditions."


25 JUN 2016

Working with the police

I spent the evening working alongside the police in Henley and in South Oxfordshire last Friday (17th June 2016). The evening involved participation in two shifts of police work. The first involved patrolling the southern part of the district in car and dealing with an incident on the Gainsborugh Estate. The second involved a dash to Wallingford in a police van to support officers at an incident in the town. It also involved a visit to a local pub in south Oxfordshire to check up on licensing arrangements and a trip round late night drinking establishments in Henley.

This was an exciting and fascinating glimpse into the work of the police. I was include in the briefing for the whole of southern Oxfordshire and was very pleased to be able to attend incidents. I saw a lot of the work the police do in order to keep us safe and I was very impressed with the professionalism the officers I was with showed. I shall certainly undertake another tour. My thanks to the officers who made me feel very welcome and shared insights into their work.


25 JUN 2016

Statement on the referendum

I am disappointed at the UK's decision to leave the European Union. The result was always going to be close. It could have gone either way and it went the way it did. We have to accept that. Whilst I am disappointed by the overall result, I'm very pleased to see that South Oxfordshire overwhelmingly voted to remain by some 55% to 45%.  Some have suggested that this is to do with a legacy from Michael Heseltine.  I disagree.  I think it is more to do with the concerns of a very affluent part of the country and the calm and considered position I put forward.

There have been calls in the last week for David Cameron to stay in post whatever the outcome. He is an honourable man who is doing what he thinks is the right thing to do. He has already said that he was going to leave office before the next General Election he clearly now feels it is time to leave sooner. The Party now needs to pull back together. We have a country to run and a world to pursue.


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 5 - violence against migrants

 

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – The report identifies a number of problems. There must be general agreement on ending violence, but how that is achieved will depend on whether the migrants are settled. Since the report asks for the provision of accommodation and access to benefits, I wonder whether it might have been more helpful if it had acknowledged that we are drawing a difference between those migrants who have a right to stay in a country and those who do not, or who are still being evaluated. The issue of non-violence applies to both groups, but different countries have different rules for dealing with the right to stay, and I do not wish to interfere in those. I want to highlight what there is in common. In any case, there should be no recourse to violence, as I have said; the police should ensure that they enforce that, rather than perpetrating violence themselves. It is a sad indictment of our societies that migrants are increasingly exposed to discrimination, racism and a whole range of violence. However, that is true not just of migrants but of existing communities such as the Jewish community. I am glad that the report recognises that the law is not the only, or indeed the most effective, way of dealing with this issue. I point to the role that faith groups can play in helping to bring people and communities together to tackle social and other problems. The need to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us is paramount.

In essence, this approach is about ensuring that we build integrated communities and create the conditions for everyone to live and work successfully alongside each other, particularly where migrants have the right to stay. The report looks at how progress is or is not being made in various European countries at various stages in that process and what is needed to make it happen. It will require, for example, the identification and successful tackling of hate crime. That will need the police to improve the way in which they identify hate crime.

We need to ensure that those accepted by countries – for example, those who have been granted refugee or asylum status – are given access to the labour market and to necessary benefits. We also need to strengthen organisations such as NGOs that specialise in these matters and can assist with integration. There is a world of difference between the experience of those countries that have granted refugee status to people and those, such as Greece, that have responsibility for providing support for a large numbers of migrants. We have already spoken at length this week about the situation in Greece and I will not repeat that debate, but there are some common factors here. The report's point about bringing the media on side to ensure that false impressions are not created is a good one.

We need the co-operation of migrants in this. They have a responsibility to comply with local law and not make the situation worse. Language is fundamental in this regard. There must be language training for those granted asylum status; such training can reach the most isolated of communities and help them integrate, something that will be of particular help to women in those communities. Refugees need assistance with some form of language training so that misunderstandings can be avoided. I am very pleased that my own government has made funds available to carry out the necessary language training for communities in that situation.


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 4 - transparency and openness

 

 

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I have read the report very carefully and I can agree with many of its conclusions. The starting point, which the report acknowledges, is that lobbying is part of the functioning of a democratic society. We are all, for example, lobbied by the people who voted in our elections. The report also acknowledges that pressure groups include trade unions and consumer groups. These are also lobbyists. I welcome the emphasis in the report on encouraging transparency and openness in European institutions – which includes this very Organisation, where former members can be seen acting as lobbyists. The role played by national parliaments in scrutinising European Union legislation makes an important contribution to that. Of course, decision making needs to be undertaken efficiently and with a degree of confidentiality, but there is something in this report for us all to consider.

What we are trying to tie down in this report is activities that could lead to corruption. There are countries in the world where corruption runs riot. One that I work with closely sees 40% of its oil stolen before the government can get hold of the revenues, making a big difference to the finances of that country. We are not talking about such obvious and flagrant examples of corruption in Europe, but we are talking about a level of secrecy that goes beyond confidentiality and affects decisions that have an impact on us all.

I support the calls for the EU to take further care of its transparency and openness. One area where I would urge more caution and thought is in the proposals to restrict the activities of MEPs. The report talks of a revolving door between being a lobbyist and being an MEP. One thing it is essential to stop is the carrying out of lobbying activities while still holding office. This is something we have addressed in the UK Parliament. Indeed, ministers, who are the ones with a real level of influence in our parliament, are banned from holding positions for two years after leaving office, so there is a cooling-off period. Only the other day I was talking about a potential project with a former minister who had to back off, saying she was unable to lobby government for two years. Where MEPs have had direct influence over an area, they should have to follow rules on conflicts of interest and access to documents.

But what is a good rule for one side is also a good rule for the other. I am regularly lobbied by a number of groups that try to galvanise interest from the community at large for a particular action without disclosing who is backing them or where their money comes from. Giving people the knowledge to enable them to make up their own minds demands a level of openness that we currently do not see among these organisations, yet they operate in an openly political way to change public opinion.

The report touches on an important area for us all, but it is not a straightforward one. I urge the EU to step up its co-operation with the Council of Europe in the fight against corruption and I fully support the calls for the EU to take its decisions in as open a way as possible.


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 3 - culture and democracy

 

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson of the European Conservatives Group) – There is no better way for me to start than by quoting from the opening sentence of the first report: "Culture and the arts...are a powerful tool for preventing radicalisation and...in building democratic citizenship." That is an important and valuable statement. In discussing education, the report points to the role of education in developing attitudes and values that enhance democratic competencies. We should all bear that in mind, both here in this Chamber, where we can encourage young people to visit the gallery above us and to observe our deliberations, and in our own countries, where we can encourage and participate in discussion groups in schools. We should take this role seriously. Indeed, the referendum in my own country – whatever you may think of it – has done precisely that. Regardless of the nature of a school or the make-up of its children, the referendum has galvanised interest in children under 18 in the political process and the political world.

So much for democracy – what about culture? In the UK, we recently produced a culture government document that sets out how we intend to use cultural policies to safeguard our heritage, support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and help other nations return to social stability after conflict. Access to cultural opportunities needs to support young people from disadvantaged communities and diaspora groups, and point the way forward for them, to ensure that the largest number of young people possible have high-quality cultural experiences. Surely, that is what paragraph 14 of the report means. As the report points out, it is also important that these cultural experiences include those engaged in them as actors and producers and not simply as observers.

In my own country, the Culture Secretary and a member of the House of Lords from an ethnic minority chaired a round table with Asian and Muslim broadcasters to consider the way that extremist narratives are presented.

The importance of diaspora communities is highlighted in the second report that we are considering. In the UK, I deal with one particular diaspora community from Africa, whose members we value very highly. Indeed, the government has recently appointed someone to deal with the diaspora community on its behalf. We work closely with diaspora communities to ensure that they participate fully in the cultural activities of the country.

Of course, language is a major issue. One of the best ways of enhancing cultural opportunities is to develop a common language, which is a fundamental tool, and I applaud the action education ministers took throughout the EU after the Charlie Hebdo attacks to promote citizenship, freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education. I am also very pleased that the UK Government has put £20 million of additional funding into helping to provide English teaching for speakers of other languages.

Culture can play an important role in driving development, in reducing poverty and in opening up new opportunities, and across all three of those areas we should concentrate our efforts and take advantage of what they have to offer.


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 2 - sexualisation of children

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I want to raise a number of points that I fear might otherwise be lost in this report. The main one is the role of parents. Paragraph 4.3 of the draft resolution suggests that we "adopt policies...that seek to inform, educate and remind parents about the dangers that their children face in an over-sexualised environment...and equip parents to educate their children". That speaks of a strong role for parents, to which I will return, and I think it should go further. Much of the report is about compelling advertisers and Internet providers to comply with its recommendations. That approach, too, needs to be looked at again. It tends to see advertisers and Internet providers as being unwilling to help. From my experience, that is not true. Something that is more likely to help is reaching voluntary agreements with them, as these can go further. It could be agreed that they will provide better ways for parents to complain to a regulator. Of course, that means that there has to be a regulator, and one that has teeth, but it places control back in the hands of parents. It could be agreed that internet providers will give prompts to parents that enable them to switch on parental controls. That is essential in restoring the role of parents in tackling this problem. There are a number of measures that could include a whole range of providers in solving this problem, including the providers of clothing, products and services to children. Most importantly, we need to make parents' voices heard.

I hope that what has happened in the UK can point the way. After 18 months of trying what I have just advocated, there have been a number of improvements. There are now fewer advertisements that use highly sexualised imagery involving children and it is easier to find children's clothes that are appropriate for their age and do not seek to advance their years. Finally, there are much better ways for parents to make complaints and to help children in using media. The report is very good at pointing out the role that is played by the media in pushing over-sexualised images.

The role of parents in this matter is crucial. I acknowledge that the report mentions this role, but I would like to stress it. My children are now grown up, and when they were growing up, these problems were not so evident. How we can encourage parents to see this as their problem is at the heart of this issue. We need to look to parents, rather than the state, to take up this challenge.


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 1 - Greece

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I thank the rapporteur for producing a good report. It identifies a number of issues of interest pertaining to this matter. I have also had the chance to discuss the situation in Greece with those of my own delegation who recently went there on a visit to look at the refugee problem. I have also read the report of the Ad hoc committee. I want to concentrate on the areas in the main report on which we can agree, rather than those on which we might want to take a different view. The situation in Greece is, by whichever account you read, a humanitarian crisis. As the report shows, the principal sufferers are the refugees and economic migrants themselves. The descriptions that have been given of the appalling conditions they face paint a grim picture, and the report speaks of not being able to provide basic protection. However, I disagree with the report when it seems to blame the European Union solely for this. True, the EU must carry a lot of the responsibility, but the problem is a much bigger one. While the EU has a lot to do to put the situation right and to show real leadership, blame cannot stop there, given that the people involved do not come just from Syria, but are widely drawn from other places, including Afghanistan. That does not mean I do not believe that the EU cannot do more.

I was interested in two comments in the report: the first is the suggestion that money alone is not the answer; and the second is the need for technical assistance. On the first, money is clearly important. My own government in the UK is the largest bilateral donor, contributing some £34 million to Greece through a number of organisations, including the UNHCR, various NGOs and the Red Cross. In relation to technical assistance, I am glad that the UK is deploying, through the European Asylum Support Office, a team of about 75 personnel, including case workers to help with asylum processing, interpreters and medical staff. This very valuable assistance will help the situation enormously. It is just the sort of practical help we are looking for other countries to provide.

To turn briefly to another issue, the report is right to stress the problem of unaccompanied children in this context, but it is also necessary to stop parents giving their children to despicable people traffickers as a precursor to coming over themselves. Overall, the report of the committee who visited the camps is right when it says that while the Greek Government is willing to take criticism, more should be done to improve the situation and to increase the level of response in Greece, which does not fit the facts.


15 JUN 2016

Interventions in the debate on jobs in the developing world

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend feel that the Prime Minister's initiative to make a number of MPs, such as myself, trade envoys will contribute to the work he is describing, given the wide role we have been given? How much does he think the prosperity fund will play a role in helping to develop local industries and situations to enable the creation of new jobs?

Jeremy Lefroy

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is doing fine work as a trade envoy for Nigeria, which is vital, because British investment around the world will help to create jobs. The prosperity fund will provide opportunities for people to develop that work. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

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John Howell

The point the hon. Gentleman makes about corruption is a very good one. Is he aware that the country I look after for the Government—Nigeria—has a President who has come to power to try to secure the corruption problem there and is doing a very good job on it? We are trying to help that through a number of projects, including a very exciting one: the judicial college will help to train judges to be able to deal with that sort of situation.

Chris Evans

I am aware of the fantastic work in Nigeria and of the election of the President, who has got to the core of the problem. As we have seen in the past in places such as Rwanda, when corruption hits, it muddies the waters for fantastic projects such as those the hon. Gentleman mentions. It also gives rise to the idea that we should cut back on international aid and affects the efforts we are making.

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Sir Desmond Swayne

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned the prosperity fund in his intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. I take a slightly different view of the prosperity fund. We are spending all this taxpayers' money creating opportunities and opening markets, and my breath is taken away when other countries simply move in and take the opportunities that have been created by that investment. The prosperity fund's primary objective must be to reduce poverty. However, it is right that that fund should make British companies alive to the opportunities available to them. We will not tie our aid.

As an aside, I point out that 80% of our procurement is with British companies simply because they are the most competitive we can find, but my hon. Friend the Member for Henley drew attention to an important point in the piece. This is, of course, an enormous agenda. It is a whole trade facilitation agenda, and my hon. Friend mentioned the importance of trade envoys. We spend about £1 billion a year on trade facilitation and improving the ability of the least developed countries to enter our markets and to trade effectively. Trade dwarfs aid. It is a vital part of the agenda.


12 JUN 2016

MPs meet NATS re aircraft noise

A group of MPs from Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Surrey met this week with representatives from NATS and Heathrow to continue the discussions about the issue of aircraft noise. I was amongst them. Others included John Redwood MP, Michael Gove MP and Phillip Lee MP.

The meeting was called in response to complaints from across the area to changes in aircraft noise over the last two years. There was much debate on changes within a particular designated flight path, the Compton route, but this is not the main issue within the Henley Constituency which is not included in the particular flight path. The issue within the Henley Constituency is the noticeable changes over time with resulting increased noise particularly when planes land into an easterly wind meaning they have to circle over the town.

First and foremost it has to be acknowledged that there has been an increase in the amount of air traffic. The Chief Executive of NATS confirmed that there have not been changes to routes but that the flight patterns within controlled airspace change almost daily. Apart from the key influence of wind direction there are many reasons why flight paths vary including weather, industrial action overseas and international pressures on airspace. At the meeting NATS committed to providing a paper on this whole topic to offer detailed information to help our understanding of the issues involved.

More generally there is continuing work in two key areas. On aircraft noise the aerospace industry is continually working on technologies that can help reduce the noise of aircraft and airlines are updating their fleets to take advantage of this. However it can take several years due to both financing and lead times to bring in new aircraft. There are incentives to airlines to do this as Heathrow imposes higher landing charges on more noisy planes. As a result airlines are tending to deploy their quieter aircraft on Heathrow routes.

The industry is working on steeper descents thus keeping planes higher for longer. A runway extension at Heathrow would also allow planes to start their descent later with the noisiest time being over the airport itself. Punctuality of flights arriving can also help as this reduces the need to put aircraft into one of the holding patterns and thus circling around the area.

There is also a major review of the use of airspace over the whole of the south east of the country. This will include seeking to get aircraft higher quicker and to move the holding points higher and further out. This will continue over several years and will involve much public consultation.

It is accepted that for some people the increased aircraft noise is a problem. Where there is a serious disturbance NATS has said that if MPs provide them with post codes it will investigate individual issues.

Of course the aircraft passing over the constituency are not only going to and from Heathrow. A complex web of many flights pass over the area every day. In order to get a better understanding of this and the issues around it I will be visiting the air traffic control tower in the near future.

This is an important issue and one which we will need to watch as we seek to balance environmental concerns with the increasing demand for travel. NATS gave a good explanation but what we really want is to see a return to the former situation or better still a significant reduction in noise over this constituency.


09 JUN 2016

My speech in the debate on still birth

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on securing the debate. She has spoken with great passion from a personal perspective. We have all been moved by what she has said. It was very powerful.

I want to make a short contribution on behalf of a constituent and a member of my family. My constituent wrote to me to tell me about how she lost her first child to stillbirth:

"This life altering event has led to us being placed into a world we never knew existed. Sadly, the baby loss taboo leaves many unsupported and prevention affected."

She has been trying to get information from her clinical commissioning group on what is happening to ensure that such things do not happen again and that more women can be protected. What she has got back from the CCG so far has been a general statement of Government policy, which includes the four principle activities that CCGs are asked to concentrate on: reducing smoking in pregnancy; monitoring foetal growth; raising awareness of foetal movements; and improving foetal monitoring.

That is all very well—I put great emphasis on the improvement of foetal monitoring, so that the information is provided and is fed back to the individual concerned—but my constituent also wants detailed information about what the CCG is doing to ensure that the issue is addressed. The CCG operates across two obstetric units, four midwife-led units and has a small number of babies delivered at home each year. She has not been able to get detail about what that CCG will do to address the situation for the future. I hope we can send a strong message to CCGs around the country that concentrating merely on the Government's four key objectives is not good enough. What we need is the detailed information on how they are going to go about dealing with this issue through their sustainability and transformation plans to provide reassurance for women who are in this situation.

I appreciate the effect that stillbirth has on women, but it is not exclusively a woman's problem. The fact that stillbirth occurs is a problem that affects the whole family, and it affects men as well. I know that, to my own cost, through a family incident. It is essential to bear in mind the impact on the mental health of men who are involved in cases of stillbirth and simply do not know where to turn in what is a completely traumatic experience. I urge the Minister to concentrate on providing information about what the Government are doing for the whole family and for the wider community.

My next point is that essentially we are talking about an artificial distinction here. We are talking about the distinction between miscarriage and stillbirth and about a particular period, which comes at around 24 weeks. That is totally unfair. Before the 24 weeks, parents are given no chance to grieve for the baby who has been lost, or to go through the process of putting their lives back together again. We ought to look at that to see whether that distinction is still relevant.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that counselling should be available for the whole family on request? We should be seeking to take that forward across the whole UK.

John Howell

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Counselling needs to be provided for the whole family unit to see them through a very traumatic experience.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for introducing the debate and to the hon. Gentleman for his point about the effect that stillbirth has on the family. To add to that—I know I am not alone; there are women with whom I am sitting here who have suffered miscarriages, too—after you have suffered a miscarriage or a stillbirth, it is extremely difficult to enjoy any subsequent pregnancy. Every minute of every day is spent wondering whether you are going to lose the next child too. It is worth while bringing that point to bear in this debate to ensure that support is available for women after their loss.

John Howell

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. It is not just about the individual stillbirth, traumatic though that is; it is about the future and ensuring that individuals can go through another pregnancy in the full knowledge that they are more likely to be safe than not. Anything that we can do to help that, we should. We should take any opportunity to take things forward. That is all I wanted to contribute to the debate, and I am grateful to have had the chance to speak.


09 JUN 2016

Question to Sec of State for Culture

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What steps his Department is taking to support the protection of cultural heritage in conflict zones overseas. [905297]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr John Whittingdale)

The protection of cultural heritage affected by acts of destruction is a priority for this Government. The Government are providing £30 million for a new cultural protection fund, and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, which will enable the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague convention and accede to its two protocols, had its Second Reading in the House of Lords earlier this week.

John Howell

As one of the few archaeologists in this House, I feel that we as a country need to take a lead in protecting cultural heritage. Will the cultural protection fund and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill do that?

Mr Whittingdale

We certainly benefit from my hon. Friend's expertise in this area. He is absolutely right: this country has long been a strong advocate of cultural protection, but the perception of our commitment has perhaps been undermined by our failure until now to ratify the 1954 Hague convention. I am delighted that we will be doing so through the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, reinforcing our position as one of the leading voices in advocating the importance of cultural protection around the world.


09 JUN 2016

Intervention on Southern Health

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend described a catalogue of disasters. From the conversations she has had, what confidence does she have that the situation has been put right? I represent an Oxfordshire constituency. Can we have confidence in doing business with Southern Health?

Suella Fernandes

From speaking to families, relatives and patients, it is clear that they are struggling to have confidence in the services provided by Southern Health. The very reason that the debate it happening is so that we can air those concerns and, hopefully, find a pathway to restoring public trust. That is clearly the challenge facing the organisation.


09 JUN 2016

Intervention in diabetes debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank the hon. Lady very much for the speech she is making and for securing the debate. I want to take her up on the point she has just made. There is a belief that diabetes is not curable; actually, diabetes is curable. It is curable by the individual going through a process of losing fat around the liver, which takes away the—

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)

indicated dissent.

John Howell

The hon. Lady is shaking her head. I am a living example of someone who has cured diabetes. I wonder whether more patient-centred education would be a big help to the NHS.

Paula Sherriff

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. While I acknowledge that some people may be cured of the condition, we must not be complacent about the causes of it or, indeed, the impact it can have on many people's lives.

Liz McInnes

I wish to make the point that the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) is talking about type 2 diabetes, which can be cured by weight loss. Type 1 diabetes, which is insulin-dependent, cannot.

John Howell

I did mean type 2 diabetes.


22 MAY 2016

Universal Broadband Service Obligation

The Queen's Speech introduces a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation, giving all citizens and businesses the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed. This is expected to have a beneficial effect on remoter parts of the constituency that have been struggling to access broadband.

When the Government came to office in 2010, only 45 per cent of the country had access to superfast broadband. Today, superfast broadband access has been provided to 90 per cent of the UK – some additional 4 million homes and businesses. By the end of next year, the Government will have reached 95 per cent. This is a result of £1.7 billion of investment from the Government, local councils, the devolved administrations and BT. A Universal Service Obligation set at 10Mbps could still benefit up to one million UK premises who might otherwise be left behind. In addition, the Government estimates that changes to the Electronic Communications Code will result in more than £1 billion of savings for the communications sector over a 20-year period, which they can pass onto consumers.

The new Universal Service Obligation (USO) would work similarly to the landline telephone USO, and just like for landlines there would be a reasonable cost threshold above which the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation. The Government expects the minimum speed to be at least 10Mbps initially, and the Bill would also include a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life.

New and simpler planning rules will be brought in for building broadband infrastructure.

I said:

"I have been campaigning for rural areas such as this for some time and I am glad that we are continuing to work to connect rural areas. I am glad to see that the Government is planning to bring in legislation that will bring broadband to the remaining 5% hardest-to-reach areas. People and businesses in those areas will now have a legal entitlement to request fast broadband, and up to a reasonable cost threshold, they must be provided with it. There may still be areas which are too expensive and too remote to reach and we will need to watch the details carefully. However, this is a further step in the right direction."

The UK now leads Europe on broadband speed, coverage, price and competition. The Broadband Universal Service Obligation for the final 5% will set an ambition for speeds of 10mbps – the speed needed to meet the demands of today's typical family and many small businesses. This is higher than anywhere else in Europe. For example, Spain and Finland set their USO speed at just 1mbps.


22 MAY 2016

Mobile coverage in OX10 6 area

"There is a massive change in the way Mobile Network Operators relate to coverage in this country and it will guarantee £5 billion of investment in mobile infrastructure", so said the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, responding to a letter I sent to him.

In the letter, I had complained about the level of mobile signal particularly in places covered by the OX10 6 postcode. This includes places such as Benson, Roke, Rokemarsh and Berrick Salome.

I said:

"The Ofcom maps of the area show a very mixed picture. Even where the maps suggest there is good coverage but our experience suggests otherwise, we should be using the Ofcom Coverage Checker to ensure that Ofcom gets the feedback on the actual situation."

The Minister pointed to the landmark agreement in December 2014 with 4 Mobile Network Operators in which they took on a legally binding obligation to provide voice and SMS text coverage for at least 90% of the UK by 2017. Telefonica has a further licence obligation to deliver indoor 4G coverage to 98% of premises in the UK by 2017. In April this year, EE set out its ambition to cover 95% of the UK landmass by 2020 with 4G coverage. All these licence obligations are expected to bring improved coverage throughout the UK leaving just 2.4% of the UK's landmass without a signal by the end of 2017.

I said:

"This is indeed good news. But it does not bring immediate relief to the people of this constituency as local improvements will still be subject to local commercial decisions. However, I am assured that by 2017, the not-spots in Oxfordshire will be down to 0.5% of the landmass which is a major improvement."


14 MAY 2016

Goring Neighbourhood Plan Exhibition

On Saturday 14 May 2016, I attended the exhibition which was held in Goring as part of the production of the village's Neighbourhood Plan. Neighbourhood Plans allow local communities to share responsibility for the planning system in their area with the local District Council. They give local communities the chance to decide where any housing should go, what it should look like and what open and green spaces should be preserved.

The Goring Neighbourhood Plan has come on with leaps and bounds in the past couple of months and the many people who visited the Exhibition were able to see for themselves the work that had been done in helping to decide locations for houses, what sort of developments these should be and issues around the sustainability of the development. Those visiting the Exhibition were also able to vote on housing numbers.

I said:

"It was a great pleasure to see this Exhibition. A huge amount of hard work had gone into it and the preparation of the Plan and I congratulate all those involved. This showed the enormous amount of hard work which the team responsible for the Plan had put in and will, I am sure, lead to a successful Plan in the months ahead."


10 MAY 2016

New amendment on child refugees

A new amendment has been agreed on the issue of child refugees.

A new amendment has been passed that removes the arbitrary figure of 3,000 as the number of child refugees that should be brought here. We will also work, first, with individual councils to establish their preparedness to receive refugees. In addition, it debunks the myth that this is a latter-day Kindertransport by continuing to keep the Government's focus on supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where we are making the biggest difference and to provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region.

I said:

"This response avoids the problem of creating a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk. We continue to help the most vulnerable while not encouraging new perilous crossings to Europe. For that reason, only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20 March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests. This avoids creating a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people traffickers."

The Government will work closely with the UNHCR, as well as NGOs like Save the Children to identify children suitable for resettlement to the UK.

This new initiative will be fully aligned with existing schemes for resettling refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, including the new national transfer scheme which will be rolled out over the summer.

Today's announcement compliments the significant steps the UK is already taking:

doubling the aid for the countries most affected by the continuing crisis in Syria to £2.3 billion, by far the most generous contribution made by any European country.

the Vulnerable Person's Resettlement Scheme which will help up to 20,000 Syrians and has already seen more than 1000 people arrive in the UK before Christmas – over half of them children.

the new Children at Risk Resettlement Scheme - a unique resettlement scheme designed to resettle children at risk direct from the Middle East and North Africa, where it is deemed in their best interests, which will help up to 3,000 people; and

the £10m DFID fund which will support UNHCR, Save the Children and IRC to work in Europe to care and assist unaccompanied or separated children.

The UK Government is taking the leading role in responding to the human impact of the migration crisis both in Europe and in the region. It recognises the need to consult with local authorities who are already doing an excellent job caring for the many unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK.

I added:

"In summary, we have removed the arbitrary figure of 3,000. We have removed the incentive for families to give up their children to the pernicious people traffickers of the Eastern Mediterranean. And, we have ended the myth that this is redolent of the Kindertransport by concentrating on those areas which are genuinely unsafe."


10 MAY 2016

Question to Education Secretary

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In one of the most affluent constituencies in the country I could find only six schools that were ranked as outstanding. That is the result of successive cosy relationships with the LEA under different administrations. What is my right hon. Friend going to do to make sure that that situation is improved?

Nicky Morgan

My hon. Friend raises a really important issue. A number of people have told me that they are in good local authorities with good schools, but we should compare those with other local authorities—whether similar local authorities or those in the most disadvantaged areas—where sometimes we see schools doing fantastic things for their pupils. That is why we introduced the Education and Adoption Act 2016, which tackles coasting schools—those schools that are okay, but that could be a lot better. That is what we intend to help them to achieve.


03 MAY 2016

Latest In Touch

You can read my latest In Touch here


29 APR 2016

My speech on autism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It has become de rigueur in this debate to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), and I am absolutely delighted to congratulate her on initiating this debate and on her excellent work on the Autism Act 2009, which was also mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). I also congratulate her on all the work she has done with the all-party parliamentary group on autism.

I became aware of autism through a lot of activity in my constituency. Towards the north of the constituency, there is a big autism unit in the village of Chinnor. We also have facilities at Thomley Hall in the very north of the constituency, and it is a marvellous place to go to. The organised chaos there is wonderful to see, and it is a great privilege to be part of that and to see the enormous efforts being made by the staff to look after people with autism. In the south of my constituency, around Henley itself, we can see the work of Dame Stephanie Shirley and others.

I would like to pay tribute to a charity in my constituency called Music for Autism, which has spotted a link between music and autism. It is organised by the Orchestra of St John's, many of whose members spend hours of their time, freely given, going into schools and other places and working with children with autism in order to show the calming effect of music on them and the enormous ability of music to take them forward to the next stage of their development. I pay tribute to them for doing that.

I want to make two points in the debate. They have already been made by other speakers, but I think it is worth reflecting on them and making them again. The first relates to diagnosis. The difficulty with late diagnosis is that people do not know what their situation is. The advantage of early diagnosis is that they are better able to understand the behaviour involved and how the role of partners can influence the way in which we look at people who have had the diagnosis. That is the view of people I have met in my constituency, including a couple I met in a café in Henley who told me about the difficulties they had had with a late diagnosis.

As we have heard, some people are able to lead pretty ordinary lives and manage their condition extremely well. I have met several such people over the years, ​ including a young man I met at the last Conservative party conference who was able to demonstrate that. I agree with the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) that public recognition of the condition is not the be all and end all in relation to people's needs, but it is certainly a good starting point. In order to help people to live a fulfilled life, we need public recognition of the illness. The need for early diagnosis is absolutely crucial, and I urge clinical commissioning groups and NHS England to bring down waiting times in line with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines and to work with many different stakeholders to create a more responsive environment of diagnosis and support. Those words were used to describe the situation to me, and I think they do it extremely well.

A significant element is the involvement of health and social care in the care and management of adults with autism. I know that this is a broader point, but it provides a good example of an area in which we need the rapid integration of health and social care within the NHS. It will be much better when all these facilities are together under one roof.

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in Northern Ireland, health and social services form a single body, making it much easier to have an integrated approach? However, we still need integration and co-operation with other groups and organisations, and with statutory agencies such as the Department of Education.

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. It is absolutely essential that we achieve that level of integration. We need to start by integrating the medical activities of the NHS with social care in the community, because until they are under one roof we will not have the ability to deal with these problems in the way that will be most effective for people who suffer from this condition.

My second point relates to education. I have a wife who, for many years, taught a young man with autism and struggled to provide him with the assistance he needed. She was remarkably successful in doing that. That was done on a private basis, but the vast majority of children with autism—over 70%—are in mainstream education, and it is there that we have to focus our attention. The teacher training programme needs to include enough information on autism to enable teachers to feel empowered to recognise it and deal with it effectively. If we can do that, we will have a much better chance of purposefully dealing with people with autism.


27 APR 2016

My speech on ambulatory care

John Howell (Henley) (Con) I beg to move,

That this House has considered the use of ambulatory care.

I will start by referring to the NHS England publication that prompted me to call for the debate. NHS England has recently published a multi-agency quick guide and supporting information to support local health and social care systems to reduce the time that people spend in hospital. It acknowledges that people's physical and mental ability and independence can decline in a hospital bed. For people aged 80 and over, 10 days in hospital equates to 10 years of muscle wasting. The report therefore recommends that people should seek to make decisions about their long-term care outside hospital and preferably in their own home or in a bed where their true long-term needs are understood.

The report was prepared not by the Government, but by the emergency care improvement programme of NHS England. It adds to the overwhelming clinical evidence that this approach is by far the best way of proceeding. The report goes on to say that care at home enables people to live independently and well in their preferred environment for longer. It contains checklists of questions for patients and commissioners to achieve that situation.

I am immensely encouraged by that, as it is on that basis that the number of beds has been worked out at Townlands hospital in Henley and the answer of up to 14 initially has been reached. Those beds are to be associated with the hospital, but in the care home at the side of the hospital. It is reassuring to know that we are at the forefront of current thinking and action. This approach is supported by organisations such as the Alzheimer's Society and clinicians throughout the NHS. It is the right way to proceed and in the best interests of the whole community.

Before I continue, I should probably say what ambulatory care is, besides what I have just described. Ambulatory care is medical care provided on an out-patient basis. It includes diagnosis, observation, consultation, treatment, intervention, and rehabilitation services. This care can include advanced medical technology and procedures, the costs of which should not be underestimated. Under this new care model, outlined in the NHS five year forward view, GP group practices would expand and include nurses, community health services and, in particular, social workers. Those practices would shift the majority of out-patient consultations and ambulatory care to out-of-hospital settings.

Let us consider the effects of hospitalisation. For many older persons, hospitalisation results in functional decline despite cure or repair of the condition that took them into hospital in the first place. Hospitalisation can result in complications unrelated to the problem that caused admission or to its specific treatment, for reasons that are explainable and avoidable. Age is often associated with a number of functional changes—which I am sure you and I, Mr Owen, have no experience of at this stage in our lives—including reductions in muscle strength and aerobic capacity; diminished pulmonary ventilation; altered sensory confidence, appetite and thirst; and a tendency towards urinary incontinence, which I am not saying any of us suffer from.

Hospitalisation and bed rest superimpose factors such as enforced immobilisation, reduction of plasma volume, accelerated bone loss, increased closing volumes, and sensory deprivation. Any of those factors may thrust vulnerable older persons into a state of irreversible functional decline, so hospitalisation is a major risk for them—I am talking particularly about the very old. For many, hospitalisation is followed by an often irreversible decline in functional status and a change in quality and style of life.

A recent US study showed that of 60 functionally independent individuals aged 75 or older who were admitted to hospital from their home for acute illness, 75% were no longer independent on discharge. That included 15% who were discharged to nursing homes.

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)

By intervening, I am not of course in any way suggesting that my hon. Friend needs to take the weight off his feet after that sad list of symptoms. He is rightly concentrating on the needs and degeneration of older people who go into hospital, but does he agree that ambulatory care is also important for younger people? In our local general hospital, the Horton, there is a marvellous new children's out-patient service, which is used by both his constituents and mine. Does he agree that that is a centrally important part of the offer of that hospital, which provides acute in-patient care as well as the out-patient care on the side?

John Howell

I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to have a rest and to make the most of that time—as I get older, I need that. I do agree with her; she makes a very valid point. I am concentrating on older people because traditionally that is where the population who have used the hospital in Henley have come from. I think that in the past year only one was under 55. But as I said, my hon. Friend makes a very valid point.

In many cases, the decline that people experience cannot be attributed to progression of the acute problem for which they were hospitalised in the first place. An example would be pneumonia. Even if the disease is cured in a few days or, indeed, if a hip fracture repair is technically perfect and uncomplicated, the patient may never return to the same functional status as they had before they went into hospital.

According to the US study, between 30% and 60% of patients with hip fractures are discharged from the hospital to nursing homes; 20% to 30% of those persons are still residing in nursing homes one year later. Only 20% of one large group of patients returned to their pre-operative functional level after a hip fracture repair.

Many hospitalised patients have difficulty implementing their habitual strategies to avoid incontinence. The environment is unfamiliar. The path to the toilet may not be clear. The high bed may be intimidating. The bed rail becomes an absolute barrier, and the various "tethers", such as intravenous lines, nasal oxygen lines and catheters, become restraining harnesses. About 40% to 50% of hospitalised persons over the age of 65 are incontinent within a few days of hospitalisation. A high percentage of hospitalised older persons discharged to nursing homes never return to their homes or community. In one study, 55% of persons over the age of 65 who entered nursing homes remained for more than a year. Many of the others were discharged to other hospitals or long-term care facilities, or simply died. The outcome for many hospitalised elders is loss of home and, ultimately, loss of place.

It is most important that relationships among physicians, nurses and other health professionals reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the whole of this process. In particular, I am a great enthusiast for the integration of the NHS with social care. That needs to move ahead very quickly to give the clinicians the responsibility for commissioning the social care that is required. Maintaining wellness and independence in the community prevents conditions deteriorating and therefore results in better health outcomes. Emergency hospital admissions are distressing.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this very important issue to Westminster Hall for consideration. Over the past five years in Northern Ireland, category A ambulance call-outs have increased by 30.9%. It is a devolved matter, but it does indicate a greater dependence on and need for ambulance responses. Does the hon. Gentleman have any thoughts about the best way to ensure that the ambulance service and ambulance staff can do better for elderly people?

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The costs need to be offset. This is a balancing exercise within the NHS. Costs that are saved by stopping people going into hospital can be spent on the treatments and services they require to get them better. That is a far better way of working.

Emergency hospital admissions are distressing. Better management that keeps people well and out of hospital should lead to a better patient experience. The King's Fund estimates that emergency admissions for ambulatory care-sensitive conditions could be reduced by between 8% and 18% simply by tackling variations in care and spreading existing good practice. That would result in savings of between £96 million and £238 million, which, as part of the overall management of the NHS budget, could be allocated against the provision of the often quite expensive services that provide the necessary medical investigations on the spot.

A doctor in my constituency, Dr Andrew Burnett of the Sonning Common practice, said:

"Very few of my patients want to be admitted to hospital."

Most people, if they need to be treated or, indeed, if they are nearing the end of their life, would like that experience to be located at home. I think that probably applies to us all.

There is a particular problem in relation to dementia. I spoke to the Alzheimer's Society, which said that people are often admitted with an acute physical illness on top of their dementia, and the combination of the two can cause their confusion to become worse. They are then taken out of familiar surroundings and placed on a hospital ward with lots of strange people, noises and smells. That can be terrifying for them and they rapidly deteriorate. The advice from the Alzheimer's Society is to try to keep people out of hospital for as long as possible. That is why we, and the Oxfordshire medical facilities, are striving hard to develop systems to enable people with physical illnesses to be managed out of hospital.

That is one of the rationales for the new Townlands hospital in Henley, where the clinical commissioning group, along with Oxford University Hospitals, Oxford Health and, indeed, the county council, are members of the ambulatory emergency care network, through which organisations can learn from one another to develop robust pathways. Some good case studies are involved in that, but time prevents me from going through them at the moment. I draw the Minister's attention to those if he needs some examples of how ambulatory care actually works.

Another clinician, Pete McGrane of the CCG, has said:

"Patients who were recently hospitalized are not only recovering from their acute illness; they also experience a period of generalized risk for a range of adverse health events."

There have been cases in my constituency where the health of elderly people has deteriorated following discharge, or even in hospital, due to other conditions. The relatives have sought to blame the health service for poor care. After following up on those cases, the complaints investigation has shown that it is not poor care that has exacerbated the patients' distress and symptoms; it is a direct consequence of hospitalisation.

I went to see a hospital in Welwyn Garden City, which has no beds inside. Instead, it has beds in an adjoining care home at the side of the hospital. The place was absolutely heaving with people. I met a gentleman there called Dave. I do not have his surname, nor have I asked his permission to use his name, so we will just keep it as Dave. He could not speak highly enough of the treatment he got. He called in every day for treatment and then got on with his life at home. It revolutionised the treatment he received, which, doctors had confirmed, would otherwise have required a debilitating 56 days of medication, staying in hospital. His experience of hospital stays had shown up their disadvantages, and he pointed out that people were so much more likely to improve, as he had, and to feel better, as he did, if they could stay at home. He was clearly a great enthusiast for this type of service.

In Henley, there is one issue, above all, which I have already touched on and want to emphasise. It was helped by some papers that were forwarded to me by the Health Foundation, which said that it is undertaking

"a joint research programme...monitoring how the quality of health and social care is changing over time."

I have been very concerned by the way in which we move forward with the integration of social care and health in the county to ensure that it delivers the sort of services that are required in the full context of the patient.

I am pleased and proud that I have helped to deliver a 21st century medical facility for the people not just of Henley, but of the whole of southern Oxfordshire, and that that incorporates ambulatory care. It is clearly the way forward and it is a way forward that I am sure will work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ben Gummer)

I thank my hon. Friends the Member for Henley (John Howell) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), both of whom have spoken with great expertise about the place that ambulatory care has within a developing and modernising national health service. I cannot better the description that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley gave of the purpose of ambulatory care and the place it holds in his constituency, which I will turn to at the end of my speech.

For the benefit of the House and the record, I will add some examples of what ambulatory care entails for patients around the country. There is a clinical decision unit in the Royal Free hospital that provides an alternative to admission to an emergency department for patients who may benefit from an extended observation period. The James Cook University hospital has an ambulatory emergency care unit that handles nearly a quarter of all emergency admissions and manages a whole range of medical emergencies including cardiac failure, cellulitis, diabetes and low-risk gastrointestinal bleeds.

The university hospital of Leicester has a frailty unit, which supports patients who are over 70 and need treatment for conditions such as delirium, dementia and fractures. The rapid assessment and treatment unit at Queen's hospital in Romford has greatly reduced the time between a patient being assessed and a care plan being implemented. Those examples are in addition to the example that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley gave of Townlands in Henley.

Where ambulatory units are collocated with an emergency department, patients arriving at A&E by ambulance or as walk-ins are triaged according to clinical need and directed to the unit for treatment or tests, effectively bypassing the main emergency department. Patients identified as needing specialist treatment, tests or monitoring at the hospital, but who do not need to stay overnight, can also be referred to ambulatory units by a general practitioner. Patients with long-term conditions can be booked in for regular treatments such as dialysis.

Ambulatory care units can also focus on returning patients to their homes after treatment as quickly and safely as possible, as my hon. Friend outlined. As a result, patients are more likely to have good health outcomes because they avoid unnecessary overnight stays. He outlined beautifully the principle behind ensuring that people do not stay in bed any longer than they need to. The statistics on that developing area of academic study are stark, and he put them plainly to the House for its attention, but at their core they encompass something rather encouraging for many, although not all, patients. The best principle is to keep on going. We have all seen that with our elderly relatives: the minute one stops prematurely or unnecessarily, one precipitates a decline in condition, rather than an improvement.

Ambulatory care is an exciting and important approach to providing patient care, just as my hon. Friend outlined, and it will be central to the development of the national health service in the years to come. It has not come about by accident. It is based on good science and academic study. We in the Department are led by the Royal College of Physicians' acute care toolkit and NHS England's "Safer, faster, better", which is based on the royal college's advice.

While ambulatory care units may vary between trusts, both the royal college and NHS England have provided guidance on what a good unit looks like, so the underlying principles that all units are built on are the same. The principles fall into three main categories. First, the units must be patient-focused, meeting the needs of patients through timely treatment and discharge, and bringing together secondary and primary care services to avoid admission where beneficial. Secondly, effective clinical decision making is key, ensuring not only that patients in ambulatory units receive the high standards of care we expect from the NHS, but that the patients who would benefit from an ambulatory setting are identified early and directed to the service. Finally, ambulatory care needs to form a coherent part of the hospital-wide health system and structure to improve the patient's journey flow through the hospital. Gaining support from other parts of the system, including clinical commissioning groups, as in my hon. Friend's constituency, and primary care more generally is key to ensuring that the potential benefits are realised.

Ambulatory care units work well as independent units within acute trusts, but they work best when they are part of an integrated system. That is why I am pleased to see that there is an ambulatory emergency care network, which allows trusts to share best practice and to understand how to improve their services further. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that more than 30% of patients admitted for medical, as opposed to surgical, reasons could be treated in an ambulatory setting. By treating and discharging patients on the same day, emergency admissions are reduced, leaving hospital beds available for those patients who need them the most. There is therefore an advantage not only to the patient but to the system as a whole, because we are freeing up capacity for people who really do need the beds.

Increasing the numbers of patients seen in ambulatory care also has the potential to reduce waits for patients in A&E, which in turn decreases pressure on wards and increases bed availability, providing benefits to patients in other parts of the system. A whole number of benefits therefore come from ambulatory care. My hon. Friend mentioned the urgent and emergency care review and the place that ambulatory care has in that. I turn quickly to his experience of it at Townlands, where some features are particularly impressive. The first is the way in which the service has been brought together in the rapid access care unit—I imagine it is called a RACU, but I am sure the people of Henley pronounce it with a soft C. I found the integration of that with the Orders of St John Care Trust next door exciting.

It is clear that the clinical commissioning group in my hon. Friend's constituency has been thoughtful about commissioning the care needed, involving other providers of care and using beds only when absolutely necessary. It is an ambulatory care setting without beds, but if beds are needed, it has 11 beds on a three-year contract, purchased from the trust next door, and if that number needs to increase still further, it can procure such beds through the CCG's usual spot purchasing arrangements. For people who are admitted to an ambulatory setting, beds are available if needed for step-up care—or for step-down care for people coming from the John Radcliffe or from other acute trusts that serve my hon. Friend's constituency.

Ambulatory care allows for a far more subtle approach to people needing care. As my hon. Friend outlined, it provides much better patient outcomes, is better for the health system as a whole and is much more flexible, ensuring that resources go precisely where they are needed. That opens out a much wider point, which he alluded to elegantly—I will say it rather more vulgarly than he did—namely the serious question of how we frame community services in the future. In parts of the country, we have a far older model of community service provision based on large bed capacity in community hospitals, which are much loved by their local communities, often funded in part by the local communities and in almost every instance founded by the local communities. We know, however, that in many cases they are not providing the best care for patients. It will often be a difficult transition to a better standard of care for patients, providing them with better outcomes and releasing resources for better outcomes for all patients across the health system.

By bringing the experience of Townlands hospital to the House's attention, my hon. Friend has shown that we can be thoughtful and direct with constituents about the implications of change, and can explain carefully how improvements that might be challenging on the face of it, because it might seem that a benefit is being lost, can produce a whole series of additional benefits that enable better patient outcomes and a better distribution of resources within the system. He has allowed the House to understand how the benefits could be more widely spread across the NHS.

I turn finally to NHS England's plans for ambulatory care. My hon. Friend will know about the vanguard sites in place across the country. Many of them involve the use of ambulatory care systems. There are many different kinds of ambulatory care settings involved in the vanguard sites, but the principle remains broadly the same: to try to identify those areas and experiences that replicate the positive experience that he, with the co-operation of his clinical commissioning group and primary care and acute trusts, has brought to Henley, and to ensure that that is tested on a system-wide basis. We can then roll that out across the rest of the country. We have 50 vanguard sites involved in one way or another in community care settings across the country, and I hope that that will inform a far wider transformation by the end of the "Five Year Forward View" period, which concludes at the end of the Parliament.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab)

I am sorry to come in at the end of the debate, but I was delayed by traffic. I congratulate my colleague from Oxfordshire, the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), on securing this important debate. Does the Minister agree that in the roll-out it is important that the ability, training and qualification of home careworkers is raised, so that they can complement the changes in services?

Ben Gummer

The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and subtle point. That is absolutely the case, and that is partly why, as part of the workforce review that I instigated, we are looking at apprenticeship and nursing associate models that will help to upskill nurses and care practitioners in not just acute but community settings. The result will be an ability to provide a far better, more holistic service to patients when they turn up at an ambulatory care setting, or indeed at the John Radcliffe, or, hopefully, when they are looked after at home before that happens, and when they return from either of those places. All of that taken together provides a far better service to constituents.

I welcome the approach that Members have taken in this little but important debate. If we are positive about these changes and have a will to explain them to constituents, they will quickly understand why this system is better for them. Those Members who wish to pursue a cruder campaigning method that looks purely at the number of beds provided in any one setting, based on the model inherited from 1948 rather than one relevant to 2018, will be doing their constituents a disservice. In being brave and direct with his constituents, and in explaining clearly the benefits that he has endeavoured to get, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley has delivered a far better service for the people of Henley than the one they had last year. It will continue to improve throughout the course of the Parliament.

Question put and agreed to


26 APR 2016

My comments in the BHS statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I think that the Minister is right not to want to talk down the business, but I understand that BHS has already looked for a buyer and failed to find one. The Minister said that the retail ​ sector was growing, but I wonder whether this is not an indication of fundamental structural difficulties in the sector that will have to be addressed separately.

Anna Soubry

That is a valid point. The retail sector does face a number of serious challenges. However, I am reminded that on Friday, when I had the great pleasure of attending the midlands Asian business awards, the head of John Lewis—an outstanding organisation which is almost a proper workers' co-operative—gave us an excellent insight into the way in which his business has been progressing. It has done incredibly well in managing to combine a high-street presence with an excellent online service. The two are not mutually exclusive; they can be brought together. Perhaps we should all take account of some of the big success stories in the retail sector, like that of John Lewis.


25 APR 2016

John Howell MP: Welcomes crime falling to a new low

I have welcomed news that crime has fallen by over a quarter (32 per cent) since 2010, to its lowest ever level, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.

These figures show the strength of this Government's record in bringing crime down to its lowest ever level.

'We have to continue to build on this success by electing a PCC that will work with the Government to deliver more visible policing and better use of police resources.

In Thames Valley crime recorded by the police has fallen by 17%. This is good news for Thames Valley making our community a safer place to live, work and raise a family.

Notes

  • Crime measured by the independent Crime Survey has fallen by more than a quarter since June 2010. In the year to December 2015, there were 6.4 million crimes, 3.0 million fewer than the 9.4 million in the year to June 2010. (ONS, Crime in England and Wales, period ending December 2015, 21 April 2016, link; Home Office, Crime in England and Wales: Quarterly Update to June 2011, 20 October 2011, link).
  • Police recorded violent and sexual crimes. The Office for National Statistics has been clear that the reported rise in violent and sexual crimes reflects improvements in the police's recording practice and an increased willingness for victims to come forward and report crimes to the police. It should therefore not be seen as an increase in itself ONS, Crime in England and Wales, period ending December 2015, 21 April 2016, link).


23 APR 2016

My expenses

In view of the social media campaign which has been running over the last couple of days, I have two points to raise in relation to my expenses.  The first of these relates to a claim I made for £168 from IPSA which was rejected.  The claim has erroneously been described by IPSA as "uniforms" and relates to the purchase of steel-capped boots of the correct size to allow me safely to visit construction sites in this constituency and around the the UK.  I am the Government's Neighbourhood Planning Champion and I need to visit sites. I cleared the claim before I made it with IPSA but when the claim was made they chose to reject it.

In relation to the overall quantum of expenses which I have claimed, the breakdown based on the most recent year is as follows:

  • Employing staff in Westminster and the constituency (i.e. paying their wages)  84%
  • Office costs  2%
  • Payment to third parties for accommodation costs in London  14%


23 APR 2016

Speech on the WHO

Speech to Council of Europe on the WHO

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I, too, thank the rapporteur for producing this report and for the debate that is now taking place. The report makes some excellent points and I agree with her about the importance of this issue for us all. Public health affects us all in our own countries and as citizens of the world. The report mentions the speed with which modern public health outbreaks spread and the preparedness of the world to handle such emergencies. Speed is a crucial issue in this but the preparedness of the world to handle emergencies is also a major factor to be borne in mind. I recognise that the Ebola crisis was a major crisis and my sympathy goes to the families of the people who died. I will say a few words about that in a moment. But actually, if we look at the way in which the Ebola crisis took place, it was contained within a restricted area of the world, in West Africa; it was, eventually, the subject of much co-ordination; and there was in the end a successful outcome. We should keep those things in mind.

The rapporteur also places a great deal of emphasis on the WHO. The WHO has come in for much criticism – much of it well founded – from, among others, the former chief executive of Oxfam, Barbara Stocking. She pointed out two things that were wrong with the WHO: first, it does not have a robust emergency operation capacity; and, secondly, it does not have the culture to be able to deal with emergencies. By that she did not mean the culture we have been talking about of how individual countries cope with these things but the corporate culture of the WHO. She pointed out that the WHO did not seek support from other UN agencies when it could have done. If it had asked for that support, it could have averted what became a substantial crisis. The ability to carry out robust emergency operations is a function of resources. I encourage all governments to look at how the WHO is resourced. But the issue of culture is far more serious and something that only the WHO can deal with. Early warnings were not picked up. There was a huge failure in its communications department, which caused enormous despair with the message of hopelessness that came out on the Ebola crisis, and it failed to take into account the effect this had on local economies.

In the UK we have a prosperity fund for Africa. As the UK Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I am used to seeing that being disbursed. It will encourage countries to become prosperous in their own right, which will give them the capability to stand up against these diseases and to work with the WHO, if it can change its culture, in a far more fundamental way.


23 APR 2016

Speech on terrorism and Brussels

Speech to Council of Europe on terrorism and Brussels

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I offer my condolences to the families of all those were tragically killed in the Brussels attacks. I speak in the debate from a personal perspective. I am one of those members of the UK Parliament who have had to go to the police to seek particular protection against terrorist attacks, having been threatened specifically. I am very pleased to say that the police reacted very firmly in that situation and I was given the protection I asked for. The questions that must be asked are why there has been such a loss of life and what can be done to solve the problems that allowed the attacks to happen. There are two ways of looking at the problem. First, what were the specific problems that occurred in Belgium that allowed the attacks? We cannot get away from tackling that issue. The second question is a more general one: how can we deal with terrorism collectively in order to stop attacks in future?

No state has a monopoly on the right answers, but as Mr Liddell-Grainger has already said, the UK has learned over the years from the experience of dealing with the IRA to process information and take it seriously. Has that affected our institutions? It has, but it has not affected our values. That is an important distinction, which I will talk about in a second.

The thing that frightens me is the airline industry. It is easy to protect planes with physical security, but it is not very easily possible to protect them from the individuals who work in the airport – they have clearance to work there but do not have the necessary security checks done on them to ensure that their views on ISIS or Daesh are known by the people who employ them and those they work with.

If this is a war – that is how it has been described – where is the unity of approach across Europe? Where is the effective co-ordination? Can the institutions and the different approaches we have in our many European countries be co-ordinated enough to deal with the problem? I do not know the answer to that, but I do know that we need to look at how our institutions are organised on the ground. It is possible to carry on with our lives in a full and productive way and not compromise the values that we hold dear, but we need a discussion on what those values are, how important they are to us, and how we can be better organised. We may operate different systems and have different approaches, but we need better integration across the continent of Europe in order to deal with terrorism.


23 APR 2016

Speech on Ukraine-Russia

Speech to Council of Europe on Ukraine-Russia

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I thank the rapporteur for producing a report that details the sad history of people captured during the war in Ukraine. Of course, the easiest solution to prevent the situation from continuing is for the conflict to cease. I therefore call on both sides to commit to stop the war. As the draft resolution makes clear "a solution to the problem of people captured...is not possible" unless that happens. The report is right to highlight again the case of Nadia Savchenko, who is a member of this Assembly. As it makes clear, and as international concern on both sides of the Atlantic has demonstrated, her liberation by the Russian authorities is still called for and is still being rejected. I am sure that the Assembly wishes to endorse those calls. The report clearly brings out the need for proper psychological assessment of those released, although it highlights the enormous cultural and medical difficulties of doing so, and it makes a major contribution by highlighting the great problems faced by those who have endured capture and, importantly, by their families, who suffer unimaginable levels of stress.

Finally, the report calls for an end to the inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, and for an end to the use of torture, ill treatment and sexual violence. I fully agree with that. It also calls on the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the Geneva conventions, and access for international humanitarian organisations that we can all support. For Russia, keeping prisoners of war in captivity – which, from its point of view, is treated as common crime – does not exclude the possibility of international observers having access to those prisoners or the possibility of treating them with the highest respect.

The report looks at the situation from the point of view of the Ukrainian authorities and I understand that. However, its call simply to end military actions in the east of Ukraine, withdraw all weapons and restore peace appears a little naïve. It is a complex situation involving not simply Ukraine and Russia, but groups of separatists and war lords who at times appear to act with the knowledge of Russia and at times to act of their own accord. Simply urging those separatist groups to release all captured prisoners and stop violating civil rights is unlikely to cut much ice and will require the efforts of us all to solve it in a much more dynamic way. The report calls for the international community to be more involved in the process of the release of captives. I urge them to become more involved, too, in bringing genuine peace to the region.


23 APR 2016

Speech on antisemitism

Speech on antisemitism to the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – As we have heard this morning, there have been serious concerns over the safety of the Jewish population across Europe in recent years. This has occurred after a series of terror attacks in 2014 and 2015 which have specifically targeted Jewish communities in France and Belgium. It is worth remembering that France is now the leading source of immigration, to Israel with over 7 900 French Jews emigrating in 2015, which is an all-time high. In the United Kingdom, the situation is little better in that, while in 2015 the number of antisemitic incidents fell by more than a fifth, it was still the third worst year on record. In 2014, the level of antisematic incidents in the United Kingdom rose to an all-time high after the operation "Protective Edge" conflict in Gaza. Other spikes in reported incidents of antisemitism also coincide with periods of conflict in Israel.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has, in recent years, had an increased presence on university campuses across the United Kingdom with widespread reports of antisemitism amongst many of its advocates and a number of violent incidents taking place where pro-Israel or Jewish groups have been targeted.

In order to help deal with this situation, in March 2016 the British Government published a definition of antisemitism and raised concerns about an agreed international definition. This is something that could be taken up by the Council of Europe. The United Kingdom's definition provides examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself, including "applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation". We maintain a strong zero tolerance policy against antisemitism, which we see as an absolute cancer in society and a signal of many even worse things happening to ethnic groups and various other groups.

The Government committed to providing £13.4m for security measures in the Jewish community in 2016 – an increase of £2 million from the previous year. The money, sadly, goes towards security guards and protection at Jewish schools, nurseries, synagogues and community sites. I wish this was not needed, but if the Jewish community does not feel secure, the whole of our national fabric is diminished. It is a measure of the health of our democracy that the Jewish community feels safe to live and flourish here.


23 APR 2016

Speech on radicalisation of young people

Speech to Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – The radicalisation of young people is an important issue for us all but we need to get the perspective right if we are to tackle it successfully. I will draw on my personal experience of the Palestinian area to draw out some common themes. We should all be aware of the increase in violence in recent months, a lot of it committed by young people. Much of it has been knife crime. Why is this? I discussed this with an Arab pollster. From what he said, it was obvious that the starting point of this was not religious belief or even adherence to a political doctrine. A link can be drawn to the decline of the Palestinian Authority in the opinion polls owing to a range of factors, and the decline of Hamas. Young people could not see any future in following either organisation. What they wanted was a means of showing to whom they belonged and of demonstrating their identity with what they were striving to achieve. Who they attacked with knives was almost incidental, but once they had started they became caught up in a web of radicalisation.

Those conclusions were actually brought out in a committee paper produced by the British Parliament as long ago as 2012. It said that the drivers of radicalisation included grievance as a key part of the process. There was frustration at an inability to take part in the political process and a lack of representation, so what we need to do is build trust in democratic institutions. The sort of people we are targeting in this are those who believe that they should not participate in the democratic process at all. These extremists specifically attack the principles of civic participation and social cohesion, and purport to identify grievances to which terrorist organisations can claim that they have a solution. We need to turn first to those people so that they take part in local and national life and make decisions that we help fund. One way in which we can do this, for example, is by tackling the issue at universities, where it would be extremely useful to find Muslim chaplains able to challenge extremist views on campuses and provide pastoral care for Muslim students.

The final point I leave you with is the necessity for counterterrorism to attack the hardcore elements of extremism but for us also to tackle in a much more subtle way the strategies of dealing with young people in the place where they live and in a civic society.


09 APR 2016

I welcome cash for councils to fill potholes

I have welcomed new dedicated funding from the Government to fill nearly 1 million potholes across the UK, including over £1 million (£1,033,000) to fill an estimated 19,491 potholes locally.

Local motorists will benefit from the dedicated funding after the Government announced that nearly £50 million of funding will be made available to local councils over the next 12 months. This is part of a wider move to fill over 157,000 potholes across the South East with over 100 councils in England receiving funding.

The funding has been made available to councils as part of the Government's £250 million Pothole Action Fund included in last month's budget, which will see over four million potholes fixed by 2020/21, and is part of the Government's plan to invest in infrastructure to secure a better future for our economy.

In total, Oxfordshire will receive £15,305,000 in 2016/17 as part of the government's £6.1 billion investment for local road maintenance by 2020/21. Local highway authorities decide how this money is spent, including upgrades to road surfacing, bridges, street lighting and other local road maintenance projects that improve journeys for motorists and cyclists.

The state of our roads is consistently raised with me by local residents and remains a great source of frustration for drivers.

This new funding is welcome news for families and businesses in the Henley Constituency who rely on our roads to get around. I've been campaigning for a long time for greater investment in road repairs, and I'm encouraging the council to make full use of their allocation locally.

I'm glad that the Government is investing both nationally and locally to improve the standard of our local roads. It shows that we are delivering on our commitment to invest in infrastructure to attract businesses and secure Britain's future.


09 APR 2016

Introduction of a range of new tax, pensions and savings reforms

This week saw the introduction of a range of new tax, pensions and savings reforms. The changes include:

An income tax cut for over 30 million workers with a further increase in the personal allowance from £10,600 to £11,000. A basic rate tax payer will have £905 more in their pocket than they had in 2010.

17 million savers will be taken out of savings tax with a new Personal Savings Allowance. The first £1,000 of interest a basic rate taxpayers earns on their savings will be completely tax free. 17 million people will now pay no savings tax at all.

The biggest reform of the state pension since it was created with the introduction of the new flat rate state pension delivering dignity and certainty in retirement for millions of new pensioners.

This builds on the introduction of the National Living Wage and cuts to small business taxation. It all amounts to a major package of reforms to support working people. Tax changes that come into force on 6th April will deliver changes that will make us more productive, guarantee security for the next generation and move us from a lower wage, higher tax, and higher welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax, and lower welfare one.

I recognise the huge contribution that those on middle incomes make to our economy. It's not fair that more and more of those people should be sucked into the higher rate of tax. So I am glad that the Higher Rate Threshold will also increase, from £42,385 to £43,000 which combined with the changes we're making to the personal allowance will mean that a typical higher rate taxpayer will pay £818 less this year than they did in 2010.

In addition to these measure families will also benefit from an increase in the Marriage Tax Allowance, allowing an individual to transfer up to £1,100 of their personal allowance to their spouse, cutting their tax bill by £220 and the sixth successive year in which we have frozen fuel duty. This means the average car driver is paying £450 less on fuel compared to what they were paying in 2011, of which £80 relates to fuel duty.


02 APR 2016

The Living Wage

I have welcomed the launch of the new National Living Wage – giving a big boost to the lowest-paid.

From 1 April 2016, workers aged 25 and over and not in the first year of an apprenticeship will be legally entitled to at least £7.20 an hour under the National Living Wage – that's an extra 50 pence an hour compared to the National Minimum Wage – a £20 a week pay rise for a full time worker.

1.3 million people across the country are expected to benefit directly from the National Living Wage – which is set to rise to £9 an hour by 2020. At the same time, we're increasing the tax-free personal allowance so that people keep more of the money they earn. From 6 April 2016 the personal allowance will rise to £11,000 – a saving of £80 – and from April 2017 it will rise again to £11,500 – taking 1.3 million of the lowest-paid workers out of income tax altogether and giving a tax cut to 31 million across the country.

I'm very proud to be part of a Conservative party that is delivering the higher-wage, lower-tax, lower-welfare economy we all want to see. The employment level is at a record high as wage growth continues to outstrip inflation. Here in Henley we are the leading constituency in the whole country for the way we have dealt with unemployment. Total pay rose 2.1 per cent while inflation was close to flat over the same period.

Boosting wages and making sure that more families have the security of a decent, regular pay packet, while ensuring that people are always better off in work, are at the heart of our long-term plan. I understand that there are certain sectors such as social care where this could have a major impact on employers. But poor pay in social care has long been a contentious issue and we cannot afford to continue with wages for care and support staff being low.

We're backing hard work and aspiration – creating opportunity for people across the country – and, with more people in work than ever before, our plan is working.


02 APR 2016

Academies

Many of those who have written to me have asked me a direct question - what am I doing about academisation? So let me respond in similar fashion. My direct answer is that I am encouraging the Government to stick to its plans to make all schools academies.

I am surprised that so many who have written to me do not see that academies in this constituency are already doing a good job and delivering good results. Many of the emails I have received on this subject seek to undermine the hard work put in by schools to become successful academies. I am sure that people do not wish to rubbish this effort and the results they have achieved. I am surprised too that people seem to be content in a constituency as affluent as this one for only 6 schools in the whole of the constituency to be ranked as "outstanding". I am not so happy. Over the last five years, the academies and free schools programmes have freed thousands of headteachers and school leaders to drive improvement in their own schools and across the system. I do not understand why those who have written to me want them to be protected and from what.

Autonomy and accountability come together in academy trusts, where school leaders have more control over budgets and teachers' pay, can take decisions they believe will improve standards and are held to account for the outcomes.

We have never suggested that parents should not sit on governing bodies and continue to play the valuable role they currently play.  All goverrning bodies will be able to appoint or elect parent governors.  But this is a move from simply appointing or electing parent governors simply because they are parents to a system whereby they are appointed or elected because of the skills they bring.  Academies have to have meaningful engagement with parents.

2015 results show that primary sponsored academies open for two years have improved their results, on average, by 10 percentage points since opening, more than double the rate of improvement in local authority maintained schools over the same period. 2015 GCSE results show that secondary converter academies are performing 7.2 percentage points above the national average, with 64.3 per cent of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths. Lord Williams in Thame, an academy, was one of the few schools in the constituency to be ranked as "outstanding".

A system in which all state-funded schools are academies will deliver better results for all children through empowering great teachers and school leaders with better leadership structures. The system will prioritise responsiveness and clear accountability over an arbitrary requirement for all schools in a local area to be run by the same body, regardless of its effectiveness.


27 MAR 2016

MP comments on air quality study

I have commented on the Air Quality Study being consulted on by South Oxfordshire District Council. I expressed disappointment with the document produced. Many of the issues are very difficult but consultants paid by the council should have come up with some and better recommendations with example for Henley.

The report admits that "As a largely rural district, South Oxfordshire has very good air quality." Any action taken across the district as a whole should be proportionate. In a rural area such as this, the car is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Schemes which simply seek to 'punish' drivers rather than tackle the problems are not required.

In Watlington, I recommend the Council talk to the local Parish Council and Neighbourhood Planning group. In relation to curbing the presence of HGVs, I agree that HGVs need to be limited but as we were at pains to point out in the grouping of parish councils I pulled together, it is currently not possible to do this without serious impacts on alternative routes through other villages in the constituency. I would have expected this to be acknowledged.

I am most disappointed with the lack of any firm recommendations from the consultants for Henley. We all know that Henley poses a difficult question but I would have expected some firm proposals for tackling the issue. I am sure the recommendations in the Neighbourhood Plan will be helpful but I would have expected more work to have been done on tackling the problem in Henley in a constructive way. I would suggest that the consultants are asked to look again at Henley.

We have an opportunity to ask all villages currently producing a Neighbourhood Plan to address this issue and to come forward with practical suggestions. Most of the report's suggestions fall into the 'nudge' brand of politics and certainly need to be looked at seriously.

I pointed to the new technologies which are being introduced both in terms of car emissions and the use of electric cars. But expressed surprise as to how electric cars will work in a rural setting such as this one.


27 MAR 2016

NHS England supports reducing time spent in hospital

NHS England has recently published a multi-agency Quick Guide and supporting information to support local health and social care systems to reduce the time people spend in hospital.

It acknowledges the fact that people's physical and mental ability and their independence can decline in a hospital bed. For people aged 80 and over 10 days in hospital equates to 10 years of muscle wasting.

Thus it recommends that people should seek to make decisions about their long-term care outside hospital preferably in their own home or in a bed where their true long term needs are understood.

This is a report not prepared by Government but by the Emergency Care Improvement Programme of NHS England. It adds to the overwhelming clinical evidence that this approach is by far the best way of proceeding. The report goes on to say that care at home enables people to live independently and well in their preferred environment for longer. The report contains checklists of questions for patients and commissioners to deliver this situation.

I am immensely encouraged by this as it is on that basis that the number of beds has been worked out at Townlands Hospital in Henley and the answer of up to 14 beds associated with the hospital has been reached. It is reassuring to know that we are at the forefront of current thinking and action. It is supported by organisations such as the Alzheimer's Society and clinicians throughout the NHS. It is the right way to proceed and in the best interests of the community as a whole which covers the whole of southern Oxfordshire not just Henley.


27 MAR 2016

Two local schools receive CIF funding

Two local schools in the Henley constituency have received funding from the Government's Condition Improvement Fund for 2016/17. The two schools are Wheatley Park School and Lord Williams School. The former has received funding for updating its Fire Alarm and Emergency Lighting systems. The latter has received funding to refit its science labs and for the refurbishment of the Foundation buildings.

The total funding across the country of £435 million covers 1,276 projects at 1,030 academies and sixth-form colleges. It follows on from the announcement in February of the allocation of £200 million of Devolved Formula Capital to schools and the School Condition Allocations to local authorities, voluntary aided schools and larger multi-academy trusts.

It also supports a small proportion of expansion projects for Ofsted-rated good or outstanding academies and sixth-form colleges that need to expand their existing facilities and/or floor space to either increase the number of admissions in the main year of entry or address overcrowding. In addition to this funding for expansion of good and outstanding academies and colleges, we are also making over £200 million capital funding available to support the expansion of special education needs provision and the creation of new special schools.

As in the previous year, the fund was heavily oversubscribed so only those projects which demonstrated a high project need and aligned with its priorities have been able to be funded.

I am very pleased that two schools in this constituency have been so successful in gaining money from this Fund. It is very helpful to both of them and congartulate them. The core priority of the fund is keeping academy and sixth-form college buildings safe and in good working order. Most funding aims to address issues that existing funding cannot meet.


22 MAR 2016

Speech in CLG debate on the budget

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I want to pick up on what the Secretary of State said about local plans and particularly about the work of the local plans expert group, which are referred to in paragraphs 2.287 and 2.288 of the Red Book. I had the honour to serve on the local plans expert group throughout. The importance of local plans can be seen in the national planning policy framework, to which the Secretary of State referred. It says:

"Local Plans are the key to delivering sustainable development that reflects the vision and aspirations of local communities."

That is what is missing when local plans are not produced. During the production of our report, we heard many reasons why local plans were not produced. These included green housing needs, difficulties with the duty to co-operate, a lack of local political will and commitment, a lack of clarity on key issues such as SHMAs—strategic housing markets assessments—and a lack of guidance.

On SHMAs, the lack of an agreed approach has become one of the most burdensome, complex and controversial elements of producing a local plan. What we have suggested is that there should be guidance on how to produce a SHMA, with the aim of taking away significant disagreement and uncertainty over housing numbers. Coupled with that, we need a proper identification of the housing market areas, particularly with local authorities.

The second element can be seen in what the national planning policy framework refers to as local plans being just the start of the process or rather identifying needs is being the start of the process. An environmental assessment of capacity within an area is necessary for councillors to be able to decide how the figures can be adjusted. There is no need for councils to provide for all the houses required where they can show that the difficulties of doing so would outweigh the benefits. Very few councils go along that line; very few provide that sort of information. It is essential to go down that route.

Another important point is the need for an early MOT in the plan process. When it comes to the production of local plans, it too often happens that mistakes are identified at the end of the process and the plan is found to be unsound. That is not a suitable way to carry out the process. There should be at least one or two intermediary MOT sessions where the parties could be told whether they were going in the right direction. They would not be provided with certainty over the figures, but they would be given an idea that progress was being made in the right direction.

Finally, on the five-year housing land supply, we think that it should be taken away completely from the local plans and dealt with through a separate document that is put in the local annual monitoring report of the local council. There it can be monitored and determined on an annual basis, so that figures can be produced against which there can be no argument while they are in that report, and this will determine the amount of housing need relevant to the area.


20 MAR 2016

My question on Townlands Hospital

Question to the Leader of the House

John Howell (Henley) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that the newly refurbished Townlands hospital in Henley has now reopened and treated its first patient. Will he agree to have a debate on the future of community and local hospitals so that we can reinforce the message that what has come to be called ambulatory care is in the best interests of patients?

Chris Grayling: I remember that I backed this saga when I was helping in the campaign to get my hon. Friend elected for the first time some years ago, so I am delighted to see that all the work he has done since then has come to fruition and that his town has a great new facility. On Tuesday he will have the opportunity to tell the Secretary of State for Health exactly how much of a difference it is going to make to the constituency of Henley.


16 MAR 2016

John Howell MP welcomes a Budget that puts the next generation in the Henley constituency first

I today welcomed a Budget that puts the next generation first – a Budget to make Britain and the Henley constituency fit for the future.

The British economy is stronger because we confronted our country's problems and took the difficult decisions, but we now face the challenge of a dangerous cocktail of global risks. Britain is well prepared to handle this challenge, but only if we act now so we don't pay later. That's why this Budget will continue the hard work of securing sound public finances, but at the same time we will cut taxes on business and enterprise to create jobs and deliver prosperity; reform to improve schools and invest in homes and infrastructure to deliver real opportunity and social mobility; and support working people by helping savers and letting people keep more of the money they earn.

This Budget put the next generation first by:

Cutting taxes for working people so they can keep more of the money they earn. From April next year the tax free personal allowance will rise to £11,500, a tax cut for 31 million people that means a typical basic rate taxpayer will be paying over £1,000 less income tax then when we came into government. The higher rate threshold will also increase to £45,000, a tax cut of over £400.

Freezing fuel duty to help household budgets and support small firms. We have frozen fuel duty for the sixth year in a row, a saving of £75 a year to the average driver and £270 a year to a small business with a van. We're also freezing beer and cider duty to back British pubs.

Improving our schools so our children get the best start in life. We're providing extra money so every school in England becomes an academy and we are going to put a new sugar levy on the soft drinks industry so they reduce the sugar content of their products to tackle childhood obesity. The money raised will be used to double sports funding in primary schools and fund longer school days in secondary schools that offer their pupils a wider range of activities, including extra sport.

Introducing a new Lifetime ISA to help the next generation to save. We know people like ISAs because they are simple so we're going to increase the ISA limit from just over £15,000 to £20,000 for everyone. For those under 40, many of whom haven't had such a good deal from pensions, we're going to introduce a completely new Lifetime ISA. You won't have to choose between saving for your first home, or saving for your retirement – the government is going to give you money to do both. For every £4 saved, the government will give you £1. So put in £4,000 each year and the government will give you £1,000 every year until you're 50.

Cutting taxes for small businesses. 600,000 small businesses will pay no business rates at all, an annual saving of up to almost £6,000 forever, and 250,000 small businesses will get a tax cut on their business rates bill. We have also cut Capital Gains Tax to boost enterprise and cut Corporation Tax to support job creation.

Britain's economy is strong, growing and resilient because of the steps we have taken over the past six years. But we face a dangerous cocktail of risks – financial markets are volatile, productivity growth is too low and the outlook for the global economy is weak.

That is why this Conservative Government are taking the steps needed to ensure that Britain is fit for the future. That means ensuring we have sound public finances at the same time as improving schools, helping savers, cutting taxes for both hardworking people and businesses, and giving the green light to major infrastructure projects.

This Budget chooses to put forward long term solutions to long term problems. It puts the next generation first and redoubles our efforts to make Britain and the Henley constituency fit for the future.


16 MAR 2016

Conservative tax cuts will see 51,230 working people in the Henley constituency keep more of the money they earn

I have welcomed new figures showing further cuts to income tax announced this week by the Chancellor will take an estimated 1,942 low-earners out of paying income tax altogether, as well as reducing income tax for 51,230 helping working people keep more of what they earn.

In this week's Budget, the Chancellor announced that the personal allowance – set to reach £11,000 from April this year – will rise again to £11,500 from April 2017, meaning a typical basic rate taxpayer will be paying over £1,000 less income tax than when we came to office in 2010.

The Chancellor also announced that the threshold for the higher rate of income tax would increase from the £43,000 it is set to rise to this April, to £45,000 in April 2017 – a tax cut of over £400 for middle Britain. This will lift over half a million people on middle incomes – people who should never have been paying the higher rate – out of the higher rate tax band altogether.

As a result of these changes, over 31 million people will see their income tax cut compared to this year, while 1.3 million of the lowest paid will be taken out of income tax altogether.

This demonstrates that we are well on our way to delivering on our manifesto commitment to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 by the end of this Parliament.

As Conservatives we know that the best way to make families more secure is to help people keep more of what they've worked hard to earn and ensure our country lives within its means.

That's why, since we came to government in 2010, we've been cutting income tax at the same time as reducing the deficit. I welcome the Chancellor's announcement that we will go even further, lifting an estimated 1,942 people in the Henley constituency] out of paying income tax altogether at the same time as cutting taxes for over 31 million people across the country.

This is the path that has delivered us one of the strongest economies in the world, and in the face of risks in the global economy, it is the path we must continue on to provide a secure future for the next generation.


16 MAR 2016

Henley Constituency remains best in the UK for dealing with unemployment

For the third month in a row the Henley constituency is the leading constituency in the UK for dealing with unemployment. The total number of unemployed is composed of 188 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 50 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 31 lower than in February 2015.

There were 30 claimants aged 18-24 in Henley constituency in February 2016, the same as February 2015.

This is very good news. Once again we have come out as the leading constituency in the UK. I congratulate our training providers for all they do and which has helped create 2,800 new apprenticeships in the constituency since 2010. I am particularly pleased that the number of young people unemployed remains low.


15 MAR 2016

My intervention in the debate on Engineering and Design

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend; she is being intervened on a lot by hon. Friends, and I am sure that we are all providing her with excellent advice—I hope she will take it in that spirit.

I am the co-chair of the all-party group on design and innovation, so I have an interest in this area. Will my hon. Friend comment on the link that there should be between the sectors that she is talking about and education? We recently had a meeting with the Minister to discuss whether this subject could be included in the English baccalaureate. I understand the reluctance about that, but will my hon. Friend comment on the relationship with education generally?

Michelle Donelan:The main thrust of my speech is about the EBacc, so I will leave that point and my hon. Friend can eagerly anticipate what I will say in a few moments.

John Howell:Touché!


15 MAR 2016

Changes to ESA

From April 2017, new ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) will receive the same rate of benefit as Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). This change only affects new claims after that date and will not affect those already receiving ESA.

Those in the WRAG currently receive additional cash payments but little employment support appropriate for their needs. Instead of spending money on cash payments, which are not having the desired effect of moving people closer to work, the Government wants to invest in additional practical support for people with limited capability for work. This new funding will be worth £100 million by 2020-21.

The amendments made to this policy in the House of Lords would have effectively prevented the Government's proposal from taking place, which is why I could not support them. The amendments would have blocked the reform until the Secretary of State published a report detailing the expected impact on claimants' health, finances and ability to return to work. It would have been impossible for the Government to provide the majority of what was being proposed, because the data available prior to actual implementation does not allow us to make any meaningful estimate of such impacts. What it is possible for the Government to provide in advance of implementation – the estimated financial effect of the reforms – has already been provided, along with other impacts, in the impact assessment that was published on 20 July last year.

The Government made a number of concessions in response to issues raised in both Houses, including an additional £15 million for the Jobcentre Flexible Support Fund to be targeted specifically at people with limited capability for work. The changes have been debated extensively and I think the Government has listened carefully to views expressed in those debates. I do think this reform is the right thing to do, and it has now been agreed by both the Lords and the Commons.


15 MAR 2016

John Howell MP welcomes National Apprenticeship Week in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the Government's commitment to creating apprenticeships during National Apprenticeship Week 2016. The growing number of people in the Henley constituency starting apprenticeships demonstrates that we are delivering on our manifesto commitments.

The theme for this year's National Apprenticeship Week is that an Apprenticeship can take you anywhere, as a growing number of young people are looking to an apprenticeship as an alternative route for people who don't want to go to university.

I shall enjoy visiting apprenticeships on Friday and seeing for myself the companies and the individuals involved. Apprenticeships make sense for young people across the constituency, which is why 2,800 new apprentices have started since May 2010 and over 2.6 million new apprenticeships have started across England.

I want to give young people the chance to get the skills that they need to get on in life. That's why I am supporting the Government's commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and congratulate every college and business locally that has taken on an apprentice.

The Government is driving up the standards of apprenticeships and introducing new routes into the professions. The recent figures show that we are making progress towards our goal.

The Government also plans to launch the new independent, employer led, Institute for Apprenticeships. The Institute will regulate the quality of apprenticeships in England, taking on responsibility for approving new apprenticeship standards and assessment plans. Only standards that are valued by employers will be approved and funded.


02 MAR 2016

My speech on end of life care

John Howell (Henley) (Con):It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate today. A number of common themes run through the debate, the first of which is the fact that most people want to die in their own beds. Before coming to this debate, I tried to find some statistics on the subject. I trawled through a whole lot of figures on the internet, and what I came up with was the fact that 70% of us want to die in our own beds, yet 60% of people die in hospital.

Why is there such a discrepancy in the figures? Is it a ridiculous aspiration for 70% of us to want to die in our beds, or do we need to be better at organising end of life care services? The evidence from the Netherlands suggests that the latter is the case—we need to be better at organising end of life care services. In particular, there needs to be more emphasis on the social care aspect, the reorganisation of that and its delivery.

What does that come down to in practice? The issue came to the fore in my constituency with the re-provision of a hospital in Henley, the Townlands hospital. The hospital will be re-provided with a greater range of services for people to access and a limited number of beds at the side of the hospital in a care home. The gap is being taken up by a system that has come to be called ambulatory care, involving greater use of social care packages. This follows a change in practice, where the aim is to reduce the number of beds and keep people out of hospital for as long as possible.

Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con):My own father died at home. The Government's response to the report states that a priority is to ensure that families are kept in the loop in the final days, but in our case, we did not know it was my father's final days. A nurse turned up on the last day with an end of life care kit. In front of my father she said, "Here's the end of life care kit," and he died a few hours later. Does my hon. Friend agree that better communication is needed with those who want to die at home?

John Howell:I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As many hon. Members know, I recently lost my mother. Contrary to what I said earlier, she died in hospital, but I have to say that the services provided were exemplary. We were taken into the thinking of the clinicians as her illness progressed, we were told exactly what would happen, and this led to a greater feeling of comfort with the whole process when she eventually died. I am reconciled with the idea that it was what she wanted. That fits in with the idea of personal choice, where that is possible. In my mother's case it was not possible because of the illness, but I do not know the circumstances of my hon. Friend's case. It is something that needs to be borne in mind.

There are still those locally who cannot see that the best interests are served by reducing unnecessary admissions to hospital and moving people out of hospital as soon as possible. I have listened to the clinical advice and the clinical evidence that this is the best way to go. Hospitals, contrary to what they may seem, are not necessarily healthy institutions. Even a short stay reduces the ability of muscles to function and affects quality of life. I spoke to the Alzheimer's Society about this. The evidence was clear: although admission to hospital or, better still, to care homes will inevitably be required, the best advice was to keep people out of hospital for as long as possible. That was true even in the case of people suffering from Alzheimer's.

This approach is not just about providing services to those who need periodic treatment, especially end of life care. It demands a revolution in the way that social care is provided. I am a great advocate of integrated social care and healthcare, and I have heard from doctors about the way in which they decide on the services to be provided. When somebody presents to them with an illness, whatever it might be, the choices are a medical solution—they can be shipped off to hospital or given a prescription—or a social care solution. The feedback I have received from doctors is that they do not have control over the social care aspect, they cannot provide the services and it is very difficult for individuals to access those services, particularly at weekends.

We need this revolution for better control of social care by clinical commissioning groups. We need this revolution for the better use of providing medicine in the home, for example by using internet services, as has been mentioned, which I think is a magnificent way to go. We need this revolution for the timeliness of the provision of services. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) that we need to work across organisations to get this right, including those in the charity sector. If we do that, we can get a really integrated approach.


02 MAR 2016

My intervention in the Science debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con):As my hon. Friend knows, my constituency houses one of the centres for fusion technology. In the context of her remarks, I wonder what she has recommended in relation to taking that forward and helping to develop it.

Nicola Blackwood:My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be proud of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. I have visited it on more than one occasion. One of the fundamental proposals that we have made is to increase R and D investment in the UK. If he will listen a little further, he will hear exactly what we have proposed to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in that particular area of research.


02 MAR 2016

My question on refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the position she has taken in this crisis. I urge her to continue to put the emphasis on the refugee camps, which will have a big destabilisation effect in places such as Jordan. I wonder, given the expertise of her Department, whether she can say a little more about the technical assistance she is providing to Greece.

Justine Greening:It is in several different areas. Part of it is more Home Office-related assistance on border management, and part of it is humanitarian, working through UNHCR and, latterly, assisting UNICEF on child protection. Although we often focus on the amounts of aid we are giving, the most effective aid is often technical assistance, which is very cost-effective and highly effective in terms of outcomes.


29 FEB 2016

Sunday trading for the 21st Century

I co-signed a new letter to the Sunday Telegraph and a report from the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), 'Sunday trading for the 21st Century', supporting the government's plans to devolve power to local authorities over Sunday trading rules.

Nowadays people rightly expect greater flexibility in all aspects of their lives. Being able to shop when it's convenient is one such freedom. Yet whilst times and attitudes have changed, Sunday Trading laws have stayed the same. British high streets and physical retailers have been left trying to compete with 24/7 online shopping. A task which is made harder by a shortened trading day at the weekend, just when many families might hope to go shopping together.

The trend across Europe is for liberalising Sunday trading laws. A comparison of European countries where trading laws had been relaxed or removed found that the changes resulted in a 7-9% net increase in employment. Consumers will also benefit from greater flexibility around when to shop and high streets will be a more enjoyable place to be on Sundays.

I believe that the time is right to give local communities a choice about whether shops should be allowed to extend their Sunday trading hours in England; just as is already the case in Scotland. This position is endorsed by 39 of my fellow MPs and over one hundred council leaders who have written to the Communities Secretary to support the Government's proposals. It is right that local communities and their leaders be given more control over powers for their high streets. It could have a big effect throughout the constituency.

Today's report notes that in addition to helping our constituents shop at times more convenient to them, modernised trading laws could also provide economic benefits worth £1.4 billion per year to the overall UK economy and £64 to each family in this country. These are benefits that will be welcomed by hard working families and communities across England and Wales.


24 FEB 2016

Henley MP supports AlzheimerÂ’s SocietyÂ’s Fix Dementia Care campaign

On Wednesday 10 February I joined over 160 other MPs at the launch of Alzheimer's Society's new campaign Fix Dementia Care which calls for improvements in hospital care for people living with dementia.

MPs gathered in Westminster to call for greater transparency across the NHS following an Alzheimer's Society investigation which found too many people with dementia are falling while in hospital, being discharged at night or being marooned in hospital despite their medical treatment having finished. Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) carried out by the charity found that in 2014-15:

  • 28% of people over the age of 65 who fell in hospital had dementia - but this was as high as 71% in the worst performing hospital trust In 68 trusts that responded to this FOI (41%), 4,926 people with dementia were discharged between the hours of 11pm and 6am In the worst performing hospitals, people with dementia were found to be staying five to seven times longer than other patients over the age of 65

Good hospital care for people with dementia should never be a throw of the dice – yet in some hospitals people are routinely experiencing the consequences of poor care.  Alheimer's Society were in Westminster to urge MPs to back their new Fix Dementia Care campaign to end the postcode lottery on the quality of hospital care people with dementia face. The first step to improving the issue across the country is greater transparency - once we know where the shortcomings are we can take steps to tackle them.

George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer's Society said: "We must put a stop to the culture where it's easier to find out about your local hospital finances than the quality of care you'll receive if you have dementia. We are encouraging everyone to get behind our campaign to improve transparency and raise the bar on quality."

"Poor care can have devastating, life-changing consequences. Becoming malnourished because you can't communicate to hospital staff that you are hungry, or falling and breaking a hip because you're confused and no-one's around to help, can affect whether you stand any chance of returning to your own home or not.

"We are delighted to have been able to engage over 160 MPs in one day. John has a huge influence in the Henley constituency and we hope he will use this opportunity to take action and improve the care for people living with dementia."

The campaign is making the following recommendations to fix dementia care:

All hospitals to publish an annual statement of dementia care, which includes feedback from patients with dementia, helping to raise standards of care across the country

The regulators, Monitor and the Care Quality Commission to include standards of dementia care in their assessments

Alzheimer's Society is calling on people to back the Fix Dementia Care campaign by signing up at www.alzheimers.org.uk/fixhospitalcare


24 FEB 2016

My question at Welsh questions today

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Does the Minister share my view that a prime mover behind rebalancing the economy is the sense of fairness? Does he agree that the action taken by the Government in freeing generations of people in constituencies throughout Wales is about making the best use of their talents? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker:Order. The House and the nation should have heard Mr Howell, and I fear they might not adequately have done so. [Interruption.] No, it will do for today—as long as the Secretary of State heard. But courtesy dictates.

Stephen Crabb:I did not hear the full question, but what I did hear was a really important point about fairness when it comes to rebalancing the economy. Unlike previous Labour Governments, who stood by while the economy of the United Kingdom became hopelessly imbalanced towards London and the south-east, we do not think that is good enough. We think that there are talents and resources in the north of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the west of England that need to be captured and enhanced to drive growth in the UK.


11 FEB 2016

My important intervention in the debate on local councils funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that within this process councils are still required to do things in a fundamentally different way, such as setting up trading joint ventures, as one county council told me it had done on Monday, or looking at Uber-type services for buses?

Greg Clark: Yes, councils should take the opportunities to be innovative. My hon. Friend and I served on the Committee on the Bill that became the Localism Act 2011, which introduced a general power of competence for local councils precisely so that they could take decisions in the interests of their residents and contribute effectively.


10 FEB 2016

Local MP is quizmaster in the WorldÂ’s Biggest Pub Quiz

On Sunday (7th February) The Crown in Sydenham played host to a PubAid Quiz and I took up the role of quizmaster.

The event was part of a national challenge by PubAid to break the world record for the largest multi-venue quiz. It was estimated that 30,000 pub goers would join the bid for the World Record and raise £100,000. More than 20 other MPs also acted as quizmasters for the event in their locals. In Sydenham they decided to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society and the teams raised over £250.

I thoroughly enjoyed being quizmaster for the evening. It was a great event and I think that everyone had a good time while raising money for charity. I take my hat off to PubAid for a brilliant idea and for getting so many people involved across the county.

Local resident Des O'Flanagan is one of the founders of PubAid which works alongside the press and via social media to showcase the great work that pubs and their customers do for charity in raising over £100,000,000 every year.


08 FEB 2016

My question in the local government finance statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his pragmatic approach to these issues. He rightly points out that demographic pressures affect different areas in different ways. When does he expect the needs review to be completed, and what role will the figures obtained from that play in any closer integration of social care with the NHS?

Greg Clark:I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who was of considerable assistance to me when we consulted on the national planning policy framework, and we were able to make sensible responses to that consultation too. I am keen to get the review under way as soon as possible so that it can inform not only business rates retention but other decisions the Government have to take from time to time about rural areas and the different needs of different areas. The sooner it is done, the better, and I will set out in the coming weeks the process involved, so that colleagues across the House can contribute.


08 FEB 2016

John Howell MP supported World Cancer Day 2016

I attended an event in Parliament on Wednesday 3 February to show his support for World Cancer Day on February 4, 2016.

I met with representatives from four of the UK's leading cancer charities who are working together to unite the nation and help transform the lives of millions of people who are affected by cancer.

Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and the Movember Foundation called on people to show their support by wearing a Unity Band with pride on February 4.

The Unity Band is made of two parts, knotted together, to represent strength in unity and the power of what can be achieved when people come together.

The Unity Bands are available from each charity in their own colours at www.worldcancerday.co.uk for a suggested donation of £2. All money raised from the Unity Bands will go towards the charities' individual research projects and support services.

One in two people born in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime.

February 4 was World Cancer Day and I called on people in the Henley constituency to join me by wearing a Unity Band, making a donation or spreading the word on social media.

Whether you want to celebrate people who have overcome cancer, show solidarity to those going through treatment or remember loved ones – World Cancer Day was a chance to get involved and help reduce the impact of cancer on future generations.

Collectively the four charities support millions of people every year through their individual work in the prevention, detection, treatment and support of those affected by cancer.

Money raised from the Unity Bands will fund breakthroughs in scientific research; save and improve the lives of people with blood cancers; provide high quality care, support and information for people with breast cancer, and fund research and support services to tackle prostate and testicular cancer.

By joining together this World Cancer Day, they aimed to show that a small action taken by many will transform our future.

For more information, to get any of the charities' Unity Bands or make a donation visit www.worldcancerday.co.uk


02 FEB 2016

MEDIA STATEMENT ON TOWNLANDS HOSPITAL, HENLEY

I was concerned to read the headlines in the Henley Standard last week about Townlands Hospital. I have, therefore, spoken directly to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) regarding the matters raised in the article.

My understanding was that there was always an intention to have a phased implementation plan for the RACU service after opening and note that this is recorded in the CCG September Board Minutes. Initially the RACU was to start operating from December. We have long known about the slip in this due to building delays. However there were no precise timescales given from opening to full operation. What is now being reported is speculation which I think represents a worst case scenario. I am concerned to see the whole facility fully operational as soon as possible.

In order to avoid any undue speculation or confusion I have asked the CCG to provide more clarity for the wider community on the expected timeline by which patients will be able to access the new service.

In response to concerns over the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group I have suggested to the CCG that they appoint an independent chair to the Group. I believe that this would help allay the alleged concern that the group is a 'PR machine for the commissioning group'. The CCG has accepted my proposal and will now seek to identify a suitably independent person.

I am pleased to learn that there will be an opportunity for the Stakeholder Reference Group to visit the facility before it opens and that there will also be a drop-in session for members of the public after opening. This will enable us all to see the new provision and make up our own minds..


01 FEB 2016

Nagorno-Karaback

John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for Henley and a newly appointed member of the Council of Europe, was appointed spokesman for the European Conservative Group on the question of the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The MP addressed the plenary session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and said:

I am concerned at the recent escalation of violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. However the issue of resolving the crisis between the two countries has been given to the Minsk Process under the chairmanships of Russia, France and the US. The Council of Europe should support that process and all delegations should cooperate as the only way of getting to the truth.

The Council of Europe voted not to adopt a report which was generally seen as being biased in favour of Azerbaijan.


01 FEB 2016

Attacks on women in Cologne

John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for Henley and a member of the Council of Europe, gave a speech to the Council of Europe this morning in Strasbourg on the subject of the recent attacks on women and the attitude of the media to these attacks. The debate was initiated by the European Conservative Group.

The attacks on women in Cologne and other cities was absolutely dreadful. However, it took the media, including the BBC, a long time to cover them and to report. If there is not timely reporting of crimes such as these, however unpalatable and contrary to political correctness, it fuels suspicion. The Council should conduct an investigation into why media outlets delayed reporting to the public what the truth of these dreadful attacks on women were and who conducted them.


23 JAN 2016

MP signs Broadbad report

Today I co-signed a new report from the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG) revealing that despite £1.7bn of taxpayers' cash being pumped into subsidising the construction of UK high-speed broadband, there are still a staggering 5.7million people across Britain who cannot access the internet at the Ofcom required 10 Megabits per second.

In 2016 people rightly expect access to high-speed internet connections. Whether at home or work, fast broadband should be a reality in all our communities. Sadly, this is not yet the case. In the Henley constituency, people are dealing with some really poor connections and gaps in services. In fact the constituency falls into the bottom 10% of seats for the availability of superfast connections

Today's report, 'BroadBad', calls on the regulator Ofcom to take radical action over the 'natural monopoly' too long enjoyed by BT Openreach. The comprehensive report, which details connection speeds in every part of the country, argues that given our modern economy being so reliant on the internet, it is time to stop being held back by BT's lack of ambition and underinvestment.

I believe Britain should be leading the world in digital innovation. Yet instead the Britain suffers from having a BT run monopoly clinging to outdated copper technology with no proper long-term plan for the future. Britain needs to start converting to a fully fibre network so it is not left behind the other nations who are rushing to embrace digital advancement.

However, Britain will only achieve this by taking action to open up the sector. Given all the delays and missed deadlines, I believe that only a formal separation of BT from Openreach, combined with fresh competition and a concerted ambition to deliver, will now create the broadband service that our constituents and businesses so rightly demand.


21 JAN 2016

Intervention on health of women on IVF

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I thought I would get an intervention in while the hon. Lady was in the mood for taking them. I appreciate that she is talking about women who are going through IVF, but has she considered the health effects on women who want IVF but are prevented from doing so due to their age?

Siobhain McDonagh: I have no comments in my speech that address the hon. Gentleman's concerns about age and effectiveness. I mostly want to ask the Minister, and through her the Department of Health, to consider how figures are recorded, what the practice is and how we can improve on what is now a 26-year-old Act.


21 JAN 2016

My speech yesterday on youth justice

John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), and I am glad that she has secured this debate. As I mentioned in my intervention, the Select Committee on Justice, including the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer), has been investigating the experience of young adults in custody. A key point raised in that inquiry is that the distinction we make between young adults and youths is meaningless. The development of the brain is such that, at times, there are many people who are much more mature for their age and many people who are less mature for their age. Although those people will be treated as young adults in the prison system, they should be treated as if they were much younger. That is an important point that the hon. Member for Bradford South needs to take into account.

Yesterday we held an important informal seminar that was attended by a number of parents of people who were under 18 when they first committed their offences, some of whom have died in custody. It was very sad and moving to listen to their testimony. There were also young people who had been in custody, and it was clear that some of them should really have been treated as youths during that period.

One of the key points to come out was the issue of mental illness. I do not think that the prison system understands mental illness in its complexities or recognises it in individuals when they present with it. We even heard examples of where people had presented with some forrm of mental illness to start with and their records had been flagged up, but where nobody had had the time to check what the flag meant. If someone had checked that, they would have seen that there was some mental illness attached to that person and would have taken different action while they were in custody.

As I am sure the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston would agree, it was a very moving experience to listen to those testimonies from individuals and to hear the real experience of people who had been through the loss of a son or a daughter—in many cases they were sons rather than daughters—and the reasons for that. The point the hon. Lady made about mental health is a very good one, and it is one that we need our prison system to be more flexible in identifying, picking up and dealing with.

With that, I will leave my remarks there.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab) rose—

John Howell: Sorry, I will happily give way.

Jo Stevens: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me in at the last minute. I am glad that he has raised the issue of the mental health of prisoners, because the prison ombudsman's report, which I think came out today or yesterday, has highlighted that very issue—in relation, obviously, not only to children in prison, but to adults as well—and the lack of mental health services for prisoners. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it should be a priority for the current Government to address what are clearly failings in the current system?

John Howell: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I do not want to make this a party political piece; it is a duty of all Governments to identify the need for mental health services and to take that issue forward. She makes a valid point.

We also met some people who were dealing with this issue—for example, an organisation called A Band of Brothers—by taking young people in, giving them a role in life and helping them to overcome some of the difficulties they had experienced, including some of the mental health difficulties. I am therefore not saying that it is a forlorn hope that mental health will be dealt with: there are many different ways of dealing with it, and we saw some of those yesterday. I hope that the report we produce will be able to address some of them in the future.


20 JAN 2016

John Howell MP promoted to Trade Envoy

I have been appointed by the Prime Minister to be his Trade Envoy to Nigeria.

Trade Minister Lord Maude said:

"To move the needle on exports and meet our commitments we need to do things differently. We want to make the UK the easiest country in the world to do trade with by making it easier, faster and simpler for more UK businesses to start exporting, generating a more vibrant export support marketplace, and giving more financial support to exporters. The use of new, lower-cost, digital technologies will help us do more for businesses, more efficiently.

"We will co-ordinate the energies of the whole of government on boosting exports, sharing responsibility across departments, harnessing their deep sector knowledge, focusing on priority targets, and monitoring progress closely. UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) will be at the heart of this work, as well as retaining its remit to attract and support investment to the UK, but we are bringing together all of government to play a role."

I am delighted to have been selected for this important task to boost UK exports to one of the largest markets in Africa. It plays to the enormous strengths I can bring to Government and integrates my experience of doing business internationally with that of helping to develop business across Government. Nigeria is a market with its challenges but I look forward to seeing an increase in our exports.

The focus on trade as a government priority has been reinforced by the Prime Minister's decision to announce a small number of new Trade Envoys. The Trade Envoys will supports the government's overall strategy to drive economic growth and Envoys are appointed by the Prime Minister to act on behalf of government and to carry his personal mandate. Envoys are carefully selected for their experience, skills and knowledge of particular sectors or markets, or their knowledge of business. This means they can work closely with the government to promote the UK's excellence globally and champion trade and investment priorities.


20 JAN 2016

Unemployment in the Henley constituency

The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in December 2015 was 216. This represents a rate of 0.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 650th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.) The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.4%.

This includes 176 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 40 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 69 lower than in December 2014 and 6 lower than in November 2015.

There were 25 claimants aged 18-24 in Henley constituency in December 2015, 15 lower than in December 2014. (Figures for 18-24 year olds are rounded to the nearest 5.)

These data are not seasonally adjusted.

I am delighted that we are topping the charts in the UK for our performance over unemployment. It reflects the enormous amount of hard work by companies and those providing training in putting together apprenticeships and offering job opportunities. It would be easy to downplay this achievement but I think this is very good news indeed.


18 JAN 2016

John Howell MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment

This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Wednesday 27th January will mark the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

After signing the Book of Commitment, I commented:

"Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and make sure they are not forgotten. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join members of my community in the fight against prejudice and intolerance."

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

"We are proud that John is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mark the 71st anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps in 2016, it is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry."


14 JAN 2016

My question on Network Rail

I raised the following question today in questions on the Business Statement to the Leader of the House, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):May we have a debate on the activities of Network Rail in landscape-sensitive areas, such as the area of outstanding natural beauty in which the Goring gap sits? Nobody wants to hold up electrification, but sensitivity in such areas over the installations that are used to carry the electrification wires would be very much appreciated.

Chris Grayling:I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. Indeed, I walked through the Goring gap recently and saw the work that is taking place on the line. The electrification of the Great Western main line is great news for people in his constituency and, indeed, in south Wales, so it will be of benefit to the constituents of the shadow Leader of the House. It is long overdue. When Labour was in power, only 10 miles of railway were electrified. We are now doing the job properly. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that Network Rail needs to be careful and thoughtful in areas of outstanding natural beauty to ensure that this essential work does not damage the landscape.


06 JAN 2016

Speech on the Palestinian question

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

I shall be brief, Mr Chope. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing the debate, and it is a great pleasure to follow her. I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

The context for the debate is the level of incitement against the state of Israel from the Palestinian territories. Both Israel and the Palestinians are legally bound to abstain from incitement and hostile propaganda in accordance with the Oslo agreement and the 2003 road map, which called on all Palestinian institutions to end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian Authority's failure to deliver on its commitment to end incitement and hate education explicitly undermines the principles and conditions on which the peace process is built.

In that context, the level of continuing incitement from the Palestinian Authority is hard to believe. Considering the use of young people in the incitement process, it is quite amazing that the state of Israel has made the changes that it has to the process by which it deals with that serious matter. The majority of arrests, for example, occur during the day, and those that are conducted at night are done at that time to minimise the danger to Israelis and Palestinians, including Israel defence forces.

The interrogation procedure is carried out in Arabic, not in Hebrew, and statements are written in Arabic. Appeals can be made to the courts that have been set up to hear the cases, and all minors brought before the court during the investigation or thereafter are represented by lawyers of their choice, provided by them or by the Palestinian Authority.

Sarah Champion:

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the process being conducted in Arabic, but we do not have evidence of that because it is not being recorded. Will he comment on access to lawyers? The maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours for an Israeli child, but 90 days for a Palestinian child.

John Howell:

I believe that the hon. Lady is wrong about the evidence that interrogations are held in Arabic. I have the figure for investigations of which an audio or audio-visual recording was made. The number of cases in 2013 and 2014—the figures that I have—in which the investigating officer recorded the hearings is about the same, at about the 300 to 400 mark.

We are being unfairly selective against Israel, when we should focus our attention on the Saudi execution of minors. The point should also be made that the Palestinian Authority are responsible for human rights violations in the west bank, including the detention of journalists critical of the Palestinian Authority and the detention of peaceful demonstrators. In 2014—according to a Palestinian non-governmental organisation, so the figures are independent—some 2,500 Palestinian children in the west bank had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority. A number of those children were mistreated, and I will give some examples. One 15-year-old Palestinian was arrested on 24 April 2015 after a group of youths threw rocks at Palestinian Authority forces. He was beaten on his head, arm and foot with a rifle butt by a Palestinian Authority policeman.

If hon. Members want another example, in August 2015, a 14-year-old Palestinian suffered a broken arm and bruises when he was seriously beaten by a Palestinian Authority police officer who was breaking up a fight. Of the 81 Palestinian children whom the NGO had identified and provided legal aid to in 2014, almost half had suffered some form of physical violence at the hands of Palestinian police and security forces, so the argument here is not at all about just one side—that it is Israel that is the perpetrator of these attacks on children.

Andrew Percy:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the biggest issues, of course, is incitement. Does he share my concern about the container of children's dolls that was headed for the Palestinian territories? I have brought one with me today—although we are not allowed to use aids. Each doll is dressed up, has a rock in its hand and has messages saying, "Jerusalem is ours" and "We are coming for Jerusalem" on it. A child with a rock in its hand—how on earth are we ever going to get peace between these two peoples when children are incited from a young age into committing what are, quite often, very serious acts of violence that have resulted in death?

John Howell:

I agree with my hon. Friend. His example is a good example of the level of Palestinian incitement.

Guto Bebb:

Does my hon. Friend agree that the extent of Palestinian incitement of young people to take arms and violent action almost becomes an issue of child abuse?

John Howell:

I agree with that. It is a question of child abuse, and we need to direct attention to the Palestinian authorities for their handling of children.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con):

Is not the nub of the problem the fact that there are two legal systems operating and they are not equalised? If a child happens to be Israeli, they are treated much more fairly than if they happen to be Palestinian. That is wrong and Israel should sort it.

John Howell:

No, the nub of this issue is that Palestinian incitement continues. As long as it does, we will not get peace in the area. We have to end the Palestinian incitement. I urge the Foreign Office to take action on that.

Ian Austin:

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell:

I will not give way; I will finish there.


06 JAN 2016

Speech on Neighbourhood Planning late last night

The House sat until the early hours of Wednesday morning last night.  This was the short speech I gave on the Housing and Planning Bill at about 1.30am.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I understand completely where my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) are coming from, but I take a slightly different view. Let me start with finalised neighbourhood plans. I have some sympathy with their argument that there should be a community right of appeal in these circumstances, but when we looked at this in the context of the Localism Act 2015, we originally did not include it to avoid the situation where part of a community would appeal against something that the rest of the community had just voted on. I urge Ministers to look at the issue again in the context of the Bill to see whether that problem can be worked out.

On emerging plans, I take a completely different view. First, such plans already have protection. The closer they get to finalisation, the stronger that becomes. Secondly, if communities undertaking neighbourhood plans start off at the end point rather than at the beginning, they are likely to have lots of help along the way, including at appeals.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con) rose—

John Howell: I will not take interventions at this late stage.

The end point is not the inspection, but the referendum. Many communities in my own constituency have started the process of producing a neighbourhood plan and for one reason or another have abandoned it along the way, in some cases fairly close to the referendum. There is many a slip before the referendum takes place and votes are counted. To take the view that emerging plans should have a greater degree of protection would sterilise a whole area from development while that neighbourhood plan was theoretically an option. Plans have a proper place and they are being followed at appeal. There are examples of front-runners in my constituency where development has been proposed that was not in accordance with the neighbourhood plan and it was rejected at appeal.

Neighbourhood plans share responsibility with the district or borough council for the development of the planning system for their location. It is not just a matter of protecting a village. It is a view of the development of the village for the future, and in my experience the planning inspectorate is fully prepared to back those plans as they proceed.


05 JAN 2016

My question to Sec of State for Health

John Howell (Henley) (Con):What progress his Department has made on integrating and improving care provided outside hospitals.[902858]

The Minister for Community and Social Care (Alistair Burt):Happy new year, Mr Speaker—and happy new year to the familiar faces opposite in the shadow Cabinet.

The Government are committed to transforming out-of-hospital care for everyone, in every community, by 2020. We have seen excellent progress in areas led by the integration pioneers such as Torbay and Greenwich. The Government remain fully committed to delivering integration through programmes such as the better care fund and the vanguards.

John Howell:Seventy per cent. of people would prefer to die in their own homes, yet we still allow 60% of people to die in hospital. This has to change, as it has in the Netherlands owing to the better social care provided outside hospitals. What message would the Minister give to clinical commissioning groups, such as mine, which are trying hard to bring this about and to integrate services?

Alistair Burt:I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We share his view: we want to see greater choice in end-of-life care so that people are able to be cared for and die in the place they choose and which is appropriate to their needs, whether that is a hospice, a hospital or their own home. The recent Choice review set out a vision of enabling greater choice at the end of life. I am working with NHS England to see how this can be best achieved and the Government expect to comment on that soon.


05 JAN 2016

MP comments on Henley College

Following several meetings with the Chair of Governors and Principal of The Henley College, I am fully supportive of any discussions regarding collaboration between the College and Berkshire College of Agriculture. Collaboration between the two colleges would have enormous benefits for the College, for the town of Henley and the surrounding villages.

I have already spoken with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George osborne MP, who has agreed with me that the College provides excellent education and training as part of a strong brand. The College offers community learning, Apprenticeship training and 16-18 full-time educational provision.

The Government's purpose of the reviews is to assess the economic and educational needs of the area and the implications for post-16 education and training provision. All FE and sixth form colleges in England will be part of a review over the next 18 months. The Government's aim is to achieve a transition towards 'fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers' and more effective collaboration across institution types.

Jayne Davis, Principal at Henley College said,

"This college has been included in the Thames Valley area review. This means that Government representatives are going to be reviewing all colleges in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire to see whether we can be more efficient and whether there are changes to be made that will benefit students. This will include looking at more collaboration with schools and other colleges in the area in particular, Berkshire College of Agriculture."

"I would like to reassure all of our students that this area review will have no impact on day-to-day life at College and will not affect the learning experience. We will continue to focus on providing excellent education and training to our students before, during and after the process. Applicants to the College should continue to apply as normal."


18 DEC 2015

John Howell MP reaches top 100 backbenchers for speaking in the House of Commons

I have been included in the top 100 backbenchers for speaking in the House of Commons. According to data compiled by theyworkforyou.com, I rank 100 in the House after excluding frontbenchers such as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Chris Bryant and the speaker and deputy speakers.

I have spoken on a number of subjects since the General Election including Schools funding, Human Rights in Egypt, Refugees, Aircraft noise over Henley, NHS and Social Care integration, Operation Bullfinch in Oxfordshire, Prison reform, Dangerous driving, Business rates, the BBC, Mental Health and children, Junior Doctors, the Middle East, Right to Buy, Grammar Schools, Lead shot, and Unemployment in the constituency and the role of Henley College.

I raise many issues in Parliament. It is always essential to choose the right way of doing so. I raise very many issues directly with Ministers. Other issues can, where appropriate and where they relate to Government policy, be raised on the floor of the House. I am pleased that I have been able to contribute so much in Parliament. All these issues cross so many different areas and give a good indication of those that are important to the country and to the local constituency. I am pleased, too, that in addition I have been able to attend so many different events and meetings in the constituency. It is good that this has been recognised by so many communities some of whom I have started off on the process of preparing a Neighbourhood Plan as in Goring.

Since the date of the General Election in May 2015, I have attended some 148 meetings and events in the constituency (excluding surgeries) and made over 30 broadcasts for radio or the television.


16 DEC 2015

Interventions in the Armed Forces Bill debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

As a member of the Select Committee, let me add that when we looked into these provisions and interviewed the relevant official, I was impressed with two things. The first was the need to refer to the Attorney General. The link between the DSP and the Attorney General is a good one. I have to say that I have forgotten what the second one was, but let the first point stand as the major point I wanted to make.

xxxxxx

John Howell:

I do not want to intervene on the substance of this debate, but since this is the last grouping of such amendments, it is appropriate to offer my appreciation—I am sure the Minister would agree with me on this—to my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who chaired the Select Committee that looked at this Bill, and did so in an excellent fashion. The Select Committee showed a tremendous degree of cross-party agreement on the Bill, and I thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his involvement. The Bill is a direct result of that process.


16 DEC 2015

Questions at today's International Development questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con):How her Department monitors outcomes of its spending in the Palestinian territories.[902748]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening):I would first like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for all the work he did during his time in the Department, and also to welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) who I know will continue in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield.

The Department for International Development provides assistance and support to poor and vulnerable Palestinians, as well as supporting state building and economic development. Our operational plan for the Occupied Palestinian Territories contains a results framework that is monitored quarterly.

John Howell:I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

The Prime Minister has been clear that Palestinian incitement will not be tolerated. As many as 25 Palestinian Authority schools are named after Palestinian terrorists, including Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 Israeli citizens. Will the Secretary of State assure me that no British aid goes towards such schools or to support the glorification of terrorism?

Justine Greening:The Prime Minister and I have been very clear that the UK deplores incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We monitor any allegations of incitement closely and raise instances with both the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities. Regarding the UK's direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which provides civil service salaries, it goes only to approved individuals through a World Bank trust fund that has an independent audit.


14 DEC 2015

Heathrow

I gave a warning to the Government today that his support for the expansion of Heathrow would crucially be based on the resolution of the current noise issues of aircraft approaching Heathrow on an easterly wind. The warning was made during questions on a Government statement on Airports Capacity in the House of Commons. The exchange is detailed below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I welcome the decision to delay the final decision until the environmental concerns have been resolved. Colleagues and I are in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS to control noise from aircraft coming in to Heathrow over the Thames valley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the resolution of that issue is crucial to our future support for Heathrow?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Aviation capacity does not only affect the areas directly involved but has a wider impact across the rest of the economy and the rest of the country.

Flights approaching Heathrow on an easterly wind do so in a more directed way than in the past and without the benefit of a higher descent path. I am arranging a second meeting with the CAA and NATS in January for the people of Henley and the surrounding area to discuss the changes that there have been to flight patterns.


14 DEC 2015

Warning on Heathrow

My notes from my intervention in the statement on airports capacity today:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I welcome the decision to delay the final decision until the environmental concerns have been resolved. Colleagues and I are in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS to control noise from aircraft coming in to Heathrow over the Thames valley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the resolution of that issue is crucial to our future support for Heathrow?

Mr McLoughlin:My hon. Friend makes a good point. Aviation capacity does not only affect the areas directly involved but has a wider impact across the rest of the economy and the rest of the country.


09 DEC 2015

My speech in today's Mental Health debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I want to consider mental health in the justice system, and will draw my remarks quite widely to include the police. I am very pleased that we have made progress in this area. In my county at least, police cars are no longer used to transport mental health patients; ambulances are used instead.

NHS England has been charged with developing better healthcare services for people in the criminal justice system, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has also been asked to develop guidelines on improving mental health for those in prison. The need is to identify those who have mental health problems and to support them, as the Government have recognised. The choice is for the prisoner either to have support for their mental health issues as they move along the criminal justice pathway, or to be diverted into treatment—or, indeed, social care. The integration of social care and the NHS can contribute a lot to that process.

The service provided to prisoners needs to be consistent across the UK, and I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State's remarks on the involvement of the King's Fund in that. There is a great need for prisoners to have the same access as non-prisoners to mental health services. It is also necessary to ensure continuity of treatment across the prison estate and through to the non-prison environment. That continuity is crucial to the provision of better facilities for those prisoners with mental health issues.

That takes us back to the crisis care concordat and the need for good access to support. Prisoners need to know that their problems are genuinely taken seriously, and that they can get help when they need it. That could help tackle the issue of the huge number of men who commit suicide, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) has mentioned. That has to be acknowledged.

I congratulate the Government on the progress they have made, and on recognising the need for parity between mental and physical health services. I am also extremely grateful for the £600 million of additional funding for mental health that the Chancellor put into the system in the recent autumn statement and spending review. The Royal College of Psychiatrists was also pleased with that commitment, and said that it was good news.


09 DEC 2015

My question in the debate on lead shot

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I am struggling to understand why the hon. Gentleman thinks that the existing regulations are not sufficient to deal with the problem. Would he back more detailed environmental studies to work out what the real effect on the community is?

Gerald Jones: During the remainder of my contribution I hope to address the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Simply removing lead shot, as I said, does not solve the problem, because traces of lead can be left in the meat. In the UK, as many as 12,500 children under eight eat game once a week in the shooting community alone. In children, less than one meal of wild-shot game a week could result in blood lead levels associated with a decrease in IQ.


02 DEC 2015

Petition on Schools Funding Formula

Last night (1 December) I presented a petition from 592 residents of the Henley Constituency to Parliament on the subject of the fair funding campaign for schools. (See attached photo). The existing school funding model in England is arbitrary and unfair. The best funded areas of England have on average received grants of £6,300 per pupil this year, compared to an average of £4,200 per pupil in the ten most poorly funded areas of England. Oxfordshire is particularly poorly funded. By better funding it, schools will be infinitely better off and have more resources to play with. They will have to make fewer choices about whether they can pay staff or cut courses. I welcome the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce fairer school funding. However the purpose of the petition, which was accompanied by over 100 similar petitions, was to support the earliest possible introduction of a new National Funding Formula for schools in England.

I welcome the Chancellor's statement that a new fairer schools funding formula would be introduced. In introducing this petition I wanted to keep the Government up to the mark in going ahead with this and I was very glad to see the Education Secretary in her seat to hear the submission of these petitions.


01 DEC 2015

My speech on the Middle East

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try to fill the 10 minutes that you have now made available to me, although I have prepared a speech to last for seven minutes. We will see how it goes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is no longer in his place, on securing this debate. I draw Members' attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

In recent years, we have witnessed the ascent of a brutal and destructive form of Islamic fundamentalism across the region. Mosul's nearly 2,000-year-old Christian population has been purged, the Yazidis have endured what is arguably a genocide, ancient cultural heritage has been destroyed and once stable countries have descended into chaos.

It is without question that the terrorist attacks in Paris were a direct assault on our way of life, just like, in their own way, the attacks on British citizens in Tunisia. Political leaders and the public alike are now coming to the realisation that this is not a problem in some far-flung region of the world that we can simply will away. Sadly, it has taken the tragedy of Paris to open our eyes to the fact that this is a problem that we cannot afford to ignore any longer. If ISIL is allowed to fester, we will see a continuation of the ethnic cleansing, the indoctrination of future generations in ISIL-held territory and thousands more displaced Syrians and Iraqis. I therefore welcome the fact that the Government will, I hope, put the question of British intervention in Syria to the vote in the House this week.

Let us note also that ISIL is but one manifestation of the evil of radical Islam. It would be unwise now to cast similarly reprehensible groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah, Hamas and others in a different or, indeed, a better light. They have all actively participated in Islamist-driven violence, destroying lives across many communities in the middle east and beyond. It is important to recognise that there are democratic forces in many countries in the region and Britain should take the lead in supporting them wherever possible. The majority of citizens in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere want to live their lives in normality without the daily interruption of car bombs and gun attacks. The Arab spring surely demonstrated a desire for change and for democracy.

In this conflict, we have the advantage of military superiority, but this alone is not enough to win and it is not what is being proposed. When ISIL is eventually defeated, unless we are careful and can also target the cause, which is the ideology, and not only the effect, which can be seen in the actions of ISIL, another group will re-emerge under a different name. Some, such as the Foreign Minister of Sweden, have relayed the misguided notion that the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of the current turmoil in the middle east and that once it is resolved the blight of Islamist radicalism will end. That is simply not the case. In fact, part of the reason we are in this current state is that too much focus rather than too little has been placed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of other conflicts in the region.

I was at a dinner last week at which a somewhat left-wing Canadian journalist made a speech with which I happened completely to agree. He said that when he first went to Israel, he pointed out that in his news office there were a huge number of journalists concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of the whole of the region. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at best a minor sideshow. The wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere have raged on, yet just last week the UN decided to pass six resolutions against Israel, the only stable democracy in the region.

To suggest that the existence of Israel is at the root of the entire middle east's turbulence today is to overlook the sectarian divisions in the region that have existed for centuries. It also ignores the large part played by certain countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, that have spent billions to fund the toxic and destructive spread of Wahabist ideology across Muslim communities worldwide. It is imperative that Britain and the whole civilised world does whatever is necessary to combat that ideology and stop its spread.

Mr MacNeil: I understand from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the UK has eight planes in Iraq, of which two are active. If the UK is going to intervene in Syria, is it going to lessen its efforts against ISIS in Iraq or is it not? Or is it not bombing ISIS in Iraq intensely enough? We are only talking about one or two planes that will go in to Syria.

John Howell: That is a debate we can have on Wednesday, I am not going to answer that question now.

We need to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop exporting its radical ideology worldwide, despite our geopolitical alliances. I ask the Minister perhaps to write to me in reply to the question of what steps the Government will take to ensure that the Wahabist ideology does not spread further across the middle east.

Before I finish, I want to highlight another important country in the region that has been consumed by a less violent but equally destructive Islamist threat. The AKP Government in Turkey have increasingly eroded democracy by arresting dozens of prominent journalists, turning to authoritarianism and reigniting the conflict with the Kurdish PKK to seal their power. The same Government are a vocal supporter of the terrorist group Hamas, which has masterminded deadly attacks against Israelis from its Istanbul headquarters. In our approach to Turkey, as is too often the case, realpolitik has taken precedence over human values, ignoring the fact that democracy is not only about having an election.

In addition, despite their latent arrests of ISIL suspects, the AKP Government in Turkey have turned a blind eye to ISIL terrorists, instead prioritising fighting Kurdish forces in Syria, the very people making the largest territorial gains from ISIL. The erratic actions of Turkey, especially taking into consideration last week's developments with Russia, give us increasing cause for concern. I ask the Secretary of State to join me in condemning the Turkish Government's undermining of the freedom of press in the country and to explain how we can expect ISIL and other jihadists to be dislodged from their territory in Syria when Turkey is bombing the Kurdish YPG.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Turkey is still talking to the European Union about accession, so when the Government take such actions, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, what signals does that send out about potential entry to the EU?

John Howell: My hon. Friend raises an important point. At best, it sends a very confused signal and, at worst, it sends a signal that we do not care what Turkey does in the middle east. That is a signal that we do not wish to send to Turkey and we should not send it. We should say that we do not agree with what Turkey is doing and that it is supporting a form of Islamic fundamentalism in its actions.

I am not sure that I have fully used my extra allotted minutes, but let me conclude by going back to what I said at the beginning of my speech. The situation in the middle east is very confused, but it is not surprising, in my view, that the western press ignored totally the rise of ISIL, because they were not looking. All their action was focused on what was happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not in the wider middle east.

Edward Argar: Does my hon. Friend agree that sadly the same is true of the press's attention to the conflict in Yemen in recent months and years? Again, they just were not looking.

John Howell: To a certain extent, the press are still not looking at Yemen. We have heard excellent contributions from Opposition Members about the situation in Yemen and I am very concerned about it. I know that my hon. Friend is, too. We all need to concentrate on that and to ensure that the press do not just focus on the one thing that it is easy for them to get a grip on, which is made easy by the openness of Israel in allowing the press in and allowing access to everything that there is to talk about in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just the media? Too often, many of us looking on events in the middle east have done too much wishful thinking. Now is the time to take pragmatic action grounded in a much wider strategy to solve the challenges that we face.

John Howell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is time to look at the bigger picture, and I am sure that the Foreign Office is doing so. We need to encourage the press and the general population, as well as Members of Parliament, to take into account the fact that there are many conflicts in the region. Some of them are more serious than others. I would put the Yemen conflict in that category. In my book, it is probably the No. 1 conflict. My hon. Friend makes a good point about encouraging people to take a larger view of what is happening in the region. With that, I have almost taken my 10 minutes. It is kind of you to make that available, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr Ellwood: I am delighted to use up the last minute of my hon. Friend's time by responding to the two points that he made. He is right to be concerned about the growth of Islamic extremism in Syria. We are focused on working with the 100 or so factions that have proved themselves by saying that they do not want to be part of Assad's regime. They want to look after their own communities, but they do not want to be part of terrorism.

Turkey is now part of the international coalition. It was struck by ISIL in a terrorist attack in Ankara not long ago, and it is participating in the Vienna talks, which is welcome news.

John Howell: I thank the Minister for that. We will probably have further discussions about Turkey.


30 NOV 2015

My question to the Health Secretary

John Howell (Henley) (Con):As the chairman of the alternative dispute resolution all-party group, may I confirm that it is always right to identify common ground before going into a negotiation at ACAS? I do not think that anyone should underestimate the amount of common ground that the Secretary of State has achieved in getting the ACAS talks going. What will it now take to get the BMA to call off the strike?

Mr Hunt:My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What is the common ground between the Government and junior doctors? We want to make sure they are working safe hours; we do not want to cut their pay; we want safer services for patients; and we want to make sure that the many junior doctors who do work weekends get proper consultant support and training opportunities at weekends as well as during the week. I think that that is enough on which to come to a deal.


30 NOV 2015

John Howell MP supports Thame in Rising Star category of Great British High Street Awards

Today (30 November) I attended the award ceremony in London for the Great British High Street. Thame had won a prestigious Rising Star award in what was a closely fought competition. Speaking at the event, Marcus Jones MP, the Minister for High Streets, praised Thame's entry and pointed to the quality of the offering on Thame High Street and the robustness of its Neighbourhood Plan.

It was a great pleasure to be at the awards ceremony and to support Thame. I think Thame did very well to be chosen from across the country and I was particularly pleased to see that its Neighbourhood Plan was specifically mentioned. This is good news for Thame and the excellence of what it has to offer in its High Street.

Picture shows Marcus Jones MP (Minister), John Howell MP, Helen Johns (Thame), Sonja Francis (Thame), Simon Roberts (President of Boots).


26 NOV 2015

John Howell MP pledges to help STOP bowel cancer in the Henley constituency

Following a recent event held at Westminster by leading charity Bowel Cancer UK, John Howell MP for Henley and Thame pledged to take action in Parliament and locally to stop bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, affecting both men and women. Every year over 41,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, that's one diagnosis every 15 minutes, and more than 16,000 people die of the disease. Bowel Cancer UK supports research and campaigns to stop bowel cancer.

As the local MP, I am totally committed to improving outcomes for bowel cancer patients both locally and nationally.

There are still too many people dying from bowel cancer when we know that it is preventable, treatable and curable, if it is diagnosed early. That's why I'm backing Bowel Cancer UK's call to improve bowel cancer services and support their aspiration to transform survival rates from one in two surviving bowel cancer for five years to three in four surviving by 2025.

Bowel Cancer UK's Parliamentary Reception aimed to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of developing a world class, consistent service across the UK. Currently there are huge variations in the availability and quality of diagnostic testing, treatment and care. The event provided Parliamentarians with national and local data to highlight how their own Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is currently performing in a number of key indicators relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer versus other areas of the country.

I would urge my constituents to see their GP if they are worried about symptoms they think might be caused by bowel cancer. Early diagnosis really can save lives.

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said, "Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer with survival rates being one of the lowest in Europe. As a charity, we are determined to save lives and improve the quality of life for all those affected by bowel cancer. But we can't do it on our own. The support of people such as [insert name] is vital to helping us make a difference. That's why I'd like to thank [insert name] for supporting our campaign to stop bowel cancer. Together we can save lives."


25 NOV 2015

John Howell MP welcomes the ChancellorÂ’s commitment to deliver economic and national security for working people in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the Chancellor's Spending Review and Autumn Statement. It delivers on the promise the Conservative Party made to the British people that we would put their security first by:

  • Protecting our economic security – taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. The public spending plans set out in the Spending Review mean Britain will reach a surplus of £10.1 billion in 2019/20 – that's higher than was forecast at the Budget and means Britain will be out of the red and into the black.
  • Protecting our national security by defending our country's interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home. The Spending Review announced there will be no cuts in the police budget with real terms protection for police funding and delivers on the Government's commitment to spend 2 per cent of our national income on defence.

In total, the Spending Review commits £4 trillion pounds over the next five years. A huge commitment of the hard-earned cash of British taxpayers, and the Conservative Party knows we have an obligation to make sure it is well spent. Our approach is not simply retrenchment, it is to reform and rebuild, by:

Protecting police funding in real terms. There will be no cuts to police budgets at all.

Enabling local government to meet growing social care needs. Local authorities responsible for social care will be able to levy a new social care precept of up to 2%. This is something I have campaigned on together with the integration of the NHS and Social Care.

Full funding of the Five Year Forward View put forward by the NHS itself as the plan for its future with the first £6 billion delivered up-front next year. This is something I have always said we would do and I am glad to see it enacted.

A new school's national funding formula will start to be introduced from 2017 phasing out the arbitrary and unfair system which exists today. This is something on which I have campaign and am about to deliver a petition in the House of Commons.

The biggest real terms rise in the basic State Pension in 15 years. Thanks to our commitment to the triple lock, next year the basic state pension will rise by £3.35 to £119.30 a week.

The biggest house building programme by any government since the 1970s with a doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion a year. Our bold plan to back families who aspire to buy their own home will deliver 400,000 affordable new homes by the end of the decade.

The phasing out entirely of the local government grant. By the end of the parliament local government will keep all of the revenue from business rates. We will abolish the uniform business rate so councils will be able to cut rates to attract new businesses, but because the amount government raises in business rates is much greater than the amount we give to local councils through the local government grant we will phase that grant out entirely and devolve additional responsibilities.

New apprenticeship levy to deliver 3 million apprenticeships. This will ensure large businesses share the cost of training, but businesses with a wage bill below £3 million won't have to pay. We will also increase funding for apprenticeships to make sure they are high quality apprenticeships.

The largest ever investment in free childcare so working families get the help they need. From 2017, we will fund 30 hours of free childcare for working families with three and four year olds. We'll support £10,000 of childcare costs tax-free and, to support nurseries delivering more free places for parents, we'll increase funding for the sector by £300 million.

The improvement in the nation's finances used to help on tax credits. Because of the improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether. Tax credits are being phased out anyway as we introduce universal credit. This is something on which I have been lobbied throughout the constituency.

This Autumn Statement delivers on the promise we made to working people in Henley that we would put their security first. Protecting our economic security by taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. And protecting our national security by defending our country's interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home.


24 NOV 2015

John Howell MP meets Minister to discuss aircraft noise over Heathrow

I held a meeting with the Minister of Transport responsible for aircraft, Robert Goodwill MP, on Monday 23 November. The meeting followed up the debate in Parliament in October at which the issue had been raised. The meeting took place with John Redwood MP and Dr Phillip Lee MP who represent Wokingham and Bracknell. The MPs made the point that aircraft approaches to Heathrow on an easterly wind had been changed without public consultation. They also pointed out that the greater accuracy of aircraft routings meant that aircraft were squeezed into a more confined space than hitherto. They pointed to the height of incoming aircraft as one of the major factors which increased noise. Over Henley, it would appear that the average height was about 5,000 feet with some aircraft being below this. A much steeper descent closer to the airport would help ensure noise was dissipated.

We asked the Minister to raise this issue with the CAA and NATS and to seek an explanation as to why a change had been allowed to happen. It was quite clear that people were now living with an unacceptable level of noise even before the decision had been made on the next phase of airport expansion. I was pleased that the Minister agreed to hold such a meeting and was looking sympathetically at the issue.


24 NOV 2015

John Howell MP: new figures show our plan to help one million more people to own their own home is working

I have welcomed new figures showing the increase in housing supply in South Oxfordshire. In the area covered by SODC (South Oxfordshire District Council) there have been 610 new houses built since last year.

The official statistics show that our plan to make home ownership an achievable dream is working in South Oxfordshire and across the country. With a 25 per cent increase nationally in housing supply since last year, there are now 170,690 more new houses available for people who want good quality homes, both to rent and buy. These figures show that we are moving towards our ambition to create a million new homeowners by 2020, with our crusade to get homes built being realised in South Oxfordshire.

These figures are excellent news, showing the number of houses available in the SODC area has risen giving a boost to the number of homes available for hardworking families and individuals.

We want to give hard working people the security and stability of owning their own home, with government initiatives nationally already having helped 230,000 people buy a home since 2010. We want to go even further and double the number of first-time buyers compared to the last five years and deliver 200,000 new Starter Homes at 20 per cent discount to first-time buyers under 40. I am particularly pleased that so many communities are taking forward Neighbourhood Plans as the way to plan for the future of their communities and I offer them my support.

I would recommend anyone aspiring to own a home of their own to log on to www.ownyourhome.gov.uk to see what government help may be available to help them buy a home of their own.

John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said

"The District Council fully backs the Government to help families buy their own home and we are delighted that so many parishes are working on Neighbourhood Plans to determine where houses should go in their area. Our next year's refresh of our Local Plan will focus on building more high quality homes in the right places."


24 NOV 2015

John Howell MP: welcomes investment in our national defence

I have welcomed the publication of this week's Strategic Defence and Security Review – a comprehensive plan to back our Armed Forces, counter-terrorism police and intelligence agencies with the resources they need.

Our national security depends on our economic security. Our renewed economic security means we can afford to invest further in our national security. This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing.

  • Our plan to invest £178 billion in our defence over the next decade, includes:
  • Creating two new strike brigades with forces of up to 5,000 personnel each who will be fully equipped to deploy rapidly and sustain themselves in the field.
  • Increasing the size of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force by a total of 700 personnel.
  • Renewing the continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent – our ultimate insurance policy.
  • Investing in nine maritime patrol aircraft to protect our nuclear deterrent, hunt down hostile submarines and enhance our maritime search and rescue.
  • Extending the life of our multirole Typhoon for 10 extra years through to 2040, meaning we will be able to create two additional squadrons.
  • Accelerating the F-35 programme, by buying 42 jets by 2023.
  • Investing £1.9 billion over five years in our cybersecurity.

These investments are an act of clear-eyed self-interest to ensure our prosperity and security. Britain is fortunate to have some of the finest Armed Forces, counter-terrorism police and security services in the world. Using our renewed economic strength, we will equip them to defeat the terrorist threat and help keep us safe for generations to come.

By working through our long-term economic plan to create a stronger economy, we are now in a position to invest further in our security.

The first duty of any government is to keep the nation and our communities safe – that is why this investment is fantastic news for the people of this area. I am proud that we are the only major country in the world which is simultaneously going to meet the NATO target of spending 2 per cent of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our GNI on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism. Today's announcements underline how committed we are to the long-term, future security of Britain.


19 NOV 2015

Intervention in debate on Further Education

Below is my intervention in the debate on Further Education.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend surprised that nobody has yet mentioned our ambition to have 3 million apprenticeships by 2020? There has already been a significant increase in my constituency.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is pre-empting what I am coming to. I would like to say that I am surprised that Labour Members have not so far mentioned apprenticeships, but they would not want to bring attention to our track record in the last Parliament of delivering double the number of apprenticeship starts than that delivered by the last Labour Government.


18 NOV 2015

John Howell MP says that new apprenticeships mean more young people in the Henley constituency are getting the skills they need to succeed

 

 

 I have welcomed new figures showing 540 new apprenticeships were started by people in the Henley constituency last year. In total 2,620 new apprenticeships have been started in the constituency since 2010 – meaning more young people getting the skills they need for a successful and secure future.

The figures showed a strong rise in the number of apprenticeships started – up 8% in the South East in 2014/15 from the year before.

This means more young people getting the skills they need to get on in life and make the most of their talents – as they do locally at the Henley College, Lord Williams School in Thame, DAF and the Culham Fusion Centre.

In total 2.4 million apprenticeships were started in England over the last parliament. And the Conservatives are committed to go even further over the next five years and deliver 3 million more by 2020. This is being funded by an apprenticeships levy on large employers, who will have control over funding to ensure it is giving young people the skills they will need to succeed.

These figures are fantastic news. 2,620 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in this constituency getting the skills to succeed and get on in life.

Apprenticeships have been at the heart of our plan to deliver a more secure future for young people and as Conservatives we are committed to go even further over the next five years, with the commitment we made in our manifesto to deliver 3 million more high quality apprenticeships by 2020.

We are giving young people proper training and the prospect of a better future. Millions of young people are getting a good start in life, learning a trade, and knowing the purpose and pride that comes with that.


17 NOV 2015

Question on refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What steps the Government is taking to tackle people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Prior to resettlement, a mechanism needs to be established through which refugees can claim asylum. What is the impact of this on the overall progress towards resettlement?

Mrs May: Refugees who are resettled under the scheme for resettling Syrian refugees are provided with five years of humanitarian protection. Of course, there are also individuals who will come here and claim asylum and who will be dealt with under the normal asylum processes, but those who are resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme are given five years' humanitarian protection here in the UK.


11 NOV 2015

Intervention in Trade Union Bill

John Howell: The hon. Gentleman and I have shared many an anecdote about this, both in Committee and elsewhere. He will recall that in Committee I raised a number of concerns from the Open Rights Group which called for prudence in the use of internet voting. Has he looked at that in greater detail?

Chris Stephens: The hon. Gentleman is right. I found it curious that when I googled my name I got a link to his website and it was the exchange that we had in Committee. In fairness, the same thing happens with the hon. Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens). The Open Rights Group is saying that trade union ballots do not apply in these cases, because there is the additional safety of a scrutineer and so on.


10 NOV 2015

Oxfordshire MPs and head teachers meet

On Wednesday 4 November 2015 a meeting was organised in Parliament by me between Oxfordshire Secondary School Heads and all six Oxfordshire MPs including the Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron MP.

The meeting, which was held in the Prime Minister's House of Commons office, was called to discuss six main issues. These were: the fair funding formula in relation to Oxfordshire, recruiting and retaining good teachers, post-16 education, Academy funding and rural schools.

The issue of inequality between local authorities and the amount of funding per pupil was raised. There was general acceptance that the issue needed addressing in full and that the longer the funding disparity had continued, the greater the disparity had become.

Daniel Sadler, Head of Chiltern Edge School, commented that:

"The Fair Funding argument is of vital importance to Chiltern Edge if we are to continue to provide a good education for our pupils. As we are in Oxfordshire, one of the lowest funded authorities in the country we are up to a million pounds worse off each year than similar schools elsewhere. This is very unfair and also completely unsustainable."

Commenting on the issue of Academy funding, Catherine Darnton, Head of Gillotts, said:

"At Gillotts, we have been able, over the first few years as an academy, to build up a small reserve as a cushion against the unexpected. However this is now being rapidly eroded just to be able to afford the pay rises the Government continues to award, despite our funding staying at the same cash value each year. We have already cut back on all areas except staffing and we have only the minimum level of staffing as it stands to be able to deliver the excellent education that we do. If the issue of fair funding is not addressed by 2017, we fear that the cuts we would be forced to make would have a negative impact on the quality of teaching and learning - that is not a position any Headteacher wants to be in."

We all understood the point being made about fair funding and that the issue has not been resolved. I am grateful for those schools that have returned petitions on this subject which I can present in Parliament. There was general agreement that this was an issue which needs addressing. In addition, we are also looking for schools to think creatively by for example greater collaboration and developing packages that could help with the cost of living issues crucial to retaining teachers.

Daniel Sadler added:

"We really appreciate John Howell's initiative in arranging our meeting with David Cameron and the other Oxfordshire MPs at Westminster on 4th November. We were able to get over our point about the need for a prompt and fair change to the funding formula to ensure that our students will not continue to be disadvantaged in the future. We will be working hard to engage the whole school community in pressing for this urgently needed change."

Catherine Darnton also added:

"To be able to explain this in person to David Cameron, John Howell and the four other Oxfordshire MPs was a great opportunity. We hope for a positive announcement as part of the spending review that is currently underway."

I am anticipating presenting a petition in Parliament from all schools within his constituency on fairer funding around the end of November.


05 NOV 2015

Question in Urgent Question on Human Rights in Egypt

My question today in the Urgent Question on Human Rights in Egypt.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):What assessment has the Minister made of how effective the parliamentary elections in Egypt will be in tackling human rights and will the Prime Minister raise that in his discussions with President Sisi?

Mr Ellwood:The elections were well overdue and we are pleased that the first round has taken place, as I have just mentioned. This is a new Parliament. There is an awful lot of work to be done as it takes its infant footsteps in understanding how it, as a legislature, needs to hold the Executive to account. I am pleased that the Arab Partnership scheme and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and funds from the FCO will provide financial assistance to help train the Parliament and ensure that it is as effective as possible in holding the Executive and the presidency to account.


03 NOV 2015

MP promoted to the Council of Europe

I have been appointed by the Prime Minister to join the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is not part of the EU but is a separate body of 47 member states set up in 1949. It exists to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law. One of its statutory bodies is the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The best known part of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights.

I am very pleased to have received this important appointment from the Prime Minister to join the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. It is a crucial time for the UK with this organisation as we take forward our human rights agenda. It will be essential to ensure we have a strong voice on the Council. In addition, the Court is looking to appoint a new UK judge and it will be necessary to have some oversight of the appointment.

I am one of only 6 Conservative MPs to be appointed as full members to the Council of Europe. It will not involve me being away from the constituency for any length of time. The Council meets in Strasbourg quarterly.


03 NOV 2015

My question in Justice Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con):With the growth in litigants in person there has been a growth in McKenzie friends. There are two types: those who provide backgrounds to unfamiliar settings and those who act effectively as lawyers and charge for their services. What is the Minister going to do about the latter?

Mr Vara:The concept of McKenzie friends is relatively new. [Hon. Members: "No, it's not."] I said relatively new. We are keeping an eye on advice and what fees, if any, are being charged.


28 OCT 2015

My question at International Development Questions this morning.

My question at International Development question this morning.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Will my right hon. Friend praise the doctors at the Hadassah medical centre in Jerusalem, who are showing real humanitarian characteristics by treating victims and attackers at the same time?

Mr Swayne:That is an object lesson on the measure of leadership now required to overcome the huge amount of distrust and hatred.


28 OCT 2015

MP responds on tax credits

A number of constituents have contacted me about the Government's proposals to reform tax credits which the House of Commons has already approved and for which an opposition motion was decisively defeated. I understand the concerns that have been raised but I disagree with them. The House of Lords used its position on 26 October to oppose the Government - a move which will haves serious repercussions. Incidentally, I followed Heidi Allen into the voting lobby which defeated the opposition motion.

The tax credit changes are part of a package that includes tax reductions, additional childcare support as well as a national living wage. Compassionate Conservatism is about delivering a low welfare, low tax and high income society and that is what we are doing. We want to make work pay and allow people to earn more. We want to cut their taxes and make welfare affordable. This measure does all of that.

Tax has already been cut by increasing the personal allowance. When Labour left office it was less than £6,500. It currently stands at £10,800 and will, by 2020, be £12,500. We're also introducing 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds and tax free childcare worth up to £2,000 a year. Finally, we are introducing a new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour from April 2016 and companies are already increasing wages in line with this. Since we announced the new National Living Wage bands hundreds of firms have said they'll increase pay. Nearly 200 firms have agreed to pay the National Living Wage in recent months. We've changed the conversation about pay and real pay is now growing strongly, with pay up 3.0 per cent this year.

This is an area of spending that simply grew and grew under Labour more than trebling in real terms between 1999 and 2010. Tax credits were introduced to help people in low paid work but, by the time Labour left office, 90% of working families were eligible. I think this shows a strong argument for reform at the same time as we take action to ensure people are paying less tax, have more childcare and have a living wage.

Let me add one further point. Tax credits effectively allow employers to pay their staff less than they need to make ends meet, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will top their salaries up. The former Labour Lord Chancellor, Alistair Darling, has said that "tax credits are subsidising lower wages in a way that was never intended."

I want to live in a country where people are paid enough (and taxed low enough. It is a single, thought-through, coherent plan. You can't pick and choose between its elements. It's simply not credible to impose higher wages and leave tax credits unreformed, condemning taxpayers to ever-higher welfare bills. That's a classic approach of thinking you can have everything, and in the end achieving nothing.

Will the average household lose £1,300? That analysis just doesn't take into account the other things we are doing, for example: raising the personal allowance; the new National Living Wage which will see someone on it get nearly a £1,000 pay rise next year; offering 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. It also doesn't take into account the wider ripple effect of the National Living Wage on increasing pay. And it doesn't take into account the fact that we have created over 2 million jobs and employment is continuing to rise.


27 OCT 2015

John Howell MP Champions fantastic low unemployment figures in Henley during Treasury Question Time:

Today (27 October) I raised the important issue of unemployment and apprenticeship training in the Henley constituency with the Chancellor of the Exchequer during Treasury Questions in the House of Commons Chamber.

I said: "The total number of unemployed in my constituency is 219, with youth unemployment at only 36. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising institutions such as the Henley College, which is providing excellent apprenticeship training?"

George Osborne responded "It is very good to hear about the success the people in my hon. Friend's constituency have had in finding work over recent years and the clear business confidence that exists in Oxfordshire. The Henley college is doing an excellent job in making sure that young people have the skills they need to take the opportunities now out there in the jobs market. We will, of course, go on helping such institutions by increasing the number of apprentices we fund in this country, so that we deliver the 3 million apprenticeships mentioned in our election manifesto."

I wanted to highlight the unemployment figures in the constituency, which clearly show that the Government's long term economic plan is working. I also wanted to share the fantastic work undertaken by the Henley College with regards to highly successful apprenticeship training. I was pleased to hear the Chancellor share my enthusiasm for continued success in Henley and am pleased that further funding is being provided for apprenticeships".

Notes

The exchange between me and George Osborne was taken from the Parliamentary Hansard, which can be accessed here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/7/


27 OCT 2015

My question yesterday about mental health and families

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Colleagues have rightly pointed to the impact of mental health on the children themselves, but children's mental health problems also impact on the family as a whole. Will the Secretary of State explain what we are doing in that respect?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that when somebody in a family, particularly a younger person, is struck with mental ill health, it affects the whole family. That is why funding through the voluntary and community sector programme and organisations such as Mind and Place2Be, as well as the MindEd website, which provides resources for parents, are important. I strongly encourage any parents who are worried about the mental health of their children to have an early conversation with people in their schools, including headteachers and teachers, so that they can then make the referrals


26 OCT 2015

Letter re Townlands Hospital

Sir,

In response to your correspondents, it might be a handy slogan to say that Townlands Hospital is a hospital without beds but it is simply not true. There are up to 14 beds associated with the hospital – 8 permanent, the rest hired on demand. Beds associated with the old hospital have been saved by working with the Clinical Commissioning Group not by throwing stones at it. The beds are located on the same site as the hospital, on the same campus, as part of the same medical village. Yes - they form part of the adjacent Care Home where the beds are likely to be co-located. But precisely why does that matter?

The important point is not where these beds are located but that there is excellent medical cover and good social care available for them. While much of the discussion has been about where the beds should go, I have been questioning the robustness of the provision of social care under the ambulatory care model. This has nothing at all to do with Government policy but with the views of clinicians and of the NHS. As your readers will know, I have been lobbying Government for the full integration of social care with the NHS for some time.

The papers prepared by the Clinical Commissioning Group show the involvement I have had with the project. The paper prepared for the Board meeting in July 2015 references me on pages 2,13,14,and 15. While that prepared for the September 2015 Board meeting references me on pages 3,4,14,15, and 16.

This is not Henley's hospital but a hospital for a large part of Southern Oxfordshire, the majority of which supports and is grateful for what we have achieved. How do I know this? I asked them.

It is a much more helpful form of politics for a politician to engage with a problem and try to solve it so delivering a 21st century healthcare service rather than simply oppose it. Would I do this again? With the success of this campaign, you can bet your life, literally, that I would.

Yours faithfully,

John Howell


23 OCT 2015

MP comments on electronic voting

Herewith the text of my speech delivered as a member of the Trade Union Bill committee on electronic voting.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I accept that electronic voting is gaining widespread political support, but I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the evidence that was put to the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy, particularly the evidence from the Open Rights Group. The Guardian commented:

"The chief fear of many is that...electronic voting would make electoral fraud easier, not harder. In the worst-case scenario, rather than forging ballots"—

an individual—

"could simply flip a switch and win the election with no trail in sight."

The executive director of the Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, said:

"This is a very hard problem to solve and so far nobody has managed it. Accountability in most software systems means a clear audit trail of who did what, which of course would violate the basic question of secrecy."

Regardless of that, the other part of that argument is that the system has to be made so secure and the voting equipment has to be trusted to such an extent that accountability is not open to doubt.

Stephen Doughty: On the basis of that argument, I have to ask whether the hon. Gentleman considers the election of his colleague, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London to be unsound in some way.

John Howell: I thought the hon. Gentleman would ask that question, so I thought of an answer. The answer is that I am not suggesting that anything at all was wrong with that election or, indeed, other elections that have used electronic voting, but I urge extreme caution where it is applied to elections that are enduring and on a statutory basis.

To finish—I wanted this to be only a brief intervention—I go back to Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group. He said:

"Given the vast numbers of machines that are infected by criminally controlled malware and the temptation for someone to interfere in an election, internet voting is a bad idea."

Nick Boles: Will my hon. Friend tell us where he unearthed those comments from Jim Killock to ensure that Hansard can record that for all Members?

John Howell: I am grateful to the Minister. Part of it comes from my role as the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on design and innovation—it did a lot of work in this area before the election—at the time that the Speaker's Commission was working, and part of it comes from an article in The Guardian. The Minister will appreciate that, as a lively reader of The Guardian, I pick up these things wherever I can. I can probably give him the exact date on which the article was published, if he wants to know that.

Chris Stephens: We are not talking about an election, though, but a ballot, which will be a binary choice. It will either be yes or no. What specifically would concern the hon. Gentleman about introducing electronic balloting in a case of industrial action or to confirm or otherwise the political fund arrangements of a trade union?

John Howell: I think there is a great deal of similarity between using electronic means for an election and for this sort of statutory balloting. The thing that most concerns me is that, as in the words of the Open Rights Group that I just quoted:

"This is a very hard problem to solve and so far nobody has managed it."

The question is how we deal with the problems of security and particularly of accountability.

Stephen Doughty: I think that it is important to test this point. The hon. Gentleman is referring to decisions that have statutory implications, are regulated and so on, but these methods are also used by major financial institutions. For example, the Nationwide Building Society, the Yorkshire Building Society, J.P. Morgan and others—

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con) rose—

The Chair: Order. You cannot intervene on an intervention.

Stephen Doughty: At their annual general meetings, which are often taking very serious and significant decisions, which are bound by the financial law set out by this House, those organisations are using these systems, so what is the problem? Why is this the only part of our democracy that is not able to use them?

John Howell: I think that a number of hon. Members want to intervene. First, does my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble want to intervene on me, as she could not intervene on the intervener?

Seema Kennedy: Sir Edward, I apologise. I am a relative novice, including on interventions. Are you aware that in the last year alone, online banking fraud has increased by 48%? Hon. Members are talking about the use of electronic methods in the financial and banking sector.

The Chair: Order. I am not aware of anything, especially not in The Guardian. When you say "you", you are addressing the Chair. Anyway, you have got the message.

John Howell: I think that that question was directed to me, Sir Edward. I am aware that online banking fraud is up by 48%. That is an example of what I am talking about—

Julie Elliott: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell: Not at the moment.

Julie Elliott: Just on that specific point.

John Howell: Not at the moment. If we look at Barclays bank, for example, we see that the level of tolerance of this is phenomenal. It is frightening to see that; in fact, it makes one wish to change one's account straightaway.

In answer to the question asked some time ago by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth about other organisations that use these methods, I fully accept, as I said at the beginning, that electronic balloting—electronic voting—is gaining wider and wider significance and acceptability. However, the organisations using these methods are approaching that in a systematic way. All I wanted to say at this point was that tremendous caution needs to be exercised. I shall finish again with the opinion of Mr Killock that

"internet voting is a bad idea."


22 OCT 2015

Henley MP champions NHS and Social Care integration

One of my great political objectives is to see the integration of social care and medical care provided by the NHS.  In the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill debate this week I was able to raise the question of the protection afforded to social care.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): My right hon. Friend has talked a great deal about the safeguarding of NHS provision. Can he reassure me that the social care element will be protected by the same level of safeguards?

Alistair Burt: Yes, in that the regulatory powers of the CQC and the safeguarding inspection regime will be retained for the social care element that is covered by a devolution deal. Again, the whole point is to give as much flexibility as possible to areas that want to exercise their powers to deliver services differently, with the reassurance that there will no compromise in relation to key standards—not that that would be wished for in a local area, and not that it would be anticipated by any of the devolving powers.


21 OCT 2015

Henley MP speaks out on aircraft noise

MPs in constituencies surrounding Heathrow joined forces in a debate in the House to call for action to mitigate aircraft noise. In a debate secured by Philip Lee, MP for Bracknell, MPs, including me, called for reversal of recent changes to the flight paths and offered possible solutions that could be introduced to mitigate noise.

I added my voice to the call for action ensuring that concerns from Henley and surrounding villages were on record. Speaking after the debate I said:

"Air traffic control have now admitted that they have changed the flight paths which means there are now lower flights over the constituency creating noise pollution. There are several measures that can be undertaken. Firstly I would like to see flight paths put back to where they were. I would also like to see other measures introduced such as bringing the planes in at a much steeper angle of descent and getting rid of older planes which are among the nosiest in the skies."

In response to the debate the Minister for Transport, Robert Goodwill, gave his assurance that government was aware of the concerns and that Heathrow was taking steps to cut back and mitigate its noise impact. He drew attention to the Aviation Policy Framework published in 2013 in which overall policy is to limit and where possible reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise. The Minister also mentioned the 'Blueprint for noise reduction' published this year by Heathrow setting out practical steps it is taking to mitigate noise.

I further commented:

"I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the concerns and that action is being taken. I will continue to work with my colleagues to hold all concerned to account on this and to push for some of the solutions offered in the debate to be taken on board."


20 OCT 2015

MP raises question about Palestinian extremism

John Howell (Henley) (Con):What assessment has the Minister made about the significant damage to the holy site of Joseph's tomb at Nablus, which was destroyed by up to 100 Palestinian rioters?

Mr Ellwood:I strongly condemn the burning of the tomb of Joseph in Nablus. The basic right of freedom to worship in safety and security should be protected for all. We have called for a swift and transparent investigation into the incident and for those responsible to be brought to justice.


20 OCT 2015

MP talks about aircraft noise in debate

My speech on aircraft noise from Heathrow

John Howell (Henley) (Con): First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this important debate. It is a pleasure to participate briefly in it. Although Henley-on-Thames is a little further up the River Thames than his constituency, it is also very badly blighted by noise pollution from aircraft, particularly those on easterly operations, which appear to do the equivalent of a handbrake turn over Henley, with all the attendant noise that brings.

I invited Heathrow, NATS and others to a public meeting to look at this problem. They willingly attended it, for which I am very grateful to them. However, their solution was that everything depended on the air patterns—whether aircraft were on a westerly or easterly approach. I can understand the logic of that, but it does not answer the whole question.

The fact that the landing routes have changed is a big contributor to the difficulties my constituents face. It affects the whole of Henley. Emails from my constituents say that they are woken up early in the morning, particularly with the old 747s that are among the noisiest aircraft in the skies, and late at night. It is necessary to do something about that. I approve of what my hon. Friend has said about steepness of the descent. That would keep aircraft significantly higher as they come in to land over my constituency, which would be a major improvement. Something needs to be done about older aircraft, because when the big 747s come in they are powered in such a way—I do not know whether the pilots do it deliberately, but they certainly seem to—that it creates an enormous noise.

Like my hon. Friend, I am looking forward to the results of the inquiry into the future of Heathrow. We need the capacity and we need to build something there, but if we are going to do so, we must solve the mitigation problem first.


20 OCT 2015

Response in the statement on education expansion

Response in the statement on educatio expansion

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Given the confessional mood in the Chamber this afternoon, let me confess that I, too, went to a grammar school. Is not this expansion about fulfilling unmet need, and will it not therefore appeal to those parents and children who really want to get on?

Nicky Morgan: I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend was also a grammar school boy. He is absolutely right to suggest that the request for this expansion reflects the need for more good school places in that particular area. It is also about parental choice. Those are two important criteria. I mentioned in my statement that just under 42% of the school's current intake comes from the Sevenoaks area, which is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) has also welcomed this decision.


19 OCT 2015

Questions 2nd day on Trade Union Bill

Q 246 John Howell (Henley) (Con): Thank you, Sir Edward. May I stay on the same subject? If a dispute gets out of hand, you are required to go and police it. Does the notice period in the Bill not give you advance warning, so you can tell whether policing is likely to be needed? I cannot see what the problem is with the notice period.

Deputy Chief Constable Hall: I think my experience is that in past situations in which we have been required to be involved, or in which we planned to be involved, notification has usually come forward fairly quickly, particularly through the employers, who say, "We believe that we may have issues when this picket line meets." Those situations are relatively rare, in terms of when picket lines sit. Yes, of course notice helps us to plan, but my experience is that planning does not need to be done in the vast majority of cases, simply because of peaceful picketing. Steve talked about the planned fuel dispute. A lot of planning went into the ability to police picket lines at that time, and as you know, it never quite materialised into a dispute. Those are the sorts of circumstances where advance notice would be very helpful.

Q 247 John Howell: May I follow up with one question? I am still struggling to see what harm the notice period causes.

Deputy Chief Constable Hall: I do not believe it causes any harm, as such. The challenge for policing is whether it is necessary for us, how we then administer it within police forces across the country, and whether we could obtain that information in other ways, either through local authorities or directly with the employer. As I say, we do not see any direct harm in receiving it, but we feel it could be discharged in other ways.

--------------------------

Q 313 John Howell: Mr Palmer-Jones, earlier you threw away a line about the intimidation you had been facing being likely to affect your ability to invest. Would you like to explain that?

David Palmer-Jones: As I said, together with others, I have invested probably around £700 million and I employ more than 500 people in that area. I have the ability to invest more, but when faced with the sort of intimidation and protest that we have been suffering, I have to think twice about where I spend my money. I am currently in the process of employing people from SSI: I have taken on 20 people and am looking for others to help me to run that plant, and we are taking on apprentices. But you can see why, when faced with an uncontrolled set of continual protests—the 29th—we would think twice about whether we bother to invest in that area. It is an area that we have supported for the past 15 or 20 years.

Q 314 John Howell: So you would welcome putting the existing code of conduct into a statutory form?

David Palmer-Jones: We would have to. Again, it is important that you widen and capture this particular grey area. You really need to look at the fact that the unions should be held responsible if they are actively supporting these types of protest.

-----------------------------

Q 414 John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is clear from the evidence we have heard that a charge is being made that your proposals go against the International Labour Organisation. Would you like to deal with that now?

Nick Boles: There is no question but that representations have been made to the ILO, and within ILO discussions, that some of the restrictions that we propose could conflict with ILO provisions. What is clear is that the governing body of the ILO has never accepted those arguments. Having looked at all the governing body's comments and decisions, we are entirely satisfied that nothing that we propose would conflict with them. Reference has been made to the European Economic and Social Committee; the truth is that we do not entirely accept its actions and status. It often says things that we and the governing body of the ILO do not agree with.

Q 415 John Howell: Like you, I listened intently to John Cridland's evidence on Tuesday, but the intention of the questions we have been asking has not been to show that the Bill is a pro-business measure. What we have tried to show is the impact of that on parents, patients, carers and commuters. I think we have actually demonstrated that quite effectively. Would you like to comment on how that fits into the purpose of the Bill?

Nick Boles: That is absolutely right. We were always thinking, when drafting the Bill, about what to tell the public when a strike has happened to reassure them. The public support unions' and individuals' ability to strike, and they often would like to feel that they have the ability to avail themselves of that right in an extreme situation. There is absolutely no question about it; the public do not support something that withdraws people's legitimate right to withdraw their labour in a case where they are being badly treated or a dispute that cannot be resolved otherwise. The public are frankly not very impressed when a strike happens that closes schools or bus services on an incredibly low turnout or a ballot that is several years old, and we are responding to that concern.


18 OCT 2015

Townlands Hospital - a final word

It might be a handy slogan to say that this is a hospital without beds but it is simply not true.  There are up to 14 beds associated with the hospital.  What I have been trying to do is save the beds associated with the old hospital by working with the Clinical Commissioning Group not by throwing stones at it.  That is precisely what has been achieved.  The beds are located on the same site as the hospital, on the same campus, as part of the same medical village.  Yes - they form part of the adjacent Care Home where the beds are likely to be co-located.  But precisely why does that matter?

The important point is not where these beds are located but that there is a good medical cover and good social care available.  While much of the discussion has been about where the beds should go, I have been questioning the robustness of the provision of social care under the ambulatory care model.

The papers prepared by the Clinical Commissioning Group show the involvement I have had with the project.  The paper prepared for the Board meeting in July 2015 references me on pages 2,13,14,and 15.  Whilte that prepared for the September 2015 Board meeting references me on pages 3,4,14,15, and 16.

This is not Henley's hospital but a hospital for a large part of Southern Oxfordshire, the majority of which supports and is grateful for what we have achieved.  How do I know this?  I asked them.

It is a much more helpful form of politics for a politician to engage with a problem and try to solve it so delivering a 21st century healthcare service rather than simply oppose it.  Would I do this again?  With the success of this campaign, you can bet your life, literally, that I would.


18 OCT 2015

John Howell MP backs campaign to have equal access to TV for people with sensory loss

I attended a parliamentary drop-in hosted by Action on Hearing Loss where I pledged support for the charity's campaign Subtitle It! which is backing legislation that will mean people with sight and hearing loss are able to watch fully accessible video-on-demand services with subtitles, signing and audio description.

The event held on Wednesday 14 October in Portcullis House, Westminster was jointly hosted with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Sense, where I was briefed on the ability of people with sensory loss to access TV via Video on Demand (VOD) services.

The rise of on-demand, streaming and catch-up services has led to the way that we watch television content being transformed- something which Parliament couldn't have foreseen when it passed the 2003 Communications Act. The Act led to huge improvements in the provision of subtitles and audio description on traditional TV, but it's now 12 years old, and technology has outgrown it.

The way TV is watched has transformed over recent years – but far too many people with hearing loss are missing out on enjoying the latest shows because subtitles are absent from thousands of hours of 'on demand' content. That is why I am backing Action on Hearing Loss' Subtitle It! campaign to stop people being digitally excluded so that they are able to watch television content when and how they want to.

Paul Breckell, Chief Executive at charity Action on Hearing Loss says: 'We are delighted that John Howell MP is backing the Subtitle It! campaign and is calling on the Government to bring in legislation so that deaf and hard of hearing residents from his constituency of Henley can have the same viewing experience as their hearing peers.'

Action on Hearing Loss is jointly working with Sense and RNIB to improve access to TV for people with sight and hearing loss. Access to TV programmes for people with hearing loss has vastly improved in recent years, however many programmes on catch up or video on-demand services do not have subtitles or audio description, even if the programmes were subtitled when they were originally broadcast. To find out more please visit www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/subtitleit


15 OCT 2015

Thames Valley crime down 31%

I have welcomed news that crime has fallen by 8 per cent year-on-year, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, and by more than a quarter (30 per cent) since 2010.

Today's figures show that police reform is working and crime is falling.

In the Thames Valley crime recorded by the police has fallen by 31%. This is good news for families across this area – meaning their communities are safer and more secure than ever before.

However, with the changing nature of crime, it's important that we continue to make Britain a safer place to live, work and do business – that is why we must continue to tackle the scourge of crime.


15 OCT 2015

MP speech on prison reform

John Howell (Henley) (Con):It is, as always, a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). I was going to say that I am the last surviving member of the previous Justice Committee, but that would appear to suggest that all the others were dead. Since the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) were two prominent members of that Committee, that is probably not the case. It was interesting to serve with them.

I am one of the few Members left on the Justice Committee, if not the only one, who had a role in preparing the report that we are debating. It was the Committee's first major report on prison policy. There were good reasons for undertaking it at the time, because prison policy was the subject of much reform. We wanted to look particularly at benchmarking and the new-for-old programme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has referred to. I want to comment on a couple of the points that he raised about resettlement and rehabilitation, and the engagement of prisoners in purposeful activity. Those are crucial, and they are very much interlinked in the whole programme.

As part of the preparation of the report, the Committee had a trip to Denmark and to Germany. Members might imagine, from anecdotal evidence, that the two places were very similar; in fact, we found them to be radically different. That was particularly true of Denmark. Although the feeling on the street may be that its regime is easy for prisoners, we found it to be quite stiff, and some good lessons arose from the experience. For example, we visited an open prison in Denmark that was surrounded by an enormous steel fence. That came as a bit of a shock to us, because one does not expect to see such a thing around an open prison, especially in Denmark. We asked why it was there, and the answer that we were given was that it was not so much to keep prisoners in as to keep the drug pushers out. That brought home to us the first point of similarity between the Danish system and our own: the acknowledgement that the use of drugs in prison is a major problem that has to be overcome. When we went to Germany, we found that there was the same level of drug use but, interestingly, it was not recognised to be a problem.

On our visit to Denmark we gained a particularly interesting insight into rehabilitation, which we bring out in a recommendation in the report, when we went to see how the prisoners cooked their food. I suppose that phrase gives the game away—the prisoners did not eat at enormous benches where food was slopped out to them in the style of the television series "Porridge"; the system allowed them to earn money in the prison and go to buy food, which they could cook communally for themselves and other prisoners. It is true that the knives used in the process were chained to the wall, but such a precaution is only to be expected in a prison.

That single activity was very important, because it created a sense of prisoner responsibility, which was absolutely conducive to the idea of rehabilitation. We pointed out that the Government should consider that for prisons in the UK, and I was pleased to see in their response that they would look to increase the opportunities for self-catering where appropriate. Perhaps I can push the Minister to confirm that that is happening—particularly in new-build prisons, where I think it is perfectly feasible and appropriate to work in such an arrangement.

Something else that we noted on our trip—this was most obviously the case in Germany—was the amount of industrial or commercial activity that the prisoners undertook. We visited a furniture operation in part of the prison, which involved prisoners in a tremendous amount of work producing excellent furniture for sale at a later stage. Such work is absolutely crucial: not only does it give prisoners dignity in work, which we have claimed to be important throughout the process, but it helps with their rehabilitation by giving them the ability to manage their own time and responsibilities. I am conscious that the ability to provide such a facility in prisons in this country is lacking. I ask the Minister what has been done, and what continues to be done, to take that forward.

Our impression from both trips was positive about prisoner rehabilitation. When I looked again at the situation in the UK, I saw that, as we demonstrate in the report, a lot of emphasis is placed on health and safety, on the safety of prisoners in prisons and on the sorts of figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned concerning the performance of the prison estate. I cannot help but feel that those things are linked—that the decrease in safety and the increase of attacks in prisons are due to the difficulty of trying to make purposeful work happen.

Another issue that we point out in the report is the role of prison governors, who are seen by the general public as being almost like latter-day Roman governors in their own prison. In fact, they are not. We visited one prison governor who had virtually no control over the educational activities taking place in his prison. There needs to be some move back to giving prison governors control of the places they run and what they do in them, which will improve the workings of the prisons and the outcomes for prisoners. Implementing the key recommendations of the report will help.


15 OCT 2015

MP raises situation in Israel & the West Bank

My question during Business Questions today to the Leader of the House

John Howell (Henley) (Con):There has been a dramatic escalation in violence across Israel and the west bank over recent weeks, so may we please have a debate on this serious issue?

Chris Grayling:I think we are all concerned about what is happening in Israel and the west bank. Utterly unacceptable incidents have taken place, including stabbings out of the blue and other incidents that have led to death and serious injury. We need to be constantly aware of that in this country and use every opportunity to try to facilitate talks and peace between the two sides. Obviously, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary addresses the issue in this House before too long.


15 OCT 2015

MP question on vulnerable people in court

You may find here my question to the solicitor general about the attitude of courts to vulnerable people.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Operation Bullfinch, in Oxford, introduced a number of radically different procedures for coping with vulnerable witnesses. What lessons have been learnt from that?

The Solicitor General:I know that my hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in improving the processes as a result of that case, which helped to revolutionise the way in which the investigatory authorities all work together. There have been a number of other successful investigations in his own police area, which are helping to improve national practice, and there is a much greater understanding across the country of the way in which in which such cases can be effectively prosecuted.


14 OCT 2015

Questions in the Trade Union Bill committee

Below you will find the questions and exchanges I had during the Trade Union Bill committee on 14 October 2015.

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Q 6 John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. The Bill has already been described by Mr Doughty as "draconian". Can you give me your impression of how much this is a fundamental change to the way that trade unions operate and how much you think it is more of a step-by-step increase in the modernisation of the trade union movement?

John Cridland: I echo Mr Martin's comment about a failsafe. In most workplaces, relations are harmonious. Most workplaces are now not unionised, but in the unionised part of workplaces, most relationships are harmonious, and employers recognise that. There is a small minority of situations, which we have already described, where many people—businesses and consumers —are significantly disrupted. If that is to happen, and if the right to strike is to be exercised, I think it is reasonable, given the level of disruption involved, that there is clear evidence of a significant mandate. That is a modernisation of a system that is broadly working well.

Dr Adam Marshall: I would probably agree with my colleague and simply add that having an expiry for ballot mandates is an important thing in this day and age, given that we are in a more complex world for both business and industrial relations than perhaps ever before. Having a clear mandate renewed on a regular basis is very important.

David Martin: I again echo the comments. I can only refer to what I said earlier—that in the event of a breakdown in industrial relations, which does not happen very often, let us have a very clear mandate that reflects the wishes of the membership as a whole, and let us have a situation where we can minimise the overall impact on the travelling public and the UK economy at the same time.

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Q 55 John Howell: Can I move you on to some questions about the political levy? It seems to me that there is a fundamental principle of fairness in this. Voluntary funds, which is what the political levy is, should not be taken out of someone's pay packet without their consent. Do you agree with that?

John Hannett: My union has a very clear position on this that has been in place since the union merged in 1947. First, our rulebook is very explicit about the right to be paying the political levy. On our membership form, when somebody joins the trade union, there is a very explicit clause that says, "If you do not wish to pay the levy, you do not have to." Some of our members exercise that right, so we already cover it with our form and we are transparent about this in all our communications with our members.

Q 56 John Howell: Do you think that offers the sort of consumer protection that others outside of the trade union movement would expect in being able to deal with the political levy?

Roy Rickhuss: It is a fair question, but I also believe that trade unions are so transparent and democratic—we are probably the most democratic organisations in the country. Our members decide whether they want to have a political fund. Our rulebook and our constitution is voted on by our members—we have to re-ballot them every 10 years, but we have rule changes in between. We have conferences where members can put forward motions and debate issues, so I really do think, democratically, that the fact we have a political fund and we use it for political campaigning is well understood by our members. They vote for it positively time and time again, so I think we are covered. I fully agree with John—people are aware of the unions' activities because we make them well known. We publicise them, and people do opt out of paying the political levy if they want to do so.

John Hannett: I am conscious of other questions, but I should remind you that in terms of our own levy, the political levy has to be balloted every 10 years. We had a 93% vote in favour, and we communicate that through all our journals.

Q 57 John Howell: Do you think that is applicable right across the board, to other trade unions? You have said what the position is in your own union.

John Hannett: I do. It is very difficult for a trade union to not be transparent in an issue like this, because if you are politically active and campaigning, you have to demonstrate how you spend your money to not only the certification office but also to your members. My union has an annual conference. The idea of not being transparent to an annual conference plus regional conferences would be impossible. As Roy said, it is the most open, democratic process you can have. Our members are not silly. They know where the money goes; they know how it is spent. And if you get a 93% vote in favour, I think that is pretty conclusive in agreeing that they should pay it.

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Q 72 John Howell: We heard from the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce that all this Bill does is modernise the way in which trade unions behave. It does not introduce a fundamental change in the trade union rules that apply, so it is very difficult in that circumstance to understand why you describe the Bill as unlawful and unwarranted. In the example that you use of not being able to tell what the nature of the dispute is, surely it is in the interests of transparency that that should be settled and be clearly on the ballot paper.

Stephen Cavalier: The problem here—I was in a meeting with some employers' lawyers and they were expressing it this way—is about forcing such a detailed description of all the matters at issue in a dispute at the start. The lawyers' concern is that unions will be forced to draw the dispute as broadly as possible to include every single aspect, and moreover, that it is likely to escalate matters because unions will feel reluctant to compromise on individual issues in the dispute, as employers will otherwise argue that consequently the dispute has changed and that there needs to be a re-ballot. It forces extreme behaviour, if you like, and it is likely to mean that a dispute escalates.

In terms of being unlawful, we mentioned in our submission the areas where we believe it contravenes the European convention on human rights and the International Labour Organisation code. The other point to make is that, as the Regulatory Policy Committee said in its response to the impact assessment, there is absolutely no evidence that it will work. In terms of modernising industrial relations, the Regulatory Policy Committee has said that there should be separate assessments of the 50% threshold and of the 40% threshold. It completely rejects the analysis of the likely impact of the threshold on the outcomes of disputes, because there is no analysis of the impact of a threshold on voting behaviour and turnouts in the elections themselves.

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Q 102 John Howell (Henley) (Con): The health service would be subject to the 40% threshold for strikes. Do you think that that has been drawn widely enough, and would you like to see any other bits of the health service included in that?

Julia Manning: In terms of detail, I have not clocked all the amendments, and one of my concerns was that certain areas would be excluded. Maybe you can tell me, for instance, what the terms are for some of the critical services, such as intensive care and emergency services, and whether they are different.

Q 103 John Howell: So you would like to see those included.

Julia Manning: I would like to see them excluded. I do not think, if you are working in intensive care or emergency services, you should have the right to strike.

Q 104 John Howell: What do you think the effect of the Bill will be on patients seeking healthcare?

Julia Manning: Thinking about the Bill, the wider context is really interesting in terms looking at the trends for our ageing population, the greater proportion of people who will have long-term conditions, who will be dependent on interventions and who will have been lined up potentially seeking to have treatment and then feel that that might be jeopardised by industrial action. There is a volume issue here.

For me, the Bill raises the discussion that I feel we should be having around the changing nature of the workplace for the NHS as a whole, because of the impact and influence of technology, which is changing many of the duties and roles that people have and the opportunities for the public to look after themselves. It feels to me as though we are still talking about skills and the workforce as it is now, but what is it going to look like in five or 10 years' time? It could be very different.

Q 105 John Howell: Would you like to give us a view of what you think it will look like, and how the Bill would affect that in five to 10 years' time?

Julia Manning: Again, I will try not to get too technical or philosophical. The Bill does not go into the detail of the many different NHS roles and responsibilities, but those are going to change. As patients, as the public and as what we call "participatients", we will have information and access to all sorts of things that we currently do not have access to, which have been the preserve of the NHS. Down the line, the impact of action could be quite different because of what we as the public will have access to, which will no longer be within the control of NHS professionals. That is something we should be mindful of.

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Q 140 John Howell: Do you think that the balance is right in the Bill? Is it likely to have an adverse effect on industrial relations?

Janet Cooke: I do not think that I have a view on that and, I will be honest, I am not sufficiently familiar with exactly what you are proposing to be able to comment. Without doing proper research, I could not give a view.

David Sidebottom: I think the same. We do lots of research into how passengers are disrupted, with Network Rail, train operators and passengers. If there were more frequent strikes and disruption on the railway caused by industrial action, we would perhaps be prompted to spend time and do some research on the impact felt by passengers. Like Janet, I have not formed a particularly strong view based on any evidence that we have gathered.

One point that I picked up from doing some background reading was notification of strike action. For rail passengers, whether it is seven days or 14 days, the issue of getting the information is the key thing. It is not just social media and websites, it is posters at stations and that kind of thing. That is probably the best help I can give in terms of answering the question.

Q 141 John Howell: I am slightly surprised that you do not have a firmer view on that, and on the balance between people's ability to strike and the enormous impact on the travelling public.

David Sidebottom: I am interested, as a representative of a consumer organisation, in the impact on individuals of planned or unplanned engineering work or disruption such as industrial action. I am interested in the quality of information and how passengers are empowered to make a decision about where to go and how they make an alternative journey.

One thing we ask is for passengers to rank their priorities for improvement. We often see nothing in our research about information on the back of industrial action. It is about the things that are important to them: a punctual, reliable railway, good value for money and getting a seat.

Janet Cooke: Having done a little research on the internet on strikes that have been reported, certainly in the past six months there seems to have been an increasing amount of industrial activity in the London area, which has an impact. In the past six months we have had five actual strikes—three on the underground and two on Great Western—and four threatened strikes—three on National Rail and one on the tube. We have just had the last strike, which in the end did not have that much impact on passengers because Transport for London continued to run the service on the Waterloo and City line. Now DLR workers are balloting about strike action, so there certainly has been an increase in the amount of activity.

Q 142 John Howell: Would you like to sum up the overall impact?

Janet Cooke: It is the attrition. For the first strike, people can often make other arrangements. Strikes have a particular impact on people in jobs where they do not have flexibility. I could work from home if I could not get into work or I could start late and finish late, or whatever. People working in critical, front-line jobs, who do not have that flexibility, are affected disproportionately, because they have no options.

David Sidebottom: Back in 2009-10, London Midland inconvenienced passengers as a result of its inability to roster railway staff to work on Sundays. That is a traditional working pattern that was provided largely through overtime and informal arrangements. We have seen a bit of that with one or two other train operators in recent years, but not on a large scale.

The bigger impact for passengers is short notice and cancellations. It is not a week's or two weeks' notice. The ability of a train company to buy out those working arrangements is very much between it, the unions and the staff. It seems to be something that is not quite cured yet. I do not know how that would fit with the Bill, but it does come across as inconveniencing passengers slightly more.

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Q 188 John Howell: I have a question for Mr Wilson. Can you describe the strike that your company faced? What was its effect on the travelling public and what are the likely effects of the thresholds?

Tony Wilson: The most recent strike was in relation to Unite's quest for sector-wide collective bargaining across London. They obviously had to try to co-ordinate many legal entities. They managed to do that and we had a very low turnout in terms of our own workforce actually voting yes for the strike. It was even lower among union members as a proportion of the number of employees.

We were quite successful in the marketplace in terms of operating services. On the first day of operation, we got between 30% and 40% of the service out, but that is the peak-time service, which is what is mostly going to affect commuters both in the morning and afternoon. On the second day, 5 February, we got up to nearly 50% of our peak-time service out on the road. In any respect, that is a major disruption to the travelling public and it was not a great day for anybody who was trying to catch a bus. We were one of the most successful companies in terms of turning out services. Others varied at certain depots around London from zero to all the way up to similar levels to us. As a proportion of the total network, however, it was less than 50% out, certainly on the second day, which was the better of the two.

Q 189 John Howell: And the effect of the thresholds in the Bill?

Tony Wilson: To me, the thresholds are all about proportionality. We rely entirely on collective bargaining within our organisation. We have a very good relationship with Unite. Across many years, I have never had any great issue with them. For us, it is the fact that very low numbers of the organisation can dictate to the mass. Some of that is to do with the fact that our particular company has quite a low percentage of union members in the first place, but even they do not all go and vote. I think something like 12% of the total bus driver workforce actually voted yes and dictated to the vast majority.

I heard something earlier on about picket lines. On 13 January, there was no police presence on our picket lines, but there were a lot of people, and a lot of staff who would otherwise have come to work were deterred from doing so. Most pickets were not particularly antagonistic—some were a bit different—but the sheer number of people that they had to pass to get into work was a barrier to them. At one depot, the roadway was blocked, so we could not actually get buses in and out. On the second day, co-ordinating with Transport for London, we had a large police presence on all of our sites. It was far more organised and there was a lot less disruption. It was noticeable that people do not want to come to work and cross that barrier. Whether on the day or the stigma afterwards, they do not feel comfortable.


14 OCT 2015

Henley constituency a top performer in employment

The constituency is the 649th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.).

The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in September 2015 was 219.

This includes 186 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 33 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 83 lower than in September 2014

There were 36 claimants aged 18-24 across the Henley constituency in September 2015, 19 lower than in September 2014.

Once again this constituency is a top performer in tackling unemployment. Congratulations to institutions like the Henley College for all the work they do in encouraging apprenticeships and to schools like Lord Williams in Thame for the help they provide in keeping the youth employment figures so low. This is very welcome news.


12 OCT 2015

MP comments on Right to Buy

The exchange I had during the urgent question on the Right to Buy is reproduced below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):From listening to those on the Opposition Benches, we might get the impression that this is a stand-alone measure, but is it not a part of our broader programme to encourage home ownership among the widest collection of people in the country, and is this not a good illustration of how we are committed to doing that?

Brandon Lewis:My hon. Friend makes a good point. Yes, it absolutely is part of a wider package of work we have been doing and will continue to do to drive up home building as well as homeownership throughout different parts of the sector and with different types of tenure, while always remembering that 86% of our population want to own their own home and doing everything we can to support them in that aim.


10 OCT 2015

MP at Party Conference

During the Conservative Party conference I took a high profile and very active role in promoting a number of areas, many of which I have responsibility for at a national level.  In particular, I participated in fringe meetings to discuss the role of Neighbourhood Planning and the work I am doing to simplify Local Plans and also in a roundtable on a related topic with Localis.

This also included a very good session on the type of housing we needed across the country and a roundtable on housing specifically for the retirement market. We appear to be pushing at a very wide open door when it comes to simplifying Local Plans and encouraging Neighbourhood Planning and I look forward to continuing my work in this area.

I also participated in a roundtable with the Royal College of General Practitioners on the issue of tackling health inequalities. The questions I asked related to what actions GPs and others could take to get people to take action for their own health particularly when dealing with hard to reach people. There are clearly major issues around how health campaigns are run which affect this.

 

In addition, I also took part in the Conservative Party's international activities. In this capacity I met delegates from Bulgaria, Bosnia and the Maldives and heard of the situation in their countries.  I also had meetings with a number of organisations including the Jersey Government, Taylor Wimpey and the CIPD where we talked about apprenticeships.

 

 

I visited a number of exhibition stands at the conference including some on cancer including secondary breast cancer, apprenticeships and Guide Dogs where I participated in trying to hook obstacles out of the way of pavements. Sadly, my timing on this was not exceptional and neither was my timing trying to screw in five screws on the apprenticeship stand.

 

Finally, I participated in a Holocaust Educational Trust event in which we heard from a survivor of the kinder transport and I attended a dinner with the Prince's Trust to talk about youth unemployment.  In this constituency the total number unemployed and on Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Benefit is only 35.


10 OCT 2015

John Howell MP Hooks-a-Truck to clean up problem pavement parking

I took on the challenge of cleaning up the streets at the Conservative Party Conference this week, when the charity Guide Dogs offered me the chance to learn more about the daily difficulties faced by people living with sight loss.

Guide Dogs is calling on MPs and the public to back a new Bill to outlaw irresponsible parking. According to the charity, badly parked cars are putting the lives of pedestrians up and down the country at risk every day. These vehicles are forcing people to step out into the road, without being able to clearly see on-coming traffic.

The charity used a unique twist on the fun-fair game, Hook-a-Duck, to highlight the campaign and Mr Howell became the guide when he helped a rubber duck navigate a stream full of obstacles.

I am supporting Guide Dogs' campaign on pavement parking, including a proposed law to restrict it to designated areas.

There are nearly two million people in the UK who are living with sight loss and by 2050, there could be nearly four million. So it's more important than ever that our streets are safe for people who are blind or partially sighted.

I agree that this is a serious issue and needs to be tackled. I had a close friend who had to negotiate cars parked on pavements so I know the difficulties involved. Congratulations for highlighting this issue.

James White, Senior Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, said: "Parking on pavements is blighting Britain's streets. It puts all pedestrians in danger, particularly those living with sight loss.

"It is terrifying for someone who cannot see oncoming traffic to take the risk of stepping out into a road because someone has decided to park on the pavement. We hope this year will see this dangerous practice outlawed once and for all, and call on all MPs to back a change in the law."


10 OCT 2015

MP congratulates Thame on High Street awards

Thame has been named as a 'Rising Star' in this year's Great British High Street competition. This is in recognition for the work that has been done to keep the high street vibrant and attractive, meeting the needs of the local community. The award comes with a £1000 prize. Thame has also be listed in the top ten Great Places in England by the Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI). The voting for the top place is open until December so do support our local town and add your vote on the RTPI website: www.rtpi.org.uk/egpvoting

I recorded a video of support as part of the presentation for the Great British High Street award. On hearing the news of the I said that I am absolutely delighted that Thame has been awarded Rising Star status in the Great British High Street competition. So many people work hard to make Thame High Street the lively and successful place that it is and I am sure that this award offers great encouragement to them. My congratulations to all. I am sure that the £1000 will come in very handy too in making additional improvements and I look forward to hearing how it will be used. I am also delighted to see that the RTPI has listed Thame as one of the top ten great places in England. Entry onto this list is based on careful planning and community support and I would encourage those who know and love Thame High Street to cast their vote to get it to the number one slot.

Thame was selected to be included in the list of 10 finalists from over 200 nominations received by the RTPI. In selecting Thame as a finalist, the RTPI panellists noted that 'Good planning over a long period has protected and enhanced the character of this small market town and the High Street, and it now has the benefits of one of the first neighbourhood plans. It is an example of exemplary community support and careful, sensitive planning.'

i added that as Government Champion for Neighbourhood Planning I am particularly delighted to learn that the Thame Neighbourhood Plan has led to such recognition by the RTPI. The Plan is a great example of the value of effort put in by the whole community to draw up a collective plan. At referendum it was supported by 76% of those voting.

NOTES

The Great British High Street http://thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk/

RTPI England's Great Places http://www.rtpi.org.uk/events/rtpis-englands-great-places/


03 OCT 2015

MP completes Recess tour

I have completed my September recess tour for 2015. In the course of 2 weeks I had discussions with 25 parish councils and held 15 other meetings with community groups, companies and members of the community.

This tour is in addition to the regular visits to villages and towns in the constituency which I carry out every week. The September recess from Parliament whilst the various Party Conferences take place provides an opportunity for a more intensive programme of meetings than is usually possible.

This year a highlight of the tour was a meeting in the Watlington Sports Pavilion on Broadband to which the MP had invited parish councils (see picture). The meeting discussed the roll-out of broadband in the constituency which had been raised many times during the tour. It was attended by the Minister in charge of broadband, Ed Vaizey, who agreed to take up a range of issues with BT and others and explained how the roll-out programme was being widened to include more and more houses.

A wide range of issues were raised across the constituency. Where parishes are in the Townlands Hospital catchment there was contentment with what has now been negotiated which, it was generally agreed, is substantially improved from the original proposal. They were also grateful for work put in to achieve this. Traffic issues were commonly raised as were questions on planning. There was much interest in Neighbourhood Development Plans and the opportunity to have a greater say in planning policy.

This was an important opportunity to give people the chance of raising matters on their minds and for me to catch up with any particular concerns in the different communities across the constituency. I was particularly conscious how concerned the villages were about the removal of county council subsidies on buses and what this would mean for their services. I was also pleased that so many communities are considering producing Neighbourhood Plans which offer a unique opportunity to share in the development of the planning system in their area.


29 SEP 2015

Older People's Day Thame

On 1 October I will be coming to Thame to meet some older people and some carers. It will be part of the celebration being organised for Older People's Day. This coincides with the UN International Day of Older Persons and its main aim is to be a celebration of the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and the economy. I recognise the contribution older people continue to make and I want to ensure we all have dignity and respect in later life. Older people's issues are not a bolt on to government policy. They cut across many government departments and are at the heart of what we do.

I am reminded that we have restored the link with earnings, and that the Basic State Pension had been increased by the highest of prices, earnings or 2.5%. As a result of this, the State Pension is now £950 higher than in 2010. In addition, key universal benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment and bus passes have been protected, and we are committed to retaining them for this Parliament. Alongside this, Cold Weather Payments have been increased and the Warm Home Discount has been introduced to provide vulnerable pensioners with an £135 rebate on their energy bills.

Older People's Day supports the campaign to challenge negative attitudes and outdated stereotypes. It is about recognising that older people can do so much to keep themselves happy and healthy by the choices they make in what they do. There is much to value in later life and much to celebrate. That is why we have the UK Advisory Forum on Ageing. This forum ensures that the views of older people are heard and, importantly, responded to. It gives older people a direct line to government to comment on new policy ideas, services, legislation and other areas they feel the government should deal with. I welcome this and hope that it is something we all remember not just on this one day a year but throughout the year.


28 SEP 2015

Townlands Hospital

I am pleased that the issue of Townlands has been finalised at the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Board Meeting and that the Townlands Steering Group (TSG) will continue to be involved as the hospital is taken forward. I appreciate that this has been a difficult time for many in the community and I hope that we can now all move forward together and look forward to benefiting from 21st century healthcare provision on our doorstep.

This represents a huge amount of hard work by all those involved and I am pleased to have played a leading role in the negotiations. As a result, the proposal on the table is radically different from the proposal that was first brought forward. For example,

  • The RACU will now be open 7 days a week and 12 hours a day;
  • Out-patient services will be available 6 days a week;
  • There will be 14 beds available – 8 on permanent lease and 6 based on demand;
  • The CCG will work with the OSJ to ensure the 8 beds will be collocated in the Care Home and a recommendation that these be called Peppard Rooms;
  • The medical cover for these beds has been defined and strengthened and its relationship to the RACU established;
  • Oxford Health will fund journeys from Henley to Wallingford for those wishing to see loved ones in the transitional period between the Hospital coming on-line and the Care Home being built.

These are all significant improvements on the initial proposal and have come about as a result of the negotiations.

This is a hospital for a large part of southern Oxfordshire not just Henley itself. When I have spoken to representatives from the villages in the Townlands catchment area they have endorsed their support for what we have achieved for our communities.


20 SEP 2015

MP about to begin 'annual village tour'

I am about to begin my 'annual village tour' of villages in the constituency.

The term 'annual village tour' does not imply that I visit villages in the constituency only once a year. I am out and about across the constituency every Friday and weekends. The September recess from Parliament whilst the various Party Conferences take place provides an annual opportunity for a more intense programme of meetings than is usually possible.

This year the tour is based around meetings with Parish Councils. In total, he will visit some 25 parish councils and have meetings with about 10 other organisations and community groups. These include meetings in Henley, Thame and many of the villages where there are fewer opportunities to meet with people during the year.

I am pleased that so many parish councils have also opened the meetings up to other village residents. This always provides a good opportunity to discuss a large number of issues and this year it is important that so many have begun to prepare Neighbourhood Plans. It is important to give people the opportunity of raising matters on their minds and for me to catch up with any particular concerns in the different communities across the constituency.


17 SEP 2015

MP speaks on dangerous driving

Today I sopke in the debate on dangerous driving. The transcript of my speech is set out below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, praise my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for securing this important debate. I also praise those who lie behind it, not only for backing the debate, but for their petition.

This important issue has been raised with me by constituents on a number of occasions. I, too, have raised it with the Ministry of Justice, and I will refer to that later. A huge concern is that with the increase in traffic comes an increase in dangerous driving, which can have a big effect on our constituents. Only yesterday I was at a meeting of the joint all-party group on rural issues and policing, where a startling statistic was revealed, that the fear of crime in rural areas was much increased over the reality—although in the case of dangerous driving, the reality is all too visible. More than 63% of people who had responded to the survey had a fear of road traffic crime. It was a huge and sad number, and behind it is the public reaction to lenient sentences in the area. Happily, the Select Committee on Justice, of which I am a member, has picked up on the matter a number of times. Only this week, we had the opportunity to question the Attorney General on lenient sentences.

A letter that I received from the Ministry of Justice in 2013 explained:

"When considering the appropriate charge, it is the driving behaviour that is the deciding factor, that is, whether the driver was careless or dangerous, rather the outcome of the incident however tragic."

I suspect that at some point that ought to lead us to a review of sentencing guidelines, which are produced independently of government. The Justice Committee is a statutory consultee of the Sentencing Council, which produces the guidelines, and I shall certainly take it upon myself to respond and to try to achieve the things that my hon. Friend set out in this debate, so that is an important contribution that I can make.

We need to do something to take forward work on the subject, which has never been more required. I can illustrate this with a couple of cases from my own postbag. For example, a constituent wrote to tell me that his nephew had been run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver. His nephew was a 22-year-old student who was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing by a driver who went through a red light at twice the legal speed. The killer received a sentence that means he will spend less than two years in prison. That example from my constituency makes the very point that my hon. Friend was making and shows why the law needs to be changed.

Another constituent wrote to me asking for an urgent review of how such criminals are allowed to turn the law on its head. One wrote:

"To make a difference we need larger fines to act as a deterrent"—

although I am not sure that larger fines are the only answer. We should submit proposals to the Sentencing Council to review the guidelines.

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con):

My constituency has the fifth worst record in Britain for serious incidents involving people being killed and seriously injured. The issue of sentencing and fines has come to my postbag as well. For example, an individual was banned from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay a fine of £300 for a drink-driving incident in south-east Sussex. In another incident, the driver who was behind the wheel of his car while twice over the alcohol limit was banned for six months. Another individual was caught with herbal cannabis and admitted to smoking the drug, but was only banned for 12 months and fined £300. I would like some clarity on sentencing and some sort of order to the convictions—sentencing is erratic and often depends on which part of the country an individual is in. Clarity would be useful.

John Howell:

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent remarks and for providing yet more examples of what my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West was discussing when he opened the debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the various cases. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) made about the criminal process is a good one, and one on which I would like to see action.

I fully support the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West and his call for consecutive sentencing, because that will help to overcome some of the problems that he illustrated. I echo his call for the information requested to be provided, so that we do not have such a situation again.


16 SEP 2015

"Virtually full employment" says MP

The total number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in August 2015 is running at a rate of 0.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, This makes it the 649th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.) The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.5%.

The total figure stands at 218 people. This includes 197 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 21 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 111 lower than in August 2014.

I welcome this news. We are virtually at full employment in the constituency which is very good for constituents. However, I recognise that it creates problems for employers in finding people to recruit who live locally.


15 SEP 2015

Exchange at BIS questions re Shayne Hadland

This is the exchange which took place today at BIS questions:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Senior Aircraftman Shayne Hadland on winning a silver medal for aircraft maintenance at the WorldSkills competition in Sao Paulo and on being named best of nation for the United Kingdom? Does that not illustrate the importance of good technical skills and how the RAF is providing them?

Sajid Javid:I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Shayne Hadland. It was a huge achievement to win such a prize at the WorldSkills competition—I know just how competitive it was. Luckily for Britain, we had many other winners and I congratulate them too. It is an inspiration to many people.


15 SEP 2015

New planning appointment for Henley MP

Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, confirmed today in Communities and Local Government questions in the House of Commons my appointment to an Expert Group to look at how Local Plans, such as that produced by South Oxfordshire District Council, can be improved.

The Government's Productivity Plan "Fixing the Foundations" published on 10 July 2015 set out a commitment to bringing forward proposals to significantly streamline the length and process of Local Plans. The Government wishes to see radically shorter and simpler Local Plans.

The core purpose of the Group is to look objectively at the plan making process, and consider ways to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, making the process swifter and plans radically shorter, simpler and clearer.

In his answer to me, Greg Clark MP commented that the MP had been instrumental in producing radically shorter national planning policies and he looked forward to him tackling Local Plansd which had become far too long.

The full exchange can be read below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): The Government's productivity plan said local plans should be radically shorter and simpler. Does the Minister agree that local plans can deliver? What is he doing to facilitate this?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend was instrumental in helping us transform the planning guidance, taking 1,000 pages down to 50 in the NPPF, and I am delighted that he has agreed to serve on a group that will help to simplify local plans, which have become far too long. I believe his first meeting with the group is taking place tomorrow

It is a great pleasure to help the Government achieve the objective of shorter and simpler Local Plans. These must be accessible to all who might want to read them including members of the public. It also has to make sure that the process is less litigious.


12 SEP 2015

John Howell MP: ConservativesÂ’ Help to Buy has helped 78 people buy a new home in this area

I have welcomed new figures showing that Help to Buy has helped 78 people to buy their own home in this area.

Help to Buy was introduced by the Conservatives to help working people doing the right thing and saving for a deposit to achieve their aspiration of buying their own home. Across the country, Help to Buy has now enabled nearly 120,000 families to buy a new home, less than three years since it was launched. 80 per cent of those helped are first-time buyers – realising the dream of owning their own home – and 95 per cent of completions have been outside of London.

The Chancellor has now said that the stronger economy and financial system means the Government expects banks to start to exit the Help to Buy Mortgage scheme, which was introduced in times of financial distress and will come to an end next year in any case.

The Help to Buy shared equity scheme continues to go from strength to strength and the new Help to Buy ISA the Government is launching in December will provide generous support to those saving for their first home by providing a government boost on their deposit.

Conservatives are committed to helping working people achieve the aspiration of buying their own home and our Help to Buy scheme has now helped 78 families to buy their own home in this area.

The stronger economy and financial system means the Government expects banks to start to exit our Help to Buy Mortgage scheme, and it was introduced in times of financial distress and will come to an end next year in any case.

The Help to Buy shared equity scheme goes from strength to strength and our new Help to Buy ISA we're launching in December will provide generous support to those saving for their first home by providing a government boost on their deposit.

Supporting people who want to work hard, save and buy their own home is a key part of the Conservatives' long term plan to provide economic security for working people at every stage of their life, across the UK.


12 SEP 2015

John Howell MP wears it pink in Westminster in aid of Breast Cancer Now

I have shown my support for women with breast cancer by dressing up in pink and encouraging my constituents to take part in Breast Cancer Now's flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, on Friday 23rd October.

wear it pink, the UK's biggest pink fundraiser, calls on supporters across the country to ditch the day-to-day colours and pull on some pink to raise money for Breast Cancer Now's life-saving breast cancer research.

I joined fellow parliamentarians in wearing it pink in Westminster this week to encourage people across the UK to get involved. Now in its 14th year, wear it pink raises over £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it is back and bigger, brighter and bolder than ever before.

Anyone can take part, whether in school, at work or at home. All you have to do is wear something pink and donate whatever you can.

Right now breast cancer is at a tipping point. Every year in the UK around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly nearly 12,000 women still lose their lives to the disease. This is why we all must come together to support Breast Cancer Now's cutting-edge research, and, in wear it pink, there is a fun and simple way for everyone to get involved.

Together, we can make a big difference for women with breast cancer, now and in the future; I hope everyone in the local community will join me in wearing it pink on Friday 23 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.

Launched in June 2015 with the ambition of ensuring that no one dies from the disease by 2050, Breast Cancer Now is the UK's largest breast cancer charity, created by the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

This is a day when we stand out, stand together and stand for something: wear it pink on Friday 23 October to support Breast Cancer Now's life-saving research. For more information or to register for wear it pink visit www.wearitpink.org.

 

For more information on Breast Cancer Now's work, visit breastcancernow.org or follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.


08 SEP 2015

Business rates debate

I intervened twice in the debate on rural business rates today in Parliament.  The text of my interventions is below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

My hon. Friend describes a situation in which a bank has been closed down in a constituency, which often happens in rural constituencies such as mine. Has he found that the current position inhibits people from taking up ATMs in the transfer of that banking business to another business?

Jake Berry:

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution; I will come on to the effect of that, but the short answer is yes. Cash machine operators have warned that the attachment of business rates to through-wall ATMs makes them uneconomic, particularly in rural areas where there is low footfall and their use is not as common. They have estimated that 1,000 existing ATMs, let alone ones that we would hope to bring into our communities following a bank closure, are at risk.

AND

John Howell:

I wonder whether the Minister will allow me to give a plug for that review. I am conducting a review of businesses in my own constituency, and I know that they see business rates as just another tax. It would be extremely good for them to see something in return for paying their business rates—something that they have control over.

Mr Marcus Jones:

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and it is always good to get the views of businesses, both in Henley and across the country. I will certainly take into account what he has said and I will feed those comments into the ongoing review.


06 SEP 2015

Syrian refugees

Like many of you, I have found the recent photos of Syrian refugees, displayed by the press, deeply upsetting. People have told me how they have been in tears at the sights that have appeared on our television screens recently.

I completely agree that we need to help and I am pleased that the UK is already taking action. I am sure you will be pleased to know that we have already granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrians and their dependents. The Vulnerable Persons Relocations scheme (VPRS) is up and running. We are also at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – including as one of the biggest bilateral donors of humanitarian aid, having already pledged nearly £1 billion.

Of course the Prime Minister is right that we have a responsibility to help those fleeing from the conflict in Syria by making a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable Syrians. That is why we are focusing on those refugees coming from camps bordering Syria and discouraging Syrians from giving their lives to disgusting people traffickers to make the dangerous journey to Europe. We have also sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean which is saving thousands of lives.

Our strategy for dealing with the problem needs to be based on more than an instant and understandably emotional reaction to very distressing pictures. The solution to this problem is not simply about taking Syrians on a short-term basis into our homes. We need a comprehensive solution that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: President Assad in Syria, the butchers of ISIL, and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people. We are working to end the violence and suffering and I will spare no effort in helping to work to find a peaceful solution to the crisis that will allow refugees to return home.


06 SEP 2015

MP opens Regatta for the Disabled

Yesterday (5 September 2015), I opened the Regatta for the Disabled held at Henley. This was the sixth year in which I had been involved with the Regatta which is held at Phyllis Court, Henley. The Regatta for the Disabled provides an excellent opportunity for children and adults with a disability to enjoy a variety of land and river based activities they would normally consider unavailable to them. It includes opportunities to get out onto the river in Rivertime – a boat equipped with a ramp and a lift for wheelchairs and in Bell Boats in which you can paddle along with friends. There is also racing which consists of dragon boats and this provides an excitement to the day as they race over the 2-300 metres of the course with drums banging furiously. There is also a range of stalls.

I think it is really important that the river is genuinely accessible to everyone. I congratulate the organisers of the Regatta and those that have sponsored it for the excellent work they do in fostering this spirit. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to open the event again and to share in the sheer joy of those participating particularly in the dragon boat racing. I am glad too that despite the event going from success to success each year, it has managed to retain the original spirit of the event. I hope that does not change.


05 SEP 2015

MP opposes closure of recycling centre

I have today expressed my opposition to the closure of the Oakley Wood recycling centre just outside Wallingford. Oxfordshire County Council proposes to reduce the number of recycling centres from seven to three or four, and to change the opening hours of the remaining sites. The result would be to close Oakley Wood Recycling Centre. The consultation runs to 5 October 2015.

I urge all local residents to complete the online consultation form, as I have done, and to make their views known. It is important that we get a massive response to the consultation. This proposal is bad news. In the first place, this is a much valued facility in this constituency and to lose it would mean that residents in the constituency would have to travel long distances to alternative recycling centres. By way of illustration, a resident of Henley using Oakley Wood currently has a round journey of some 18 miles. In the future, that would increase to a round journey of 46 miles to get to Drayton.

I have also commented on the effects of closure on the environment. 

We need to encourage people to recycle and to make it easy for them. The closure of Oakley Wood will have a potentially detrimental effect on people's willingness to recycle with either an increase in the use of domestic bins or fly tipping.

I have called for a change in legislation to allow councils more freedom over recycling centres. I realise the Government has only recently had a consultation on this issue which highlighted the risks of allowing councils to charge and the difficulties of changing legislation to allow this to happen. However, the precedent is already there for making a small charge for additional waste collection services such as garden waste in brown bins and I urge the Government to take another look at this issue. If charging for waste is going to increase fly tipping how much more will closing down recycling centres.


25 AUG 2015

Townlands update

On August 18, the TSG, OCCG and other principal stakeholders met at the offices of SODC under my chairmanship. The meeting was called by me to begin the process of further engagement in relation to a number of areas including transition plans, staffing arrangements, the proposals for step up and step down beds and clinical engagement.

I am very pleased that we had all the principal stakeholders in the same room to discuss these issues. OCCG listened carefully to the points made by the TSG. As a result of the discussion, we agreed a programme of work which would be undertaken jointly by OCCG and the TSG. This will cover the definition of the catchment area to be covered by the hospital and more information on the nursing provision to be provided by the Orders of St John. It will also include discussion of the speed and availability of community and social care to explore the capacity to support the timely provision of care packages, and the transition plans.

I thought the meeting was very productive and covered the principal areas of questions being raised by the TSG. We agreed to reconvene the meeting on 1 September to hear back from the working groups and to take the issues further.

Ian Reissmann, chair of the TSG, said:

"I found the meeting positive and constructive. All sides were keen to reach a common understanding. I am glad that we have agreed for a number of working groups to be put together to look at specific issues. This should help us bottom-out some of the remaining points including whether, at least in the transition phase, any beds can go into the hospital. I am pleased that we have arranged another meeting in two weeks' time and look forward to seeing the results of the working groups."

The meeting obtained clarification from OCCG that the total number of beds to be provided was likely to be up to 14. This was made up of 5-8 beds on permanent lease from the Care Home with the others leased on demand. The meeting also heard discussion of the level of medical supervision that these beds would enjoy and the extent to which the nurses to be provided were 'proper nurses' supervised by the Care Quality Commission and how they would work together with inreach medical staff from the RACU.

Leader of SODC, Cllr John Cotton said:

"It's been important to get both sides in one room and I'm very grateful to John Howell for chairing the meeting. It seems to me that the areas of disagreement are not that great - it's as much about sharing information as anything else. I hope that the working groups can now bring everyone even closer together and that an agreement on the best way forward for healthcare in Henley can be reached."

Commenting on the meeting, David Smith, Chief Executive of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group said:

"I was pleased that we had a full and frank discussion with members of the steering group. We have committed to working together on a number of issues and to meet again to hear the outcome of this work."


17 AUG 2015

LA Fitness Henley

The following is the text of my response to Mr Moore in relation to an enquiry about LA Fitness, Henley which also appeared in the Henley Standard August 14

Dear Mr Moore

Thank you for your email concerning LA Fitness in Henley. You say that you are a local resident but do not give an address. Whist I am happy to reply as best I can in this instance I would be grateful for confirmation of your address as there is a strict parliamentary protocol that MPs only correspond with their own constituents. If you reside in another constituency I should encourage you to correspond with your own MP.

I have already discussed the issue with the Mayor, SODC and with LA Fitness. The manager at LA Fitness in Henley was unable to given any details and referred us to the Head Office in Doncaster. Having spoken to one of the team in the property department we were told that negotiations on this have been going on with the landlord for some time. However LA Fitness were unable to offer anything that would change the landlord's mind. Further they advised that under the terms of their agreement the landlord is within his rights to serve notice. As this is a private matter, they did not feel that anything could be done by me that would change the situation.

However, I understand that negotiations are continuing to find LA Fitness another home in Henley which I am supporting.

We have also been in touch with SODC on planning matters as a change from a leisure centre to a care home would need a planning 'change of use'. As yet no planning application for change of use has been submitted for the site. Although a certain amount of land must be set aside for recreational use under local planning policy the overarching policy is not site specific. Individual applications are made on a site by site basis taking into account national and local policy and site specific issues.

I am also aware that an application has been made for the leisure centre to be listed as an Asset of Community Value. I am keen to support this and have already written to SODC accordingly.

Of course we need to do everything we can to boost participation in sport. I am very much aware of the positive impact that sport can have on everybody. Part of London 2012's bid was centred on the desire to use the power of the Games to inspire more young people into sport. I am therefore pleased that the Government is supporting this by investing £150 million over the next 2 years into primary school sport, more than £100 million of public and lottery funding into the School Games over the next 3 years and £1 billion over the next 5 years into the Youth and Community Sport Strategy. This, of course is aimed at young people, and I am pleased to see that the Sports Minister has launched a consultation to explore how we can encourage more people to participate in sport. This will help inform future decisions on funding. Locally of course there is already investment in leisure facilities through public money at the Henley Leisure Centre in Gillotts Lane which has a range of activities to offer and which I have visited several times to see what is being offered.

With best wishes

John

John Howell OBE MP FSA
Member of Parliament for Henley
House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA
Tel. 020 7219 6676

howelljm@parliament.uk


12 AUG 2015

July unemployment figures show record low

The total number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in July 2015 was 210.

This represents a rate of 0.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64 and puts us as the 649th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.)

There is a revised method of calculation this month. The figure includes 200 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 10 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 108 lower than in July 2014 and 25 lower than in June 2015.

New Office for National Statistics figures show real wages are up 2.8% on last year – good news for hardworking families

I welcome this excellent economic news. It is very easy to overlook these very good figures in a constituency such as this. But they tell a very good story of how we are tackling unemployment. New figures show wages still rising, women are in work at a record level & there is a low level of vacancies. We're helping those people abandoned by Labour to a life on welfare into work.


24 JUL 2015

Townlands - MP's latest achievements

DOWNLOADS

Letter to David Smith

The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has published its paper on Townlands Hospital for the Board of the CCG. As a result of representations made by me, it recommends that a final decision is postponed on the hospital until full assurance can be provided on a number of arrangements including the ambulatory care model and the number of beds. In other words, the report recommends further engagement with stakeholders in developing the responses to these issues, in order that the Board can take a decision.

The report shows major changes to the model being proposed by the CCG as a result of representations made by me. These include:

  • Deferring a final decision on the hospital pending further engagement;
  • The RACU will now be open and available for 7 days a week rather than the 3 days proposed;
  • Further discussion and engagement on the ambulatory care model and the number of beds;
  • A firmer transition plan.

To quote Sir Winston Churchill 'to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war'. That is precisely what I have been doing with the CCG and the result is that it has taken on board many of the points I have made. The future of the hospital is not an academic exercise it is about our health and well-being and even about saving lives. The services which will be provided are likely to be best placed to do this and I welcome the CCG's inclusion of my comments.

They have not gone ahead with a final recommendation about the hospital. That is the subject of continuing discussion and engagement with stakeholders. It would be helpful if people would return to looking at the site as the provision of a 'health campus' – a phrase used by everyone before the rebuild. There is provision of beds on site. The issue of whether they are in the hospital or in the care home is not the main point. The main point is that I would like to see confirmation of what the term 'flexible' means in describing the number of beds available and exactly how many this will include.

I am also concerned, as I always have been, that the staffing of the ambulatory care model is not secure enough and that further engagement is required here. This would be materially improved if adult social care services and the services provided by the NHS were under one roof. I shall continue to use parliamentary means, particularly in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, to provide the County Council and the NHS with the opportunity for this to happen."

I have written to the Board with my comments (available for download). I will not be attending the Board meeting as I have an official, parliamentary trip abroad at the time.


20 JUL 2015

Townlands - new article

The issue of Townlands Hospital is actually very straightforward. It is this: what is in the best healthcare interests of the people of the area and how can it be provided? It is not a party political issue. Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) has a view of what that provision should be. Others have a different view based on what was originally proposed. OCCG has so far failed to get across their view in a way which many find convincing. However, talking to OCCG gains more than not talking to them and I will continue to do so, as I have been most recently since the arrival of the new CEO of OCCG and since Sue Ryder withdrew. For example, I wrote to OCCG setting out some key concerns. Their response is not fully satisfactory but it has teased out additional information. So, I will continue to have regular meetings with OCCG and question issues with them just as I will continue my meetings with local GPs.

What is the role of an MP in this situation? The decision lies with OCCG and I am not part of that organisation. Nor was I involved in the development of the Townlands model. However without my involvement there would have been no consultation on this project; consultation which rightly took place between OCCG and residents whose voices stand in their own right. They did not need me present to make their views known. Given the amount of time I spend with local people in Henley, I am of course aware of public opinion – particularly one that matches my own concerns.

The issue of Townlands Hospital remains at the forefront. It is important for the people of this constituency and our near neighbours. So, I will continue to meet with OCCG and to ask searching questions. I will continue to meet with local GPs and others and to ask searching questions. But, I will leave OCCG to consult with the people of the town and not stand between OCCG and the people they are consulting. Doing all this is what has led to the expose of the current issues and the response from OCCG which so far no one else has been able to get and I shall continue to press for the integration of the NHS and Social Care which is an important part of our healthcare provision.


17 JUL 2015

John Howell MP: Crime continues to fall

I have welcomed news that crime in the area covered by the Thames Valley force has fallen by 34% since 2010 and has fallen by more than a quarter (27 per cent) nationally under this Government – its lowest level on record – according to latest figure from the independent Office for National Statistics.

The Government has been following an action plan to tackle crime by:

Freeing the police to fight crime by cutting red tape and scrapping unnecessary targets Giving criminals tougher sentences so communities are protected and justice is done Giving the police the powers they need to tackle criminals, using the latest tools and techniques Stopping people from becoming criminals by tackling the root causes of crime Making the police answer to the community to help drive down crime in your area

We have been following an action plan to tackle crime and make Britain a safer place to live, work and raise a family. This plan is working. The independent Crime Survey of England and Wales shows that crime continues to fall under this Government, reaching a record low. In the Thames Valley force, crime recorded by the police has fallen by 34% since 2010.

I discussed these figures with the Superintendent responsible for this patch. I shared with him my impression of the success of his and his predecessor's activities in controlling rural crime which is making this area unattractive for this sort of crime. We also discussed the effects of changes in the way the legal profession act which made Operation Bullfinch such a success in helping to deal with crimes against children.


17 JUL 2015

John Howell MP steps back in time and into WaterAidÂ’s Victorian street to support call for taps and toilets for all

I stepped back in time this week to take a walk down WaterAid's Victorian street, experiencing the sights and smells of an era when open sewage ran through our roads and rivers, to mark 150 years of Britain's modern sewers.

The international charity invited parliamentarians to meet characters from Victorian times to discover what life was like during the Great Stink of 1858 to highlight its call for the UK Government to lead the way in ending the global water and sanitation crisis.

It has been an eye-opening day, seeing what life was like in Victorian Britain when people lacked access to safe water and there was no decent sewerage system. Investment in water and sanitation had a huge impact on our health and development, and that these are key to achieving a healthier and more prosperous world.

I am proud that the UK Government has made a significant commitment to ending global poverty, investing 0.7% of our national income in international development. As we develop the Sustainable Development Goals for addressing global development, it is clear that water and sanitation must play a central role.

Britain's first life-saving sewerage system was created following the 'Great Stink', when the stench of the polluted Thames was so unbearable, it sent MPs running from the House of Commons clutching handkerchiefs to their faces and spurring them into action to clean up the city.

The opening of the first modern sewage pumping station in 150 years ago, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, helped prevent cholera outbreaks in London. The disease had had a devastating impact across the country since its arrival in 1831, similar to the effect of Ebola in West Africa today. This marked the start of Britain's drive to protect public health through good sanitation with similar transformations following across the country.

This year also has a global significance, as the framework for the development priorities for the international community until 2030 is being agreed in September.

WaterAid Chief Executive Barbara Frost presented the 'Make it Happen' petition to Baroness Verma, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. She said: "Our own history shows how water and sanitation can transform a nation, helping to create a healthier and more prosperous society.

"Today, 650 million people across the world still lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Life in a densely populated slum bears far too close a resemblance to UK cities in the 1800s, representing a real and growing threat to global health and stability. Diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation is the second biggest killer of under-fives worldwide, claiming the lives of 1,400 children every single day.[i]

"The stink may be a bit further from Westminster now; but that's no reason not to act. With the right political will, we can solve the global water and sanitation crisis. This year we have a unique chance to right this wrong as world leaders agree the new Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate poverty over the next 15 years. Only with investment in sanitation can we achieve a safe and secure future for everyone everywhere."

A recent survey, commissioned by WaterAid and conducted by ComRes in May, revealed people in the South East believe most UK foreign aid goes to humanitarian disasters and emergencies but the greatest proportion of investment should go to water, sanitation and hygiene. However, water, sanitation and hygiene currently receives a small fraction of UK aid funding – just 2%, compared to 20% for health and 13% for education.

WaterAid is calling for increased investment in water and sanitation in order to achieve improvements in health and other development areas, as having access to these simple services is the foundation to climbing out of poverty. For example, for every £1 invested in sanitation there's a return of around £5 in increased productivity.[ii]

The charity is calling for the UK Government to:

  • Increase the proportion of aid spent on water, sanitation and hygiene by at least 1% every year over the next parliament to enable the UK to become a leader by 2020.
  • Maximise the impact of UK Aid investments by making sure that water, sanitation and hygiene services are in all health clinics, schools, maternal, newborn and child health strategies, and plans to tackle gender inequality.
  • End Aid Dependency by working with developing country governments to deliver and sustain water, sanitation and hygiene services as part of sustainable national plans.
  • Support the adoption and implementation of a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation, with targets for universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.

Find out more at http://www.wateraid.org.

[i] Adapted from UNDP (2006) Human development report, page 29.

[ii] World Health Organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage, page 4.


17 JUL 2015

The BBC's future

Yesterday (17 July 2015) the Secretary of State for Culture made a statement on the future of the BBC.  I welcomed the statement but also had a major point to add.  This was my exchange.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I used to be a presenter for BBC World Service Television, so I am not one of the BBC-phobic MPs on the Conservative Back Benches, but I understand the need for reform. Independent production in this country is a particularly vibrant and healthy sector. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that during the review he will examine the relationship between the BBC and the independent sector in order to ensure that it becomes less bureaucratic than it is at present, and takes full advantage of that vibrancy and health?

Mr Whittingdale: The growth of the independent production sector has been one of the outstanding successes of the last 10 years or so. It has been assisted in large part by the BBC's independent production quota, and also by the terms of trade. Obviously there have been big changes, and we will need to examine those. As my hon. Friend knows, the BBC itself has come up with a proposal for 100% competition for all BBC commissioning. It is an interesting proposal, but my hon. Friend can rest assured that I shall bear in mind the continuing success of the independent production sector throughout this process.


16 JUL 2015

John Howell MP supports charity's call for action on blood cancer

I have backed calls for action on blood cancer after a blood cancer charity revealed one in three transplant patients die within a year of their treatment.

I am supporting the Destination: Cure campaign launched by Anthony Nolan, which runs the UK's stem cell and bone marrow donor register. The charity also revealed that one in eight patients in need of a stem cell or bone marrow transplant do not find a donor, and praised the vital contribution of selfless individuals who donate their stem cells and bone marrow.

The Destination: Cure campaign is a very important reminder of the difficult challenges faced by blood cancer patients in need of a lifesaving transplant. It's absolutely vital we do all we can to support the recruitment of donors, boost scientific research and provide long-term care for patients in need.

In the next five years, over 11,000 people with blood cancer or a blood disorder will depend upon a stem cell transplant from a stranger. Anthony Nolan's Destination Cure campaign aims to save the lives of each of these people, by calling for more investment into the donor register, more pioneering research, and better post-transplant care.

Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said:

"For people in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, finding a matching donor is a potentially lifesaving milestone and usually their only hope of survival.

"Every day, selfless individuals give these patients a fighting chance by donating their stem cells. But heartbreakingly, for every two people who are alive a year after their transplant, there is one person who is not.

"We need the government to act now to accelerate research into why some patients survive and others do not, so that the precious chance of life provided by the donor is not wasted. The odds are not good enough and we will not stop fighting until we reach our destination of a cure for everyone with blood cancer."

The charity is now asking the public to back the Destination: Cure campaign to improve outcomes for transplant patients and accelerate scientific research at www.anthonynolan.org/destinationcure


16 JUL 2015

Watlington Barclays

Today (16 July 2015) I had a meeting with Barclays to discuss what they might be willing to do to keep some form of banking services in the town afetr the High Street branch closes.  We looked at what they were planning to do re. transfer of services to the Post Office (itself threatened, I understand), whether on-line banking could be better timed with the roll-out of broadband in the town, and what could be done in transition.  I pointed to the success we had had with Nat West in Goring in retaining an ATM machine after the branch closed. 


15 JUL 2015

The use of water cannon

The Home Secretary made a statement to the House today saying that she would not authorise the use of water cannon in controlling riots.  During the discussion I asked a question which is re-printed below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):The Home Secretary has commented on the powers that the police have to deal with such situations without the use of water cannon, but she has also commissioned a study on the use of Tasers. I wonder whether this is not the time for a comprehensive assessment of those powers and how they can be used.

Mrs May:My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. There are circumstances in which particularly tools that are available to the police are used, and there are questions about their use, particularly for Tasers, in particular environments, so it is right that we look at their use. With regard to the wider use of police powers, I am always looking to ensure that the police have the necessary tools and powers available to them, commensurate with requirements relating to medical and technical advice and with the need to maintain the firm trust between the police and the public.


15 JUL 2015

f40 and better deal for Oxfordshire

A large number of schools in the constituency have been discussing with me as their local MP the need for a new schools funding formula. At present the difference in funding per pupil between a rural school in Oxfordshire and one in an inner city area can be significant with Oxfordshire schools receiving less.

This issue has been raised with me by a group of head teachers representing secondary schools in the constituency including Chiltern Edge, Langtree and Gillotts as well as Wheatley Park school and primary schools such as Goring and Peppard.

On 14 July a meeting took place in Parliament organised by the f40 group, a group representing counties most facing difficulties as a result of the funding formula. I spoke during this meeting to raise the question of how schools were able to accommodate additional on-costs such as employee costs in their budget and why students in the constituency were facing cuts in the curriculum as a result of the funding formula.

I have also had the opportunity of sitting down with the Secretary of State for Education to discuss the issue.

We seem to be pushing at an open door on this one although the issue of timing is crucial. The Conservative manifesto gave a commitment to a new funding formula which is being taken forward. I am trying to get some indication of the principles which will be involved in setting the new funding formula.

In the meantime, I am trying to raise signatures on a petition to be presented to the House of Commons at the same time as similar petitions from around the country and I will be signing a letter to the Prime Minister advocating change.


15 JUL 2015

Latest unemployment figures

The total number of unemployed (JSA claimants) in the Henley constituency in June 2015 fell to 226. It represents a further drop of 18. This puts us at 649th out of 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK in terms of the best performance in dealing with unemployment.

The number of claimants is 107 lower than in June 2014 and 18 lower than in May 2015. These data are not seasonally adjusted. The proportion of the workforce in the UK claiming benefits because they are unemployed is at its lowest level since 1975.

Unemployment in this constituency continues to be a good news story. The further drop in unemployment is to be welcomed. I have had numerous meetings, including within Henley and Thame, over the past few months to encourage the take up of apprenticeships and to support our businesses as the providers of employment opportunities. This continual downward pressure on unemployment is an important factor in this.


12 JUL 2015

Townlands - my actions

 ITEMS TO DOWNLOAD

To OCCG

Letter from OCCG

Dan Poulter

At yesterday's (11 July 2015) Henley march concerning Townlands Hospital a number of comments were made about what I was doing to support the march and the campaign. I thought it helpful to set out the meetings I have had and the exchanges that have taken place with the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) and others over the most recent of months.

(a) The initial consultation on the OCCG proposal for the hospital came about because of my intervention. I made the case strongly to Ministers that there should be a consultation on the future of the hospital as the new model being proposed is a significant change to the original. This was at a time when the OCCG were at best ambivalent to the need for consultation. Ministers agreed and supported my view (see download).

This is how the Henley Standard described the situation, and the discussions I had had, in a note posted on 20 April 2015:

'Henley MP John Howell insisted there should be consultation and won the support of health minister Jeremy Hunt. Now the commissioning group has accepted the MP's argument following talks with Mr Howell, Yvonne Constance, chairwoman of Oxfordshire County Council's joint health overview and scrutiny committee, and Henley town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith. Mr Howell said: "I'm particularly glad that the commissioning group has accepted my version of events." They have accepted that it's a significant change in the provision at the hospital and they will now have a consultation on it.'

(b) It was as a result of the letter I wrote to the CEO of the OCCG (copy above) that we obtained the response also for download at the head of this article. While this response in no way answers satisfactorily the questions we all have on the new development it does continue the process of dialogue with the OCCG and provides some additional and worthwhile information.

(c) In addition, I am arranging a meeting between all of the county's MPs and the OCCG and Stuart Bell (CEO of Oxford Health) to understand the strategic thinking behind the proposed re-organisation of the county's community hospitals which lies behind the proposals for Townlands. It is important that we have the whole picture as without it we cannot be sure that we have the best provision for 21st century healthcare.

(d) During the election campaign I arranged (and attended) meetings between representatives of Townlands Steering Group, and, Stuart Bell and the doctors from the Hart and Bell surgeries in Henley to further develop thinking on the issues over Townlands.

(e) This issue of Townlands is not new. Over my years as MP I have had meetings and other exchanges (e mail and telephone calls) with the OCCG on a regular basis, together with meetings with other interested parties. I have had meetings with the GPs at Sonning Common, Hart, Bell, and Nettlebed surgeries to listen to their views. I have also had meetings with Stuart Bell, Oxford Health.

(f) I raised the situation with the Secretary of State for Health who dispatched one of his Special Advisers to examine the situation. I have also had regular exchanges about Townlands with Dr Dan Poulter, former Health Minister.

Some people have been asking for me to make statements on the current situation. However it would have been absurd for me to insist on a public consultation and then to prejudge that consultation by publicly commenting on it before it had ended. Indeed until the Henley Standard called for the recent march the Townlands Steering Group was itself in ongoing dialogue with OCCG on the most appropriate model for the hospital. OCCG are now analysing the results of the consultation.

Further, the consultation was between the OCCG and local residents – not between the OCCG and the MP - and it was important that I allow that to happen. Thus the fact that some meetings were called when my duties required me to be in the House of Commons was not of great concern. I have been well aware of the strength of feeling in the town and have conveyed that to the OCCG on your behalf. The OCCG is now analysing the results of the consultation and I have arranged an opportunity to discuss this with them before their Board meeting.

This project is about delivering the care that best meets the needs of the local population – and nothing more. It is not party political. There are clearly different views of what 'the best care' consists and how this can be organised, and, I shall continue to discuss these in a reasonable and considered manner with the OCCG and others as I believe this is likely to be the most productive way of proceeding.


09 JUL 2015

John Howell MP commits to beat cancer sooner

i pledged my support to help Cancer Research UK save more lives in my constituency and across the UK.

I attended a parliamentary event held by the charity in Westminster this week (8 July) to speak to Cancer Research UK about how MPs can help keep cancer at the top of the new parliament's agenda.

With one in two people now set to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, the charity says the political drive to beat the disease must keep pace with the progress in research.

UK cancer survival rates are still lagging behind other countries and too many cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat successfully.

At the event, I met some of Cancer Research UK's dedicated volunteer Campaign Ambassadors and received local cancer statistics for the Henley constituency which underline the need for MPs to join the fight against the disease.

We must not underestimate the devastating impact cancer will have on people in this constituency now and in the future, so it gives me hope to hear that Cancer Research UK's pioneering research is turning the tables on the disease.

The outlook for new and better cancer treatments in the UK is bright. However, it is clear that there is a critical role for politicians to play in helping to detect cancer earlier and bring innovative new treatments to patients faster.

One life lost to this terrible disease is one too many and that's why I'm supporting Cancer Research UK in their mission to beat cancer sooner.

Layla Theiner, Cancer Research UK's Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning said:

"Without increased political support we could see the death toll from cancer rising in the UK and so we're grateful to John for helping to highlight the power of research in beating the disease.

"Survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years. But there's still so much more to do and we can't do it alone.

"Investment in creating the right environment in the UK to not only enable and foster research, but also to help prevent cancer and give patients the best possible access to treatments must be key priorities for the new Government."

For more information please visit cruk.org.


09 JUL 2015

John Howell MP supporting science in Parliament

I met some of the scientists that are helping drive the UK economy at an event held by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics in Parliament on Tuesday 7 July.  I met with scientists to talk about UK success stories from research in both chemistry and physics, where innovations and companies have developed from work that began in university science departments. These successes from the UK's science base are now creating jobs and economic growth across the UK.

The event highlighted the importance of government funding to science and the benefits it has on the UK economy. The UK science and innovation system produces 15.9% of the world's most highly cited publications, with only 4.1% of the world's researchers.

It was good to hear about how chemistry and physics are creating much-needed jobs across the UK and to link this back to what is happening at Culham. The Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics are showing why science is good for the economy – and it also shows that science is an excellent career choice for young people to consider.

Professor Dominic Tildesley, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "We have the evidence to show that Britain is a world leader in science and that Government investment in science boosts the UK economy. There are innovative projects and companies springing up all the time and we want to see a commitment to a long-term strategy for increasing investment to ensure that we all continue to benefit from our scientific success."

Professor Tom McLeish, Vice-President, Science, at the Institute of Physics, said, "Investing in science and engineering drives economic growth and is at the heart of advances and innovation in healthcare, communications and national security. The UK has a unique, interdisciplinary ecosystem of innovation between global businesses and universities that we must nurture if it is to deliver the innovation-based supply chains, manufacturing and exports of tomorrow."


09 JUL 2015

Cremation of infants

I intervened in a debate held in Westminster Hall about the cremation of infants and the long time that parents had been waiting for their chidlren's ashes to be returned to them.  I asked about the excuses given by the crematoria that babies/children may not produce ashes.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What excuse was given by the crematorium? Perhaps my hon. Friend will come on to that.

Daniel Kawczynski: I will come on to some of the report's findings later in my speech, but I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.....The answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), is in the report commissioned by Shropshire Council, published last month, which says that poor training and out-of-date equipment were mainly to blame. I am pleased that more than £3 million has now been spent on new machines


08 JUL 2015

John Howell MP: welcomes clear plan to deliver security for people in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the Summer Budget, endorsing the Chancellor's plan to finish the job on the deficit, keep moving to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare economy and put security first for families in the Henley constituency.

The budget sets out the action the Chancellor will take to put security first:

  • The economic security of a country that lives within its means: the forecasts show Britain will be the fastest growing major advanced economy for a second year in a row, but the deficit is still too high so the Budget sets out a balanced plan to cut the deficit at the same rate as in the last Parliament to achieve a surplus.
  • The financial security of lower taxes and a new National Living Wage: The new National Living Wage will mean two and a half million people get a direct pay rise. Those currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by over a third this Parliament, a cash increase for a full time worker of over £5,000. There's further support for working people with an increase in the tax-free personal allowance so someone will be able to earn £11,000 before paying any income tax at all. We will also raise the 40p rate to £43,000, lifting 130,000 people out of this higher tax rate.
  • Cutting tax on business to secure growth with Corporation Tax reduced to 18 per cent: we've already taken this rate to the lowest in the G20 and aligned it for large and small businesses, but we cannot afford to stand still so will cut it further to send out the message that Britain is open for business.
  • The national security of a country that defends itself and its values: The Budget commits to meeting the NATO pledge to spend 2% of our national income on defence – not just this year, but every year of this decade.

I welcomed these measures as good news for taxpayers in the constituency. This is a Budget that delivers security for working people here and keeps Britain moving from a low wage, high tax, high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare country. The new National Living Wage and tax cuts for working families will boost take-home pay for those who work hard and want to get on in life – meaning more financial security.

Reducing the tax burden on businesses will create jobs and give more people the security of well-paid work, and having a strong economy means we can invest in our world-class NHS and meet our defence commitments, helping families across the country feel more secure in their homes.  The economic security of a country that lives within its means. The financial security of lower taxes and a new National Living Wage. The national security of a country that defends itself and its values. This is a Budget that puts security for families in the constituency first.


08 JUL 2015

New tax cuts to make people in the Henley constituency more financially secure

I have welcomed further income tax cuts for people in the Henley constituency, delivering on the Conservatives' key election promise to raise the personal allowance. 

In the Summer Budget, the Chancellor set out the next steps in his plan to support working people by ensuring they keep more of the money they earn:

  • A downpayment on a £12,500 Personal Allowance: in 2016-17, the personal tax-free allowance will increase by £400 to £11,000, so that next year a typical rate income taxpayer will be £905 better off compared with 2010. This is part of our commitment to raise the allowance to £12,500 by the end of the parliament.
  • Delivering on our promise to raise the higher rate threshold: in 2016-17, the threshold for the higher rate of tax will increase from £42,385 to £43,000, saving the typical higher rate taxpayer £142 and lifting 130,000 people out of the rate altogether. This is a first step on our commitment to raise the threshold to £50,000 by the end of the parliament.

The Summer Budget also introduced a new National Living Wage for over 25s to support people who work hard and do the right thing. The new National Living Wage will mean two and a half million people get a direct pay rise. Those currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by over a third this Parliament, a cash increase for a full time worker of over £5,000.

The new National Living Wage combined with these income tax cuts are excellent news for hardworking people in this constituency, and shows we will deliver what we promised.

The rise in the personal allowance will mean lower taxes for around 48,178 working people here in the constituency, with an estimated 818 people taken out of income tax altogether.

The rise in the 40p threshold will also mean fewer people in this constituency will now pay the 40p rate of tax.

That means local people keeping more of the money they've worked hard to earn, giving them and their families more financial security for the future.


04 JUL 2015

John Howell MP pledges to champion autism awareness in the Henley constituency

On Monday 29 June, at a reception at the Houses of Parliament, as a member of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA), I pledged to promote more autism awareness in the Henley constituency.

I met local families and heard moving testimonies from people living with autism, a lifelong condition which affects over 3,000 people in every Parliamentary constituency.

The event was attended by nearly one hundred Parliamentarians and by President of the National Autistic Society, Jane Asher.

I was impressed and moved by what I heard today from people living with autism. More than 1 in 100 people in the UK have the condition and many have battled to get their needs identified, diagnosed, understood and then met. We heard how negative public attitudes and misconceptions about autism can harm families and individuals and limit their opportunities.

I plan to promote more awareness in the Henley constituency which will enable more people living with autism to play an active role in their community and to achieve their full potential.

Jane Asher said:

"Awareness of the word autism has increased dramatically since I first became involved many years ago, but understanding of this complex condition is still desperately low, that's why I'm very grateful that so many Parliamentarians came to the event.

"Parliamentarians have the power to make a real change in the lives of those with autism by helping us to spread understanding among their local communities. I do hope they will work with us in trying to make the world a more welcoming place for those affected and their families."

Chair of the APPGA, Rt. Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP, said:

"I am delighted to have been elected Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, a cross-party grouping of 200 MPs and Members of the House of Lords. There are over 3,000 people in each constituency affected by autism and it's crucial they all get the right support."


01 JUL 2015

Child poverty changes

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, made a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday 1 July on child poverty. In it he said that he wanted to focus on making a meaningful change to children's lives by extending opportunity for all, so that both they and their children can escape from the cycle of poverty and improve their life chances. This process will mark a shift from solely measuring inputs of expenditure to measuring the outcomes of children-focused policy.

I had the following exchange with the Minister:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Prior to 2010, when I was the party's child poverty champion, we discussed these changes, so I welcome the Secretary of State's statement. Does he accept that they represent a comprehensive approach to dealing with child poverty that is actually going to help?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am glad that my hon. Friend believes that, because so do I. The purpose of what I have set out today, after a great deal of consideration over the past few years and a full consultation on the matter, is to arrive at a situation in which we are able to help those children and families in the greatest difficulty and try to move them out of poverty so that they sustain their lives out and beyond poverty.


29 JUN 2015

New positions for Henley MP, John Howell.

Today (Monday 29 June 2015), I was invited to assist the government in the further development of Neighbourhood Plans and to help spread their take-up across the country. My appointment was announced during parliamentary questions to the Communities and Local Government team.  My question and the reply were:

John Howell: Does my right hon. Friend agree that neighbourhood planning represents the best way of ensuring that communities have a real say in the planning system when it comes to deciding where houses should go, what they should look like, and what green and open spaces should be preserved?

Greg Clark: I do indeed. My hon. Friend is a pioneer of neighbourhood planning. He worked closely with me when I was last a Minister in the Department to ensure that it was introduced, and it has been a huge success. The first neighbourhood plan was in Thame, in his constituency. More than 1,500 communities are now engaged in the neighbourhood planning process, and 300 neighbourhood plans have been published for consultation. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has accepted my invitation to work with me to see what we can do to speed up the possibilities for other neighbourhoods throughout the country.

I am very excited to be taking on this role at a crucial time in the development of Neighbourhood Plans. In my own constituency, Thame and Woodcote already have their plans and I hope Henley will soon follow. They are an excellent way for communities to play a major role in the planning system and help shape the future of those communities.

In a separate development, I was re-elected to be a member of the Justice Select Committee without any opposition. I am very pleased to be continuing my work in a vital area of Government. In the last parliament we undertook a number of key enquiries into areas to do with our prisons and the justice system. I look forward to continuing this work.


25 JUN 2015

Local MP pledges to end the ovarian cancer postcode lottery

I have signed up to a new campaign to end the ovarian cancer postcode lottery, launched by national charity Target Ovarian Cancer.

I pledged my support for the new campaign in parliament this week after Target Ovarian Cancer released a new report highlighting the regional differences between survival rates of ovarian cancer, awareness and participation in clinical trials.

More needs to be done to ensure that all women with ovarian cancer get the support and care that they need, regardless of where they live. I have pledged to make sure that is happening in the Henley constituency. A great friend of mine died from Ovarian Cancer and I remember her in supporting this campaign.

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive for Target Ovarian Cancer, said: "Whilst cancer doesn't discriminate by address, this new report clearly shows that women with ovarian cancer are facing a life-altering postcode lottery. Women with ovarian cancer should be able to access the best standards available, no matter where they live in the UK.

"This is why we're launching The Ovarian Cancer Postcode Lottery report today and calling on all MPs to make sure that women with ovarian cancer are getting access to the best treatment and care possible. We need to stop women needlessly dying because of where they live.

"The most important thing is that women know what to look out for. That is why we need a national awareness campaign so that every woman knows the key symptoms which are having a bloated tummy or tummy pain, needing to wee more often/urgently and always feeling full."

For more information and to read the report visit www.targetovariancancer.org.uk


25 JUN 2015

John Howell MP supports heart research to save lives

This week I showed my support for UK medical research by joining British Heart Foundation (BHF) scientists and heart patients to hear how research is helping to save and improve the lives of the millions of people affected by heart disease.

At an event in Westminster, I spoke with heart patients and BHF-funded researchers to learn more about the latest research projects, the hope they offer to people with heart conditions and why government support is vital.

Heart disease is a devastating condition that affects thousands of people across the Henley constituency.

But with the public's support, charities like the BHF are able to fund some of the world's leading researchers, who work tirelessly to find the next major breakthrough that could help save more lives.

If we are to continue making great strides in heart research both the public, including people in the Henley constituency, and the Government need to support our brightest scientists.

There are an estimated 10,360 people in the Henley constituency living with heart and circulatory disease, and seven million people across the UK. It causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK.

The BHF is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research and spends around £100 million every year on world class research to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. The charity sector is by far the largest funder of life sciences research in our universities and every year the Government contributes £198 million towards the indirect costs, such as heating and electricity in laboratories, of charity-funded research. But this figure falls short of covering all the costs of undertaking life-saving research.

The government's science budget is currently protected from cuts to expenditure until April 2016.

The BHF is calling on the Government to maintain the current ring-fencing of the science budget and to commit to future increases.


25 JUN 2015

Comments on superfast broadband

I had prepared a speech for the debate on superfast broadband held today in Westminster Hall. In the end, the debate ran out of time before I was called. However, I did manage to make an intervention which I reproduce below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that inviting other technology providers is an option, albeit one that could prejudice access to Government money by showing that there is no market failure? That would leave a legacy of high costs for individuals in the provision of broadband.

The points I was going to make include the following. First, the debate was about those who were not yet on broadband rather than those who already had it. It was important not to forget this latter group because this was a time when the Government was moving more and more services on-line. If they were unable to access broadband they were effectively excluded from a tranche of life. Although estimates are that 95% of the county will be connected by the end of 2017, we still have a long way to go. We should also not forget the 5% who would not be connected and I wanted to hear how the Government was going to tackle providing them with broadband. In addition, some certainty was required to avoid the situation where communities took the matter into their own hands and brought in an alternative provider rather than wait. Bringing in a new provider might blight their chances of getting funding for broadband by showing that there was no market failure and leaving a legacy of a cost regime which may be disadvantageous.

Ed Vaizey, the Minister, answered my question about the 5%. He said: "Phase 3 is about no one being left behind, which is the theme of the debate. The key point about that last 5% is that we do not know how much it will cost. Back of an envelope costings can run into billions, but we need a proper figure. That is why we have launched the pilots, some of which are already delivering broadband connections to people all over the country. Better still, they give us an idea of the kinds of technologies we can use to get to that 5%. That will include suppliers other than BT and other technologies that BT and others are using, such as wireless and satellite."


23 JUN 2015

Justice Select Committee

Good news today! I have been re-elected to membership of the Justice Select Committee.  Some continuity is important as is the presence of someone who is not a lawyer. 


23 JUN 2015

Question about rehabilitation

I asked a question today in Justice Questions about the use of cooking by prisoners as a means of rehabilitation.  This is not a reward for good behaviour but an essential component of reducing reoffending.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):In the last Parliament, I visited a prison in Denmark with the Justice Select Committee. One of the biggest contributors to preventing the prisoners from reoffending was their ability to cook their own food. Does the Minister agree that that ability is not a reward for good behaviour but an essential part of dealing with reoffending?

Mike Penning:I am not the Prisons Minister but I have visited many prisons, not least the ones on the edge of my own constituency, and I have seen that happening in our own prisons. Giving people life skills is vital, as is giving them somewhere to live when they come out.


22 JUN 2015

Neighbourhood Plans and wind turbines

I asked a question today during the statement on windfarms to ensure that Neighbourhood Plans were paramount in deciding whether a community wanted a wind turbine or not>

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I welcome the statement. As my right hon. Friend knows, I had a role in the development of neighbourhood plans at the very beginning. If local communities decide not to pursue wind turbines, will she reassure me that she will give precedence to those neighbourhood plans over anything else in the planning system?

Amber Rudd:I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I know that he was the great man who developed the neighbourhood plan. He is absolutely right that the neighbourhood plans will be the central tome on this, and they will allow communities to have the authority that they need on the planning decisions that would be impacted in this situation.


19 JUN 2015

New measures to give people in the Henley constituency the final say over new onshore wind turbines

I have welcomed new measures announced by the Government that will see the law changed to give local communities the final say over planning decisions for new onshore wind farms. We have enough new onshore wind to help us meet our renewables target and wind turbines will only get the go-ahead if the local community has made it clear they support onshore wind projects in their area. They will be free to decide where turbines should go and any proposals must address the concerns of local people and have their backing.

In addition, the law will be changed to end billpayer subsidies for new onshore wind farms from April 2016. This will ensure that we meet our renewable energy commitments in a way that protects taxpayers and keeps bills low for working people.

For too long our communities were powerless to stop wind farm developments that they objected to from going ahead despite the fact that we have enough new onshore wind to help us meet our renewables target.

Thanks to us, this will now change. Delivering on our manifesto commitment, local communities like ours here in the Henley constituency will now have the final say over planning applications for onshore wind turbines which will ensure only those schemes that have the support of local people can go ahead. And we are stopping billpayer subsidies for new onshore wind farms so that energy bills are kept down. This will mean that projects like the wind turbine originally planned for Horspath will not be resurrected.

This is part of our plan to give power back to communities and local people so that they can decide and determine the future of their areas – not be forced to accept decisions imposed on them.

Through the Energy Bill we will close the Renewables Obligation - which supports the overwhelming majority of onshore wind - to new onshore wind from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned. Support for renewables is also available through Contracts for Difference, and we will announce plans to implement our manifesto commitment with these too in due course.

The Energy Bill will also build on the existing changes to planning rules so local councils have the decisive say on projects which don't already have planning permission – by putting onshore wind back in the locally led planning system. As part of this two new planning tests will be applied to wind energy developments. Wind turbines will only get the go-ahead if provision for them has been clearly allocated for them in areas by local people though the Local or a Neighbourhood Plan. It is important that communities are free to decide whether they want wind turbines in their local area and, if so, where they should go.

A planning application should not be approved unless the proposal reflects the planning concerns of the affected local community and has their backing. This second test will reassure a local community that even when their Plan outlines provision and support for wind power, any concerns they have about its impact will be addressed before any permission is granted.

There are now enough onshore wind projects planned to meet our 2020 renewables target. But onshore wind is unable to provide the firm capacity a stable energy system needs – so any new projects should be able to pay for themselves.


17 JUN 2015

Speech on skills and growth

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

May I say what a privilege it is to be called in this debate—first, Mr Deputy Speaker, to welcome you back to the Chair, but also to follow the excellent maiden speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)? She represents a fascinating area of the country and she gave a very good explanation of what has been going on there and her role in it. Her speech comes on the back of an enormous number of excellent maiden speeches, including those of the new broom, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), if I may pick out just two. The latter reminded me of my days as an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh. I am very familiar with the Antonine Wall that he described.

I want to deal with apprenticeships. I can agree with the first bit of the motion—

"That this House notes that improving education is imperative for the future economic growth of the country"—

but not with the rest of it. If the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who is no longer in his seat, wants a more bipartisan approach, it could start with this motion acknowledging that the apprenticeship programme has been a flagship programme of this Government and we have put £1.5 billion into making sure that it works.

The wording of the motion does not bear comparison with the situation in my constituency, where the advancement of the apprenticeships scheme is having an excellent result. One way of seeing that is to look at the unemployment figures in the constituency. The figures released today show that the total number of people unemployed across the whole constituency amounts to 244. That is a diminution in the number of unemployed on the previous month, and in effect it represents full unemployment and the normal churn of people looking for jobs. Most importantly, in the previous month the number of youth unemployed in the constituency was down to 30. I have every sympathy for those 30, but this represents a very good achievement for the Government. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), who is no longer in the Chamber, to his new position. He is right to stress the role of MPs in driving the process along; each of us has the ability to do that. In my constituency I have Henley College, which is a very strong player in providing training for apprenticeships and has been working hand in hand with companies to promote those apprenticeships.

Dame Angela Watkinson:

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the increasing number of girls who are taking STEM subjects, which are leading to apprenticeships in engineering and technical subjects, and does he agree that we need more of them?

John Howell:

I absolutely welcome my hon. Friend's comments. She makes a very good point that we all need to bear in mind.

At the time when the recession was at its deepest, I took the initiative in my constituency to get together a whole lot of players in this field, including Henley College, to help businesses cope with the fact that they were going into recession. Henley College rose to the challenge very well. It was instructive to find that many people in the room from firms that had done business in the area for 25 years did not know a single soul among the rest of those gathered there. I think that if I were to do the same thing now, that would not be the case. They know where they are going, and they are taking the lead in promoting apprenticeships.

Colleges like Henley can make an important contribution in encouraging the provision of training. This is to do with a lot of the work that companies are undertaking to find the best training providers to help them in delivering apprenticeships. I recently went to see two contrasting companies in the constituency to hear about the work they were doing in apprenticeships. One was DAF, the truck manufacturer, which is one of the biggest companies in my constituency and sits at the centre of a web of apprenticeships that goes right across the country. It has made great efforts to find the right training provider to help it in this—a college down in the west country with which it can work to deliver this training. It has degree-type award ceremonies at the end of the apprenticeship training so that people feel they have got something out of the whole process. I have been invited to the ceremony it will conduct in September, to witness it at first hand.

The other company I went to visit was Williams Performance Tenders. Despite the constituency being landlocked, Williams Performance Tenders is the biggest producer of boats by volume in the whole country. Having been on one of those boats, I know they are extremely fast. This company, too, has a very good apprenticeship scheme that it manages largely by itself. That scheme operates in the most deprived village in the whole of my constituency, and it is making a big difference to people's lives.

As a result of all this, if we look back to the beginning of 2010, we see that there has been an increase of some 58% in the number of apprenticeships taken up in the constituency. That is an excellent achievement. I put on record my thanks to all the businesses that have participated in and are contributing to this.

Dame Angela Watkinson:

Does my hon. Friend attribute that to good co-operation between local education and training providers and local employers, so that the skills that employers need are identified and young people are taking the right courses?

John Howell:

That is a difficult question to answer. I attribute it partly to that, but the role of schools needs to be worked on further, because they can do more.

During the election campaign, I became aware of the way schools in the constituency still regard apprenticeships in an academic light as providing an academic training rather than a genuine life option for people.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab):

I am interested in the increase in the number of apprenticeships in the hon. Gentleman's area. Despite the statutory duty on schools to provide a better careers service, the opposite has happened. We are finding that they are not giving people the option of doing very different things or telling them about the availability of apprenticeships. Does he agree that we need to invest more in the careers services in our schools so that people get proper advice and are offered the very different options that are now available?

John Howell:

I think I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I would like more effort to be put into encouraging schools to focus on apprenticeships being self-standing as a life's ambition that can be fulfilled. So many schools approach apprenticeships as though such people were going to university and deal with them in the same way—the careers advice process still encapsulates the whole thing—which is wrong. We need to ensure not just that providers and companies provide quality, but that the schools regard them as providing quality. To that extent, I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is therefore an onus on the Government to redirect some of their efforts towards schools to encourage them to do this, and to move the debate on so that in a few years' time people will have genuinely equal opportunities, whether they want to go to university, as I did, or have an apprenticeship, as so many young people in my constituency want. I welcome the Government's emphasis on apprenticeships, and the important part that apprenticeships play in delivering the long-term economic plan.


17 JUN 2015

Unemployment in the Henley constituency falls to low of 244 people

The total number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in the Henley constituency in May 2015 has fallen to a low of 244. This represents a rate of 0.5% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.). The number of young people unemployed and claiming JSA fell to 25.

The number of claimants is 127 lower than in May 2014 and 16 lower than in April 2015. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

This is very good news indeed. This is a substantial drop in the number of people unemployed and claiming JSA. I have been very impressed with the number of firms in the constituency who are undertaking apprenticeships which is helping to keep the number unemployed very low. It shows our long term economic plan is working and bringing very tangible results to the constituency. 16 more people have jobs now than a month ago which is to be welcomed.


17 JUN 2015

John Howell MP welcomes schools advances

I have welcomed the news that from September all pupils will study the EBacc at GCSE to ensure they get the crucial skills and qualifications they need to succeed in life. The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is awarded when students achieve A* to C in five core GCSE subjects including English, Maths, Science, Humanities and Languages – the courses that universities and employers value the most. From September 2015 all pupils starting secondary school will study the EBacc when they reach their GCSEs.

In this region – the South East – this will mean that around 53,000 more pupils will be able to study these crucial subjects from September 2015. This comes as new figures from Ofsted show that 80% of schools in the South-East have been judged good or outstanding in their most recent inspection – this equates to almost 3,000 schools in the SE. Across the country the proportion of all schools judged to be good or outstanding at their most recent inspection was 82 per cent – the highest ever recorded. As a result over 1 million more children are now in good schools compared to 2010.

As part of the Conservative's commitment to opportunity we want everyone to have access to the best opportunities Britain has to offer. This means making sure that children have access to the best schools and study the key subjects that will provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

That's why it's great news that the latest figures show that 80% of schools in the South-East are now rated good or outstanding. And thanks to changes being introduced by the Government, from September around 53,000 more pupils will be studying key academic subjects at GCSE in this area. We are firmly on the side of people who want to work hard, get on and provide a decent education for their children. We are committed to ensuring that every child has the schools and skills they need to reach their full potential.


16 JUN 2015

MP on Iran

I participated in the debate held today on Iran.  I remain concerned that the agreement proposed with Iran envisages Iran as a nuclear power.  I think it is very difficult to see that allowing Iran to become a civil nuclear power would not also allow it to become a military nuclear power.  I believe this would encorage the spread of nuclear power in the region.  The mover of the motion, Guto Bebb MP, talked about how disquieted the Gulf States were.

The intervention I made is set out below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not feel that what he has described as the thoughts of the Gulf states are increased by the attitude to the detail, including about centrifuges? If Iran is allowed to retain 6,000-plus centrifuges against the original estimate of 1,000, that is clearly a bad sign.


11 JUN 2015

Local MP John Howell pledges support to carers in the Henley constituency for Carers Week 2015

I today pledged my support to carers across the Henley constituency as part of the national Carers Week 2015 awareness campaign, which runs from 8-14th June. There are 6.5 million people in the UK who care for a partner, relative or friend, of which 10,125 carers are in the Henley constituency. Without the right help and support, caring can have a devastating impact – carers can quickly become isolated, with their physical and emotional health, work and finances all hit hard.

The six charities (Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Multiple Sclerosis Society) driving Carers Week 2015 are calling on individuals, organisations and services throughout the country to take action to improve the lives of carers by building 'carer-friendly communities' that consider and support their needs.

The call comes after research for Carers Week revealed that the variation in the support and recognition carers experience from services across the country is putting the health of many carers, and their ability to support the people they care for, at risk.

Carers make a hugely valuable contribution to society and they need support to carry on the work they do. That is why I am supporting this initiative to encourage services in my community to think about the needs of carers and reach out to carers across the Henley constituency and help ensure they don't miss out on support.

Carers Week Manager Diana Walles said:

"It's fantastic to see MPs supporting carers. Families are increasingly taking on caring roles for older, ill or disabled loved ones, yet still struggle for recognition and support from health and care services and in their communities.

Much progress has been made – indeed, over 1,000 people and organisations have already pledged to actively engage with carers in their local community for Carers Week and into the future. But we still have a long way to go. This Carers Week, we're calling on individuals and organisations to think about what they can do to improve the lives of carers in their community."


10 JUN 2015

Participation in HoC debates/questions

Yesterday's interventions in the Westminster Hall debate on City regions and Metro Mayors:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): My hon. Friend is talking about devolution and has mentioned rural communities. I agree about that; I come from a rural community. But how does that link to the Metro Mayors concept? Is the Metro Mayors concept as appropriate to somewhere such as Oxfordshire as it is to somewhere such as York?

John Howell: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the big prize is not just in transferring the NHS services, but in linking up the NHS with social care, so that they are all under one roof and decisions can be made about both at the same time?

This morning's question at Scottish questions:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with business groups in Scotland.[900152]

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and other UK Ministers and officials meet business groups in Scotland regularly. I am pleased to say that one of my first visits in my new role will be to Aberdeen.

John Howell: The UK Government are committed to reducing the burden of red tape on businesses. The Scottish Government have some powers in this area. Is it not a good idea for them both to work together to reduce the burden of regulation on businesses full stop?

Anna Soubry: Absolutely. It is imperative that Administrations right across the United Kingdom work together to reduce the burden of red tape and deregulate as much as they can. We achieved £10 billion of benefit to small businesses and other sectors under the previous Government, and our aim is to achieve another £10 billion of savings for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom.


04 JUN 2015

The Townlands hospital situation

I have been working on the situation at Townlands Hospital since I first became an MP. I too am frustrated by the current situation over the provisioning of the new hospital. I am actively involved in this and set out what I am doing.

I have agreed with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that I will have a specific opportunity to comment on the service model they are proposing together with the results of the consultation prior to their appearance at the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at which they are appearing on 30 July. That will include my comment on the recommendations they wish to take to the CCG Governing Body. I have also asked for historic information about the use of the hospital.

I have heard the views expressed by the Townlands Steering Group and by the people of the area including local GPs. I have every sympathy with those views which ask valid questions about the model and the provision of social care which it envisages. Indeed, I mentioned this issue in debate in the House of Commons.

I was amongst the first to call on the CCG to undertake a consultation on what they were proposing for the Henley hospital at a time when they were at best ambivalent on doing so. I also lobbied extensively to ensure that a consultation took place and that the people of Henley were consulted. Having secured this consultation, it would be bizarre for me not to wait for the outcome before commenting on it. I am still lobbying for the CCG to take the points raised as a result of the consultation into account and I have arranged for the feedback to be given to me when it is complete and they have assessed what they have learnt.


04 JUN 2015

MP speaking in HoC Chamber

It has been a busy week at the House of Commons and I have contributed throughout the week to important debates and question times.

On Monday, I participated in the foreign affairs debate by asking the Foreign Secretary about Iran and its nuclear capability.  The exchange is below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Before my right hon. Friend moved on from the middle east I wanted to catch him on the nuclear verification programme for Iran. Is he really happy with it, and does it capture the potential military uses that it could be put to?

Mr Hammond: The programme as agreed at Lausanne does indeed capture that and provide very good levels of protection. Of course, we have now got to translate that into a detailed written agreement. That is the process that is going on at the moment.

On Wednesday, I participated in the question session to the Ministers from DfID.  I asked:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of UK aid to the Palestinian Authority. [900063]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): Our support has enabled the Palestinian Authority to carry out state-building reforms in public financial administration and security. The international community has recognised that the PA is now ready for statehood.

John Howell: I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. Is the Minister aware of reports that the Palestinian Authority continues to pay convicted terrorists, and will he investigate whether UK payments are being used for that purpose?

Mr Swayne: I assure my hon. Friend that no UK payments are made for that purpose. Our support to the Palestinian Authority is paid through a World Bankcontrolled trust fund to named civil servants and then independently audited.

On Wednesday, I also joined in the debate on the Queen's Speech on Cities and Decentralisation to raise the issue of rural areas such as our own.  What I said can be read here

Debate 3 June 

Finally, on Thursday I asked a question of Ed Vaizey about broadband in the constituency.  Not entirely happy with the answer and will pursue.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):As the Minister knows, my constituency is sandwiched between Reading and Oxford and is only a stone's throw from London, but there is great frustration at the impoverishment of the broadband coverage there. What is he doing to encourage improvement?

Mr Vaizey:The other day I received an e-mail of congratulations from one of my hon. Friend's constituents thanking me for the broadband that is being delivered to his constituency. As his next door neighbour, I know that the Oxfordshire broadband team is doing a fantastic job in rolling out broadband to thousands of homes across Oxfordshire.


01 JUN 2015

More help for hardworking families in the Henley constituency with 30 hours per week of free childcare

I have today welcomed the Government's plans to double free childcare for hardworking families – which will benefit up to 90,000 parents in the South-East. The offer of 30 hours of free childcare per week during term time – worth around £5,000 a year – means parents will be able to get on while bringing up a family.

All three- and four-year-olds in working families will be eligible for 1,140 hours of free childcare per year – twice the current entitlement. Thanks to our reforms, including free childcare and Tax-Free Childcare, working families will be able to save thousands of pounds – extra money in their pocket towards day to day living costs.

Childcare costs can be a burden on family finances that prevents parents from working. This is so in this constituency where so many rely on childcare in order to go to work. We want to make it easier for those parents who do want to work, to do so.

That's why we are going further than ever before to help with childcare costs, helping hardworking families and giving people the opportunity to get into work. Doubling free childcare will make a real difference to up to 90,000 parents in the South-East. Parents will be able to return to work and hold on to more of their hard-earned money, while their children benefit from 30 hours of free, flexible childcare.

We are helping people get on and supporting them at every stage of life.


19 MAY 2015

MP welcomes the flag designed by Crowmarsh Gifford School flying in Parliament Square this week

A flag designed by children from Crowmarsh Gifford School to represent the local community in the Henley constituency took its place at Westminster on Monday 18 May at the culmination of a unique parliamentary project. I appeared beneath the flag.

The flags stem from an educational journey undertaken by children in over 450 primary schools to discover the importance of elected representation in the UK Parliament – a project developed to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the House of Commons (Simon de Montfort parliament of 1265).

Between 18 – 22 May, 80 flags designed by primary school children from across the UK will fly in public for the first time in Parliament Square – during the same week that the House of Commons meets for the first time after the General Election. The result is a fascinating child's eye view of the UK.

Speaking at the culmination of Parliament's 2015 Flag Project, David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons said today:

"Flags are one of the key ways in which individual and group identities are represented around the world. This makes them a perfect vehicle to encapsulate a project celebrating this year's anniversary of 750 years of political representation in the UK.

"The flags also demonstrate the wonderful creativity and imagination of all the participants who have drawn upon the natural environment of their area, a local trade or industry, myths, legends or history in order to represent their local identities in a variety of highly imaginative ways."

Jonathan Parsons, the renowned flag artist who was the creative lead on the project said:

"I am thrilled to have been involved with a project where children from across the country have been able to learn about their democratic heritage through creative work and secure such a prominent platform for their visual achievements here in Parliament Square- a space usually reserved to mark royal occasions, state visits or military events.

"As an artist, I know that having your creative work validated is very empowering, so I hope that through this ultimate 'show and tell' every participant feels this project has given them a degree of influence - something that many children do not possess."

Speaking about the project, I said that I like the way in which the 2015 Flag Project has great potential to deliver both a cultural and democratic legacy for the young participants and our community. I am delighted that Crowmarsh Gifford School's flag will be there and am thrilled to see it flying in such an iconic space to coincide with the sitting of the new parliament. We should all feel proud of the achievement of the pupils at Crowmarsh Gifford School whose excellent work has enabled them to be selected out of 500 flags. I congratulate them!

The 2015 Flag Project forms part of the Houses of Parliament's public programme, Parliament in the Making, which commemorates two important anniversaries in 2015: 750 years since the Simon de Montfort parliament (20 January 1265) and 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta (15 June 1215).

The display of flags in Parliament Square is made possible with support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.


26 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes funding from the Condition Improvement Fund for schools in the constituency.

I welcome funding from the Condition Improvement Fund for schools in the constituency.

The following schools have won funding for the projects listed:

  • Gillotts School for the replacement of internal buried building services;
  • Langtree School for window replacements;
  • St Joesph's Catholic Primary School, Thame for the replacement of a temporary classroom.

The Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) replaces the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund (ACMF) and the Building Condition Improvement Fund (BCIF). Most CIF funding is awarded to projects that address building condition issues including refurbishing or renewing roofs, windows or toilet areas and compliance issues such as fire protection systems, electrical upgrades or asbestos removal. A small proportion of the fund will be for projects supporting schools and colleges that need to expand their existing facilities and floor space to accommodate more pupils within their existing age range or address overcrowding or a lack of specialist facilities.

I am delighted that these schools have been successful in winning CIF funding. It is really good news. I hope that this money goes some way to them be able to address the problems they have. I have visited all the state schools in the constituency and seen for myself these individual problems. This funding will, I am sure, be very welcome.


26 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes funding to repair local churches

I have welcomed today's announcement of funding for repairs to local churches in the Henley constituency.

These repairs will also help to prevent further damage to these buildings – ensuring they are preserved for generations to come.

I'm delighted to hear that the following churches have got funding for repairs:

  • St Nicholas Britwell Salome £43,000
  • St Swithun Merton £99,200
  • St Margaret Mapledurham £13,200
  • St John the Baptist C E Church, Stanton St John £28,800

The only reason we can afford this investment is because of the action Conservatives have taken to fix the economy. Labour's plans would mean economic chaos – and Britain unable to afford this kind of work to protect our national heritage.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said:

'Churches and Cathedrals are a unique part of our national heritage, and play a vital role in community life – we want to support them, and thanks to our long-term economic plan, we can.

'Whether it's our country's future or these important buildings, the sun is shining and we're starting to fix the roof.'


26 MAR 2015

John Howell MP on Defence

A number of people have written to me about defence. The question about defence has frequently come down to whether we will stick to the 2% GDP target. The Government is committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence. We have spent 2% of GDP on defence throughout this Parliament and we will do so again in 2015/16. In addition, we have already committed to spending £163 billion on our armed forces over the next ten years as I set out below. However, no country in the world can maintain, support and invest in their Armed Forces while having a broken economy, a soaring budget deficit and unfunded spending commitments. You can only ultimately improve our defences by having a stronger, healthier economy to support them. That is precisely what we have done. Now that the defence budget is stable and the economy improving and we have plugged the £38 billion hole in the defence budget left by Labour, we will be spending £163 billion over the next ten years to ensure our Armed Forces have the best military hardware. Defence is now on a secure footing so we can invest again in the Royal Navy, the Army, and the Royal Air Force. We have the biggest defence budget in Europe and the second largest in NATO.

Over the years I have worked closely with successive station commanders at RAF Benson to help keep the Base on site and to encourage Government to invest in the upgrade of the PUMA helicopter fleet. I am happy to have done this and to have welcomed Ministers of Defence to look at the Base's achievements. I was also pleased to be invited to participate in Chinook training on the simulators on the Base (pictured). This is an essential and value for money activity.

The argument over defence is so often portrayed as one of quantity over quality. But as Professor Michael Clarke, the director general of RUSI, tells us "the numbers in the Regular Army are rather less important than the structure, training and equipment that it embraces." All the experts tell us that the next war, if it comes, will not be fought as a classic, conventional war. It will be fought using the latest technological equipment. That is why we are spending £18 billion on ships, completing two Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, and 6 state-of-the-art Type 45 Destroyers as well as a further £37 billion on submarines and the nuclear deterrent.

That is why we will also be spending £18 billion over the next 10 years on Combat Air, as the RAF continues to move towards a combined fleet of Joint Strike Fighter and Typhoon aircraft, with enhanced multi-role and Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance capabilities. The plans also include £13 billion for helicopters, providing 14 additional Chinook helicopters and a £3.5 billion contract for 600 Scout armoured fighting vehicles, the biggest Army vehicle order for thirty years.

The Prime Minister has already said that he will not cut the size of our regular armed forces beyond the level already agreed. So our personnel will have certainty about the future size and shape of the army, and confidence that they will have the kit, equipment and platforms they need. This will ensure our Armed Forces retain their formidable range of cutting-edge capabilities and ability to project power across the globe.

As Professor Clarke said "We are re-designing the Army, not just for the period after Afghanistan, but for the new years facing us that will be times of disorder, interdependence and technological novelty." To that end the deals done with companies to support our revitalised Reserves are a vital step in the right direction. We will be one of very few countries able to deploy a Division-sized force when required.

Finally, we have enshrined the principles of the Military Covenant in law and during this Parliament we have supported personnel and their families.


25 MAR 2015

John Howell MP: new apprenticeships mean more young people in the Henley constituency getting the skills they need to succeed

I have welcomed new figures showing 270 new apprenticeships were started by people in the Henley constituency between August 2014 and January 2015. In total 2,350 new apprenticeships have been started in this constituency since 2010.

This means more young people getting the skills they need to get on in life and make the most of their talents – as they do locally at DAF and Stuart Barr.

Across England over 2.2 million apprenticeships have been started since 2010.

A future Conservative government would go even further, committing to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, funded by reducing the maximum amount that can be claimed on benefits from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting young people's access to housing benefit.

These figures are fantastic news. 2,350 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in the Henley constituency getting the skills to succeed and get on in life.

We are putting apprenticeships at the heart of our long-term economic plan, funding more of them and making sure they are high quality, teaching the skills that businesses need. A future Conservative government would build on the great progress we have already made, committing to deliver 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020 and effectively to end youth unemployment.

We are giving young people proper training and the prospect of a better future. Millions of young people are getting a good start in life, learning a trade, and knowing the purpose and pride that comes with that.


25 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes move to change culture of late payments

In a debate yesterday in the House of Commons, I praised the Government's attempts to change the culture which made late payments in business acceptable. I said that when I was running a small business of my own, late payments bedevilled the business, and it was always the larger companies that were responsible for it. The Henley constituency has many small businesses and I am sure this measure will be very welcomed by them.

I went on to praise the moves by Ministers to introduce unprecedented steps to tackle late payments and to end the late payment culture once and for all.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill introduces a tough new prompt payment reporting requirement for the UK's largest companies. The measure is accompanied by steps to strengthen the prompt payment code with an announcement last month that 30-day payment terms will be the norm of acceptable behaviour, with 60 days as the maximum in all but exceptional circumstances.

After the Bill was passed, I said that the Minister had put it succinctly. We are continuing to work to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. The transparency measures in the Bill will shine a light on poor payment practices and make a company's payment terms a reputational boardroom issue. This is a culture change to even up the relationship between big companies and their suppliers and the transparency measures in the Bill will have a significant impact, changing prompt payment from being an issue for finance directors to being an issue for the board.


24 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes new agreement to bring improvements to the railways in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the new franchise agreement with First Great Western – bringing the most significant upgrade of infrastructure and rolling stock to the Great Western line for a generation, benefitting people in the area who rely on our railways to get around.

The agreement will bring more seats, more services, and two new fleets of state-of-the-art trains on to the line – benefitting passengers across the west of England, Thames Valley (including Henley) and South Wales. As part of the agreement there will be a major increase in capacity, with about 3 million extra seats a year by 2018, and 4,000 more seats a day into London during the morning peak. New trains on the line will also help to deliver more frequent services, and faster journeys.

This is excellent news for all the people in this constituency who rely on our railways to get to work and get around day-to-day – and I'm particularly pleased to see that Goring & Streatley station will benefit from improvements to the car park from 2016 while electrified services will run on the Henley branch line from December 2017. I am also glad that busy commuting routes into London such as ours will see a significant increase in capacity and better journey times.

Delivering investment in our railways is a key part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan, and as this agreement shows, it is bringing real improvements to our railways. We are investing the most in our railways since the Victorians. We are investing a record £38 billion in Britain's railways from 2014-2019 – with investment in improvements 12% higher than the level set by Labour in 2009 - and enough to fund more than 850 miles of electrification.


20 MAR 2015

John Howell MP supports AlzheimerÂ’s SocietyÂ’s general election campaign

On Tuesday 17 March I pledged to make this election memorable by taking action to support the 850,000 people living with dementia across the UK.  I joined over 200 other MPs and representatives from Alzheimer's Society in Westminster to meet people with dementia and commit to support those affected by the condition. On the day, I supported Alzheimer's Society's general election campaign that is calling for more people to get the dementia diagnosis they need and for everyone to be properly supported afterwards.

We all have a part to play in improving the lives of people living with dementia. There are around 1,500 people living with the condition in the constituency - and many more who are in regular contact with family and friends with the condition. It is an issue we absolutely cannot afford to ignore.

Alzheimer's Society campaigners were in Westminster to urge MPs to make this election memorable for all those affected by dementia. The charity is striving to ensure that more people get a diagnosis and the support they need.

While in Westminster, Alzheimer's Society supporter Shelagh Robinson, 73, who was diagnosed with dementia five years ago, delivered a petition with 67,375 signatures to the Prime Minister. The petition calls for everyone diagnosed with dementia to have access to a Dementia Adviser or Support Worker – a named contact who can help them come to terms with the diagnosis and guide them through the complex health and social care system.

George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer's Society said:

'Dementia is the biggest health and care challenge our country faces – one that all of society must respond to. By the end of the next parliament more than a million people will be living with dementia. There is unlikely to be a family in the country that is not affected.

'We are pleased to have been able to engage over 200 MPs in one day. John has a huge influence in Henley and we hope he will use this opportunity to take action and improve the lives of people living with dementia. 2015 is set to be an important year for politics – but together let's also make it an historical year for people with dementia.'


18 MAR 2015

Question to the PM

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our long-term economic plan is doing an outstanding job in my constituency? Unemployment now stands at 269, making it the best performance of any constituency in the country. Will he join me in thanking the firms that I visited last week in Thame that are running fantastic apprenticeship schemes, and the young people joining them?

The Prime Minister:

I will certainly do that. I am delighted that unemployment is so low in my hon. Friend's constituency. The latest figures show that the UK's employment rate has seen the largest rise of any G7 country over the past year. Today, there are nearly 1 million fewer people on the main out-of-work benefits and nearly 2 million more people in work in our country. More young people have got into work in the UK over the past year than in the rest of the European Union put together. Those are the benefits of having a long-term economic plan, sticking to a long-term economic plan and ignoring the hopeless advice from the Labour party.


18 MAR 2015

We are the best performing constituency in the country for unemployment

The Henley constituency is now the best performing constituency in the country for unemployment (JSA claimants) with the lowest rate of unemployment.

The number of those unemployed has dropped to 269. This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 650th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 183 lower than in February 2014 and 9 lower than in January 2015. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

This is fantastic news. I spent last week visiting companies that provide apprenticeships like DAF in Thame. Their hard work and that of the young people who take up the apprenticeships is paying off. All this work has contributed to us being the best constituency in the country. Well done to everyone.


17 MAR 2015

The NHS

Many of you may have seen a recent report from the Kings Fund in which it describes the privatisation of the NHS as a myth. It points out that the NHS has always involved a mixture of public and private provision, right from its inception. Overall, use of the private sector in the NHS represents only some 6% of the total NHS budget. By no stretch of the imagination can this be classified as privatisation or holds out the potential to become so. The NHS is not being privatised. We are providing the best care for patients.

Thanks to the strong economy we are delivering, the NHS is better-resourced than ever. Since 2010, we have invested £12.7 billion more into the service, and will be putting £2 billion extra every year into the frontline from April. It's only because of those tough economic decisions – decisions that were opposed by Labour every step of the way – that we can fund the NHS's own plan for the future, the Five-Year Forward View, in the next Parliament.

The evidence of better care for patients can be seen in the numbers of clinical staff – over 23,000 more professionally qualified clinical staff since May 2010, including:

  • 9,580 extra doctors
  • 8,476 more hospital nurses
  • 2,231 more midwives
  • 3,147 more health visitors.

All of which now stand at record levels within the NHS.

In addition, under our leadership the NHS is meeting the challenge of rising demand. Since 2010, the NHS has:

  • carried out 9 million more operations during this Parliament compared to the last
  • referred 51% more suspected cancer patients to a specialist and performed nearly 700,000 more cancer treatments
  • ensured over 100,000 more people got a diagnosis of dementia and support to manage their condition.

Even more crucial is our focus on ensuring that patients are treated safely, and with the compassion and dignity we'd want for our own families. During the course of this Parliament:

  • a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals has been appointed introducing Ofsted-style inspections. 20 trusts have been put into special measures, and six have come out with around 450 lives saved annually as a result of dramatic improvements in care.
  • mixed-sex wards have been virtually eradicated.
  • hospital infections have nearly halved.
  • the number of people in official surveys saying they think they'd be treated with dignity and respect and that they'd feel safe in an NHS hospital are all at record levels
  • for the first time in any health system, all NHS patients are asked if they would recommend the care they receive to a friend or member of their family, helping create a major change in culture to put patients first.

Under this Government, the independent Commonwealth Fund has said that the NHS has become the top-ranked health service of 11 leading nations.

Labour still haven't apologised for the policy failings on their watch that put targets ahead of patient care in places like Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay. What's more, countries that failed the key test of economic credibility have had to cut their health budgets – Greece by 14%, Portugal by 17%. The Labour record on health includes:

  • a shameful record of failure in Wales where Labour actually run the health service. The budget has been cut by 8%, A&E targets haven't been met since 2008, and the Royal College of Surgeons says patients are dying on waiting lists.
  • a hollow funding pledge that has completely unravelled. NHS patients and staff were promised £2.5 billion each year – but now the Shadow Chancellor has confirmed that there won't be any money at all in the year from April, and the Director of the IFS said the mansion tax proposal amounts to 'guesswork'.
  • A GP access promise opposed by the profession that has already failed once before. The BMA welcomed our decision to scrap Labour's target on clinical grounds, and the Royal College of GPs said their plan to re-introduce it was 'ill thought-out'. It stood in the way of patients getting the appointments they wanted.


16 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes school funding commitment

I have welcomed the decision from Government to introduce a new national funding formula for schools in the next parliament. The move will help deal with the situation at schools in the constituency where the amount of funding is very much lower than the average. At Goring School for example the total income per capita is over £1,000 less than the average.

The Government intends education to reach schools and the pupils that need it most. It believes that good, popular schools should find it easier to expand in response to demand from parents and that school leaders should have greater certainty over their budgets so they can plan ahead. To achieve this, the Government has committed to the introduction of a national funding formula in the next Spending Review period which will ensure that schools in similar circumstances and with similar intakes receive similar levels of funding. In the meantime, the Government will simplify the way that local authorities and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) currently fund schools so that it is more consistent and better focused on the needs of pupils.

Schools in the constituency are under-funded compared to other parts of the country. It is particularly frustrating when the staff and headteacher have a very good OFSTED inspection that they are still constrained by the amount of money they have to spend. I welcome the proposed changes which will help to ensure that our schools are treated fairly, more consistently and transparently.

I have now visited every State school in the constituency and I have seen for myself the difficulties they face. I welcome the additional funding for education in recent years. However, the changes made to the funding formula have not solved the problem. Schools such as those in this constituency are still losing out. I look forward to seeing these reforms come to fruition.


16 MAR 2015

Call for evidence by John Howell MP to support enquiry into business rates

I have today issued a call for evidence from businesses within the constituency as part of the Treasury's enquiry into business rates. The call asks businesses to sign up to help provide evidence on what should happen to the current system of business rates.

This follows the launch today of the widest-ranging review of national business rates in a generation which will pave the way for changes to how businesses across England pay business rates. The review is set to report back by Budget 2016 and will examine the structure of the current system and will look at how businesses use property and what the UK can learn from other countries about local business taxes.

Over the last few years I have taken up the cause of local business rates for companies in this constituency. I have already lobbied the Chancellor on business rates. Business rates is an unfair tax for which businesses see little in return. When I took this up with the Chancellor last time, it contributed to further changes through a business rate discount of up to £1,000 for retail premises (including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants) with a rateable value of up to £50,000 in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Now as the Chancellor has asked for views on what should happen to business rates, I am keen that the businesses of this area have their say and am looking for an early forum with local businesses to ensure the Chancellor has feed-back from small and medium sized businesses directly and can hear those concerns for himself."

The Government review acknowledges that the time has come for a radical review of this important tax to ensure the system is fair, efficient and effective. Local businesses are asked to e mail me to express an interest in participating in a forum to make a formal response to the consultation. My e mail is howelljm@parliament.uk


13 MAR 2015

John Howell MP celebrates National Apprenticeship Week with visit to Thame businesses

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, I visited two businesses around Thame that have taken a leading role in the apprenticeship programme. I was accompanied by Paddy Patterson of Oxfordshire Apprenticeships, the organisation set up to allow people to find out about local opportunities, news and events, and to learn about other people's experiences, and understand how they can get started.

I visited DAF, the truck manufacturer, and Stuart Barr a construction and design company. The visits occurred at a time when there was real celebration that 2 million apprenticeships have been awarded since 2010 and that 3 million have been promised to be delivered by 2020. I met and talked to apprentices and heard how both companies had approached taking on apprentices with enthusiasm and the sort of experiences the apprentices had had.

 

At DAF I heard from Tony Shepherd, the company's After Sales Service Manager, how apprenticeships were really worth having. The company had established a partnership with other organisations including City of Bristol College to deliver consistent and high quality apprenticeships. A key part of this was the relationship they had with training providers Skillnet. This allowed them to provide a training package that put great emphasis on the quality of care they provided to apprentices. The company's network which includes dealers has some 300 apprenticeships.

At Stuart Barr, I heard from Stuart Barr how the company choses apprentices and how much the apprenticeships are valued. The quality of training providers is no less important to them. This involves working with local schools. However, their experience suggested that some schools were still too wedded to academic qualifications.

It was very good to meet young apprentices and hear how getting an apprenticeship has transformed their lives. So many have stayed on with the company after the apprenticeship finished so this was a real investment in the future. I have a very clear message to take to schools to encourage them to get involved and work with companies to provide apprenticeships. I also have a very clear message about the importance of the training provider. Both companies had issues with the way the apprenticeships and particularly the funding were delivered. If we want more companies to become involved we have to keep the process simple. I offered to take up issues for them with Government. In both companies what I saw was a very good way of investing in the future.

The number of apprenticeships has been very high. Here in the Henley constituency we have had over 2,000 young people getting apprenticeships since 2010. I congratulate them and the companies that have taken them on."


10 MAR 2015

Treasury questions

My intervention in questions to the Treasury team is set out below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Is my hon. Friend aware of the Institute for Fiscal Studies report on living standards showing that living standards are back to where they were before Labour's great recession? Does this not help the very people she has mentioned?

Andrea Leadsom:Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The IFS report also showed that 200,000 fewer people were in relative poverty in 2014-15 compared with 2009-10, including 100,000 children, and that since 2010 the number of children under 16 in workless households had fallen by about 390,000, taking it to the lowest level since records began. That is very good news.


09 MAR 2015

Pensioners

I recognise the contribution pensioners have made, and continue to make, to British society. A number of steps have been taken to support pensioners in their retirement and I set them out below first in summary and then in more detail.  It is important to bear in mind that pensioners benefit from the enormous improvements to the econony we have been able to make and especially to the changes in taxes which apply - all of which is making us more prosperous.

Specifically, a triple lock on the State Pension has been introduced, which will ensure that the basic State Pension increases every year by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. As a result of this, the State Pension has increased by £950 since 2010.

A new pensioner bond has been created that offers retired savers a return that is better than anything pensioners can get now. Alongside this, from April 2015 millions of people on Defined Contribution schemes will no longer have to buy an annuity if they don't want to and there will be no punitive 55 per cent tax rate if you want to draw down more than your tax free lump sum. Importantly, people who have worked hard and saved all their lives will now be able to pass on their hard-earned pension pot tax-free.

The Government is protecting free universal benefits, including Winter Fuel Payments, bus passes and TV licences and the Prime Minister has committed to protect them for the duration of the next Parliament, supporting people who work hard and do the right thing.

Here are a few more details of the things we have done.

TRIPLE LOCK

  • The triple lock ensures that the basic State Pension rises by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. As a result of this lock, the full basic State Pension in 2015/16 will be around £11.30 a week higher than it would have been if it had been uprated only in line with average earnings growth since 2011-12.
  • We are committed to protecting this principle.

PENSION FREEDOM

  • Under the changes, it will still be possible to take 25 per cent of a pension pot tax-free on retirement. Anything taken over this will be taxed at normal marginal tax rates.
  • A new guarantee, enforced in law, that everyone who retires on Defined Contribution schemes will be offered free, impartial, face-to-face advice on how to get the most from the choices they will now have. The Government will spend £20 million over the next two years to work with consumer groups and industry to develop this new right to advice.
  • From April 2015 there will be no minimum income requirement for flexible drawdown, no capped drawdown limit, and no cap on the lump sum that may be withdrawn from a Defined Contribution pension, subject to marginal rates of taxation.

PASSING ON YOUR PENSION

  • The Government has announced that from April 2015 it will abolish the 55 per cent tax on pension pots, allowing people to pass on their hard-earned pension pot tax-free. When someone over 75 or over dies, beneficiaries will only pay their marginal tax rate when they draw down the income. For people who die under the age of 75 there will be no tax to pay at all.

PENSIONER BOND

  • A new pensioner bond has been introduced. It offers a better return than any equivalent in the market today.
  • The amount people can invest in Premium Bonds will also rise, first to £40,000 on 1 June this year then to £50,000 in 2015/16.

UNIVERSAL BENEFITS FOR PENSIONERS

  • The Government has made a commitment to protecting universal benefits for pensioners, including free Winter Fuel Payments, Cold Weather Payments, free television licenses and bus travel until the end of this parliament.
  • The Prime Minister has committed to protecting universal pensioner benefits should a Conservative Government be elected.

ENERGY BILLS

  • The Government's Warm Home Discount Scheme will provide over 2 million households, including over 600,000 vulnerable pensioners, with a £135 discount on their electricity bills.
  • Ministers are maintaining the spending on Winter Fuel Payments, spending over £2 billion this winter. Cold Weather Payments have also been permanently increased from £8.50 to £25, helping the most vulnerable when extremely cold weather strikes.

COUNCIL TAX SUPPORT

  • We want to help local residents, hard pressed families and pensioners bear down on the cost of living. It has worked with councils to help them offer a council tax freeze for four years in a row. The result is that, on average, council tax bills have fallen by 11 per cent in real terms and a fourth year of freeze could be worth up to £718 for the average bill payer.

Ensuring that older people are aware of the support that is available to them is key. The Department for Work and Pensions' National Partnerships Team works with over 4,440 customer representative organisations, both nationally and locally, to provide a wide range of advice and support for pensioners. We are ensuring pensioners have security and dignity in their retirement. The State Pension is now at the highest percentage of earnings since 1992.


08 MAR 2015

International Aid

The effect of our review of the International Aid Programme is often ignored. The Government has carried out a complete review of where UK aid is spent. As a result of this, the decision has been taken to end aid to 16 countries that we consider no longer need it. For example this includes Russia, India, China and South Africa. In addition, programmes that are not good value for taxpayers' money have been closed. This includes Trademark Southern Africa and the BOST agricultural park in Afghanistan.

In November 2012, we announced that our development relationship with India would change. From that point onwards, the UK would approve no new financial grant aid to India. After 2015, the UK would only provide support in the form of private sector expertise and technical assistance. These changes reflect India's rapid growth and development progress in the last decade. India's growing resources and global status meant that the time had now come to end the UK's traditional aid programme.

The plan to enshrine 0.7% of GNI as the legal target for our international aid was the subject of a backbench private members Bill. The fact is that we are already comfortably meeting this target which includes the cost of overseas assistance provided by our military. What is also important is to note that we have made great efforts to strengthen financial controls over the money that is spent including increasing ministerial oversight of programme design, introducing a code of conduct for our suppliers, and, strengthening programme management and internal audit. The UK is one of five countries to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, and the first G7 country to meet this longstanding commitment.

International aid is in our national interest and is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. UK investment overseas has transformed the lives of millions for the better and, investing in jobs, opportunities and peace, is ultimately about ending aid dependency through jobs and growth. International development is in our interests not just because it creates new markets, but also because it can deliver a more balanced, resilient global economy. We are now focusing on driving economic growth in developing countries alongside core work on basic services and we are working hand-in-hand with UK business to do that. The countries in which DFID works to boost economic growth will be the growth markets of the next 20 or 30 years, and by boosting their economies we will help stop their reliance on aid. Over the last year we have provided over £75 million in humanitarian aid to over 1 million people in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan. We have helped other governments help themselves by assisting them in improving tax collection by as much as 100 per cent and we have helped bring economic stability to countries which will be growth markets for Britain, for example by helping 1.4 million farmers to raise their collective income by over $127 million.

In relation to international aid money being spent on military purposes, the aid budget can only be used to fund military spending in three areas – security, demobilisation and peacekeeping. The idea that our international aid is being diverted into Kalashnikovs for regimes hostile to us is false.


08 MAR 2015

Tax and the closure of tax loopholes

The Government is leading the world on changing international tax rules and implementing those changes in Britain. I am proud that we have gone further than any previous government, closing more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and raising £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament. The details of what we have done can be read on my web-site at http://www.johnhowellmp.com/news/tax-and-hsbc/610 But let me highlight a few points. This is what we have done:

  • Closed many of the loopholes exposed and taken action to get back money lost in Swiss Bank Accounts.
  • Brought in more than £135 million, increasing the maximum penalty for hiding money in tax havens to 200% of the tax evaded.
  • Over 90 countries last year signed up to new international Comprehensive Reporting Standards, further shutting down the options for tax cheats who pursue this increasingly high risk practice.
  • To date our agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein alone have brought in around £2 billion in previously unpaid tax.
  • Introduced a 25 per cent tax on multinationals' profits where they're artificially shifted out of the country.
  • Led efforts within the G20 to reform the international corporate tax rules and to put tax transparency at the heart of the G8. All major financial centres (including Switzerland), all the G20, all the EU and all of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories – have committed to begin exchanging this information by 2018.
  • Invested £1 billion in HMRC since 2010 to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance recovering more than £31 billion in tax as a result of interventions.
  • Made over 40 changes to tax law, closing down loopholes and introducing major reforms to the UK tax system.
  • Introduced a General Anti-Abuse Rule which will deter the creation of abusive tax avoidance schemes.
  • It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010.

What we have done has been based on solid action over the past 5 years which I have supported and will continue to support. We have cut taxes as a key part of our long-term economic plan to build the most competitive corporate tax system in the world – but not everyone is paying their fair share and they should be. We believe in low taxes, but taxes that are paid. We are making sure everyone pays the taxes that they owe – securing a stronger economy and a better future for Britain.

In relation to the so-called 'Mayfair loophole' whereby private equity firms can treat their profits as capital gains when there is capital at risk, we have taken action to increase tax on private equity by raising the rate of capital gains tax from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. Hedge fund managers no longer pay less tax than their cleaners – a situation Labour did nothing about in 13 years in office.


08 MAR 2015

Employment in the constituency

The unemployment news for this constituency is very good indeed. Unemployment in this constituency has sunk to a low of 278 people across the whole constituency who are unemployed and on JSA. The number of young people unemployed and on JSA is 35.  Despite this, some cannot help themselves from trying to criticise.  Typically they do so with a number of myths. Here are some of the jobs myths that are being made about our excellent success in relation to employment.

Myth no. 1 - Zero Hours Contracts: "Most of new jobs created are on zero-hours contracts and the Conservatives work with their big business pals to defend them"

  • Just 2.3% of people in employment are on a zero hours contract.
  • Over 80% of part-timers choose part-time as it suits them.
  • This Government is reforming Zero Hours Contracts by banning the use of exclusivity clauses on Zero Hours Contracts to ensure they aren't abused.
  • The ONS directly rebuked Labour for wildly misleading zero-hours contracts claim.

Myth no 2 - Full Time/Part Time Work: "All the jobs are part-time and no one can get a full time job"

  • Over three quarters of new jobs since the election are full-time (up 1.38 million since 2010)
  • Full-time jobs accounted for 95 per cent of the rise in employment over the past year.

Myth no. 3 - UK Wide Jobs: "All the new jobs are in London and there are no new jobs in the regions"

  • Nearly three quarters of the rise in employment since 2010 has been outside London.
  • Every region in the UK has seen a fall in unemployment in the last year.

Myth no. 4 - Young People: "Young people (18-24) can't get work and youth unemployment has gone through the roof"

  • Youth unemployment has fallen by 188,000 in the past year.
  • Excluding those in full-time education, there are now 498,000 unemployed young people.
  • The number of young people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has fallen every single month for the past 38 months, and is at the lowest since the 1970s.
  • The number of young people in this constituency who are unemployed and on JSA is 35.

Myth no. 5 - Wages: "All the new Jobs are rubbish - they are all manual, unskilled minimum wage jobs"

  • Since 2010, two thirds of the rise in employment has been in higher skilled occupations.
  • There has been a real terms rise in pay in last year. Regular pay for employees is up 1.7% on the year and total pay up 2.1% on year. Annual inflation rate over the same period was 0.9%.

Myth no. 6 - Women: "Women can't get jobs"

  • There are a record number of women in work - 14.47 million.
  • Female employment is up 839,000 since 2010
  • The female employment rate is at a record high of 68.5%.
  • The men/women pay gap for full time workers has been eliminated for under 40s.


07 MAR 2015

TTIP

I sometimes feel that 38 Degrees has lost the plot and is now attacking the player rather than the ball. Recent standard emails have sought to claim that people are worried about 'further privatisation' of the NHS. As there has been no privatisation of the NHS there can be no further privatisation. A recent report from the Kings Fund describes the privatisation of the NHS as a myth. It points out that the NHS has always involved a mixture of public and private provision. Overall, use of the private sector in the NHS represents only 6% of the total NHS budget. I do not think this can be classified as privatisation by any stretch of the imagination or holds out the potential to become so.

You can only have a strong NHS with a strong economy. That's how we've increased the NHS budget by £12.7 billion over this Parliament and how we will continue to make real-terms increases if we're elected in 2015. As well as endorsing the NHS's own five-year Forward View, the Chancellor has announced an extra £2 billion funding every year for frontline NHS services.

For all these reasons, TTIP will not change the way that the NHS, or other public services, are run. Access to NHS services will continue to be based on patients' needs, not ability to pay. Local NHS commissioners will remain in charge of deciding who should provide services in the best interests of patients. It will always be for the UK to decide for itself whether or not to open up our public services to competition.

The freedom of national Governments to regulate is explicitly protected. The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions being discussed cannot overturn laws. Their purpose is to protect our investors from discriminatory treatment by protectionist Governments, whilst safeguarding the Government's freedom to make laws and regulations in the public interest. The UK already has over 90 bilateral investment agreements in place, the majority of which include similar provisions, and has never lost a case. The Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions do not threaten our sovereignty and will not prevent Parliament from passing laws or lead to laws being repealed.

Unprecedented steps have been taken to publish negotiating texts, it has been debated on a number of occasions in Parliament and it will be coming under further extensive scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. The TTIP discussions are expected to continue for many more years. The final version will be freely available for everyone to see before it is approved or rejected by Parliament, which will have a final power of veto.

I think there is considerable potential to the TTIP concept. The agreement could bring economic benefits of up to £10 billion annually to the UK, the equivalent of almost £400 per household. There are, however, many untrue scare stories being spread about TTIP and most of them originate with 38 Degrees.


07 MAR 2015

Mayfair tax loophole

The material supplied by 38 Degrees is grossly misleading. It seeks to imply that what has come to be called the 'Mayfair loophole' is part of an active programme of tax avoidance being created by the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have cut taxes as a key part of our long-term economic plan to build the most competitive corporate tax system in the world – but not everyone is paying their fair share and they should be. We believe in low taxes, but taxes that are paid.

The material ignores the work we have done changing international tax rules. It also ignores the work that continues to be done to close more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and to raise £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament.

If you look at the so-called 'Mayfair loophole' you will see that it is part of the capital gains system that was agreed by the last Labour Government. It allows private equity firms to treat their profits as capital gains when there is capital at risk. We have already taken action to increase tax on private equity by raising the rate of capital gains tax from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. This tax increase also means that hedge fund managers no longer pay less tax than their cleaners – a situation Labour did nothing about in 13 years in office. 

The amount raised from compliance has increased to a record high under this Government and the tax gap has been reduced. It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010. The tax gap has actually fallen from 8.5 per cent in 2005/06 to 6.8 per cent in 2012/13.


04 MAR 2015

Contribution to question on Oxfordshire child sex abuse

Below is the exchange I made in the Urgent Question raised about Oxfordshire child sex abuse.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I, too, pay tribute to the victims of these appalling crimes. Has the Secretary of State taken into account the fact that Operation Bullfinch, which brought the perpetrators to justice, has transformed the legal landscape in which cases can be heard? Have the good points that were brought out from Operation Bullfinch been taken into account across the country?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to put support for the victims at the heart of all this. He is right that things have moved on as a result partly of Operation Bullfinch and partly of other operations and lessons learned from other cases. It is a different landscape but, as he will appreciate, that does not take away from the harm done to the victims.


03 MAR 2015

Success of Henley aircraft meeting

On the evening of 26 February 2015 some 50 people attended a meeting to discuss aircraft noise over Henley at my invitation. In attendance to answer questions were Stuart Lindsey of the Civil Aviation Authority, Matt Gorman of Heathrow and Dan Edwards of NATS the air traffic controllers. In short presentations, each of them described the current pattern of airspace use around Henley and set out the opportunities provided by the Government inspired review of airspace being undertaken over the coming years. They confirmed that nothing had changed in the way aircraft used the airspace. They also pointed to the fact that aircraft need to land into wind and that, in some months at the end of last year, about half of winds were easterlies requiring planes to use the airspace above Henley to line up for landing at Heathrow. Members of the audience were able to put their questions directly to the three organisations responsible for the use of the air space.

The meeting was very well attended and there were good questions from the audience. I was very pleased to be able to arrange for three knowledgeable individuals to come and talk to local people. The answers they provided were very clear and very robust and covered issues such as time of aircraft arrival and the amount of pollution deposited in the Thames Valley. They have all agreed to return to Henley later in the year to update people on what is happening.

Following the meeting, I will be writing to the Government and Heathrow to ask for sound monitoring to be undertaken around Henley further from the airport than is currently arranged. I will also be raising the question of where controlled airspace currently ends which allows local planes doing acrobatics to interfere with the peace and quiet of the area.


20 FEB 2015

Unemployment in the Henley constituency

The total number of unemployed claimants (measured by those on Jobseeker's Allowance) in the Henley constituency in January 2015 was 278. This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 647th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.) The number of claimants is 173 lower than in January 2014 and 7 lower than in December 2014. The number of young people unemployed has fallen to 35.

Most of the jobs have gone to British nationals.  These jobs are also not insecure or poorly paid – in fact three-quarters of the new jobs that have been created since the election are full-time and wages are rising significantly faster than inflation with total pay going up by 2.1 per cent and inflation over the same period at 0.9 per cent.

This is very good news and represents another month when the constituency is the envy of the country. I thank all those who have helped boost employment and congratulate the 2,080 who have obtained apprenticeships. I have always said that we should carry on with our reforms and reduce unemployment. Having the security of a regular income through employment is the best way to improve the economy for everyone. One way in which this effect can be seen here is in the use of foodbanks. In this constituency the number of boxes given out is quite low – reported as 30 in Henley and 15 in Thame. This shows that with increased employment the use of foodbanks is reduced.


16 FEB 2015

Tax and HSBC

For a number of years I was a Tax Inspector. This experience has given me a special insight into the issues raised by the HSBC affair and an in-depth knowledge of what has happened in this situation. It also gives me an insight into how HMRC have been successful in gaining back the money that it is owed but which has not been paid. I realise, of course, that the emails sent to me were based on a standard on the subject, but I would have thought they could have given credit for the enormous efforts undertaken by the Government in tackling the abuse of the tax system. In summary, we have led the world on changing international tax rules and are implementing those changes in Britain. We have gone further than any previous government, closing more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and raising £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament. Let me give some more information on some of these points.

International:

Since 2010 we have closed many of the loopholes exposed and specifically taken action to get back money lost in Swiss Bank Accounts. We have systematically worked through the 2010 'Lagarde' list of tax avoiders and brought in more than £135 million, increasing the maximum penalty for hiding money in tax havens to 200 per cent of the tax evaded. Over 90 countries last year signed up to new international Comprehensive Reporting Standards, further shutting down the options for tax cheats who pursue this increasingly high risk practice. To date our agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein alone have brought in around £2 billion in previously unpaid tax.

Some of the largest companies in the world use elaborate structures to avoid paying tax. To make sure they contribute we are introducing a 25 per cent tax on multinationals' profits where they're artificially shifted out of the country. This will raise over £1 billion over the next five years.

We have led efforts within the G20 to reform the international corporate tax rules and the Prime Minister put tax transparency at the heart of his presidency of the G8, promoting the development of automatic information exchange. This standard was developed over the last two years and now, thanks to UK leadership, all major financial centres (including Switzerland), all the G20, all the EU and all of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories – have committed to begin exchanging this information by 2018.

At home:

At home, we have invested £1 billion in HMRC since 2010 to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. HMRC have recovered more than £31 billion in tax as a result of interventions with large businesses since 2010. HMRC's High Net Worth Unit has collected £852 million from the UK's wealthiest people. Between 2010-11 and the end of March 2015, HMRC will have collected more than £100 billion in additional compliance revenues.

The Government has made over 40 changes to tax law, closing down loopholes and introducing major reforms to the UK tax system. In particular, we have introduced a General Anti-Abuse Rule which will deter the creation of abusive tax avoidance schemes, clamped down on Stamp Duty avoidance with an Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings and we've stopped hedge fund managers using partnerships to avoid paying tax on their income. It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010.

In Saturday's papers there were reports that the richest in this country are paying more. These measures have helped that situation. HMRC estimates that those paying the 45% tax rate will contribute over £46 billion in 2014/15 up some 8 billion on what they were paying in 2012/13 when the 50% tax rate was in place. The share of tax paid by the richest 1% has significantly increased.

The statement, therefore, that ".... that the government has not been acting to stop" the avoidance of tax is untrue. What we have done has been based on solid action over the past 5 years which I applaud and have supported and will continue to support.


10 FEB 2015

New figures show Henley constituency to be in top 6% of homes and businesses getting superfast broadband investment

I have welcomed new figures showing how families and businesses in the Henley constituency are benefitting from the Conservative's investment in superfast broadband.

The figures show that thanks to this investment, 20,311 properties across the Henley constituency now have access to superfast broadband and by 2017 a total of 23,098 homes and businesses here will have access to superfast connections, who would otherwise have had to suffer from a slow, unreliable internet. This puts the Henley constituency in the top 6% of constituencies in England receiving superfast broadband investment.

Across the country this investment has already got an extra 2 million premises connected-up to superfast broadband, with 40,000 more being added every single week. By 2017, 95% of the UK will have access to superfast broadband – this compares to only 45% in 2009.

This investment is part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan that will mean families will be able to enjoy the full benefits of the internet and businesses being able to open up new markets and do business across the world, helping them to expand and create new jobs.

These figures put us in the top 6% of constituencies in England receiving Government investment. I recognise that a large number of people in this constituency are still lagging behind and fall within the 5% who are not included in the roll-out. I am campaigning hard to ensure that they receive an improved and acceptable service. This is a highly rural constituency. However, these figures show real progress to securing 95% of properties.

When Labour left office, 3 million homes and businesses didn't have access to the fast broadband speeds they needed. That's why the Conservatives, as part of our long-term economic plan, are investing £1.7 billion to roll out superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017. This investment has already meant 20,311 premises in the Henley constituency now have access to superfast broadband. And by 2017, 2,787 more homes and businesses will have got superfast connections in the Henley constituency who would otherwise have been stuck with a slow, unreliable internet.

This investment is only possible because we have a strong economy and a long-term, economic plan. Only by sticking to that plan will we be able to continue to improve Britain's infrastructure and ensure the whole country can access world-class broadband connections.


08 FEB 2015

Text of my speech on GPs

The text of my speech from Hansard can be found by following the link below

GPs speech


06 FEB 2015

John Howell MP SUPPORTS CANCER RESEARCH UKÂ’S CROSS CANCER OUT CAMPAIGN ON WORLD CANCER DAY

I am backing an appeal from Cancer Research UK to save the lives of more cancer patients, as news comes that one in two people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives. The new figure was announced on World Cancer Day (February 4) to highlight the urgent need to bolster public health and NHS cancer services so they can cope with a growing and ageing population and the looming demands for better diagnostics, treatments, and earlier diagnosis.

I attended a parliamentary event held by Cancer Research UK to mark World Cancer Day and encourage MPs to support their Cross Cancer Out campaign.

In the run up to the General Election, the charity is calling on candidates to back measures to ensure cancer patients receive the best treatment and are diagnosed early enough for that treatment to make a difference.

UK cancer survival rates are still lagging behind the best in Europe and in England nearly half of all cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat successfully. Cancer Research UK says that support for public awareness campaigns, increasing screening uptake and ensuring equal access to innovative evidence-based treatments are key to saving more lives.

We cannot underestimate the devastating impact that cancer will have on people in the Henley constituency now and in the future. The good news is that Cancer Research UK is making huge advances in the battle against the disease.

But with around five people diagnosed with cancer every hour in the South East and this number set to rise, it's vital that we detect cancer earlier across the UK and that the NHS is fit to offer all patients the best possible chance of surviving.

I'm backing the Cross Cancer Out campaign, because it's clear that MPs have a crucial role to play in helping to beat cancer sooner.

Layla Theiner, Head of Public Affairs at Cancer Research UK, said: "The increase in the lifetime risk of getting cancer is primarily because more people are surviving into old age, when the disease is more common.

"We can't avoid growing older, but we can prevent a crisis in the future by acting now to make our NHS cancer services among the best in the world.

"Without increased political support we could see the death toll from cancer rising in the UK and so early diagnosis and better treatments must be key priorities for the next Government.

"That's why we're calling on MPs and parliamentary candidates from all political parties to commit to 'Cross Cancer Out' and help ensure no-one's life is cut short by this devastating disease."

For more information and ways to get involved in the campaign, visit cruk.org/crosscancerout or join the conversation on twitter #CrossCancerOut.


06 FEB 2015

JOHN HOWELL MP AND BHF HIGHLIGHT IMPORTANCE OF FUNDING FOR LIFE SAVING RESEARCH

I attended a British Heart Foundation (BHF) event calling on the next government to guarantee the future of the science budget to protect life-saving research.  I joined heart patient Emily Sullivan, 8, for a science lesson to highlight the importance of charities being able to continue funding medical research.

Emily has had three open heart surgeries after being born with three large holes in her heart, a condition that more and more people are surviving because of BHF research.

I joined thousands of people across the UK to help the BHF continue to fund life-saving research. Medical research charities, like the BHF, rely on government investment to pay for the indirect costs of research, such as lighting, electricity and heating for laboratories. Without government support, the BHF's ability to fund world class research to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease (CVD) would be significantly reduced.

Charities are an essential part of the UK medical research environment and the science budget is vital to supporting their research. If we are to prevent and treat devastating conditions like cardiovascular disease in places like the Henley constituency, we need continued investment in pioneering research and to guarantee the future of the science budget.

For every £1 charities spend directly on medical research, the Government pays 26p to help fund the indirect costs. The BHF is calling on the next government to maintain the current ring-fencing of the science budget and to commit to future increases.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "If the UK is to maintain its strong position in biomedical research, the next government must guarantee the future of the science budget.

"Every single research grant we fund is underpinned by Government investment in universities.

"This fund is a vital partnership between Government, charity and universities and any cut to it would be extremely damaging to our life saving research and the fight against heart disease."

A quarter of all deaths in the UK are caused by CVD and there are an estimated seven million people living with the condition.

For over 50 years the BHF has pioneered research that has transformed the lives of millions of people living with CVD.

The BHF is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research and invests over £100 million every year.


02 FEB 2015

John Howell MP welcomes record number of young people in the Henley constituency studying core academic subjects

I have welcomed the news that more students in the Henley constituency are studying the core academic subjects which will help them to get the best start in life.

The new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is awarded when students achieve A* to C in five core GCSE subjects including English, Maths, Science, Humanities and Languages – the courses that universities and employers value the most. New figures show that the EBacc is encouraging more young people in our area to study the core academic subjects.

30.2% more students in the Henley constituency are now achieving an EBacc compared with 2010, meaning they are gaining the skills they need to get a good job or go on to further study.

These figures follow news that there are now 1.75 million more people in work since 2010 and university applications are at a record high, further evidence that the Conservatives' long-term economic plan is securing a better future for Britain.

Young people here deserve the very best start in life. That means they need good quality, rigorous exams which help them gain the skills they need to succeed. Sadly, under the last Labour Government subjects were dumbed down, employers lost faith in exam grades and our young people were let down.

That's why it is great news that the action the government has taken to improve standards in our schools is paying off locally, with new figures showing 32.3% of young people in our area are achieving the EBacc in subjects which will help them find a good job or university place.

Conservatives are working to a long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain and a crucial part of that is delivering the best schools and skills for young people in this area. These new figures show that the plan is working, and we need to stick to it so that even more young people in our area can gain the skills they need to get on in life.


29 JAN 2015

New Growth Deal funding means more jobs and security for hardworking people in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the announcement of additional funding to support businesses and infrastructure in the Henley constituency – helping to support businesses and maintain our enviable jobs record.

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been allocated an additional £9.9 million. This brings the total allocation of Growth Deal funding to Oxfordshire to £118.4 million.

I have already held talks with the LEP about the sort of assistance that could be provided in the constituency. This includes support for additional skills training in businesses and for apprenticeships. This is a constituency with a fantastic record for jobs. It is the fourth lowest in the country in the number of people unemployed and on Job Seekers Allowance.

Growth Deals bring together government funding for investment in infrastructure, housing, and other projects such as training and put it in a single pot, which is placed in the hands of local authorities and businesses to invest – because they are best placed to know how to deliver local jobs and growth.

As part of its long-term plan to build a stronger economy, across the country the Government has announced a further £1 billion of funding for Growth Deals, which comes in addition to £6 billion from the Local Growth fund announced in July last year.

This £9.9 million of extra funding is fantastic news for local people in this constituency and we must ensure that it is spent well within the constituency. We are the envy of the country when it comes to jobs and I want to keep it that way. I want to ensure that it is not all taken by projects such as Harwell and that Culham Science Centre and businesses across the constituency have their fair share.

This Growth Deal is a key part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better future for the hardworking people of the Henley constituency. Its funding will help local businesses create the jobs we need so more hardworking families can have the security of a regular pay packet, and will help equip our young people with the skills they need to get on in life.

Greg Clark MP, Business Minister, said:

'For Britain to fulfil its potential every part of the country must be an engine of growth.

'Our successful programme of City Deals and Growth Deals have put local people in the driving seat as the local economy powers ahead. This billion-pound expansion of Growth Deals fuels the momentum that is now underway in our local economies.'


27 JAN 2015

John Howell MP welcomes protection for community pubs announced by the Government

Under the Localism Act's Community Right to Bid, the Government has invited communities to nominate buildings and land which add most value to the local community, to be listed as Assets of Community Value, giving them a greater stake in the future of those assets. Already some 600 pubs have been so listed.

The new protection proposed means if a pub is listed in this way it will trigger a removal of the national permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of those pubs premises. National permitted development rights mean that the conversion of the pub could be brought into effect without a full planning application. However, as a result of the change, in future where a pub is listed as an Asset of Community Value, a full planning application will be required for the change of use or demolition of a pub.

It is crucial that where communities wish to protect pubs, they list them as Assets of Community Value. This requires 21 local voters to make an application to the council to have the asset listed and for this to be determined within 8 weeks.

Once this has been done, national permitted development rights on that asset are withdrawn and a full planning application is required which must be determined in accordance with the district council local plan, any neighbourhood plan, and national policy.

The new process provides an opportunity for local people to comment and to object to an application in person before the local planning committee. It enables local communities to have a say in planning applications for the change of use of a pub of particular local value. The listing may be taken into account as a material consideration when determining any planning application by the district council.

I believe this offers protection for assets and strengthens the hands of the community in deciding (a) what are the assets of most importance to the community, and, (b) having a say in the determination of a planning application concerning them.


25 JAN 2015

Labour plans for massive onshore wind expansion threatens chaos in the Henley constituency

I have today challenged the Labour candidate for the General Election to condemn plans for thousands more publicly subsidised wind turbines.  The plans emerged after one of Britain's biggest wind farm companies revealed that in private discussions senior Labour and Liberal Democrat figures have given 'very strong support for onshore wind in one-to-one conversations'.

Conservatives are the only party that would end the public subsidy for newly planned onshore wind farms in the UK such as the one it was intended to erect near Horspath. A Conservative Government would also ensure that large-scale onshore wind farms in England and Wales are determined through the locally-led planning system - not the national infrastructure regime.

Conservatives in Government have already changed planning rules in England to give greater protection for landscape and heritage – and we will go further and amend planning policy in England to give even greater protection to locally valued landscape, heritage and other local concerns.

Many families in the Henley constituency, who are concerned that wind farms could be approved locally without their views being heard, will be appalled to hear about these Labour plans for a massive expansion of onshore wind – Labour must either condemn them or come clean to local people about [his/her] plans for more windfarms.

Now that we have enough onshore wind power to meet our renewables target we should be ending bill payer funded subsidies for newly planned projects and give local communities the decisive say on them, but only a Conservative government that would deliver that.

At the next election local people in the Henley constituency now have a clear choice: between the strong leadership of the Conservatives who will protect our local natural beauty for our children and grandchildren – or a vote for any other party which would lead to the chaos of more publicly subsided wind farms.


25 JAN 2015

Chiltern Centre invitation

I have been invited to become a Vice Patron of the Chiltern Centre. The chair of trustees, Paul Barrett, said "As someone with an interest in our local community we feel your support, knowledge and guidance will help the charity greatly." The Chiltern Centre offers a unique support of services to children and families in the area in their vital role of caring. Each year they help more than 50 families some of whom have additional medical needs. They help them enjoy every day experiences. All the children supported have learning disabilities and associated communication and behavioural difficulties.

I said: "I am delighted to accept. I first visited the Chiltern Centre with George Osborne MP and have been back on a number of occasions. It will be a delight to work with them and to help them with their endeavours including the raising of £240,000 to support short breaks for disabled children."


25 JAN 2015

Holocaust Memorial Day

This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

Tuesday 27th January will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

After signing the Book of Commitment, I commented:

"Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and make sure they are not forgotten. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join members of my community in the fight against prejudice and intolerance."

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

"We are proud that John Howell is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps in 2015, it is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry."


20 JAN 2015

Exchange with Minister for Women and Equality

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What steps she is taking to close the gender pay gap. [907016]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): The gender pay gap is at its narrowest ever and has been entirely eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40. Of course the gender pay gap is still too wide, which is why we are closing it further by encouraging girls and young women to consider a wider range of careers, including well-paid careers in technology and engineering.

John Howell: Does the Minister agree that closing the pay gap further means that businesses could still do more to ensure that they recruit, retain and promote the best women?

Nicky Morgan: I agree with my hon. Friend. Successful businesses know that they cannot afford to miss out on the talents and experiences of half our population, and the Government are working closely with business on that, especially through the Women's Business Council,


18 JAN 2015

New pensioners bond will reward savers in the Henley constituency in their retirement

I have welcomed the launch of a new National Savings and Investments Bond for pensioners. The new bonds for people aged 65 and over will offer market-leading rates and support people who rely on their savings in retirement. Two bonds are being launched:

  • A one year bond will offer returns of 2.8 per cent gross/AER interest,
  • A three year bond will pay 4 per cent gross/AER interest.

£10 billion has been made available to allow these bonds to be issued – this should ensure these bonds are on the market for a period of months, giving those pensioners who wish to take advantage of the rates plenty of time to do so.

A key part of our long-term economic plan is to support savers and boost hardworking peoples' financial security at all stages of life.

That's why we've introduced government-backed savings bonds for people aged 65 and, over that, pay the best interest rates in the market. They have already been a huge success and because this is the biggest ever retail bond offer, these bonds will be available for many months.

This is great news for pensioners in the Henley constituency. It's time savers were rewarded and these bonds do that by giving older savers the certainty and comfort of a good return over the life of their investment.


07 JAN 2015

Party of Opportunity

Party of Opportunity may be donwloaded here.

I attended the launch of the second edition of The Party of Opportunity booklet, compiled by Sir David Amess MP, on Wednesday, 7th January, in the Jubilee Room at the Houses of Parliament. I feature in the booklet and was pleased to speak to its launch.

The Party of Opportunity booklet includes short summaries from Conservative MP's about their working class backgrounds and how they came to join the Conservative Party. The aim of this booklet is to raise awareness about how the Conservative Party represents people from all aspects of society rather than just the elite that is so often the inaccurate stereotype.

After a successful first edition in 2014, a second edition was launched on Wednesday, 7th January. Along with a Foreword by Sir John Major and an introduction by Jonathan Evans MP, the MP's included in this second edition are listed below.

The launch provided an opportunity to hear speeches from some of the MP's who are included in the booklet as well as to chat with these MPs about their experiences with the Conservative Party. The second edition of The Party of Opportunity received positive reviews at the launch and Sir David Amess MP was very pleased to see the booklet go down so well amongst the attendees after all the hard work that many people had put into producing it.

Sections of the public and of the media like to portray the Conservative Party as a bunch of toffs. What this booklet does is to show how many of us are from solid working class backgrounds who have made it in life because of the aspiration and opportunity encouraged by the Conservative Party.

Sir David Amess MP commented: "My motivation for compiling this booklet was a response to those who portray the Conservative Party as being elitist. Specifically I wanted to combat the false impression that is given about the background of Conservative Members of Parliament."

"I would like to thank all the MP's who contributed to this booklet, helping to demonstrate that the Conservative Party appeals to, and benefits, people from all walks of life."

"I would also like to thank the Association of Conservative Clubs for their generosity in funding the production of this booklet, Soapbox Communications in London for designing and editing this booklet, and Charsley Stewart in Leigh-on-Sea for the printing of this booklet. They have made it possible to launch this fantastic second edition of 'The Party of Opportunity'"


05 JAN 2015

Exchange with Minister for Crime Prevention

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

What assessment she has made of changes in the level of crime since May 2010.[906749]

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Lynne Featherstone):

Police reform is working and crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with the survey showing crime at the lowest level since it began, in 1981.

John Howell:

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will she join me in congratulating Thames Valley police? We saw a 30% drop in recorded crime between June 2010 and June 2014. What does that say about the extent to which Thames Valley police are keeping my constituents safe?

Lynne Featherstone:

I am happy to do as my hon. Friend suggests and congratulate Thames Valley police on all they have done in reducing crime by 30% in their area, but I also congratulate all police forces that are rising to the challenge of driving efficiency and cutting crime. Effective policing plays a key part in reducing crime, as does tackling the underlying drivers of crime, which this coalition is also doing.


05 JAN 2015

Rail privatisation

For those with short memories, let me remind you what our railway was like under a single, publicly-owned operator. It was an industry in decline and had been declining ever since the 1950s and 60s. Such infrastructure as there was, was poor. Reliability was poor. The food was poor. Cleanliness was poor. Customer service was poor. The culture overall was poor too. Rail travel had dwindled to such an extent that most people thought the private train operators would manage a decline in both passenger and freight traffic.

Privatisation changed all this. Since 1993, passenger journeys have doubled in the UK. On a network roughly the same size as 15 years ago, the railway is running 4,000 more services a day. Rail freight has grown by 60%. Revenue is up more than £3 billion since privatisation. Safety levels are at an all-time high. Punctuality is at near record levels. And passenger satisfaction is up by 10% over the past decade.

None of this would have happened without privatisation. But our main intercity network was built to serve a Victorian economy, not a 21st century one. Historic underinvestment left the railway ill-prepared to meet soaring demand. We have therefore embarked on an unprecedented rail modernisation programme. Between 2014 and 2019, Network Rail will spend over £38 billion running and expanding our railway.

Improvements include an extra 140,000 seats on peak services by the end of the decade, a major electrification programme, a multi-billion pound deal to replace intercity rolling stock, and a new high capacity railway for London and the south east called Crossrail.

But there is still much to do. Fares and ticketing, for example, is still complex and impenetrable. By making it simpler and more user-friendly, more people will travel by rail, and they'll also have a much better experience. Operators are investing in better stations, better trains and better facilities.

The ultimate test of any market is its popularity. Here again, rail can claim success despite intense competition from bus companies and budget airlines, which only took off in this country after rail privatisation. When the plan was first promoted, we all took on average 11 train trips a year; now we take twice that number. Since the turn of the century freight traffic has risen substantially and passenger numbers have soared by 49% – far more than under those state-run services in France, Germany and the Netherlands. This means the level of subsidies per passenger has fallen while revenues to Whitehall have risen by more than £1bn.

As one commentator has said: we should stop being dazzled by nostalgia, ignore the groans of vested interests and focus on keeping an unlikely success story on track.


05 JAN 2015

Ed MilibandÂ’s borrowing would put at risk all the hard work in the Henley constituency

I issue a warning that Ed Miliband's Labour Party would put at risk all the hard work to turn the economy around in the Henley constituency, after new research was published showing Ed Miliband's Party would borrow £20.7 billion more in 2015/16 – £1,200 for every working household in the constituency.

The published research is an objective, thorough and detailed cost analysis of Labour's policies for 2015/16. It includes their policies that would save money, as well as spend money, and is based on official Treasury costings and public sources.

It shows that Ed Miliband's Labour Party still wants to spend and borrow more – putting at risk all the recent progress in the constituency, just as increased uncertainty in the international economy shows we need to stick with the Conservatives' long-term plan to build a stronger and healthier economy.

Ed Miliband's Labour Party haven't learned their lesson. With just four months until a crucial election, we've now found out they still want to spend, borrow and tax more – borrowing an extra £1,200 for every working household in the Henley constituency.

It hasn't been easy, but with local businesses growing and jobs being created, the economy here is getting stronger. Unemployment for example is down to 278 with youth unemployment down to 40. But Labour would risk all that progress with more borrowing and return us to economic chaos. Just as the global economy is struggling with the Eurozone teetering on the brink of a possible third recession, we need to stick with the Conservatives' long-term economic plan that is helping turn our country around.

The general election will be a critical moment for Britain's future and the future of our local area, and there is a clear choice – between the competence of a long-term economic plan that is helping make families more secure here or the chaos and instability that is offered by all the other parties.

The cost analysis of Labour policy is available here - http://betterfutu.re/labourcostanalysis


30 DEC 2014

New pothole money

I have welcomed the announcement of £16,695,000 of new funding in Oxfordshire – which will mean more money to tackle potholes and improve roads in the Henley constituency.

This is part of £87,143,000 of funding allocated for roads maintenance in Oxfordshire up to 2020/21 – the first time councils have had certainty over funding for this length of time. This will mean they can plan ahead and spend more efficiently and effectively.

Overall, £976 million a year will be invested in roads maintenance in England – enough to fix around 18 million potholes across the country.

We all know potholes and poorly maintained roads are a menace, particularly around Christmas, so this is great news for everybody who relies on the roads in the constituency.

Almost £17 million funding – part of an £87 million package for maintenance over the next six years - will go a long way to dealing with the problems we face on our roads, giving us another reason for cheer in this festive period.

"Investing in Britain's roads and infrastructure is a key part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain – and it's only possible because we've taken the difficult decisions to cut ineffective spending elsewhere. By fixing our roads we are backing local businesses, and making life that bit easier for the hardworking people in this constituency who use them to get around.


30 DEC 2014

Increase in NHS budget

The increase in the NHS budget for 2015/16 that was announced in the autumn statement has been allocated to individual CCGs.

The allocations are decided by NHS England, and were agreed at their board meeting. There have been a number of factors influencing the allocations - population change, revised inflation figures and above all the extra cash from the Autumn Statement which is providing £2 billion more for next year.

Every area, including Oxfordshire, is seeing their budget increase ahead of inflation.

NHS Oxfordshire CCG: % increase = 6.64%. Amount of increase = £664,961

I am delighted that the Oxfordshire CCG has received an above inflation increase. I am sure that they will be able to put this to good use. It is important that the CCG receives this money and I look forward to it being spent on improvements to the NHS in the constituency.


17 DEC 2014

Unemployment in the Henley constituency

News out today is that the number of unemployed who are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) in the Henley constituency has dropped below 300. The number of JSA claimants in the Henley constituency in November 2014 was 278. This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 161 lower than in November 2013 and 22 lower than in October 2014. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

This is very good news indeed. I am very pleased to see the number of unemployed drop below the 300 mark. It shows the excellent work being done by local businesses and by the apprenticeship schemes. It also shows that our long term economic plan is working and is having a big effect here in the Henley constituency.


15 DEC 2014

JOHN HOWELL MP AND DONNA AIR UNITE TO SUPPORT NEW CARE2SAVE SHOPPING WEBSITE SET TO BENEFIT HOSPICES AND CHARITIES

I have shown my support at a Westminster event for Care2Save.co.uk, the newly-launched shopping site that will help raise funds for charities across the constituency when people shop online. Online spending over Christmas is predicted to reach an all time high of £13bn. If just 5 per cent of purchases are made through Care2Save.co.uk, £19.5m could be raised for good causes this festive season.

The briefing enabled MPs to learn how Care2Save.co.uk provides a new income stream for hospices and charities in the UK. Donna Air – actress, designer and supporter of Care2Save – was also at the event, having recently revealed that her grandfather is suffering from dementia and is being cared for in a hospice.

Care2Save is unique in the UK, as it is the only charity owned and run shopping website that gives 100% of the money that it makes through commission directly to the charity sector.

The site offers over 12 million products from over 2,000 UK-based high street retailers, making it a one-stop shop for Christmas shopping whilst giving commission from all purchases to charity – without costing the customer a penny. 80 per cent of the commission generated through each purchase goes to a registered charity of the shopper's choice, and the remaining 20 per cent goes to the Care2Save Charitable Trust, which supports hospice and palliative care in the UK and globally.

This enables people to support their chosen charity this Christmas and each time they shop in the future. It also provides much-needed funds for the hospice sector: a service which most families will need at some point.

Representatives from Care2Save, including the founders, were on hand at the briefing to explain how the website works and demonstrate how much money it could raise for charities this Christmas.

It was great to attend the Care2Save event today and to find out more about hospice care in my constituency. I am delighted to support care2save.co.uk and can't believe how easy it makes it to raise funds for our local hospices – and in fact for all local charities this Christmas.

Andrea Fragata Ladeira, CEO, Care2Save: "Hospice care will touch all of our lives at one point or another; whether for ourselves or those close to us. Together through Care2Save we have the opportunity to transform the hospice sector and to raise significant sums for other charities in the process. The support of MPs is vital, and we sincerely hope that the MPs who kindly joined us today and as many people as possible will now join us in making Care2Save.co.uk their shopping website of choice for Christmas and beyond."


09 DEC 2014

Church roof repairs

I have written to churches in the constituency to tell them how to apply for funds to repair roofs and guttering on vulnerable listed church buildings. The fund, amounting to £15 million, was announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement. Eligible parishes can receive grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to be allocated by 31 March. Those interested in applying should contact the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division at Church House.

Our historic church buildings are places of worship and also hubs for the wider community. They have a powerful role as symbols of local identity. This new fund will offer a real solution to the many churches who sadly are in need of urgent repair. I hope that parishes will apply.


09 DEC 2014

Broadband

The issue of faster access to the internet has been one on which I have focussed for some years now. The slow speeds accessed in the constituency are at best frustrating and at worst debilitating. I know of businesses that struggle and people whose house sales have fallen through due to poor broadband. I am of the opinion that fast internet access is becoming an essential utility.

Government has put in substantial monies to improving the situation at a national level. However, being of a rural nature and also being in the shadow of places such as Oxford does not make it easy. On early Ofcom maps I noticed that rural Oxfordshire was stated as having good speeds but only because it was lumped in with Oxford. I met with Ofcom to raise this and get a more accurate picture portrayed. Indeed I undertook my own survey to get a clear understanding of the issue across the constituency. I have actively offered my support for a number of communities. I have also met with groups of Parish Council representatives together to discuss this issue.

I have lobbied Ministers, had meetings with Government departments, local councils, groups of interested constituents and suppliers of different technologies including BT. The rollout programme under BDUK is managed by the county council and I am in regular contact with them to review progress. Things are now moving in a positive direction and at a fair pace. However I do remain concerned at the last 5% who still stand to be disadvantaged due to their rural locations. We cannot get away from the fact that small hamlets and isolated properties will be the last and most expensive to reach.

Some communities have not wanted to wait for the general rollout, fearing that they will not be covered in the end anyway. Where I have been approached I have been able to put them in touch with people who may be able to help them pursue a community scheme and some have been able to access grant funding towards this. However new technologies are coming forward and the county council is keeping on top of this to see how far they can make the rollout funding stretch. In addition South Oxfordshire district council is putting in some additional funding to support their communities and extend the reach. The current advice from the county council is that with improved technology they envisage being able to extend the planned coverage next year and for communities to hold on just a little longer before seeking alternative solutions. The intention is to use my web site to keep people up-to-date.

I will be seeking my next update from the county council on this earlier in the New Year.


03 DEC 2014

Letter re Heathrow noise

The following is the text of a letter I have sent to the Henley Standard:

"Sir,

Over the past couple of months a number of people have contacted me concerning a noticeable increase in aircraft noise over Henley. Information on the operations of all airports is in the public domain and readily available on the internet. However I recently wrote to the Minister to raise constituent concerns and find out what might be causing the noticeable difference. Three different things come together which start to explain the situation.

Firstly, there is the simple change sometimes needed due to wind direction. Aircraft have to take off and land into the wind. For about 70% of the time the prevailing wind is westerly which means that aircraft depart over Windsor and arrive over London. However when there is an easterly wind the aircraft are more noticeable over this area. This may cause short term increases in noise.

Second, at night the arrival and departure of aircraft is limited. For the flights that do operate in the late evening or early morning there is a pattern of weekly alternation of runways which also makes a difference to local noise. The alternation of runways is designed to provide different communities with respite three weeks in four. This is also dependent on wind direction. However, this year there has been essential maintenance and resurfacing works on one of the runways and thus no weekly alternation during the week. This may be a second reason for a noticeable increase in noise.

Finally, NATS (the main air traffic controller) has been running airspace trials. This is part of a series of trials driven by the Civil Aviation Authority's 'Future Airspace Strategy' which is looking at airspace modernisation. The flight paths used have barely changed in the last 40 years despite the fact that air traffic has almost doubled. During that time aircraft design has changed, technology improved and navigation has become more sophisticated. The trials will help to explore operational efficiency, reducing emissions, reducing noise and sharing noise relief. I have written to the CAA and the Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport for information on the effect of these trails over the Henley area.

Any permanent change in take-off and landing directions would have to go through government for permission and would be preceded by public consultation. As I understand it we are still some years away from that, at present, but none the less it is important that local feedback is on record. I would encourage all residents to record incidents of increased noise which can be easily done by calling Heathrow Community Communications on 0800 344 844. In addition to seeking information from the relevant bodies covering different aspects of this, I am looking to see if I can get experts to attend a public meeting locally to explain more about both normal operations and the trials and to receive direct feedback. If this is possible notification will be made through this paper.

Yours faithfully,

John Howell OBE MP"


03 DEC 2014

Henley and Thame MP to hold consultation meetings on Business Rates

In today's Autumn Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Right Hon George Osborne MP, promised to help small businesses deal with the burden of business rates. He doubled Small Business Rate relief for another year. This is a relief which benefits half a million firms. He also agreed to continue to cap the inflation-linked increase in business rates at 2%. However, in addition to these actions, the Chancellor announced a full review of the structure of business rates and urged business groups to engage with him.

I welcome these moves and offer to organise feedback meetings across the constituency, but particularly in Henley and Thame, for local businesses to give their views.

The Chancellor called on businesses to join him in discussing the future of business rates. Businesses in the constituency have been very anxious to see changes to business rates and I agree with them. As soon as the terms of the Chancellor's consultation are known, I shall be organising meetings for businesses in the constituency to tell me how they want to see Business Rates changed. This is an important chance to discuss with me what they want and I commit to feedback this information to the Chancellor.


03 DEC 2014

John Howell MP welcomes clear plan to stay on course to prosperity in the Henley constituency

I welcom the Autumn Statement, echoing the Chancellor's argument that it is only by working through the Conservatives' long-term economic plan that we can achieve prosperity and security for families in the Henley constituency

The new forecasts for the British economy in the Autumn Statement shows the Government's long-term economic plan is working:

  • Deficit will be halved this year (not increased)
  • British economy expected to grow by 3 per cent this year
  • Employment up and unemployment down – with over half a million new jobs forecast this year. The current figure of JSA claimants in the Henley constituency stands at 300.

The Chancellor set out the next steps in his long-term economic plan in the Statement:

  • We will overhaul stamp duty so that 98% of stamp duty payers pay less tax when they buy their home.
  • We will continue to back businesses to create jobs in all parts of the country - with action on business rates and more help for the high street.
  • We will abolish the jobs tax on apprenticeships for people under 25 to help more young people get the skills they need.
  • We will raise the personal allowance, and higher rate taxpayers will also benefit – a down-payment on our promises to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 in the next parliament.
  • We will cut tax for families by abolishing the air passenger duty paid for children.
  • And we will support savers by letting husbands and wives inherit their partner's ISA and keep its tax free status.

This is excellent news for hardworking families here. The fundamental reform of stamp duty will cut taxes for the overwhelming majority of people trying to buy a house here – and the personal allowance rise and change to the ISA rules back people who want to work hard and save.

This Autumn Statement confirms the Government's long-term economic plan is working. This matters to families here because it's only with a strong and healthy economy that families here can have economic security for the future.

We must carry on working through our plan and stay on course to prosperity.

Notes

This Autumn Statement shows that our long-term economic plan is working. Four years ago Britain was on the brink. Today unemployment, inflation and the deficit are all falling, while Britain is forecast to be the fastest growing economy of any major advanced economy in the world. This Autumn Statement's forecasts show:

  • Falling deficit – the deficit will be down by a half this year. The deficit is forecast to fall from £98 billion last year to £91 billion this year. There will be a surplus of £4 billion in 2018/19 and £23 billion in 2019/20 – falling every year. Debt as a share of GDP will peak next year at 81.1% and then fall to 72.8% in 2019/20.
  • The British economy expected to grow by 3% this year – an increase from the 2.4% predicted a year ago and the 2.7% forecast in the Budget. Manufacturing is growing fastest and investment is set to be up 11% this year.
  • Employment up and unemployment down. Over half a million new jobs are forecast this year. Unemployment is predicted to fall from the 8% we inherited to 5.4% next year.

Reforms in the South East

BACKING THE ASPIRATION TO WORK AND SAVE.

Around 67,000 apprentices in the South East stand to benefit from a reduction in their employer's NICs.

CUTTING INCOME TAX.

In the South East, this will lift 54,000 of the lowest-paid people out of income tax altogether in 2015-16. 3.55 million people will see an average real terms wage boost of £95.

SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES WITH ACTION ON BUSINESS RATES AND MORE HELP FOR THE HIGH STREET.

250,000 properties in the South East will benefit from these business rates measures. 199,000 properties will benefit from the cap on business rates, with savings worth £15m. 82,000 small businesses will benefit from the extension to Small Business Rate Relief, with savings worth £60m. 51,000 of these businesses will pay no business rates at all. 4,000 properties will benefit from the £1,500 discount for retail properties.

SUPPORTING SCIENCE WITH HELP FOR POST GRADUATES. Student loans of £10,000 for young people undertaking post-grad masters degrees will be backed by the government for the first time. This could benefit Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford.

MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT. As part of the National Infrastructure Plan announced earlier this week, 22 Strategic Road Network projects will be built, while around £686m of Government funding from its 6-year floods programme is supporting at least 312 projects in the South East. The Government supports a new garden town at Bicester, which could provide up to 13,000 homes, and will make £100m available at Ebbsfleet to fund infrastructure and land remediation. Oxford will benefit from the continuation of the Cycle City Ambition scheme, providing capital funding for better cycle infrastructure.


27 NOV 2014

Iran

I am very concerned at the situation in Iran.  I heard the Foreign Secretary's comments on the progress in discussions and I welcome that.  In addition to the oral question I asked at the statement on Iran I have also raised several written questions which I reproduce below.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the implications for negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme of recent satellite imagery indicating a possible nuclear clean-up operation at that country's Parchin facility.

The IAEA have been clear that clean-up activities have seriously undermined their ability to verify whether weaponisation related activities took place at Parchin. IAEA access to the site remains an important step in addressing the Agency's concerns. We fully support the IAEA's work on this crucial issue. A comprehensive agreement between the E3+3 and Iran remains the best way to ensure Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful going forward.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of whether Iran's oil exports comply with the terms of the Joint Plan of Action.

We assess that Iran's oil exports are complying with the terms of the Joint Plan of Action. Recent reports from the International Energy Agency show that deliveries of Iranian crude this year have been in line with the restrictions set out in the Joint Plan of Action.


26 NOV 2014

Question to the Foreign Secretary

Question I raised yesterday (25 November) on the floor of the House to the Foreign Secretary.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Iran must be asked to provide details of its previous nuclear activity? Otherwise a mechanism for monitoring Iran's future actions will be fundamentally flawed.

Mr Hammond: Yes. An essential part of the agreement will be a proper investigation into, and understanding of, past breaches of Iran's international obligations in respect of nuclear weapons.


22 NOV 2014

Children's Transplants

I have joined heart charity Children's Heart Federation in its call to raise awareness of thne need for more heart donors for children. Opinion polls in the UK show the vast majority of population is in favour of organ donation but evidence shows low levels of awareness and the need for transplants. Across the UK there are 6,893 people waiting for transplants.

The need for heart donors is being highlighted by the Children's Heart Federation as the consent rate for organ donation remains the static while children with congenital heart conditions is growing each year due to the tremendous developments in surgical treatment and care . However, many of these children will need a heart transplant in the future.

Nick and Claire Bingham from Chesterfield, Derbyshire were told the devastating news that their five year old daughter Freya needed a heart transplant. Nick says "Our world turned upside down. It was a living nightmare. We arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night and Freya was put on a Berlin Heart Machine for 63 agonising days. Thankfully we received a heart but without the donor Freya would not be alive today. All our family are on the register now."

I have committed to working with the Children's Heart Federation to raise awareness of the increased need for heart donors in the Henley constituency and across the UK.  I have also signed a pledge to support the setting up of an All Parliamentary Group on the issue.

I'm supporting the Children's Heart Federation in their call for all political parties, including my own, to commit to raising awareness of the need for heart donors for children. We've come a long way with medical advancements for these children over the years - we now need to look to their future.

Anne Keatley Clarke, Chief Executive of Children's Heart Federation, said:

"Being told that your child needs a heart transplant is devastating. The Children's Heart Federation wants to give heart children the best chance of life. The charity is committed to working closely with government, industry and stakeholders to  raise awareness of the need for an increase in the consent rate for heart donors."


19 NOV 2014

The NHS

On 21 November I shall be attending a number of longstanding engagements and meetings in the constituency and will not be able to attend the debate. I will not be voting for the Bill which fundamentally undermines the reforms we have made to the NHS which are right and where we continue to pledge additional funding for the NHS. I will continue the work I do with the NHS locally across the constituency to improve the services they offer.

The Bill seeks to prevent 'privatisation' that simply isn't happening. There are no new competition provisions in the Health and Social Care Act. We have made it a matter of law that commissioners cannot pursue competition in the NHS if it is not in the
interests of patients. The NHS Confederation, the independent membership body that represents the service, has already expressed serious concerns about the Bill, citing the 'potential for disruption caused by further changes'. The Bill also stops local doctors making decisions about the best services for their patients. Clinical leadership is highly valued in the NHS - but this Bill seriously undermines it.

What the reforms actually did was remove layers of bureaucracy so we have been able to recruit additional frontline staff. This is a party political Bill of the worst kind.

I love the NHS no less than those who have written to me. I recognise that I have family and friends who would not be with us today if it were not for the dedication and expertise of the doctors and medical staff of the NHS. I am fully committed to the NHS being a service free at the point of use and unrelated to the ability to pay. I will take no lessons from Clive Efford MP on my dedication to the NHS.

We have always been clear that we are committed to protecting the NHS. This is a ringing endorsement of the Government's decision to reform the NHS and to invest an extra £12.7 billion in the health service. There are 850,000 more operations being delivered each year compared to 2010, 8,000 more doctors and over 5,000 more nurses. I am also proud that the Prime Minister has promised to continue this investment in the next Parliament. This will mean spending on the NHS will rise in every year in real-terms. It has guaranteed that it will always provide treatment free, regardless of ability to pay. The Government will never privatise the NHS.

In my view, giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision - but it has always been clear that Ministers are responsible for the NHS, and I am proud of its performance in challenging circumstances. The Government's health reforms have focused on the role of the GP, believing that they are best placed to commission local health services as they have the best understanding of local needs. This is hardly centralisation.

The use of private providers in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept. The Government's health reforms do not favour any particular type or ownership of provider. They preclude the Department of Health, NHS England and Monitor from pursuing policies which would seek to increase the market share of, for example, independent providers. It is for local NHS commissioners to decide, not the Government, which providers - whether from the public, private or voluntary sectors - can best meet the needs of their patients and deliver high quality care. Any use of private or other types of provider will be a result of decisions by commissioners taken in the best interests of their patients, never as an end in itself.

I am, quite frankly disappointed that 38 Degrees shows no ambition for our health service. As the Prime Minister has said, there are many parts of international co-operation and trade from which our national health service can be a huge beneficiary. We should not be frightened of our NHS being a great British success story, parts of which can be exported to the rest of the world. We need to ensure that the TTIP makes that possible. TTIP will not change the way that the NHS, or other public services, is run. Local NHS commissioners will remain in charge of deciding who should provide services in the best interests of patients.


17 NOV 2014

MP conducts scratch choir for Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust Jubilee Year

I conducted a scratch choir in a choral evensong on Saturday to help the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust (OHCT) fund-raising campaign for its Jubilee Year. The evensong was held at Great Milton church, a church which had received funds from OHCT to deal with death watch beetle.

I had been looking for a means of making a contribution to the OHCT campaign to raise £3 million for Oxfordshire's churches in its Jubilee Year. The idea of conducting a choral evensong with a scratch choir drawn from across the Deanery was suggested and well received. Singers from different communities rose to the challenge and the service was much appreciated by the special congregation which came together to celebrate with the choir. I think they were a bit surprised to find their MP conducting.

Following the service we were all entertained to drinks by Nicholas and Philippa Wills.

Many churches have small congregations of increasingly elderly members. OHCT does a great job in helping with the restoration of many churches and I am pleased to have supported it.


08 NOV 2014

Tax cut supporting jobs and backing businesses in the Henley constituency

I welcome new figures released today showing that 2,100 businesses in Henley are benefitting from the Government's  employment Allowance since its introduction in April, making it easier for businesses to hire staff and create jobs.

The Employment Allowance is a reduction in National Insurance Contributions that an employer pays for its employees. The allowance is worth up to £2,000 off the National Insurance bill of every employer and is open to businesses, charities and community amateur sports clubs.

The allowance means a business could now hire someone on £22,400 a year, or four people working full-time on the minimum wage, and not have to pay any employer National Insurance Contributions. This is making it easier for local businesses to  grow and create more jobs in Henley.

Within the first six months of its launch, over 850,000 employers across the country have benefitted from the Employment Allowance.

This tax cut is a key part of our long-term economic plan to back business and secure a better future for Britain. Already, 2,100 employers in this constituency are benefitting from the cut, making it easier for them to hire staff and create jobs.

We want to make sure that every business here that can claim this tax cut does. If you're not sure how to please do contact me to find out more.

Our long-term economic plan is helping to create jobs by making it easier for businesses to take on new employees. Since the last election, businesses in the UK have created over 2 million jobs.

We now need to see our long-term economic plan through to deliver economic security and peace of mind for hardworking people in the Henley constituency.


08 NOV 2014

The GovernmentÂ’s benefit cap is fixing the welfare system but in Henley only 19 households have had their benefit capped

I have welcomed new figures showing that the benefit cap is supporting people off benefits and into work, ending cycles of welfare dependency. However, only 19 households in the Henley constituency have had their benefits capped since April 2013, out of the 51,200 households affected nationally. The benefit cap has put a stop to some households claiming a massive £57,000 in benefits, equivalent to a salary of £74,000.

Research has previously shown that nearly half of people affected by the benefit cap planned to look for work. More than 12,000 households have now made the choice to move into work or stop claiming Housing Benefit because of the benefit cap.

Under Labour, the welfare system didn't reward hard work. It created a something for nothing culture which trapped people in poverty.

That's why we've introduced the benefit cap, to build a welfare system that rewards the willingness to work and improves our community. However, only 19 households in the Henley constituency are no longer able to claim more in benefits than the average family earns by going out to work which is excellent news and shows how well off the area is. It also shows how successful the area is in attracting people back into work.

Capping welfare is part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan to build an economy that delivers for hardworking people. The Conservative Party plans to reduce the cap from £26,000 to £23,000 to fund three million apprenticeships by the end of the next Parliament, giving hundreds of thousands of young people the opportunity of a better, more secure future.


08 NOV 2014

Welcome for new action to eliminate poor mobile coverage in the Henley constituency

I welcome new steps being taken by the government to improve mobile coverage and end 'partial not-spots' – areas where there is coverage from one or more but not all of the four mobile networks. Currently 11.5% per cent of Oxfordshire suffers from these partial not-spots. This poor mobile phone coverage makes it harder for people to communicate and businesses to  operate, putting growth and jobs at risk.

That is why we are working to improve mobile coverage in those areas. We are working with mobile operators to try to find voluntary improvements as well as considering if new laws are required to improve coverage. As part of this we will look at allowing people to use other networks when their own cannot provide a signal or, alternatively, requiring companies to cover a certain geographic percentage of the UK.

Improving mobile coverage is a key part of our long-term economic plan that will help businesses to compete, expand and create more jobs, boosting local growth and giving more people the security and peace of mind of a regular pay packet.

Currently 11.5% per cent of Oxfordshire has poor mobile coverage which is causing frustration for people trying to make a call or send a text and making it more difficult for businesses to operate and grow. The bulk of this seems at times to be located in this constituency. Conservatives are not prepared to let this continue. That is why we are now looking at how we can eliminate 'partial not-spots' and make it easier to communicate in Oxfordshire. As part of this we will continue to work with mobile companies as well as considering changing the law so that people can use a different mobile network if they can't get a signal with their own network.

Ensuring people and businesses in Oxfordshire can get good mobile coverage is a key part of our long-term economic plan that will help businesses to grow and more jobs, giving people greater financial security and peace of mind.

It follows my exchange in the House of Commons with Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister, who on 16 October confirmed that we are  looking at a system of national roaming. He went on to say "Ofcom has made it clear that it is technically possible, and we have every intention of proceeding with national roaming, unless and until the mobile operators can come up with proposals that will improve rural mobile coverage.


29 OCT 2014

FEWER WORKLESS HOUSEHOLDS MEANS MORE SECURITY FOR FAMILIES IN THE HENLEY CONSTITUENCY

I have welcomed new figures showing that there are 44,000 fewer workless households in the South-East region since 2010. That means fewer families without the security of work.

Overall across Britain the number of workless households is down 671,000 since the last election, with the proportion of workless households now at its lowest level since records began in 1996. The fall over the last year was 271,000, a record drop.

It's excellent to see the number of workless households falling – with 44,000 fewer across the South-East since 2010. This means more families in this constituency with the self-respect and security that comes with a good job and a regular pay packet.

This is further evidence that the Conservatives' reforms to welfare and support for business to create more jobs, as part of our long-term economic plan, is working.

There's further to go – but the worst thing we could do now is abandon the plan that is working - delivering a brighter, more secure future for families in the constituency.


29 OCT 2014

The Recall Bill

I support the Recall Bill. I support the Bill but not the Goldsmith amendments.

The Bill makes provision for the possibility of a by-election if a sitting Member of Parliament is sentenced to a prison term or suspended from the House due to serious misconduct. It is right that a high standard of conduct is expected of MPs and there should be no concern over the Bill from those who seek to fulfil their duties to the best of their abilities.

During the debate some amendments were tabled by Zac Goldsmith MP. These were controversial and I did not support them. The effect of the amendments was to blur the distinction between an MP's conduct and his views. They would allow electors the chance to recall MPs for any reason including what they said or how they voted during a Parliament. On a simple level this is impractical. There will be many differing views among constituents on any issue. Thus this principle fundamentally undervalues the democratic role of a General Election which is the appropriate place for issues about what an MP said or how they voted to be decided. It fundamentally changes the role of an MP from a representative to a delegate. It puts the conduct of Government into the hands of small pressure groups rather than the people as a whole.


28 OCT 2014

John Howell MP joins the 'Nation of Lifesavers' campaign to save 5,000 lives

I am urging people to join the campaign to dramatically increase the number of people trained in life-saving CPR and help create a Nation of Lifesavers.

More than 30,0001 people suffer an out of hospital cardiac arrest in the UK every year – 80%2 of which occur in the home, often in front of family members and loved ones.

But fewer than one in ten people survive3, partly because not enough people have the skills and confidence to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The British Heart Foundation says that the Nation of Lifesavers initiative could save around 5,000 additional lives a year in the UK, based on survival rates in countries like Norway (25%)4 where CPR training is mandatory in schools.

The BHF is calling for CPR and public access defibrillator (PAD) awareness to be taught in all secondary schools and a recent survey showed 82%5 of people would be behind this move.

Since the launch of the campaign on October 16, more than 5,000 people have already signed the petition to make these skills part of the curriculum.

I have pledged my support for the Nation of Lifesavers campaign and called on secondary schools and community groups in the Henley constituency to order their free Call Push Rescue Training Kit.

Cardiac arrest survival rates in the UK fall way behind survival rates in other countries where CPR training is part of the curriculum.  By joining the Nation of Lifesavers I want to see every child in the UK finish school equipped with the necessary skills to respond in a medical emergency. CPR is an important skill and just 30 minutes of training could save someone's life."

Simon Gillespie, BHF Chief Executive, said: "Too many lives are lost needlessly because people don't have the basic CPR skills to act in life-threatening situations.

"We're determined to radically improve the country's shocking survival rates and mandatory training in secondary schools will go a long way towards that.

"We need every school, workplace, community group and individual to join the Nation of Lifesavers and help make the UK a safer place to live."


28 OCT 2014

Henley MP to ask Government for Job Centre Plus outreach in Henley

Following a meeting on Friday with Angela Healey, CEO at Henley YMCA, members of staff and residents, I am to ask Government whether Job Centre Plus can be allowed to run an outreach service in Henley. Currently those wishing to sign-on or use the facilities of JCP have to go to Reading. Henley YMCA is committed to helping these young people. The YMCA would happily provide the facilities for the JCP outreach.

The journey to Reading is expensive. Young people seeking to sign on have to spend a disproportionate amount of what they receive on bus fares. The obvious answer is to have a JCP outreach in Henley.

We have a very successful local economy. There are very few young unemployed who are claiming JSA for example. However, that do3es not mean we can simply ignore those who are signing on and are struggling.

I will raise my concerns with Government Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions.


21 OCT 2014

New apprenticeships mean more young people in the Henley constituency getting the skills they need for the future

I have welcomed new figures showing 470 new apprenticeships were started by people in the Henley constituency last year. In total 2,080 new apprenticeships have been started in the Henley constituency since 2010. This means more young people getting the skills they'll need to get on in life. The total number of young people unemployed and claiming JSA (aged 18-24 years old) in the constituency came to only 55 in September 2014.

Across England more than 1.9 million apprenticeships have been started since 2010 – with the number of apprenticeships having more than doubled in this parliament.

As the Prime Minister announced on Monday a future Conservative government would go even further: making a £1 billion commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and end youth unemployment, funded by reducing the maximum amount that can be claimed on benefits from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting young people's access to housing benefit.

These figures are great news. 2,080 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in this constituency getting the skills they'll need for the future. And I'm pleased a future Conservative government would go even further, with a £1 billion commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and to end youth unemployment. We only have a youth unemployment of 55 in this constituency and I am determined to bring this down to zero.

By making sure, as part of our long-term economic plan, we deliver the best schools and skills for young people the Conservatives are ensuring the next generation have the skills and opportunities they'll need to get a good job – so they can have a brighter, more secure future ahead of them.


16 OCT 2014

Crime Down

I have welcomed news that crime is falling. Crime recorded by the police in the Thames Valley has fallen by 30% since 2010. This is the best performing police area in the country. It shows what a great place the Henley constituency is in which to live.

The latest figures from the independent Crime Survey of England and Wales show that crime across the country has fallen by more than a fifth in the same period.

In England and Wales this means that in the last year, compared with the year before this Government came to power, there were:

  • More than 2.3 million fewer crimes.
  • 160,000 fewer homes burgled.
  • 290,000 fewer vehicle crimes.
  • 413,000 fewer violent crimes.
  • 962,000 fewer incidents of criminal damages.

The Government is following an action plan to tackle crime and make this area a safer place to live. Crime has fallen by 30% in the Thames Valley thanks to our plan and the hard work of police officers. This means families are safer and more secure – and we can enjoy a better, brighter future.

Our action plan to tackle crime

  • Freeing the police to fight crime by cutting red tape and scrapping unnecessary targets.
  • Giving criminals tougher sentences so communities are protected and justice is done.
  • Giving the police the powers they need to tackle criminals, using the latest tools and techniques.
  • Stopping people from becoming criminals by tackling the root causes of crime.
  • Making the police answer to the community to help drive down crime in your area.

Statistics

Crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government. The Independent Crime Survey of England and Wales showed that in the year to June 2014 there were more than 2.3 million fewer crimes than in the year to June 2010 (ONS, Crime Statistics, Year Ending June 2014, 16 October 2014, link).

Other points

We have cut red tape so the police can focus on what matters – fighting crime so we have safer communities. Our changes save an estimated 4.5 million hours of police time, equivalent to 2,100 police officer posts (Home Office, Police pay: Winsor review, 26 March 2013, link).

We have given police just one target: cut crime. The police are now free to use their discretion and professional judgement to best protect our communities (Home Office, A New Approach to Fighting Crime, 2010, link).

We have increased the proportion of police officer in front line roles from 89 per cent in March 2010. This is expected to be at 92 per cent in March 2015 (Home Secretary, Police Federation 2014 speech, 21 May 2014, link; HMIC, Policing in Austerity Meeting the Challenge, July 2014, link).

We are improving how the police record crime. In June 2013, the Home Secretary commissioned Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake a detailed inspection of all 43 forces' crime recording practices. The interim report was published in May and a final report, including the remaining 22 force reports, is due in November (HMIC, Crime recording: a matter of fact – interim report, May 2014, link).

 


16 OCT 2014

Mobile coverage in the constituency

A note of my oral question to Ed Vaizey MP is detailed below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

What recent assessment he has made of mobile phone coverage in rural areas.[905469]

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey):

I am pleased to say that mobile coverage is going extremely well. We have the fastest roll-out of superfast broadband in the world and the fastest take-up—6 million customers are already using 4G and 73% of the country is covered.

John Howell:

The Henley constituency still has big areas of no coverage. Would a system of national roaming be a simple way of improving coverage in rural areas?

Mr Vaizey:

As my hon. Friend knows, we are looking at a system of national roaming. Ofcom has made it clear that it is technically possible, and we have every intention of proceeding with national roaming, unless and until the mobile operators can come up with proposals that will improve rural mobile coverage.


15 OCT 2014

Unemployment almost at full employment levels

The number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in Henley constituency in September 2014 dropped to 302.

This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.) The number of claimants is 217 lower than in September 2013 and 27 lower than in August 2014. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

Earlier, addressing a lunch for Henley Conservatives, I said:

"When I look around this constituency I see a level of unemployment only just fractionally above 300. It is easy to become blasé about this but it is a real achievement and shows why Conservatives are to be trusted with the economy.

"I will not rest until this number has been reduced still further but it is Conservatives in Parliament who have helped achieve this by the strength of our long-term economic plan. It is Conservatives in the constituency who have also helped achieve this through the constant work with businesses, the seminars I held in the depth of the recession, and the efforts I have been making to try to attract Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) money to help our businesses here in the constituency.

"What we have done in putting right the problems of Labour's Great Recession has provided the bedrock on which these achievements can be built. The IMF have confirmed that Britain will be the fastest growing economy in the G7. More jobs, more security and more business.

"When we came into Government in 2010, unemployment had increased by nearly half a million. We were suffering the deepest recession since the war and we had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy. We have had to make realistic assessments about the state of the British economy and this involved taking difficult decisions to reduce the deficit and control spending. Thanks to hard work, our long-term economic plan is working."


07 OCT 2014

Conservative Party Conference

There was a real buzz at Conservative Party Conference. It was not just the announcements we made but also the strong support for the work we have done on the long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain. In four years, we have made a good start. However, we know the job is far from finished - there is much more we still have to do and we need time to be able to finish the job. In this update I set out our ongoing vision for Britain that we seek to achieve.
With best wishes, John

The vision we are working towards is of:

  • a Britain where families have the reward of a meaningful job and a decent standard of living – because their taxes are low and our debts are being paid off. In my constituency, unemployment is just over 300 people seeking Job Seekers Allowance. This situation is being more widely spread.
  • a Britain where people have the security of owning their own home and the financial independence to enjoy retirement. There should be no fear of an additional and unfair tax where people have simply chosen to invest in their family home. We will build 100,000 new homes at 20% off their market value.
  • a Britain where people who work hard and do the right thing can get on in life, with a decent quality of life and access to good services – including the NHS. We will allow tax payers to pass on their pension pots tax-free.
  • a Britain where our economy has stability and people are not afraid of losing their job, their home or their savings. 3,000 more apprenticeships, funded by a lower benefit cap, will ensure that young people under 21 can earn or learn.
  • a Britain with an education system that helps our children reach their potential and succeed in life.
  • and a Britain that stands even taller in the world, a stronger country, a prouder nation. We are tackling tax avoidance by multi-national corporations to make taxes fairer and to help cut the deficit.

We went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats five years ago to tackle the economic emergency left by the previous government. But the Liberal Democrats have confirmed they want to tax the family home, oppose further welfare reform, oppose limits on immigration, and oppose giving the British people a say on Europe. A further coalition would bring instability and insecurity.

The tax system
We want to make the tax system fairer so that people get to keep more of the money they earn. That is why we will cut tax. A future Conservative Government will raise the tax-free personal allowance from £10,500 to £12,500. That will take 1 million more of the lowest paid workers out of income tax altogether – and will give a tax cut to 30 million more. We will also raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate from £42,285 to £50,000. This will bring fairness back to the tax system. We will cut taxes and cut the deficit. If you work hard and do the right thing, you should keep more of your own money to spend as you choose. That is why cutting taxes is a key part of our long-term economic plan – securing a better future for Britain by making taxpayers and their families more financially secure.

Welfare
We need a welfare system that is fair to those who need it, and fair to the taxpayers who pay for it. The fairest way to reduce welfare bills is to make sure that benefits are not rising faster than wages. So all working age benefits in Britain will be frozen for two years. This is the choice Britain needs to make to protect our economic stability and to secure a better future.

English votes for English MPs
Finally, let me comment on the aftermath of the result in Scotland. It is right that we should now move to a situation in which English laws are decided by English MPs. This requires a relatively small change to parliamentary procedure. It does not require massively increasing the cost of politics by imposing another level of government. The Barnett Formula by which money is transferred to Scotland becomes less relevant the more tax powers Scotland gets. The further devolution we envisage will make the Scottish Parliament responsible for raising half of what it spends. That means the amount of money transferred to Scotland under the Barnett Formula will decline as Scotland exercises its tax-raising powers. Scotland will become more dependent on its own tax revenues.

Finally
We need to continue to make the difficult decisions that are needed to secure a better future for Britain. We do not want more borrowing, more taxes and more debt than our children and grandchildren could ever hope to repay.


27 SEP 2014

Motion against ISIL

I voted for the motion on the bombing of ISIL.

This was supported by the Opposition as well as the Government and was passed by a majority of 534 to 43. Before doing so, I  had the opportunity of a private meeting with the Foreign Secretary to discuss a number of the points I would have raised in the Chamber if there had been time. I have reproduced the wording of the motion below.

That this House condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing; recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support; further recognizes the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage; acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East; further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq; notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament; accordingly  supports Her Majesty's Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces' efforts against ISIL in Iraq; notes that Her Majesty's Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's armed forces.

There was universal condemnation of ISIL as a barbaric organisation which was inflicting terror on a wide range of groups. I was particularly interested to pursue with the Foreign Secretary the potential impact that ISIL could have on Britain. The idea, raised by some, that relationships could be pursued with ISIL solely on a diplomatic basis struck me as particularly naïve. ISIL are already taking military action and they need to be defeated in this way too.  They have already effectively declared war on Britain.

What convinced me to vote for the motion was the idea that the coalition of states involved had a comprehensive strategy including political action, the involvement of the Arab states, action to stop money reaching ISIL, an Iraqi government that represents all its people, diplomatic activity and an invitation from the Iraqi Government.  Above all, I was able to understand the threat to Britain itself.

What the RAF can deliver is precision attacks using sophisticated technology. US air strikes are already having their effect on ISIL to end their destabilising impact on the region as a whole.

This was a difficult decision to make and it was made with a heavy heart. But I am convinced that I made the right choice that will eventually bring peace to the region.


23 SEP 2014

The Government's Recall of MPs Bill

The Government Bill is a transparent and robust recall mechanism, where constituents are able to recall their MP if they are found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing. Under its provisions, MPs will not be left vulnerable to attack by those who simply disagree with them. Constituents elect MPs to represent them for five years and they should be able to carry out their jobs without facing frequent recall campaigns by their political opponents.

Under the proposals, a recall petition would be opened where:

• an MP is convicted in the UK of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or less (for more than 12 months an MP is automatically expelled);

or

• the House of Commons orders the suspension of an MP for at least 21 sitting days.

MPs must not be left vulnerable to attack from those who simply disagree with them or think that they should have voted a different way on a particular measure. The recall model proposed ensures that only those MPs found to have engaged in behaviour that falls below that expected of an MP would face a recall petition.


21 SEP 2014

John Howell MP backs local Social Enterprise

I visited Berinsfield Community Business on Wednesday 17 September as part of social enterprise week in Oxfordshire – businesses which re-invest their profits back into the social mission of the businesses. Berinsfield Community Business provides sustainable employment and training opportunities for local people and is part of a growing social enterprise sector in Oxfordshire.

The Government estimates that there are now 180,000 social enterprises in the UK (accounting for 15% of all SMEs), contributing billions to the economy and employing more than 2 million people. Oxfordshire is the first county in the UK to be officially named as a 'Social Enterprise Place' by the campaign body, Social Enterprise UK and Oxfordshire based businesses came together to mark the UK's first Social Saturday on 13 September 2014.

It's fantastic that Oxfordshire is the first county in the UK to become a Social Enterprise Place – a beacon of social enterprise activity. Berinsfield Community Business is doing great work providing work and training opportunities and is an example of how business can be used for social good.

Social enterprises are starting up all over Britain – 1 in 7 of all business start-ups are now social enterprises. In villages, towns and cities up and down the country there are increasing numbers of shops, cafes, cinemas and nurseries that are run for the benefit of local communities. I also made a visit to one of these shops in Little Milton where I met the manager and heard about the benefits to the community. In addition to having general provisions available to buy the shop also houses the local Post Office which was previously under threat. It also has a coffee area and outdoor play area and thus provides a place to go for the local community and visitors alike.

As a 'Social Enterprise Place' Oxfordshire is committed to growing social enterprise communities across the county by bringing together the local councils, businesses, charities, budding social entrepreneurs and local people.

Mark Williams, Director of Berinsfield Community Business said "We were founded in October 2001 and as a social enterprise we believe that our social objectives are every bit as important as our financial objectives. We offer sustainable employment and training opportunities for local people and provide property, grounds and garden maintenance. We have no shareholders and operate with a board of volunteers who manage an experienced team of twenty professional tradesmen - we have a loyal customers and a great track record."


14 SEP 2014

MP sends off cyclists for OHCT

Across Oxfordshire men, women and children set out to raise money for the upkeep of Oxfordshire's historic churches in the annual 'Ride and Stride' organised under the umbrella of Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust (OHCT). I took time out from a busy day at the Henley Show to send off Robin Fieth and his team of cyclists from Pyrton Church.

I was delighted to be asked to come and give my support to Robin and his friends. Over the years Robin, who is a keen cyclist, has raised lots of money himself and encourages others to join in the event. OHCT does a great job in giving grants to local churches to help them maintain our heritage. It is a worthwhile cause with which everyone can help by either getting our and around the church on bike, foot, horse, by being at the churches to welcome those sponsored, or by signing up to sponsor people. Each to their own with something for everyone!

Robin said 'We had a great day signing in at 38 churches. Some years I have raced around on my own clocking up as many churches as possible. This year I decided to get a group together for a more social but none the less challenging day. Thanks to Simon Thompson (Long Wittenham), Graham Dale (Rickmansworth), Jonathan Ward, Neville MacKay, Charles Davis (all London) and Peter Fry (Drayton St Leonard) for joining me and supporting the cause.'

The Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust has been supporting the county's churches since 1964 and in more recent years Robin has been a champion fundraiser, having raised over £13,000 for the Trust. As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations at Dorchester Abbey earlier in the year, he was invited to present a memorial cup to the Earl of Wessex .To find out more about them and the churches they support go to http://ohct.org.uk

 


11 SEP 2014

MP to begin tour

I am about to begin my annual tour in the constituency. The tour takes advantage of a lull in proceedings at Westminster while political parties run their conferences. The visits to the towns and villages of the constituency is in addition to the visits I normally makes during the course of the year. It is designed to take the time to explore some of the issues worrying people and those issues uppermost on their minds.

This year the tour takes a different format. It concentrates on meetings with parish councils, some of them with the public as open meetings. It also includes a number of occasions where I will call at individual houses to discuss issues with members of the constituency.

All in all, in the two weeks of the tour I will make over 23 visits. This includes 10 visits to parish councils including Goring, Binfield Heath and Bletchingdon. It also includes a visit to NOMAD in Henley to watch a play about drug use. I will also chair a meeting in Clifton Hampden to discuss traffic issues and will chair the conference of the ORCC on Oxfordshire is Changing ... What is the role of the community and voluntary sector? The tour will also include meetings in Thame with the Thame Business Forum and Thame Advisors.

We have changed the format this year to ensure that I have longer to talk with people where they live. I also want to ensure that I understand the challenges faced by Parish Councils and to help them out in formulating a view of what their community wants and in delivering it. This is an important two weeks for leaving Westminster behind and making contact locally in addition to what I do during the year. But I also want to make the connection that so much of what I do in Westminster affects them and that I am very aware of this.


10 SEP 2014

Spare Room Subsidy

Prompted by a 38 degrees campaign, a number of constituents have recently contacted me concerning the so called 'bedroom tax'. First, there is no such thing as 'the bedroom tax'. This is a term which has been adopted by those opposed to the measure. In April 2013 the Government introduced a reduction in Housing Benefit for those who are receiving benefit for spare bedrooms in the social rented sector. It ends the subsidy from the public purse that we have been paying people to maintain a spare room.

If you live in private rented accommodation and receive housing benefit these rules already apply, and they applied throughout the whole of the last Labour Government. Not once did I receive e mails about this from those who have recently written to me as a result of the 38 Degrees campaign. Previously, the UK faced a situation in which neighbouring households could be treated unequally.

This is a basic issue of fairness. Some of the issues that have been raised are already addressed through exemptions to the ending of the subsidy or through Discretionary Housing Payments. These include:

  • A disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer
  • Pensioners
  • Those in supported 'exempt' accommodation
  • Disabled children unable to share a bedroom
  • Approved foster carers
  • Armed forces personnel living with parents

The Government has trebled the support for Discretionary Housing Payments and added extra funding on top of that specifically aimed at those affected by these reforms. The total Discretionary Housing Payment funding in 2014/15 is £165 million. At the end of 2013/14 £21 million of the £180 million of central Government funding remained unspent, including £7 million from a bidding scheme fund which all local authorities were encouraged to apply for. This change will help contain the growing expenditure on Housing Benefit, making better use of our housing stock and remove the discrepancies between the social and private sector. Along with the benefit cap, the Spare Room Subsidy will also strengthen work incentives.

We need to bear in mind that nearly one third of working-age social housing tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit are living in accommodation too big for their needs. There are nearly 1 million spare bedrooms, with an estimated cost to the taxpayer of up to half-a-billion pounds a year. On the other side of the equation there are over 360,000 households living in overcrowded accommodation in the Social Rented Sector in England, who need more space. There are nearly 2 million households (1.8 million) in England on the social housing waiting list. The average reduction in Housing Benefit as a result of this change is £14 per week.

The need to bring fairness into this situation is long overdue. Let us put that into the context of South Oxfordshire. Here it works out as follows. In the first year of change, across the district (which is much bigger than the constituency) the number of people in socially rented accommodation in receipt of housing benefit and affected by the Spare Room Subsidy was just over 450 or some 6.5% of those receiving housing benefit. Out of this number, just under half applied for a Discretionary Housing Payment of which all but around 70 were successful. A year on and the number of households affected by the Spare Room Subsidy has reduced by about 25%. The fact is that while I sympathise with those caught up in the problem, the impact
of the Spare Room Subsidy is not widespread.  I do appreciate that there are some concerns, especially where alternative accommodation is not available, and the need for an appeals system which can respond to complex circumstances. Whilst these are issues that I am exploring further they are not things to be addressed through primary legislation.


04 SEP 2014

Supporting Later Life Ambitions

I was delighted to attend the launch of Later Life Ambitions this week (02.09.14) where I joined over 150 people at the House of Commons to hear about the pressing need to listen to the voice of pensioners.

By 2030, there will be almost 13 million people in later life - aged 65 or over. Later Life Ambitions brings together the collective voices of over a quarter of a million pensioners and sets out a 'manifesto' for the future that takes into account the aspirations of today's pensioners, but also looks to the next generation of older people.

The campaign organisers are hoping that members of the public will become involved in the campaign as it progresses and are asking people to sign up to their pledge via the website www.laterlifeambitions.co.uk and by following their twitter feed @laterlives.

I am committed to supporting pensioners in the Henley constituency and look forward to supporting Later Life Ambitions in the months ahead.


04 SEP 2014

The Elms, Thame

I recognise that the issue of the Elms is an important one for many people. What the Neighbourhood Plan does is to allocate the private part of the area for development with a requirement on the developer to undertake landscaping work to improve the public part of the land. One of the leading principles of Neighbourhood Planning is that planning becomes a shared activity between the local district council and local people. Local people have a say in how their own community develops. It is a bottom up process rather than a top down one as was previously the case when housing numbers were set centrally from Whitehall. This is an infinite improvement on what went before. It is a robust system of local planning which has taken off and there are now well over 1,000 communities across the country going through the process with great success. The comment from the Thame Plan's Examiner that the process of consultation had gone over and above the statutory requirement gave me comfort in the process of developing the Plan. None the less the final say rightly went to residents of Thame at the ballot box and the result was a very definite acceptance of the Plan.

I understand that there is currently a planning application for the development of the site. A majority of the letters and e mails I have received have gone into great detail about what is wrong with the proposals for this specific application and I have to say that I think many of these comments have merit. It would seem to me that the way forward is to work with the Town Council and the developer to substantially change this application. It is an opportunity for the community to have the developer pay for improvements to the public space. I would certainly be encouraging the Town Council to engage in robust community consultation on this.


03 SEP 2014

Labour's plans for more unfunded spending

I have condemned Labour's pledges over the summer for £21 billion more unfunded, inefficient and ineffective spending.

New analysis has revealed this would cost working households £1,235 each. This would all have to be paid for by higher taxes or more borrowing, making hardworking taxpayers, and future generations, worse off.

While Labour continue to struggle for credibility on the economy new figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed that the recovery in the economy under this Government has been stronger than previously thought. Growth since 2010 has been revised up to 8.1 per cent, from the previous estimate of 7.0 per cent.

This faster growth means there are more businesses creating more jobs, so that more families can have the security of a regular pay packet, with a brighter future ahead of them.

Just as new growth figures – which show the economy has been growing faster under this Government than previously thought – confirms this Government's long-term economic plan is working, helping more families achieve the security of work, it's shocking to see Labour still haven't learned its lesson.

In a string of speeches over the summer Labour pledged £21 billion worth of unfunded, inefficient and ineffective spending. That would cost each working household £1,235

This means Labour would have to hit people in the Henley constituency with more borrowing and higher taxes, making hardworking taxpayers worse off and putting the recovery at risk. We need to stick to the Conservatives' long-term economic plan, which is delivering growth, getting the deficit down and cutting taxes - securing a brighter and more secure future for Britain.


03 SEP 2014

Elected to Justice Select Committee

I have been elected to the influential Justice Select Committee of the House of Commons.

Following the Wright Committee's reforms to select committees, appointment as a member of a select committee is by election only. I was elected without opposition and will be taking up my post straight away, in addition to my role as Chairman of the 301 Group of Conservative MPs.

Select committees are made up of a cross section of MPs from across the different political parties. Their role is to keep the Government in check and to scrutinise its actions. The Justice Select Committee, which is chaired by Sir Alan Beith MP, looks into the policy, administration and expenses of the Ministry of Justice and its associated public bodies.

I am delighted to have been elected to the Justice Select Committee. The Committee carries out the vital role of holding the Ministry of Justice to account, including recently investigating the guidelines on theft offences and urging the Government to launch a fresh consultation on compensation for mesothelioma victims. I am looking forward to playing a leading role in the upcoming work of the Committee and to bringing a new perspective to the issues that we will be investigating. In particular, I will be using my position to promote the issues of public protection and the reduction of reoffending rates.


23 AUG 2014

The Elms, Thame

I sent the reply below to Mr Richard Jeffries on 20 August 2014.

Dear Mr Jeffries

I hope that your meeting about the Elms Field went well last week. I trust that you passed on my apologies to those  attending. It is unfortunate that I was away on family matters on the date for which the meeting was called.

As I said in my holding reply to you I wanted the opportunity to look more thoroughly at the issues you raised in your letter. I recognise that the issue is an important one for many people and I appreciate the level of concern that has been raised. I therefore returned first to the Neighbourhood Plan. What the Plan envisages is the development of the currently private part of Elms Field with a requirement on the developer to undertake landscaping work to improve the publicly accessible part of the site. The first thing, therefore, to point out is that the Neighbourhood Plan does not envisage the development of the whole of the Elms area but only that part which is currently privately owned.

I understand that there is currently a planning application submitted for the development of this part of the site and for improvements to the public space. The application is not before committee. It has been submitted and is in the consultation period. I think it would be very helpful to put your efforts into working with the developer and the Town Council to substantially change this application. A majority of the letters and e mails I have received have gone into great detail about what is wrong with the proposals for this specific application and I have to say that I personally think many of these comments have merit.

I note that Thame Town Council has issued a statement which addresses a number of the detailed questions concerning the inclusion of land at the Elms in the Neighbourhood Plan. I have also re-read the report of the Independent Examiner who looked at the Plan in advance of the Referendum. He covered this issue and the issue of the consultation process in some detail and I do not think that I can add to that now.

Neighbourhood Plan process

Perhaps it would be helpful if I focus first on the Localism Act and the provision for Neighbourhood Planning. One of the  leading principles is that planning becomes a shared activity between the local planning authority (in this case the district council) and local people. Local people are thus given a say in how their own community develops. The local district council sets some overriding principles, such as the number of houses to be built, and the local community decides where they should go and what they should look like. It is a bottom up process rather than a top down one as was previously the case when housing numbers were set centrally from Whitehall. This is an infinite improvement on what went before when the local community had no say in the development of the town in which they live and I make no apologies for it. The procedure for  developing a Neighbourhood Plan deliberately involves a series of consultations following initial scoping and development, a hearing in front of an External Examiner or Planning Inspector and a Referendum. It is a robust system of local planning which
has taken off and there are now well over 1,000 communities going through the process with great success.

The formal procedure for developing a Neighbourhood Plan is set out in the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 which sit under the Town and Country Planning Act. In these regulations there are a number of safeguards which ensure that the plan is widely advertised and the whole community given the opportunity to comment. Thus I feel that there is a robust process in place which has been followed to ensure that everyone is aware of what is being proposed.

Under the Regulations, the usual process for the independent examination would be through written representations. However in the case of Thame, the Examiner decided to hold his session in public to ensure that there was adequate examination of the issues and that everyone had a chance to put their case. In his examination the Examiner covered the issue of the  consultation process in some detail and also looked specifically at the proposed sites, including the Elms. The Examiner was aware that there was some opposition to the inclusion of this site and suggested some modifications to the Plan to protect the sensitive area. These recommendations were taken on board in the final Plan.

The comment from the Examiner that the process of consultation had gone over and above the statutory requirement gave me comfort in the process of developing the Plan. I was content to support those who had worked long and hard on developing the Plan and indeed the whole community on the financial investment that it made to do this. None the less the final say rightly went to Thame at the ballot box and the result was a very definite acceptance of the Plan.

Relationship with SODC

When the concept of Neighbourhood Planning first hit the public attention there was a misconception that by doing a  Neighbourhood Plan communities could stop any development at all from taking place. This was incorrect due to the fact that a Plan has to work with the district council and to be in general conformity with local and national policy. Thus in this case it had to conform to the housing allocation enshrined in the South Oxfordshire Local Plan. This made provision for a certain number of houses but in the case of Thame indicates that the sites would be determined through the Neighbourhood Plan. The responsibility for determining where the houses should go rests with Thame through the Neighbourhood Plan regardless of the opinion of the district council provided that the Plan meets the tests of conformity. The Examiner confirmed that the Plan meets these tests.

It seems to me that there are two important issues moving forward. Firstly could and should the plan be reviewed and secondly to look at the planning application currently lodged with the district council.

Revising the Neighbourhood Plan

As I have said, a Neighbourhood Plan has to be in general conformity with local and national planning policy. As such, a plan would be expected to be reviewed when either of these change. It may not necessarily have to be amended but it would need to be reviewed. However a Neighbourhood Plan can be reviewed should the 'qualifying body' wish to do so. In the case of a community with a town or parish council the qualifying body is the council. So should Thame Town Council wish to review the plan they can do so. In the opinion of the Department of Communities and Local Government, in order to do so they would have to go through the entire process of putting the plan together again.

Whether or not the Council should review the plan so soon after its adoption is a question for the Town Council to answer. No one else can answer this question for them. There are some important considerations that I would suggest should be part of this decision making.

Firstly 76% of those who voted supported the Plan through a democratic process. The Council would need to think about the message it gives to the democratic voice of residents especially when the process is looked at in total. Secondly it would need to consider the time and cost of reviewing the Plan. There would be no funding from central government for a second plan and so much of the cost would be borne by Thame residents through the town precept. Thirdly, it would also need to consider the legal impact of making the change. In this respect, the Plan would be seen as a legitimate legal document. Any landowner who already has their land approved through due process in the Plan might well argue that the site should remain extant for development or they should be entitled to substantial compensation. In other words, I do not believe you can now go back and challenge the bona fides of the Plan when there was ample opportunity to raise objections earlier in the process which were considered and rejected.

Live application

Let me turn now to the fact that there is already a live application in play. It is not possible for the Local Planning Authority to simply drag its heels in determining the application as the developer could then appeal against non-determination. It would then be decided by a Planning Inspector who would determine it in accordance with the Neighbourhood Plan.

Therefore it may be best to engage proactively with the application process to ensure that the design of development on the privately owned land is acceptable and that any work done to improve the public space is what will be acceptable to the community. It is an opportunity for the community to have the developer pay for this work. Should this be the approach I would certainly be encouraging the Town Council to engage in robust community consultation on this. In addition, as I said at the beginning, I think your group should be working to improve the current application, or oppose it if this is not possible, and to set parameters which are going to be in the best interests of the town.

I am sorry this letter is so long but I do think it is important to cover the issues which are at the heart of this campaign. I do believe there is a chance of improving the application. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this further and indeed to seek to gather together the right people to help guide the next steps.

With best wishes,


01 AUG 2014

Tax cut supporting jobs and helping businesses in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed new figures today showing that 109,000 in the South-East are already benefitting from the Employment Allowance, introduced in April, which reduces the cost to businesses of employing people.

The Employment Allowance takes up to £2,000 off the National Insurance bill of every employer and is open to businesses, charities and community amateur sports clubs.

The allowance means a business could now hire someone on £22,400 a year, or four people working full-time on the minimum wage, without paying any employer national insurance at all.

In total up to 1.25 million employers will benefit from the allowance, with 450,000 taken out of paying the tax on jobs altogether.

This tax cut makes it easier for businesses to take on new people, and it is great news for the constituency. Already, 109,000 businesses in the South-East] are benefitting.  We need to continue working through our plan, backing businesses here to create more jobs for people in this constituency, with the regular pay packet and the peace of mind for the future that comes with it.  With unemployment so low here this is an area in which we are already doing very well."

Notes

The Employment Allowance takes £2,000 off employer's National Insurance bills. The allowance, introduced on 6 April 2014, cuts the jobs tax for every business and charity by up to £2,000. Businesses will be able to hire one extra person on £22,400 pa, or four people working full time on the minimum wage, without paying any National Insurance. And it means 450,000 small businesses, one third of all employers, will pay no jobs tax at all (HM Treasury, Budget 2013, 20 March 2013, link; HM Treasury press release, 6 March 2014, link).

Employment is up by 1.8 million since the election. That's 1.8 million more people with the security of bringing home a regular pay packet. In the three months to April 2010, there were 28.842 million people in employment. In the three months to May 2014 there were 30.643 million people in work (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 16 July 2014, link).

The private sector has created two million jobs since the election. This excludes the effect of major reclassifications and compares Q1 2010 to Q1 2014 (ONS, Public and Private Sector Employment, 11 June 2014, link).

The number of unemployed in the Henley constituency came to 333. The number of young people unemployed and claiming benefits in Henley itself was 5 and in Thame it was 10.


30 JUL 2014

1st World War Commemoration

To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I will be attending a number of events organised across the constituency. These include a Service at the Swyncombe War Memorial where I will be reading the lesson and laying a wreath, a commemorative Service in Henley at which a new plaque will be unveiled to the 500 fallen local men who have remained unmarked on previous memorials, and a Service in Thame followed by the laying of crosses as part of an exercise to lay a Thame cross at the grave or memorial of every person mentioned on a Thame memorial.

These Services are an important reflection of the community coming together to remember. They echo the debates held in the House of Commons to recall the events of the war and those that led up to it.

The outbreak of the First World War was an event which shook the world no less so than in the villages and towns of this constituency. Reading through the list of those inscribed on war memorials whom we remember this weekend I am struck by the large number of men from the same family who were slaughtered in this conflict. The human tragedy of this transcends all our thoughts about the economic and political costs of the war. One can only begin to imagine the shattering effect this had on whole families who lost husbands and sons. These were tragic events and it is right to pay tribute to the courage of those who were killed.

During the debate, the Minister for Defence said:

"To overplay contemporary events on a similar time frame is to remind people in positions such as ours, and in significant countries such as this, of the solemn responsibility they hold. The first lesson I draw is the frightening speed with which peace, civilisation and a functioning rules-based system can descend into chaos."

In today's world the biggest enemy is terrorism which seeks to undermine all civilised values. It is the ideology of extremism and "distorted teachings" which are at the root of the problem. We should all take the threat of all forms of extremism very seriously. We must work harder to defeat the radical views which lead some people to embrace violence.


26 JUL 2014

Sharman Beer Court

I have expressed relief and delight that the lift at Sharman Beer Court, Thame, now appears to be working. Sanctuary Housing which manage the building emailed me yesterday (25 July) to report that the lift is operational and has been put into service that afternoon. The Scheme Manager is ensuring that all residents are made aware.

It is with a great sense of delight and relief that I have been told that the lift is now working. It has been a long process. The residents will now be glad that they can get on normally with their lives. As promised, I have kept in touch with developments and have had regular e mails from Sanctuary advising me of progress.


26 JUL 2014

Strong growth figures for UK

I have welcomed new figures showing the British economy is now above its pre-crisis peak, after Labour's Great Recession saw the economy shrink by 7.2 per cent. The economy grew by 0.8 per cent in Q2 2014, up 3.1 per cent on the same period last year.

This continuing growth means there are more businesses, creating more jobs, so that more families can have the security of a regular pay packet and the peace of mind for the future that brings.

Thanks to the hard work of people in this constituency and across Britain the economy is now above its pre-crisis peak - a major milestone in the Conservatives' long-term economic plan. It means more businesses, creating more jobs so families can look forward to a brighter, more secure future.

But there is still a long way to go. The Great Recession was one of the deepest of any major economy and cost Britain six years, hitting people hard. Now we owe it to hardworking taxpayers not to repeat the mistakes of the past and instead to stick with the plan that is delivering economic security and a brighter future for all.

Key statistics

GDP grew by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter - this means that the UK economy is now 0.2 per cent above its pre-crisis peak, after Labour's Great Recession shrank the economy by 7.2 per cent. Since the beginning of 2010 the economy has grown by 6.9 per cent, faster than France or Japan and three times as fast as the Eurozone.

Yesterday the IMF confirmed that Britain will be the fastest growing economy in the G7 in 2014 – evidence our long-term economic plan is building a stronger economy for Britain.

The deficit has been cut by more than a third – helping us to deal with our debts, safeguard our economy for the long-term and keeping mortgage rates low.

Businesses have created over two million new jobs – providing more people with the security and stability of work.


18 JUL 2014

Record fall in crime

I have welcomed news that crime is falling. Latest figures from the independent Office for National Statistics show that since 2010 recorded crime in the Thames Valley has fallen by 29% - the biggest drop of all forces.

The Government is following an action plan to tackle crime by:

* Freeing the police to fight crime by cutting red tape and scrapping unnecessary targets

* Giving criminals tougher sentences so communities are protected and justice is done

* Giving the police the powers they need to tackle criminals, using the latest tools and techniques

* Stopping people from becoming criminals by tackling the root causes of crime

* Making the police answer to the community to help drive down crime in your area

We're making Britain an even safer place to live, work, and raise a family with our action plan to tackle crime. Recorded crime is down by 29% in this area thanks to the hard work of police officers and our plan. Families are safer and more secure – and we can enjoy a better, brighter future.


16 JUL 2014

Henley stunning six year record of unemployment

The number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in June 2014 dropped to 333 – a six year record of unemployment. This is 204 lower than in June 2013 and 38 lower than in May 2014. The number of young people (18-24 years old) claiming JSA also dropped to a total of 15 in Thame and Henley combined.

This is absolutely fantastic news and shows our long term economic plan is having a positive effect.. At a time when we as a nation have reached the record levels of employment set in 2005, this is stunning news for the Henley constituency. More people have the security of a job than ever before. It is a great story and one which brings out the best of the constituency. I am particularly happy to see youth unemployment at such a low level.

In April 2008, the number of people unemployed in the constituency was 345.


15 JUL 2014

MP Presents Benson Library with two books

I presented Benson Library with two books as part of the campaign, Mythical Maze, run by the Reading Agency. The campaign encourages all primary school children to join their local library, the UK's largest reading for pleasure promotion for primary school children. The two books – The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon and Lost Treasure of the Emerald Isle by Geronimo Stilton – were presented to the library manager, Hilary Rust, and Chairman of the Friends of Benson Library, Dave Rushton (see picture).

I am delighted to be able to present these two books to encourage primary school children to join the library and to read. Benson library is a model for the sort of partnership arrangements which are keeping libraries open and alive. I am very happy to encourage its better use in this way. It also happens to be my own local library.


09 JUL 2014

MP supports reading campaign

I am supporting a campaign run by the charity The Reading Agency to encourage all primary school children to join their local library and take part in this year's Summer Reading Challenge - the UK's largest reading for pleasure promotion for primary school children. As part of this, John is presenting the newly re-opened Benson Library with two books – The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon and Lost Treasure of the Emerald Isle by Geronimo Stilton.

Research shows the Summer Reading Challenge increases children's reading range and their enjoyment of reading significantly. It builds confidence and independent reading, while preventing the dip in children's literacy levels during the long break from school.

A unique partnership between The Reading Agency and public libraries across the UK, the Summer Reading Challenge got a record 810,000 children reading in the summer holidays in 2013. With the support of local MPs, libraries, schools and a host of well-known children's authors even more children aged 4-11 will be encouraged to join the library and complete the challenge this year.

Children will also be encouraged to share their love of reading by recommending a book to friends, family and carers with a campaign called 'pass-it-on' this year. The campaign is intended to inspire them to share their reading choices. It is endorsed by the new National Curriculum, which suggests that pupils should be "recommending books that they have read to their peers, giving reasons for their choices."

I hope parents, grandparents and carers in the constituency will take their children to the library to sign up for the Summer Reading Challenge. It's free, inclusive and makes reading fun - a vital ingredient in building literacy. Last year 8,541 children in Oxfordshire took part in the Challenge. I hope we can increase that number this year.


09 JUL 2014

MP attends World Aids Day

I attended the 'Halfway to World AIDS day' event hosted by the Halve It Coalition and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS. The 'Halfway to World AIDS day' event also showcased the recent launch of the NICE local government briefing on HIV testing and the MEDFASH/Halve It toolkit for local engagement.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England's Director of Health and Wellbeing said "The new briefing from NICE is an important document for local authorities (who are now responsible for HIV testing) and will help them to decide on the best steps to take locally. We look forward to working with NICE and Halve It to make sure that the document is adopted by local decision makers to realise the health and economic benefits of preventing onward transmission"

Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison said "HIV testing has never been easier and the majority of people diagnosed can expect to lead healthy and productive lives with a near normal life expectancy. "

JI added that we want as many people as possible to get tested, particularly in groups at increased risk, as early as possible which is why we recently legalised HIV self-testing. Halve It has done excellent work to raise awareness in this area and help reduce the stigma around HIV testing.

In the UK over 98,400 people live with HIV every day of the year; 22% of these are undiagnosed and 47% are diagnosed late. The sooner HIV is diagnosed the sooner appropriate care can begin, and thanks to medical advancements the life expectancy of someone living with HIV has increased markedly in recent years. By ensuring that HIV testing becomes routine there will be significant long-term savings; with one early HIV diagnosis saving the NHS £63,061.


09 JUL 2014

MP supports NATO

I attended an exhibition in Portcullis House, Westminster, illustrating the development of NATO over 65 years, and promoting the September summit taking place in Wales. The Summit will involve over 70 delegations and help shape NATO as it continues to serve as the bedrock to our security.

I am very pleased that we will be hosting this summit in Wales. NATO has been a tower of strength to us over the years and I am pleased that we still manage to meet our spending requirement of 2% to meet our obligations. The summit will demonstate the UK's influence as a global defence player – engaged, capable and willing to lead.


25 JUN 2014

MP welcomes Henley Plan

I welcome the Henley Business Plan as a positive step to bring investment into the town. I particularly single out the need, acknowledged in the plan, for investment in transport infrastructure.

This Plan has to work well with the Neighbourhood Plan. I am therefore especially pleased to see the references to the employment sites identified in the Neighbourhood Plan and the need to ensure both plans dovetail. I think the identification of a free town centre WiFi service is a very welcome development.

The report goes on to identify Henley as a worldwide brand, something I have championed, and seeks to attract world class investment to match. It also singles out the need to identify skills.

We have a very low rate of unemployment in the town. That is good news. But I am also pleased to see that there has been an increase of almost 42% in the number of work places employing apprentices this year. The purpose of an Apprenticeship is to train those aged 16 and above to achieve the Apprenticeship standard as set by employers to enable them to perform a skilled role effectively. These Apprenticeships are based on quality training and quality information.


25 JUN 2014

MP comments on Townlands hospital

My congratulations to all those who have helped get the Townlands development to this stage. It has been a project long in the making. It gives me a sense of personal satisfaction in seeing the new hospital reach this stage of development. I took this issue up with the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, and together with Dan Poulter MP, the relevant Minister in the Department of Health, have worked with NHS Property Services to ensure that it can be brought to completion. It shows the level of commitment to the project that it has successfully reached this far. I would also like to thank local NHS chiefs who have supported this project. I met with David Smith, the new boss of Oxfordshire's Clinical Commissioning Group last Friday and invited him down to Henley to see the development of the hospital for himself and to familiarise himself with the project. This he agreed to do. I was very happy to give him some of the background of the project.


24 JUN 2014

MP praises Bucks Healthcare Trust

During a Commons Debate on Patient Safety, I  praised the way the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust had come out of special measures. The Trust was one of 11 hospital trusts placed in special measures last year, after 14 were investigated over high death rates. The Trust affects part of the Henley constituency. The exchange between me and the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt MP, is reproduced below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) in praising the improvements that have taken place in Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which has come out of special measures, and which affects part of my constituency. Are not those improvements a very good example of the way in which we are summoning up the political courage to tackle such trusts, particularly when they have experienced high death rates in the past?

Mr Hunt:

I hope that they are. I think that in the end we shall be judged on how successful we are in turning around hospitals in special measures. Last week I met Anne Eden, the chief executive of Buckinghamshire Healthcare. I think she has done an excellent job in extremely difficult circumstances, but I know she would agree that there is still much work to be done. Taking hospitals out of special measures is the first step, but ultimately we must reassure the public that when there are problems, we shall be on their side and try to sort those problems out.

There is a lot the Trust still needs to do. But this is a testament to how it is improving quality and the patient experience. I offer my congratulations to Anne Eden, the Chief Executive, for the work done to date and encourage it to work hard to improve its services and patient care.


21 JUN 2014

Welcome for new pothole cash

I welcome the announcement of £3,106,730 of new funding in Oxfordshire County Council to tackle potholes. In total £7,888,879 of additional funding for Oxfordshire has been announced for this year, on top of the annual roads maintenance budget.

Over three million potholes will be filled in across England with funding from the £168 million Pothole Fund, announced in the 2014 Budget. This is part of more than £24 billion which will be spent on England's roads between 2010 and 2021 – the biggest investment in our roads since the 1970s.

This is great news for everybody who uses the roads in the Henley constituency. £3,106,730 of new funding will go a long way to dealing with the menace of potholes and ridding them from our roads. The County Council had had a very successful programme of tackling this problem which was interrupted by the floods.

Investing in Britain's roads and infrastructure is a key part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain – and this is just one part of that. By fixing Britain's roads the Conservatives are supporting local businesses, and making life that bit easier for the hardworking people in the Henley constituency who rely on them to get around.


21 JUN 2014

Together for Short Lives

I have given my support for children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions at a Westminster event held by children's palliative care charity Together for Short Lives. The event took place on Tuesday 17 June during Children's Hospice Week (13-20), the national awareness and fundraising week for children not expected to reach adulthood and the services, like children's hospices, that support them.

I met with Anna Gill OBE, a parent carer of a young person with a life-limiting condition, in addition to representatives from Together for Short Lives, the charity behind Children's Hospice Week, I agreed to write to contact the Clinical Commissioning Group to ask what action they are taking to integrate services for children who need palliative care. I also committed to
exploring the funding of palliative care services supporting children with life-limiting conditions - and their families – in Oxfordshire.

Providers of children's palliative care offer a vital lifeline to families. Yet commissioning of services, particularly from the voluntary sector, is patchy and inconsistent. Well commissioned and co-ordinated palliative care helps families to make the most of their time together and enables services to develop to meet their needs.

It is necessary that health and social care services work together to ensure that services are joined up and funded fairly and sustainably to ensure that the excellent care they provide can continue.


12 JUN 2014

Speech for Queen's Speech debate

Like the Secretary of State, let me start by concentrating on today's good employment figures, especially those from Henley. We have seen a 60% drop in the unemployment figures, giving us a lower level of unemployment than before the general election of 2010. The figure itself stands at 371, which makes us the third best performing constituency in the UK—the two constituencies that beat us probably have more sheep than people. It is 21 lower than in April 2014, and 209 lower than a year ago. Crucially, the number of young unemployed remains around the 20 mark for the two towns of Thame and Henley.

The shadow Secretary of State attacked this Government's long-term economic plan, but these figures show that the plan is working, and the good news that there are 2 million more people in work since the election reinforces that point. The news is exceptionally good. In my constituency, we would have to go back more than six years to find such good figures. It is a remarkable achievement and I am proud of the way that business has reacted locally to help young people get into jobs. These remain difficult times for families who are still feeling the impact of the recession, but the foundations for a broad-based recovery are now in place. I am keen to see living standards continue to rise so that we can build on those foundations, and we need to keep growing the economy and creating more jobs.

The problem for me is that there are too few people who are unemployed to have a meaningful jobs club. I found a way around that, which was to have a club to encourage and teach businesses how to keep their employees rather than my trying to find placements for them.

In looking at how this Queen's Speech continues to build on the good work already started in the long-term economic plan, I want to put my finger on one measure in particular, which is national insurance contributions. Cutting businesses' national insurance contributions by £2,000 has taken 450,000 firms out of paying employer NIC all together. That follows on from increasing the secondary threshold—the level of earnings above which employers start to pay national insurance for an employee.

We were prevented from sharing in the national insurance holiday introduced in the first Budget as it was regionally oriented away from the south-east, but the £2,000 relief introduced in Budget 2013, the employment allowance, was a welcome addition. Will Labour now confirm that it will not increase that tax again?

The national insurance contributions Bill heralded in the Queen's Speech is required to simplify the collection of NICs payable by the self-employed and to tackle certain avoidance measures. I urge Ministers to look carefully at the situation in which a small proportion of people pay their class 2 NICs and are not in self-assessment. They need to be able to continue to pay their class 2 NICs.

I was pleased to see that the avoidance measures tackle the situation in which people hang on to the cash in question through long disputes and it will stop them gaining a potentially significant cash-flow advantage. I urge Ministers to ensure that the scheme is tightly drawn so that it will not catch innocent providers.

I also want to touch on the small business, enterprise and employment Bill. Small businesses make a huge contribution to the UK economy and account for around half of UK jobs. One of the areas that the Bill tackles is that of employment tribunals. I understand that it tries to prevent their postponement. Employment tribunals often suffer unnecessary delays, and one of the contributing factors is the frequent requests for postponements at short notice. That has a big impact on the costs to business. It is also necessary to ensure that the rights of claimants are protected, and I was pleased to see the idea of a penalty for non-payment of employment tribunal awards.

One of the other sections of this Bill is the need to ensure that employers pay their workers at least the national minimum wage. The enforcement of that measure is very serious. We are already the first Government to

name and shame employers. The number of employers penalised last year almost doubled to more than 600, and the new measure is a logical extension of that.

Finally, on apprenticeship reforms, anything that can be done to ease access to apprenticeships and increase our understanding of them has to be welcome. I am thinking of short, simple standards rather than long, complex frameworks to characterise apprenticeships. It will also be necessary to increase their quality through higher expectations of English and maths and to raise aspirations

The Queen's Speech contains those and many other measures, which will help to boost jobs and work. It will help small businesses access the public procurement market and hopefully lead to more reductions in unemployment in my constituency.


11 JUN 2014

Dramatic drop in unemployment in the Henley constituency

The number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in May 2014 reduced to 371. This represents a rate of 0.8% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. The number of claimants is 209 lower than in May 2013 and 21 lower than in April 2014. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

You have to go back over 6 years to find any figures like these. This is a drop of almost 60% in the number of people unemployed and claiming benefits from its peak before the election. We continue to make excellent progress every month and signs show that the economy will continue to grow. There is a lot still to be done but this is very good news and shows how well our long-term economic plan is working.

Nationally, the number of people in work rose by a record 345,000, to 30.5 million, most of which are in full-time employment. That brings the total of new private sector jobs to 2 million since 2010.


22 MAY 2014

Sharman Beer Court

My attention was drawn back to Sharman Beer Court in Thame this past week. I first visited the flats back in November to see for myself the effect of the one lift for the building having been out of order for over six weeks. Sharman Beer Court is owner occupied and residents are mainly elderly people, some of them disabled.

When I was made aware of the situation I contacted the Managing Director of Sanctuary Housing Services, the managers of the site, to ensure that he was aware of the situation and to ask for urgent action. In reply I was advised that consultation with residents was already underway. As residents own their properties and pay a management fee to Sanctuary Housing, the company is obliged to consult if it is going to spend substantial money on behalf of residents. The legal requirement for consultation with residents is 30 days but by agreement this was reduced to two weeks in this case. Residents were also asked if they would like a temporary stair lift to be installed.

Residents agreed that a temporary stair lift would be of help to some residents and this was duly installed. Residents also agreed to have the lift replaced rather than the old one refurbished. I understand that refurbishment would have been quicker but the consensus among residents who were privy to the details of the different options was that replacement was preferable despite the longer time scale. Residents also selected the specific supplier for the work.

I understand from Sanctuary Housing that the order for the work was placed the day after the consultation closed. The estimated time scale for the work had been given to residents as 10-12 weeks off site manufacture and approximately 8 weeks on site installation following that. The date of 19th May was given for the start of the onsite work.

What drew my attention back, despite this correspondence with Sanctaury, was the allegations by a constituent that the new replacement lift was now not going to be installed. Full stop. End of story. An immediate check showed this to be incorrect.

I share the concerns about the length of time it is taking for the lift to be installed. It has been something of a nightmare for those who live there and despite the installation of a stair lift, many have been effectively trapped in their flats. I can understand how frustrating this must have been. Like many, I was extremely disappointed that the installation of the new lift did not begin as promised on 19 May. What Sanctuary said was: "We were only informed late last week that the resident's chosen contractor, Otis Lifts, was unable to begin work on Monday but are ... doing everything possible to ensure the works take place as quickly as possible."

So new lifts are going to be installed – and as quickly as possible. But in the time it took to get this information, a 'journalist' without any thought for the necessary due diligence had already tweeted for everyone to bombard me with tweets about this. It goes to the heart of what being an MP is about. The best way of standing up for constituents is by quiet pressure on the company involved not by shouting and screaming on the basis of no facts. It requires persistent pressure. I have been in regular discussion with Sanctuary since first becoming aware of the problem in November and will continue to be so.


19 MAY 2014

Broadband

 I have produced an up-dated paper on the progress on introducing superfast Broadband in Oxfordshire which may be accessed here

Update on Broadband


14 MAY 2014

Unemployment falls to lowest level since Election

Unemployment falls again in the Henley constituency to a lower level than before the General Election of 2010. It is now not even half of (45%) what it was just before the General Election.

The number stands at 392 which makes the constituency the third best performing constituency in the UK. The number of claimants is 237 lower than in April 2013 and 29 lower than in March 2014. The number of young unemployed remains at 20 for the constituency.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that our long-term economic plan is working with nearly 1.6 million more people in work since the election. Employment stands at 30.43 million (up 283,000 this quarter and up 1.59 million since the election). Unemployment stands at 2.21 million; down 133,000 this quarter and down 285,000 since the election.

1.2 million of the jobs created since the election have been full-time. The proportion of women in work hit 67.7 per cent – the highest since records began. The number of unemployed young people fell by 48,000 over the last three months, and is down by 75,000 since the election.

This is exceptionally good news. In this constituency you have to go back over 6 years to find any figures like this. It is a remarkable achievement. I am proud of the way business has reacted locally to help young people into jobs. These remain difficult times for families, who are still feeling the impact of the Great Recession, but the foundations for a broad based recovery are now in place. I am keen to continue to raise living standards to build on these foundations and keep growing the economy and creating more jobs.


07 MAY 2014

Financial education

I am encouraging local schools to put on money lessons this June, to give pupils a head-start in financial education before it becomes a compulsory part of the new National Curriculum in September. The move comes in advance of this year's My Money Week (9 to 15 June), run by national financial education charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group).

Every primary and secondary school in Henley is being given the chance to take part in My Money Week, which aims to help young people learn more about money and personal finance, for free. This year My Money Week will be themed around current affairs, challenging young people to improve their financial skills, knowledge and confidence through topical lessons and activities on personal finance. As the UK's leading financial education charity, pfeg is offering teachers in Henley free online resources, advice and training to help plan their activities.

I think that this is a great opportunity for local schools and pupils to get involved with and learn more about the concept of money and financial responsibility and to learn invaluable life skills. I would encourage all schools and colleges in my constituency to take part in this fantastic opportunity.

Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group), said: "John Howell MP is absolutely right to call for all local schools to take part in My Money Week, which is a terrific opportunity to help pupils learn more about money in a fun and engaging way. We are delighted to have his support for what we hope will be Henley's best My Money Week yet."

Since the first My Money Week in 2009, millions of young people have been helped to understand more about money and personal finance through focused activities in schools. In 2013 My Money Week reached approximately 1.3 million young people in more than 4,500 schools and other settings across the UK.


06 MAY 2014

Air Passenger Duty

The Government has announced a significant reform to Air Passenger Duty to bring the cost of long-haul travel down to a uniform duty rate – the abolition of duty bands C and D. The issue was a major campaign within the constituency.

From 1 April 2015 any country over 2,000 miles from London will fall into the same B rate banding as the USA. The abolition of duty bands C and D underlines the Government's commitment to export-led growth, and will help businesses to strengthen links with key growth markets like Brazil, India and China, through lower air ticket costs.

Air passenger duty is a tax paid by airlines which is typically passed onto their customers within ticket costs. It is banded on the distance from London to countries' capital cities, with a reduced rate for economy class passengers.

This reform is a fiscally responsible approach that will be beneficial to economic growth, but ensures that this Government continues to prioritise restoring the public finances to a sustainable footing. Of course, the vast majority of passengers, around 80 per cent, fly to band A destinations within the UK and Europe. I am pleased that the economy flight duty rate for these journeys is set to remain at £13. By the end of March 2016 it will have stood unchanged at this level for four years.

These decisions are of real benefit to passengers and the Government wants to ensure that these benefits can be enjoyed up and down the country. This is why the Budget increased the support being provided for air services from regional airports by doubling the funding available to £20m per year and, significantly, extending its scope to include start-up aid for new routes. This measure will help ensure that people throughout the country continue to benefit from improved connectivity provided by their local airports.


29 APR 2014

HEART

I am calling on parents across Oxfordshire to check for warning signs of possible heart problems experienced by their children and follow life-saving guidance issued by the UK's leading children's heart charity. The MP is supporting 'Think HEART', a campaign by the Children's Heart Federation which aims to increase the early diagnosis of children's heart conditions.

Think HEART provides parents with five easy signs to help to spot a heart problem:

H – Heart Rate (Is their heart rate too fast or too slow. Normal rate is between 100 to 160 beats per minute)

E – Energy (Are they sleepy, quiet and too tired to feed)

A – Appearance (Is your baby a pale, waxy, dusky, blue or grey colour)

R – Respiration (Are they breathing too fast or too slow. Normal rate is between 40 to 60 breaths per minute)

T – Temperature (Are they cold to touch – particularly their hands and feet)

Every year, 5,000 babies are born with Congenital Heart Disease, however only a third are detected before birth. Delays in diagnosis cause uncertainly, distress, physical harm and can even lead to risks to life for these young children.

I urge parents here to look out for the five Think HEART signs to ensure that any problems are quickly identified and managed effectively.

Anne Keatley-Clarke, Chief Executive of CHF says: "We are grateful for John's support for our Think HEART campaign. We hope their encouragement alert's parents to the importance of checking their children's heart condition and it gives them the confidence to raise the issue with their doctor or health professional."

To get involved with the Think HEART campaign visit www.chfed.org.uk/thinkheart


29 APR 2014

HS2

Let me be clear. Fewer than 5% of those who responded to my Thame Resident's Survey raised the issue of HS2 as a concern when given the chance. Very few people anyway e mailed me about the project.  Thame is the town 'nearest' to the rail line.

I understand that this is a project which raises considerable passion both for and against it. I appeciate this. However, I have taken a very clear line on this project in the House of Commons and overall I welcome it. The reasons for this go back to the original work of the Select Committee which examined this. I believe HS2 will boost growth and create jobs. The Select Committee, after taking extensive evidence, commented on this issue. What it said was: "Only time will tell whether or not HS2 will, for example, help to rebalance the economy and reduce the north-south divide. Our judgement is that HS2 could indeed be the catalyst for these economic benefits."

For as long as I can remember, Governments have been criticised for never investing in infrastructure and for always being short-term in their thinking. Now, for the first time, we have a Government implementing a national infrastructure plan and with a desire to see the country operate as one; not with an artificial divide to the north of Watford Gap.

This is of course just what those who live in the South-East have always wanted too. Many surveys have highlighted local concerns that the South East is sinking, metaphorically, under its own weight and that congestion, overcrowding, environmental degradation and hostility to development are the signs of this. I believe this project will help support growth across the country. Moreover, it will do it in a way which ultimately protects more environment than it destroys. A high speed rail network could spread economic prosperity and transform the way that our businesses work, generating real economic benefits.

A little while ago, I wrote that "more than a century ago the Victorians built railways that continue to serve us to this day and just over 50 years ago the post-war generation chose to invest in motorways, bringing higher road capacity and faster journeys to millions. Both transformed the economic and social fabric of this country. HS2 is our generation's investment in Britain and our children and in the growth which will help ensure that they are not scarred by the economic catastrophe that 13 years of the last Government produced." I believe this still to be true.

However, I shall confirm that the economic benefits are still there. I also want to ensure the minimum impact on the Chiltern AONB. I believe that the project is well-founded and with the right mitigation measures will add signifcantly to our country. To date, good mitigation has helped reduce the impact on ancient woodlands. It has also ensured that for more than half its journey the rail line will be in tunnels or cuttings. There are a range of environmental protections from bored and green tunnels to landscaping and habitat creation and on top of this the Government has made a commitment to plant over two million trees. These are all major benefits from the mitigation which can be achieved on this Bill and which I intend to support.

The Government has provided for significant capital spending on the UK's transport networks, with total funding of £73 billion over the period from 2015 to 2021, of which HS2 is just £17 billion. The UK's railways will see the biggest modernisation programme since the Victorian era, including a rolling five-year Rail Investment Strategy. Between 2014 and 2019, Network Rail plans to spend over £35 billion allowing it to continue a substantial programme of expansion and renewal.


25 APR 2014

Rise in apprentices

Figures out today reveal an increase of almost 42% for the number of work places employing apprentices this year as opposed
to the year immediately after the election. The number stands at 440 in 2012/13 as opposed to 310 in 2010/2011 – an increase of 130. The increase comes on the back of new unemployment data for the constituency which shows that the number of young unemployed (those between 16 and 24 years old) remains at 20 – one of the lowest figures in the country.

The purpose of an Apprenticeship is to train those aged 16 and above to achieve the Apprenticeship standard as set by employers to enable them to perform a skilled role effectively. It needs to be simple to access whilst providing employers with relevant information. 

Many small businesses were worried initially about taking on additional admin but they found that in fact our reforms are making Apprenticeships both simpler for businesses and better quality for Apprentices. That is why we are seeing a record number of Apprenticeship starts under this Government. It is good that we are using this scheme here in the constituency. These Apprenticeships are based on quality training and quality information.


23 APR 2014

The European elections

A number of people have asked me questions about the European elections and it is clear that there is some confusion about this and the Referendum. The forthcoming elections in May are not an In-Out referendum. Nor do they change anything about the EU. They are simply to elect the people to go to Europe to represent Britain. Britain's relationship with the EU will not change as a result of the elections. We will still be members after the elections and still have to face the same legislation which comes from Europe. The only people who can change Britain's relationship with Europe and ensure that that process changes is the UK government. The Prime Minister is working hard to change the relationship between Britain and the EU and needs his team in Europe to work with him. It is clear for all to see that the relationship between the UK and Europe could be much better than it is now.

Together with my Party colleagues, I fully support the Prime Minister in the belief that we should let Britain decide on the future relationship through an In-Out referendum in 2017. The Bill that would put this commitment into law was blocked, with Labour and Lib Dem peers voting to deny the Bill enough time to become law. The Prime Minister has already committed to
re-introducing this Bill in the next Parliament, and, if necessary, will rely on the provisions in the Parliament Act to stop Labour and the Liberal Democrats killing the Bill once again.

Before this takes place, we need to attempt to negotiate a new settlement that focuses on what matters to the people of Britain and Europe. This includes competitiveness; flexibility and fairness for all member states, whether inside the Eurozone or out of it; more respect for national democracies and, crucially, recognition that powers should be able to flow back to member states, not just away from them. Once this renegotiation has taken place (and whatever the outcome), the question of membership of the EU should be put to the British people through a referendum.

On behalf of his Party, the Prime Minister is already successfully negotiating a changed relationship with Europe. He has already vetoed a treaty. He has already got us out of the bailout of the Euro. He has already achieved a reduction in the European budget. He has already tried to bring in a law to give you the vote to decide on our future in 2017.

Watch our broadcast by following the link: http://youtu.be/_xhXIGplfDo


16 APR 2014

New unemployment

NEW UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES SHOW FURTHER DROP FOR THE HENLEY CONSTITUENCY WHICH REMAINS THE THIRD BEST PERFORMING IN THE UK.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that our long-term economic plan is working with unemployment dropping below 7 per cent for the first time since Labour's Great Recession. Employment is up 239,000 this quarter at over 30 million. Unemployment is down 77,000. The proportion of women in work hit a new record of 67.6 per cent – the highest since records began. The number of unemployed young people fell, by 38,000 over the last three months, and has been falling now for the last seven months.

The number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in March 2014 was 421. This represents a rate of 0.9% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.) The number of claimants is 224 lower than in March 2013 and 31 lower than in February 2014. These data are not seasonally adjusted. The number of youth unemployed in Henley and Thame remained at 20.

These strong jobs numbers are very good news. Coming alongside yesterday's lower inflation, they are compelling evidence that our economic plan is working. There are now a record number of jobs in Britain. Every job created means another family with greater economic security and the prospect of a brighter future. These remain difficult times for families facing pressures on their budgets, and much work needs still to be done to build a resilient economy. But today's news supports the argument we have made all along that the only way to see rising living standards is to grow the economy.


15 APR 2014

Thame Residents Survey

Introduction

In November I sent out a survey to all households in Thame with the permission of the House of Commons authorities to find out what people think on key issues. I was delighted at the response with replies still coming in. My thanks to everyone who took the trouble to complete and return the survey. The larger the return of the survey the more likely the answers are to be representative. I published the results of the survey in the Thame Gazette but I produce a fuller response now for general interest.

Top 3 issues of concern

The survey listed a number of local and national issues that were known to be of concern to people and asked people to indicate their top three concerns. Overall the key issues across these were local roads and footpaths, the NHS and crime and antisocial behaviour.

As the chart shows, the state of roads and footpaths is clearly the biggest issue. I realise that potholes are a problem and as road maintenance comes under the remit of the County Council I have made them aware of this feedback. At the budget, the Chancellor made £200m available for potholes across the UK of which the share for Oxfordshire is almost £5 million. In total it brings the amount invested in local highways maintenance in the current financial year to £1 billion. In fairness to the County Council until about the end of November last year they had filled some 50,000 across the county. The wet winter has set them back a bit. The lack of a cycle path between the town and Thame and Haddenham Station was mentioned by a number of people and it is a project I am keen to see happen.

On the NHS, local hospitals and GP services are clearly very important, so I am encouraged by the continued local interest in our hospital. I meet the NHS on a frequent basis to discuss the issues which are likely to affect us and regularly raise specific issues on behalf of individual residents.

The police have just produced a compelling set of crime statistics for the area. As they themselves point out you are less likely to be a victim of crime in this area than almost anywhere else in the country. I think though that what this highlights is the difference between actual crime and the fear of crime. Actual crime is very low; fear of crime remains stubbornly high. I welcome the prioritisation of dwelling burglary and the fact that we have the highest detection rate within Thames Valley Police for dwelling burglary. However, I have asked for further comment on the priority given to motoring offences such as speeding. As has been shown by my area meetings on traffic, speeding is a real concern.

Handling of the economy

A key question was about the way in which the Government is handling the economy. The vast majority of respondents approve of this. It was encouraging to see that by far the majority believe that dealing with the deficit and the debt is the right way to be going. This is welcome news and reinforces the view that the path the Government has chosen with our long term economic plan is the right one notwithstanding that the decisions have been difficult. The benefit has been felt by everyone and fits in with our long-term economic plan. Keeping taxes down and supporting small businesses were also noted to be important.

Should we leave the EU

On the question of whether Britain should leave the European Union or stay in it the yes and the no responses were almost neck and neck. What was clear from the comments was that people realise that it is a complex issue and that they have not fallen for simplistic arguments. They want much more information on it. I will endeavour to provide this at the appropriate time. Of course, the initial decision is not about leaving the EU. It is about a fundamental renegotiation of our position in Europe and a referendum. The Conservatives are the only major party to have promised a referendum to allow people of all persuasions to have their say.

Comments were made on a range of issues in the space provided. I am grateful for these and all have been noted and will be fed in to the appropriate channels. Where someone has asked a specific question I have tried to respond directly although in some cases a question was asked but no contact details given. If you had a question that I have not yet had the chance to respond to please do ask again. I hope you have found this interesting. I enjoyed looking at the data and reading the responses. It is important to me to know what issues are uppermost in people's minds. The feedback from the survey is helpful in this respect.


13 APR 2014

Response to crime figures

I have responded to the crime figures for South Oxfordshire and the Vale issued by Superintendent Boyd, LPA Commander.  The figures were issued as part of an end of financial year review.  Within that period we were the second best performing Local Police Area in Thames Valley with the police delivering:

6% reduction in Dwelling Burglary. 37.4% detection rate in Dwelling Burglary. 37.0% detection rate in Rape. 61.3% detection rate in Violence against the Person with Injury. 6% reduction in Violence against the Person with Injury

I congratulate the police on a compelling set of crime statistics for the area. As they themselves point out you are less likely to be a victim of crime in this area than almost anywhere else in the country. I think though that what this highlights is the difference between actual crime and the fear of crime. Actual crime is very low; fear of crime remains stubbornly high. For example, both in relation to a questionnaire I sent out in Thame and in relation to survey work done on the doorstep in Henley, concern about crime ranked highly amongst constituents.

I welcome the prioritisation of dwelling burglary and the fact that we have the highest detection rate within Thames Valley Police for dwelling burglary. However, I would wlecome further comment on the priority given to motoring offences such as speeding. As has been shown by my area meetings on traffic, speeding is a real concern.

In an area such as this, one of the generic forms of crime is rural crime. This can take many different forms from the theft of animals to the wanton destriction of livestock through 'lamping'. I know this is a priority for the police. It would be helpful to show the detail in the figures. I appreciate that this has reduced by 25% but communities still have questions on this area.

Overall, though, the figures are very welcome.


09 APR 2014

Question to DFID

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

What steps her Department is taking to reduce levels of aid dependency through the creation of jobs.[903617]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening):My Department is working hard to grow jobs and end aid dependency. Over the next two years we will more than double to £1.8 billion the amount that DFID invests in job creation and economic development.

John Howell:Will the Secretary of State set out her objectives for next week's meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation and say what her Department's work with the private sector will achieve?

Justine Greening:The meeting in Mexico is incredibly important. It will help us to take the next steps to shape responsible business practices that can, in turn, support sustainable and inclusive economic growth in countries that so badly need it.


07 APR 2014

Whitchurch Bridge

I had a productive meeting with the Whitchurch Bridge Company and its principal contractor, Balfour Beatty, on Friday April 4th. The meeting was called to examine in detail how the Bridge Company can ensure that the planned work is undertaken in time to allow the bridge to be reopend in September.

The Bridge Company explained the project in detail setting out the risks at key stages. Over the last few weeks, this had involved restarting the project to take account of new circumstances. This had meant resourcing all the main equipment including a pontoon which would take a heavy crane capable of lifting segments of the bridge. A large part of the equipment had had to come from overseas.

It is essential that the Bridge Company recognises the public interest in the bridge. It is a complex job. I understand that the project may well face risks during its life but the key thing is to communicate those risks and progress as they occur. Obviously, the Bridge Company is also seeking to mitigate those risks but people simply wish to know how things are going and to hold them to account for finishing when they say they will.

To this end, the Bridge Company has been producing a monthly newsletter which it undertook to revise to include news of progress and to allow people to see how well the project was keeping to targets.

The work on the bridge has begun again with the agreement of the Environment Agency (EA). I thank the EA for their help in this matter and hope that river levels will continue to stabilise in the hope of completing the work on time. This work involves a 7 day working programme including night working where essential to keep progress as speedy as possible.


07 APR 2014

Post offices

Following approaches from a number of constituency postmasters, I held a meeting with the area representative from the Post Office, Laura Tarling, to discuss the company's business strategy for the future. The meeting was arranged to pick up on the concerns of postmasters about 'Network Transformation' which the Post Office is implementing across the country.

Network Transformation is a programme of modernisation of the Post Office branch network which seeks to keep branches at the heart of the business in the face of changing customer demands. Existing branches in the constituency have the option of becoming 'local' branches or 'community' branches. Bigger branches such as that in Thame can become Main branches where the services are offered from a dedicated postal counter. Local branches fully integrate the Post Office with a host business, offering services from the retail position rather than a dedicated Post Office counter. Community branches are generally represented by those branches in the only shop in a village.

The local post office remains an important part of community life and I am pleased that the Post Office is working to secure the long term future of the network. However I am concerned at the implications of the change for rural post offices. I asked for the meeting so that I could get a better understanding of the programme and also to raise specific constituency cases.

Following the meeting, I will be visiting postal branches across the constituency to see for myself the changes that are being proposed and what is involved. I have already had representations from Clifton Hampden, Wheatley and Watlington branches.

The Post Office has a clear structure and I appreciate that branches need to respond to the changing market. Armed with better information I will now be looking at proposals for each of the 26 post offices in the constituency. I want to ensure that our post offices get the best deal they can.


07 APR 2014

Townlands update

The deal to approve the new £10.4 million redevelopment of Townlands Hospital has now been approved. Over the past few weeks, NHS Property Services has been negotiating with Amber Solutions, the developer, on the last remaining commercial points. The deal follows the meetings held between me and the Minister, Dan Poulter MP, and Peter Coates of the NHS.

I am delighted that the deal has finally been done which will allow Townlands Hospital to go forward. There are those in the town who have argued that the deal should simply have gone ahead at all costs. However, NHS Property Services has had to look after considerable sums of public money in this project and it is quite right that they have done so. I congratulate all those who have worked so hard to bring this development about. I am pleased that all our efforts have paid off. I said I would put pressure on NHS Property Services to conclude the deal. I have done so and the project will now go ahead.


01 APR 2014

Question on health

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to improve maternity care.[903431]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): We have made improving maternity services so that women have a named midwife responsible for ensuring personalised maternity care the key objective in our mandate to NHS England. Since May 2010 the number of full-time equivalent midwives increased by more than 1,500, and over the past two years I have set up a £35 million capital investment fund, which has already seen improvements to more than 100 maternity units.

John Howell: I welcome the increased number of midwives, but what are the Government doing to support women who suffer from postnatal depression?

Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We were talking earlier about improving parity of esteem between mental and physical health. When we came to power, only 50% of maternity units had specialist perinatal mental health support, and we will make sure, through the mandate to Health Education England, that by 2017 all maternity units have specialist perinatal mental health support. That is something that this Government will be very proud of.


31 MAR 2014

Meeting with FGW

I have arranged for First Great Western and Network Rail to meet rail commuters in Henley. The meeting gives commuters the chance to raise issues about the future of the service from Henley to London, the level of overcrowding, the state of  communications between FGW and commuters during the floods, the work undertaken during the flooding and other related issues.

The meeting will be held on 11 April at 6.30pm in the Christ Church Centre, Henley. 

I get a steady postbag of complaints about the service that First Great Western provides. It seemed the obvious thing to arrange for First Great Western to come to Henley and tell commuters what they are doing. There are a number of issues which they need to address. It will also be good to hear from Network Rail on the work they did during the flooding.


26 MAR 2014

Congratulations to Henley

I have congratulated Henley town on its entry into The Times list of 30 Best Places to Live in the Countryside. The entry appeared at number 12 yesterday, 25 March 2014. The series in The Times is designed to record the best locations in the country in which to live.

The description of the town mentions the beautiful stretch of the Thames and easy access to the Chilterns and its picturesque local villages as key features of the area as well as the presence of good local schools.

I congratulate the town on its entry into this list. We all know it is a fabulous place to live and work. But to have it recognised as such by a national newspaper is a great achievement. This is a list of the 30 best places to live in the countryside. That description is important as it recognises the role that the town plays in the large area of surrounding countryside.

The description of who lives here is a bit one sided. It mentions bankers, expats and media types. What it doesn't say is that the town is home to a vast range of people all of whom add significantly to the colour of the town.


25 MAR 2014

Question to Deputy PM

Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership on devolving powers and responsibilities to that partnership.[903235]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Greg Clark): I was in Oxfordshire on 30 January to launch the Oxford and Oxfordshire city deal, where I visited the Diamond synchrotron particle accelerator at Harwell. The city deal in Oxfordshire supports innovation through projects as well as investment in skills and transport improvements. I am delighted to see that the latest draft of the growth deal is going to reflect the comments made by my hon. Friend's distinguished predecessor, the former Member of Parliament for Henley, Lord Heseltine.

John Howell: It will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend the Minister that the Oxfordshire LEP has tried to contact me for the very first time in the last couple of days in view of my question. Notwithstanding that, will he join me in urging it to do more than simply talk and to turn a blank area on the map into something a little more active?

Greg Clark: I would say to all local enterprise partnerships that they should engage with their Members of Parliament. My view is that MPs have a pretty keen view as to what are the economic priorities of their areas and LEPs would do well to take into account what they have to say. I think it would be almost as unwise to ignore my hon. Friend's comments as it would be not to take into account the views of his neighbour, the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron).


25 MAR 2014

Budget speech

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) in his comments about the Chancellor. Instead, I congratulate the Chancellor on a first-class Budget, for the reasons given and expounded on by my right hon. and hon. Friends in earlier debates. For reasons of time, I shall not repeat them. I would like to comment on the new garden city planned for Ebbsfleet. That is not in my constituency, but it holds an attraction for all those who see a new garden city as a way of meeting expectations to provide the number of houses required by tomorrow's inhabitants.

It represents a good way of bridging the gap or squaring the circle between making planning and development local and providing for the future. As part of the Budget, as we have heard, the Chancellor set out an ambitious plan and up to £200 million of public investment for a major new development around the high-speed rail station in Ebbsfleet in Kent. That is only 19 minutes from central London, and the 15,000 new homes it will provide are to be welcomed.

The excellent transport links to London will make Ebbsfleet a very attractive commuter location, but development at Ebbsfleet will also provide tens of thousands of new jobs, many of which, it is expected, will be taken up by local residents. I make two points about this. The first is the involvement of local people. The Royal Town Planning Institute commented: "The Government's announcement of a 'new Garden City' in Ebbsfleet is a welcome, if limited initiative."

The word "limited" is misguided. It fails to recognise the new localist age we are in. This is not a case of central Government imposing a solution. It must be driven by local councils.

In this context I was pleased to see the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) comment on neighbourhood plans, and particularly the neighbourhood plan in Thame in my constituency. The most important thing about that is that in the referendum that was held on the same day as the county council elections, one in 10 people went into the polling booth and voted for the neighbourhood plan, but did not vote for their county councillor. One in 10 people did that because the neighbourhood plan is a crucial way of determining the future of their town. The Government want local people to be involved in towns such as Ebbsfleet. That is crucial as part of the consultation, to make sure that it is going to be a good place for people to live, and for us to make the necessary investment to turn derelict sites that are currently local eyesores into green places to live.

The relevant local councils usually sit on the boards of development corporations. It is vital that urban development corporations are democratically accountable. It is therefore necessary to ensure that local councils are represented, including the county council, which will be crucial in providing much of the infrastructure.

Urban development corporations are designed to be time-limited local vehicles that drive major development forward, especially when the scale of change is significant. The experience since the 1980s suggests that UDCs work best when they channel their efforts into the development of specific major sites, where extensive capacity and resources are required. The Government are determined that this UDC will learn the lessons from previous ones. Therefore, it will have a clear focus on the accelerated delivery of large, strategic sites; there will be significant local buy-in, with members of the relevant local authorities playing an important role on its board; and there will be strong transparency about costs to ensure that taxpayers' money is used effectively.

A key element of Ebbsfleet must be an emphasis on design. It is essential that it is an attractive place where people want to live. Design must play a key role because of the importance that the project will have in the minds of other people who are thinking about having a garden city. We do not just want rabbit hutches and boxes to be built. All eyes will be on this city in determining whether communities are willing to participate.

In my last few minutes, I will say a few words about the planning reforms. I encourage the Government to take a good look at the general permitted development order. The simplification of the planning system is essential, not just to support the case for development now, but for the future. It is not in anyone's interests to have a complex system, except for the socialist antecedents of the planning system. I am glad that the Government have set out their three-tier approach to general permitted development, with permitted development for small-scale changes, prior approval rights for larger changes and planning permission when the scale is even larger. The changes that we have made to residential planning are being followed through with the proposals on warehouses and light industry. Such things are already happening in some places, which is very much to be welcomed. This is a great extension of the changes.


21 MAR 2014

Flooding Summit

I attended the Flooding Summit in Oxford this morning. To listen to the presentations, you might have thought that Oxford was the only place to have flooded. As I pointed out, Sonning Eye also badly flooded and I am supporting a bid for £950,000 from the County Council to help sort out the road.

I do not begrudge Oxford the money necessary to build the Western Conveyance Channel but there are several things which must first be done. The most important of these is a full examination of the detail of the model used to justify the scheme.

The Channel ends at Sandford. It would be wholly wrong to empty Oxford of flooding in a way which simply spread it to the areas of South Oxfordshire I represent. I was pleased to hear that the model would be kept open and constantly reviewed


19 MAR 2014

Townlands update

Today, I met Minister of Health, Dr Dan Poulter, and NHS Commercial Director, Peter Coates, to discuss Townlands Hospital, Henley. The meeting recognised that considerable progress has been made in finalising the project. However, only conditional approval had yet been given for the project and there remained a number of commercial issues to be resolved.

I heard that approval had been given for Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group's financial contribution only the day before the meeting.  I also heard that agreement had been reached with the developer in principle on the outstanding commercial issues but there still remained details to flesh out. The estimate was that final approval would be granted in the next five to ten days.

This was a positive meeting with signs of real progress. There seemed to be a willingness on all sides to progress to final approval as quickly as possible. I urge the developer to play their part in bringing this to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible so that work can be started. It is in every one's interests to do so.

However, caution is required and the champagne glasses should not be filled yet. There are still a number of hurdles which need to be overcome and I am working patiently with the Department of Health and NHS Property Services to do precisely this.


19 MAR 2014

Latest unemployment news

The constituency remains the third best performing constituency in the UK as far as unemployment is concerned. The number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in February 2014 was practically identical to that in January; it altered by 1. The number was 452. This represents a rate of 0.9% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 198 lower than in February 2013 and 1 higher than in January 2014. These data are not seasonally adjusted. The number of young people unemployed and claiming JSA remained at 20 with a total of 10 each for Henley and thame.

I am glad that the constituency is still performing very well in this area. This is an area in which at the depth of the recession I have spent time helping businesses maintain the numbers they employ. I am pleased to see that the constituency has remained stable in the past month. I feel concerned for those who are still looking for a job. We must do all we can to find them  employment. However, this is a good example of how our long-term economic plan is working and how we are fighting back from the worst recession this country has faced in modern times.


17 MAR 2014

Meeting to test Whitchurch Bridge plan

I co-chaired a meeting with Alok Sharma MP on 14 February to examine when work on the bridge will be completed and the bridge re-opened to traffic. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Whitchurch Bridge Company, Balfour Beatty and the Environment Agency as well as West Berkshire Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Pangbourne Parish Council.   The purpose of the meeting was therefore to allow the Bridge Company to produce a detailed plan regarding the reopening of the Bridge.

The plan produced commits to a reopening of the bridge in September 2014. The recent weather brought a halt to the project as the Environment Agency imposed severe restrictions on the use of the river.

I look forward to holding another meeting with the Whitchurch Bridge Company to examine their plan in detail. We need to have confidence that the current plan is deliverable and that the September deadline will be met. The timeline is absolutely crucial and needs to be seen in the context of the work which is currently being proposed on the bridge in Reading by Reading City Council in the autumn and which will cause further massive disruption. We need to know that the plan is deliverable and that it will not slip.

Both Alok and I remain committed to helping the Company achieve its deadline and we look forward to further discussions on this subject.  We are looking to explore what mechanisms the Bridge Company will put in place to keep people informed of progress on the work on a regular basis.


16 MAR 2014

Welcome for conditional approval of Townlands

"NHS Property Services has given conditional approval for the Townlands scheme to proceed. This is subject to the resolution of a small number of commercial issues, which we expect to be resolved in the coming days."

NHS Property Services

I welcome the conditional approval given by NHS Property Services to the scheme for a new Townlands Hospital and associated facilities. The decision comes after a meeting of NHS Property Services which reviewed the scheme in detail. The welcome comes with caution given that the final approval of the scheme now depends on the resolution of remaining commercial details. This can be done without a call-back of the project to the meeting and is anticipated within the next few days.

The decision follows a long campaign both by the Townlands Steering Group and also by me. It has involved me in raising the decision with the Secretary of State for Health and the Ministerial team in the Department of Health as well as frequent calls to officials in NHS Property Services. This past week I spoke to the Commercial Director of the NHS, Peter Coates, and to the Director of Asset Management at NHS Property Services, Pamela Chapman, to discuss the project.

This has been a project which has shown very good co-operation between the Townlands Steering Group and me. We are delighted to have got to this stage but it is not yet finished. I am pleased that conditional approval has been given for the project but we are now looking for final approval to be given when the outstanding commercial items have been resolved. No one is expecting a long delay but to that end I have arranged to see the Minister, Dr Dan Poulter, on Wednesday to review progress and keep the pressure up.


16 MAR 2014

Stadhampton clay pigeon shoots

I have every sympathy for residents of Stadhampton concerning the noise from the clay shoots. The repeated, penetrating sound is a blight on the peace and quiet of village life. I fully support the campaign to stop this unwelcome intrusion. I am pleased that SODC is taking an active interest in this problem, something I have asked them to do.  I understand that they have, for example, been active in taking noise readings.

If however nothing is done to control the noise, STAND (Stadhampton Against Noise and Disturbance) will probably organise some form of demonstration such as a walk on Easter Sunday.  Sadly, I will not be able to be with you for this event as I need to be visiting sick in-laws.  But the village has my full support.

 


12 MAR 2014

Comment on the SHMA

There is no need for an immediate adjustment to the South Oxfordshire Local Plan as a result of the recently approved county-wide Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).  The recent publication of a SHMA showing the need for up to 93,560 – 106,560 additional homes across Oxfordshire in the period 2011-2031.

The SHMA is a contributory paper to the setting of housing targets. As the report makes clear, it does not set them but contributes to an evaluation of them. In contrast to the South Oxfordshire Local Plan, this report has been through none of the verification procedures that the Local Plan has. In South Oxfordshire's case, that local Plan was agreed with Inspectors only at the end of 2012.

Recent guidance produced by Central Government has shown clearly that in relation to the provision of a 5 year land supply of sites, assessments are not automatically outdated by these new household projections. It should not therefore be possible for developers to simply over-ride the South Oxfordshire Local Plan on these grounds given that it has an up-to-date assessment of needs.

Councils need to continue to work together to study these findings and to assess the extent to which the numbers can be accommodated in a sustainable fashion with the correct infrastructure.

Guidance reads:

The Government's official population and household projections are generally updated every two years to take account of the latest demographic trends. Wherever possible, local needs assessments should be informed by the latest available information. Local Plans should be kept up-to-date, and a meaningful change in the housing situation should be considered in this context, but this does not automatically mean that housing assessments are rendered outdated every time new projections are issued.


10 MAR 2014

Traffic meeting

A meeting was held on Friday 7th March under my chairmanship to discuss traffic issues. The meeting included representative from Chalgrove, Cuxham, Ewelme, Henley, Lewknor, Little Milton, Pyrton, Shirburn, Swyncombe, Watlington and Wheatley. Each community shared its own concerns. Each of these communities had contacted the MP about traffic issues and the aim of the meeting was to assess the potential for working together to come up with solutions.

Over several months I have been contacted by people from a range of communities on a range of traffic issues. Some of the issues raised have been very specific others more generic. I offered to bring them together to work out the extent to which we
might all be able to work together to come up with solutions. My offer was well received and there was agreement that working together could bring benefit.

The meeting agreed to set up three specific working groups to examine three problems. These were: signage, enforcement and HGVs/weight limits. It was stressed that the groups would need to work with the County Council under whose remit traffic fell.

I very much support a localist approach to the next County Council Transport Plan so that the solutions are bottom-up and people seem keen to make that contribution. This is an opportunity for communities to set out their ideas in a coherent way and where appropriate put forward just such solutions. Not everything can be done immediately but it is important to start work.

Much work has been done in some communities and there are many ideas and suggestions around. Whilst some issues are clearly location specific it was clear that several were shared across a wide area. The groups will work together over the coming weeks and reconvene in about a month to share ideas on the scope of the work and how it will be done.


03 MAR 2014

A working class Conservative

I was struck by an article in The Times on the cost of becoming an MP. The lines which resonated with me were "If there were a few more Tories of humble origin perhaps there would be a greater readiness to worry about people on average earnings." The fact is that there are lots of us in the Conservative Party from humble origins and it is why we have concentrated our efforts on ensuring that the lowest paid are looked after.

I was brought up in the suburbs of South London. My late father was for much of his time a cable jointer with the London Electricity Board before going to work at Heathrow Airport looking after disabled arrivals. We knew the hard choices that have to be made. I find now that in mid career, all I have is the result of my own efforts; I inherited nothing. I got on in life as a result of Conservative educational policies and hard work. The party I joined was one of aspiration and opportunity and I want to see those spread widely.

I appreciate it is a difficult time for many people at the moment with household budgets being stretched. Nevertheless, the evidence shows that Britain's economic plan is working thanks to all of our sacrifice and endeavour. I am reassured that where the Government can afford to do so, they will continue to help hard working families. Take for example the personal tax allowance threshold. This is being raised to £10,000 from April 2014. This will halve the income tax bill of those working full time on minimum wage, cut income tax for 25 million taxpayers and see 2.7 million of the lowest paid taken out of tax altogether. Part of our long-term economic plan is about creating jobs, cutting taxes and making work pay so that living standards rise in a sustainable way. The Low Pay Commission, which advises the Government on minimum wage rates, has recommended a 3 per cent increase in the minimum wage from this October. As the economy improves we should be able to afford faster increases in the minimum wage so in time its real value can be restored and I would welcome an increase.

There is no shame in being a working class Conservative; quite the opposite. It is a party which crosses all such boundaries and believes passionately in spreading the aspiration and opportunity which first drew me to it.


02 MAR 2014

Non-EU migration at its lowest level since 1998: the whole story

82,000 fewer people arriving annually from outside the EU

The independent migration statistics for the year ending September 2013 showed that our reforms have cut non-EU migration to its lowest level since 1998. They show that where we can do something about immigration we have done so with great effect. There are now 82,000 fewer people arriving annually from outside the EU than when this Government came to power. Nearly 70,000 fewer migrants are coming to Britain now than in 2010 when the Government took office. 532,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending September 2013 of which non-EU immigrants now account for only 46%. As Teresa May said, uncontrolled immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and can drive down wages which is why we are so against it.

More than 75% of the growth in employment due to British citizens not immigrants

Immigrants are not taking British jobs. Under this Government, more than 75% of the growth we have seen in employment has been accounted for by British citizens not by immigrants. By way of contrast, in the five years to December 2008, more than 90 per cent of the increase in employment was taken up by foreign nationals. That is how and why we are building an immigration system which works in the national interest.

Our reforms have cracked down on abuse

The student visa regime we inherited, for example, was open to widespread abuse: bogus colleges and unskilled migrants posing as students thrived in it. Our reforms have cracked down on this abuse. Since 2010, the number of student visas issued has decreased by almost a third. New powers to tackle sham marriages and the raised level of English required have seen a drop of 37% in family visas since 2010.

Rise in EU immigration tempered by tackling of abuse

But the figures also show a rise in EU migration. However, it is not the case that this is due to Romanians and Bulgarians  coming to the UK. The increase is due to rises from southern European countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal. Of course, they are looking to come to the UK. Our economy is performing well now as a result of the hard decisions we have taken while much of the EU is still performing poorly. But, while we may not be able to impose formal immigration controls on EU migrants, what we are doing is cutting out the abuse of free movement between EU member states, and, seeking to address the factors that drive European immigration to Britain.

We have introduced new measures to limit access to benefits for new jobseekers and new powers to tackle fraud and abuse. We are also ensuring that EU nationals who are removed for not exercising their treaty rights cannot return to the UK without a valid reason; they must be working, studying or be self-sufficient. Across Government, we are working to ensure that our controls on accessing benefits and services – including the NHS and social housing – are among the tightest in Europe to protect the UK from abuse. We have introduced a three-month delay before a European jobseeker can claim benefits, and a tougher six-month test to assess whether claimants have a genuine chance of finding work. The Government has also issued new statutory guidance to make sure that local authorities set a residency requirement before a person qualifies for social housing.

The Immigration Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords, will make it more difficult for people to live in the UK unlawfully, ensure that immigrants make a fair contribution to our key public services, and make it easier to remove people who have no right to be in this country.

Only the Conservatives can tackle this problem

We are building an immigration system which is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants, which is tough on those who abuse the system or flout the law, and which ensures that people come to the UK for the right reasons – to work hard and contribute to our economy and society. It is still the aim of the Government to reduce immigration below the 100,000 mark by 2015. But let us not forget the many of our fellow British citizens living elsewhere in the EU who are claiming amongst other
things unemployment benefit from the countries in which they live. This is not a one-way street. At the next election the choice will be between Conservatives who have cut net migration and continue to build a system that works; Labour which has voted against any changes we have sought to make, and, the LibDems who believe that uncontrolled migration is a good thing.


26 FEB 2014

Elected FSA

I have been elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. The Society of Antiquaries of London is charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with 'the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries'. The Society's 2,900 Fellows include many distinguished archaeologists and art and architectural historians. The Fellowship is international in its reach.

The election follows me being appointed to advise Government on the future of archaeology and local government. The study will be completed by taking evidence from a wide range of bodies during March and April 2014.

I am delighted by this singular honour and look forward to making a serious contribution to the relationship between archaeology and local government over the coming months.


26 FEB 2014

Meeting with Police

I met Anthony Stansfeld, Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley, and Sara Thornton, Chief Constable, this week at a meeting on 24 February. Amongst the things discussed was the excellent drop in rural crime. The extent of this drop amounts to 20%.

Under questioning from me, the reasons for this were attributed to a much better exchange of information and police being actively involved with the farming community. In addition, police standards had been revised for dealing with this type of crime.

I was delighted to talk to Anthony and Sara about rural crime. It is good to know that we have ready champions in tackling this serious issue and that they are working closely with the farming community. I look forward to further improvements.


26 FEB 2014

Meeting with FGW and NR

I attended a meeting with Patrick Hallgate of Network Rail and Mark Hopwood of First Great Western on 24 February. The conversation covered many of the issues surrounding the recent impact on services as a result of the flooding especially in areas such as Maidenhead. It also covered First Great Western's approach to customer service.

I heard how in the Maidenhead area the floods had meant that Network Rail had had to raise the track, install a completely new power supply and introduce an alternate train detection method. The effect of these changes will hopefully be to ensure that future flooding does not have the same impact.

I was very pleased to hear of the work that Network Rail had undertaken, some of it bringing in early changes anticipated by Crossrail. I hope this ensures that we will not have a repeat of the same impact of flooding in the future. I also look forward to First Great Western announcing its compensation package for passengers caught up in this terrible experience.


19 FEB 2014

Latest unemployment

I am delighted that the constituency still remains the third best performing in the country.

The Office of National Statistics, once again, delivered encouraging unemployment figures this morning. The new figures show that the number of people out of work, nationally, has fallen by 125,000. Employment is up 193,000. They also show that a record number of women are now in employment with more than 14 million in work for the first time. The number of women in work has increased by 539,000 since the election. Over 1 million more people are now in full-time work since the General Election.

The number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in January 2014 represents a rate of 0.9% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64. This makes it the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.) The number of claimants is 180 lower than in January 2013 and remains fairly constant with January 2014 at 451. The number of unemployed in the 18-24 age range still works out at 15 for Henley and Thame combined although Henley has seen its figures drop to 0.

I am delighted with these figures. This is yet another sign that our long-term economic plan is working. Every new job means that a family has the security of a regular pay packet. There is, of course, more to be done, but these figures are very encouraging.


13 FEB 2014

Flooding

As COBRA meets daily in Whitehall to deal with flooding across the country, I have visited the Environment Agency (EA) from where flood warnings are issued and where the situation is monitored. I was briefed on the impact of the flooding on properties and the impact of work by the Agency on the rivers that affect the constituency – principally the Thames, the Thame, the river Ray and brooks such as the Chalgrove Brook. I was keen to see firsthand that everything that could be done was being done and I appreciated the briefing I received. I will hold a follow-up meeting with the EA when the flooding crisis is over to ensure that lessons are learnt and protection is arranged for the prevention of future flooding in the constituency. In the meantime, I have written to all parish councils in order to try to pick up on those areas of flooding not attributable to major rivers in order to get a complete picture.

The Environment Agency is trying to do its best to tackle the situation and provide assistance where it can. South Oxfordshire District Council, with which I spoke, says that it has issued some 6,000 sandbags and is working with the Fire Brigade to ensure that pumps are working in the right places. Fortunately, the number of properties affected in the constituency is still relatively small.

I have been with affected constituents and have shared the suffering of those who have been affected by the flooding.  I have visited the flooded areas of Chalgrove where Chalgrove Brook burst its banks.  I also had a meeting with residents at Sonning Eye, seeing firsthand the very worst of the damage and agreeing to support a request for a call-in of the recent gravel extraction plan so that issues could be examined.

I also had a meeting with the farming community to discuss this.  The farming community took a sensible approach to the unprecedented weather we have been facing. However, they remain very concerned about the impact of the flooding on their businesses. In addition, many farmers, particularly in the north of the constituency, are concerned that the situation has been made worse by the failure of the Environment Agency to dredge rivers such as the Ray. I will want to follow up on these when the worst of the crisis is over.

The issue of cuts and their impact on the Environment Agency has been raised but is way off beam. Between 2005/6 and 2012/13 the amount  spent on flood management dramatically increased. There is a need to look at the policies being followed by the Agency and how they spend their money. But this should come after the immediate problem has been dealt with. Paul Leinster, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, has said that the most significant impacts of any cuts will be to the Environment and Business division not to flooding. 

The issue of international development funding has been raised. It is a false choice to pit helping the victims of flooding at home against helping those suffering abroad. The aid budget is used, for example, to prevent children dying of polio and even worse. We can help those facing flooded homes in Britain, and we can take action to help malnourished children dying from dirty water or polio abroad.

All those who have been affected or are worried about flooding should seek advice from the Environment Agency  http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/ or call the 24hr Floodline on 0345 988 1188 or 0845 988 1188. If you have been affected by flooding you should make contact immediately with your insurance company to seek advice.


13 FEB 2014

Welsh questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of employment trends in Wales.[902454]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): Our long-term economic plan is working, and it is working for Wales. The economy is growing, and there have never been more people in work in Wales as unemployment continues to fall. I want to see all parts of Wales share in that positive trend.

John Howell: Can the Minister confirm that, because of the difficult decisions the Government have made, Wales has seen a larger fall in the rate of economic inactivity than any other UK nation?

Stephen Crabb: My hon. Friend is, as ever, exactly right. Wales has seen a larger fall in economic inactivity than any other part of the United Kingdom. We all welcome the fact that 57,000 fewer people are economically inactive in Wales, but that has come about only because of the responsible decisions made by the Government—decisions that were opposed by the Labour party.


11 FEB 2014

Education questions

John Howell: Does my right hon. Friend agree that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in academies and free schools make better progress than their peers in local authority maintained schools?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is right. The statistics bear him out. It is important, of course, to acknowledge that across the board our schools are improving—local authority schools, academies and free schools—but it is critically important to recognise at the same time that, particularly for disadvantaged children, academies are seeing fantastic results.


09 FEB 2014

A 'third bridge'

The recent flooding has brought the subject of a third bridge across the Thames back under discussion. My colleague Rob Wilson MP held an open meeting for his constituents to feed back to him their concerns and aspirations for such a bridge. I am considering holding such a meeting although the issue was covered in the South Oxfordshire District Council Local Plan and I have written to parish councils in the area asking if they still support the view set out in the plan.

In order to bring some structure to the debate I have called a Summit meeting (with Rob Wilson) with the lead councils concerned so that we can discuss the issues involved and share our differing views. The summit will need to balance the economic needs of greater Reading with the direct impact that an additional bridge may have on traffic in South Oxfordshire. Rather than this taking place behind closed doors, we feel that this is the perfect time for an open summit to discuss the issues involved from both sides of the border. We propose to hold the summit in Westminster on the afternoon of 3 March.

In South Oxfordshire the issue has already been debated and the position taken in South Oxfordshire to date is clearly stated in the recently adopted Local:

SODC
Local Plan Reads:

Cross Thames travel

5.12
The River Thames forms much of the western and southern boundary to the district and it runs through the district from south of Abingdon to north of Goring. Over much of its length the capacity of the river crossings form a barrier to movement.

5.13
The problem is particularly severe around Reading where the local authorities in the area have been examining potential options for many years. Many residents in the south of the district live to the north of Reading and work, shop and use other services in Reading. There has been considerable pressure for a further bridge. However, the Oxfordshire authorities consider that if the capacity of the crossings is increased it will lead to unacceptable increases in traffic on the network in South Oxfordshire and affect the quality of life of residents.

5.14
We recognise that alternatives need to be explored and we will continue to work with the local authorities on both sides of the river. In the first instance we will support public transport measures which offer benefits to residents of the district whilst improving cross Thames travel.

The county council Local Transport Plan contained the following commentary on the plans for a new bridge.

Local Transport Plan 3 2011-2030 (March 2011) reads:

Reading

Reading is a large urban centre on the edge of rural South Oxfordshire. The Borough Council is planning significant development in the centre, south, south west and south east of the borough – but not in the suburb of Caversham which lies north of the Thames and borders on South Oxfordshire. The Reading 15-year Local Transport Plan is focused on improving non-car access, particularly in these growth areas, with additional funding being sought from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

There are many commuters from South Oxfordshire to the Reading area, predominantly travelling by car but with significant numbers using rail services from Didcot and intermediate stations or using bus services from Sonning Common. Oxfordshire County Council supports Reading Borough Council's efforts to improve the attractiveness of bus, walking and cycling in central Reading; coupled with the electrification of the railway to Oxford and London, better onward travel to non-central workplaces (hospital, university and business parks) will improve the alternative options to car travel for South Oxfordshire based commuters.

Oxfordshire County Council will work in partnership with Reading Borough Council to investigate the case for park and ride into Reading from South Oxfordshire and will support proposals provided that suitable locations can be identified and that they would not adversely affect conventional bus services from Oxfordshire to Reading.

It remains an aspiration of Reading and neighbouring Wokingham Borough Council to construct a new bridge across the Thames with the northern end located in South Oxfordshire at the eastern edge of Caversham. Oxfordshire County Council remains opposed to this proposal, which would generate substantial increases in traffic on unsuitable roads through rural South Oxfordshire. However with the current financial constraints it is unlikely to be deliverable within the lifetime of this Local Transport Plan.

Significant Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) flows have been identified on roads through Caversham and across the existing Thames bridges, many originating in or heading through Oxfordshire, particularly via the A4074. Oxfordshire County Council will continue to work with Reading Borough Council and others to address this issue.


05 FEB 2014

Justice questions

John Howell: As well as providing support to young offenders to turn their lives around, will the Minister say what regime is in place so that a young offenders institution becomes a deterrent for going back there?

Jeremy Wright: It is certainly important that the environment of a young offenders institution does not encourage those in it to
think it is comfortable and to want to go back. For that reason, my hon. Friend will be encouraged to hear that we are looking at changes to the incentives and earned privileges scheme in young offenders institutions, in the same way as we have considered changes in the adult estate. We want to ensure that where young people have access to privileges, they get them only when they have earned them.


28 JAN 2014

NPPF and planning

Please find my recent article on the subject of the NPPF and planning attached.

NPPF article

 


28 JAN 2014

Home Office questions

 John Howell (Henley) (Con):
What recent steps she has taken to improve the visa and immigration system. [902177]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May):

The Government are working to build an immigration system that works in the national interest. We are reforming immigration routes, tackling abuse and improving customer services. We have abolished the UK Border Agency and created three distinct commands focusing on border control, visas and immigration, and immigration enforcement. Those are the right changes, but it will take substantial work and a number of years to fix the broken system that we inherited.

John Howell:

Does the Home Secretary agree that recent visa figures showing a 7% rise in the number of applications to study in Britain show that we continue to attract the brightest and best students from around the globe?

Mrs May:

That is absolutely right. One of the key changes that we made to the immigration system was to introduce a greater degree of differentiation so that we encourage the brightest and the best. The figures that my hon. Friend quoted show that we are bringing the brightest and the best into our universities, and long may that continue. At the same time, we have rooted out abuse and continue to work to do so, particularly in the student visa system.


25 JAN 2014

Lobbying Bill update

In the votes held on Wednesday, the House of Commons agreed with the overwhelming majority of House of Lords amendments to the Bill. It disagreed only with a very small number which we have sent back to the House of Lords for further consideration.

Ministers have listened carefully to the concerns raised during an exhaustive consultation with over 50 charities and  organisations and firm steps have already been taken to reassure smaller charities. The Government made a number of  amendments to the Transparency Bill which address the concerns raised about the potential impact of the Bill and existing rules on non-party campaigning at elections. These changes have been welcomed by charities and other groups, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who said:

"Much of the risk to charities from this legislation has now been averted. We are grateful that the government has listened to the concerns charities have raised in recent months. Charities, by law, may not campaign in a party political manner...The bill now provides a much more sensible balance than it did to begin with between creating accountability and transparency in elections while still allowing for charities and others to speak up on issues of concern."

Fundamental to the amendments was the raising of the registration rates to £20,000 for England and £10,000 in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will effectively exempt most campaigning groups and charities who are either small or undertake limited political campaigning from registration and reporting requirements. Amendments were also made to relieve the reporting burdens for small charities and to institute a review after the 2015 General Election.

As has always been the case, these proposals are only for third party organisations which campaign for the electoral success of a particular political party or candidate. Limiting campaign spending during an election will help the UK avoid the situation we see in other countries, where unregulated spending by vested interests means that it might not always be the best candidate who wins an election, but the one with the richest supporters.

There were around 100 amendments from the House of Lords when the Bill came back to the Commons and as I have said only three were not accepted. These amendments failed to take into account the very principle behind the bill - that is transparency. In the case of staff costs, we rejected a Lords amendment to exempt many staff costs. A third party may undertake different activities. Its spending where it enters into political campaigning should be fully transparent. The costs need to be disclosed. With regard to controlled expenditure, the Lords amendments required that only the costs of certain election materials should count towards constituency limits. These Lords amendments also failed to take into account the need for transparency. Campaigning does not just simply revolve around leafleting and cold calls.

It is essential that members of the public know when a third party is campaigning in their constituency, and how much money is being spent.


25 JAN 2014

Unemployment

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show our long-term economic plan is working with the biggest rise in the number of people in work since records began. Each new job means another person taking home a pay packet helping them to provide for themselves and their families. There are now 1.3 million more people in work than at the election and the number of people without a job has fallen by 170,000. Each new job means another pay packet providing more stability and security for Britain's families.

The number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in December 2013 has dropped even further to 429. This  represents a rate of 0.9% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK  constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.) The number of claimants is 168 lower than in December 2012 and 10 lower than in November 2013.

The number of unemployed in the age range 18-24 in Henley was 5. The number in Thame was 10.

This is very good economic news in anyone's books. Coming straight on the heels of the excellent IMF assessment of growth in the UK which has estimated an increase in the 2014 figure to 2.4%, this shows that our long-term economic plan is working. It is particularly good news for this constituency where unemployment has fallen yet again this month.


16 JAN 2014

Business Rates

The Treasury has responded to my letter sent on behalf of Henley businesses which set out suggestions which could be made in relation to Business Rates. The Chancellor has listened to the concerns raised by Henley and many other places across the  UK and has come up with measures to address them. We are thanked for taking the trouble to make the Chancellor aware of local business concerns. The changes made by him seek to take the concerns raised by those businesses in Henley and apply them across the country. He has put them forward as part of the Autumn Statement:

* A cap on inflation increases in business rates in 2014-15;
* A continuation of the doubling of Small Business Rate Relief in 2014-15;
* Particular support for the High Street including a £1,000 business rates discount for retail premises with a rateable value of under £50,000 and a recoccupation relief to get empty shops back in use.

The Chancellor's letter points out that changes have been made. In particular, the new reoccupation relief will benefit businesses taking over retail premises which have been empty for more than one year and the relaxation of the single property criteria. This should provide support for new and growing businesses with the cost of rates.

I put forward some suggestions as to changes which might be considered for business rates. We have added our weight to voices across the country and the Chancellor has clearly heard the concerns. He has looked at these seriously and has come up with changes which have a wider effect than just Henley but do impact on Henley itself. I think these changes make good economic sense and should be of help to local businesses.


16 JAN 2014

Health questions and Townlands

Herewith my exchange of views at Health Questions. The Secretary of State has committed to encouraging the project and has confirmed that we have discussed the project and has arranged for me to meet the Minister to help speed the process along.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

One of the principal ways of promoting the health and well-being of older people in my constituency would be a rapid sign-off for the rebuild of the Townlands hospital complex. I recognise that the decision lies with NHS Property Services, but will the  Secretary of State join me in using whatever influence we have to put pressure on it to get a move on?

Mr Hunt:

I have spoken to my hon. Friend about the scheme, which sounds excellent. Obviously we want to encourage it, while working within the correct processes. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr
Poulter), has agreed to meet him to do all we can to speed it along.


09 JAN 2014

Statement on Tesco in Goring

I made the statement beliow at the Goring meeting on Wednesday night.  Sadly, I was not able to be there due to having to vote in the House of Commons at the same time.

I welcome Tesco's interest in Goring. However, Goring is a place with a strong sense of community and already boasts a healthy High Street with over 20 shops of every variety, serving the needs of the village and employing 90 local people. It is also a place with a high level of employment with only 16 people unemployed of which 5 alone fall in the age range of 18-25 years old. The proposed location of the Tesco Express, in the former Queens Arms, a quarter of a mile from the village centre, is likely to take away from existing business in the village centre. It is simply the wrong location for the proposed store. In addition, the location is far from ideal for access both for pedestrians and for larger delivery vehicles which would have considerable difficulty. The site is better suited to the provision of affordable accommodation, with Goring having to find a total of 105 new houses.


07 JAN 2014

Deputy PM questions

Heseltine Review

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on the role of decentralisation in the implementation of the Heseltine review.[901784]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Greg Clark):

The Government published its response to Lord Heseltine's report in March 2013. We accepted its proposition that more funding and powers, currently held centrally, should be available at local level. Some £2 billion a year has been taken from central Government Departments and is available for that purpose. I look forward to assessing proposals during the weeks ahead.

John Howell:

Decentralisation, as outlined by my noble predecessor's review, can help to promote private sector business. In this context, what progress is my right hon. Friend making with the Oxfordshire growth deal?

Greg Clark:

I am delighted to say that there has been very good progress. A city deal for the city of Oxford and the surrounding area is being negotiated and we hope to complete it shortly. I will meet the representatives of Oxfordshire to go further than that by devolving more power and resources to the county to further private sector growth.


07 JAN 2014

Education questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What progress he has made on encouraging the take-up of academic subjects at GCSE and A-level. [901742]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): Since this Government took office, we have seen the number of students taking EBacc subjects, core academic subjects, rise by 60%. We are also seeing record numbers of students taking maths and science at A-level, which is good news because those are the subjects that universities and  employers want to see students study.

John Howell: I want to raise with the Minister the issue of academic subjects, and languages in particular. I am glad to hear that the introduction of the EBacc has reversed the decline, but what is she doing to ensure continued success?

Elizabeth Truss: I agree with my hon. Friend's concerns. Under the previous Government, we saw a drop in compulsory languages in 2004 and a decline in the numbers of students taking languages. Over the past year, we have seen a 14% rise in the number of students taking languages at GCSE, and we expect that to feed through to A-level. From this September, we are introducing compulsory languages from the age of seven, so that all our children get the experience of learning languages and are able to build up a level of fluency that will help them in their future careers.


07 JAN 2014

Flooding

With the recent heavy rain I am aware that some people are experiencing flooding and others watching with concern in areas of high flood risk across the constituency. I am in contact with the Environment Agency and other key organisations to monitor the situation. Indeed I will be visiting the Environment Agency Area Incident Room later this week to see for myself the work they are doing to monitor flooding to give as much warning as possible to those at risk and those organisations working to alleviate problems.

These organisations are doing all that they can to respond to situations as quickly as possible. Whilst road flooding causes problems it is the flooding of properties that causes most distress. I have every sympathy for those concerned and understand not only the distress but also how long it can take to sort things out following a flood. It is therefore imperative that we all do everything we can to prevent this if at all possible.

Even if you are not directly affected please do not ignore flood warnings, they are there for a reason. You may feel able to get through a closed road but doing so can cause a wave that will flood nearby properties.

Should you have a problem the first contact details are as follows:

Sewer flooding: Contact Thames Water for any urgent sewer-related matter on their 24-hour customer service team number on 0845 9200 800.

River flooding: Contact the Environment Agency on their 24-hour Floodline 0845 9881 188.

Sandbags: If a property is in danger of flooding, contact the local council for sand bags. See links for Oxfordshire County  Council and South Oxfordshire District Council. Please note that Cherwell District Council do not provide sandbags. Anyone in their area should go first to the County Council.

Roadside gullies: If roadside gullies are blocked and water cannot enter them, contact your local council.

Further information can be found on the following websites:

Thames Water Flooding Advice

http://www.thameswater.co.uk/help-and-advice/16739.htm

Environment Agency

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/

Oxfordshire County Council

http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/flooding

SODC Flood Information and Updates

http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/services-and-advice/environment-and-neighbourhood-issues/severe-weather/flooding


07 JAN 2014

Financial Services Ombudsman

The Financial Ombudsman Service has announced how many people have contacted it during the financial year 2012/13.  People contact the Service to raise questions between consumers and financial businesses.

During the financial year, 930 people living in Henley contacted the Service's helpline – an increase of 58% on the previous financial year. This led to them taking on 554 complaints which required investigation from people living in Henley, up from 327 in 2011/12.

The largest part of the increase relates to complaints about mis-sold PPI where the total has jumped from 158 to 355. I understand the concern this has raised and applaud people for taking it up. I also understand that currently the Service is upholding around 58% of complaints from Henley in favour of the consumer. This has meant that they found that the business had not treated the consumer fairly, so the business was asked to pay some form of compensation.

The Financial Ombudsman Service was set up by Government. It is generally now accepted that payment protection insurance (PPI) was mis-sold on a large scale. The total paid out for mis-sold PPI since January 2011 exceeds £8 billion.

The number of referrals to the Service from the constituency was lower than in surrounding constituencies. In the Maidenhead constituency, the number was 1,018 while in Reading East and West the numbers were 1,009 and 1,391 respectively.


22 DEC 2013

Food banks

I am fully aware that times have been hard, which is a result of the treacherous economic situation the UK found itself in at the general election. Rather than try to blame the welfare reforms which are transforming the culture of dependency in the UK or relying on gimmicks, we have taken real action to cut the cost of living for families, freezing council tax, cutting tax for 25 million hardworking people and taking 2.7 million out of income tax altogether. We have also set out our plans to help working parents struggling with the costs of childcare, with new tax-free childcare vouchers for working families giving 20 per cent off the first £6,000 of a family's childcare costs for each child and also increased childcare support for those low income working families on Universal Credit. Alongside this, we have stopped the previous administration's fuel and petrol price increases saving families £300 and protected universal benefits for pensioners, including winter fuel payments. The Government's measures to fix the welfare system will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making three million households better off by around £174 a month.

We welcome the contributions food banks make to this, beyond the support provided by the state. Of course it is still highly undesirable that anybody should be in a position where they feel the need to visit a food bank in the first place. The welfare system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed to help reduce the struggle to meet their basic needs. Trussell Trust food banks provide three days' nutritionally-balanced emergency food and support to people in crisis. Over 90 per cent of the food given out by Trussell Trust food banks is donated by the public. Every food bank recipient is referred by a frontline professional. However, the Trust states that less than 5 per cent of its food bank clients are homeless.

The use of food banks went up tenfold during the previous administration in more benign economic times due to a variety of factors including global food prices. In addition, since taking office the Government has removed all restrictions on advertising for Food Banks, so for the first time Jobcentre Plus is able to refer people to their services.

It is not just the UK either. Germany, which has a much higher level of welfare payment than the UK, has 6 million food bank users compared to 60,000 in the UK. In Australia, roughly one out of forty three of the population use a food bank per month, compared to one in one thousand, one hundred and one of the population here. Canada has seen a 23 per cent rise in food bank usage since 2008. Roughly 700,000 people utilise food banks a month in Canada.

The motion last week before the House of Commons was not an innocent one seeking to have more investigation of the causes of Food Banks. It was a motion that was Red in every sinew. It called on Government to freeze energy prices, to introduce a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty. These are all gimmicks which would have no affect at all on the use of food banks.

It was quite right that the motion was voted down.  You cannot escape the party politics of putting the motion forward.  It showed that nothing had been learnt from the economic crisis into which the economy had been plunged. I don't like the climate of blame which pervades politics but in this case it is right to allocate that blame squarely to Labour first for the mess they got the country into and second that they have voted against every measure we have introduced to sort that mess out.

There is only one way to fix the problem and that is to carry on with the reforms we have introduced. Reducing the deficit is the most urgent task facing the Government and is the priority of the Coalition Government. That is why we have taken the tough decisions needed to reduce the deficit, heal our economy and keep interest rates low. Our plan is working. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showed growth of 0.8 per cent for the third quarter of 2013. I am pleased by the news that Britain is currently growing faster than any other major advanced economy, faster than Germany and faster than America. This shows that despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making good progress.


18 DEC 2013

Latest unemployment

The number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in November 2013 was 439.

This is another impressive drop in unemployment. It means that unemployment has almost halved since about the time of the general election. The figures make this the third best performing constituency in the country and I am very proud that we are in this position. It is a distinct improvement on the figures for last month which were themselves very good and I welcome them. This is simply very good news and supports the efforts of businesses to take on people and of people finding work.

This represents a rate of 0.9% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK  constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 161 lower than in November 2012 and 35 lower than in October 2013. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

The number of unemployed claimants in Henley town amounted to 68 people. Of these 10 are in the 18-24 year old range. The number of unemployed claimants in Thame amounted to 55 people of which 5 fell within the 18-24 year old range.


11 DEC 2013

Grandma Remember Me

I have welcomed the Cornish Az2B Theatre Company to Parliament where they performed the play 'Grandma Remember Me'.

The play tells the story of the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother who develops Alzheimer's disease, and how she learns about the effects and how to cope with seeing a loved one affected by dementia. The play was written to help young children understand the condition and come to terms with how this may affect their elderly relatives but has also been used by the NHS to train medical students.

Grandma Remember Me has already received wide cross-party support with letters of commendation from David Cameron and the Care Minster Norman Lamb. The play was well attended with MPs, Peers and representatives of the Alzheimer's Society watching the performance and participating in a Q&A session afterwards.

I am absolutely delighted to join this fantastic production here in the House of Commons. It is vital that we raise awareness of dementia and its effects in schools and the health service through this interesting, entertaining and very moving play.

I am particularly pleased that MPs and Peers have had the opportunity to share this experience, and to see firsthand this innovative way in which a difficult condition can be better understood by people of all ages.

With the UK hosting the first G8 summit on dementia this week, we have an opportunity to raise the importance of early diagnosis and remove the stigma from this condition. That is why I felt it was so important to join the performance of Grandma Remember Me here in Westminster.


05 DEC 2013

Small Business Saturday exchange at Business Questions

John Howell:

I will support small business Saturday by literally putting small businesses in my constituency on the map on my website. What will the Secretary of State do to improve access to finance and mentoring to ensure that Oxfordshire businesses continue to thrive?

Vince Cable:

I think we all agree that small business Saturday is a positive, cross-party initiative, and hon. Members on both sides of the House will be out there backing it. I praise the originality of my hon. Friend's approach.

On small business funding—I am sure this issue will be raised many times—I have drawn attention to the StartUp loans scheme that is helping large numbers of start-ups to get going, and the business bank is supporting both new and original forms of
funding, as well as a rapid expansion of guarantees for existing companies.


04 DEC 2013

Winners Lloyds Community Fund

I have congratulated three winners of the Lloyds Community Fund. These are:

Henley Youth Centre £3000;
Nomad Youth & Community Project £300

both based in Henley, and,

Path Hill Outdoors Ltd £300

based in Goring Heath.

Earlier this year those at Lloyds Banking Group nominated over 4,600 local good causes and worked together to create the shortlist of over 1,500 organisations in nearly 400 'communities'.

I congratulate these winners.  They had been selected for the shortlist and subjected to a public vote. 2,750,000 votes were cast nationally and in our area these organisations won. I am sure there will be local celebrations taking place but I wanted to make my congratulations early.


04 DEC 2013

Lobbying Bill

At the meeting on Saturday in Henley with constituents there were a number of points made about the Transparency of  Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. In essence these were: the effect of the Bill on lobbying; the effects of the Bill on charities; the level of civil servants involved; the number of Government amendments made; the registration limits and the Bill's interaction with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA 2000). I am grateful to those who attended the meeting. It was a useful forum in which to hear views. I undertook to pass a note of the meeting to Andrew Lansley, which I have done.

In my letter to the Henley Standard I set out the three objectives of the Bill. The Bill seeks to introduce a statutory register of consultant lobbyists and establishes a Registrar to enforce the registration requirements; regulates more closely election campaign spending by those not standing for election or registered as political parties; and, strengthens the legal requirements placed on trade unions in relation to their obligation to keep their list of members up to date.

The Bill does not seek to register all lobbyists. To do so would create a large scale bureaucracy. Rather, the Bill approaches the issue from the perspective of transparency and the need to ensure it exists in relation to those involved in the industry. A visit to a Minister from x plc is recognisable as a visit from that company. A visit from a consultant lobbyist is not so recognised and needs to be disclosed. I undertook to raise the question of the level of civil servants which should be included and I have done so.

Second, under the Bill, there is no cap on what charities and other campaigning organisations can spend on engaging with, commenting on or influencing public policy where it is consistent with their existing role under charity law and it does not seek to promote or procure the electoral success of a Party or candidate. At the meeting on Saturday, a question was asked about a charity that wished to campaign for a VAT change. My understanding is that such campaigning, if consistent with the charitable purpose of the organisation, would be perfectly proper expenditure. However, should the line be crossed so that campaigning on the issue became campaigning for a particular Party or candidate, the expenditure would become controlled expenditure.

The Bill was amended during its passage through the House of Commons to clarify a number of issues raised by charities. In the first place, Government amendments changed the definition of controlled expenditure in accordance with what is set out in PPERA 2000. This means that the expenditure must be that "which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a Party or candidate." This test operated at the 2005 and 2010 General Elections and did not  see charities or other campaign groups prevented from engaging with, commenting on or influencing public policy.

The extension in the range of activities which count as controlled expenditure takes forward a recommendation from the Electoral Commission to align the range of activities for third parties with that of political parties. The amendments brought forward to Schedule 3 provide further clarity to this. On the issue of staff costs, third parties already have to account for staff costs in their calculations of controlled expenditure under existing legislation, a situation which has proved workable. The changes to the Bill ensure that campaigners' activities will not be linked in a remote way to the success of Parties or candidates.

On the question of the registration limits, we must await the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords. But as I said previously, put simply, the Bill means that those who want to influence the outcome of a General Election will need to be transparent in doing so. A local anti-wind farm group or an alliance of shopkeepers campaigning for a cut in their rates would still be able to campaign provided that they did not cross the line to a situation where they campaigned for a particular candidate or Party.

I understand that these changes to the Bill may not satisfy everyone. The Government listened extensively to the concerns of third parties, including charities, and has moved to make amendments to the face of the Bill. I still feel the meeting on Saturday was premature; the Bill still has to undertake a substantial part of its journey through the Lords. It was also a little too late to affect the outcome in its initial passage through the Commons. I understand the mood of the meeting and the reiteration of concerns. However, I will want to see what is to be brought forward by the House of Lords. I do believe that the attack on the Bill is mistaken. Indeed, as I have set out, the Government has already brought forward a number of amendments to make sure that this is indeed the case.

Finally, let me thank all those who attended and took the time to come along.

Letter to Andrew Lansley 


27 NOV 2013

Townlands meeting

I met James Wakeham and Riana Relihan on 20 November to discuss Townlands. James is the regional director for NHS Property Services. Riana retains her role as project manager.

There were two issues for discussion. In the first place, there was the issue of communication with local stakeholders. James said that this was an area that they were now focusing on and which would improve. Interim Area Manager Harold Caldwell would therefore attend the Townlands Steering Group meeting on Friday (which he duly did).

The second issue was the status of Townlands itself. He confirmed that they were trying to tidy up all remaining commercial issues to achieve Commercial Completion by Christmas. They could not give guarantees that the process would be completed before Christmas, but this was the aim. This would then allow them to take papers to the NHS Property Services Board. They continued to negotiate with the prime bidder.

I gave an undertaking to 'hold their feet' to the fire to see completion of the commercial matters as soon as possible and I will do so.


26 NOV 2013

Rural Crime

Rural Crime is an issue that is often raised with me especially by farmers who can see their livelihood destroyed by it. It is also a concern to many parish councils. The term 'rural crime' tends to refer to crime relating to farm land and the countryside rather than domestic crime in rural communities. The most common rural crime is theft of farm machinery which can be a very expensive loss to farmers both in the replacement cost and in time lost. A particularly sickening rural crime is that of hare coursing and poaching where animals are maimed and abandoned for sport. Metal theft is another crime in this category which can affect whole communities when cabling is stolen. Recent legalisation to tighten up on scrap metal dealing will help with this particular crime.

In response to concerns over rural Crime Thames Valley Police has given it a high priority. The attached report is one which I recently received from the Chief Constable with current action.

Rural Crime 


26 NOV 2013

MP supports first Small Business Saturday in the UK

Small and Micro businesses are a key part of the economy of South Oxfordshire and important to our communities. Small Business Saturday on 7th December is a grassroots campaign which is supported across the political spectrum. I am taking the opportunity to help promote local business.

In support of Small Business Saturday I have offered to put the first 200 that contact me 'on the map' on my website. A special map page awaits the first businesses that contact me and give me their details.

I welcome this initiative. Small businesses are very important in this constituency. Some are visible on our High Streets and there are many more operating from rural locations. We are fortunate to have so many interesting and varied businesses serving our community. We rely on small business every day but on this one day it is an opportunity to raise their profile.

Doing business with small business often means doing business locally – bringing life to the high streets and town centres and making them centres of the local community. Beyond that, when we support local businesses we are helping not just the local economy but the environment and local employment too.

I regularly visit different businesses to find out more about them and meet with groups of business owners to learn about any concerns and see what I can do to support them. I welcome such opportunities and would be delighted to hear from others.

There are also special events around the constituency. In Henley and Thame there are special seasonal promotional activities late afternoon and into the evening on Friday 6th December and in Watlington there is a special event on Saturday 7th December from 10am-2pm. The District Council is again offering free Christmas parking days in the run up to Christmas.


19 NOV 2013

Meeting re the Lobbying Bill

 

 

I am pleased to say that my suggestion of a Roundtable Discussion has been accepted by 38 Degrees and this will take place on Saturday 30th November at the Christ Church Centre, Reading Road, Henley, RG9 1AG starting at 9.30am. As mentioned in my previous post I have been told by constituents who also happen to be 38 degree members that they wish to have a chance to engage with me and hear my views about the Bill. I believe that this discussion will afford us that opportunity. I will be chairing the meeting personally and look forward to the discussion.

I am trying to negotiate with 38 Degrees the format of a meeting to discuss the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. This is scheduled for 30th November at 9.30 am. I am told by constituents who also happen to be 38 Degrees members that there is a wish to have a chance to engage with me and hear my views about the Bill, and that they would appreciate hearing what I think.

I am very happy to meet constituents and to discuss the issue with them. However, the sort of public meeting being proposed by 38 Degrees seems to be both inappropriate and counter-productive to achieving this aim. They are proposing a large public meeting with a third party chairman and additional speakers.

I do not believe such a meeting would be at all conducive to the discussion constituents have indicated that they wish to have with me. Provisionally, therefore, I have booked an alternative meeting room where we can have a sensible discussion on the Bill.

I hope that 38 Degrees will see sense and that we will be able to have a single meeting. However, if it comes to it and you would like to attend a meeting with me please e mail me on howelljm@parliament.uk


19 NOV 2013

The Lobbying Bill

Let me address the concerns raised about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Put simply, the Bill means that those who want to influence the outcome of a General Election will need to be transparent in doing so.

The Bill seeks to do three things. First, it seeks to introduce a statutory register of consultant lobbyists and establishes a Registrar to enforce the registration requirements. Secondly, it regulates more closely election campaign spending by those not standing for election or registered as political parties. Spending by those standing for election and political parties is already regulated. Lastly, it strengthens the legal requirements placed on trade unions in relation to their obligation to keep their list of members up to date.

Charities will continue to be able to campaign on the issues that affect them right up to an election. What they will not be able to do is cross the line where this translates into a call to vote for a particular candidate or Party without registering and having to declare the amounts that are spent.

Charity law prohibits charities from participating in party politics. This Bill does not change that. Charities will still be able to support specific policies which may be advocated by political parties. It does not seek to regulate charities that simply engage with the policy of a political party. It does not prevent charities having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party. It does not stop charities attempting to influence the policy of a Party. The Bill only captures expenditure that is carried out in a way that it could be seen to also promote the election of a political party or candidate. This is the same as under current legislation and it remains unchanged by this Bill.

Charities make an important contribution to the life of the country and their influence is to be welcomed. However, it was a trade union, UNISON, that was the largest spending third party at the 2010 General Election as well as the biggest such spender in the 2005 General Election. If third party events or literature are specifically supporting a particular candidate, it is only right that their expenditure counts towards the political party that they are supporting. We want to ensure that third party expenditure is controlled in the same way as political parties and that there is a level playing field.


13 NOV 2013

Latest unemployment

Today, the Office for National Statistics released the latest employment figures. The number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in October 2013 was 474. This represents a rate of 1.0% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 647th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 184 lower than in October 2012 and 45 lower than in September 2013. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

The number of unemployed in Henley was 69. The number of unemployed in Thame was 53.

The new figures show that nationally 1.1 million more people are in work than at the last election. They also show a significant rise in the number of young people in work – up 50,000 over the last three months.

I am delighted that the number of people unemployed in the constituency has fallen below 500 and with the latest national uemployment figures and think they are exceedingly encouraging. It is great news that unemployment, locally, has fallen to 474 in my constituency, 45 lower than in September 2013. There is still more to do. However, these figures show that we are making good progress.


07 NOV 2013

Europe

The Conservative Party is the only major party that supports giving the British people a say on the important issue of the UK's membership of the EU. The country needs a well-informed, wide-ranging debate on the UK's membership of the EU. The Government's review of the EU's competences will help facilitate this debate.

The EU that will emerge from the Eurozone crisis may look very different from the EU before that crisis. It is important that people get to vote on the Europe of the future, not the past. A referendum would show Brussels that the UK is serious about renegotiating its relationship with the EU. It would in the long term lead to better policy.

The Bill is worded in a clear, straightforward way. The EU has created too much cost, too much bureaucracy, too much meddling in issues that belong to nation states or individuals. The Government wants to see a fresh settlement for which it seeks fresh consent.


05 NOV 2013

The provision by Parliament for a flat

In a little over 5 years since I became an MP, Parliament has made provision for a flat for my use in London along with other MPs. This note sets out the costs of that flat for the last year for which expenditure is available.

In order to undertake my job properly, Parliament makes provision for a flat for me in London close to the Houses of  Parliament.  Being an MP requires you to work in two locations and the hours require you to be in Parliament unsociably.  The rules for the renting of flats are set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

When we set up IPSA in the wake of the expenses debacle, we did so in the expectation that we were setting a once and for all framework for those items which could be claimed by MPs. There was no expectation that what we were doing was setting a framework that was relative and depended on short-term, political sensitivities surrounding an issue.

We did not sign up to a notion that expenses were only allowable provided that a newspaper did not choose to make a political issue of their importance. We settled for a framework which allowed all of us to know where we were and to plan our lives on a proper basis.

I do not claim any expenses, quite rightly, for my principal home in the constituency. Like everyone else I budget to ensure that I can meet these costs. On the flat for which Parliament made provision I claim the relevant costs.  The costs in 2012/13 involved include:

Rent capped at £1,450 per month

Council Tax £513.39

Electricity £477.78

Water £585.87

Television Licence £145.50

The total allowance for this is capped at £20,100 per annum (2013/14). If staying in a hotel, the costs of all of these elements would be included in the room charge.

The flat is used wholly for the carrying out of my functions within Parliament. It is not a home. My home is in the constituency where my wife and family are.


05 NOV 2013

The Green Belt

I understand that it has been said at a recent parish council meeting that I do not support the continuation of the Green Belt at Grenoble Road.  This is contrary to my established view.  I very much appreciate the role the Green Belt plays in keeping the City within its limits and not merging it with the surrounding villages.  I have always been a supporter of the Green Belt and remain so today. 


31 OCT 2013

The Henley Triathlon

After almost three years of discussion and much work and good will from a number of communities the decision to move the Henley Triathlon is to be regretted. This was an event we all wanted to back. I am sorry that all of the effort constituents have put in has ended up i