17 OCT 2018

My PMQ

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  Will the Prime Minister join me in acknowledging the tremendous amount of hard work being done by the Thame remembrance project in my constituency? Three hundred people have travelled 150,000 miles to commemorate all of the 212 who lost their lives in various conflicts.

The Prime Minister

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending all those who have undertaken those journeys to ensure that that remembrance continues. It is important that we are able to recognise the contributions that people have made in conflict.


17 OCT 2018

Intervention in debate on University of London

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In my role as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, we are trying to sell educational establishments in such countries. It is very difficult to sell the University of London, because people do not see it as a university; they see the colleges as having university status. Does the hon. Lady think that this will make my life easier?

Ms Buck

I believe that nothing is more important than to make the hon. Gentleman's life easier, so I am pleased to broadly confirm—I hope—exactly what he is saying. There is a fundamental lack of clarity internationally. Many people in this country understand the importance of the University of London's member institutes, which have fantastic reputations. However, particularly in the global marketplace for education, there is, as he describes, a lack of clarity about the overarching University of London structure and the institutes that are, in some cases, called colleges and schools. I went to the London School of Economics and some people will not understand the difference between that and a university, so the hon. Gentleman is completely right, as I will confirm even further as I work through my remarks.


17 OCT 2018

Question in clinical waste Urgent Question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the Minister confirm that, after the NHS trusts had terminated their contracts with HES, a new contract was given almost immediately?

Stephen Barclay

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the key issues was to have alternative provision in place as quickly as possible so that we were not in the situation of waste being stored on site beyond the absolute minimum. It is a tribute to officials in the Department and in the NHS, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and elsewhere, that a quite complex set of legal arrangements has been mobilised in such a short period to ensure that services are maintained.


16 OCT 2018

My interventions in eating disorders debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have a personal interest in this subject. A close member of my family suffered from bulimia. What we found most important was the support provided by the family network. That, above anything else that could be provided, was what carried the family member through to a positive conclusion.

Wera Hobhouse

Anybody who has had a close family member in such a situation will understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but families are often pretty helpless too, if they do not really understand what can be done and how they can help their family member to get out of the problem. It is a form of addiction, and like with any other addiction, family members are co-sufferers. They want to help but do not really understand the deep-seated problems. Family members are important, but we need the professionals and their understanding to help families get through together. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that families are incredibly important.

Eating disorders define large periods of people's lives. How can we shorten that time? We need people to be okay with saying, "I'm not okay." We need to tackle the stigma around eating disorders, and the message needs to get through to a lot of people. More than 1 million people in the UK have an eating disorder; three quarters are women and one quarter are men. That is a very large number, plus there are the friends and family who suffer with them. So many people with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia blame themselves. It is not their fault and we need to make sure that they know that.

___________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about social media, but perhaps he needs to go one stage further, to look at the role of the advertising industry and the images that it puts forward, which encourage young people to achieve a fantasy position for themselves and their body image.

Matt Warman

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and, in fact, that was the point that I was coming on to make next. Clearly, not only do some sites encourage profoundly self-harming behaviour, but the advertising industry puts forward exactly that pervasive image to which he referred. We should look to regulators and Government for action to tackle that in a sensible way that promotes a genuinely healthy lifestyle without promoting unhealthy or unreasonable expectations, but we should not pretend that it is anything other than very difficult. Tackling such issues should not bleed over into not being positive about people who struggle with their weight, who would often like to see a more positive image of people who are larger. None of us wants to see an advertising regulator that ends up prescribing an ideal weight, although we need to prescribe a greater sense of health.


16 OCT 2018

Protection for racehorses

N.B. This industry contributes £3.5 billion to the economy and £275 million in tax

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that a number of organisations in the racing industry cover these areas. He also mentioned the BHA and the imperfections that it has had. I am not opposed to an independent body, but could not the BHA be changed and improved to take on the responsibilities of one?

Mike Hill

I take the hon. Gentleman's point and will come to it later. I have heard the voice of the BHA and it has tried to effect change.

According to the petitioners, nearly 200 horses are killed on racecourses each year. Others are taken away injured and die later, but do not appear in any industry figures. Horses are whipped as normal practice. Rule-breaking abuse with the whip runs to more than 500 offences a year, committed by 260 jockeys or more. That alone is a damning indictment of the BHA's failings, and there are other issues, which I will come to. A point of progress noted by the BHA at our meeting was the fact that it now counts horses that have died off the racetrack.

The BHA has lacked urgency and has failed to take pragmatic steps when horses have been killed. If racing has a bad name in the media, that has been brought on by a failure to acknowledge and act. Let me read just a few headlines that expose the deficiencies: "'Record' number of thoroughbreds being slaughtered for meat", "Jockey banned after...punching horse", "Three horses die within 30 minutes at Hexham races leading to calls for an inquiry", "Worcester Racecourse is among worst venues for horse safety", and "Plumpton described as 'death trap'...six horses died in just nine days of racing". Of course, there was also the recent Cheltenham incident. Such headlines are written because of the public interest in animal welfare, which is ever growing—a point that the petition's signatories have made clear.


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on crash of Tu154M at Smolensk

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for European Conservatives Group) – The report sets out a clear description of the crash of the Tupolev Tu-154M at Smolensk, which killed the Polish President and numerous others in April 2010. First, I pay tribute to my colleague Robert Neill who did so much on this issue while he was a member of this Assembly. This is a murky business, and it continues to be murky because of the Russian authorities' attitude to returning the plane to Poland. I completely back the calls in this report to return the remains of the airplane to Poland and for Poles and Russians to co-operate fully on the future report that must be produced. I also agree with the other recommendations set out in the report. I recognise that both sides may believe that current law cases are still operable in relation to the crash. However, when l have discussed the crash, it is clear that the main reason the Russians have for not giving the wreckage back to Poland is that doing so may well fuel Polish conspiracy theories. That is such an inadequate response to a serious and tragic incident that it beggars belief. I cannot believe that the Russian authorities are using a spurious fear of suspicion to not do the right thing.

Failing to take action and continuing to retain the plane only creates more spurious conspiracy theories, but it is not the only anomaly in the Russian legal system. I recall an incident where a young American employee was murdered in Moscow, but the Russians wanted to allege that it was a heart attack. They therefore released the body to the grieving parents for burial minus the heart and surrounding muscles. That incident and this incident show the real attitude of the Russian legal system.

The continued lack of co-operation between the Russian authorities and the Council of Europe is set out in the report. I find it shameful that the Russians should use the difficulties they have with the Council as a pretence for not bringing this issue to a full and successful conclusion. The report mentions how things have moved on since the time of the crash, including in terms of the Katyn massacre. Those on the plane were going to visit a commemoration of that massacre. The truth of that massacre has now been admitted. It is a great shame that the Russians cannot seal that rapprochement with the Poles through a spirit of greater openness, which is what I thought Glasnost was all about, rather than having these suspicions about motives.


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on plea bargaining

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – When I first looked at this report, I was of the opinion that it would be of interest only to lawyers, but the more I read it the more convinced I became that it had a much wider application. It looks at the practice of plea bargaining or deal making. Although Europe is divided between jurisdictions based on the common law, such as the UK, and those based on civil law, there are some common rules, which can be set out, that apply to plea bargaining under both systems. I am grateful to the rapporteur for doing precisely that and setting them out in the report. There are of course distinct advantages to plea bargaining: it reduces waiting times, shortens pre-trial detention, cuts costs and prevents victims from having to relive their ordeals in a public environment – I would like to stress that last point. As the example of rape trials shows, however, these benefits need to be tempered. In rape trials, it is good that a victim need not relive the rape. It might have been a particularly distressing rape, and reliving it would be not only counterproductive but – much more than that – damaging. It is also good for the courts not to have to go through the effort of establishing consent, with the accused agreeing to a guilty plea on a lesser charge such as sexual assault. Establishing whether there was consent in a rape trial is a particularly difficult thing to do in court. However, that needs to be set against the fact that, although some sort of sentence may be secured, it may not be an appropriate sentence, and we may well find that a potential rapist is released back into the community at an earlier date than expected.

In the case of fraud, it is clear that plea bargaining is used and acknowledged in the UK, but that needs to be seen in the context of a Serious Fraud Office that is the subject of serious questions. The report makes a number of suggestions for changes, including mandatory access to lawyers and more judicial involvement.

Those two recommendations are by far the most important ones in this report, even for jurisdictions such as the UK that are, if one might describe them as such, old and established. The law is changing fast, so it is not only the countries of central and eastern Europe that this report should concentrate on. There is a considerable amount that more mature legal systems should also have to take into account.


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on reunifying refugee families

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I congratulate the rapporteurs, who have produced some powerful reports, with a tremendous amount of detail, for which I give them full credit. In the last debate, my colleague Lord Foulkes said that there was probably more that united us than there ever was that separated us, despite our political backgrounds. This is one area where we can hold that to be true. I agree with the ALDE spokesman, Mr Bildarratz, that the reports have heart. When we consider the details, the issue is deeply upsetting and goes right to your heart. I have seen the effects of family reunification in my own constituency, and it does not need the media to heighten feelings, either positively or negatively. These are stories that carry themselves.

I want to congratulate one organisation above all others for its work: the International Committee of the Red Cross. The painstaking work that it does in many difficult regimes and countries is to be applauded. It does detailed work on tracing and finding children so that they can be reunited with their families. That is so important and I do not know what we would do without the Red Cross providing that service. It is a wonderful organisation.

We have a system of uniting refugee children with their families in the UK. It refers to the traditional categories of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, but also to two other categories of people – those who have lived together before refugee status was created, and people in same-sex relationships. That is vastly important.

The trafficking of child refugees has already been mentioned. We are all aware of the problems in the Mediterranean with smugglers but, in my view, we have not seen anything yet from Africa. I am the UK Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria. The situation there really frightens me. If we do not get the economic conditions right, there will be a mass of refugees coming up to the Libyan border. Their first port of call may be Italy, but it will not be the last. We need to get this sorted out and acted on in the best possible way.

I would like to discuss the integration of women. I am conscious that 1 200 women were sexually assaulted over the Christmas period 2016-17 in Germany by 2 000 men. We need to take action to make sure that that does not happen again.


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on decentralisation

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I thank the rapporteur for this excellent report and for highlighting the importance of decentralisation, to which I am committed.There is always a tension between the needs of central government to control and those of local government to have powers devolved to it. A number of speakers have mentioned that. Decentralisation is essential, particularly for a country with a developed system of local government. It is essential to make the best use of local government by devolving powers to a point where central government maintains only the overall powers to change overarching policy.

Of course, funding is crucial. In a devolved situation, local government cannot expect to have its hands in the pockets of central government to the same extent. Ways need to be found to establish genuine independence and genuine control over local government's own source of money and to give it the powers to genuinely raise that money and control it. There will, of course, always be a link to central government to some extent, in so much as local government carries out a list of the functions of central government.

At the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development meeting in Lisbon at which we discussed this report, I raised the question of how town planning could be tackled. I was surprised at the reaction it got and at the general agreement that town planning is an area for effective decentralisation. How can the process be made more effective? The answer lies in giving local government, or the people who are engaged in the process, the power and competence to tackle the issue professionally.

The UK has a system of double devolution. Responsibility for town planning is passed down to individual communities and shared with local government. Of course, there is still tension with central government on the big projects. One of the problems is that when things do not go the way of the communities, rather than engage with the process they seek to raise the issue of what they see as a higher authority, namely my colleagues and me, and they refuse to accept that we do not sit at the top of a great tree of responsibility that tells local government beneath us what it should and should not do.

All of those points are practical examples of how decentralisation can be made to work and the difficulties it will also have to face. The report does us all a great service. It brings out how we need to bring decision making closer to the people. I for one have seen that in action and genuinely believe that it is the right way forward.


14 OCT 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on nuclear safety

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I start by declaring an interest: I am a great supporter of nuclear energy. In the last few weeks, we have heard from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that climate change may be heading for a global temperature increase of 3%, instead of the 1.5% that we were heading for previously. It is possible to accept that figure without also embracing the IPCC's bias against nuclear energy. I agree with the UK Government, who set out in their national policy statement that nuclear power has an important role to play alongside other low carbon technologies, and that it plays an important role in diversifying and decarbonising our sources of electricity. Declining nuclear capacity raises serious concerns about our ability to mitigate the effects of climate change. This report looks specifically at two nuclear reactors: one in Belarus and one in Turkey. It tries to take these as examples to make bigger points, but I fear that it gets lost in arguments over the geographical contexts for both of these reactors and of the individual ways in which they are being implemented. Moreover, in preparing this report, a way should have been found of partnering with the IAEA, perhaps by changing the report's emphasis. I am conscious that the IAEA has already pointed out the need for skilled people to help in decommissioning and commissioning. It has also pointed to the need for a strong safety record.

On this point, I would have liked the report to have included more on cyber-security and the threats of a cyber-attack that could be carried out on a nuclear plant, and it could have commented on where those cyber-attacks are likely to come from. On security, it is worth noting that the level of radiation exposure from Fukushima in Japan was the same as the global average background level.

It is the role of government to set an approach on nuclear power. In the UK, the government produces national planning statements, which are the subject of consultation, and there is also a role for local people during the planning hearings, before the planning inspectorate. It is not true to say, then, that individuals are not included in the consultation.

Overall, I think that the report is a missed opportunity – a missed opportunity to partner with the IAEA, to add a genuinely European dimension to nuclear power, to cover cyber-security, to develop a system for maintaining nuclear energy safely and to ensure that the Council of Europe plays an important role in this in the future.


14 OCT 2018

Question at Council of Ministers to Chairman of Committee of Ministers

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – In your discussions about the future of the Council of Europe, what discussions have you had about the number of parliamentary representatives that should be represented here in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

Ms PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ –On the first question, the Committee of Ministers has not discussed that issue, so I cannot answer that. At the moment, we are addressing the issue from a different angle, which is the budgetary difficulties. It is all linked, but they are different facets of the issue.


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on Palestinian minors

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Let me start by giving some background. In 2011, in the face of riots, more than 3 000 arrests were made and more than 1 000 people were issued with criminal charges. Around half were under 21, and 26% were between 10 and 17. Some 21% were arrested for bottle or stone throwing, and 158 male youths aged 16 or under were given custodial sentences. That is not a description of Israel; it is a description of the United Kingdom. It is a shame that the balance applied to other parts of the world is not applied to Israel. There is one aspect of the report with which I agree, which is paragraph 41, which states that the report has been described as "one-sided" and ignores the fact that "Palestinian children have been indoctrinated or instrumentalised as fighters for the Palestinian cause". I agree that the report is one-sided and ignores an aspect of what is going on in half the region. You cannot do that. You cannot take one half of a situation and not the other. Just as we take a strong line in many other countries where children are used as soldiers, we should see that as reprehensible in the Palestinian territories. You cannot see a young person as an innocent when they are throwing stones or holding a Kalashnikov. There have already been substantial changes to the system, principally as a result of a number of reports undertaken by those who are friends of Israel. Those changes have already been mentioned by my colleague Robert Goodwill, but they include the reduction in numbers of detainees, separate juvenile courts and the use of Arabic in conducting trials.

To say that a child does not affect his human rights, no matter what, is a false distinction. It does not admit that the majority are young people and that the role they play is to take away other people's human right to life. By concentrating on one aspect of the situation in the Middle East, the report gives only the mildest condemnation of the Palestinians for their actions – using young people as human shields, training young people to attack the Gaza/Israel fence in the full knowledge of the consequences, or getting young people to pull the trigger or detonate the bomb. The key to this is a two-State solution, and better education – not the fake education that the Palestinians generate in their own territory. We should encourage the Palestinians to educate young people properly, in the ways not of hatred but of peace. That would be the quickest and best way to end all forms of detention.

We cannot rely on the United Nations, as the report does. Since the end of the Second World War, it has made almost as many condemnations of Israel as it has of the rest of the world put together. That cannot be right and falls into the hands of the anti-Semites whom, in Europe, we should deplore all too much.


14 OCT 2018

Question at the Council of Europe to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – At the beginning of 2018, there were a number of protests in Tunisia that were seen as economic in origin. To what extent were they really inspired by terrorist groups? How have you gone about persuading people of the need to make underlying changes to their and your benefit?

Mr JHINAOUI* – As I am sure you know, since 2011 and in particular since the 2014 elections, some concrete headway has been made in the democratic transition process. Unfortunately, the economy has not followed to the same degree. There have been protests in 2018. The young people going out on the streets were perfectly entitled to do so. They have aspirations for democracy, and they wanted to claim their entitlement and right to employment. We want to continue with our efforts to meet their aspirations. When they rose up in 2011, it was to demand greater dignity. Now they are demonstrating, but unfortunately the economy is not yet in a position to match their expectations, particularly in regard to employment and social integration. The government's objective is to do everything within its power to revitalise the economy to match those expectations.


13 OCT 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on funding of Islam

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – This report covers a difficult area. It wants to steer clear of creating or furthering Islamophobia. But equally, it wants to take a hard line on radicalisation and extremism, which is the biggest challenge we face.

The aim of the report is to remove suspicion of Islam by making sure that one faith in particular operates in a fundamentally open and transparent way. All religions should operate in an open and transparent way and should operate on an equal footing, whether they are funded by the State, by donations or by foreign sources. The question we have to ask is the extent to which this can be policed by the State and how organisations that really want to, will not avoid the systems that have been set up. But another question we have to ask is the extent to which religions of any type are the primary conduit for radicalisation now, and the extent to which they will be in future. We have seen the extensive use of social media to take forward a number of different agendas. And this route is likely to play an even more important role in the future.

I believe that few Muslims are looking for a radical message. We have a Muslim as the Home Secretary in the United Kingdom. It is also increasingly wrong to see the Muslim community as a single bloc. If one looks for example at the Ahmadiyya Muslims, they are a peaceful community who wish to play their role in the societies in which they have settled and they have worked with me in my own constituency to stimulate debate. We need to tackle the security situation wherever it arises. But I think we need to avoid raising the temperature of Islamophobia.


13 OCT 2018

Working with SOHA tenants

I held a meeting with some of Soha Housing's (Soha) social housing tenants as part of the campaign launched in Westminster entitled 'Benefit to Society.' The campaign looks at how we can overcome the stigma attached to social housing.

In an open discussion with me, tenants shared their concerns, experiences and ideas. The issues raised included how Soha can help contribute to removing stigma, how the sector can be better regulated, and how tenants can better represent themselves in the community.

I said: "I am very grateful for tenants providing me with their ideas. It was interesting to learn how the use of language can play an important part and the enormous efforts that have to be made to overcome the current bias in television programmes. For example, the media often insinuate that social housing tenants are unemployed and claiming benefits, 100% of those who attended were either retired or employed."

The meeting also discussed how individual estates could be improved so that within a few years they become places people want to live rather than places people try to avoid. A good example of this is the Gainsborough Estate in Henley, which the tenants said they would now view as a desirable place to live, whereas previously they would have tried to avoid living there.

Sadie Quinton, one of the residents who attended the meeting, said "It was a positive meeting. I was unsure how it would go but found the MP, John Howell, to be an affable man, who listened to everyone in the room. Language is a very important part of not stigmatising those who live in social housing, many of us hold jobs and careers we are proud of. I can only hope that the media turn a corner and, with whoever is in power and representing all people, show the positive sides of communities, diversity and understanding. Hope for the future, that there will be more social housing that is affordable to those who need it."

The Meeting wanted to see the District Council ensure that there is a good supply of social housing as well as affordable housing, recognising that 1 in 5 English homes are owned by housing associations.

I and tenants agreed how they would work together in the future to help address these issues.


15 SEP 2018

Holocaust Memorial Trust

I listened to Helen Aronson, who survived the Holocaust as a teenager at the launch event in Parliament for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019. Holocaust Memorial Day, held on 27 January each year, remembers the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, and the millions of people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp....

Survivor of the ŁódŸ ghetto in Poland, Helen Aronson said:

'It is vital that we do everything in our power to ensure that these things never happen again, anywhere in the world.
'Children must be allowed to grow up safe and secure and not be wrenched from their homes, like I was.

'That's why it is so important that you, as members of parliament are here today and that we make a commitment to mark Holocaust Memorial Day every January.'

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) supports HMD activities across the UK and chooses a theme each year. The theme for 2019 is Torn from home.

I said:

'The experiences of survivors such as Helen remind us about the importance of marking Holocaust Memorial Day – a day when we remember the millions of people who were affected by the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

'I want to encourage people in the Henley constituency to mark HMD on 27 January 2019.'

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

'As the world becomes more fractured and divided, we need to come together to learn from genocide – for a better future.

'We can all mark HMD, and the resources HMDT provides enables individuals and organisations to organise their own HMD activity.'


13 SEP 2018

Intervention in debate on Colombia

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. The tragedy of Colombia is that half of the 7 million or so refugees have been forced to go and live in slums in cities, which has just increased the problem, both for the Colombian Government and for the

Chris Bryant

Indeed. We were in La Primavera, a small town in one of the more remote districts in the north-east of Colombia, and it was striking that a lot of the campesino population, who 10 or 15 years ago would have had a few hectares per family on which to grow crops and have their livelihood, had suddenly found themselves begging on the streets in La Primavera. Of course, the urban townsfolk and the local authorities get quite racist about this, frankly—that was the impression we got. People being forced into poverty when they had a richness in the way they lived previously is one of the most distressing elements of what we are talking about.


12 SEP 2018

Fracking

I attended the debate on shale gas and planning this morning however, as it was so well attended by MPs, regretfully I was unnot called to speak. I feel that there needs to be more discussion on this issue and, therefore, I have requested a further debate so that all concerns can be heard.

With regards to fracking, I am not wholly convinced that England has the geology for shale gas extraction unlike the USA and much of continental Europe. Therefore, I believe, further debate is needed.


12 SEP 2018

Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway

The Government has announced the preferred corridor for the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway based on a recommendation from Highways England. The preferred route is known as Route B. The route is aligned with the East-West Rail route.

This route avoids a direct route across to Ayelsbury and it also avoids Otmoor and its important nature reserve. While at present, the details of the route around Oxford are also unspecified, we still need to campaign to protect the Green Belt to the south of Oxford and also to acknowledge the concerns of villages to the north such as Weston on the Green.

I said:

"I congratulate all those who have campaigned on this issue to support the nature reserve at Otmoor. We need to continue the campaign to ensure that the Oxford Green Belt is not sacrificed. We also need to listen to the issues of individual villages such as Weston on the Green to understand community issues. I welcome the commitment to public consultation and I hope that that consultation will now be comprehensive and not try to ignore local opinions."

I have filled the gap left by official consultations by organising an opportunity for 23 parish councils to meet and discuss the project with the champion for the project, Iain Stewart MP.

I continued:

"We need to ensure that this constituency and the broader area remains connected to the wider road network. I welcome the inclusion of the A420 in a broader connectivity study. We also now need to make sure that the route includes provision for road traffic in the area including mechanisms for protecting villages near which the route passes."

The big issue of the route around Oxford remains to be discussed. The Henley MP has long campaigned for the route to pass to the west of Oxford. He doubted that the route would make any substantial use of the M40 as the intention is for the route to follow the line of the rail link to Milton Keynes in a northerly direction.

I have been lobbying intensively on this project. I have had three meetings with the Secretary of State for Transport during these discussions. I have written to him on two occasions and have also raised the issue with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Expressway Action Group co-ordinator Peter Rutt said

"We are very pleased that Corridor A was rejected by the Government's experts: it would have caused massive damage to Green Belt and flood plain lands across the county. We are also very glad that there is going to be proper public consultation next year before any final decision on a route round Oxford, and we are most grateful for the wholehearted support of our MPs in EAG's campaign.

"The inclusion of the A420 link to Swindon in the further study also offers the chance to reduce pressures on the A34, and we welcome that. EAG will continue to work closely with our MPs and with Highways England to encourage the project's use of existing roads to minimise costs, environmental damage and risks to rare wildlife habitat."


12 SEP 2018

Speech on the Yemen

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who brought forward this important debate. He will recall, as will the House, that over the past year I have asked various Ministers a lot of questions about Yemen. One of the themes that I have brought out is how we can ensure that our aid workers are kept safe in what is effectively a proxy war, though he does not like the term, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and I will stick to that theme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) said a lot about humanitarian aid; let me set out what it is achieving. A number of people have mentioned the £400 million that has been made available since 2015. In the 2018-19 financial year, I think we have added an additional £170 million—the Minister is nodding—which is a great achievement.

A number of people have mentioned the incidence of cholera, but that says nothing about what we have done on it. We have funded and provided a tremendous amount of vaccine, and have provided a whole lot of things that keep people safe, such as chlorinated water. We have helped to restore medical facilities in the country, too. I think that we are all agreed that it is unacceptable that millions of vulnerable Yemenis are at risk because aid is being blocked. We should all do whatever we can to help get it through, but we should not in any way diminish the amount of humanitarian aid that is being provided.

The influence of Iran has been only partly mentioned. The Iranian regime is an active sponsor of international terror groups. It operates a complex network of weapons smuggling in defiance of not one but four UN Security Council resolutions. The question we have to ask is: what pressure can we bring to bear on Iran to stop funding the Houthis? That is a question I have asked in previous question sessions in this House.

A good starting point would have been the nuclear arms deal, which we conducted with Iran. Unfortunately, however, it is completely silent on this important point. It is one of the great lacunae in that agreement, because it provides no mechanism to stop released funds from reaching the Houthis. It provides no mechanism for us to put pressure on Iran to stop funding the Houthis. If we just think about it, just a fraction of the £100 billion that was there as part of the sanctions that have now been released, would triple or more the amount of funds that are reaching the Houthis.

If we want to look at that in more detail, we need to look at the Government's position on Iran. I am very pleased that the Prime Minister said in 2017 that her aim is to

"reduce Iran's malign influence in the Middle East".

That is an accurate description of Iran's influence. She went on to say:

"we must also work together to push back against Iran's aggressive regional actions, whether in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or in the Gulf itself."

That is an important list of areas where Iran is trying to establish its own arc and explains why there is such antagonism from the Saudis to taking that and not fighting back.​

Can we work with the Saudis and are we having success with them? I would say that on this particular issue our continuing closeness with the Saudis is having an effect on what we can say to them and on what we can get them to do. The failure to look at it in that way goes to the heart of one the things that was mentioned at the beginning of the debate, which is missing the wider context of this terrible fight in Yemen. Missing the wider context ignores one of the main players and makes it appear as if this is nothing more than a Saudi attack on Yemen, without any possible additional influence.

Graham P. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful speech about aid, and the importance of peace and supporting the Yemeni people. He raises a point about them wanting to take back control of their country. The 25,000 Yemeni people backed by the Government on the outskirts of Hodeidah do not want war. They want peace and a return to civic democracy with human rights, as opposed to oppression by the Houthi militia who have no right to be in Hodeidah.

John Howell

I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman. My thoughts, and the principles of my actions, are with the people of Yemen: those who are not Houthi rebels and do not side with the Saudi regime, but who want to carry on having normal lives and go about their normal business as best they can. If we do not stress these points, we begin to lose balance in this discussion and I do not think that that is helpful. It is not helpful to the Yemenis and it is certainly not helpful to us. For example, there was a BBC report on the situation in Yemen—I do not know if hon. Members saw it—that was the usual three or four minutes long. Not once did it mention Iran as the financial backers of the Houthis. It was presented entirely as a Houthi versus Saudi Arabia conflict.

We have heard a lot about resolving the problem. The Houthis were either misinformed or simply did not take seriously the need to be in Geneva to participate in the talks. I agree that that is probably not a disaster, but it is illustrative of the difficulties we have to overcome to ensure that we can achieve a real taking forward of the peace initiative. I agree with those who have made this point before: the battle is going to be won not on the military field, but by negotiation.


11 SEP 2018

Intervention in debate on travellers and gypsies

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a good point, and he has partly illustrated that a public health issue is at stake. That public health issue is a major problem for young people growing up on illegal Traveller sites.

Andrew Selous

I am pleased my hon. Friend mentions that, because it is a good example of how we are failing Travellers with this ridiculous system. I have come across water tanks containing green slime, heating systems that do not work and hot water systems coming up through the toilet. It is just unbelievable. I have seen raw sewage going into ditches from caravans in which children are living. We are not a developing country; we are the fifth richest economy in the world. It is an absolute disgrace that we allow this to happen in our country, and we have allowed it to happen for so many years.


11 SEP 2018

Question in Statement on Victims

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

We have found that most victims want to play a strong role in parole. How will the Minister make victims' statements more comprehensive for that purpose and give them a role in the parole system?

Edward Argar

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question. He has raised that issue previously, particularly in his work as a member of the Justice Committee. He will be encouraged to hear that there are a number of references to the operation of the Parole Board in the strategy, and we will see later this year the Government's response to the consultation about the operation of the Parole Board. On his specific point, the strategy sets out how the Parole Board will move towards a presumption that victims can, if they wish, read out a victim personal statement in that process.


09 SEP 2018

MPs wear it pink for charity fundraiser. John Howell MP poses in pink at Houses of Parliament to support Breast Cancer NowÂ’s flagship fundraiser wear it pink

I added a splash of pink to my usual attire to support Breast Cancer Now's wear it pink fundraiser, which will take place on Friday 19 October to raise money for vital breast cancer research.

I was joined by over 200 other parliamentarians in Westminster, all encouraging people across the UK to take part on wear it pink day and raise money for Breast Cancer Now.

I am calling for constituents in the Henley constituency to join me, as well as thousands of others across the UK to sign up and take part in wear it pink which takes place during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to date has raised over £31 million towards Breast Cancer Now's important work.

Anyone can take part in wear it pink, whether at work, school or in your community. All you need to do is wear something pink, or hold a pink themed event, and donate to Breast Cancer Now. With every penny raised, fundraisers across the UK will be helping the charity achieve its aim that, if we all act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live, and live well.

I said:

"Breast cancer is still the most common form of cancer in the UK. Each year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. That's why I'm so passionate about encouraging everyone in the constituency to take part in wear it pink day on Friday 19 October.

"Wear it pink is great way to come together with friends and family to have fun whilst raising money for Breast Cancer Now's vital research. As you can see from my photograph, all it takes is an additional splash of pink to your normal outfit!

"Breast cancer affects so many people in this constituency, so I hope that everybody here will get involved this October and support this very important cause."

Joining the politicians at Westminster was Donna Fraser, four-time Olympian for Great Britain and Breast Cancer Now Ambassador. Donna, 45, retired from participating in professional athletics after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009, aged just 36.

Donna Fraser, who is now Equality, Diversity and Engagement Lead at UK Athletics, said:

'"I'm delighted to be supporting wear it pink this year – it is a fun and fabulous fundraising event which brings families, friends and work colleagues together to help fund research into this devastating disease.

"Breast cancer awareness and raising funds for research is hugely important to me - there are too many women being diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly too many women still lose their lives each year. This cause is very close to my heart, and as someone who has personally been through breast cancer, I know the just how important it is to raise money for research, to help reach a day where nobody dies from breast cancer. For me, that day can't come soon enough."

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

"We are really grateful for the enthusiasm and support shown by the MPs at Westminster. Everyone looked fabulous in their pink accessories and showed just how easy it is to add a touch of pink to your everyday outfit. We hope that by wearing pink, John will encourage his constituents to get involved and fundraise in their homes, schools or workplaces, and help us to continue to fund world-class research into this devastating disease.

"Wear it pink is a fantastic opportunity for communities across the UK to come together, have fun and show their support to this very important cause. By simply wearing something pink and donating what you can, you are helping raise much-needed funds to stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love. Together we can take one step forward to help reach our goal that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live, and live well."

To take part in wear it pink this October, please visit wearitpink.org/2018MP for further details, fundraising ideas and how to register for your free fundraising pack.


07 SEP 2018

Henley MP backs campaign to 'Make Blood Cancer Visible'

I have backed a campaign to raise awareness of blood cancer and put it at the forefront of the Government's cancer plans.

I attended an event organised by the blood cancer research charity Bloodwise at Westminster Hall today (Tuesday 4 September). I heard about the issues that face people with blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma and spoke to patients about their experiences.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Blood cancers are the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK and the third biggest cause of cancer death in the UK. Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with a blood cancer or related blood disorder each year in the UK.

I said:

"Despite being a common cancer killer, awareness of blood cancers among the general public and policy makers is low. It was really insightful to hear from people directly affected by blood cancers and to understand more about how care can be improved."

Gemma Peters, CEO of Bloodwise said:

'We are delighted that John Howell is supporting our campaign to raise awareness of blood cancer. As 1 in 19 are affected by blood cancer it is vital that blood cancer is central to the Government's cancer plans going forward.'

For more information on blood cancers visit www.bloodwise.org.uk


06 SEP 2018

Question in Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we have a debate on the new data showing that service sector activity reached a three-month high in May?

Andrea Leadsom

We should all celebrate the excellent economic news that we have had recently, in particular the rise in employment and reduction in unemployment, and the growth in our economy and certainly in our services sector. My hon. Friend will be aware that there will be many opportunities to discuss our economy during the Budget debate later this year, but he might like to seek an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate to discuss service sector productivity.


05 SEP 2018

Comments in debate on Civil Liabilities Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Secretary of State is moving very quickly to the nub of this Bill; this is about preventing overcompensation, not increasing undercompensation. Does he agree?

Mr Gauke

Very much so. It remains our objective to ensure that people are properly compensated—that they get the right level of compensation. The current process systematically overcompensates, and it is right that we ​address that because that compensation could be spent on frontline services. I am sure that that is what we would all want to do.


04 SEP 2018

Question in Urgent Question about HMP Birmingham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

How will the Minister ensure that the new governor has both the powers and the support to carry out the reform of the prison?

Rory Stewart

Again, this is a good challenge. It comes down to reasserting, in every way, both here in the House and through the management chain, that the governor is in charge, that we will give them the resources to get behind them and that we will support them in what they are doing. It is absolutely right to say that only with a properly empowered governor are we going to achieve that change.


04 SEP 2018

Interventions in debate on children's citizenship fees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman may have seen that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced that he has asked for a review. Does the hon. Gentleman have an idea of what might come of that?

Stuart C. McDonald

I hope good things come of the review, but I suspect that the Minister will be in a better position to provide us with answers.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

At the Council of Europe, we produced a strategy for the rights of children. It made the point that the system that had been developed for judicial hearings and activity in relation to adults was simply being imported to deal with children, and that that was fundamentally wrong. We are not the only country to do that—the whole of Europe was largely doing that. Does the Minister share that view?

Caroline Nokes

I will turn to the rights of children in comments that I will make in response to other Members, so I will come to my hon. Friend's point very shortly.


30 AUG 2018

John Howell MP wlecomes Big Lottery Funding

I have welcomed the funding from Big Lottery Fund for the following projects in the constituency. I said:

"I congratulate all these projects for their successful winning of Big Lottery funding. They provide a valuable service for the community and without them we would be a lot poorer off. I look forward to visiting them over the coming months."

The projects are:

Riverside Counselling Service (Henley) - £10,000

Funding will be used to train volunteer counsellors. This will increase the organisation's capacity enabling it to reach more clients at an earlier stage. This will reduce waiting lists, and improve the mental wellbeing of people using the service.

Willowbrook Farm Charity (Hampton Gay) - £9,999

The project aims to engage participants in positive activities and reduce isolation by carrying out improvements to their organic, Halal community farm.

Towards Recovery (Henley) - £9,850

The project will run an evening and weekend recovery support and assistance service for people with addictions, as well as offer volunteering opportunities to service users. The project aims to help those involved to initiate and sustain their recovery as well as integrate into the wider community.

Nomad Detached Youth and Community Project (Henley) - £9,500

The project will run two fun days, a beach trip and weekly detached youth work at the local skate park with disadvantaged young people and families. The aim is to minimise anti-social behaviour, break down barriers and provide support in a non-threatening environment.


30 AUG 2018

John Howell MP: record low number of children in workless households means more security for families in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed new figures showing that there are 47,330 fewer children in workless households in the South East since 2010. The number of children living in households with no one working is at a record low, meaning fewer children are living in families without the security of work. Since last year, 29,000 fewer children across the United Kingdom are living in workless households.

Overall across Britain the number of workless households is down 964,000 since 2010, with the proportion of workless households now at its lowest level since records began in 1996. The fall over the last year was 11,000.

I said:

"It's excellent to see the number of children in workless households falling – with 47,330 fewer across the South-East since 2010. This means more children in families with the 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 work to build a stronger economy, is working.

"We are working hard to build a stronger and fairer economy - delivering a brighter, more secure future for families in the Henley constituency – but there is more to do. That is why we are investing in a modern Industrial Strategy to build a country that works for everyone. "

Notes

Headline national figures

  • The number of workless households has fallen 11,000 over the last year, and 964,000 since 2010. The number of workless households - households where no one of working-age is in work - has fallen to 3.0 million in April-June 2018 compared to 4.0 million in April-June 2010 (ONS, Working and Workless Households, 29 August 2018, link).
  • The number of children in a workless household is at a record low. Since 2010 there are 637,000 fewer children living in a workless household. (ONS, Working and Workless Households, 29 August 2018, link).
  • There are now 32.4 million people in work – with employment up 3.3 million since 2010 (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 14 August 2018, link).
  • Unemployment is at a 43-year low at 1.36 million, down by 1.15 million since 2010. (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 14 August 2018, link).
  • Youth unemployment is down by 447,000 since 2010. (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 14 August 2018, link). There were 40 claimants in the Henley constituency aged 18-24 in May 2018
  • The growth in wages is higher than inflation by 0.4 per cent (ONS, Labour Market Statistics, 14 August 2018, link).


22 AUG 2018

£9 billion broadband boost for local businesses

I have welcomed research showing that superfast broadband has boosted the turnover of businesses across the UK by £9 billion. This boost to the UK economy has created 49,000 jobs, showing the clear benefits that superfast broadband provides.

Nationwide superfast broadband coverage has now reached 95.39% due to the Government's focus on hard to reach areas and, in the south-east, over 97% of homes and businesses can now access superfast services.

Work is on-going to extend coverage, with more than 1 million extra UK homes and businesses estimated to gain access to superfast speeds over the next few years, taking superfast coverage to 98% of the nation.

The Government has introduced a Universal Service Obligation meaning everyone will have access to fast and affordable broadband by 2020.

And it is going even further, having set out plans to deliver nationwide full fibre connectivity by 2033 as part of the modern Industrial Strategy.

Commenting, I said that this shows that extending superfast broadband is making a real difference to individuals and businesses, boosting turnovers and reducing unemployment. I have been very pleased to help celebrate new broadband connections at Maidensgrove, Cuxham and at Stonor. These are all hard-to-reach areas where what is now an essential utility has become real for households and businesses. This is good news as we move into an increasingly digital economy, and it's great news for individuals.

We know there is more to do, so are continuing to work with broadband providers to reach areas not yet covered and expect 1 million more homes and businesses to gain access in the next few years.

Notes for information

  • On 20 August 2018 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport published an independent assessment of the impact the rollout of superfast broadband had between 2012 and 2016. The full report is available here.
  • The report identified a £9 billion surge in turnover for businesses benefitting from the faster connections now available (DCMS, Press Release, 20 August 2018, link).
  • And a reduction of almost 9,000 individuals claiming jobseekers allowance, as well as a reduction in long term claimants by 2,500 in programme areas, accompanied by the creation of 49,000 local jobs (DCMS, Press Release, 20 August 2018, link).
  • We have delivered our manifesto commitment to provide superfast broadband to more than 19 out of 20 UK homes and businesses making it is easier to work and play, with 95.39 per cent of homes now having access to superfast services (DCMS, Press Release, 29 January 2018, link; DCMS, Press Release, 20 August 2018, link).
  • It is estimated that more than 1 million extra UK homes and businesses will gain access to superfast speeds, taking superfast coverage to 98 per cent of the nation over the next few years (DCMS, Press Release, 20 August 2018, link).
  • We are introducing a Universal Service Obligation that will mean everyone in the UK has access to fast and affordable broadband by 2020, and has recently set out plans to deliver nationwide gigabit capable (1000Mbps) connectivity by 2033 as part of our modern Industrial Strategy (DCMS, Press Release, 20 August 2018, link).

 


08 AUG 2018

Potential end in sight for Townlands Hospital parking fiasco

Since the end of last year, constituents in Henley and the surrounding villages have contacted me about the situation at Townlands Memorial Hospital regarding parking. The current system, run by Smart Parking, has led to the imposition of many unfair Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) of £100 on those attending the hospital together with a lack of ability to contact Smart Parking.

I said:

"This has been a continuing issue since the end of 2017 and I raised the issue in debate in the House of Commons on 4 July and referred it to the Minister for Health the same day. The situation at Townlands Memorial Hospital was completely unacceptable. The parking scheme was complex for many patients and those attending the hospital to use. The imposition of PCNs was outrageous and unfair given that it was impossible to contact Smart Parking to discuss the situation. Many people found themselves threatened with court action when it subsequently turned out that Smart Parking itself seems not to have followed the law and applied for planning permission for cameras etc at the site."

In his reply on 7 August, the Minister points out that NHS Property Services who owns the site had itself intervened at the MP's request to reverse many of the PCNs that had been incorrectly issued and had had meetings with Smart Parking to arrange changes that improve the situation for patients.

In particular, the Minister confirmed that:

  • There were now weekly calls between NHS Property Services and Smart Parking to track, review and rescind PCNs;
  • That the hospital now maintained a log of complaints and appeals;
  • That where a patient had been issued with a PCN because their details had not been entered in the terminal and that they were attending for treatment or an appointment, the PCN will be rescinded.

The Minister continued:

"NHS property Services recognises that the overall performance of Smart Parking at the sites has not been satisfactory..... At Aldershot Centre for Health, the contract between NHS Property Services and Smart Parking has been terminated.... NHS Property Services is therefore currently at an advanced stage of tendering for a single provider to manage its car parks going forward.... This service will be paid for through a management fee which will be recharged to tenants net of any income generated from these sites."

He anticipated that a new contractor would be appointed by September and that the Townlands Memorial Hospital site will be transferred to the new single provider in due course. There will key performance indicators for the new provider focussed around the needs of the visitor.

I added:

"This is good news and I am glad that the lobbying by patients and others including me and the Henley Standard is having results. I look forward to some tight performance indicators being imposed and the site being run in a way which respects the needs of the patient. I have already arranged a meeting with the Chief Operating Officer of NHS Property Services to make sure these points are fully taken on board."

Action by the MP

We have been working on this issue since before Christmas. Key highlights of the actions I have taken are as follows:

August 2018 Meeting with Chief Operating Officer NHS Property Services

July 2018 Referred to the Minister

July 2018 Raised the issue in debate in the House of Commons

March 2018 First raised with NHS Property Services to agree treatment of PCNs. Discussion continuing.

February 2018 First raised with British Parking Association

January 2018 First raised with Smart Parking

January 2018 Liaison with Henley surgeries


25 JUL 2018

Intervention in family hubs debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My experience of children's centres is that they were not targeted, and the services they provided were completely wasted. How will my hon. Friend ensure that the hubs are targeted at the people who really need them, rather than at middle-class mothers who want to sit there or who take their children because they have other things to do?

Fiona Bruce

One of the ways—I shall elaborate on this—is to ensure that the centres are grassroots-built, that they engage with the local community and that they involve not just the statutory services but voluntary community groups. Each family hub will therefore be different and tailored to the needs of the local community, much more than Sure Start services were.​

Anne Longfield says that

"in expanding the range of support we offer to vulnerable children and their families, we can support many more children in a more efficient and effective way. This is about an approach that works with children and their families, to develop resilience, confidence and independence".


24 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on OBR

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

One recent OBR report is about probably the biggest challenge that we as a country face—our ageing population and the associated social and healthcare risks. I found that report very useful. Does my hon. Friend think that such activity is a good use of the OBR?

Luke Graham

I do. That kind of objective analysis from the OBR could help to inform and shape some of our public debate. It could certainly make sure that policy debates in the House are informed by substantive, objective figures that would hopefully have cross-party support.


24 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on Mamba

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the development of a new test for detecting Mamba would be of enormous value in the fight against this drug?

Ben Bradley

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There do not seem to be medical interventions into Mamba in the same way as there are with other drugs. Absolutely, being able to diagnose the cause of this zombified state would be very important and could help the police and local health services.


23 JUL 2018

Question on Neighbourhood Planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Two recent planning appeals were won in my constituency on the grounds that planning permission should not be given

"where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan".

Will the Minister ensure that this is the rule for the future?

Kit Malthouse

Like my hon. Friend, I bear the scars of just such a number of decisions. In particular, there was a decision in my constituency—in Oakley, in my patch—where the planning inspector allowed a development seven days prior to the referendum on a neighbourhood plan. I am determined, however long I am given in this job, to make sure that neighbourhood plans are landed extremely well and are adopted by as much of the country as possible, and that local people know they can rely on them to make sure that planning is done with them and not to them.


19 JUL 2018

Intervention on Oxfordshire roads

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Oxfordshire County Council has been given close to £20 million to solve this problem. Why does my hon. Friend think we are seeing no great improvement, despite the advent of "dragon patchers"? When the council has that money, why does it not try to fix the problem?

Robert Courts

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and the Government have certainly been giving more money to local authorities, which are responsible for repairing the roads—I am sure the Minister will refer to that. I have provided some details of the scale of the problem, which perhaps has a great deal to do with it. We have a very rural area, and it is very adversely affected by weather.


19 JUL 2018

Speech about domestic abuse

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this important debate. I also pay my respects to organisations such as Women's Aid, which have raised many of the issues that have been discussed—specifically, judicial attitudes.

I know some of the difficulties with judicial attitudes because I did an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship in the law courts, during which I spent almost three weeks sitting with judges. If she has the time, I urge the hon. Lady to undertake such a fellowship in the specific courts of interest to her, so that she can participate in how they work and see how they could change to achieve some of the aims that she holds so dear.

The one aspect of this issue that I raise above all others comes from my membership of the Council of Europe: the Istanbul convention. It is very important to the debate. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Lady nodding, so she knows of it. I mention it because it sets minimum standards for how domestic abuse and violence towards women and girls are treated in the member countries. Its primary aim is to protect victims. That is a very important point to bear in mind.

The convention ensures that domestic violence and rape crisis shelters are set up and that helplines and counselling are available for victims. Although the UK has signed the Istanbul convention, it has not yet fully ratified it because we still need a legal means of bringing elements of it into our legislation. Given that we are one of the countries that helped to produce the Istanbul convention, I hope that we move quickly to ratify it. If I may, I will read a brief quote from it:

"there can be no real equality between women and men if women experience gender-based violence on a large-scale and state agencies and institutions turn a blind eye."

That is an important point to bear in mind. I hope the Minister will take the Istanbul convention into account in her response, because it provides the necessary framework for people to be able to tackle the issue.

My second approach relates to my role as a member of the Justice Committee. That may not seem immediately relevant, but the Justice Committee is a statutory consultee of the Sentencing Council. We recently looked at draft sentencing guidelines on domestic abuse. The previous guidelines were, I am afraid, last produced in 2006 and are completely out of date, particularly with society's attitudes to domestic abuse and the standards that we ​ want to see. The starting point is the definition of domestic abuse. If I may quote again, the guidelines state that it is:

"any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass"—

this is the important point—

"but is not limited to: psychological...physical...sexual...financial ...emotional"

issues. That range of different abuses shows that there is a great attitude among the judiciary: to change and try to incorporate a much broader spectrum of activities.

In our response to the Sentencing Council, we said that such offences need to be seen as particularly serious and not ranked on a par with other offences; they need to be sorted out as really important offences. Overall, we said that they needed to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. One of the paragraphs in the report stated:

"We recognise that recorded offences related to domestic abuse are largely, but not exclusively, perpetrated by men and boys against women and girls."

We understood

"the various contexts in which domestic abuse may occur and the forms that it may take...Accordingly, we recommend that comprehensive training on domestic abuse and intimidatory offences should be provided to magistrates and the judiciary to coincide with the launch of the guideline."

I was pleased to see that the judiciary has moved some way towards doing that and has begun the training required. The need for training has been recognised.

Wera Hobhouse

I heard the most heart-breaking story a year ago from a Bath constituent about a CAFCASS worker. She felt that the social worker allocated to help her through the process was absolutely not sympathetic and seemed not to have had any of that training. Should the training not also include the social workers allocated to help women through the process? Should not women have the right to pick the social worker to work with them?

John Howell

I agree with the hon. Lady that the training can incorporate a large number of people, but we are dealing here with the courts and what we want to happen there. I am simply saying that the need for training has been recognised in the courts. It is also important to ensure that domestic abuse cases are flagged up properly as they pass through the court system so that everyone knows what is a domestic abuse case and can help to smooth it along the way.

To go back to the guidelines, they are overarching and recognise that a defining characteristic of domestic abuse is the harm caused. That harm goes to a violation of trust, which is a crucial element. Trust is a very important thing that we hold dear, and we should take that into account.

The third element that I want to touch on is the Government's domestic violence consultation, which came out recently. I hope the Minister will provide information about how the process is going and the sorts of questions that will tackle the important issues we have raised today. I do not have a vast array of case studies of my own to share, but I have my experience of dealing with the courts; I also have experience, as has ​ the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), of the Council of Europe and the Istanbul convention. I urge the Government to try to ratify the Istanbul convention as quickly as possible.


18 JUL 2018

Speech about Russia and the Council of Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Russia and the Council of Europe.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank the many members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who have joined me to discuss this issue. It is a great pleasure to see them, and I am grateful to them for turning up to speak.

I start the debate by making two declarations. Neither is required for financial reasons, but they will offer some context to the debate. First, I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. To set the scene a little, the Council was established to promote the rule of law, democracy and human rights throughout post-war Europe. It is no less relevant today than it was 70 years ago. It has become the premier human rights forum in Europe for its now 47 member states. That will be important when we discuss Russia.

The Council is a bicameral institution, with member countries from across the wider Europe—not just the European Union—including Turkey and countries from the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, some of which I will mention during my speech. It also includes a number of partners in democracy and other observers, including Japan, the US, Mexico, Canada, as well as other important countries, such as Israel, and the representatives of the Palestinians.

The Council also has a relationship with a number of other institutions, including the European Court of Human Rights. It is important to remember that the Assembly elects judges to the European Court of Human Rights, which gives the judges, and therefore the whole Court, significant democratic legitimacy. That will also be relevant when we discuss Russia.

If the United Kingdom is to be part of the wider Europe, the Council offers a tailor-made vehicle for doing so. Rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel, we need to strengthen and to maximise the UK's unique status within the Council, including on matters relating to Russia.

The second thing I wish to declare is that, before entering Parliament, I was the principal private adviser on matters eastern European, including the former USSR, for successive UK Governments of both colours. In that role, I helped to set up and steer the technical assistance programmes that helped those countries to develop. We worked on a range of activities, including on privatisation throughout the region.

Russia is also a member of the Council, but it has chosen not to put its delegation forward to the Assembly for approval. That is worth repeating: Russia has chosen to absent itself from the Assembly by not allowing its delegation to be questioned and approved, presumably for fear of the reaction to its continued occupation of large parts of Ukraine—not only Crimea, but eastern Ukraine, including Donbass.

Russia subsequently chose not to pay the Council its annual dues, which, as a grand payeur, were originally set at €33 million, so the Council is running short by €33 million. The Council is now under tremendous pressure to readmit Russia so that it will start paying again. In other words, we are being asked to sacrifice principle for cash.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

To be absolutely fair, we took away Russia's voting rights.

John Howell

The Council took away Russia's voting rights because of the invasion of Ukraine. That was not the first time Russia had done something like that; we are dealing with a serial offender. It has now also lost its right to elect judges to the European Court of Human Rights, following its annexation of Crimea and its action in eastern Ukraine. The Russian ambassador to the Council wrote that it was the "free choice" of the people of Crimea to become part of Russia and that the Assembly had so restricted the rights of its representatives that they could not continue. The first part of that is, frankly, laughable.

It is possible to argue, with the benefit of hindsight, that when the USSR broke up, we should not simply have accepted the countries based on the former component states of the USSR. However, to do otherwise would have complicated an already complex situation and would have delayed the emergence of independent nation states. I remember discussing this issue at the time and passing it by.

Russian activity in the Donbass and in Crimea has badly affected the human rights of Ukrainians there, some of whom are held as political prisoners. Members may recall our opportunity to meet Nadiya Savchenko—an Assembly member and Ukrainian air force pilot who had been imprisoned by the Russians. She addressed the Council after her release. Whether one agrees with Nadiya Savchenko's politics is irrelevant; the fact is that she gave a moving account of her imprisonment by the Russians.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the invasion of Crimea was the tipping point? Russia's taking of two enclaves in Georgia—South Ossetia and Abkhazia—was when the international community should have acted. The invasion of Crimea followed because of our supine response when Russia invaded those parts of Georgia: we refused to do anything.

John Howell

My hon. Friend anticipates what I will say in a moment. I agree that we are dealing with a serial offender, as I said in answer to the earlier intervention. We should have taken a strong stance when Russia attacked Georgia. It came as no surprise that it then attacked bits of Ukraine.

Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

My hon. Friend is indeed making a powerful speech. Does he welcome Georgia's being at the forefront of some of the discussions at the recent NATO conference and of a report from the special committee? Does he also agree that we ought to get on with allowing Georgia into NATO?

John Howell

I agree that Georgia is fit for NATO membership. I look forward—along with my right hon. Friend—to monitoring the elections there later in the year. I have no idea what I will find on the ground there, but Assembly members play an important role in monitoring elections in newly emerged democracies.

Many might also recall the motion at the last part-session of the Council of Europe, which took up the case of Ukrainian prisoners of war—as I said in the Parliamentary Assembly, the issue of political prisoners goes right to the heart of what the Council of Europe is about. However, like many resolutions that the Council of Europe has passed to condemn the actions of Russia, that motion will almost certainly be ignored. Indeed, the Council of Europe has passed so many resolutions about occupied Ukrainian territory, the rights of the people there and political prisoners, that Russia's non-compliance can be seen only as a gesture of ill will towards the Council of Europe.

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

Given that a British citizen has now died as a result of the Novichok incident, does the hon. Gentleman think that we should perhaps reconsider Russia's position in the Council of Europe?

John Howell

I will come on to that, but I wonder whether the hon. Lady means that we should consider admitting Russia or excluding it. I put the Novichok case to the Croatian Prime Minister during the last public session of the Assembly, and I asked whether he thought that his decision to send away a Russian member of the Foreign Office based there was justifiable. His response was that the evidence Britain had produced was so strong that he would do it again. That is important.

Crimea is not the only source of disagreement. The Council of Europe has passed a resolution about the serious, systematic and widespread persecution, discrimination and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Chechnya, which has caused more than 100 people to flee that country. The Council of Europe called on Russia to conduct an independent national investigation, and for the extreme discrimination to end, but Russia has done nothing.

We have already mentioned Georgia, and the Council of Europe has criticised Russia for the abuse of human rights in the occupied regions. That abuse effectively extends to the use of war in that country, Russia's non-recognition of the borders of Georgia and its treatment of people who live there, whose human rights have been abused. As the Georgian ambassador to the UK recently wrote, after 10 years of Russian aggression, Russia continues its occupation of regions of Georgia, undermining international law and the rules-based system, with massive infringements of human rights.

Another issue is the Smolensk plane crash, which killed the Polish President, Lech Kaczyñski, and the Russian refusal to return the wreckage. The Russians claim that the return of the wreckage will simply fuel Polish conspiracy theories. They may be right, but returning the wreckage would also prove beyond doubt what happened in that plane crash, so the Russians should do it.

Ukraine has become the cause célèbre of this debate. A paper produced at the last meeting of the Council of Europe stated that 64 Ukrainians have received politically motivated convictions and are effectively prisoners of war whose human rights have been killed off.

The secretary-general of the Council of Europe said that the continued absence of Russia from the Council affects the rights of ordinary people in Russia to access the European Court of Human Rights. Perhaps that statement can be believed, but I think it is so far from the truth that it is difficult to justify in terms of what can occur. The number of cases involving Russia that have been brought before the European Court of Human Rights is large, but is also worth considering Russia's total disregard for the ECHR's judgments, and the claim by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation that Russia should not be bound by those judgments. We know from the judgment in the Yukos oil company case that following the rules of the ECHR and putting right a case on which it has already opined will be expensive. I am afraid, however, that I regard that as a fair price to pay for the wild west nature of Russia that we helped to create after the fall of communism.

Sir Edward Leigh

No one doubts that Russia's human rights record is egregious, and one can go on listing its faults forever—it has as many faults as countries such as Azerbaijan, which is in the Council of Europe. Surely, however, my hon. Friend is not suggesting that the Foreign Office should stop talking to or engaging with Russia. Similarly, in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, if one engages with the Russians, despite their faults, one might at least have some chance of persuading them or informing them of our point of view.

John Howell

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but we are not simply engaging with Russia as a third party. We are talking about Russia's inclusion in, or readmission into, the very body of which we are part, and for which we were, in 1949, an inspiration. Those are completely different circumstances to the description that my hon. Friend gives, whereby we should talk continually to Russia. This is about admitting Russia into our family home, as it were, and about it being part of that. In that situation, I think different rules apply.

I was speaking about our role in the fall of communism. We got it right in Poland and in the Czech Republic, but I fully acknowledge my part in getting it wrong in Russia. We await with bated breath the promise to amend the Russian constitution to allow judgments to be implemented.

So what do we do? The first thing that is not going to happen is the lifting of sanctions that we imposed against Russia's voting rights at the Council of Europe or the restoration of those voting rights. The second thing that I do not believe will happen is the sudden withdrawal of Russia from the Donbass or Crimea.

Can it be right for a member of the Council of Europe to invade another's territory, to conduct hateful campaigns elsewhere in the region, to have a casual attitude to human rights and to suffer no consequences? Are we simply to roll over and readmit Russia to the Council of Europe without any effects? Is the cost of keeping Russia out of the Council of Europe completely out of kilter with the benefits of bringing it back in? I think the answer to all these questions is no. Is it true that the Council of Europe cannot survive without the presence of Russia? Again, the answer is no.

The Russian Ambassador to the Council of Europe said:

"in seeking to 'punish' the delegation of the Russian parliament in 2014-2015 for the free choice by the people of Crimea to become part of Russia, the Assembly restricted the rights of Russian parliamentarians to such an extent that it made it impossible for them to continue their work in PACE."

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Russians have chosen to exclude themselves. The ambassador goes on to describe the actions of the Parliamentary Assembly as "thoughtless", but they were not. Those actions were a deliberate reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the Council of Europe can hopefully help to reverse.

Depriving the Council of Europe of €33 million is a serious matter, but it should not stand in the way of the wholesale reform for which many of us have argued. It cannot be right to simply sit and plan for nothing to happen at the end of next year—that is not a realistic option, and neither is it realistic for the Council of Europe to have no contingency plan for what will happen if the Russians continue in this way.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con)

My hon Friend is making a powerful point. At the moment, it looks as though the Council of Europe is being held hostage by means of a concerted effort by the Russians, through friends in the Council of Europe, to get themselves back into the Council. That is happening, as far as I can see, under the secretary-general, because he feels that the money is more important than the political will to say no. Does my hon. Friend agree?

John Howell

I agree. The point I would make is that the Council of Europe is all about political will. It was set up with that background. If we give in to that political will, we have nowhere to go. What is required is a proper plan to reduce the waste and inefficiency of the Council. I am sure we can take out enough expenditure to replace the Russian contribution. I believe, overall, that we are right to maintain our position of principle and to reject this choice of cash.


18 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on homelessness and refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady raises a list of things that surprise people regarding how refugees are treated. Does she share, as I do, the concerns expressed by the recent Jesuit Refugee Service report on the discredited nature of information about refugees' home countries? Given the breadth of our Foreign Office's reach, how does she think that has come about?

Kate Green

It is obviously not the same for every single country or every individual asylum case. It is important that we recognise that our obligation to give refuge is shaped by international treaties and conventions that we are long signed up to, and which look on a case-by-case basis at the danger that an individual faces in their country of origin. We need to be clear that we have a robust decision-making process that properly assesses that danger, and be confident in presenting to the country that our process works well. Sadly, at the moment, delays and poor decisions mean that often it does not.​


12 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on railways

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I wonder whether there is an opportunity to put into practice what my hon. Friend is talking about with the new Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge railway, and whether what he is suggesting would provide a much better alternative to the existing model?

John Penrose

My hon. Friend is exactly right; it is much easier to introduce open access rail where there is no established incumbent franchise operator at all. I plan to go on and develop that idea on a broader basis along just the line he mentions, but that is a good example to get us started, if I can put it that way.


12 JUL 2018

Aircraft in the constituency

I have continued my conversations about flights across the constituency with NATS. NATS is the leading provider of air traffic control services in the UK. Each year they handle 2.4 million flights and 250 million passengers in UK airspace as well as operating around the world.

In the first place, I discussed with NATS the heights at which aircraft crossed the constituency. What NATS said was that around the Sonning Common area flights are not permitted to be below 4,500ft. Aircraft should be at a minimum of 3,000ft towards White Waltham and the Henley area. The constituency also experiences aircraft flying to and from other London airports including Luton, Stansted and Northolt. In these cases we are advised that Luton departures should typically be above 10,000ft, Stansted departures much higher and Northolt at about 7,000ft.

I said:

"We have been advised by NATS that they do not feel there has been any change in the height or frequency of flights over our area and they claim that it would not be possible for aircraft to fly at around 2,000ft as has been claimed by some constituents.

"However, they advise that we can help NATS by noting down the time, date and location of aircraft which we are worried about and they will check them against the replay of radar information."

NATS does provide its own free flight tracking app for iPad users – Airspace Explorer. In addition, the Heathrow xplane tool allows constituents to put in a postcode and analyse flights over that area and see how they have changed over time.

In addition, we have been having a period of sustained easterlies which will have an impact on the direction in which planes line up to land at Heathrow. Aircraft have to land into the prevailing wind in order to maintain lift as they approach. At present this results in more turning in the area of Henley.


10 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on Air Passenger Duty

John Howell (Henley) (Con) It would not be a debate if I did not intervene. Air passenger duty was introduced as an environmental tax to try to discourage people from using planes. Does he think it has worked at all in that function?

Gavin Robinson

I am delighted to have an intervention so early and to have it from the hon. Gentleman. The answer is no—it has not worked to protect our environment at all. The Treasury call for evidence published as a result of the confidence and supply agreement states clearly:

"APD is a tax based on the number of chargeable passengers aboard an aircraft taking off from a UK airport, and is the only tax applied on air travel as the government does not apply VAT to airline tickets or levy a tax on fuel."

Somebody who is interested in the environmental impacts of air travel would suspect that a tax might be attributed to fuel, given that the fuel causes the damage. When the Labour Government considered APD back in 2006, they felt they needed to strengthen the opportunity to protect the environment through air passenger duty. Department for Transport modelling indicated that, even if they were to proceed along the current path, there would not be a stabilisation of emissions until 2040. Does it work as an environmental protection? No, it does not. Does it work as an economic detriment to our country, our economy and our tourism industry? Yes, it does.


09 JUL 2018

Question at defence questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

What steps he is taking to encourage defence exports by UK companies. [906324]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Gavin Williamson)

The Ministry of Defence continues to lead strategic exports campaigns, working across Government and with industry to win business abroad. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in welcoming BAE Systems' success in being selected as the preferred bidder in Australia's SEA 5000 future frigate programme.

John Howell

What plans does the Secretary of State have for the next phase of exports for the Type 26 frigates?

Gavin Williamson

We have a world-leading product and want to sell it right across the world. The deal with Australia is a great success; it is the first major export of ships in more than 40 years. The next place that we will target is, of course, Canada. Working closely with our "Five Eyes" partners, it is important that we have capability so that we can work together, as well as build prosperity together.


09 JUL 2018

Thame Remembers

I laid a cross in Jerusalem on Saturday 7th July at the grave of 2nd Lieutenant Richard Hewer as part of the Thame Remembers project. Thame Remembers aims to commemorate the centenary of the First World War by locating the graves or memorials of all those from Thame who have died in conflict, and placing a "Thame Remembers" cross on each resting place, wherever in the world that may be. Over the course of this four year project hundreds of people from Thame have collectively travelled more than 150,000 miles, to 23 countries across four continents, to remember men from the town.

Richard Hewer was killed on 21 November 1917. He is buried in the Jerusalem War Cemetery in Israel. He is remembered in Thame in St Mary's Church and All Saints Church. He was born near Abingdon and attended Abingdon School. He took part in the heavy fighting up to and just after the fall of Jaffa and was killed in front of Jerusalem while observing for the artillery.

I said:

"It was a great honour and privilege to be asked to lay a Thame Cross on at Richard Hewer's grave on behalf of the project. It is very important that we remember all those who fell in the First World War and after, and a Thame Cross is a perfect way of doing so. It gave me a great feeling of community to do this and to remember Richard's sacrifice."

The MP was in Jerusalem to attend a Dialogue between Israel, the UK, Australia and the US. The dialogue, which was also attended by the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, looked at the situation with Iran, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the role of the media in this.


09 JUL 2018

Question in Statement on Amesbury

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Croatian Prime Minister told me last week at the Council of Europe that the evidence that made him expel a Russian diplomat had been absolutely compelling. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the evidence that he produces will be just as compelling in this case?

Sajid Javid

This is an opportunity to highlight just how seriously we take evidence and the facts. Already our world-leading scientists have been involved in the identification of the nerve agent in this incident, and that is exactly how we will proceed. As we gather that evidence, of course we will discuss it with our international allies.


05 JUL 2018

Home Educating petition

I presented a petition to Parliament last night (4 July 2018) on behalf of Home Educators. These are people who chose to teach their children at home. The MP presented over 30 petitions in addition to his own to Parliament on behalf of MPs who could not be there, for example, because they are Ministers.

I said:

"It was a pleasure to present these petitions and a great achievement to have gathered so many together. Essentially, what they were calling for was that the Government should put in place an accessible and workable complaints procedure and should consult with home educating parents in the same way it has with Local Authorities. I do not think they are asking too much in their requests."

Additional petitions were presented by six other MPs.


05 JUL 2018

Question on Construction Deal and how it will affect the elderly

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I welcome what the Minister says about the 25,000 apprenticeships, but one of the grand challenges facing the Government is helping to meet the needs of an ageing population. How does the deal help to meet that need?

Richard Harrington

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The answer is that the type of apprenticeships will be commensurate with the new types of skills within building. As I explained in answer to the hon. Member for Inverclyde, that will involve retraining at different ages, as well as jobs that involve skills other than those on the physical side of things that tended to be relevant to young men in the past. In fact, I am pleased to say that many more women are now involved in construction apprenticeships, and we will start to see people of my age doing apprenticeships—quite a few people in my constituency probably hope that that will be me in a few years' time.


05 JUL 2018

Calling for a debate on our High Streets

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we please have a debate on what is being done to support our high streets? They represent an important part of our towns, and it would be useful to have a debate on this matter.

Andrea Leadsom

My hon. Friend might have seen the Grimsey report, which promotes the idea of local leadership on the high street. He is right to say that high streets are vital to thriving communities, and as people change the way in which they shop, it is important that we do more at local level to ensure that we keep the heart of our communities going.


05 JUL 2018

More on floating pennywort

I have been contacted by the Environment Agency with an update about floating pennywort. This is the peak season for the growth of floating pennywort so there is a need to remain vigilant and ready to respond to reports of further growth. The weed can be a major hazard on rivers. It can be identified because of its fleshy stalks with shiny kidney shaped leaves up to 7cm wide.

Julia Simpson of the Environment Agency said:

"We have removed approximately 63 tonnes of floating pennywort. As a result of our efforts there has so far been very minimal regrowth of floating pennywort in isolated locations on the river Thames. Where found, these emergent leaves are removed. With our partners and stakeholders, we are monitoring over 200 km of the river Thames and its tributaries between Reading and Teddington. Our monitoring of these watercourses has found the majority to be clear of floating pennywort."

I added:

"The Environment Agency's surveillance plan needs all of us to report the location of any floating pennywort to the Environment Agency. It is important that we do not simply pass through clumps of the plant as it can break off and spread. I urge those who use the river to be vigilant in helping to stamp out this weed."


05 JUL 2018

Intervention on Palestinian incitement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady just after she has started, but she made an excellent point. Has she noticed, as I have, that textbooks for Palestinian children contain the phrase that cities in Israel such as Tel Aviv are in occupied Palestine? That goes completely against the two-state solution.

Joan Ryan

I cannot but agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are some terrible examples of what appears in the textbooks, which I will come to shortly.

Given Britain's long-standing advocacy of the two-state solution, I believe it is appropriate for us to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority, but as is recognised in the memorandum of understanding between the Department for International Development and the PA, and the partnership principles that underpin it, British aid is not a blank cheque. Crucially, it demands that the PA adhere to the principles of non-violence and respect for human rights, and requires DFID to take action when they do not.


05 JUL 2018

Speech on planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Let me correct my hon. Friend. Neighbourhood plans do not fall away. The law was changed, under ministerial guidance, to bring the five-year land supply down to three years where there is a neighbourhood plan that allocates sites and is two years old. My constituents have made a lot of that important concession.

James Cartlidge

I know that my hon. Friend was influential in neighbourhood plans. I was going to make that point, which is certainly true, so that was not so much a correction as a preview. I always say to my communities, "If you're going to do a neighbourhood plan, allocate sites, because it will still be relevant if there is only a three-year land supply." That incredibly important development was confirmed by Gavin Barwell when he was Housing Minister.

________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I will say first of all that I am fully aware of companies such as Gladman gaming the system. Gladman did exactly the same in my constituency, and I am pleased to say that on one occasion we managed to fight it off and turn it down. The question that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) asked initially was how many councils there are without a five-year land supply. When I have asked that question of the Department, the answer that has come back is that they do not know—they do not collect the information in that format; they do not collect that information at all. My first request is that they start collecting that information, because without it the whole system has a gap in it. What makes that important is that we have changed the way we calculate the housing need for communities. It has been brought down to a much more robust formula, which is having a big effect on communities. This is a suitable opportunity to address the issue full time.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk already mentioned the three-year housing land supply, which is important to bear in mind. I have also asked that it be given permanence and that the arguments that have been made about whether it lasts for two years and whether renewed neighbourhood plans have it for an extra two years be settled. The assurance I have been given is that that is being looked at.

4.53 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

5.23 pm

On resuming—

John Howell

It is very rare for me to be cut off in the middle of a sentence, so allow me to sum up where I was before the Division bell rang. In relation to the consultation on the national planning policy framework, I have had conversations with members of the Department about the three-year housing land supply figure. The Department is looking at whether that should be permanent, or, if not, how long it should apply for.

The other change that I have called for as part of my work with the local plan expert group is to ensure that we do not continue to lose the millions of pounds that ​ are lost each year through councils having to go to law to defend their five-year land supply. I have suggested that the five-year land supply becomes part of the council's annual report, and that once it is in there it is not challengeable in the courts for that year. That gives the council a year's breathing space each year, once the figure is agreed. As for the calculation of the land supply, I am perfectly open to whether it is based on planning permissions or delivery. I can see the logic for it being a calculation based on delivery.

Members have spoken about how neighbourhood plans are delivering about 10% more houses than were predicted. That is actually quite a lot of new houses. There are something like 2,500 communities across the country that are going through or have been through the process of producing a neighbourhood plan. The results of the referendums have been North Korean in style, as was witnessed in the village in which I live, where the approval rate in the referendum was something over 90%. I think that is a great triumph for everyone who was involved in it.

I remain positive about neighbourhood plans. I have been around the country speaking to those involved in them, and if hon. Members want somebody to come and talk about neighbourhood plans, that is the job that I have, and I am happy to do that for any hon. Member who asks me to do so.


05 JUL 2018

Petition on home education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I wish to present a petition on the subject of home education. The petition is from constituents of Henley. Also included in this mass petition are constituents of my hon. Friends the Members for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) and for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), my right hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett), for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and my hon. Friends the Members for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Woking (Mr Lord).

The petition states:

The petition of residents of Henley constituency,

Declares that the "Home Education - Call for Evidence and revised DfE guidance" has been written following significant consultation with local authorities and no consultation whatsoever with the home education community; further that the consultation is consequently for little more than show as an intention to implement the content has already been stated; further that it seeks to encourage local authorities to breach the ECHR Article 8 and the GDPR; and further that the report provides no accessible means for a parent to address ultra vires behaviour by their local authority, where many of those authorities already act routinely in an ultra vires manner.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to withdraw the draft guidance and consultation, until it has put in place an accessible and workable complaints procedure and further has consulted with home educating parents, as it has with Local Authorities, what the contents should include.

And the petitioners remain, etc.


04 JUL 2018

Question raised over Smart Parking's handling of fines at Townlands

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the hon. Lady join me in condemning how the parking company Smart Parking operates its fine system at the Townlands Hospital in Henley? It is a monstrous way of dealing with people; intimidating them when they are at their most vulnerable.

Karin Smyth

I cannot comment on the specific company, but trying to understand accountability and how systems work is frustrating for local people. Many of us are trying to make sense of it.

Stephen Barclay

I am happy to pick up on the point he raised on behalf of his constituents about there being no accountability. That is an absolutely fair challenge to the Department and one that I am very happy to look at. However, I am mindful, as I know he will appreciate, that these are often independent bodies making independent decisions, and we need to look at how they fit into the system.


04 JUL 2018

Speech on child sexual abuse

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady is telling some very powerful stories. Has she come across the Lanzarote convention, which was produced by the Council of Europe and signed by the British Government in March, and is she aware of the work the Council of ​ Europe has been doing to highlight the problem of child abuse among refugees? I think that would help her case enormously.

Lisa Nandy

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for attending this debate and for raising that point. One of the reasons why it was important for me to bring this issue to the House for the first time for a full debate is that many Members have a strong interest in this area and in pursuing justice for the affected families. It is important that those suggestions are heard, and I hope the Minister has heard them.

______________________________________________________________________

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair)

Lisa Nandy will have some minutes at the end of the debate to sum up. I call John Howell, but, in doing so, given all the blowers on in the Chamber this afternoon, I stress the need for the hon. Gentleman to raise his voice, so that I can hear and, more importantly, so that Hansard can record his words faithfully.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. Am I sufficiently loud for you?

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair)

indicated assent.

John Howell

Great. Let me keep it at that level and say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I wanted to pick up on my intervention, which the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) kindly took, and to raise an issue that has troubled us greatly at the Council of Europe. We are members of the Council of Europe and we shall still be so after Brexit. It is an important body. The convention that I mentioned is the convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, which is known colloquially as the Lanzarote convention.

The convention is important because the one thing that it requires above all is the criminalisation of sexual offences against children. It requires countries that have signed it to ensure that they have in law the necessary criminalisation of such sexual offences. It applies to Europe and to states beyond Europe. Its purpose is to protect child victims and to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted. Those two things go together well. Forty-seven members of the Council of Europe have signed the convention—there are only 47 members of the Council of Europe, so all members have signed it—and 44 have ratified it. I think we ratified it in March this year.​

We are very concerned about the sexual abuse of child migrants. If the hon. Lady looks at the Council of Europe website, she will see a huge raft of discussions and papers that have been produced on this subject, which will contribute strongly to her case. We have approached this from a human rights position, trying to protect the human rights of the children involved. The Council of Europe is the premier human rights organisation in Europe. What came out of the production of the convention was that this should be a political priority in every country that has signed and ratified the convention.

I leave that as an explanation of my earlier intervention on the hon. Lady and of how this may help. It is also an indication to the Minister of how we are activity pursuing a line, in association with our Council of Europe colleagues, of taking this matter further.


04 JUL 2018

Speech on Irael-UK trade

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I am just about to make what is my seventh or eighth visit to Israel in the past four or five years. I hope that I will see some more change; I have seen a lot over the past few years.

Like you, Mr Evans, I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. That is an important organisation in Europe, because it contains both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority and is unique in being able to tackle the issues that they both present. I want to organise an exhibition in the foyer of this Chamber that looks at projects that are done jointly between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The problem is that there are so many projects to call on.

We have heard today that Israel is renowned for its high-tech capability. That is still growing. There is still an enormous amount of research and development to do, and we still need to move that on, but that development has not happened by accident. It has happened because there has been a growing self-confidence in Israel and a growing confidence among British businesses that have found a willing partner. From my constituency perspective, I want to concentrate on water management and the excellent approach to water conservation in Israel.

I have been to a desalination plant on the coast of Israel. Sadly, the technology that was envisaged for the plant had been offered to the people who live in Gaza, but had been rejected. I think that is a great shame. Israel recycles some 90% of its domestic waste water, which is mostly used in agricultural production. By way ​ of comparison, in Spain, the next biggest user of recycled water, only 20% is used for agriculture. Israel's drip irrigation technology is exported throughout the world.

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) about the boycott, divestment and sanctions regime. It affects the livelihoods of Palestinians as much as those of Israelis and prejudges the outcome of the debate; it is an issue to be tackled in the debate, but it does not define the whole debate. Where are the similar boycott, divestment and sanctions calls in relation to the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, or the Moroccan occupation of the controlled Western Sahara? We have a blinkered view of Israel in some sections of this country, and we need to overcome it by encouraging more companies to do business there.


03 JUL 2018

Comment in debate on Justice

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I share the right hon. Gentleman's desire to get prisoners back into work. Does he agree that the changes that can be made to ​ achieve that are actually quite small? The previous Justice Committee saw during a visit to Denmark how communal cooking by prisoners of food that they had bought was a very good marker for getting them to move on in life after prison.

David Hanson

There are a number of things that we can do, and I know that the Minister is interested in how we can make the things that happen in prison relevant to the things that happen outside prison, so that skills, training and communal activities prepare prisoners for life outside in a positive way.


02 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on pet thefts

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My constituency has a high level of rural crime that targets farm dogs. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a particularly heinous crime, in that farm dogs have value because they have skills that can be used on a farm but they are also pets that are loved by their owners?

Mike Hill

I agree entirely. Yes, farm dogs are working dogs, but they are also family pets; they are part of the family.


02 JUL 2018

Question in Work and Pensions questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

At a recent Westminster Hall debate, several of us commented on how the PIP process had improved. Will the Minister continue to work with those of us who have suggestions for improving the system still further?

Sarah Newton

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am utterly determined to ensure that everyone has a very good experience of PIP. The independent customer satisfaction ratings show that the vast majority of people feel that they are treated with respect and dignity and receive the benefit to which they are entitled, but we will of course seek continuously to improve the process.


30 JUN 2018

Two new Neighbourhood Plans

As Government Champion on Neighbourhood Planning I have welcomed the successful referenda in Benson and in Watlington which have approved their Neighbourhood Plans. Neighbourhood planning was introduced in the Localism Act 2011. It gives communities statutory powers to shape how their communities develop by producing a Plan which forms a key part of the planning suite of policies which cover an area. It sets out planning policies for the area covered by the Plan which are used to approve or reject planning applications. It is prepared by the local communtiy. Some 2,500 Neighbourhood Plans have been produced or under production across the country.

The two plans have full legal effect now that they have passed their local referendum and will be used to determine planning decisions that affect Benson and Watlington. The referenda in both villages were convincing. In Benson the percentage pass rate was 93.1% on a turnout of 35%. In Watlington, the pass rate was 80.9% on a turnout of 47.4%. Both turnouts were significantly better than for the recent South Oxfordshire District Council by-election in Benson (27.8%).

I said:

"I congratulate both Neighbourhood Planning teams on their successful referenda. A lot of hard work went into these Plans by a large number of people. They patiently dealt with local issues to provide genuinely local views of where housing should go in their communities and how the villages should be developed. This was also the first time that I had been able to participate in a referendum since I live in one of the areas covered by a Plan. In both cases I am particularly glad to have been able to provide advice at various stages of the Plans' development."

John Fowler of the Benson Neighbourhood Planning team said:

"The Benson Neighbourhood Plan Team are extremely delighted by the Referendum outcome and the very strong support shown for our Plan. The Plan's adoption is the culmination of over 2 years hard work by volunteers to reach this stage. The Plan is not just about Housing and a Relief Road but protects and enhances Benson's Green Infrastructure, sets Design Guidelines for the new developments, provides new Community Facilities and will provide significant Community Infrastructure Levy revenue for the benefit of all residents. The focus now shifts to ensuring the facilities and benefits committed by developers and others are realised."

Gill Bindoff of the Watlington Neigbourhood Plan team added:

"The Watlington Neighbourhood Plan now has a very strong local mandate. It has been developed from the beginning as a community Plan and that has produced a high level of support. After all the hard work it is good to know that the Plan now carries full weight and that Watlington people will have a say about how their community grows".


30 JUN 2018

Question at Council of Europe to Croatian Foreign Minister

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

The question of a Russian return and of Russia's contribution remains open. The Secretary General says that there is a back-up plan to deal with the possible hole of €33 million from May 2019. Will the Minister elaborate on the budget choices facing the Committee of Ministers in dealing with that?

Ms PEJÈINOVIÆ BURIÆ – Of course, the Council of Europe has for a number of years worked on the basis of zero nominal growth budgets. Last year, as we know, the Russian Federation ceased its payments to the Organisation and Turkey withdrew as a major contributor. As a result, immediate measures have been taken. During the first part of this year, the work focused on identifying the necessary measures to meet the reduction in the Programme and the Budget for the year, and on putting in place precautionary measures in the light of the budgetary uncertainty. In parallel, the Committee of Ministers decided to accelerate and deepen the administrative reforms presented by the Secretary General in the autumn. The reforms that we are seeing in response are wide in their scope.

As you will understand, issues relating to the longer-term financing of the Council of Europe have been discussed extensively by the Committee of Ministers, in particular in preparation for the Ministerial Session in May in Elsinore. Following on from that session, the Secretary General will present a number of general reform proposals to the Committee of Ministers over the next 10 months, leading up to the Ministerial Session in Helsinki next May. One of the first items he will have to address is how to stabilise and sustain the financing of the Organisation, which is, indeed, threatened.


30 JUN 2018

Question to Croatian PM at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – After the recent attack on two Russians in the UK, Croatia expelled a low-ranking Russian diplomat. I thank you for that gesture, but I ask you how meaningful you think it was and how it has affected your relationship with Russia.

 Mr PLENKOVIÆ – The first two questions are interlinked; they both deal with the relationship with Russia. I am fully aware of the situation regarding Russian participation in the Parliamentary Assembly since 2014 and the war in Ukraine. I believe that the Secretary General's recent visit to Moscow was an attempt to address the issue and work out how to go further, especially given the financial ramifications of Russia's decision not to contribute to the Council of Europe's budget. We should also look at the causes of the problem. Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts have been reintegrated and the situation in Crimea has not, in practice, altered much. We should look at the situation from a comprehensive point of view, which includes respect for Ukraine's territorial integrity.

We expressed solidarity with the United Kingdom Government after a thorough presentation of the case by Prime Minister May during the European Council. We considered our options and we sent a strong signal that the use of a nerve agent – such a thing has not been seen for many years – is simply not permissible. Such actions required us to make a gesture of solidarity and send a strong message. I do not believe that that has altered our relationship with the Russian Federation much, because it was a joint European response. The key point is that we should prevent any future such actions.


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Syrian refugees

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

Of all the countries that neighbour Syria, I have a particular sympathy for Jordan and applaud its generosity in hosting a large number of refugees; indeed, so great is this generosity, that the camp of Zaatari is now the fourth largest city in Jordan. The King has already described the country as at 'boiling point' as a result of the refugee crisis and there are signs of discontent amongst the Jordanian middle classes. There is a considerable effort to be made in helping to provide sanitation, water and food. Another big area is education, where the United Kingdom's spend alone has helped over 165 000 Syrian refugees to receive schooling. On top of this is the great need to create jobs – both for refugees and Jordanians – and helping to push the development of the private and public sectors. Almost 100 000 refugees have received work permits.

The scale of the problem can be seen from UNHCR figures which have suggested almost 700 000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. The need to concentrate on helping countries like Jordan is not only because of the direct problem of refugees themselves, but also because of the destabilising effect that the refugees could have on Jordan. We have already seen some terrorist activity. But it is also to ensure that Jordan can preserve its own cultural perspective.

In Lebanon, the UK Government is providing cash assistance for Syrian families to help them meet their daily needs such as food, accommodation and health care. It is important to bear in mind that we are still supporting refugees even although the country is in large part under the influence of Hezbollah. It is sad that the conditions of Syrian refugees have worsened over the last few years; 76% now live below the poverty line.


30 JUN 2018

Question to the Slovak PM at Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Slovakia recently faced a corruption scandal involving tax and promissory notes. Is that an isolated example, or is the problem widespread?

Mr PELLEGRINI* –

Turning to the question about tax fraud, Slovakia has implemented a tremendous number of measures to combat such fraud, especially with regard to VAT. The new legislation included some technical measures that eliminate the possibility of missing trader fraud and carousel fraud, because many parasites were draining the system. We can also see an effect in our finances, because many more millions of euros are flowing into our budget than before. I am happy that we are successful in this fight, and many neighbouring countries are adopting similar measures because they have proven to be so efficient.


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on asylum and refugees

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – These reports highlight the enormous problems that we face because of the way that unscrupulous people traffickers take advantage of refugees. It is, of course, also an enormous shame that so many refugees feel compelled to commit themselves to that course of action. The answers to this problem are not easy; as has been shown in the reports, they are complex, and I do not think that having external asylum centres can ever be the complete answer. For example, it has been reported that Libya has been home to torture and even slavery. Instead, I would like to see more effort put into making sure that the conditions in the countries from which the refugees have come are better. In one of the reports, France is praised for the provision of visas and transport for people from Niger and Chad. However, that is nothing compared with the political flow of refugees to the Libyan coast that will come from Nigeria and other countries – I mean real refugees, not those mentioned by my colleague, Mr Robert Goodwill – if efforts are not made to help them produce a strong economy in which all can share. That goes to show the importance of aid and an investment programme in those countries, and I say that as the United Kingdom Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria.

The reports touch on a complex area. If we are to advocate a third-country approach for making asylum claims, that raises issues of human rights, which are difficult to adapt to. We also need to create a separation between the process of seeking asylum, and the activities of countries such as my own in promising to resettle vulnerable refugees and children from the Middle East and North Africa by 2020. However, one area that that should not be separated from is the resettlement programmes that are being offered by a number of countries, and which provide real help.

A number of actions have been suggested to deal with this issue, but many contain flaws. How, for example, can we put pressure on Libya when it is not functioning State in a way that we would recognise? As has been pointed out, many migrants come from countries outside the Middle East, which also poses problems. The need for capacity building in some countries to tackle the problem depends on their having the ability to deliver such programmes. There will always be a number of countries that do not like a process of granting asylum overseas, but we are right to raise the issue for examination and discussion here, because the problem of migration, about which we are all so sadly aware, will not simply go away.


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Russian detention of political prisoners

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I thank the rapporteur for setting out clearly what he is asking for and why. This debate is appropriate for two reasons. The first is the continuing Russian activity in Crimea. The report contains a list of resolutions that this Assembly has passed against Russia. It is difficult to forget or forgive the fact that Russia has not honoured those resolutions. I have no doubt that the resolution we pass today will be just one more to add to that list.

As the report points out, Russia has responsibility for protecting the rights of individuals in Crimea. It is clear that it continues not to do so. The report, which contains examples of worsening human rights, reads very sombrely and shows a lack of respect by a Council of Europe member State for international monitors. If the Council of Europe is to fulfil its role as the premier human rights organisation in Europe, it needs its remit to be strongly upheld. At the very least, access should be granted to the 70 political detainees identified in the report.

The case of Pavlo Hryb deserves special mention, in view of the medical factors involved and the denial of essential healthcare. We have seen pressure from the Council of Europe help in the past. I remind members of our memorable experience with Nadiia Savchenko, whom we greeted with acclaim for what she had suffered.

The second reason the debate is appropriate is that political prisoners are at the very heart of what the Council of Europe is about. We should not pull back or change our focus simply because a country owes us a lot of money. I for one am not prepared to be blackmailed into staying quiet about this issue simply to allow the Russians to resume their seats in this Assembly.


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Forced Marriages

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

I congratulate the rapporteur on this report. Forced marriage is a practice that affects men and boys as well as girls and women. For example, in the UK the proportion of men and boys affected currently runs at about one in five, or about 20%, of those who called the forced marriage unit for help. As this report points out, forced marriage can affect people in any country, including those countries that are members of this Council. In my own country, we have a forced marriage unit that is run by the equivalent of the interior ministry and the foreign ministry. The practice of forced marriage is a criminal offence, carrying a seven-year sentence, and I expect that the 1 200 or so people who have contacted the unit, or who have been contacted by it, are only a fraction of the number of people affected.

We may all be supporters of cultural diversity, but as the report points out, culture does not justify this crime. No matter which culture people come from, the practice needs to be firmly eradicated. Incidentally, forced marriage is still an offence in the United Kingdom where the marriage takes place abroad, but a sizeable percentage of United Kingdom cases do not have any overseas element at all.

Forced marriage is a particular problem for children, and appropriate hotlines and charities need to be created for children to call. For example, we have seen girls significantly under the age of 15 being forced into marriage. Why is this act a crime? It is a crime because we have so defined it by the Istanbul Convention, because it poses real dangers to physical and sexual health, because it goes against all that we stand for in defending human rights, and because of the violence that is part of it.

The United Kingdom has put in place mechanisms to deal with many of the issues raised in this report, but the number of forced marriages remains the same, as can be seen from the number of people who have been seen by the forced marriage unit, which has not changed very much over the years. The important thing is to make a massive cultural effort to show how unacceptable this practice is. This is one area where it is absolutely crucial for us simply to be culturally intolerant in our own countries of people who practice forced marriage. It is right that we are culturally intolerant of it, and regardless of where the people involved come from, or where the cultures that they represent come from, we need to be intolerant of the practice as a whole, and to keep our eyes firmly on ensuring that forced marriage is eradicated permanently.


30 JUN 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on Cultural Artefacts

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I, too, congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report. I am pleased to participate in this debate because I am an archaeologist. I hope people will not think that I have lost my sense of humour if I start by commenting on the film archaeologist, Indiana Jones, whose swashbuckling approach owes nothing to real archaeology, and a lot to the antics of those who run the markets of the world. He smashes through archaeological sites in pursuit of trinkets, which are then given or sold to museums, importantly minus the context, which has simply been smashed to pieces. The report sets a completely different tone, but it acknowledges that many people in recent conflicts have behaved just like Indiana Jones. Goods looted from Kabul and Iraq have turned up on sale in many countries, including the UK, and often through private sales. As the report points out, we need the harmonisation of laws and regulations, and a great deal more due diligence along the chain from theft to market. We can never stop a situation such as Daesh's destruction of archaeological sites, after first looting them to pay for arms, but we must stop the actions of what might be called modern-day prestidigitateurs, who gain hold of artefacts with no context at all and no ability to see the role that such objects really played in their culture.

It is a great shame that the Council of Europe Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property has been ratified only by Cyprus. This area requires much more international co-operation and effective punishment in each country, because as the report mentions, this trade has become as lucrative as that in drugs. I am pleased that in the United Kingdom the Government have set aside £30 million for a cultural protection fund that was opened in June 2016 and aims to safeguard and promote cultural heritage overseas. That fund is managed by the British Council, and its initial geographical focus is on the Middle East and North Africa – an area on which we need to concentrate quite a lot.

The idea that these objects might be without cultural significance is part of the agenda of terrorist groups who aim to destroy the image of how we have lived, and how we are living, as well as our entire cultural apparatus. By destroying ancient cultures those groups hope to cut off our own identity, and we must resist that above all.


21 JUN 2018

Intervention on NATO

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May I pick up the hon. Lady on the point that she has just made? Like me, does she see the future of our role in Europe as being twofold: first, on defence, with NATO; and secondly, on civil affairs, with the Council of Europe? They were both formed at the same time. They both have similar membership and they both try to do the same thing.

Nia Griffith

The Labour party wants absolute, full co-operation with European partners. We recognise that we are leaving the EU, but in every other respect we want to be fully European. We want to have full co-operation within NATO and the Council of Europe.


21 JUN 2018

Speech on the future of Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend has spoken precisely about the Canadian situation. He is coming from a Scottish point of view, but does he see the parallel with our position in Europe? There is an intergovernmental body in existence already, called the Council of Europe. We should be using it more as the framework for the future.

Stephen Kerr

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the Council of Europe, and I am going to talk about Europe.

_________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

This debate is about the UK's machinery for the framework of intergovernmental co-operation. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) has approached it from a Scottish perspective and that much of the debate has centred on devolution. But the more I have listened to this debate the more I am convinced that it has implications for our future relationship with Europe. My reason for saying that comes from various perspectives. We have heard that this was about better ways of operating the union, but I think we also need to look at better ways of operating Europe. One of the ways in which we can do that is already in existence as an organisation of intergovernmental co-operation: the Council of Europe. I am pleased that all of the political parties represented in the Chamber have representatives on the Council of Europe. Not a single party here is not represented on the Council of Europe and the issue of devolution does not come up at all in the delegations. We act very well as a UK delegation.

The intergovernmental framework already exists and we already work together on a constructive basis. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling mentioned that it is better to work together, which is absolutely true. The Council of Europe works on the basis of consensus, not on the basis of legislative implications for the various countries there.

Mr Gregory Campbell

The hon. Gentleman is developing the thesis that he alluded to earlier. Does he agree with me that the vast majority of people outside the body politic would assess the progress or otherwise of intergovernmental conference working, whether it be on devolution or Europe, on how it affects them in their local society, how it affects their ability to get a job, and how it affects their schools and all the devolved issues? Those are the criteria by which we have to judge any success or otherwise. Does he agree that that is what the general public would adjudicate on?

John Howell

I agree that that is how the public would look at it. I think that we have been absolutely useless at telling the public what the Council of Europe does. It operates across almost every main Department of Government in the UK. It operates across the Home Office, with an emphasis on terrorism and security. It also operates across the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport through the recommendations we put forward on football governance, for example. We need to send out a message about what the Council of Europe does and how it operates. It does not dictate laws to countries. Even its conventions are for Governments to decide whether to sign up to, rather than ones that they are forced into. For all those reasons I think that there is a great purpose in the future of our relationship in Europe being based on the Council of Europe.

The Prime Minister said that we are leaving the European Union, but not leaving Europe. She went on to say:

"We should not think of our leaving the EU as marking an ending, as much as a new beginning for the United Kingdom and our relationship with our European allies."

I do not think that is a new beginning in itself. It is a beginning that can be founded in the Council of Europe. When we have that body in place, why on earth are we trying to reinvent the wheel and not using it for the purpose for which it was intended in 1949?​


20 JUN 2018

Speech on Rights of Persons with disabilities

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl. I congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) on securing an important debate.

The hon. Lady mentioned the problems created by the closure of jobcentres. There are other similar cases. For example, my own constituency has no jobcentre at all—the jobcentres are in neighbouring Oxford, Abingdon or Reading—but rather than moan about that and point out the difficulties that that creates, I have been working with the Secretary of State to try to put in place a solution to overcome it. That solution is a system of mobile jobcentres, the model for which is the way the Post Office runs its mobile post offices around the country. I envisage a situation where, in areas where a jobcentre has closed or there is no jobcentre, jobcentre vans turn up on certain days—they would have to be regular days—to provide the services and advice that many people want. I am happy to recommend that model to hon. Members—as I said, I am already working with the Secretary of State to try to get it ready.

My second point is about PIP. In a number of cases—I say this quite openly—PIP has been delivered appallingly slowly. Again, I have been working with the Secretary of State to look at how those payments can be sped up and at how information can be better integrated into how PIP is delivered, so that we do not continually knock the system but try our best to improve it.

My motivation for speaking in the debate was to highlight the excellent work done in my constituency by the Ways and Means Trust and its Greenshoots nursery, which provides excellent help to people with a whole range of disabilities, including mental disabilities, on how to do work. It provides lectures in various areas to try to give people a basic intellectual grasp of what they need to do, and it provides people with the physical work experience to be able to take that forward. I am sure that everyone looks forward to Christmas, for a range of reasons, but I look forward to it in particular because it means I can go to Greenshoots to get the wreath for my front door—they are made there in a particularly spectacular way.

Bill Grant (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to this important debate. Does he agree that we have moved on since the UN report, which the Government refuted? Does he also agree that it is good that through the Disability Confident scheme 600,000 disabled people have secured employment and the dignity it brings? That must surely be a good thing—and that has happened in the past four years.

John Howell

My hon. Friend is quite right—it is very important to mention that. I will say something about the Disability Confident scheme in a moment.

Let me finish what I was saying about the Greenshoots nursery, because it is important. My hon. Friend highlighted the importance of dignity in employment. That is important for people who might otherwise be disadvantaged from taking employment. From what I have seen, Greenshoots delivers a tremendous boost to people's confidence, wellbeing and ability to provide for themselves.

Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

Prior to coming to this place, I was the main development worker for Social Firms England, which supported enterprising charities, such as the one the hon. Gentleman describes, to support disabled people into work. Social Firms England was decimated by cuts. Social Firms Scotland and Social Firms Wales were active and well supported, but I was the only worker for Social Firms England, and I worked one day a week. That was it—that was all the support it had. Social firms are going to the wall. That is what is happening to disability support. Remploy was also cut. Support for getting disabled people into work has actually been decimated in the past eight years—it has not moved forward.

Dame Cheryl Gillan (in the Chair)

Order. I remind Members that interventions really must be short. I have been very generous, but I will not remind you all again.

John Howell

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not accept that there has been that level of cuts to charities in my constituency, or that cuts are having such an appalling effect on people with disabilities, who are continuing their work.

A wide range of companies and organisations are involved in providing these services. We have the likes of Microsoft and Glaxo, we have slightly smaller companies that are nevertheless household names, such as Sainsbury's, and we have a range of individual organisations, such as the Greenshoots nursery, Leonard Cheshire and indeed Mencap, which provide assistance to people with disabilities in my constituency.

To pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), more than 6,500 employers are involved in the Disability Confident scheme, and that is to be celebrated. I am pleased to say that all main Government Departments have now achieved Disability Confident leader status, which is to be welcomed.

Luke Graham

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the number of disabled people in work. It is important that we give our constituents the facts. Opposition Members have used very emotive language. I know from having a family member who has been disabled and from the number of cases that my office works through how disruptive PIP assessments can be. We need to cut through to get to the facts and look at turning the screws on Atos and the other companies that deliver these services. It is not a genuine intention of the Government to be inhumane, but there has been a failure of administration by some of the companies that we have employed to deliver services.

John Howell

I am sorry, Dame Cheryl, for allowing interventions to run on, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that we need to cut through the haze and give the figures, so let me repeat one: 600,000 disabled people have been moved back into work in the past four years. That is something that we should be proud of and hang on to.

Like my hon. Friend, the problems that I have found have been with the implementation of PIP, not with PIP itself. It behoves us to work closely with the Department and the Secretary of State to ensure that we get those things right, and I am pleased that I have been able to do that.

Vicky Ford

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Howell

Of course—provided my hon. Friend is brief.

Vicky Ford

This time last year I got a lot of cases from constituents who had problems with the PIP assessment process, but it appears to have improved. I fundamentally believe that it would be better if it were easier to get those assessments recorded. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would put more trust in the system?

John Howell

I do—my hon. Friend has got this right. We can all help with that. I will not claim responsibility for the improvement in PIP, but I think that all of us who have worked with the Department and the Secretary of State to do that can claim some responsibility for the improvement in the process. We need to do more to make that work.

With those remarks, Dame Cheryl, I will sit down and allow the debate to move on before anyone else intervenes at length.


19 JUN 2018

Question in Health & Social Care Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust recently won a bid under the Beyond Places of Safety scheme to put in place IT support for users of learning disability services. Is that not a very useful way of taking forward such projects?

Caroline Dinenage

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is vital that when we look at how to move forward with both our health and social care services, we are able to capture all the latest technology to ensure that we improve the experience for all our service users.


18 JUN 2018

Speech on referenda and the House of Lords

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Let me start in a way that might portray me as a lawyer who is interested only in the detail of things. I am sorry for taking that position, but I do so to pick up on something said by the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew). The issue, as it is described in the e-petition, falls into two parts. There is a bit about the House of Lords, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) spoke about in detail—I will come back to that—but the petition also calls for a referendum on the subject.

I am surprised that no reference has been made to the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is a non-EU body, completely separate from that. It was set up in 1949 and is made up of a whole number of organisations. One such organisation is the Venice Commission: the European Commission for Democracy through Law. I suspect it is another body full of lawyers, but it does come up with interesting material. In 2005, the Venice Commission first came up with an analysis of how referendums should be conducted. That work is being continued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), who is in the process of producing a booklet setting that out. If I may say so, one problem right at the beginning is with how our referendum on our membership of the European Union fits into that; she has some difficulty with that.

The Venice Commission likes to consider whether there is a national tradition of referendums. If we look just across the water to Ireland and its recent referendum on abortion, we see in that country there is a formal need for a referendum to change the constitution. We do not have such a requirement in British law to change our constitution. We must hang on to that as our starting point for where we are going.

The approach taken by the former Prime Minister in saying that any constitutional issues should be subject to a referendum was a haphazard and chaotic one. It was not thought through in its entirety or in the level of detail I would have expected from him. We are where we are with that, and I do not suggest that we rerun the EU referendum—anything but—but we cannot simply go on piling constitutional referendums on top of each other until we have our house in order.

The petition was inevitably influenced by the House of Lords' reaction to Brexit. Many hon. Members have commented on how that House has overreached itself in proposing certain amendments. There is, however, a conflict with the Venice Commission's guidance on how a referendum should be conducted and the aftermath of such a referendum, and we must bear that in mind so we do not make the same mistake again. For the reasons more succinctly stated by the hon. Member for Stroud, I do not like referendums either, and I would not recommend one for this sort of activity. It is something we need to do ourselves.

The Lord Speaker's Committee is a starting point. It is clearly not the finishing point. Additional work needs to be undertaken and time pressure is needed to come up with something that will reform the House of Lords. The difficulty with that is that, for reasons everyone will know, it is not a priority for the Government to undertake a large constitutional reform of the House of Lords at this stage. We simply have to live with that.

I repeat that, as we are a member of the Council of Europe and have been since 1949, why do we not ever use its material, produced all the way through with Members of this House, in our deliberations? It is as if we cut ourselves completely off from it and pretend it does not exist. The arguments that we should do this ourselves are valid, and I am pleased to recommend them to the Minister.


18 JUN 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Cannabis Oil

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

When will the commission start work, how will it operate, and how will it speed up the process of delivering these drugs?

Mr Hurd

We have only announced it today. I have only just asked Dame Sally Davies to take forward this important work. There is a lot of detail to be filled in, in consultation with her and others. We will return to the House to fill in some of the detail that my hon. Friend asks for.


14 JUN 2018

Interventions in debate on vaccinations in developing countries

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases is around 2.5 million to 3 million per year, but the number of people being inoculated has reached a bit of a plateau? Does not that say something about how we should focus our activities to establish better relationships with mothers, to reach hard-to-reach groups in Africa and Asia in particular, so as to take this further forward?

Stephen Crabb

I have heard that said, and I will go on to refer to the importance of reaching the hard-to-reach groups. There is evidence that that is the way to get, to put it crudely, more bang for our buck on the vaccinations spend, because the threat of outbreaks of killer diseases is higher for some of those isolated communities and families than for those elsewhere. My hon. Friend makes a useful point early in the debate.

_________________________________________________________________

John Howell

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again; he is being most generous with his time. Does he see a role for the Prime Minister's trade envoys in this sphere? We are often assigned to countries that fall into the categories that he has been talking about and we have a seminar coming up on the healthcare applications of what we can do. I do not think that that should concentrate solely on encouraging healthcare companies into those countries; it should also look at how we can help to develop those programmes.

Stephen Crabb

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. There are well established networks nationally in the UK and internationally, which bring policy makers together with academics, scientists and researchers who look at these issues. Surely within that there needs to be a role for people with a trade focus to link that investment angle into it as well. There would probably be a lot of interest, particularly among some of the private sector interests that are part of those networks, in seeing people such as Government trade envoys getting on board and helping with these programmes.


12 JUN 2018

Speech on terrorism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Since this is the first time that I have seen you since the weekend, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I start by congratulating you on your damehood? I am sure that it is much deserved.

The Bill follows up on the 2017 Queen's Speech and reviews our approach to counter-terrorism. Its specific purpose is to amend certain terrorism offences to update them for the digital age, to reflect contemporary patterns of radicalisation and to close gaps. I will comment first on the potential for the prison system to add to radicalisation. I am a member of the Justice Committee, and we have never made a prison visit without raising the question of the radicalisation of prisoners, which is everywhere in the prison system. The prison officers we speak to are trying their best to deal with it, but there is great difference in the levels of success. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was right to refer to the issue, which we ought to be taking seriously and considering carefully to ensure that everything is taken into account.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend knows that the Bill contains provisions to lengthen both the period that prisoners serve and the length of sentence for certain terrorist offences. Is he worried that that will mean that terrorists will serve more time in prison and have more time to radicalise other prisoners?

John Howell

I thank my hon. Friend. In fact, in my notes for this debate I have written next to my previous point "so they will be more radicalised by spending more time in prison." By extending prison sentences, we run the risk that prisoners will be more susceptible to the influences that will affect the radicalisation process. We need to address that matter in total from the beginning.

I was pleased to be able to intervene on the Home Secretary to get him to confirm that the Bill aims to reduce the risk from terrorism to the UK's interests overseas. That fits in with the Contest strategy, to which the explanatory notes refer. I point to the UK's enormous commercial interests in many parts of the world, including the middle east and Israel, that are under threat from terrorist activity. Those in Israel are under particular ​ threat of terrorism from Lebanon. As we have discussed on many occasions, Hezbollah has long insisted that its military and non-military activities are indivisible. At the al-Quds Day rally this weekend, we saw the waving of flags of the alleged non-military wing of Hezbollah, but Hezbollah in its entirety meets the test for full proscription, which would then make it subject to the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister for Security and Economic Crime will refer to that in his summing up and mention whether an amendment to the Bill might proscribe the whole of Hezbollah. That would certainly send a strong message that, together with America, Canada and the Netherlands, we abhor terrorism in any form. It would also recognise that terrorist attacks on British interests overseas must be taken into account.

The Bill rightly points to the need to amend terrorist offences to update them for the digital age, as I said, and the need to then keep them updated. The reaction to terrorism is international, and if the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism is to mean anything, we need international co-operation and international action. If an individual commits a terrorist offence in a foreign country, they should be liable under UK law as if they had committed the offence in the UK. The explanatory notes refer to the Council of Europe's convention, and I hope that this is last debate on this subject that does not mention the Council and its role in producing that convention. We are part of the Council of Europe—we were a founding member—and it plays an enormous role in sorting out such issues across Europe. Terrorism is a major subject for the Council of Europe, and during debates there I have been critical of the approach taken, for example, by the Belgian Government, who did not take the necessary steps to prevent terrorist activity on their own soil.

We can learn a lot from the international comparisons that we see at the Council of Europe, and I will provide a couple of examples. First, we could limit the finances of Daesh, which uses the internet to gain money and move it about. The Council has considered ways of preventing such movement. Secondly, the Council has considered cyber-attacks, which can have an enormous impact on the UK. A cyber-attack on an air traffic control system would cause absolute havoc, for example. I am also sure that everyone will agree with the Council of Europe's "Terrorism: #NoHateNoFear" campaign.

In many ways, the opening paragraphs of the convention on the prevention of terrorism anticipate what is in the Bill, stating that no terrorist act can be justified by

"political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious"

considerations—there are no excuses for terrorism. Whatever the purpose behind an act of terrorism, we must ensure that we respect the rule of law, democracy and human rights, because otherwise we become just like the terrorists. That is a difficult thing for western democracies to do, but unless we do it, we are no better than the terrorists, and I hope we are considerably better than them.

We cannot do away with the values we hold dear in order to fight terrorism. The convention on the prevention of terrorism makes much of the need for international co-operation, and it encourages the public to provide factual help. I commend the Council of Europe's excellent work to influence the sort of line we in the UK are taking in putting forward a strategy that is convincing in dealing with terrorism while having the necessary effect to make that help happen.​


11 JUN 2018

Question on the Yemen

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Some 22 million people in the Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid. How can we deliver that aid when we are in the middle of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Alistair Burt

It is difficult, but we have remarkable people who seek to deliver UK aid. On 3 April, we pledged an additional £170 million to Yemen to cover the financial year 2018-19, and we are the fourth largest donor to the UN appeal, but we should all remember the courage and bravery of the aid agencies that are working to deliver aid in difficult circumstances.


09 JUN 2018

John Howell MP digital businesses moving from strength to strength

I have welcomed the news that the import and export of services from the cultural, digital, and creative sectors have risen steadily since 2010.

New figures published this last week show that digital, creative and cultural businesses are exporting £46.4 billion worth of services worldwide, up from £28.8 billion in 2010 – an increase of over 60 per cent under the Conservatives.

Exports from the digital sector alone are now worth £39.1 billion, up 70 per cent from £23 billion in 2010. This shows that our work to place our digital industry at the forefront of global developments and enable Britain's businesses to take advantage of all the opportunities presented by a changing economy is succeeding.

Commenting, I said:

"Since 2010, we've extended the availability of superfast broadband to over 95 per cent of homes and business, improved mobile 4G coverage across the UK, and provided new tax reliefs for digital businesses. These measures are making it easier for families to use the internet and creating new jobs. The statistics show that our support for businesses is making a real difference, but we know there is more to do. That's why we committed over £1 billion to accelerate the development of next generation digital infrastructure.

"This is good news for businesses as we move into a more digital economy. The cultural, digital and creative industries have a huge role to play in the UK's economy, now making up nearly a fifth of our service exports, and will continue to play a crucial role after Brexit.

"Our modern Industrial Strategy will ensure this continues, as we deliver a highly-skilled and competitive economy that benefits people throughout the UK."

Notes

  • The Department of Culture, Media and Sport published their Sectors Economic Estimates 2016: Trade on Wednesday 6 June 2018. The full report is available here.
  • It is estimated that in 2016, DCMS Sectors exported £46.4 billion worth of services, accounting for 18.9 per cent of all UK services exports. Table 1, published with the report, shows that the total value of DCMS exports of services was £26.8 billion in 2010 (DCMS, DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates 2016: Trade – Tables 1-6: Exports and imports of services by sector, 6 June 2018, link).
  • In 2016, the Digital Sector exported £39.1 billion worth of services to the rest of the world. Table 1 shows that the export of services from the digital sector were worth £23 billion in 2010, and that this value has increased 70.1 per cent between 2010 and 2016 (DCMS, DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates 2016: Trade – Tables 1-6: Exports and imports of services by sector, 6 June 2018, link).
  • Superfast broadband at 24 Mbps or faster is now available to 95 per cent of residences. This is more than double the speed Ofcom advise is required by a typical family home (DCMS, 29 January 2018, link; ThinkBroadband, accessed 29 January 2018, link).
  • As part of our Digital Strategy we have committed over £1 billion to next-generation digital infrastructure (DCMS, UK Digital Strategy 2017, 1 March 2017, link).


07 JUN 2018

Speech on Turkey

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I congratulate the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) on securing the debate. She and I often follow each other around this place and outside it trying to make sure that Israel gets a fair view. It is an extreme pleasure for me to be able to say that our co-operation in that area also extends to Turkey, although I wish to park the Israel allegations that have been made for a moment.

It is very difficult to have a debate on Turkey that does not mention the Council of Europe, which was set up to look after democracy, the rule of law and human rights. It is the pre-eminent body in Europe for dealing with human rights, yet not once has its role been mentioned in all this. There are two reasons why we should stress the role of the Council of Europe. The first is that pre-eminence, to which Turkey has already signed up. It may have suspended the European convention, but it ratified that as long ago as 1954. It showed a willingness to participate in it up until the last few years, when it has engineered a dispute with the Council of Europe over funding. It has refused to be what is termed a "grand payeur" of the Council, really to stop its role being criticised and its human rights record being attacked.

As for the second reason, I know that the Council of Europe is often criticised for being just a talking shop, but boy do we need a talking shop where we can talk to MPs from other countries as much as we do now, and the body provides that for us. It is worth pointing out that all our political groups in the Council of Europe have Turkish members. It is incredibly useful to be able to sit down with them and talk off the record about the situation in Turkey so that we can get a good view of that.

Dame Cheryl Gillan

I put on record the esteem in which my hon. Friend is held in the Council of Europe by many of our colleagues in the 47 member countries as a result of his numerous and valuable contributions to our debates during the plenary sessions. Does he agree that one of the Council's most important missions has been to bring about the abolition of the death penalty, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan)? Its success is shown by the fact that there have been no executions in those 47 member states for the past 10 years, and for that record to be broken by a member state, as Turkey is, would be beyond contemplation.

John Howell

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. The issue of the death penalty is key to retaining membership of the Council of Europe. We are engaged in a debate with Belarus, because the existence of the death penalty there prevents it from becoming a member of the Council. If Turkey were to adopt the death penalty again, it would automatically cease to be a member.

It is important that we maintain relationships with Turkey through our political groups at the Council of Europe. That is one of the most useful facilities that the Council provides.

We have already heard that my right hon. Friend will be going to Turkey as an election monitor, and such monitoring is a crucial role provided by the Council. It will not be the representatives of just one political party who will be going, but representatives across the political parties. I know that the right hon. Member for Enfield North has given my right hon. Friend some pointers about what to look out for, but I wish her luck. I wish all that it is possible to wish that she will be able to gain a fair view that the elections are in the spirit of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

In an intervention, I mentioned appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, which is an essential component of the Council of Europe. In fact we elect its judges, and, incidentally, we have a phenomenal record of success. It must be recognised, however, that appeals to the Court have gone through the roof because individuals are taking their cases there. Some 160,000 people have already been arrested and 152,000 civil servants have been dismissed, as well as teachers, judges and lawyers. Those are the people who are taking their cases to the Court.

I have a great deal of sympathy for Turkey's role in helping us in the fight against terrorism, and I do not think we should ignore the enormous consequences of terrorism for the territorial area that it represents. However, if we are to support Turkey in that regard, it will be crucial that it shows it can fulfil its human rights obligations. The legal measures that need to be undertaken during the state of emergency must be proportionate and justified. They must be in line with the principles of democracy that Turkey has established for itself, and they must also be in line with its promise to the Council of Europe that it will fulfil the obligations of a member country.

I finish by pointing out that something close to 2,000 organisations have already been permanently closed by the Turkish Government. They include human rights organisations, lawyers associations, foundations and other NGOs. More than 100,000 websites have reportedly been blocked in Turkey, including many pro-Kurdish websites, as well as satellite television stations. This does not speak well of Turkey's attitude to fulfilling its Council of Europe obligations, or those that it has made to us as a NATO partner and ally. I urge the Government to put pressure on Turkey to fulfil those obligations.

Joan Ryan

I would just like to add one thing to the hon. Gentleman's important contribution. He will be aware that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has, in the key findings of his report, identified the use of torture and ill treatment in custody, including severe beatings, threats of sexual assault, actual sexual assault, electric shocks and water boarding by police, gendarmerie, military police and security forces. That is a very long way from recognising and adhering to human rights.

John Howell

I agree with what the right hon. Lady says about the UN's assessment. When Turkish citizens have brought cases to the European Court of Human Rights, it has invariably found against the Turkish Government. If I had the papers on me, I would be able to provide quotes from its judgments that align with her comments.

In conclusion, I urge the Government to take a strong line in making sure that Turkey fulfils its obligations to the Council of Europe and its promises to us as well.


07 JUN 2018

Question on school breakfast ckubs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we have debate on the importance of school breakfast clubs and ensuring that all children have a healthy start to the day?

Andrea Leadsom

I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend's request. It is an important subject, and I encourage him to seek at least an Adjournment debate.


07 JUN 2018

Question on Nigeria to Church Commissioner

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England and Anglican Communion are taking to tackle violence against Christians in Nigeria. [905694]

Dame Caroline Spelman

My hon. Friend is a trade envoy to Nigeria, and he has a wealth of knowledge about that part of the world. The Archbishop of Canterbury also has a great deal of knowledge about Nigeria, having lived and worked there, and he cares deeply about the persecution of Christians around the world. He has appealed publicly and directly in face-to-face meetings to the Nigerian President, to try to bring the violence against Christians to an end.

John Howell

After the recent terrible massacre of Christians attending church in the middle of Nigeria, the President was summoned to Parliament, service chiefs and security advisers had motions of no confidence passed against them, and Parliament was suspended. Does that not show that the country is taking the problem seriously?

Dame Caroline Spelman

There is no doubt that the problem is being taken to the heart of the Nigerian constitution and its institutions. I remind my hon. Friend that on 22 May we had a debate in Westminster Hall at which many Members raised reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide about the terrible violence perpetrated against Christians, particularly in the north of Nigeria, but also in the middle belt and as far south as Delta state where the oil is. Let us not forget that there are still Chibok girls in captivity. The issue may have fallen from the top hit list of interests and press themes, but young girls are still held in captivity; one of them in May spent her 15th birthday in captivity because she would not renounce her faith.


07 JUN 2018

Question on Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the Minister confirm that the creation of 15 hectares of new habitat remains a funded part of the Oxford flood alleviation scheme, which may affect my constituents?

David Rutley

I do not know the detail of that scheme, but I will talk about it in depth with my hon. Friend afterwards to give him the assurances that he needs.


07 JUN 2018

Interventions in debate on Hezbollah

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

To follow up on that point, at a protest outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington in July, Israeli flags were burned and Hezbollah flags were waved with impunity. Does my hon. Friend agree that that sends a signal of lauding a terrorist organisation that should infuriate all British people?

Mr Hollobone

I agree with my hon. Friend. We will probably see more flag burning this Sunday at the al-Quds demonstration in London. I deplore all flag burning. As British Members of Parliament, we have probably seen the Union Jack burned more often than most other flags. It is frankly a disgrace that Hezbollah can parade on the streets of London. Let us remember that its flag has a raised machine gun on it, which demonstrates its belief in violent resistance.

______________________________________________________________

John Howell

I hear what the Minister is saying, and I would like to concentrate on his third point. I support him in trying to support Lebanon's many moderates, but does the existence of Hezbollah not make that a difficult thing for us to achieve?

Alistair Burt

The region is mostly difficult. Many difficult characters fill Government positions and political positions throughout the region, not all of whom would be elected to our parish and town councils, because of their backgrounds. That is the reality of life. We draw careful distinctions, as we are right to do. It does not make life impossible, because it should not. If I may, I will explain how we try to deal with that.


05 JUN 2018

Question on the South Sudan

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the recent announcement in the last few hours that the President of South Sudan and the rebel leader have agreed to meet for talks to try to restore the 2015 peace negotiations?

Nic Dakin

That is good news, indeed. We all need to work together to help peace to prevail. Sadly, in the history of South Sudan, we have been here before. That is not a reason for us not to make better progress this time. I know the Minister is focused on this issue, because I have heard her speak on it many times. She will want to ensure that the British Government do everything they can to encourage a positive process.


05 JUN 2018

Quesion in Statement on expansion of Heathrow

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The airspace review is a crucial part of the success of this project. Together they can help to limit stacking, so will the Secretary of State say something about how these reviews dovetail?

Chris Grayling

The CAA and NATS have already started work on airspace changes and the consultation on them. This is vital because it can have two big effects. First, it makes the future management of our airspace possible. At the moment, airspace is extremely congested, with conflicts between airports, and we need to modernise and to use new technology. Secondly, it enables a change to the management of aircraft as they come into the UK's airspace in a way that can substantially affect stacking, which is also a huge benefit. The proposal of the third runway does not change the need for reform; it simply adapts that reform to fit the more detailed design as it emerges.


05 JUN 2018

Intervention in debate on potholes

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; she is being very generous. I just want to pick her up on a couple of points. We are spending about £23 billion a year on fixing potholes and roads. The amount that was given in the last Budget to my own county to fix the roads was close to £20 million. We must put pressure on local councils to do the job properly.

Yasmin Qureshi

I will come on to the blaming of local councils, but first I will finish talking about roads in my constituency.

Bridgewater Street has Maxton House, a supported home for the elderly and people with dementia, on it. Over a number of months, there have been six accidents alone on that particular road. Again, the work has not been done. A recent RAC survey found that the condition and maintenance of local roads was the second-ranked motoring issue in an extensive list that also included safety, cost and mobility concerns.

Local authorities have paid more than £70 million in pothole compensation since 2013. That amounts to unnecessary wastage of more than 25% of the £250 million the Government announced in its 2013 pothole action fund. Collectively, the AA calculates that potholes are costing drivers and insurers £1 million every month. That situation is not normal or acceptable.


04 JUN 2018

Question in Statement on US Steel and Aluminium tariffs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Picking up on that point, will not a system of retaliatory tariffs hurt consumers more than anything else, and will it not be ordinary workers who suffer? Is the Secretary of State as concerned about that as I am?

Dr Fox

As my hon. Friend knows from being a trade envoy to Nigeria, it will not just be those in developed countries who feel the effects if this has a slowdown impact on the global economy. If we have tariffs, countermeasures and then measures against the countermeasures, it is very easy to see how it could ramp up into a global trading disaster. We need to try, in the time ahead, to get the United States Government to change their mind—to listen to the voices coming from American business and the American Congress about the damage that may ultimately be caused inside the American domestic economy.


04 JUN 2018

Intervention in debate on fur sales

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Surely the reason that there is so much cross-party support behind this motion is because we all feel so compassionate. It is not the details of what happened. It is just a feeling of compassion that makes us all support what the hon. Lady is saying.

Kerry McCarthy

I totally agree. That is why so many people signed the e-petition. I would like to see people's compassion extending to other animals, such as farm animal welfare, but I will not go there today—we would have substantially less consensus.

A lot of our fur imports come from countries that have lower animal welfare standards than the UK has, even before we introduced the fur farming ban. In some countries, the standards are simply non-existent. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which I am a member of, has just conducted an inquiry into fake faux fur, where people are misled into buying real fur when they think they are buying cheap faux fur. We heard about the conditions on some of the fur farms in other countries.


23 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way on this important point. I was a member of the local plans expert group on behalf of the Government. The group looked at this issue; we advised that the five-year land supply be an annual event, and that once it went into the monitoring report of the local council, it not be challenged; I think that is coming through. We have also introduced a three-year land supply for organisations that have a neighbourhood plan. For the first two years, they only have to follow a three-year land supply.

Nicky Morgan

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He raises two interesting points. I did not know about the three-year land supply, and I am not entirely sure how many others do. A number of villages, including Burton on the Wolds, are in the process of preparing neighbourhood plans, and others have done so.

John Howell

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Nicky Morgan

I want to respond to my hon. Friend's other point first. He made a point about an annual event for measuring the five-year land supply. I am not sure I agree with him, because I know of examples where, for reasons of scheduling, the plans committee has missed the deadline. We have one example in Charnwood, where several hundred housing units have just been approved—very sensibly with the support of the local community—but the committee missed that annual event, so it looks as though the council does not have a five-year land supply.

John Howell

I want to make two quick points. First, I try to tell people as often as possible about the three-year land supply. As the Government's neighbourhood planning champion, I am happy to speak to her parish councils about it. Secondly, we argued that once things were in the annual monitoring report, no legal challenge should be possible. It is the legal challenge that costs councils a fortune.

Nicky Morgan

I certainly agree, even as a former solicitor, that lawyers can be extremely expensive—we all know that—particularly when it comes to involving barristers and others. I am sure that my parish councils would be interested in speaking to my hon. Friend further. It would be helpful if something could be done to take into account the fact that sometimes planning committees are delayed. The council might have done the right thing in getting the five-year land supply, but those delays might mean it feels unable to turn down certain applications because developers are taking advantage. It is about having a bit of flexibility in the system to take account of local demand, local need and local community views.


23 MAY 2018

Speech in debate on persecution of Christians

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The largest Christian community in Africa is in Nigeria, a country for which I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy.

The centre and south of Nigeria are tolerant places where faiths live side by side in happiness. The problem comes in the north and north-east of the country, where there is a great deal of radical Islamism. Christians are caught in the crossfire there between ethnic or illegal groups as they pursue their vendettas against other groups.

Nigeria did not stand by, however, after an attack on a Christian church. The President was summoned to Parliament and he condemned the attack in the strongest possible language. The Parliament suspended its sittings for three days. Before it did that, it passed a no-confidence motion in the security chiefs. That is a strong indication of the feeling across the whole of Nigeria—we should not forget that the President is a member of the Islamic faith—that the attack on the church was not to be tolerated.


22 MAY 2018

Interventions in debate on unitary status

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am not from Somerset; I am an MP for Oxfordshire, which of course is thinking of going through a unitary process as well. Does my hon. Friend think it is wise for councils that are thinking about that to share common experience and the enthusiasm that he has for a referendum on these issues?

Mr Liddell-Grainger

My hon. Friend and I have worked together for many years, and I totally respect his guidance and thoughts on this. That is a wake-up call to the Minister. We need to have referendums, because this process is not working the way it should. We need to take public opinion into account, and a referendum is the way to do that. The Government need to make sure that they insist on referendums and therefore that we have democratic control, as opposed to a democratic deficit, which is where I started in the first place.

__________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

I agree that proposals will never get unanimous support from councils, but that is not the issue. In many cases when a unitary council has been created, parish councils have not even been asked. If we are to put the emphasis on parish councils as the basic building blocks of local government, they need to be asked and they need to be included in the decision-making process.

Rishi Sunak

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. If a local area tries to demonstrate to the Government that it has a good deal of local support from every possible sector in the local area, parish councils would clearly be a set of institutions that it would be worth considering talking to. Indeed, previous proposals that we have received have specifically engaged parish councils as part of their deliberations. The charter trustee status that I mentioned also means that ancient civic traditions can be retained in an area, regardless of the final form of the restructuring that takes place.


22 MAY 2018

Question in Urgent Question on air quality

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

There are three hotspots in my own constituency all of which are in towns. What are we going to do to increase electric charging facilities in those places to overcome this problem?

Michael Gove

We have devoted £1.5 billion overall to supporting the growth of zero and ultra-low emissions vehicles, including a wider network of charge points, but I think there is more that we can do. One of the things I will be exploring with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Housing, Communities and Local Government is how we can do everything possible—both in planning and in the legislation that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), is bringing forward—to build on the leadership that my hon. Friend has shown.


22 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on sale of puppies

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady has spoken passionately about the consumer, but there is one group that she might have missed out: vulnerable people, particularly the elderly, who take those dogs in for companionship and are so badly let down. Does she agree that that is something we must also tackle?

Christine Jardine

Absolutely; that is a good point. We hear all the time that pets are not just a pleasure, but can be therapeutic. Increasingly, they say that teenagers ​ suffering from stress should be around happy dogs, puppies or cats. As the hon. Gentleman says, people who are vulnerable need protection as well.

I do not think any of us would disagree that Lucy's law must be enacted, and enacted fully. We need better enforcement of existing animal welfare laws. It is intolerable that any animal should be born and live in poor or unsanitary conditions, particularly for profit. We need mandatory licences for dog breeding to ensure that when a breeder is found to be mistreating animals, their licence is removed. I know that some people will say, "What about the hobby, or the person who has a dog and thinks it would be nice to have a puppy?" We have to ensure that is controlled as well, and that that puppy is entitled to the same protection.


16 MAY 2018

Speech on the NHS and 70 years

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. Let me begin by reassuring the Minister that I am not going to give a list of all my medical complaints—I seem to have a tendency to do that at these debates. I will just say that they are very few in number. As one of the officers for the all-party parliamentary group for diabetes, I agree with what the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) said about diabetes, and the way we need to tackle it by fighting obesity and waiting for the effects of that to come through.

If there were one birthday present that I would like to give the NHS, the Prime Minister has already given it: a long-term plan for the NHS and a multi-year funding settlement in support of it. That is very important for a number of reasons. We all know that the NHS has suffered its most challenging winter for many years. We also know, as Opposition Members have pointed out, that we are living in an ageing society. By 2020, there will be more 70-year-olds than there were five years earlier. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and I will be in that category—I have not done the maths yet—but we will go there jointly and with good humour, I am sure. The number of over-85s will nearly double by 2035. We have to focus our services on dealing with the requirements of that group of people, who are living in a modern age where the NHS has introduced many improvements over the past few years.

For the NHS to plan and manage budgets effectively in the long term we need to move away from annual top-ups of its budget, and towards a sustainable long-term plan. Whatever plan we introduce, it has to be sustainable. We have the five year forward view as a basis on which to work towards that. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister announced to the Liaison Committee that the Government would introduce a long-term plan for the NHS and, most importantly, do so in conjunction with the leaders of the NHS, clinicians and health experts. We cannot introduce that long-term plan simply as politicians. I look forward to that with a great deal of anticipation.

We all know that care is not properly integrated—we have seen that in our constituencies—and we all know that we need to integrate health and social care more quickly than we can really manage. I fully support that process. All those things came up at a public meeting in my constituency just a few days ago. Somebody asked why we still fund the NHS on an annual basis, and I was able to point out that we are moving away from that system.

I will finish with this point: putting public health at the heart of what we are doing with the NHS is crucial. We cannot stand here and speak about the future of the NHS unless we put public health at the centre of everything we do. I recommend that course of action to the Minister.


16 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on public legal education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Does he agree that it is not just those rights that we need to educate people about? The courts are changing. We have online courts and we have online divorces, because of changes that are occurring in the Ministry of Justice. All of that plays to the strengths of young people. I wonder whether we ought to teach them how to access that justice, as well as what that justice is.

Mr Jayawardena

My hon. Friend makes an important point on how the justice system continues to evolve and how young people must be taught about all facets of the legal system, some of which I will deal with later. Indeed, in today's increasingly complex society it is more vital ​than ever to equip as many people as possible—young and old—with at least some basic knowledge about our legal system and their legal responsibilities as well as their rights.


16 MAY 2018

Question in FCO qestions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Minister has already mentioned the importance of face-to-face negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Would he please say how important that is for the future of the area?

Alistair Burt

The events of yesterday were the culmination of many things, but one of things they were the culmination of was the failure of respective leaders over time to grapple with the situation and to realise how urgent and desperate it has become. The situation in Palestine and Gaza and the occupied territories will not simply be managed; it will get worse unless it is grasped and something is done to make it better.


14 MAY 2018

Question in Urgent Question on schools

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

A free school in my constituency, the Europa School, has proved very inclusive in providing good places for children. Is this not a good example of a school that adds value to the network and provides more choice for parents and children?

Damian Hinds

The free schools programme has added enormously to diversity and innovation in our school system, which is why it is important that we continue to expand their number, through our plans for another 110 or so over the next few years.


10 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on nursing education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I think my hon. Friend the Minister has forgotten that the Minister for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), is also here, which reinforces the point that the starting point for promoting nursing is at school. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Stephen Barclay

I do agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed we have three Ministers from the Department for Education here, which again shows the Government's joined-up approach. The NHS, as the employer of 1.5 million people, is a standard setter that can provide leadership in the apprenticeships market and looks at ​doing so not just for nursing apprenticeships, but across a range of apprenticeship routes. The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who is a former Minister in the Department of Health, understands that issue extremely well.


09 MAY 2018

Intervention on electric cars

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Nissan has already said that we are not being ambitious enough, that we will be overtaken by the provision of things such as electric charging points, and that electric vehicles will be here sooner rather than later?

Jim Shannon

I heard Nissan say that, so I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman refers to.

The Library briefing for the debate states:

"Though concerns have been raised about the extra demand EVs will add to the electricity grid, the system operator National Grid have said many predictions are exaggerated."

We need some reality in this debate, and I hope that we can get it.


09 MAY 2018

Speech on lawyers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

As a non-lawyer, I will start by looking at the justice system as a whole. In doing so, I see that the courts need to become online courts—I have discussed that with Lord Briggs and have seen how it is developing. I see the Ministry of Justice bringing forward online divorces, which is an interesting proposal. I also see £1 billion being put into court reform and modernisation, which will improve working conditions for those in court and speed up many paper-based activities. Finally, I see modernising reforms in other areas, such as the Crown court digital case system, to encourage electronic evidence.

Those reforms create a simpler, fairer and more modern payment scheme for all advocates. As has been described, it replaces an archaic system, under which barristers billed by pages of evidence, regardless of the level of complexity or the work involved. This is not a cut to barristers' fees. In fact, the Ministry of Justice estimates that around two thirds of advocates would have benefited from the new schemes had they been in place in 2016-17.

The Minister has said that she has listened carefully to the views of respondents, particularly the concerns raised in relation to junior advocates in the solicitor and barrister professions alike, and that the rebalancing she has done has been to everyone's advantage. I do not think this statutory instrument should be revoked, and I am happy to support the Government on this.


09 MAY 2018

Intervention on Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Minister may be aware that in the last few hours, I have had a conversation with the head of Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, who says that the Government are moving in the right direction on this, and have already agreed to pay for an association and are moving in the right direction on that. If the Minister is going to oppose the amendment, he has my full support and that of the head of Culham.​

Richard Harrington

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, which I believe reflects the progress that we have made. He works very hard for Culham; it is an extremely impressive place and I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House supports what they do.


09 MAY 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Learning Disabilities

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Surely the quicker integration of the NHS with social care across the board will help to solve some of these problems. Does the Minister agree with that?

Caroline Dinenage

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The integration of health and social care services is absolutely vital, and that is why we are so delighted that we have renamed the Department as the Department of Health and Social Care. That has to be more than just a title; it has to be a statement of intent.


08 MAY 2018

Question in debate on Rohingya

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I think the point the hon. Lady is making is that the biggest risk is the type of land on which people have been settled. Will she join me in calling for the British Government to work with the Bangladeshi Government to try to find risk-free land where these people can settle?

Jo Stevens

I entirely agree that it is about the topography, but it is also about the flimsiness of the available shelters—and not everyone has a shelter. The Bangladeshi Government have done wonders, given the limitations they have.


08 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on skills

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Culham Science Centre in my constituency? It has got together an apprenticeship hub that specialises in providing high-tech engineering apprenticeships for local people, and it has transformed how local firms react to those skills.

Robert Halfon

My hon. Friend is a champion of skills and apprenticeships, and the Culham laboratory is exactly what we need to build up our skills base and address our skills deficit. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to the organisation he mentions.

Shortages of skilled manual labour in manufacturing remain at their highest level since records began. That concern is echoed by the CBI, whose education and skills survey last year showed that the number of businesses that are not confident about being able to hire enough skilled labour is twice that of those that are confident. Reducing the skills shortages must be a key aim of our skills strategy and a barometer of its success.


02 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on prison officers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have a number of personal case studies from prison officers at the prison in my constituency. One of the issues that they have flagged up is that changes have, in effect, blocked their ability to be promoted, because to accept promotion, officers have to sign up to the lesser conditions, so we are losing the experienced officers whom we so need to run our prisons. Is my hon. Friend aware of that and does he share those concerns?

Gordon Henderson

Yes and yes. That is just another example of the way in which those in the Prison Service—prison officers in particular but also other prison staff—are treated as second-class citizens of the public service. It is time for us to treat them in exactly the same way as police officers and firefighters.

Equalising the retirement age, for example, would help to make the role of a prison officer more attractive, as would increasing the salary structure. It is difficult to recruit prison staff because they are paid less than other public sector workers, such as border staff. A lot of prison officers who leave the service become border staff. Is it any wonder that a very small minority of corrupt prison officers are tempted to earn money on the side by turning a blind eye to criminal activity in prisons?


02 MAY 2018

Question and speech on HPV virus

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend mentions the 2,000 people. Does he have an estimate of the total number of people who might be spared the effects of the virus if the actions that he proposes are taken?

Sir Roger Gale

I am afraid that I do not. The figure that I have is 2,000 people a year, so one has to assume that it is that—but it is growing.

The reason why the condition is becoming more prominent, not less, is the change in sexual attitudes from the 1960s onwards, when practices that were previously unacceptable became acceptable. Oral sex, for example, became relatively commonplace. We can therefore expect, certainly within the next 10, 15 or 20 years, a significant rise in the number of cases. The discussion has to be about what happens after that and whether the herd immunity actually works. I am arguing that it will not, for the reasons I have given.

______________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. There is not much more that I can add to the presentations that have been made by my colleagues, but I want to make a couple of points. First, this is not simply about the sexual relationships of gay people. It affects all of us. My colleagues made that point firmly, but we need to make it again. Secondly, this virus is horrible. It is a disgraceful virus—to anthropomorphise a virus. We have heard the descriptions of the cancers that are induced by it.

I want to concentrate on the preventive powers of this vaccination for genital warts. There is a strong case for that. They may appear to be insignificant, but I do not believe that they are; they are much more widely distributed among the population than the cancers induced by the virus. My hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) and for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) have made a compelling case for the immunisation of boys, which I fully support.


02 MAY 2018

Intervention in 3rd reading of Sanctions Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Minister acknowledge, as I do, how important this Bill is in the context of dealing with terrorist money? Only last week, in the Council of Europe, we had a debate about trying to prevent the flow of funds that kept terrorist organisations, and Daesh in particular, afloat. This Bill will play a major role in helping towards that.

Sir Alan Duncan

As I have said, this Bill will not only ensure that we have the power to comply with our obligations under the UN charter, but allow us to support our wider foreign policy and national security goals after we leave the EU. The powers and purposes in the Bill give us wide scope for applying sanctions wherever we think those powers need to be used in order to assist our foreign policy goals, and indeed for the wider decency and morality of the world of which we are a part. The Bill will enable us to keep up to date with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing measures. It is an important piece of legislation, ensuring maximum continuity and certainty for individuals, businesses and international partners.


02 MAY 2018

Question in debate on solitary confinement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Given what the hon. Lady has said about the definitions of solitary confinement, it would be helpful to know how many people she thinks are trapped in the solitary confinement system, so that we can get a feel for how big the problem is.

Seema Malhotra

I will come on to that point. One point I will make is about the inadequate collection of data. What information we receive comes partly through the lens of healthcare providers and charities that are taking calls from prisoners in distress.


30 APR 2018

Intervention in Windrush debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the BBC interviewed a Caribbean Prime Minister who stated that this was "more cock-up than conspiracy". Does that not influence our decision? It was an administrative mistake that must be put right as quickly as possible.

Steve Double

My hon. Friend is right. This is a mistake, not a conspiracy, with a well-meaning policy having been wrongly applied to people to whom it should never have been applied. I will go on to develop that point, as I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members will do


30 APR 2018

Question on teaching of Syrian refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Last week, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), I was at the Council of Europe, where I spoke about Jordan's effort to educate so many Syrian refugees. What is the Secretary of State going to do to help with the crisis in early years education in that country?

Penny Mordaunt

We are doing a range of things. As a general principle, I am keen that, whether in respect of humanitarian or more traditional forms of economic development, we join up the different programmes that we run—that we join up our maternal health provision with our early years provision and our education provision—and that we build systems as we go. There are many things that we can do to strengthen the healthcare and education systems of those countries in the region that are hosting refugees. I hope that one day we will be able to make similar contributions and give similar technical advice to Syria.


30 APR 2018

Notes of meeting between Minister and small schools

In my periodic meetings with schools in the constituency some issues recurr for small schools. I invited representatives from these schools to Westminster to meet with the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP, to put their concerns directly to him. The meeting took place on Monday 30th April with representatives from Stoke Row, Dorchester, South Stoke, Lewknor, Badgemore, Marsh Baldon, Ewelme, Checkendon and Bishopswood who had taken up my invitation.

The Minister expressed his s...trong support for small rural schools, not least because he does not favour young children having to go to school by bus or taxi. He reminded the meeting that the Government has a 'presumption against closure' meaning that it would be a last resort to see a small rural small closed.

The meeting was an open and wider ranging discussion on issues that the representatives wished to raise. The Minister had brought along key officials from the Department who listened carefully to the discussion to take back comment and suggestions to feed into future decision making. Budget issues were raised including formula funding and others specific issues, for example, providing free school meals without a kitchen and other costs arising from lack of on-site facilities. The meeting also discussed key issues such as performance measures with small cohorts, Ofsted for small schools, Academies and Federation.

In summary the Minister thanked the representatives for raising these issues with him and said that their comments would help inform future decision on the funding formula, the definition of sparsity, collaboration, and ways of presenting data on small schools. He did not promise major change as any change for small schools necessarily had a knock-on effect on other schools. However he did say that things can be 'tweaked' each year and promised to look at the issues raised.

I said :

'I am grateful to the Minister and to all those who came along for giving their time to discuss these issues. Small Schools in Oxfordshire do have some specific issues not least due to their relative proximity to each other and yet the distinctiveness of the individual communities. The Minister was open to learn from their experience and genuinely listened to their comments. It was good to have members of his team present to take away the comments and feed them into their ongoing work. Only by raising these issues can we hope to see change.'


28 APR 2018

Question at Council of Europe to Macedonian Foreign Minister

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Since Macedonia appeared before the European Court of Human Rights in 2012, what have you done to clean up the human rights record of Macedonia?

Mr DIMITROV – The first question was very detailed, and I appreciate it. Throughout this month of talks with our Greek friends – I think this is true for their side as well, but I can speak for our side – we have had this difficulty of juggling two interests that are not always compatible. One is to protect the process, where negotiations actually take place, and the other is to inform the public. The danger of presenting negotiating positions publicly is that they will become national positions, thereby limiting the space for the negotiations and for talks to proceed. I am therefore debating with myself as I speak whether I should touch on some of the concrete issues.

We all know the positions on both sides. I do not know whether it will help if we say that a solution must include both our positions; we have to think creatively, to see whether we can move the elements in a way that will ensure that it covers what is most important in Athens and what is really important in Skopje. That is easier said than done. To do that, we have to put more weight on the talks at the table, and of course, once there is a package that both sides are willing to support, we have to go over details and elaborate on everything to the public, and so on. I see this tension, and I do not know whether we have done a perfect job in balancing the two sets of interests in recent months.

There was another question on corruption, and the third question was on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and what we do domestically. I will answer the latter question somewhat symbolically. With regard to those who fail to get justice, or think that justice has failed them at home, in terms of the domestic procedures, all citizens are aware of the light and the credibility of the European Court of Human Rights. That is why I think – this was my last point in my speech – it is so important to protect the integrity and credibility of that beacon of hope and justice; we do not have too many of those nowadays, even in Europe.

At home, in the long run, two significant elements will be important in maintaining this effort. One of them is the awakening of the civil society that is there, so that it is aware of its potential and strength. If governments are left unchecked, they will make a mistake sooner or later, so you have to have a strong civil society, watching, criticising, praising, and engaging with them. I think we have that. That is a major achievement that is not about laws and legislation; it is a result of the crisis of impunity that we faced.

On corruption, we are preparing a new public procurement law, which will be in line with the European experience. For instance, with regard to the fight to attract foreign direct investment, matters regarding all investments made under the State aid incentives offered to foreign companies, so that they would come and create jobs, were classified. Under the new system, we declassified them, and we will have a standardised State aid system, in which aid is contingent on the number of jobs created, the amount of investment, the impact of the investment on the domestic economy, and so on. Before, this was done in the shadows; it will now be completely in the open, transparent, and standardised, and things will be equal for all companies. Thank you.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on derogations from human rights

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – This paper deals with situations that are not actually very common. It gives the example of three member States that have had derogations – Ukraine, France and Turkey – although France has now withdrawn its derogation. As we have heard, the Convention envisages States derogating in certain circumstances, particularly war and public emergencies, and when we look at these three examples, we see that those countries have faced major problems. We should not underestimate the scale and horror of the terrorist threats and unpredictable challenges facing France. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the extent of the problems caused by the Russian invasion of parts of Ukraine, or for Turkey, in slightly different circumstances, of the implications of the failed coup. These situations are very serious, and as the guardians of human rights in Europe, we must assess whether the measures used are proportionate. That is the key test. It is perfectly proper for the Council of Europe to look at this issue, but we should take a strong and robust view of human rights in such situations with that mind. If we do not do so, the danger is that we will make the situation worse, and we will be no better than those seeking to use such situations to cause problems.

Whatever the advice given by the Council of Europe and its Secretary General, the decision to use a derogation must remain with the State. We are talking about achieving a balance between the rights of the State and the right of a supra-national body such as this Organisation to take action. With that in mind, we and the countries involved must be very careful, and we must ensure that the Secretary General does not have a veto on a State having a derogation. After all, a derogation does not mean that the circumstances fall outside the European Convention on Human Rights or that it does not apply, although a derogation may affect the extent of the State's obligations. Rather than this role falling to the Secretary General, as the report suggests, it should be undertaken by an individual judge from the European Court of Human Rights. That judge may not be able to sit again in any subsequent action, but we should use the expertise that they have. The report recommends a multi-level strategic response, but I would prefer that to be in the context of having selected a judge to do it and being able to use their expertise.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on funding of Daesh

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I congratulate the rapporteur on this excellent report. The only change that I would make is to the title. Some extra words should be added, because it is about not just "lessons learned" but actions to be taken. That is important because the report sets out some very useful steps for the future, even though the ground war against Daesh appears to be being won. I was drawn to paragraph 13 of the report, which points out that Daesh has been named one of the richest terrorist groups in the world. I know that the rapporteur mentioned that. I do not think that it matters that Daesh may have spent most of its money on payments to the fighters that it uses. The point made in the report is that Daesh was able to amass earnings from the territory it controlled, which has made intercepting the flow more difficult and means that the actions on the ground should continue. The use of Iraqi and Syrian independent traders and the potential involvement of the Syrian State in exploiting the extracted oil is to be deplored.

I am an archaeologist by background and so, personally, a great distress has been created by the robbing and looting of cultural artefacts—that is, when they are not being destroyed. They have almost certainly gone into private hands and we need to do all we can to get them back. More importantly, their total context has been lost. I am not sure what we can do to stop that, except to work hard and to drive Daesh out of its homeland.

Reading the report brings home to me how porous the system is for controlling the global spread of funds for Daesh and others. The report has a long list of things that the United Nations, the Council of Europe and individual countries must do. Daesh's task is actually the simpler one: transferring money. The task of intercepting and stopping those funds is much more difficult. The rapporteur also pointed out Daesh's use of social media to facilitate payments. We need to think about how we can stop social media being used in that way.

I wish the report the best of luck and emphasise that countries and organisations should take its recommendations and implement them as quickly as possible.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on climate change

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I am glad that Lord Prescott has not decided to follow the Arsenal football manager, Arsène Wenger, and retire, because this report makes some very good and fundamental points. As it points out, our climate is warming at an alarming rate, and I too look nervously at the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. However, I want to turn to the issues around the Marrakesh Agreement and the situation in developing countries.I say this in my role as the United Kingdom Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria. I mention that to show that this is an example of a parliamentarian being involved with a developing country, and because this is a country that is heading for a population of 400 million people by 2050, making it the third most populous country in the world. It has an economy that has been based on oil and gas, which has led to many problems affecting the currency and sustainability. I have been very pleased to see a political agenda based on diversification of the economy and, in this context, the leadership of Europe in promoting alternatives to oil and gas. The use of solar power is really taking off, and there are now growing areas of solar power installations. It is a very good example of what the report calls well-informed and supportive actors taking a role in this country. Combine this too with moves to make the agricultural economy more sustainable and we have a model for the developing world that I think is second to none. My colleague Cheryl Gillan will speak about electric cars, but let me just say that I think they have a major role in reducing pollution. But in order to take that forward, we need some real policy coherence right across the board to make sure that it works. She will explain more about that.

Finally, in what the report calls the "squeezing of emissions", I mention the case of plastics. This is not only a question of protecting marine environments, but it is also a case of limiting emissions. I am pleased to see that this is being tackled on a global basis, and it was tackled at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings in London, where the United Kingdom Government allocated £20 million to curb environmental pollution that has been generated by the manufacturing of plastics. As the report points out, the last four years have been the hottest on record for our planet, and we need to work hard to ensure that we do all we can to tackle the problem of emissions and to reduce them. We need to ensure that we are working globally on this, as it is, above all, a global problem.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Libya

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – The report sets out an order of priority for those affected by our failure to see Libya transformed as a result of the Arab Spring. I shall concentrate on one particular group: migrants. It will be of interest to many that there is already a trickle of migrants from African countries, making their way to the Libyan coast, where they are submitting themselves to the evil people-traffickers so that they can cross the Mediterranean in the direction of Italy. That trickle is nothing compared with the potential flood of migrants who are going to follow that route if we do not take action to improve the economies of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. The crisis in northern Nigeria involving Boko Haram is already affecting Libya. There needs to be a concentration of effort, not only to encourage the sharing of the proceeds of growth in those countries, but to tackle firmly the people-traffickers who make their money from the misery of individuals. That means that we need to intensify the work with coastguard authorities along the coast, to ensure that they act effectively and protect human rights. More importantly, we need to prevent refugees from reaching the coast, by both helping to make their own countries attractive and ensuring that Libya's borders truly reflect the territorial integrity of the country.

Of course, all that still leaves a big issue to be decided: human rights in Libya. Much needs to be done and can be done to improve human rights in Libya, but I draw attention to the need for open and fair media in the country. It is impossible for that to occur overnight, but we should concentrate on that, because it holds the key to so many areas of development in Libya and is certainly something with which we should help.

Libya is not a good example of how the Arab Spring should have turned out and it is not a good example of the way in which the West's activity should occur. For that reason alone, we need to do all that we can to help Libya to return to being a proper nation State.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on internally displaced people

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives) – The United Nations estimates that the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is over 65 million, so the 4 million internally displaced persons in Europe is but a sideshow of a major world problem that includes all refugees. Given the situations that have caused the displacement of people, it is unlikely that the protagonists in this will simply roll over and accept what the report asks for. There will be violations of human rights. We need to recognise the confused state of the area we are talking about, and the absence of any effective monitoring. A balance needs to be struck in the report between setting a framework and its effective implementation. It is legitimate to try to set a framework and to draw a line in the sand, but the expectation of no contraventions should not be high. With regard to the situation in Ukraine, for example, the report makes two recommendations to the Russian Federation: first, that it refrain from supplying weapons that are likely to exacerbate the problems for those who are displaced; secondly, that it allow in humanitarian observers. Personally – I would like to be proved wrong – I do not think that the Russians are going to play ball. I had hoped that the report would concentrate more on the practical steps we will take to try to implement its lofty and well-meaning recommendations. I do not think that relying on the European Court of Human Rights and its outcomes is enough; in many cases, those outcomes will simply be ignored.

I mention Ukraine because the problem there is the most serious in Europe, with the highest number of displaced persons. If we can get that situation right, we will be on course to get this right across the whole of Europe. The solution lies in placing much more emphasis on ending conflicts, rather than in being seen to continue the occupation involved in the conflicts, and in being seen to reinforce the reasons for people being displaced. We need to do a lot more to show that we are really concerned about implementation, and the practical steps that can be taken. The report does mention practical steps, such as using satellite imagery to help with this. I would like to see more of that sort of thing in the report.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on hybrid war

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – First, I would like to say how out of date our whole system of regulation and legislation appears to be. This good and very timely report deals with the sort of activity that we are already seeing in States that interfere in domestic elections, in cyber-security, and in the use of social media. The report divides these activities in two. The first set of activities is of a terrorist nature; the second set is non-terrorist. We are already dealing with the former, including here at the Council; we discussed earlier this week how we can limit the finances of Daesh. The second group should itself be divided into two. First, there is the question of cyber-attack, which is one of the most dangerous activities that we have seen, and comes very close to military action. Imagine, for example, the effect of a cyber-attack on air traffic control – it could down civil aircraft – or think of the recent attack on the United Kingdom health service. This category comes nearest to an independent attack on a separate State. I realise that there are sometimes difficulties in tracing such attacks and ascribing blame. The way of tackling this is, at the moment, largely defensive. It is difficult to see how the situation could be improved technologically; this is not a race for better technology. One of the objectives for United Kingdom cyber-activity is to shape an open, vibrant and stable cyber-space that citizens can use, and that supports open societies, but the human rights situation that applies in this respect should be exactly the same as it is when there is military action.

That is an important point, because it highlights the futility that is described in the report and was seen in one country, where people were arrested for supporting websites advocating unity with Russia, and for advocating unity with the United States of America. The report highlights the need to ensure the application of all Council of Europe principles in these circumstances. One principle that applies throughout the report is proportionality in approaching this and putting in place a framework, but the concentration on cyber strongly needs to be maintained. Thank you.


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on educating refugees

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – The report highlights a number of good points and I congratulate the rapporteur. I think we all agree that education is important, and that it is very important for these children. However, the picture she presents is mixed. My government has made it clear that the protection and enhancement of children who come from conflict areas will remain a top priority, and I think we can all agree on that, too. Jordan, one of our Partners for Democracy, is a very welcoming country which is doing a lot to provide teaching for the Syrian refugees there, yet even in Jordan there is a major problem of providing the early-years education that will set these children up to perform well later in school. That is in a country that has made impressive strides in school access and attainment.

Education can also play an enormous role in these children settling down and in the peace process. How, for example, can we have a proper conversation with a child who cannot do a basic maths sum or who does not have a good grasp of English? Strains have been put on the local economy, too, as a result, and Jordan needs long-term help in the development of its economic infrastructure.

I welcome the United Nations work to help the children of refugees, and in particular the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We should also expand the availability and use of the toolkit produced by the Council of Europe; that is a valuable resource and we should promote it.

In view of the press coverage after the Christmas attacks in Cologne, another important area is the sort of sexual education programme which Norway was running to teach young male migrants appropriate sexual behaviour. That is key to ensuring we can overcome some of the cultural difficulties and assure people of the appropriateness of what we are doing.

There is a negative point to make in the context of keeping children safe, however, and the example I shall use in illustrating it is the placing of military equipment in schools in Gaza by Hamas. This use of schools as human shields must be deplored. It has been widely commented on, and it destroys the status of schools as a place to keep children safe and a safe haven, and we should not be prepared to accept that.


20 APR 2018

Business Question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Can we have a debate on the work of the Council of Europe, hopefully on an annual basis? As we leave the EU, it becomes the most important organisation in Europe of which we are still a member, and yesterday there was cross-party agreement to such a debate.

Andrea Leadsom

My hon. Friend makes a really interesting suggestion, and I am certainly happy to take it away and look at it.


18 APR 2018

Speech on the Council of Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

As I discussed with the previous Lord Chancellor, we have a magnificent success record at the European Court of Human Rights. Well over 90% of our cases are dropped or turned away. We should celebrate that to ensure that the ECHR is not seen as an attack vehicle by organisations such as the Daily Mail.

Vernon Coaker

I agree. The hon. Gentleman will remember that it was the European Court of Human Rights that ensured that thalidomide victims got the justice they deserved.

________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). Colleagues have called him their hon. Friend and, given the spirit in which we have talked about the Council of Europe, I completely agree. I find the Council a most relaxing and agreeable place to speak: one can be assured of speaking for three or four minutes without interruption. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister is about to leap to his feet, but I will not take any interventions.

The hon. Member for Gedling is absolutely right that we need to do more to promote the Council of Europe. We already promote Select Committees with debates in the main Chamber, and I fully endorse the comment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) that we should have a debate about the Council on the Floor of the House. However, the hon. Gentleman missed an important point: the Council of Europe itself needs to sell what it does more robustly. Importantly, it has a number of so-called partners for democracy, who sit around the outside of the Chamber and can speak during debates, among whom are the Palestinians and Israel. I cannot think of another organisation where both are present and both speak regularly in debates. It is important to bear that in mind.

I repeat the comments I made about the European Court of Human Rights. During the Brexit campaign, I think many people thought we were arguing about the European Court of Human Rights when we were actually arguing about the European Court of Justice. There is a tremendous amount to be done to ensure that those Courts are seen to be separate. We should make a point of communicating strongly our success rate with the European Court of Human Rights.

I agree that not everything is lovely at the Council. It has two major problems, both of which we can deal with internally. The first is corruption, which we saw with the previous President of the Parliamentary Assembly. New rules have been introduced that will apply to the Council, and there are more to come: I understand that a 200-page document on corruption in the Council has been prepared. The second problem stems from the Russians' withdrawal of funds: we need to look at the Council's finances as a whole. It is no use continuing with the same means of funding. We need to concentrate on what the Council does best and ensure that it is adequately funded to do that. On those notes, I shall leave the floor to others.


17 APR 2018

Question at Treasury Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on ensuring that people have high-tech skills to increase productivity. [904785]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Robert Jenrick)

The Government are working across Departments to help to prepare businesses and working people to seize the opportunities that technology will bring. At the Budget we announced, among other measures, a trebling of fully qualified computer science teachers, the creation of a T-level in digital skills and the retraining partnership that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has spoken about.

John Howell

What steps are the Government taking to make sure that these skills are widely available?

Robert Jenrick

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are trying to roll out our changes in apprenticeships, T-levels and other matters as quickly as possible across the country. We commissioned the Juergen Maier "Made Smarter" review to increase the adoption of digital technology in businesses—particularly small and medium-sized enterprises—and we will follow up on that in the months to come.


17 APR 2018

Who to contact over parking at Townlands

Since my last post on this subject http://www.johnhowellmp.com/news/parking-at-townlands/1178 I am pleased to say that NHS Property Services who manage the building are working to try to improve the system. They work with Smart Parking. They have acknowledged that some patients have experienced inconvenience and distress and have interceded with Smart Parking where incorrect or harshly issued penalty notices have been given to get them rescinded.

NHS Property Services has advised that if anyone would like NHS Property Services to assist in their case they should contact the NHS Property Services Customer Service Team in the first instance. They will then direct anything received to the relevant people. Their email address is customer.service@property.nhs.uk and the contact telephone number is 0800 085 3015.


16 APR 2018

My Home Office question about Syrian refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What progress the Government have made in placing vulnerable Syrian families in the UK. [904753]

The Minister for Immigration (Caroline Nokes)

It is important that we focus our support on the most vulnerable refugees in the region who are fleeing the atrocities in Syria, whatever their nationality. We are more than halfway towards reaching our commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees. As of December, 10,538 refugees had been welcomed in the UK under the scheme. We will continue to work closely with local authorities and devolved Administrations to ensure that we meet our commitments.

John Howell

Is my right hon. Friend continuing to work closely with local authorities? She mentioned a figure of 10,500, but how is she doing at meeting the 20,000 target within a couple of years?

Caroline Nokes

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of working collaboratively with local authorities. We also work hard with charities, housing associations and civic society to help refugees on the road to integration. During the recess, I was fortunate to visit World Jewish Relief, Coventry City Council and Horton Housing, among others, which are working with resettled families who are being helped into work as part of their integration. He is right to mention the 20,000 target and I am absolutely confident that we will reach it by 2020.


03 APR 2018

Ban on ivory confirmed

Today, Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed that the UK will introduce a ban on ivory sales.

The proposed ban will be the toughest in Europe and amongst the toughest in the world – helping to protect elephants for future generations.

The move follows a consultation which had more than 70,000 responses – with over 88 percent in favour of the ban.

The UK has long been a global leader in the international fight against the illegal ivory trade. But over the last decade, the number of elephants has declined by almost a third and around 20,000 a year are still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory – showing there is more to do.

As part of our action to tackle the Ivory trade, at a recent European Environment Council, the UK called for EU member states to ban commercial trade in raw ivory – which is already banned in the UK – within the EU as soon as possible.

Following on from the ground breaking conference on the illegal wildlife trade held in London in 2014, the UK will host the fourth international conference on the illegal wildlife trade in October. This will bring global leaders to London to tackle the strategic challenges of the trade.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said:

"Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations.

"The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK's global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past."

I said:

"This announcement confirms that this Conservative Government will make every effort to halt the heart-breaking decline in Africa's elephant population in recent years.

"We need to leave our planet in a better state for the next generation, with stronger protections for animal welfare, but also cleaner air, greener spaces and tougher action on plastic waste."

The CEO of Tusk Trust, Charlie Mayhew MBE said:

"We are delighted that the Government has listened to our concerns and given the overwhelming public response to their consultation is now moving decisively to introduce tough legislation to ban the trade in ivory in the UK.

"The narrowly defined exemptions are pragmatic. The ban will ensure there is no value for modern day ivory and the tusks of recently poached elephants cannot enter the UK market. We welcome the fact that Ministers are sending such a clear message to the world that the illegal wildlife trade will not be tolerated and every effort will be made to halt the shocking decline in Africa's elephant population in recent years."


29 MAR 2018

Speech on autism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and all my other colleagues who have spoken on this matter. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). I am very pleased to support World Autism Awareness Week.

I have a constituency interest and a personal interest in this issue. The constituency has a large number of centres that provide support to those with autism. We also have a spectacular charity, Music for Autism. I was interested to hear the comments on the link between music and those with autism, which has been enormously helpful. I hope to come on to my personal interest in due course.

Young people and adults with autism are some of the most loyal and hardworking people I have ever come across. All they need is a chance, and that chance comes through early diagnosis. The more I have looked at this issue, the more I have become attached to the idea of one-stop shops for parents or guardians. Provision varies depending on where one is in the UK. I refer Members to the Department for Education report that covers that, by our former colleague Lee Scott.

On school exclusions, what has shocked me the most is that young people with autism face more exclusions than any other group. That is a frightening thing to take on board. It is perhaps not surprising when we have heard that some schools are excluding people when they know that Ofsted is coming—a disgraceful use of the system.

My personal interest is as an ambassador for a scheme that goes by the names of the Glyn Hopkin Foundation, the Sycamore Trust, and Space—Supporting People with Autism into Continued Employment. The charity does a lot of the work that hon. Members have been talking about the Government providing. It not only provides people who are fully ready for work; it provides advice to employers on how they should go about changing their own operations to make them autism friendly. What I have taken away from its work is a reminder that minor, easy adjustments to recruitment and the workplace can make a huge difference. I am currently trying to take a young person with autism into my office here in the House of Commons to work alongside me, initially for a few weeks on my first attempt. It is a great privilege to be involved in this area.

I will finish a little earlier for similar reasons to those given by the hon. Member for Bristol West, but I will say that the Department for Education has done great work over many years. This is not a question of funding, but attitude. It is a question of getting the attitude right in the Department to face this opportunity to make the most out of those with autism, so that they can better contribute to our society.

Teaching has been mentioned. I am very appreciative of all that has been said about the provision of training for teachers, but actually I would not blame the teachers at all on this issue. I blame a number of local education authorities. It is currently very hit and miss as to whether a local education authority is autism friendly, and can cope and provide all the support services. There are many good examples, but I will not name them now.

Dame Cheryl Gillan

Does my hon. Friend agree that not only is it important that schools do not exclude a pupil with autism when the Ofsted inspectors are coming into the school, but that those Ofsted inspectors should be fully trained to understand autism? They could then inspect a real class in a real situation and see how the school handled it.

John Howell

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I expect Ofsted inspectors to be trained to ask the question, "Who has been excluded who has an autistic condition?" That should be fundamental to what an Ofsted inspector asks before beginning an examination. My criticism of local education authorities includes the fact that many do not pass on all the funding given to them by central Government. There is a great need for ring-fencing such funds so that LEAs can carry out what we are asking them to do.


29 MAR 2018

Question in Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In view of research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that highlights how homeownership has declined over the past 20 years, may we have a debate on what the Government are doing to help people on to the housing ladder?

Andrea Leadsom

My hon. Friend's point is incredibly important to this Government, and we are fully committed to tackling that issue. There were 365,000 new first-time buyers in the UK last year, which is the highest number since 2006. There is a lot more to do, and we are committed both to tackling supply problems and to helping people on the demand side.


29 MAR 2018

Question in debate on patient safety

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend may have seen that the Medical Protection Society is asking for the bar to be lifted on criminal proceedings and for ​ the General Medical Council to be shaken up a bit to improve its approach to dealing with this issue. Does she have any sympathy with that?

Dr Johnson

I will come on to that later, but I agree with my hon. Friend.

I have worked with at least two colleagues who made significant errors. Many lessons were learned and widely disseminated. Training was provided to stop recurrence, but neither doctor was prosecuted. Throughout my career it has been the case that, if a doctor does their best but makes a genuine error, they will not face criminal charges. Gross negligence manslaughter was seen to be an appropriate sanction for the doctor who refuses to see a patient, who turns up intoxicated or who deliberately does something wrong. That facilitates a no-blame or airline safety-style culture, promoted by the Secretary of State, in which errors are identified and continuous improvements are made.


28 MAR 2018

Intervention in debate on GPs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady has made a brilliant start to her speech. I did a similar survey to the one she describes in my own constituency, and I found that access to GPs was almost instantaneous provided that people did not specify the GP they wanted to see. My own practice consists of a number of GPs. I think the results are patchy around the country. Is this not a time to look at the old partnership structure of GPs, to avoid the situation where a young doctor has to find £100,000 or £200,000 in order to go into practice?

Bridget Phillipson

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point about patchiness, and I hope the Minister will be able to respond to it in his summing-up. There are big regional variations, and differences even within cities and towns, and we need to try to even out access to general practice. He raises an important point about routes into the profession and the barriers that they sometimes place in the way of those seeking to work in general practice, and I hope the Minister will say a bit more about what the Department will seek to do to take away some of those barriers.


28 MAR 2018

Question in statement on Warboys

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

How will the Secretary of State establish a balance between open justice for the system under which the Parole Board operates and at the same time preventing it from effectively operating as trial by media, because of the activities of the media around famous cases such as this one?

Mr Gauke

My hon. Friend draws out exactly the tension that we have to resolve. We need to be more transparent; the House rightly demands that. In doing so, we must recognise that it is the Parole Board that would review the documentation and should do so very thoroughly, probe carefully, then reach its conclusion. If those processes are thorough, we have to support the Parole Board in delivering that.


28 MAR 2018

Outline of deposit return scheme

A deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates and slash the amount of waste polluting our land and seas will be introduced subject to consultation later this year, it was confirmed today.

UK consumers go through an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year, but more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment.

The consultation will look at the details of how such a scheme would work, alongside other measures to increase recycling rates. We hope to talk to the devolved administrations about the scope for working together on this important issue.

Similar schemes already operate in countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany. A deposit return scheme sees consumers pay an up-front deposit when they buy a drink, ranging from 8p in Sweden to 22p in Germany, which is redeemed on return of the empty drink container. Possible variants of a deposit return scheme include cash rewards for returning drinks containers without an upfront deposit.

This is often done through a network of 'reverse vending machines', where you insert your plastic or glass bottle or can and the machine returns your money. Once a bottle is returned, businesses are then responsible for making sure they are effectively recycled – a move that has led to a 97% recycling rate in Germany.

Today's announcement is the latest move in the government crackdown on plastic, following the plastic microbead ban hailed as one of the world's strongest bans and the 5p plastic bag charge – which has led to 9 billion fewer bags distributed. It also follows the recent call for evidence by HM Treasury on taxes and charges to reduce waste from single-use plastics, so that all relevant findings can be fed into the proposals.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

"We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment – killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats. It is absolutely vital we act now to tackle this threat and curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled.

"We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans."

I said:

"The amount of waste polluting our land and seas remains a great source of frustration for residents all over this constituency. It's one of the biggest issues that's raised with me on the doorstep.

"We are working to leave our planet in a better state for the next generation, with cleaner air, greener spaces, stronger protections for animal welfare and tougher action on plastic waste."


28 MAR 2018

Question in debate about legal services

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend described the contribution of legal services as a whole, but commercial law contributes a large amount to that annual income. I wonder whether he is happy with the arrangements for mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments after we leave the EU.

Robert Neill

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. At the moment, the UK is the jurisdiction of choice for the majority of commercial law contracts, litigation that follows from them, and commercial law arbitration, but we cannot take that for granted. A number of English language commercial courts that apply UK law have already been established elsewhere in the world. As I understand it, another is proposed in Amsterdam, which would clearly have an impact once we leave the EU. Mutual recognition of judgments is one of the UK legal sector's key asks, and he anticipated with great timeliness that I was about to move on to what the Law Society, the Bar Council, the City of London Corporation, TheCityUK and others in the sector are looking for from the Government to maintain the position of UK legal services once we leave the EU.


28 MAR 2018

Public meeting with GWR

On Friday 23rd March the planned meeting that I called with the MD of GWR, Mark Hopwood, and members of his team took place in Henley. I called the meeting to discuss the performance of the branch line service which had been poor and had received much complaint from constituents. The line is an important link for commuters to London and has not been working well. In particular we wanted to discuss issues of peak congestion, punctuality and cancellations.

The meeting was full and Mark Hopwood began with a detailed presentation (HenleyMeetingwithJohnHowellMP.PDF  ) in which he covered the issues of performance and capacity. He also talked of the changes ahead with the introduction of Crossrail, now known as the Elizabeth Line. The GWR team then took questions and committed to take away some operational points to see what tweaks could be made to the service to help commuters.

Those present agreed that the meeting was constructive and we look forward to the feedback on the suggestions made.

_______________________________________________________________________________

"Thank you for your email and thank you for organising the meeting. I am pleased you thought it went well - I thought so too and I am grateful for the opportunity to visit Henley and personally update customers on the route."

Mark Hopwood - MD GWR

"I am pleased that a) the meeting took place and b) GWR is not putting the Henley branch line on the back burner. Mark, as a previous commuter on the Marlow line, is well aware of, and up front with, the issues and I am sure he is doing what he can to address them."

A local councillor


27 MAR 2018

Question on providing education in Nigeria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on promoting education throughout the world. [904600]

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

Promoting access to a quality education is a moral imperative and firmly in our national interest. As a passionate feminist and someone without a sexist bone in his body, the Foreign Secretary is an advocate for education and has discussed that with the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Education, among others.

Mr Speaker

I do not mean to be unkind to the Minister, and I know she will not take it amiss. The Foreign Secretary does not need to be defended by her, and I know she would not argue with the Chair; she would come off rather worse.

John Howell

In Nigeria alone, there is an enormous market for A-levels through to university education. What help is the Minister providing to enable us to tap into that market?

Harriett Baldwin

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as a trade envoy to Nigeria. I can tell him that the Prosperity Fund global education programme is due to start this year, aiming to improve standards of education and increase UK exports, and Nigeria will be one of the countries involved.


27 MAR 2018

Speech in debate on court closures and reform

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am here because I am a member of the Justice Committee, which is meeting now. I have permission from the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), to attend and speak in the debate.

The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) has raised an important point about access to justice. We ought to keep that concept firmly in mind. We in the Committee—certainly myself—are concerned for access to justice to remain a preferred concept throughout the process, and for it to permeate everything we think and do.

There is a need to maintain a network of well-maintained and fit-for-purpose courts. I understand what the hon. Gentleman has said but, unfortunately, some courthouses are not fit for purpose, and it is necessary to root them out, look at them and make changes to the way they function.

There are three other reasons why the court system is undergoing change and why it needs to be rigorously looked at. The first reason relates to Lord Justice Briggs's work to set up the online courts, which are not yet set up in full. Lord Justice Briggs has made proposals to change the civil rules that govern how the courts work, which are being piloted in a three-stage process. It is an attractive system for running the courts, particularly for people who wish to avoid huge legal costs. The way in which the courts are being sorted out by that process is focused on the needs of individuals, because litigants in person are expected to be its clients.

Liz Saville Roberts

I listen with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman says, but does he share my concern that there are discrepancies in power between a person at a distant site contacting a court through video conferencing and a person in the court itself? We need to consider the impact of that on justice outcomes before moving ahead. As the process is at such an early stage, now is the time to do that.

John Howell

I will speak about aspects of the technology, but postpone answering that question for now, if I may. Having discussed online courts with Lord Justice Briggs, I am enthusiastic that they will come through in the fullness he wants.

The second reason for change is the need to improve technology. I recently did an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship in law, where I sat with a number of judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal for two and a half weeks. I sat with Mr Justice Knowles in a hearing in the commercial courts that was conducted entirely in Portuguese, because a Portuguese lawyer had brought the case and had elected for his case to be heard in English law. The level of sophistication of the technology had to be seen to be believed. Almost instantly after the appellant said something, the judge got a transcript in English on his laptop on his desk in front of him. That was an extremely efficient way of using technology. In the Court of Appeal, I saw for myself in a number of sentence referral cases that the court had been connected via video technology to the individual who was still in prison, in order to hear the case. I am absolutely convinced that that is a correct way to try to improve the technology.

In contrast, I experienced sitting with an employment tribunal where, as far as I was concerned, it was so antique that we might as well have been using the quill pen. Three judges were sitting. I coughed and spluttered when they said they would sit for seven days, but it was seven days because a litigant was appearing in person. Nothing was done that could not have been done on the first day—the other days were scheduled in order to ensure that more time could be given to the litigant if necessary.

Liz Saville Roberts

I want to alert people to the need to be very careful about how we use different languages in the courts, with reference to the last round of court closures. The Ministry of Justice has a Welsh language scheme, part of which is a requirement to carry out an impact assessment of changes. I and others had to press for that impact assessment to be carried out. Welsh speakers have a right to use their language in court, but with technology and changes to courts, that is truly a matter of concern.

John Howell

I will stick to the point that I started making. From what I have seen of how the courts are using technology, it is going in the right direction. The courts are making full use of the technology—indeed, they are pushing the technology beyond how we would normally expect it to be used.

The third element is alternative dispute resolution—I say that as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution takes cases out of the ambit of the courts and puts them in the hands of arbitrators who are able to hear the cases and resolve them, and they should do so. During the time I sat with judges in the commercial courts, it was obvious—the judge said it on many occasions—that people should have gone to arbitration before they went to court.

The last time I spoke on this issue, I was asked whether we ought to consider compulsory arbitration. I was doubtful at the time, but as I have come to consider it more, I now believe that a form of compulsory arbitration would be a good thing and should be included within the arbitration rules. This process is not just about the arbitration, or the alternative part of dispute resolution. Bodies such as Network Rail try to solve disputes before they happen by putting in place the mechanisms to solve them.

I mention that because it is an important point about how courts are not being used as much as they were. Alternative dispute resolution is cheaper, quicker and gives much more immediate access to justice—we should not forget that access to justice is one of the key elements of the process. It takes nothing away from the courts: if the alternative dispute resolution fails, there is still recourse to the courts at the end of the process.

Through all of this, there is a need to ensure that we connect with the communities that we are serving. Doing that through existing buildings without exploring the use of town halls and other buildings within a community is not the right way of proceeding.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

My hon. Friend made the point right at the start of his remarks about access to justice. Is he aware of any system operating thus far whereby technology replaces the entire work of a magistrates court in a full criminal case, or is that yet to be proven?

John Howell

If I do not know the answer, I think my hon. Friend is about to tell me where that is the case.

Kevin Hollinrake

No, I am asking you.

John Howell

I do not know of a case where that is happening across the whole system. The courts' use of technology and the how they are pushing it, including the exemplary work by Lord Justice Briggs to set up an online court, is going in the right direction in respect of bringing access to justice within the ambit of a huge number of people for whom—I say this with all deference to the Minister—the legal fees involved are out of this world. We should keep that in mind as being a fundamental part of ensuring access to justice.


26 MAR 2018

Questions in debate on English LIterature

John Howell

I wanted to intervene simply because I did not study English literature; I studied Latin and Greek, but there are some similarities because they are textually based. We did not have texts in the exam hall. We were not encouraged to quote extensively from the texts, although the fact that I can remember so much of Catullus probably owes a lot to the erotic content, rather than anything else. Are we getting confused over the issue of having to quote large quantities of text? I do not think that is part of the exam.

Nick Gibb

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to the specifics of that later. Through reading, pupils develop cultural literacy—my hon. Friend is an example of someone with great cultural literacy—and the shared knowledge that connects our society. Reading also helps to create shared bonds. From understanding references to a Catch-22 situation to sharing knowledge of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", literature contributes much to the underpinning ties that hold us together.

____________________________________________________________________

John Howell

I want to pursue the mental health issue, because I am a bit confused by the debate so far. We accept that students have mental health issues, which include a lot of mental health stress, but that is not entirely related to examinations. Is the hon. Lady aware of any work that has subdivided out mental health stress and tried to assess where it comes from? Otherwise, it is impossible to say, "This bit relates to exams and this bit does not."

Carol Monaghan

Of course, unless the stress is examined in great detail, it is difficult to see where it is. When we examine the number of instances of mental health problems that young people experience at different stages of their school career, we can see that young people in early secondary school have fewer issues than those who are at the point of taking national exams. There are definite links between the examination regime and young people's mental health. There are a vast number of other contributing factors, including poverty, family background and social standing—many different things—but there is increased incidence of poor mental health among young people sitting state exams.

_____________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have a terrible memory problem. I can barely remember one thing from one day to another. The reason for the change we have made is to try to raise standards. Has the hon. Lady considered the impact of this change on standards?

Helen Jones

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I will come to it later in my speech. I do not think that there is any evidence that it raises standards per se. In an exam, we measure certain things. The question is, are we measuring the right things?

In saying that, I am not at all an advocate of dumbing down. When I taught English, my students studied Shakespeare from when they came into secondary school, they read "Beowulf"—in translation, I hasten to add; I was not trying to teach 12-year-olds old English—and they read Chaucer, even when they were not in the exam. Ironically, the evidence we are getting from a lot of teachers is that the emphasis on drilling people for an exam, and the tyranny of that, is sucking creativity out of the system and narrowing people's focus, rather than widening it. While I do not believe that any great literature is inaccessible if it is taught in the right way, I am an advocate of asking the right questions. An English degree teaches one to do that. It cannot be expressed in monetary terms, in the way some people would have it, but it is a useful skill.


26 MAR 2018

More money for Oxfordshire's roads

Local roads badly affected by recent winter weather will benefit from a further £100 million to help repair any potholes and other storm damage. This money will help repair almost 2 million potholes as well as help protect the roads from any future severe weather.

This is on top of the £75 million in government funding already given to councils from the Pothole Action Fund this year, as well as the additional £46 million boost for highways authorities announced just before Christmas. Around 7 million potholes will be filled due to this money, announced in the 2016 Budget.

Oxfordshire's allocation of the latest funds amounts to £1,831,494

I said:

"This funding is welcome news for families and businesses in the Henley Constituency. 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."

Oxfordshire was given £1,315,000 in the last year and £1,036,000 in the year before that.


26 MAR 2018

Mobile van for DWP services in the constituency?

I have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ask for the provision of a mobile van service in the constituency to meet the needs of constituents.

A DWP mobile van service on certain dates per week or per month perhaps being located at either end of what is a very long and thin constituency would be useful to constituents. The model and the precedent is already in place; the Post Office already offers a mobile van service across much of the constituency and there could be some dovetailing with the work of the Post Office mobile vans.

I said:

"I realise that a lot can now be done on-line and that is a valuable service but there are still numerous occasions where interviews and face-to-face meetings are required. In addition, despite its relative closeness to Oxford and to London the broadband connections and speeds within the constituency remain patchy. Some areas simply do not have fast enough broadband. The provision of a mobile van service would be useful."

Those requiring DWP services have to go principally to Oxford, or to Reading. There is nowhere in the constituency to access information about Tax Credits, Universal Credit, Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, ESA or Pension Credit. This can cause major difficulties for individuals who may have to travel to attend multiple interviews or to register particularly so with the lack of public transport services to these destinations.


22 MAR 2018

Question to the Attorney General

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What steps the CPS is taking to increase the effectiveness of prosecutions for crimes against disabled people. [904518]

The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland)

The effects of crimes against disabled people are damaging and wide-ranging, and those crimes have no place in our society. To raise awareness of them, the CPS has revised its public policy statement, and published guides on reporting and recognising hate crime, and a support guide for victims with disabilities.

John Howell

What more can disability groups in my constituency do to raise the question of disability hate crime?

The Solicitor General

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the invaluable role played by disability support groups. Third-party reporting, where people with disabilities can have the confidence to report a crime, is invaluable. My advice would be for them to work with the police to make sure that we drive up rates of reporting and the number of prosecutions.


22 MAR 2018

Question in DCMS questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What recent assessment he has made of his Department's progress towards meeting the universal service obligation on superfast broadband coverage. [904524]

The Minister of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Margot James)

Superfast broadband is now available to 95% of UK premises, and roll-out will continue to extend coverage to as much of the remaining 5% as possible. By 2020, the universal service obligation will give everyone the legal right to high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second.

John Howell

My constituency consists of some small rural villages that, despite being relatively close to London, do not have good internet access. What can be done to help them?

Margot James

The Government are taking a range of measures to help my hon. Friend's villages. The Better Broadband scheme is available right now to anyone who cannot access speeds above 2 megabits per second. In the longer term, our universal service obligation will give everyone a right to broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second or higher by 2020.


22 MAR 2018

Good news on employment

Yesterday, we published the latest employment statistics for the UK. The broad headlines are that the employment rate is at a joint record high, the unemployment rate is at its 40-year low, and the rate of women in work is at a record high. Within the Henley constituency, the rate of youth unemployment stands at 30 and the constituency remains at 647 out of 650 for best performance. Pay before bonuses rose 2.6%.

Since 2010, the majority of employment growth has been in permanent roles, with around 70% in higher skilled work.

The broad points behind this are as follows:

  • Employment: 32.25 million (up 168,000 over the past three months and up more than 3.2 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 75.3% (up 0.8 points over the past year and up 5.1 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.45 million (down 127,000 over the past year and down by over a million since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3% (down 0.4 points over the past year and down 3.6 points since 2010).
  • Wages: Pay before bonuses pay rose 2.6% and total pay rose by 2.8%.
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 400,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010.

Other useful statistics:

  • The rate of employment is 75.3 per cent – the joint highest since records began in 1971.
  • The unemployment rate is 4.3 per cent – the joint lowest since 1975.
  • Vacancies are at 816,000 in the three months to February 2018, up 56,000 on the year and up by 349,000 since 2010.
  • The number of people working full time has increased to a new record high.
  • With over one and a half million more women in work since 2010, the female employment rate is at a new record high of 70.9%.
  • Youth unemployment has fallen by over 40% since 2010.
  • The UK has the 3rd highest employment rate in the G7.


22 MAR 2018

Intervention in debate on UK-EU Aid

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria. The aims of our aid programmes and of the EU's in that country are quite well aligned. How does the hon. Gentleman see that continuing? What happens when, as in central and eastern Europe, those aims diverge? The EU's efforts in that area fell behind.

Dr Williams

I hope the Minister will tell us how we will continue to have influence and form partnerships that are in our interest. By working together on the ground, we can ensure that our aid spend is doubly effective.


22 MAR 2018

Intervention in debate on HMOs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I just wonder what the hon. Gentleman's response will be to the NPPF consultation, in view of what he has said about houses in multiple occupation. What will he propose that we change, and how would he like to see that turn out?

Stephen Pound

May I implore the hon. Gentleman to hold his patience for a moment? If he does, he will hear exactly what I propose. I propose entirely new legislation—an amendment to article 4 directions. I know that the Minister will seize it and rush from this building with it clutched in her hand to change the law immediately, because she is on the side of the angels on this issue.


21 MAR 2018

Question on playgrounds

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Parks are not just important for allowing children to let off steam. They also play a vital role in combating loneliness. Is the hon. Gentleman going to comment on that?

Mr Leslie

Indeed I am. One of the great things that we are all very nostalgic about from our own childhoods is communal open spaces, and facilities that are largely taken for granted and rarely discussed. Not just children gain enormously from the opportunity for outdoor exercise and socialisation; new parents get to meet other parents, and playgrounds help reduce isolation. They build new friendship networks for new mums and dads. It is a great watering hole for people to come together, meet and form new bonds in the community, particularly at a big life-changing moment.

Playgrounds are a great British tradition, mostly developed in the 20th century. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Charles Wicksteed's playground equipment company near Kettering. When I mentioned to my eight-year-old daughter that I was leading this debate today, she encouraged me to call for more bars, because she is such a gymnastics enthusiastic who would go round and round on them all day long if she could, but playgrounds are also about sandboxes, swings, slides, climbing frames and roundabouts, and there are many other fantastic municipal facilities with even more exciting innovations—trampolines, paddling pools and all sorts of fantastic amenities.

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

On section 106 contributions, has the hon. Gentleman thought about using the powers in the neighbourhood planning regime to designate open and green spaces for that use?

Mr Leslie

I think that is absolutely vital. A lot of local authorities and councillors care about these issues and do exactly that. We gain from having open spaces for free-style play, but having structure in playground provision costs money, and we need to think about investing in such facilities.


16 MAR 2018

Question on electric dog collars

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend very much for giving way in this important debate. What is his opinion on sonic collars, because they have a different function but should also probably be banned?

Ross Thomson

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. One of the things that I have learned throughout this whole campaign is the range of different devices that are available. Across the world, there are hundreds of different devices using different techniques, whether that is vibrations or shocks, to administer some form of treatment for a behaviour that is unwanted. Therefore, the consultation that has been announced is very broad, which is why I encourage Members here, as well as members of the public and all sorts of organisations and charities, to make their views known on exactly this issue and these kinds of devices.


13 MAR 2018

Question on Euratom and Culham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Minister agree that at the recent meeting of the all-party group on nuclear fusion, which I chair, the Government's attitude to expanding their collaboration in nuclear activity was greatly evident?

Richard Harrington

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He also has a keen constituency interest in this, and I am very keen to represent the interests of his constituents.


13 MAR 2018

Contribution to statement on Afrin, Syria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend said that he was pragmatic about how we could move to a negotiated political settlement. Will he set out the milestones he seeks to achieve along that journey?

Alistair Burt

Several have come about recently. The Syrian negotiation committee, which reformed after meetings in Riyadh, now represents Syrian opposition and has Kurdish representatives, in order to present a united front at the Geneva talks. The failure of a secondary process—the Astana process—means, as I said earlier, that there can be more concentration on Geneva. I understand that the special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is working on a series of boxes so that people can talk about different things and gradually come back together. Most importantly, we continue, through UN efforts and resolutions, to demand humanitarian access and an end to conflict in conflicted areas. Attention should not be moved from the damage done and horrific circumstances in eastern Ghouta, and we call on all parties with a hand in that to desist from it. We also recognise that the seeds of Daesh have not been extinguished and, if any sense of that is lost, the conflict with them will re-arise as well.


12 MAR 2018

Question in urgent question on hate crime

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I join my hon. Friend the Minister in condemning these letters. In view of the similarities between anti-Muslim hate crime and the anti-Semitism that we have seen, will she reassure me that the action plan proposed by the Government will be adequate?

Victoria Atkins

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He has a long and established record of supporting our Jewish communities. Yes, the hate crime action plan covers all forms of hatred, as defined by the legislation, and of course, sadly, anti-Semitism forms part of that.


07 MAR 2018

Speech on Local Museums

John Howell (Henley) (Con) I

t is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I will not take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) about which of us is older and should feature in a museum. I am quite happy to bear his good counsel on this.

In 2014, I produced a report entitled "The Future of Local Government Archaeology Services" along with my colleague from the other place, Lord Redesdale. We are both fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, which stood behind the report, and it was commissioned by the then Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). It was a comprehensive report that looked at the future of museums, archaeology services and funding. It gathered written and oral evidence from more than 80 contributors—a reputable number—who provided insight, data and suggestions for solutions. I will not go through all of the recommendations that we came up with, although I will feature a couple of them as they relate to what other hon. Members have said. One recommendation that I will mention relates to local museums.

Many of the recommendations reflect the way in which archaeology services are organised on the ground and how people should approach them. The recommendation that relates to museums asks for an urgent rationalisation of the system for retention of material. Many museums received bag after bag of Roman brick from archaeological excavations. There is nothing that you can do with a bag of Roman brick except weigh it, and then you might as well throw it away. There is absolutely no point in keeping that brick—and I say that as an archaeologist myself. The focus on trying to retain all that takes away the focus that the museum should have on the things that it actually wants to keep and show. So we came up with a good recommendation on that.

Overall we found convincing evidence to suggest that a sharing of services on a multi-authority or sub-regional basis can lead to a much greater resilience of services. Such services would be capable of achieving economies of scale, which individual local museums cannot, as well as other benefits in terms of quality of services, greater provision of skills and expertise, and more opportunities to ensure that expertise is passed on and not lost. Local expertise is a particular skill that we ought to value.

For example, the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service builds on the thriving community of local volunteers that it has developed. It provides a forum for them, it facilitates grants for community projects, and it enhances the archaeological and historical work that is undertaken. It also provides skills training for local volunteers and the potential for implementing community reporting mechanisms across the board. Those are incredibly important aspects of the work.

I will turn briefly to retention in archives and the finds that have been produced. Although it would be wrong to say that museums are not selective, at the moment museums have no imperative at all to be selective, which is a great shame. Also, the rules governing the retention of archaeological material were set by the Arts Council, not by central or local government. That situation has produced one thing above all in how museums look at their collections: a responsibility too burdensome for the museums to carry on with.

Sustainability issues affecting the deposition of material in archives is an endemic problem. To become much more sustainable, it is recommended that archives should adopt much stricter policies on accessions, with clear identification of the material of highest value and what they are going to do with it. That does not gainsay at all the comments made by my colleagues, but we need to put those services on a stable basis and they need to adhere to standards that have sustainable accession policies. We also recommended that English Heritage engage further with the Arts Council and the museum sector to pursue further strategies to provide that.

I sincerely hope that we do not lose our local museums. They play an important part. We should look at their combining certain of their services in order to do things better and not have to do things in an ad hoc way. Above all, we should put them on a sustainable basis for the future.


07 MAR 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Saudi Arabia

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In seeking to explore the context for a ceasefire, does the UK believe that Iran has broken any United Nations sanctions?

Alistair Burt

Yes; I thank my hon. Friend for the question. The UN panel of experts held very clearly, within recent weeks, that Iran had not been able to demonstrate that it had abided by UN resolution 2216, which is about the availability of weapons going to Yemen. That was what caused concern about the breach of UN sanctions. It emphasises again external interest in Yemen. That should also come to an end as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.


06 MAR 2018

Question in debate on cladding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman has made a good start to an important debate. Does he have ideas for what more could be done to encourage owners and landlords to improve or replace the cladding on the buildings that they own?

Mr Reed

I am grateful for that question; I intend to cover exactly that in my speech. I am going to argue that it is the Government's responsibility to remove the cladding because their flawed regulatory system is what allowed it to go up in the first place.


05 MAR 2018

Question on planning in Statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I welcome the Office for National Statistics methodology for determining housing need, as originally set out in the Local Plans Expert Group, of which I was a member. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether there have been any changes between the original formula and the formula that will now go into guidance?

Sajid Javid

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done on planning and all the advice he continues to provide. I can assure him that the formula we have set out today in the draft NPPF is no different from the one that was set out in the September consultation.


01 MAR 2018

Government advice on snow clearing

Clear snow from a road, path or cycleway

You can clear snow and ice from pavements yourself. It's unlikely that you'll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path or pavement if you've cleared it carefully.

How to clear snow and ice

When you clear snow and ice:

  • do it early in the day - it's easier to move fresh, loose snow
  • don't use water - it might refreeze and turn to black ice
  • use salt if possible - it will melt the ice or snow and stop it from refreezing overnight (but don't use the salt from salting bins as this is used to keep roads clear)
  • you can use ash and sand if you don't have enough salt - it will provide grip underfootpay extra attention when clearing steps and steep pathways - using more salt may help

Council gritting

You can find out which roads and pavements your council grits in icy or snowy weather.


28 FEB 2018

Intervention in debate on Eating Disorders

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a very good point. I wonder whether he has a feeling for how much extra training GPs will require to be able to spot the signs of these disorders.

Edward Argar

My hon. Friend makes a very important point and if he will perhaps be patient for a few more minutes, I will turn to, among other things, exactly that point.......as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, we need to ensure that doctors' medical training gives them the tools they need in this area, as in others, to recognise all the symptoms of an eating disorder; and to ensure that that training is kept up to date and that medical professionals are familiar with and follow National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines on eating disorders, including its guidance that single measures....


28 FEB 2018

Intervention in debate on homelessness

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Surely building more houses can help to reduce homelessness. Does the hon. Lady welcome the £9 billion that the Government have put towards building more affordable and social housing?

Layla Moran

I do welcome it, although I worry. As the hon. Gentleman will know, given that his constituency is in Oxfordshire, even something "affordable" in Oxfordshire is not really that affordable when people want to buy. The prices are 80% of market value, but in a grossly inflated market. The key issue is that very little social rented accommodation is being built in our county and across the nation.


27 FEB 2018

Question in debate on Diabetes

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I feel I want to ask a question just to participate. Given that lifestyle choices play a big part in type 2 diabetes, what value does the hon. Lady put on the information courses that are made available to people to help them to manage such lifestyle choices?

Liz McInnes

The information and education courses are really important in helping to manage the condition. I will come on to talk about that very subject later in my speech.


27 FEB 2018

Question in Estimates Debate on Defence

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Does he see the recently announced combat air strategy as a similar sort of programme, and what might its impact be on procurement?

Sir Edward Leigh

That is a good point. Again, I hope the Minister replies to it. It may be a case of when times change, procurement policies change, but will that result in more pressure? What I am saying—several Members, particularly my hon. Friend, have made this point in their interventions—is that the defence equipment plan has no leeway to cope with new equipment requirements resulting from emerging threats. As the National Audit Office's investigation of the plan put it:


27 FEB 2018

Question in Statement on Syria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the president of the Council of Europe recently had to resign due to a visit to see Assad without the Council's knowledge and with the support of Russian MPs. What, if any, direct relationship should there now be with the Syrian regime?

Boris Johnson

My hon. Friend asks an excellent question about relations between the Council of Europe and the Syrian regime. I think there should be no such relations at the present time.


26 FEB 2018

Cold weather payments

Cold weather payments have been triggered for the following postcodes:

24/2/2018 to 2/3/2018

OX10, OX14, OX2, OX20, OX25, OX3, OX33, OX4, OX44, OX5, OX6

23/2/2018 to 1/3/2018

HP14, HP18, OX39, OX49, OX9, RG9 OX7 RG4, RG8


26 FEB 2018

Question in Statement on HMP Liverpool

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

One of the most distressing aspects of the report relates to healthcare. My hon. Friend has already spoken briefly about that. Does he feel, as I do, that we can have no confidence in the partnership agreement? One thing that it will not do is get prisoners out of their cells to attend appointments.

Robert Neill

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for his work in the Committee on this and many other reports. He is absolutely right. We are calling for the partnership agreement to be published so that we can examine it, because we cannot be satisfied that it is yet fit for purpose. Previous partnership agreements have broken down, so we need to know how this will be different—in terms of both its structure and the way in which it will operate—in order to be reassured that there will be no repetition of what went wrong in the past.


20 FEB 2018

Question in statement on Oxfam and DfID

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

By 2019, next year, we will have helped 7.8 million people in Nigeria have better nutrition. What contingency arrangements does the Secretary of State have in place to ensure that those projects will continue if Oxfam has to withdraw?

Penny Mordaunt

As I have said, I am reviewing all the partners we work with. If during the course of the investigation further things come to light that raise concerns about our ability to deliver aid in a particular location, I want to be sure that we have alternatives available, assessed and in place. We will have those answers after 26 February. I again assure the House that, whatever I do, no recipient of aid will suffer as a consequence.


20 FEB 2018

Speech on NHS in Oxfordshire

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing this debate, and I echo her praise for NHS staff who do a fantastic job—indeed, only the other day I was approached in the street by a constituent who told me just how fantastic his NHS treatment had been.

The issue under discussion is not a new problem or something that started only in the past year. I have chaired a group of Oxfordshire MPs and the clinical commissioning group for a number of years, and this issue has been there from the beginning. If I can segment the NHS market a bit, perhaps we can consider how different elements of the NHS can play their part. First, however, let me say that the release of information to The Times by Churchill Hospital must be opposed. It created much stress among patients, and it bore no resemblance to the policies of that hospital. We should send a firm message to Churchill Hospital that the way it behaved was unacceptable.

Perhaps my constituency is very fortunate, but on several occasions I have been told by constituents that a surgery is full and can take no more people, and that that is all down to new housing. Each time I rang the GP surgery, however, I was assured that that is not the case and it still had a tremendous amount of room to take more people. Nevertheless, that does not reflect the current problem with the GP practice system which, however we look at it, we must admit is in need of considerable reform. There are at least two reasons for that. First, we have the problem of young doctors who are unable or unwilling to take on the stress burden created by taking out the loans necessary to buy into the surgery. Secondly, there is a limitation on the ability of GP practices to do some of the minor operations that they have done in the past, and which allowed them to carry on the excellent work that they do for their communities. I urge the Minister to look at that, and perhaps to remove some of the restrictions that apply to the ability to operate in GP surgeries.

Of course GPs need to adapt to new ways of working, and they need to use the internet in a much better way. My own results from what is, I hasten to say, a minor health issue are dealt with by the internet. I email the information in on a regular basis, and the results come back on the internet—fortunately they come back clear each time. [Interruption.]

Mr Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con)

We are all speculating now.

John Howell

I know, and I will leave that issue there.

Social care has been mentioned in terms of its competition with the retail sector in Oxford, which I think is a very real threat. Another issue goes back to one of the more substantial points in the Care Quality Commission report, which is that the joining up and interlinking of different aspects of social care in Oxfordshire leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the amount that was paid by the NHS health trust was different to the sum paid by the county council for the same number of people doing the same amount of work. Evening up that difference must be something to concentrate on, and I wish people success in doing that.

The income of the clinical commissioning group amounts to about £880 million. Staff costs are about 70% of that, at just over £600 million. A 1% pay increase means at least £6 million to £7 million as an unfunded pressure on the health care system, and that is not a very productive way forward. There is no getting away from the fact that the biggest problem with recruitment and retention is living costs in Oxfordshire. There are a number of ways that we can tackle that problem, such as by building more houses—the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge express way is a good joined-up process for dealing with that, and I hope it comes to fruition.

The second thing we can do, I am afraid to say, is change the housing policies in Oxford city. That goes back to conversations that I had ad nauseam with the predecessor of the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). We were known for our fighting over the green belt, and I am glad to infer from what the hon. Lady has said that Oxford is changing the way it deals with issues of planning and housing.

We are talking about a marginal increase across the board, and the uplift that that will bring will not have a big impact on retention and recruitment. It would be much better for us to focus any increase in funds on the issue itself. I ask the Minister, formally, to agree to a weighting for Oxfordshire that gives it some of the strength that London has. As we have already heard, housing costs in Oxfordshire are at least as great as those in London, and that must be tackled. We need a specific weighting, not a marginal increase in pay, and since there will be only a limited pot of resources for increasing pay, it makes a lot of sense to concentrate the impact of that in those places with more intractable problems, such as the housing market and living costs in the city.


20 FEB 2018

My question in debate on ME

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. The PACE trials have been roundly condemned by many scientists as being totally inappropriate. Does she have a feel for what an appropriate trial might have found?

Carol Monaghan

Yes. I will come on to how an appropriate trial could be done. First, I will mention the self-reporting that was a part of the trial. Questionnaires provided the data and measures of success. There were no physiological or scientific measurements. For patients the damage was done. I am a science teacher by profession and I always told my pupils that there are a number of stages to any scientific investigation: "Start with a hypothesis. Decide how you will test this theory, what measurements you will make, how you will record your results and how you will use these results to draw your conclusions. Those conclusions, which might be different from the original hypothesis, must be based on the evidence you have gathered."


20 FEB 2018

John Howell MP welcomes the ‘new normal’ for workplace saving

New figures show that 19,000 more people in the Henley Constituency are now saving more for their retirement.

I have welcomed new figures showing that, due to changes to workplace pensions, over 9 million more people are now saving for retirement.

These figures also show that 128,500 more people in work in the South East are now saving for a life after work.

Auto-enrolment was introduced so that more workers can save for retirement, while our plan means that workers can afford these changes.

The latest research shows that workplace pensions have become the 'new normal', while small businesses found a pension scheme for their workers to be 'necessary' and 'sensible'.

I said:

'By introducing automatic enrolment, we're transforming the way people save for retirement. That means more families can plan for the long-term with the security of a pension. For a whole generation, workplace pension saving is now the new normal, but there's more to do to help more people than ever before build an enjoyable and secure retirement.'

Notes to Editors

  • The Pensions Regulator has shown how automatic enrolment has meant one million UK employers have enrolled staff into a workplace pension, helping more than 9 million employees save for their family's future (The Pensions Regulator press release, 13 February 2018).
  • We are transforming the way people save for retirement by introducing automatic enrolment. Since its launch in 2012, 9.3 million people now enrolled into a workplace pension and a large number of new savers under the age of 30. 4 in 5 of today's eligible workers (83 per cent) now see saving through a workplace pension as the normal thing to do if you are in paid employment (DWP press release, 13 February 2018, link; The Pensions Regulator press release, 13 February 2018).
  • The people benefitting the most from automatic enrolment are young people, women and those people who earn the least in the workplace. Workplace pension participation in the public and private sectors has increased from a low of 55 per cent in 2012 to 78 per cent in 2016. The most significant increases have been among the lowest earners, younger people (those aged 20 to 29) and women.
  • DWP research recently found that workplace pensions have become 'the new normal', revealing that small and micro employers – which represent 98 per cent of all UK businesses – are finding automatic enrolment 'necessary', 'sensible' and 'easier to implement than first expected' (DWP press release, 13 February 2018).
  • The National Living Wage has boosted incomes by £1,400 and helped to cut the number of workers on low pay by 300,000 in the last year. Increasing the personal allowance has given 31 million working people a tax cut so they can keep more of the money they earn (HMT, Autumn Budget 2017, 22 November 2017)


18 FEB 2018

John Howell MP invites GWR Managing Director to a public meeting in Henley to explain branch line

I have invited the Managing Director of GWR, Mark Hopwood, to a public meeting in Henley to discuss the performance of the branch line service. The service in recent months has been poor and punctuality has been lacking. I have been in regular contact with GWR on this on behalf of constituents.

I said:

"I have taken a keen interest in the performance of the rail service and I appreciate how important it is to residents in the south east of the constituency. Put simply; the service is just not working well. I have therefore invited Mark Hopwood to come to a public meeting in Henley to explain what is happening on the branch line rather than complaints always having to be routed through me. After a previous meeting in Henley I helped set up a branch line rail users group to tackle issues such as this and they may wish to attend as well and say what they have been doing."

There are three issues of greatest concern to those who use the train service. These are:

Peak congestion, Punctuality, and Cancellations

It is expected that the meeting will cover all three of them. Allied to this is the ending of the direct Henley to London services from the beginning of this year and the question of overall journey times.

I added:

"Whilst planned disruption is inconvenient, it can be dealt with. There seem to have also been unplanned disruptions due to a large number of operational issues. I hope that GWR's desire for good communications will mean that we can have an open and robust meeting on all these issues."


17 FEB 2018

John Howell MP promotes Oxfordshire Comet bus service one year on from introduction in Dorchester

I am promoting the County Council's Oxfordshire Comet Service. I have written to parish councils in the constituency to highlight the service and to give an example of how well the service is working for one village – Dorchester on Thames – about a year on from when it first started.

The service provides bus transport for local residents without access to suitable bus services. I am well aware of concerns around the cuts to local bus services and appreciate the issues around social isolation. These issues are often raised by constituents and, in turn, I have raised them with the county council under whose remit this falls.

I said:

"This is a very good example of the County Council running services in a different way to the past and which is something I have been asking for. It takes buses that normally take children to school and adults to day care centres and makes them available to communities without access to bus services."

The service has been in operation in Dorchester on Thames for just over a year courtesy of the Parish Council. It is known locally as the Dorchester Flyer. It does not impose significantly on the local council tax but does provide one day a week the opportunity for local people to go shopping in nearby Wallingford. Costs are kept low for passengers as the buses simply have to cover running costs. It is a good approximation to the uber-type service of buses on demand for which the MP has been calling.

I added:

"I am well aware of concerns around the cuts to local services and appreciate the issues around social isolation. The Oxfordshire Comet service seems to be an excellent opportunity for people who simply want to make a journey to go to the shops or to meet friends. I would be pleased to learn of examples where the Comet is working in the constituency so that I can advise residents who raise this with me"

Parish Councils which wish to avail themselves of this service and help provide a valuable addition to the village are advised to contact, in the first instance, their county councillor or go to https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/oxfordshire-comet


17 FEB 2018

Better Broadband for our communities

I met yesterday (16 February) with representatives from the Better Broadband for Oxfordshire team to discuss the continuing rollout programme and get an update on progress in installing broadband particularly in communities just outside Henley.

There was good news in that more communities will be covered by the roll out with a promised date for delivery of by the end of April, thus getting much better speeds. These communities include Maidensgrove, Russells Water, more areas in Stonor, Middle Assendon and also in North Stoke. The MP had earlier raised the issue with the Minister, Margot James MP, when she visited Bix for a business function in the constituency.

I said

'I am delighted to learn that still more households are to benefit from better broadband speeds by the end of April. The constituency now has 92.5% coverage and by the end of the year should have over 97% coverage. This is good news but I can assure people that the last 3% have not been forgotten and I am continuing to work to help them.

'I congratulate the Better Broadband team for their hard work in this and for ensuring that our communities which are some of the most rural in Oxfordshire have not simply been forgotten.'

I have long argued the case for better broadband speeds within the constituency calling for broadband to be classed as an essential utility alongside power and water. I have put forward the case that with growing use of online services by Government departments including in education and health that broadband is no longer a 'nice to have' but an essential resource.

I added

'I was surprised and disturbed to learn that new housing developments do not automatically include digital infrastructure at the time of building. It would be so easy and cost effective to lay ducts when the ground is open and the buildings are going up. I will be raising this with the Secretary of State when Parliament returns next week to see whether some reference to this can be included in the National Planning Policy Framework which is being revised.'


08 FEB 2018

Question on suicide in prisons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am a member of the Justice Committee, which has taken a particular interest in Liverpool prison. Will my hon. Friend assure me that there will be a review of the suicidal potential of prisoners to ensure that the systems are right?

Stephen Barclay

My hon. Friend is right to allude to the importance of learning lessons, especially given that there are many vulnerable people in prisons, and given the risks that accrue as a result. Yesterday I spoke to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is responsible for offender management issues, and the Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), visited Liverpool prison last week. I know that they have both taken a great interest in the report, and that they will take any further action that is needed.


08 FEB 2018

Protecting local press

I have welcomed the launch of a new review into press sustainability, with a particular focus on ensuring the future of local and regional press.

A free and vibrant press is a crucial part of any healthy democracy and local press such as the Henley Standard and the Thame Gazette are important and valued independent news sources for people in the Henley constituency.

But just as the internet has created fantastic opportunities for new platforms and new voices to emerge, it has also raised some real questions about the future of the press.

That's why the Prime Minister has announced an external review, led by a panel of experts, to examine the range of challenges that the press industry is facing. It will explore ways of ensuring our free press operates on a level playing field in the face of rapidly developing technology.

This follows a vote in the House of Lords for stringent conditions to be inflicted on the press which could lead to smaller, local papers being put out of business. I and the Government have said that we will oppose this attempt to curtail press freedoms whilst working to ensure the sustainability of local press.

Commenting, I said:

'It is a difficult time for local newspapers but they are the lifeblood of our communities.

Local papers help to shine a light on important local issues in our communities, courtrooms and local council chambers. Local media holds local power to account and uncovers injustices.

That's why I welcome this government review to ensure our local newspapers like the Henley Standard and the Thame Gazette have a viable future in the digital age.'


07 FEB 2018

My speech in debate on treatment of Palestinian minors

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

Let be start by giving some background. In 2011, in the face of riots, more than 3,000 arrests were made and more than 1,000 people were issued with criminal charges. Around half were under 21, and 26% were juveniles aged between 10 and 17. Some 21% were arrested for bottle or stone throwing. One hundred and fifty-eight male youths aged 16 or under were given custodial sentences. That is not a description of Israel; it is a description of the UK following the 2011 riots. Why has there been no Westminster Hall debate on the treatment of minors by the Palestinian authorities, the allegations of rape in Egyptian custody or the death sentences imposed on minors in Saudi Arabia?

Sarah Champion

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell

No, I will not.

The singling out of Israel ignores the fact that Israel faces extensive acts of terror on its territory. It ignores the fact that Israel has established military juvenile courts, shortened the period of initial remand, stressed the rights of minors, raised the age of minority to 18, enacted a statute of limitations for the prosecution of minors, given parents legal standing and strengthened legal representation for minors. It also ignores the co-operation of Israel in the light of the 2012 Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded report. The British embassy in Israel said:

"We welcome Israel's focus on the particular needs of this more vulnerable category of detainees".

As far as I am aware, the pilot programme in the west bank to issue summons, easing the need to arrest at night, to which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) referred, continues. If Israel were to use civil courts instead of a military one, it would be accused of simply annexing the west bank.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that 30% of attackers against Israel—fuelled by intimidation that denies Israel the right to exist and glorifies terrorists and Nazi sympathisers—have been Palestinian minors under the age of 18. The majority were between 16 and 18. The youngest was an 11-year-old, who said after being arrested for stabbing an Israeli that he wanted to die a martyr.

Just over 300 minors are in custody after 400 violent, ideological terror attacks. That is not to be deprecated. The effect on wider civil disorder can be seen from the attack in Jerusalem on a 70-year-old Palestinian man who was mistaken for an Israeli. The use of minors in this way, driven by hate and incitement, is nothing more than the abuse of children.

Graham Stringer (in the Chair)

Before I call the next speaker, may I ask the hon. Gentleman give a full and clear indication of his interest?

John Howell

I referred to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests, which contains the fact that I went on a trip to the area.

Graham Stringer (in the Chair)

Thank you very much.


06 FEB 2018

Interventions in the debate on Overseas Aid

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

There is a certain disparity in what my hon. Friend is saying in trying to contrast aid with disaster aid. Once the disaster aid is spent, a lot of our aid is spent on education, and that is one of the most useful things it can be spent on. Without that, we do not get the quality people in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Andrew Bowie

This is becoming a running theme—I could not agree more strongly.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of this, but during a recent Council of Europe session I had words with the secretary-general of the OECD about redefining that definition so that it did not mean that, after the disasters that struck the Caribbean, we could not give money to those areas. Does he agree that we should still push for that?

Stephen Twigg

The International Development Committee is considering that matter, and we are still taking evidence on it. We have to tread with care, but there is a case to be made that, in some of the examples we have seen, such as in the Caribbean last year, there is a case for greater flexibility in the rules. In the evidence we have received for our inquiry, we have heard that the OECD has begun the process of examining a short-term financing mechanism, which could be made available to countries that have previously been on the recipient list for ODA but no longer are, by virtue of their current income. That would be allowed only in exceptional circumstances, but the Hurricane Irma situation could be such an exceptional circumstance.


06 FEB 2018

Question on Northamptonshire and its effect on Oxfordshire

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Northamptonshire has very close links with Oxfordshire at a whole number of different local government levels. Can the Minister reassure me that this crisis in Northamptonshire will not affect the deals that Northamptonshire has with Oxfordshire and the people of Oxfordshire?

Rishi Sunak

My hon. Friend, as a former councillor himself, will be very familiar with these issues. Obviously the details of individual contracts will be a matter for the individual officer concerned, but nothing in the inspection process itself should change any of those contracts as of today.


05 FEB 2018

Parking at Townlands

I have written to the Chief Executive of Smart Parking – the company manging the parking around Townlands Hospital. In that letter I said that I was aware that the GPs surgeries had cancelled the contract with the company in August last year due to problems but that they are left with a legacy of contested PCNs. I have also had constituents raise concerns directly with me in growing numbers.

The system used for parking is unclear and technology is difficult for some to use. As a result, some people are not sure what is required of them to legally park and thus have not always complied with the requirements. Others have tried to use the technology but without success, and still more have been issued PCNs incorrectly when they entered and left within the agreed 20 minute grace period.

I am fully aware that there have been problems with parking at the hospital. I am also mindful that people visiting the hospital will either be unwell themselves or often in some sort of stress or distress as they seek to assist relatives and friends who are unwell. It would seem that the system is inappropriate for the circumstances. The PCN issues are adding to this stress for all concerned.

Given the problems I have suggested that the most reasonable action is that an immediate hold is put on pursuing all PCNs issued at this location and then all issued in these questionable circumstances are cancelled.

I have also written to the Chief Executive of NHS Hospitals Trust to raise the issue.

In addition, I am pleased to see that the Government is supporting (as am I) a Private Member's Bill to give drivers new legal protections from unscrupulous private parking operators. The Parking (Code of Practice) Private Member's Bill introduced by Sir Greg Knight MP received a Second Reading recently. Drivers have increasingly been complaining of inconsistent practises, substandard signage, confusing appeals processes and intimidating payment letters. This Bill will allow the Government to develop a stringent new Code of Practice in conjunction with motorists groups and other experts. Operators falling foul of the new rules would then be blocked from accessing driver data and issuing fines, effectively forcing them out of the industry.


01 FEB 2018

Interventions in debate on public buildings and autism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I ask the hon. Lady to give way on a point of whimsy, really. If she wants to know what it would be like to have just one voice at a time in the Chamber, she should come to the Council of Europe, where we are obliged to speak for three minutes without interruption.

Thangam Debbonaire

The hon. Gentleman's intervention makes me hopeful that we might one day achieve what I desire, even though it would require a lot of self-restraint on my part.

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

The hon. Lady is being generous with her time. I like the stress that she puts on the information available for people with autism. Does she have any thoughts about whether building regulations for new buildings need to be changed to make them more autism-friendly? How might we physically adapt older buildings to accommodate people with autism?

Thangam Debbonaire

I would love building regulations to be altered to take into account what needs to happen to make buildings not only autism-friendly, but friendly to people with dementia and learning disabilities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston has said. I hope the Minister will address that important point in her remarks.


31 JAN 2018

Speech on planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend share my delight and enthusiasm about the recent decision of the High Court to accept the reduction of the five-year housing land supply to a three-year housing land supply, where there is a neighbourhood plan and where sites are allocated?

George Freeman

I absolutely welcome that and will in due course list some of the very good things that the Government have been doing to try to help. I am here today to flag a problem and offer the Minister some suggestions to try to help find a solution.

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I helped invent neighbourhood plans, and I am the Government's neighbourhood planning champion. It is exciting to see neighbourhood plans, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said, produce more housing than they were asked to produce. If we look at it in contractual terms, they have gone beyond the contract set up.

What happens when a village decides to produce a neighbourhood plan? First, it needs to see whether the district council has a five-year land supply. This morning, I happened to be with a number of people considering development in the Thames valley. They produced a ​ map of district councils that do and do not have a five-year housing land supply. It is unfortunate that so many district councils do not. That leaves them open, the moment they put down their name to make a neighbourhood plan, to developers moving in ahead of the plan to take advantage. I have asked in an Adjournment debate that when someone seriously puts their name down to start a neighbourhood plan, no more housing should be built until it has come to fruition, so that it can be taken fully into account.

I agree totally with what colleagues have said about certain firms of developers, such as Gladman, which aggressively game the system, as it has been described. It was partly to overcome that that a Planning Minister two Ministers before this one, Gavin Barwell, decided to reduce the land supply figure from five years, because people did not have a five-year land supply, to three years, for a two-year period from the end of the neighbourhood plan where sites were allocated. That was challenged in the High Court and, as I said in an intervention, the recent decision, in a very detailed judgment, has confirmed it. We are still waiting to see whether it goes to appeal, but the chances are that it will not.

The Government are tightening up the national planning policy framework, and it is about time. All I would say is that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is not itself new; it has been there since the beginning of planning. The only thing that is new is the word "sustainable".


29 JAN 2018

Question during Urgent Question on Contaminated Blood

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Cabinet Office taking responsibility for this inquiry is a good thing. Will it also mean that the Department of Health can really be investigated fairly and rigorously?

Chloe Smith

Yes.


29 JAN 2018

Question during Urgent Question on Taliban and Daesh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we have a long way to go to build a better future for Afghanistan given that the vast majority of Afghan refugees who return home have to flee violence again very shortly afterwards?

Mark Field

I very much agree. None of us is under any illusions; there is a long way to go before Afghanistan's Government and people achieve their goal of building a more stable and prosperous country. But we will continue to play our part, and not just in terms of expenditure. One of the most important things that our non-combat troops are doing on the ground is working closely to help train some 3,000 Afghan cadets, who are Afghanistan's military leaders of the future.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Holocaust Commemoration

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and is based in Strasbourg. It is, therefore, not part of the EU and is not affected by Brexit. It is part of the post Second World War settlement to prevent Europe being overrun again by dictators. Arguably, therefore, it has done more than any other organisation to keep Europe at peace. It is now responsible for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  It is responsible too for the European Court of Human Rights where, although it is the subject of tabloid criticism in the UK, we have a success rate of over 90%.

Why should we be interested in what the Council of Europe does and why is it important and relevant that I attend as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly? Apart from being the remaining place where parliamentarians can share ideas across Europe in debate, the question was answered by a series of speeches made at a moving and emotional Holocaust remembrance service outside the Council last week, attended by representatives of the Jewish, Roma and LGBT communities.

The importance of the Council lies in its role of defending our human rights which had been trampled on by the Nazis. Read Phiippe Sand's excellent book East West Street to see a graphic account of this.  Is there still a need for this post-war apparatus? Of course there is. Whether it is in defending us against the death penalty, in dealing with the humanitarian situation in Ukraine or making sure that we follow civilised and agreed practices, there is a need to ensure that the same situation that the Nazis carried through does not happen again. Is it likely to? Yes. Across Europe we are seeing similar events taking place and the rise of political agenda that could so quickly sweep away all we have achieved and hold dear.

That is why the Council of Europe matters. That is why I speak a lot in its meetings. And it is why we should all seek to follow what it says. Ruled by Strasbourg? No; not at all. But it is a sharing of responsibility to make sure that the events of the middle of the last century do not come back to haunt us.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech on Death Penalty

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

I think this is a debate on which we are all going to agree, and I am not going to dissent at all. I warmly congratulate the rapporteur on this excellent report. I hope that he is not disappointed that there are so few people in the Chamber today. He will have to take my advice that this is a question of quality, rather than quantity, and that we are all supportive of the conclusions he has reached. The Council of Europe stands against the death penalty, and I urge it to keep up that stand. The issue has raised its head again with developments in political parties throughout Europe, and not just on the right. Whenever the issue is discussed in political debates, we need to stand firmly against the death penalty. It is right that the report also considers torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. Its use of examples is first-class; I was particularly pleased to see the results of the pressure we have exerted to reduce the supply of materials for the death penalty to those states of the United States that still use it as a punishment. It would be a very good thing if we could exert pressure on other places in that way.

We need to be careful to ensure that goods likely to be used for more than one purpose are correctly identified, and let me say straight away that I believe the report does so. I suspect that the argument will be made that in an age of widespread terrorism we should take a stand against it, but my view is that we should not sacrifice or undermine our own decency and humanity when we face terrorism. It is excellent that the report puts particular emphasis on training, recognising that a tremendous amount of training, particularly of police forces, crosses the border of the decency we want to maintain.

The Committee of Ministers is already active in this sphere, and the request to them is a particularly good one. I urge the Council of Europe to support the global alliance with Argentina and Mongolia – well, we have to start somewhere. Let us grow it into a real world power against the death penalty, because it completely supports the Council of Europe's aims.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech in debate on Israel-Palestine

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

 The report asks what the Council of Europe can do about the situation in Israel and Palestine, rather than commenting on the continuing conflict in the region. It is important to say that we all wish peace for this part of the world and encourage the Council of Europe to work to that end. However, it would be a lot easier and take a lot of tension out of the situation if we started from a position where the Palestinian side accepted that the State of Israel has a right to exist, and if it did not seek to expunge the country from school textbooks and name schools after terrorists and Nazi sympathisers. Anything the Council of Europe can do to help the situation would be welcomed. We also need to see the disarmament of Hezbollah and Hamas and to prevent the crisis – I use the term advisedly – of miscarriages occurring in southern Israel. Most importantly, the Council of Europe could do a lot to promote organisations that are already encouraging peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories. I use as an example a charity that I have visited on a number of occasions in Tel Aviv called Save a Child's Heart. Israeli doctors undertake detailed heart surgery on Palestinian children and others from around the world, and to see it in operation is a truly emotional experience. There is much going on in similar organisations to promote peace, which the Council of Europe should support.

That moves us on to the question of what the Council of Europe can do to bring home the point to Israeli officials that the settlement issue is counterproductive. I accept that settlements are not a permanent obstacle to peace, as the issue can be resolved in direct peace talks, which the Council of Europe should encourage. The long-agreed framework for a two-State solution will see Israel retain settlement blocks as part of land swaps. That was agreed by Yasser Arafat, and it is important to make these points to Israeli officials.

Finally, we heard from the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers earlier in the week that no embassies of mainstream European countries are moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That process has caused huge disruption to the peace process, and the Council of Europe should hold a firm line and say that no more embassies will move. I encourage the normalisation of relations with neighbouring countries, which, as a result of the terrorist situation and the situation in Iran, are emerging across the region.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Contribution to debate on convention on lawyers

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I am not sure what the point of this proposed convention is. There are many people who have a pivotal role in society. Many of them, like politicians, have been killed. I am not sure why justice has been singled out for a convention and in such a narrow way. I also think it is odd that a group of individuals have been targeted who are best able to look after and defend themselves.

Of course, as the Report points out, there are also examples from more troubled parts of Europe where they are not able to defend themselves. But I wonder whether this is a bit of a heavy handed approach in proposing a convention. A speaker asked why my colleague Sir Edward Leigh referred to the UK courts. That is a question I would answer by saying that the Report refers to them without any recognition of a democratic safety net provided. In my own country, we have seen the judiciary criticised by a leading newspaper for their stance on Brexit. But they have been easily able to mobilise public opinion and defend themselves. The Report also mentions two other British Court examples; the first of these seems to criticise the British Government for taking policies to limit legal aid. I do not accept that this is fair, and despite arguing with government over it, it does not take away the ability of the democratic process to resolve the issue. Similarly, the case of a legal firm which acted against British service people in Iraq was mentioned. This was a legitimate subject for public debate and the solicitors were cleared. So, this convention is not a good idea. It offers no use of Council abilities to resolve the issue, such as Monitoring and does not recognise the level of judgement required.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Question to Danish Prime Minister

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

It was highlighted in the press recently that Denmark pays millions of krone annually for mistaken arrests and detention. Would you like to comment on the Danish justice system and the country's preparedness to deal with terrorism? Mr SCHWABE (Germany)* – The debate on the Council of Europe's human rights mission is not new. The Court has been discussed, and we need to look at what has happened. One of the Assembly's most important tasks is to protect the European Court of Human Rights, and we have to meet that challenge. What can the Committee of Ministers do to better support the Court?

Mr RASMUSSEN –

 First, I will give a short response to our colleague from the United Kingdom. I think you will find the answer in Denmark's very well-functioning judicial system. That leads me to my answer to the last question. It could hopefully serve as an example for others to follow. That is why I am so engaged in the idea of shared responsibilities between the national and European level, so that we can at the European level concentrate our resources and energy on countries that are really challenged.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Contribution to debate on humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I have great sympathy with the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. War is always terrible and produces casualties. This report rightly draws our attention to the number of displaced people involved in this war. That needs to be set into the context that in the world today there are some 65 million displaced people, and what is appropriate for a million is not appropriate for 65 million. The starting point has to be to end the causes of the displacement of people. That means an end to the Russian occupation of Crimea and the Donbass. It is very sad that so little progress has been made in this direction. I urge the Ukrainians to ensure that they are whiter than white when it comes to the issues covered by this report, including those actions by supporters in the region at war.

The report calls for housing, but the simple fact is that people will want to return to the areas in which they lived and grew up. It also calls for a humanitarian conference which, given Russian attitudes, is going to be difficult to arrange. We have to acknowledge who is the aggressor here and, as the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers said earlier, give our support to Ukraine.


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech on basic citizenship income

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –

I am sorry to start on a negative note, but I have to say that I disagree with almost everything that has just been said. I have a number of strong reservations with the ideas behind the report. The international situation is not supportive. I draw your attention to the Swiss rejection of the idea of a basic income at a referendum. I understand that an experiment is being conducted in Finland, but we must wait before we can draw any conclusion or cast judgment on that.

My reservations revolve around a number of issues. The first is technology. There is nothing to be frightened of in the advances being made on the technological front, nor is there any need to be frightened of the level of employment that can be justified by that.

Another reservation I have concerns the absence of a link to employment. This flies in the face of the success we have had in the United Kingdom, where people have been moving away from benefits and into employment. The basic income seems to be tolerant of joblessness. More than 3 million new jobs have been created in the United Kingdom since 2010, which is a huge contribution to the employment statistics.

The cost of a basic income for the United Kingdom has been estimated at £100 billion more than the current benefits claim. It cannot take into account the varying needs of households. For example, if someone has a disability, that is an additional cost. It does not take away the need for laborious assessments. That money has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the tax system, so we are not really reducing taxes by doing this. We are increasing the rates at which taxes are collected.

The shift away from the idea of targeted support to a blanket State-sponsored amount that allows no flexibility is to be deprecated. A basic income is unfair. It takes no account of poverty, and it makes no contribution to tackling poverty. It does not take into account the needs of individual families, and it would mean, paradoxically, cuts in entitlements for some, whether those are disabled people or single parents. Its impact on the minimum living wage needs to be thought through more carefully. Why should people pay the minimum living wage when the State is paying it for them?


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech on Minority Languages

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I approach this report with a sense of déjà vu. I remember speaking on this subject last October, when the President of Ukraine was here. We heard him try to establish a balance between the needs of the State and of building a State and the needs of individual minorities in preserving their specific languages. That is not to say that minority languages are not important—I believe that they are; nor is it to say that minority languages are not an important part of local culture, community development and self-identity. I recognise that languages make an important contribution to Europe's cultural heritage. The United Kingdom signed the charter in 2000 and recognises seven languages as minority languages. The responsibility for taking those forward is largely but not exclusively the responsibility of devolved governments. As we heard, what has been done with Welsh has been impressive and has set the language up for the future. The report envisages that the use of minority languages is not a matter of a hard and fast rule, and that the State may not ensure the use of those languages in all cases and under all conditions. I think that the rapporteur has done a very good job in retaining a great deal of flexibility. We get into a bit of trouble when we start imposing thresholds. I would not like to see a specific threshold for a language. A good model for approaching the teaching of these languages is the European schools system, where you may go in and have science taught in one language and maths taught in another language. I know that those are not minority languages, but I think that the same approach can apply.

The role of the media is crucial. We heard how the Welsh language has its own television station. However, I have enormous reservations about social media and the use of the internet. The whole point of social media and the internet is to establish the widest possible communication between people, which does not sit squarely with the idea of minority languages if you want to reach out to the largest number of people. We need to approach these issues through the democratic process, as I advocated last October for Ukraine, and to see languages taken forward in that context.


18 JAN 2018

Holocaust Remembrance

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 today.

Saturday 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. It is important to remember the depth of inhumanity faced by those who suffered the Holocaust.

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 'The power of words'.

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:

"The Holocaust did not start in the gas chambers but with hate filled words. Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to John Howell for signing the Book of Commitment, signalling a continued commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust as well as challenging antisemitism and prejudice.


17 JAN 2018

Contribution to the debate on blood cancer

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent work he is doing in this sphere. Blood cancer is a bit of a hidden cancer. If someone has a solid tumour, it can be seen and treated and they can see what is happening with it, but blood cancer is difficult to detect. What is he doing to encourage early detection?

Henry Smith

My hon. Friend anticipates some of my remarks in a few moments' time, but he is absolutely right to use the words "hidden cancer". Blood cancer is very different from solid tumour cancers—that is a key point and problem.

I was going to say that, from four o'clock, right hon. and hon. Members are very welcome to come along to Strangers' Dining Room for the launch of our report.


17 JAN 2018

Reaction Engines at Culham

I raised the future for Reaction Engines, a company based at the Culham Science Centre. This was part of a positive exchange during the debate on the Space Industry Bill. The exchange with the Minister is reproduced below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Minister share my view that companies such as Reaction Engines, which is based in my constituency, hold the future for space vehicles that can be used over and over again?

Joseph Johnson

Indeed. Reaction Engines is a great example of the kind of British company that is well placed to take advantage of all the opportunities that the Bill will enable. We have been supporting Reaction Engines and its SABRE technology through Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and, from memory, I believe that it has received around £55 million over recent years. We want it to be a great success, and have every confidence that it will be.

Reaction Engines is pioneering the next generation of hypersonic and space access propulsion. The company has achieved a breakthrough in aerospace engine technology by developing ultra-lightweight heat exchangers. These are capable of cooling airstreams from over 1,000°C to -150°C in less than 1/20th of a second with world leading compactness and low weight. Developed for our high speed SABRE engines, the heat exchangers stop engine components from overheating at high flight speeds, opening up a new era of high speed flight. SABRE class engines will enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere and allow space launch vehicles to be built that will radically improve the affordability and responsiveness of access to space. The company is supported by a £60m funding commitment from the UK Government via the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency and we have had a recent £20.6m investment by BAE Systems.

I said:

"I was delighted to see Reaction Engines praised by the Minister. It is a success story based in our midst at Culham and I am proud to see it based there and to be developing its exciting technology."


16 JAN 2018

Question to the Chancellor

John Howell (Henley) (Con) What assessment he has made of potential risks to the economy from high levels of Government borrowing. [903296]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Philip Hammond)

In 2010, we inherited the largest deficit since the second world war, standing at nearly 10% of GDP. We have successfully reduced it by three quarters, meaning that it stood at 2.3% at the end of last year, but our debt is still too high. High levels of debt leave us vulnerable to economic shocks and incur significant debt interest, which is why the Government have clear and detailed fiscal plans to reduce borrowing further and to ensure that debt falls.

John Howell

Does the Chancellor agree it is essential that our policies continue to show that we are living within our means, because the alternative—a failure to do so—simply passes on our bills to the next generation?

Mr Hammond

Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that a policy of increasing borrowing simply means passing the cost of today's consumption to future generations and wasting more taxpayers' money on debt interest. Even Labour's shadow Education spokesperson has acknowledged that this is a ultra high-risk strategy that would be a gamble with our economic future.


16 JAN 2018

Question on Reaction Engines, Culham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

Does the Minister share my view that companies such as Reaction Engines, which is based in my constituency, hold the future for space vehicles that can be used over and over again?

Joseph Johnson

Indeed. Reaction Engines is a great example of the kind of British company that is well placed to take advantage of all the opportunities that the Bill will enable. We have been supporting Reaction Engines and its SABRE technology through Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and, from memory, I believe that it has received around £55 million over recent years. We want it to be a great success, and have every confidence that it will be.


13 JAN 2018

High Court ruling on Neighbourhood Plans

The High Court has made a judgement that the Written Ministerial Statement on Neighbourhood Plans and the 3 year housing land supply figure should stand.

The Written Ministerial Statement was issued by the then Minister of Housing, Gavin Barwell, at the end of 2016. Dismissing the challenge at the High Court, Mr Justice Dove said he could detect no legal flaw in the Written Ministerial Statement and ruled that the housebuilders' arguments were unsustainable.

The Written Ministerial Statement has set out the circumstances in which the policies contained in a Neighbourhood Plan would not be considered out of date if the District Council did not have a five year housing land supply. It set out when a three year housing land supply would be appropriate to use instead and the circumstances which would apply.

As Neighbourhood Planning Champion, I said:

"I am delighted with this judgement. It gives a great boost to Neighbourhood Plans. The fact is that Neighbourhood Plans are producing more houses than shown in their District Council Local Plans and are therefore helping to boost housing. I hope this now provides a suitably firm basis for the position regarding Neighbourhood Plans to be secure and I hope that many more communities will seek to take them up."

The case was Richborough Estates Limited & Ors v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/452/2017


13 JAN 2018

Update on Nettlebed Post Office

I had a meeting with the Post Office yesterday. The result was that the Post Office confirmed the following:

  • The Post Office wanted to ensure that a Post Office could be provided in Nettlebed;
  • They were trying to arrange an extension to the closure period set out by Malthurst in order to get more time to develop a replacement service;
  • They were looking to see whether the option of a permanent post office in Nettlebed would be viable;
  • If not, they were also looking at arrangements for a mobile service to be provided in Nettlebed subject to siting.
  • The meeting agreed that there was urgent need to find a solution to the problem of the post office in Nettlebed.

I said:

"This was a positive meeting and I commend the Post Office for the work it is doing to resolve the situation in Nettlebed. I am concerned to ensure that a mobile service will deliver what Nettlebed wants and needs if a more permanent solution cannot be found. Anyone who is keen to become post master in the village should let us know as quickly as possible."


11 JAN 2018

My question at Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we have a statement on the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, because that would seem to be the only way of showing that no changes have been made to chemotherapy treatment at that hospital?

Paul Maynard

There has certainly been a degree of confusion over what is happening at the Churchill Hospital. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) was clear in the Chamber yesterday, and no one currently undergoing cancer treatment at the Churchill Hospital should in any way doubt that their treatment will continue. I would welcome any opportunity to make the situation at the Churchill Hospital clear.


10 JAN 2018

Speech on the NHS and winter

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I do not want to go through the increase in the number of operations carried out by the NHS, or to describe the enormous pressure of the numbers of people being seen by the NHS—plenty of other Members have already done that. I wish to concentrate on delayed discharges of care, which are an important factor not only when it comes to increasing the throughput of people in the health system, but in ensuring that people do not go into hospital in the first place.

In Oxfordshire, we have addressed delayed discharges of care in two ways, as part of our future planning for the NHS. First, with respect to the hospital in the town of Henley, I have been among those who have been active in trying to achieve the right balance with social care by ensuring that there are no beds in the hospital. There are beds in the neighbouring care home for those people who urgently need to stay, but all the emphasis is on ambulatory care—the treatment of patients in their own home—on which I have worked closely with the Royal College of Physicians. More and more patients now understand that they can get the right sort of treatment in their own homes and do not have to spend time in hospital. The approach has been taken up on the best of medical advice and I am grateful to the doctors who have supported it. I invite Ministers to come to see for themselves how the hospital works.

Secondly, we do cross-party work in the county involving all MPs who represent Oxfordshire. I chair the group that has a relationship with the clinical commissioning group, not so much to hold it to account, but to ensure that it is focused on the things on which it says it will focus. One of the CCG's great achievements is its focus on delayed discharges of care. I shall cite a couple of the figures so that Members will understand the CCG's enormous achievement over the past year in planning for the better treatment of delayed discharges of care. At the end of December, the number of Oxfordshire patients whose discharge of care was delayed was 96, whereas the number in May had been 181. That is a magnificent achievement, as the number of delayed discharges of care has been almost halved. When Ministers hear about that half, they should understand that it is not a half increase but a half decrease in the number of people whose discharge of care was delayed. That improvement has been achieved by making sure that the right resources are in place for those patients who need them to return home. It has not happened because people are going home without the support that they need.

Finally, on the story in The Times this morning about Churchill Hospital, I have with me a letter from the hospital saying it has not implemented any changes to cancer treatment whatsoever. I am happy to provide a copy of that letter to the Library so that Members can read it.


10 JAN 2018

Speech on mental health in prisons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

This is such a crucial issue that it has been of great interest to the Select Committee on Justice throughout our sittings. I remember well that when the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) was as member of that Committee, she and I attended a number of prisons and examined this issue together while looking round them.

There is a high likelihood that prisoners will have some form of mental illness. The 1998 study to which the hon. Lady referred, which showed that 90% of prisoners had some sort of mental health issue, had so many people in it because alcohol misuse and drugs misuse were included within that definition, and that is quite broad.

I want to mention the drugs scene in prisons. We have to accept that two groups of people suffer from drug problems in prison: those who had drug problems before they went into prison, which should have been picked up in the assessment process—I will say something about that in a minute—and those who are switched on to drugs while in prison. The hon. Lady and I both know that a lot of effort is being put in to try to prevent the smuggling of drugs into prisons, particularly as people use more and more sophisticated means, such as drones, to do so. We have to stop these things coming into prisons.

The point made about the need for information sharing and about the assessment process when prisoners arrive is absolutely crucial. From the experience that the hon. Lady and I have had looking around prisons, it is absolutely the case that the assessment process is de minimis: it does not go into the depth that one would expect. That is partly for the historical reason that mental health has been a second service, and I hope that it is now changing.

Kate Green

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about that initial assessment. Does he agree that it is important that, when someone is already under the care of mental health services in the community, evidence is gathered from their own practitioner, and that it is not enough just to gather the evidence, but that conclusions need to be drawn and appropriate routes taken and that may mean not remanding or incarcerating someone as a result of a conviction?

John Howell

I agree with the hon. Lady. This problem goes back to the whole way in which the justice system is set up in anticipating the mental health issues suffered by many of the people who are brought before the courts. If a problem can be identified there, a better treatment can perhaps be undertaken to solve it. A greater emphasis needs to be put on the assessment process, which needs to include a very good assessment of patients' mental health conditions.

There are two aspects that I want to mention in connection with that. One is the power that we are giving prison governors. I am all in favour of giving prison governors back powers over their own prisons, but as a component of that we have to ensure that prison governors and their staff are fully aware of the mental health issues that they will face. From my visits to the prison in my constituency, I would not want to put a huge amount of greater stress on the prison governor, who is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances, but I would like to ensure a minimum level of mental health awareness at that level so that it can be taken into account. After all, as we are trying to put mental health care workers, or somebody with responsibility for mental health, into schools, it seems only appropriate that we should do the same in our prison estate, where larger numbers of people suffer from those issues.

My second point is the importance of purposeful imprisonment. It is absolutely crucial that we do not allow prisoners to stay in their cells for up to 22 hours a day. We need to find things for them to do. I will mention an example, because I think it predates the time when the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston was a member of the Select Committee. We went on a trip to Denmark, where we visited a prison. There is nothing unusual in that, but there was a great deal of unusualness in the way in which the prisoners were allowed to operate. Instead of the "Porridge"-style large prison benches for food, the prisoners were allowed to cook their own food. There was an issue over knives, which had to be chained to the wall, and things like that, but the prisoners could earn their own money, buy food from the shops and cook their own food.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)

I cannot resist asking a question now, although I will be talking about this in my speech. Does my hon. Friend agree that gardening projects—for example, prisoners growing their produce at the prison and then cooking it—can also be highly beneficial?

John Howell

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to recognise the extent of purposeful intent in the prison system; if gardening can fulfil that purpose, it is a very good one. I would like to see more done on prisoners' ability to cook for themselves. I asked this of a former Lord Chancellor, who assured me that it was being developed within the prison system, so I hope that it is.

That is all I want to add to the debate. It is important and the issues that the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston raised are very germane to the topic.


10 JAN 2018

Intervention on housing in the Chilterns

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Dame Cheryl Gillan

If I must this early on.

John Howell

I thank my right hon. Friend for graciously giving way. Will she comment on the Campaign to Protect Rural England's position that AONBs should be used only for affordable housing? How does that fit into the rural set-up for AONBs?

Dame Cheryl Gillan

My hon. Friend will have to hold fire. I will come to such matters later in my speech, but I thank him for his intervention.


08 JAN 2018

Contribution in debate on Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. An important element of what he is talking about is the business community. What consultation has taken place with businesses, and what feedback has there been?

Mel Stride

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. At the heart of the issues that we are discussing are British businesses of all sizes. Because we want to ensure that we have an environment that is as good as possible for those businesses, consultation has been at the heart of our approach. We produced a discussion paper last year, as well as a White Paper, to which we received responses. I know that my colleagues in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have been actively engaged for many months in roundtable discussions with not just businesses, but representatives of ports and airports, and all the important actors in the process of importing and exporting into and out of the United Kingdom.


08 JAN 2018

My question in the Urgent Question on the NHS in Winter

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In Oxfordshire, considerable effort is being put into growing home-based health and social care systems. Does the Minister accept that that will solve the problem of delayed discharges of care by preventing them in the first place?

Mr Dunne

I agree that prevention is an important part of the long-term solution to improve healthcare outcomes for the population. I believe we are on the cusp of some significant technological advances that will allow more treatment to take place at home and more diagnostic tests to be taken without the necessity of attending acute facilities. Oxfordshire is a good leader in that.


08 JAN 2018

Europe Prize

I have have been appointed to help decide who should receive the prestigious Europe Prize from the Council of Europe.

The Europe Prize was set up in 1955 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to reward municipalities which are particularly active in promoting European ideals.

The Prize recognises the efforts made by local authorities to champion themselves in Europe (by twinning their towns with other European towns, and organising exchange visits).

I said:

"I am delighted to have been appointed to help decide who should win the Europe Prize. It is a good example of us not leaving Europe and playing our full part across the continent. Last year's winner was Lublin in Poland, a town I know very well. I hope that we receive equally good applications this year. Following the Referendum, we may be leaving the EU but I am glad that we are still participating in strong European activities."


28 DEC 2017

Nettlebed Post Office

I only became aware that there is a problem in Nettlebed with the Post Office just before Christmas. I do appreciate how important the facility is and, of course, I will do all I can to help the village keep a Post Office.

In the last few days before Christmas we have had conversations with Malthurst Ltd who run the petrol station. It is clear that this decision is being taken because Malthurst Ltd believes the Post Office is not commercially viable and not because the Post Office nationally wants to close it down. There is some confusion as to whether the reason is insurance alone. We continue to be in touch with Malthurst and hope that now, after the Christmas break, we can meet them to pursue the matter. I also have a meeting with the Post Offices Ltd in the diary for early in the New Year and will, of course, discuss this among other things.

You may have heard a recent Government announcement on additional investment in the Post Office network. This may be timely and I will need to check the detail. I do think it is important to gather as much information as possible and I am grateful for this being brought to my attention. I will post updates on this web site.


26 DEC 2017

Neighbourhood Planning Champion

Neighbourhood Planning is transforming the planning system throughout the country and over 2,200 communities are now fully involved in producing a Neighbourhood Plan. This popular approach to planning, in helping to shape the future of local areas, is having a profound effect on local communities.

In order to help take this work forward the Department for Communities and Local Government has re-appointed me as Neighbourhood Planning Champion.

The experience and insights I have gained is very valuable. It is hoped I will be able to encourage commubnities to take up Neighbourhood Planning and to update their Plans as this becomes due. In addition, DCLG has announced a further £22.8 million for 2018-22 to support Neighbourhood Planning groups across the country.

I said:

"I am delighted to be reappointed to continue this important work of encouraging communities to develop Neighbourhood Plans. They are proving their worth in so many different locations around the country and are establishing good partnership arrangements with local district councils. I look forward to working with local communities."


26 DEC 2017

Good news for Puma 2 and RAF Benson

Airbus Helicopters has saved 25 jobs at RAF Benson and at its base at Oxford Airport. This arises as a result of Airbus Helicopters being chosen to continue its operational support to the RAF Puma 2 fleet which is based at RAF Benson. This follows speeches and questions I made in the House of Commons about the future of Puma 2.

The contract for this work is worth an initial £100 million and will see the company provide technical support and logistics until March 2022 with the facility to extend until March 2025.

What the contract will provide is repair and overhaul services to the helicopters together with training to all Puma avionics and mechanical technicians as well as engineering managers.

I said:

"I am delighted to see the continuation of Puma 2 and that this contract has been awarded. There were rumours that the Puma 2 was on its way out. But this suggests otherwise. I spoke in a debate in the House of Commons and asked a question at Prime Minister's Question time about the future of the Puma 2 which is essential to the future of RAF Benson."

"In addition, we only have to look at the contribution that these aircraft have made to operations around the world: whether deploying in Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral or supporting vital aid in the Caribbean following the recent hurricane disasters, the Pumas have shown their enormous ability to be ready for operations within a few hours of arrival, and they make an ideal platform to support special forces."

The contract follows on from a previous and very successful Interim Support Arrangement, which has seen Airbus Helicopters support the aircraft since the first upgraded Puma 2 entered service in 2012.

Ian Morris, Head of UK defence programmes at Airbus Helicopters, said,

"This follow on contract re-affirms the confidence that the MoD has in the aircraft and in Airbus to continue to provide a cost effective and highly capable solution that will allow the Puma to continue to support our forces on operations, in very demanding conditions."

"We are delighted that Airbus Helicopters has been chosen to continue providing operational support to the Royal Air Force Puma 2 fleet based at RAF Benson over the planned service life of the aircraft."


24 DEC 2017

Happy Christmas

I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful time.


21 DEC 2017

Universal Service Obligation for broadband

Yesterday, the Culture Secretary announced a Universal Service Obligation that will give everyone in the UK access to high speed broadband, meaning that everyone can get online, regardless of where they live or work. This will provide a minimum of 10 mbps.


20 DEC 2017

Interventions in debate on Ukraine

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What my right hon. Friend is saying makes perfect sense, particularly his description of the Russians' involvement. Those of us who serve on the Council of Europe are determined that Russia's bid to come back to the Council should be accompanied by concessions. The biggest concession I want to see is its removal from Donbass. Does he agree with that?

Mr Whittingdale

I agree very much with my hon. Friend. I want to see the entire territorial integrity of Ukraine restored, including not just Donbass but Crimea. In the immediate future, I believe he is right and I am delighted to hear of his work on this question in the Council of Europe. We need to put maximum pressure on Russia to withdraw its support from the terrorists in east Ukraine, and I will say more about that.

__________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

My hon. Friend mentions the word "genocide". Does she recognise that without Ukraine, we would not have the term "genocide" or, indeed, "crimes against humanity"? As Philippe Sands pointed out in his book, it was the invention of those at the time of the second world war that has prompted all our subsequent activity in this area.

Mrs Latham

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I will come on to that. It seems ironic that that is where the term "genocide" came from, yet this country does not recognise it.


19 DEC 2017

Question in Statement on police funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am sure the Minister will join me in congratulating Thames Valley police on their outstanding ranking in the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy review. Will he also tell us how the funding settlement takes into account the needs of rural policing?

Mr Hurd

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I join him in congratulating Thames Valley on its outstanding rating, which I know it takes great pride in. Rural policing is extremely important to many constituents. I come back to the central point, which is that we have devolved accountability and responsibility in the police system. The allocation of new resources and new investment in our policing is a conversation to be had with the local democratically elected police and crime commissioner. I know from personal conversation that they take the matter extremely seriously.


18 DEC 2017

Speech on enslavement of Africans in Libya

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The number of refugees in the world is colossal; I think it is in the region of 60 million people. It is certainly more than the population of Britain. We need to remember that when we discuss the refugee situation and how to stop making it worse in the future. We have the opportunity in Africa to get the situation right the first time, and I hope we will take that opportunity.

In my intervention, I mentioned that I spend a lot of my time in Nigeria as the Prime Minister's trade envoy. That is not just about trade; it goes right across the spectrum of political and DFID-related activities that occur in that country. I would like to say a little bit more about the conversations I had the last time I was there, because it is a very good example of how we can get it right if we try.

Nigeria has enormous problems with a terrorist group in the north-east and has contributed hugely to human trafficking in Africa. It has the potential to make an even bigger contribution, which I would not wish to encourage. Why would that occur? Why would people leave their homes and move away from where they live to entrust themselves to unscrupulous people traffickers on the coast of Libya? There are several reasons. One is clearly the terrorist situation in the country. The only way we will deal with that is not a military option but by ensuring that the growth we want to see in the country is shared out across it to the people who are participating in generating that growth. That goes to the heart of the second group of people involved, which is the population at large.

Unless we help to get sub-Saharan Africa right, which means contributing to the activities that Governments want to carry out to improve their countries so that growth can spread more evenly and more people can participate in it, the effect on Europe could be colossal. I mention Europe in that context because that is where we are and the perspective from which we are looking at the situation. We have to redouble our efforts as a Government and with companies there to ensure that that happens.

Many British companies are looking at the market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Prime Minister's emphasis on tackling modern slavery is providing an enormous competitive advantage to those companies. They can turn up in the Nigerian market and say, "We fully subscribe to the Prime Minister's modern slavery agenda." The people in Africa absolutely rise to that challenge, and it is really heart-warming to see.

As I mentioned, I have been to discuss this issue with Unilever, which is part-Dutch but principally a British company. It has been very successful in stamping out modern slavery from its entire supply chain. That company works, among other areas, in the agricultural sphere, in which many poor people are in need of something to live for and aspire to. It is a great triumph to have got rid of modern slavery, because that is just the sort of thing that will make the country right and ensure that people there have something to live for when they get up in the morning and go to work. I am very pleased to have been able to help with that.

I know there is a lot to do in the world in this area. For instance, there is a crisis that I do not think we have ever talked about in this Chamber: the second largest group of displaced people in the world is actually not in Syria or in Africa, but in Colombia.

I do not underestimate what we have to do to tackle this problem, but unless we are prepared to put the effort into tackling it and making sure our companies do the same, we will never solve it. That will not only be to the loss of Africa, which is an immensely rich and opportunistic continent—I mean that in the nicest possible sense of the word—with so much going for it, but it will also affect us. We all ought to bear that in mind. There is an element of self-interest in this, as there always has to be. By putting the emphasis on this issue and getting it right, we will help to make sure that the African situation does not extend into mass migration, with many millions of people putting themselves into the hands of unscrupulous people traffickers.

_____________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

I want to pick up on the previous intervention. I think that there is a huge role for British companies in educating people in their country. I went to see Unilever in Nigeria; it has eradicated modern slavery from its whole supply chain, and that has had a big effect in the effort to convince Nigerians that they should stay and make something of themselves in their own country. Unless we do that, we shall run into a lot of problems.

Paul Scully

My hon. Friend makes a typically insightful point, and it is right to use some of our big companies working in the areas in question to provide education and secondary industries. As we move into looking at trade agreements with Africa but while we are also a member of the EU, we could seek tariff reduction as well. Obviously a big concern is tariffs on the least developed countries, but with the slightly better-off countries such as Nigeria, the "Everything but Arms" rules do not apply. They are charged a lot in tariffs on coffee and chocolate and similar things, and cannot build up the secondary industries that would help to develop gainful employment, so that people would have a stake in their own area and not feel the need to leave to find a better life.

_______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He mentioned Nigeria; when I visited it as the Prime Minister's trade envoy, I had a discussion about this problem. We all agreed that if we did not help to get sub-Saharan Africa right, the catastrophe waiting to happen in Europe would be colossal, as more and more Nigerians put themselves in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers on the way to Libya and the Mediterranean coast. Does he agree that that is a realistic view of the situation?

Paul Scully

I understand my hon. Friend's expertise and knowledge of the area and totally agree with him. There is a real risk. We can tackle the atrocities of the slave trade in Libya, and Libya's power vacuum, but ultimately the biggest threat to that part of the world and many others is migration—and not necessarily just migration through conflict. Economic reasons, climate reasons and any number of other reasons are moving such a mass of people, which causes other situations.


14 DEC 2017

Intervention in debate on Sharm el Sheikh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does it not come as a great surprise to my hon. Friend that the ban on flights to Tunisia, which is immediately opposite ISIL- infested beaches in Libya, was lifted, whereas the Sharm el Sheikh ban has not been lifted, although it was British expertise that helped to restore that airport to its current excellent status?

Mr Lord

I agree with my hon. Friend. When the all-party parliamentary group on Egypt, of which the right hon. Member for East Ham and I are co-chairmen, visited the country recently, it was instructive to note that virtually everyone we met was aware of the continuing UK ban. Parliamentarians, Ministers and business people obviously knew that the UK was now encouraging tourism back to Tunisia, and they took it as a bit of an affront that we were not helping Egypt in a similar way. Given that the UK's 25-point plan has been fully implemented, they find it very disappointing that Sharm El Sheikh airport remains closed to UK flights. The UK is now unique in being the only European country to operate such a ban: every other country in the EU allows flights to Sharm El Sheikh. The ban has had a significant economic impact on the resort's tourist economy, which is highly reliant on the UK tourism trade. Hotels are operating at only 35% of capacity.


13 DEC 2017

Speech on quality in the built environment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on securing the debate. She covered in great detail and with great aplomb the snagging problems that arise with individual homes.

I want to take us back a stage in the process. I do not want to see the built environment characterised by little boxes or rabbit hutches, nor do I want to see it characterised by little boxes and rabbit hutches that are badly built. In around 2011, I was one of those here who was responsible for introducing neighbourhood planning as a means of dealing with that. Neighbourhood planning has become very well known for giving communities a say over where housing should go, but it is less well known that they have the right also to comment on what those buildings should look like.

The reason we have a large number of rabbit hutches and little boxes is that house builders largely go about the building of their houses on their own, with no influence from the communities in which they operate. A great deal of influence from communities would be of great advantage to the people who will live in those houses and to the communities, because of the overall impression they create, as well as to the house builders, who would produce exactly what someone wants.

That deals a bit with the big picture stuff. I completely agree that there is still a need to get the details of the housing right, but I want to continue on that in my role as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary design and innovation group. That is particularly relevant to the points I made about the use of neighbourhood planning for people to decide what sort of houses they want to get involved with.

I was very pleased to see that the Design Council has produced a guide to neighbourhood planning. When a body such as the Design Council gets involved in neighbourhood planning, it represents a significant shift in the attitude of communities to taking advantage of the principles we set out in neighbourhood planning, to talk about and have influence over the design aspects of what they are trying to include in their neighbourhood plan. Having some influence on design and being able to participate in the design process is fundamental to the success of the neighbourhood planning process.

Mrs Miller

My hon. Friend is right to bring up the issue of design. Does he share my concern at how often new houses and new settlements are designed without any thought for disabled people who might live in those settlements? At the moment, an office block is being converted into a new community in my constituency. The local authority is not able to insist on disabled access in that office block because it is a conversion, which means the rules on disabled access do not apply.

John Howell

My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The conversion of buildings is largely permitted development, and therefore the community has no ability to get into that. I go back to my fundamental point, which is that the community's involvement in the process at the beginning should take account of what will be required for disabled people. That should feed into the design parameters that should be being discussed with the house builders, to get the design of the house right.

I echo the Design Council's comment that embedding good design in a neighbourhood plan is crucial. The sad thing is that very few neighbourhood plans include design. They are mostly concerned with where the housing should go, and they do not look at design. Even within my constituency, there is a community that forgot to look at design criteria when producing its neighbourhood plan. Later, when it tried to object to a particular design format being used for an area, it did not have anything to rely on to make that change. It is of no consequence to that community now that it missed the boat, but that serves as a good lesson for communities looking at producing a neighbourhood plan that they should include some design features.

Overall, I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds in her concentration on problems with individual houses, but I urge communities to go back one stage in the process. They need to include design in their neighbourhood plan and ensure they have really got to grips with what they want to see, so that they can influence the type and design of buildings from the outset.


13 DEC 2017

Monthly unemployment figures

My assessment of the monthly figures on unemployment published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

  • There are 325,000 more people in work than this time last year.
  • Youth unemployment is down 416,000 since 2010.
  • 182,000 fewer people are unemployed than this time last year.

Let's look at the quality of the jobs which these ONS figures state have been created. All of the increase in employment in the last year has come from full-time employment. Full-time employment is up on the year. Part-time employment is down 12,000 on the year. Over 87 per cent of those in part-time work are working part-time by choice. The number of part-time workers who could not find a full time job fell 153,000 on the year.

Key facts for the Henley constituency:

  • The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in November 2017 was 275.
  • The number of claimants in the Henley constituency is the same as in October 2017.
  • There were 30 claimants aged 18-24 in November 2017.


12 DEC 2017

Question on animal welfare

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that preventing people who abuse animals from owning animals is a very good thing to include in the Bill?

Zac Goldsmith

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and I thank him for making that point.

The Secretary of State has said:

"As we leave the European Union there are opportunities for us to go further and to improve... animal welfare".

Of course, he is right. For example—this goes to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) was making—as we leave the EU, we will be able to end the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening, which is a grim process for tens of thousands of animals every year. Last year, 3,000 calves were transported from Scotland via Ireland to Spain and over 45,000 sheep were taken from the UK through continental Europe. Under EU single market rules, the UK has not been able to stop that—we have tried, but we have not succeeded. I am thrilled that Ministers have indicated that they are minded to act as soon as we are allowed. If we do, we will be the first European country to do so and will be setting what I hope will become a trend.


12 DEC 2017

Question on Lord Kerslake

Question on Lord Kerslake's resignation from the Kings Hospital Trust

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What has NHS Improvement said about this, and what has it recommended that King's should do?

Mr Dunne

As I have indicated, the chief executive of NHS Improvement said yesterday that no other trust

"has shown the sheer scale and pace of the deterioration at King's. It is not acceptable for individual organisations to run up such significant deficits when the majority of the sector is working extremely hard to hit their financial plans, and in many cases have made real progress."

That is from the regulator responsible for putting the trust into special measures for now.


12 DEC 2017

My question on the bank levy

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Is not the important point about the bank levy that we are trying to get a fair contribution paid by the banks, matched against the risk they pose to the whole UK economy?

Mel Stride

My hon. Friend is entirely right, which is why we have generally moved away from a levy on the capital assets of banks as regulation has improved, and towards a tax on the profitability of banks as that profitability has recovered following the events of 2008, which happened on the watch of the last Government. This re-scope forms part of the broader package of reforms announced between 2015 and 2016 that included an 8% surcharge on bank profits over £25 million. The package will help to sustain tax revenues from the banking sector in the long term.


09 DEC 2017

Brexit

As news came in from Brussels yesterday,  I offered my congratulations to the PM for securing a good deal for us over the Brexit negotiations. It is a good compromise on citizens' rights and has established some sound and good principles for the future. Many will not have wanted to leave and like me will have voted in the referendum to remain. That decision was won by those who wnated to Leave and should be upheld.  But this deal sets out some fundamental principles for the way forward and provides the security business and we all need. It allows us to put our energies into getting the right relationship with the EU for the future. It defies the negativiity that has dogged the press and media coverage of this issue.

There are some good concessions from the EU too. In essence they are:

  • UK courts to have final judgement.
  • Future EU spouses subject to UK immigration.
  • Rebate to apply to payments.

For a limited time, our courts will be able to ask the ECJ for a legal view on the law in relation to citizens' rights where there is a point of law that has not arisen before, but only if they wish to do so. The EU have accepted that future EU spouses will be subject to the UK immigration law provisions that apply to non-EU spouses currently. A bill in the range £35-£39 billion is significantly below initial EU estimates and will only be paid when the commitments are due and depend on broader agreement on our future partnership.


07 DEC 2017

Speech on prisons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have three questions for the Minister. First, he has heard our concerns about the quality of the ageing estate and the living conditions of prisoners. What is he going to do about it? My second question relates to the status of the Government's closure plans and the plans to update and replace our ageing prisons. What is he going to do about it? My third is about the impact of the uncertainty over closures on what the prisons are trying to do to update and improve their facilities.

To deal with my first question, the Minister will have seen, as we have, responses from the chief inspector of prisons. He has heard from Members today that in many prisons they have seen that showers and lavatory facilities are filthy and dilapidated and there are no credible or affordable plans for refurbishment. In a report published only a couple of months ago, the chief inspector of prisons said:

"prisoners are held in conditions that fall short of what most members of the public would consider as reasonable or decent".

My first question on what the Government are doing to address that is therefore very relevant.

On my second question, the Minister himself said only a couple of months ago that although his first priority is to ensure public protection and provide accommodation for all those sentenced by the courts, the commitment to close old prisons remains a viable option with which he wishes to continue. I would like to hear some detail about what is happening with that programme. The prison estate transformation programme reconfigured the estate into three functions looking after reception, training and resettlement, and those three are crucial to the better treatment of prisoners. The Ministry was also given £1.3 billion in 2015 as part of the spending review to invest over the next five years to transform the prison estates. What exactly is happening to that, what progress is being made and how is it being dealt with?

As for my third question, on the impact of the uncertainty about closure on prison performance and staff morale, I would echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) about the visit to Rochester prison. I was unable to go on that visit myself, but it is crucial that the lessons from it are learned. One lesson was, as governors told the Committee, that the decision about investing in maintenance or improving the facilities had not gone ahead since the announcement that the prison would close. As we have heard, the old 1840s prison buildings there are described as "deplorable" and "deteriorating". That has an impact on recruitment, which had been frozen in Rochester, and it proves demoralising to staff.

I think that those three questions are the most pertinent.

Robert Neill

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the Rochester issue. He might like to know that we found on one wing that some 22 showers had been out of operation for months. When we spoke to people there, they said that the nub of the problem was that the facilities management contractors do not see the governors as their client. They see their client relationship being with MOJ's commercial arm. That needs to be got right, because it means that the efforts of governors get nowhere—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)

Order. Can I be honest? We need shorter interventions. The hon. Gentleman was hoping to get two minutes at the end of the debate; he is eating into that two minutes, and he will understand if he does not get them.

John Howell

I fully accept the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), which goes back to what I said about the prison having given up on trying to invest any money in refurbishment or in replacing its ageing facilities. I have already quoted the chief inspector of prisons, who said that the shower and lavatory facilities in many prisons are filthy and dilapidated.

What will the Government do to address our concerns about the quality of the ageing estate? What are they doing about the current programme of reform and estate modernisation? What impact is the uncertainty about closures having both on the prisons themselves and on the lives of prisoners? Those are the three most relevant questions.


07 DEC 2017

Question on moving US Embassy in Israel

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I completely share the Government's view on this statement by the President of the United States, but I do not believe that it brings the process for a two-state solution to an end. Indeed, I believe it gives greater emphasis to the work that we can carry on to achieve that. Does the Minister agree?

Alistair Burt

As I said earlier, the peace process towards a two-state solution will come to an end only when the parties themselves feel that it cannot go any further. It is vital that we and all our partners—including the United States—reaffirm that commitment to the two-state solution, and do our level best to ensure that it is not lost.


07 DEC 2017

Question on Nigerian agriculture

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on promoting UK agriculture in negotiations on future trade agreements. [902791]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Michael Gove)

Ministers and officials meet regularly to discuss the promotion of UK agriculture. Only last night I was talking to the Secretary of State for International Trade, to ensure that in the next 12 months we place the promotion of British food at the heart of our joint governmental endeavours.

John Howell

As the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I recently hosted a visit of the Nigerian agriculture Minister to the UK. Does the Secretary of State accept that the UK is leading in innovation and education in agriculture, and that we have a lot to offer that country?

Michael Gove

My hon. Friend has done an outstanding job as trade envoy to one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and there is much that we can do together to improve the transfer of technology between our two countries. Nigeria offers huge opportunities to our exporters, which I know my hon. Friend has done much to help to advance.


06 DEC 2017

Speech on unduly lenient sentences

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who hit the nail on the head in securing this timely debate. Under-sentencing has a number of effects—it causes outrage for the victim, it demoralises the police and it may cause public danger, but more important than all those things, it hinders the development of a rational sentencing procedure in the courts. It is important to bear that in mind.

We heard from my right hon. Friend that the subjects covered by the unduly lenient sentences scheme were extended in August to include terrorist activities, so it is open for them to be further extended in the way that he suggests. I presume that the Solicitor General has some sympathy with that view. I know that he is working hard to try to bring charges against people who have received unduly lenient sentences, and he has had some success with that in the courts.

Let me return to the point that I made in an intervention on my right hon. Friend. The Justice Committee is a statutory consultee of the Sentencing Council, which produces guidelines for judges about what sentences should be applied in individual cases and how they should be applied. I understand, having reviewed some of those things, that this is difficult because the issues are complex and challenging. For example, the Select Committee looked at intimidatory offences and domestic abuse, which would be ideal for inclusion in the scheme, but our efforts to give concrete examples were bedevilled by the complexity of the issues involved.

However, we should put more emphasis on this issue. We ought to give a firm steer to the Justice Committee that it can take as hard a line as it likes and give a good, rational steer in this area. One of the things I was most taken aback by when looking at domestic abuse cases was the mitigating factors that were brought in, which included good character, provocation, self-referral for treatment and so on. They have their place, of course, but there seemed to be too strong an emphasis on them rather than on getting sentencing right in the first place. Unless we get sentencing right, we will blunt the deterrent effect of the criminal law. That would be a disaster for us and a disaster for the judicial system.


06 DEC 2017

Speech on Israel

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who opened this debate, for his clear statement that the Labour party is not anti-Semitic. That is a very useful thing to have put on the record.

This region is one of the most contested in the world, with extremely complex land ownership issues. It is important to contextualise those before discussing the issue, rather than simply inferring from the debate's title that all Israel wishes to do is to destroy Palestinian homes. We need to go back to the Oslo accords of 1993 and how they split areas A, B and C. I have seen in press reports from the Palestinian side that the Palestinians have admitted that the structures they have put out in area C are in fact illegal. There is no getting away from that—that is exactly what they have admitted. I have spent years trying to reform the planning system in the UK; I am not going to try to reform the planning system in Israel.

The Oslo generation needs to move away from what we have seen so far. It is that generation that has participated in the stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks during the recent waves of terrorism. The institutionalised radicalisation behind those attacks is perhaps the most significant obstacle to a lasting peace in the generations to come.

It is time that we put more effort into a reconciliation deal, but that deal must include the demilitarisation of the Hamas terror group, and the Palestinian Authority must deliver on their commitment to end incitement and hate education, as they agreed to in the Oslo accords. If those obstacles can be overcome, the issues of borders, settlements—which have been discussed today—and security can finally be negotiated in direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.


06 DEC 2017

Speech on youth employment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on initiating a thoroughly brilliant debate.

I stand here with some embarrassment, as the product of three universities, and stand shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friend in a party that really believes in opportunity and matching those opportunities to the individual. That is a very important point to make. I stand here with some embarrassment also because in my constituency, the number of youth unemployed receiving jobseeker's allowance or universal credit was 25 according to the November figures. That is 25 people across the whole of the constituency, under the age of 24, who were unemployed. I want to look briefly at some of the reasons for that figure. We have discussed them but perhaps I can draw them together again.

This is all about apprenticeships. First, I will mention a type of apprenticeship that illustrates the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), which is at the company DAF Trucks, the truck maker in my constituency. It has established an academic relationship with a university just outside Bristol, and it celebrates the granting of those apprenticeships as if it were the granting of degrees. It is absolutely brilliant that they have done that.

Secondly, there are apprenticeships with semi-government organisations. Examples in my constituency include the work being done at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, in electrical training apprenticeships, and at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which has been running apprenticeships on site for 12 years. I have become very involved with them in the sort of apprenticeships that they run. Thirdly, there are the type of apprenticeships that companies themselves sort out. A very good example in my constituency is the furniture maker StuartBarr, which has organised apprenticeships for a number of young people.

There is a difference in the way in which different schools approach apprenticeships. Some schools have gone out of their way to establish good relationships with business, but others still see going to university as the prime reason for the school. They do their children no favours at all in pursuing that line.

Fourthly, there are apprenticeships in genuine government organisations, such as prisons, which I mentioned in my intervention, where there is an incentive to get purposeful living out of prisoners to ensure that they do not reoffend. The use of apprenticeships there can be quite helpful.

The thing that all those types of apprenticeship have in common is hard work. They are not easy to run. They are not easy for students to undergo—and nor should they be, because this is about getting the skills for a future in life. We MPs can play an enormous role by encouraging apprenticeships and by talking to businesses and explaining the motivation behind the Government programmes that support apprenticeships.

Leo Docherty

My hon. Friend makes his point very eloquently. Does he agree that the link between business and education establishments is really important? Industry knows what it wants, and if it tells educational establishments what it wants, people will study for apprenticeships with enthusiasm because they know that they will be employed meaningfully at the end. We have had tremendous success with Farnborough College of Technology, which speaks directly to industry in Farnborough. Does he agree that that link is critical to the success of this model?

John Howell

I totally agree that that link is essential. An example in my constituency is Henley College, which has good networks of relationships and runs apprenticeship programmes that businesses actually want and can deliver for the students who take them. That is a crucial point. It would be pointless to offer apprenticeships that just float about in space and give no benefit at all to the people who take them. We want high-quality apprenticeships that deliver for everyone. Apprenticeships need to be win-win for both the academic organisation and the business. From my experience, that is perfectly achievable.


05 DEC 2017

Big Lottery Fund winners

Congratulations to the following organisations on their recent award of Big Lottery Fund wins: Headway, Tetsworth PC, Checkendon PC and Little Milton School – a total of over £30,000.

Headway Thames Valley Limited

Living With Brain Injury Courses

£8,447

This project will develop their services for people facing physical and cognitive disabilities by delivering Living with Brain Injury courses to provide support and advice to people affected by brain injuries.

Tetsworth Parish Council

Provide a new play area & activity centre

£10,000

The Parish Council will install play equipment within the local play area to improve the health and wellbeing of children and adults in the local community.

Checkendon Parish Council

Checkendon Adventure Playground regeneration

£2,712

The project will provide play equipment and seating for to support the establishment of a village hub in the form of a play, recreational and social space for the benefit of people within the local rural village.

Little Milton Church of England Primary School

Fighting fit through martial arts

£9,931

This group will use the funding to run a programme of martial arts sessions and parent support networks to improve the lives, emotional and physical development of children.


30 NOV 2017

Floating Pennywort

i called for an urgent debate today in the House of Commons on the weed, Floating Pennywort. The weed is threatening aquatic wildlife in and around Henley and across stretches of the Thames.

The text of the exchange between me and the Leader of the House, the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, is reproduced below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we have a debate on a weed called floating pennywort? It is a strong contender for the worst aquatic weed in the UK and it is affecting large stretches of the Thames, including around Henley. A debate would allow us to sort out how to deal with it.

Andrea Leadsom

I agree with my hon. Friend that floating pennywort is a highly invasive non-native species that has a significant environmental impact. The Environment Agency has removed thousands of tonnes of this plant as part of a co-ordinated programme of removal and spraying to control its growth. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the EA redoubled its efforts to remove floating pennywort from the Thames and its tributaries throughout October and November and is putting in place a spraying, removal and monitoring programme from spring 2018.

This follows information i received from the Environment Agency confirming that it is using its permissive powers to work with riparian landowners. The EA went on:

"This is the case for works currently underway to remove floating pennywort along sections of the Thames . For example, backwaters of the River Thames at Sonning and the River Kennet at Blakes Lock were largely cleared of the plant in the last few weeks. We are aiming to begin similar works around Henley before the end of the year, with the support of specialist contractors. We will also undertake further works on some of the river stretches already tackled in order to reduce further the risk of regrowth.

"The current cool conditions have slowed growth down, making it a good time to remove floating pennywort, but in warmer months the plant can grow extremely quickly and spread from very small fragments. Effective long term management is extremely challenging, potentially very costly, but very important if the plant's spread is to be controlled."

i said:

"This is a case where I thought it right to call for a debate in the House of Commons to clarify what was being done and how it was being dealt with. This is a really nasty weed that changes the availability of oxygen in the river and thus threatens fish and invertebrates, chokes drainage systems and crowds out native water plants. It's able to grow at phenomenal rates. My post bag has had a lot of coverage of the issue."


30 NOV 2017

Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway

There has been much speculation and concern on the route of the proposed Oxford Cambridge Expressway. This is a project in which I have taken much interest in defence of constituents. I am of the firm opinion that the route should utilise existing roads wherever possible rather than carve a new path through Green Belt land to the south of Oxford. Given that there are alternatives, I believe that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to use Green Belt land for this. Further with the requirement for housing to help fund the new road there is even greater reason to avoid a route through the Green Belt.

I have had discussion with the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that he is aware of the local issues and have also put these concerns in writing to him. I have also discussed the matter with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government due to the potential issues of housing to be built along the route

I am encouraged by the view of the Chancellor that the new road is critical to the growth of Milton Keynes as this strongly suggests a northern route. The National Infrastructure Commission announcement published on 17th November also talks of an Oxford - Milton Keynes - Cambridge arc.

I understand that Highways England is close to finalising a strategic study to look at an Expressway that will run from the M4 through Milton Keynes to the M11. So far, I understand, there have been no decisions into which route should be chosen which is subject to further analysis. An announcement is expected in the summer of 2018. There will then be a non-statutory consultation on the preferred routes in 2019 with an announcement in the autumn of 2020. Queries on the Expressway should be directed to Matt Stafford at Highways England who can be reached on OxfordToCambridgeExpressway@highwaysengland.co.uk

In the meantime I have also raised concerns about the transparency of the work on this project and you will note above the situation with regard to the consultation. A project of this magnitude should have ready access to as much information as possible in the public domain. I accept that some competitive data needs to remain private but feel that the lack of information is adding to speculation. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene so that as much information as possible can be immediately put into the public domain with explanation as to what is being held back and why.


29 NOV 2017

Health issues and meetings

Today I held a number of meetings in Westminster on health issues.  The first of these was a meeting with two constituents from Goring on the problems of cystic fibrosis.  It is a disease I understand quite well as I used to do work for the CF Holiday Fund newsletter.

The second of these was a meeting with the Chief Executive of a Cervical Cancer charity to help make Cervical Cancer a thing of the past. 

And the third was a meeting with Leonard Cheshire with whom I have had a lot of contact in the constituency about their work in Africa.


29 NOV 2017

Animal Sentience updated

The Independent newspaper ran with a story that I was one of a number of MPs who had voted that animals were not sentient creatures. It was of course nonsense and the Independent has had to retract its statement. What the newspaper has now said is "Put simply, what happened is this: MPs did not vote that animals are not sentient creatures." It also said that "Campaigners – and some news coverage – initially said that the Government had voted against recognising sentience..... But it became clear that this claim was not right." It seems that a number of organisations owe us an apology. At least the BBC issued an apology for saying 100,000 universal credit claimants would lose money over Christmas in another false statement.

Michael Gove's statement which he issued as Secretary of State for the Environment after this said that the Government was committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals. He pointed out that voting against the amendment in the EU Withdrawal Bill was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. The Government's approach was driven by its recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings. It was simply a rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals. We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards. The current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It has not stopped bullfighting, the production of foie gras, live exports for slaughter, veal farming and puppy smuggling. The most rigorous animal welfare standards are already being proposed in primary legislation.


28 NOV 2017

State of broadband and telephony in the constituency

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Surely one of the ways in which we can improve innovation and productivity is by having better broadband and telephony. I heard what the Secretary of State said yesterday, but in my area we have zero G, not 5G. Would he like to encourage my area by saying that the strategy is meant for the whole of the country, not just towns and cities?

Greg Clark

It certainly is. There are significant opportunities in many of our rural areas, and it is essential that the progress we make in our towns and cities is shared with our rural areas, of which my hon. Friend's constituency is a particularly attractive and productive example.


28 NOV 2017

Maternity Safety Strategy

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I welcome the statement, and I am glad that the Secretary of State mentioned the role of tobacco. Has he also considered the role of alcohol?

Mr Hunt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that. The evidence is very clear about the damage done to foetuses and babies if there is too much—or, indeed, any—drinking by a mother. I did not mention it in the statement because we are focusing on smoking cessation training, but he is right to mention the issue.


28 NOV 2017

Neighbourhood Plans and habitats assessments

I have called for early resolution of problems with the Habitats Regulation Assessment which mean that referenda for Neighbourhood Plans are being delayed. The work is being undertaken by Natural England following an earlier court case. The referenda are required to bring into legal force the contents of Neighbourhood Plans.

I said:

"There are two issues here. First, Neighbourhood Plans were supposed to be simple documents produced by communities but we are making them ever more complicated by the inclusion, for example, of assessments under the Habitats Regulation Assessment. If Neighbourhood Plans identify sites within them I agree that they have to have some form of habitat assessment. But the burden of this is falling in the wrong place on communities. Second, the length of time being taken to complete the work has held up the approval and referenda of Neighbourhood Plans. In two cases from my own constituency the Neighbourhood Plans are urgently required to make sense of a plan for new housing and development and to ensure that speculative development of houses in the wrong places do not succeed. I urge Natural England to rapidly pursue the work and for the Government to get fully behind simplifying the production of Neighbourhood Plans."

I have written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government following a conversation beteen us on these issues.


28 NOV 2017

Cadet units

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What plans he has to increase the number of cadet units in state schools. [902549]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Tobias Ellwood)

rose—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr Ellwood

I am pleased to see that cadets are so popular in the Chamber today.

In 2015, the Government committed £50 million to increasing the number of cadet units in state schools through the cadet expansion programme. The programme targets schools in less affluent areas and is on track to achieve its target of 500 cadet units by 2020.

John Howell

The sea cadet corps in Henley has provided the youngest of my daughters with enormous opportunities for personal development. Does the Minister agree that it is important to support cadet units in state schools, particularly with things such as uniforms?

Mr Ellwood

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. He is right that cadet units provide life skills, employability and social mobility—things that schools do not necessarily offer themselves. I also pay tribute to the work of the cadets who participated in Remembrance Sunday up and down the country.


23 NOV 2017

Animal Sentience

Parliament did not vote that animals were not sentient. It is completely wrong to suggest that we did. I am happy to reproduce the written statement issued on 23 November 2017 by Michael Gove which makes this clear.

"This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.

It has been suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals - that is wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain - that is a misconception.

Ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government's policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild. The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

The Prime Minister has made clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.

The current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is very unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.

In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as "the strongest in the world", and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.

This government will continue to promote and enhance "

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides protection for all animals capable of experiencing pain or suffering. I agree with Michael Gove and Ministers who spoke that of course animals are sentient creatures. But the EU protocol has been useless in preventing sentient animals being included in bull fights, being used for veal farming, to make foie gras, to end live exports for slaughter, or used to make cruel fur products.

Indeed in a debate in 2017, the point was made that cruelty to animals often led to cruelty to humans and the two offences should be seen together. As one speaker in that debate said: "The standard by which I judge civilisation is how we treat animals and animal welfare more generally." That remains the case.


22 NOV 2017

Contribution to debate on drugs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  Thank you, Mr Gapes, for managing to squeeze me into the debate. I shall use the time wisely, I hope. We have all agreed that drug misuse can destroy lives, that it has a devastating effect on families and communities, and that we can help individuals by preventing drug misuse and through treatment and wider recovery support. That is where I would support the Government's new strategy—in putting recovery at its heart.

What I am uncomfortable with at the moment is the idea of going straight to a policy of decriminalisation. I should like smarter law enforcement. How to approach that is largely in the hands of police and crime commissioners. If we had a smarter enforcement response, it might produce beneficial results. There is no reason why the enforcement process against those who supply drugs should not be harsh, involving effective action. However, we need to be much more sophisticated in our approach to possession, and in taking account of the number of people using drugs, and who are therefore committing crimes. If it is possible to take a halfway position on the issue, I certainly advocate that.

We need also to ensure better outcomes, and better measurements to capture them, throughout the process. We have bandied figures around today, but there is not a lot of commonality between them, and the figures that I have are slightly different from those that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) set forth. We need some really tight figures; and I am surprised, given the amount of time that has been spent in combating the drugs problem, to find that we still do not have those figures.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet I mentioned the Prison Service, because I am a member of the Select Committee on Justice and have visited many prisons where the issue has come up. Sophistication is needed in the way we tackle that. There are people in prison who were taking drugs before they went there, and quite a lot who have taken drugs since they came into prison. How we handle that will say a lot about how we tackle the problem for the future.

The thing that has most impressed me is information I was sent by a charity called Release. I know that it argues for ending the criminalisation of drug possession; but it brought out some key points on which we need to concentrate. The first was the necessity to combat the situation by improving public health. We should spend some time on that. It also stresses ways that we can reduce the stigmatisation and marginalisation of vulnerable populations—a number of Members have spoken about that—and allied to that is the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Finally, it is also necessary to look at a range of other issues, such as addressing homelessness. Those things are in the Government strategy, but I do not yet see them being joined up in order to take them forward.

__________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the debate. Before he moves on to financial costs, will he say something about another side of the human cost—the extent to which prisoners are taking drugs and the efforts being made to try to stop that in prisons?

Craig Mackinlay

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We in the judiciary often feel that we put people in prison as a last resort and hope that that is a place where they may seek relief from drugs and get the treatment they need. However, all too often we hear of many examples where that is far from the case.


22 NOV 2017

Budget money for children at RAF Benson

Oxfordshire, and the Henley constituency in particular, has won out under the budget proposals announced today in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond MP, with grant of almost £100,000 to an organisation involved with RAF Benson and Dalton Barracks..

Under the terms of the budget, a further £36 million of banking fines has been committed over the next 3 years to support Armed Forces and Emergency Services charities and other related good causes. This completes the LIBOR Charity Funding scheme, bringing the total of funding committed since 2012 to £773 million. The successful applicants will receive the funding from April 2018.

The details of the grant are as follows:

  • Oxfordshire Play Association
  • To provide community support facilities to Service families at RAF Benson and Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire.
  • £98,535

Oxfordshire Play Association Oxfordshire Play Association (OPA) was established as a charity in 1974. For over 40 years, OPA has been one of the lead organisations in Oxfordshire to promote high quality play opportunities across the county for all children and young people aged 0 – 16 years.

I said:

"I am delighted that OPA has won this grant and that it can support children at RAF Benson with good quality play experiences. It is a great support to our Armed Forces and will be much enjoyed."


21 NOV 2017

Chiltern Edge School

Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet is being recommended to save Chiltern Edge School and provide it with a secure future.

Papers produced for the Cabinet of the County Council recommend that the Council should not issue a notice proposing the closure of the school and that the school should remain open. The papers also identify that an academy sponsor has been found for the school and that they should continue discussions leading to the school becoming an Academy.

I said:

"First, and above all, I would like to praise and thank everyone for the enormous amount of hard work that has gone into improving the school. The school has improved considerably and continues to improve further. This addresses the concerns raised by Ofsted. Second, I would like to thank all those from the community and from the school who have worked hard to try to save the school. The effort that has been put in has been tremendous and it is good that we have won. My thanks also go to the Head Teacher, Moira Green, for bringing the school out of a deficit situation. I hope the County Council will accept these recommendations from its Cabinet Member and officers and ensure that the school flourishes well."

The Cabinet meeting is due to be held on 28 November 2017


21 NOV 2017

VAT and Customs Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

Will the Minister comment on the extent to which the Bill will allow the VAT and customs system to continue, whatever the outcome of the negotiations? Has enough flexibility been built in to the measure regardless of the outcome?

Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

My hon. Friend raises an important point that goes to the heart of the Bill. This is a framework Bill, so it will allow us to make sure that we can deliver wherever the negotiations land. It does not presuppose any particular outcome from the negotiations; its purpose is to enable the outcome of the negotiations to be put into effect.


21 NOV 2017

Yemen

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

UNICEF has praised the UK for the aid it has already contributed to the country. Will the Minister say a little more about what pressure he feels can be brought on Iran to end its supply to the Houthis, who are still indulging in things like forced marriage and the use of children as soldiers?

Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development)

Our relationship with Iran is changing: since going to the inauguration of President Rouhani we have made it clear that, although there are many differences between us—not least Iran's support for what we consider to be insurgencies and terrorist action—it sees the world differently from others in the region, but the logical consequence of that not being addressed is dire. Accordingly, if there are pathways to encourage people to see their region differently and to try to create relationships that at present seem difficult, the UK's role these days is to encourage that. There are already relationships between certain states in the region that 50 years ago we would not have expected, so who knows what can happen in the future, but we will continue to work with those in the region, including Iran, to encourage them towards a regional situation that no longer relies on confrontation, but relies instead on consensual support for their peoples.


21 NOV 2017

Student loans

John Howell (Henley) (Conservative)

Would the Minister like to explain what role the Office for Students will play in this, and how it will help?

Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science)

The new Office for Students comes into existence progressively from 1 January 2018, with its full operational existence commencing in April 2018. The Student Loans Company has its own statutory existence, independent of the Office for Students, and it will continue to carry out its vital function of ensuring that the loans we make available to remove barriers to access to higher education continue to be made available seamlessly to the students who are in need of them.


16 NOV 2017

Puma 2 and Benson

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

This subject matters fundamentally to me. The Puma squadron is based in my constituency at RAF Benson, and I was concerned by questions over the Puma's future and how that fits into any strategy that we may be thinking of developing. We need to take account of a proper strategy assessment that covers many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) in her initial contribution.

The Puma is not an old aircraft, as is occasionally stated. All the Pumas were found to be in excellent condition, and, in terms of airframe life, there is no impediment to their making the current out-of-service date of 2025, or indeed considerably later. In addition, we only have to look at the contribution that these aircraft have made to operations around the world: whether deploying in Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral or supporting vital aid in the Caribbean following the recent hurricane disasters, the Pumas have shown their enormous ability to be ready for operations within a few hours of arrival, and they make an ideal platform to support special forces. Moreover, Puma 2 has a relatively low operating cost, delivering excellent value for money.

The £260 million contract to upgrade 24 helicopters was noted by the National Audit Office as a programme delivered on time and to cost. I finish with a quotation from Major General Richard Felton:

"Out of all the aircraft I've flown, Puma 2 probably made my jaw drop most."


15 NOV 2017

Loneliness

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. I am very concerned about loneliness in younger people. I wonder whether she will come on in a moment to the effect of social media, which can increase the feelings of worthlessness and loneliness, which are fundamental and long term?

Rachel Reeves

Indeed; I think something like one in six calls to ChildLine are from young people who feel lonely or isolated. Loneliness is something we should worry about not only among older people, although that is a significant issue, but among younger people. The connection searched for on social media is sometimes not a real connection, which should concern us, although we should also recognise that things such as Skype can help to keep people connected. I definitely share some of those concerns.


15 NOV 2017

Reform of Family Law

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is talking passionately about the changes that have been made. Will she accept—I speak as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution—that a great contribution has been made by mediation? We should seriously encourage the use of mediation services in this area because they have a positive impact.

Suella Fernandes

I thank my hon. Friend for raising mediation. Compulsory family mediation information meetings were one of the measures introduced in the 2014 Act. They have had the benefit of diverting conflict and cases out of the adversarial system.

The Conservatives and the Government should be proud of a record that leaves family justice in a better place than where we found it in 2010. Why did I call this debate? I called it because there is further to go.

___________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I did not intend to speak today, but I feel I ought to comment on the mediation aspect, which has numerous advantages. Of course, any mediation is only as good as the mediator. If we acknowledge that, we can take the collaborative approach of mediation to put together something that is in the interests of the parties involved. There are a couple of other aspects of mediation that I want to bring up. First, it saves a considerable amount of time in dealing with the problems, rather than taking them, perhaps on several occasions, before a judge and expanding on them there. Secondly, it saves a considerable amount of money. I have been trying to get to the bottom of how much money mediation saves, and I think it is a considerable sum.

There is an important overriding aspect, which is that mediation is the best way of ensuring that we deal with the emotions involved. There is no doubt that a divorce is a very emotional time for both parties and for third parties such as children. Mediation can deal with matters in a non-emotional way.

Andrew Bridgen

My hon. Friend makes a good point about mediation, but how can it work without guidelines for parents, depending on the age of the children, on what contact might be reasonable and what they might expect? One of the main reasons why conflict over contact with children is so intense is because there are no guidelines on what parents might expect on separation. It is basically the all or nothing rule, so people go into battle and they could come out with nothing or they could come out with complete contact. That is the crux of the problem.

John Howell

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. However, there is much more to be gained out of mediation in terms of working out what the arrangements for contact are. I fully accept that that is a major difficulty, but there are many more opportunities for getting it right in a non-emotional way and by trying to take those raw emotions out of the situation than there are in a formal legal battle. That is why I emphasise taking away the difficult emotional aspects through mediation.

Above all, mediation leaves control of the situation in the hands of the parties. It does not take it away and give it to a judge. The parties do not lose control of the process or of how to deal with the children and with access. They retain control. Anyone who sits through a mediation will experience the enormous amount of power that that gives people to be able to decide for themselves, rather than passing it off to a third party. In the session that the all-party group on alternative dispute resolution had on family mediation, that came across strongly as one of the things that should be valued.

Andrew Bridgen

I hear what my hon. Friend is saying and I absolutely agree about the parties keeping control over the contact levels they have with their children. Normally in a court that is farmed out to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which came out of the family court welfare service. In correspondence with CAFCASS, we have established that in all the time that CAFCASS has been set up, there has never been any training for its main function, which is making recommendations to a court on the allocation of contact time for various parents. How can it be that it has such power, yet it admits to me in correspondence that it has never had any formal guidance, and it does not record the contact that it recommends at various stages? There is no record of the contacts awarded and whether they are right. Also, CAFCASS's statements are not sworn, so it cannot even be held to account for the recommendations it gives in court.

John Howell

My hon. Friend makes the very point that I was making about the difference between that system and the mediation system. Mediators are not people who have no knowledge. They are not appointed off the street. They have spent a large part of their time in office going through training to make sure that they understand the process and the sensitivities of the issues, particularly the emotional sensitivities, and can deal with those in a professional way. Certainly if there any examples of mediators who do not do that, I would like to hear about them, because that is contrary to the whole mediation process, which provides enormous benefits to couples. I say that as a final comment and contribution to the excellent debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) secured.


15 NOV 2017

Latest unemployment figures

Latest unemployment figures for the Henley constituency have just been released.

Key facts

  • The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in October 2017 remains broadly flat at 280 and shows virtual full employment.
  • This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16-64, the 647th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.)
  • The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.5%.
  • Youth unemployment is doing particularly well. There were 25 claimants aged 18-24 in October 2017, 10 lower than October 2016.

'Unemployed claimants' include people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or who are claiming Universal Credit and are required to seek work.

I said:

"We continue to do very well in making sure that young people have jobs to go to. The youth unemployment figure is down on the same month last year. It is of course important to watch the trends over time. As I have shown in previous months, those on zero hour contracts was a very small number and most people on them do so because they like the terms they offer. As a constituency, we are still towards the top of the table and I am grateful for all those who help this situation by providing apprenticeships."


14 NOV 2017

Bees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on an important point. He has spoken about the ban on neonicotinoids. I wonder how we will ensure that whatever replaces them is equally safe. My farmers have already made the point that what may follow may not be any safer.

Alex Chalk

As always, my hon. Friend makes a critical point. The issue is this. The Government have put a line in the sand, which is that anything that is to go on our crops must pass the test of rigorous academic and expert scrutiny. That applies to neonicotinoids, so it must apply to anything that comes next. Nothing should go on our crops unless it can be shown to be safe. That must be the rule of thumb that we apply.


14 NOV 2017

District Councils debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Has my hon. Friend taken into account the point that many district councils have struggled hard to put in place their five-year housing land supply, and that merging district councils into much larger councils may well result in the loss of that across the whole council?

Mr Liddell-Grainger

I agree totally with my hon. Friend, with whom I have worked on many issues. The problem is that bigger is not always better; in fact, it is horses for courses, whatever part of the country might be involved. It does not matter whether the council area is controlled by Labour, the Conservatives or the Scottish National party; one size does not fit all, and that is what I think is happening subliminally.

___________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

Is it not true—it is certainly my experience—that where district councils have merged, they have struggled with the democratic deficit that has arisen? What we have seen replacing them has effectively been the same as district councils, with local areas in which local people can hold councillors to account.

Jake Berry

I started off by putting my thanks to local councillors on record, which I am sure is a reflection of everyone's views, although it is unfortunate that there is no one here from the Opposition to put their thanks on record; I will do it on their behalf. Local councillors are a fantastic link with the community. Whether we have all-out elections or yearly elections, we get our opportunity to fire them if they stop doing a good job. Regardless of the size of the local authority—metropolitan borough, unitary or district—we must ensure that we do not break the link between the local community and the local councillor, because it is their job to be the voice not just of the borough but very specifically of the ward, the street and the area they represent in that local council. As long as proposals retain that strong local link for councillors to go out there and be champions for the local area, that should be considered, if it is widely supported.


14 NOV 2017

Council of Europe

In a Parliamentary Written Statement issued today by the Prime Minister I was re-appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Each new parliament, following a General Election, a new list of representatives is drawn up from MPs and Members of the House of Lords. 18 individuals have been put forward as full members of the Parliamentary Assembly. The new list includes 9 Conservatives, 8 members of the Labour Party and 1 member of the SNP.

The Council of Europe is a non-EU body which is responsible for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As such we remain members despite Brexit. One of the bodies the Council controls by electing judges to it is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states and covers approximately 820 million people. The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France. The Council is concerned with the problems of terrorism, organised crime, money laundering and human trafficking. Its remit also includes education, the environment, health and culture.

I said:

"I am delighted to have been reappointed to the Council of Europe. It is important that the UK maintains its place in this the oldest of political institutions in Europe. I have been delighted to have played a major part in its activities during the last parliament and look forward to doing the same in this one. As the Lord Chancellor recently pointed out; of the cases brought against the United Kingdom at the ECHR well over 90% do not even get to a judgment. They are rejected by the Court as inadmissible, and by no means all of that tiny minority of cases that go through to a judgment are found against us. We have a good track record."

The full assembly of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe meets 4 times a year.


06 NOV 2017

My question on apprenticeships

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What progress she has made on broadening participation in apprenticeships. [901600]

The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills (Anne Milton)

Apprenticeship starts for women have gone up from 52% to 53% approximately; for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, they have gone up from 10.4% to 11.2%; and for those with learning disabilities or difficulties, they are up from 9.9% to 10.3%. There is a great deal of work going on to broaden participation. The apprenticeship diversity champions network and the Careers and Enterprise Company are both doing an excellent job. I could go on, but I will not try your patience, Mr Speaker.

John Howell

I am glad the Minister agrees that people with learning disabilities can make a valuable contribution to the workplace. She has mentioned the numbers, but will she say what the Government are doing to increase the chances for those with learning difficulties and disabilities to access apprenticeships?

Anne Milton

Indeed, I will, and I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest in this. We have said that we will implement the Maynard taskforce recommendations in full. That includes introducing flexibility, so that the English and maths requirements can be adjusted for a defined group with a learning difficulty or disability. We have also made British sign language qualifications an alternative to English functional skills for those who have it as their first language. Of course, I am working closely with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.


03 NOV 2017

Question on prisoner voting

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I unreservedly welcome the statement and the decision made, which comply with our obligations to the European Court of Human Rights. While we are on that subject, will my right hon. Friend confirm that we win most of the cases that we take to it? Will he also consider producing a more detailed briefing for members of the Council of Europe who are also Members of this Chamber, because it would be useful to have that when we go back to Strasbourg for the next Council of Europe meeting?

Mr Lidington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, and I am happy to offer the briefing that he requests for members of the delegation from this Parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He is right about cases brought against the United Kingdom: well over 90%—from memory, 96% or 97%—of cases brought against the United Kingdom do not even get to a judgment. They are rejected by the Court as inadmissible, and by no means all of that tiny minority of cases that go through to a judgment are found against us. We have a good track record.


25 OCT 2017

Speech and intervention on the Balfour Agreement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Balfour Declaration comes in three parts, not two? The first part is about a national home for the Jewish people. The second part is about protecting the civil and religious rights of Palestinians. The third part is about protecting the political status of Jews in any other country. That is not what the Arabs have done.

Dr Offord

I agree with that understanding of the declaration, but I will move on.

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to speak in this important and timely debate. Since the declaration and the foundation of the state, Israel has become one of the UK's most important trading partners on the international stage, with record levels of trade, intelligence sharing and ever closer academic, cultural and scientific collaboration. The bilateral relationship runs deep, and it all started as a result of Balfour. I am not oblivious to the fate of the Palestinians—having visited the west bank, I am all too aware of it—but the solution lies in producing a two-state outcome to the current impasse.

Allied to the Balfour Declaration is the issue of Zionism. The Balfour letter expresses

"sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations".

What we mean by Zionism is the belief that there should be a Jewish state in the land of Israel. The Zionist movement received cross-party support in the UK at the time, as well as Government backing in France, the US and other countries. Sadly, it appears that "Zionist" has become one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English political dictionary. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government's policies and actions should, of course, be permitted, just as we rightly criticise the Governments of other liberal democracies, but we must clearly set ourselves apart from those who hate Israel and call into question its right to exist as a Jewish state.

The excellent design for the new holocaust memorial and learning centre near Parliament was revealed only yesterday, and I look forward to seeing it built. In this centenary year, we need to recommit to the values of freedom and tolerance that we share with our friend Israel and proudly celebrate the incredible contribution that Israel has made to this world, which was started by that letter.


25 OCT 2017

My question at PMQs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In acknowledging the hard work that the men and women of RAF Benson in my constituency did in the Caribbean, will the Prime Minister also acknowledge that the Puma Mk 2 helicopter was ready and available for work in the Caribbean within a couple of hours of having arrived there?

The Prime Minister

I am very happy to commend the work of all those at RAF Benson and indeed all those in our military and the volunteers who were able to provide support after the devastating hurricanes that took place in the Caribbean. I am also happy to agree with my hon. Friend that, contrary to some of the stories that were being put about, we were there, we were there on time and we were able to act very quickly to give people that support.


25 OCT 2017

My contribution to a debate on mortgages

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

We face a situation in which banks have to ensure that they give good loans, but people want their rental payments to be taken into account. Rental payments do not seem to me to be a good guarantee for future performance, so does my hon. Friend have any suggestions about how they might be taken into account?

Paul Scully

I appreciate my hon. Friend's important point, which I will come to later. Rent clearly does not give any guarantee for the future but it gives a better guide to creditworthiness, in the sense that people have spent time paying rent regularly, on a monthly basis. As we heard, the petitioner spent £70,000 with little to show for it other than that he paid his bills, whereas obviously, when someone has the aspiration of home ownership, that same £70,000 could have been building up equity. If someone has a good record in one area, they would hope that that, combined with all the other checks that banks need to do, would be good for credit for a mortgage as well.


25 OCT 2017

My contribution to a debate on English language provision for refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend is saying. I wonder whether she has any ideas about how we can make the provision of English language training effective. In Oxfordshire, I found that a number of people went into the training and a few years later were no better at speaking English—they just used it as an excuse to socialise and get out of the house.

Dame Caroline Spelman

Language classes are a start point for those who have experienced the awful isolation that one feels when unable to even speak the language. However, it is also really important to get out of the house, for example to do the daily shop, and practise speaking the language, because practice makes perfect. That is where community groups have an incredibly important role in complementing the language classes, because once someone has got it, they have to use it or lose it. That has certainly been my experience.


24 OCT 2017

IMB Report on Huntercombe Prison

The Independent Monitoring Board for Huntercombe Prison has recently reported to the Secretary of State on the prison. What it said was:

"Overall, the Board considers the prison to be well run; management, staff and contractors collaborate and work well together. Prisoners seem relatively content with the regime; there are few violent incidents, relative to the total prison estate. The prison works hard to deal fairly with prisoner complaints; the number of applications to the IMB has continued to fall."

This assessment of the prison accords with my own view. I have visited the prison on two occasions during the year. What I said was:

"I have taken a great interest in the performance of the prison. I have discussed with the Governor how the prison operates and seen for myself some of the issues in the prison. I have also spoken to prison officers who do a very good job at the prison. They are currently concerned with a number of terms and conditions issues including pensions, the age of retirement and their impact on promotion. I am grateful to them for providing me with individual case studies. I am pleased that steps have already been taken to deal with the issues the report raises."

The main issue to affect the prison during the reporting year was a Death in Custody; the first in the establishment's 70-year history. Due to staffing levels, it remains a challenge to recruit enough Assessment Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) Assessors. However, there is confidence that good and effective work is done. The IMB is content that the 'Duty of Care' within the establishment is good in this respect. A major area of concern is the difference between the repatriation process and deportation process and the impact on the individual prisoner.

The issues identified by the IMB include ensuring all prisoners receiving repatriation paperwork have a Risk Assessment completed and ensure the communication between the Offender Management Unit and all other staff concerning those prisoners receiving repatriation paperwork is effectively developed.

The Prison Act 1952 requires every prison to be monitored by an independent Board appointed by the Secretary of State from members of the community in which the prison or centre is situated. The Board has to satisfy itself, amongst other things, as to the humane and just treatment of those held in custody within its prison and the range and adequacy of the programmes preparing them for release.

I added:

"I congratulate the Governor and staff on running a good prison and I applaud the system of prison mentors who are themselves prisoners, some of whom I have met. I take on board the comments made by the IMB on the difference between the repatriation process and deportation process and the impact on the individual prisoner."


19 OCT 2017

Latest monthly unemployment figures

The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in September 2017 remains the same for the second month running. It currently stand at 265. This makes the constituency the 648th out of 650 constituencies where 1 has the highest claimant rate and 650 the lowest.

The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.5%. The UK unemployment rate was 4.3% between June and August 2017. There were 30 claimants aged 18-24, the same as in September 2016.

Unemployment is at its lowest since 1975.


18 OCT 2017

My speech on people with learning difficulties

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I will not make a long intervention, but I put on the record my thanks to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for raising that case, which was clearly a distressing one, as the emotions she has shown illustrate. What she said about the safeguarding rules is absolutely crucial, and all our county councils could take note of those and ensure that they follow them clearly. My concern is always about the gap that might exist between the safeguarding rules that apply to children and those that apply to young adults. The gap that can emerge there causes many problems, so the more we can do about it, the better.

I make a suggestion to the hon. Lady. She has raised a lot of concerns about the law, and I wonder whether, if she could gather together enough evidence to make a presentation to the Select Committee on Justice, it might be willing to take up an inquiry into a review of this area, which would provide further support for her efforts to change the law. I cannot speak for the Justice Committee, even though I am a member of it, but I think it is worth her trying to gather as much information as possible to take that forward.​

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to look after people with learning disabilities. In my constituency we try to do that in a number of ways outside the country council system. First, the Ways & Means Trust's operation in my constituency tries to provide in-work experience for young people with learning disabilities by providing them with garden centre experience. They are trained in how to look after flowers, how to bag pots—if hon. Members see what I mean—and eventually how to sell them. At Christmas time in particular, it is a useful place to go to get wreaths and things like that, made by people with learning disabilities. That is a good way of showing that we care and of providing them with enormous opportunities to fulfil their lives by holding jobs that are meaningful and keep them in work.

Secondly, an event called the Regatta for the Disabled occurs in my constituency every autumn. I have been involved since its commencement some seven years ago, usually in opening and compering it. The regatta provides an opportunity for people with physical and learning disabilities to enjoy the river. It provides boat trips for them and allows them to share with others their enjoyment of life and what they can do. One would need to be there to see their physical enjoyment of life; it is absolutely catching. I point that out as a way in which my own constituency tries to look after people with learning disabilities.

Finally, every year, with the help of Mencap, we bring together all those people with learning disabilities who are able to come in the town square in Henley, and we sing to the population who come along and do their shopping, stop and have a cup of coffee and listen to the singing. The quality of the singing and the enthusiasm with which people with learning disabilities take it up are amazing. I am convinced that, by putting the effort into ensuring that we understand and care for people with learning disabilities, we can achieve a vast amount.


17 OCT 2017

My speech to Nigeria's agriculture minister

COPY OF MY SPEECH TO NIGERIA'S AGRICULTURE MINISTER AND PARTY

Good morning

I am delighted to be here with you today at such an important event with the Honourable Agriculture Minister and a list of guests that includes their Excellences, the Governors of so many States.

Firstly to give you some background into my role, the Trade Envoy programme was launched by the Prime Minister in November 2012. The original 8 Trade Envoys team from 2012 now has some 28 envoys covering over 50 countries which is a testament to its success. It is a network designed to support the UK Government's overall strategy to drive economic growth.

The countries covered by the Trade Envoys are primarily those where the opportunities tend to be less well known to UK businesses or where greater high level engagement could lead to a step change in business-to-business relations.

I was appointed in early 2016 and my job is to encourage and support the growth of business links and partnerships between our two countries. To do so, I work with a wide range of organisations. I try to act as a link with private sector companies to discuss their plans, issues and challenges.

On my visits to Nigeria, I have met a huge variety of people and organisations. I have been enormously impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and expertise that I have encountered.

Rather than attempting to cover everything, I choose to concentrate my attention on priority sectors, for both countries. I have high hopes for the deepening of collaborations in all areas the UK can assist the Nigerian Government.

Nigeria is at a crucial stage in its development, where the need to diversify from the focus on oil revenue could not be more pressing. In this vein, we are seeing major efforts being made in the Agricultural, Mining, Healthcare and other sectors, to contribute to the growth of Nigeria's GDP.

Chief in the diversification efforts is Agriculture and the Infrastructure sector and the need to fill the huge deficiency evident in the country. Nigeria is predicted to be the 3rd most populous nation in the world by 2050; the problems of resource depletion and demographic change are immediate and solutions need to be found.

Most people are aware of Nigeria's abundance in crude oil and gas (10th largest producer globally of crude oil) but not for its agriculture base. Before the discovery of oil, agriculture was Nigeria's major export. As the focus shifted to an oil economy, the agriculture industry has had little investment in production processing and distribution.

The current decline in oil prices coupled with Nigeria's high food import bill has meant the Nigerian government has reprioritised agriculture as a leading sector for development. Sizeable tax incentives and little or no import tariffs on agricultural development machinery are being used as incentives to attract FDI and develop Nigeria's export potential to regional and global markets.

Agriculture has now become Nigeria's new oil!

Agricultural science and technology is rapidly becoming one of the world's fastest growing and exciting markets. The UK has internationally recognised strengths in these areas. It has one of the most highly regarded agricultural technology sectors in the world, having contributed to the Agricultural Revolution with many developments in technologies used across the world.

The combination of world-class science, a progressive food and farming supply chain and a dynamic business environment makes it an ideal trade & investment partner.

We excel in areas such as design, engineering and innovation. The UK has unrivalled capability and workmanship. I want therefore to encourage more of the finest UK companies to enter Nigeria market to help deliver services and share expertise across sectors where innovation and expertise is needed.

Of course there are challenges to work in Nigeria however the UK government is here to support. DFID's economic development programme dedicates 25% of its £293m funds to supporting the environment for private sector growth. Areas of work include promoting financial sector reforms; developing open and inclusive economic institutions and processes, and improving access to markets.

Through our officials, the UK Government is engaged on influencing the current exchange rate regime, working with the Governor of the Central Bank, Vice President and other officials; and to explore ways for the Nigerian Government to increase its revenue collection, which is vital to support its budget and planned economic reforms.

These same FCO and DfiD economic advisers are also working with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and African Development Bank to unlock economic progress and review sector issues, such as developing Nigeria's capital markets.

The Cross-Whitehall Prosperity Fund has also be an important lever to scale up our influencing efforts. This financial year has seen almost £1m allocated to projects in Nigeria to build economic capacity in country and support economic diversification; ease the business environment by mapping the challenges at federal and state level; and strengthened country capability to tackle corruption.

Prosperity activity over the next year will continue to focus on improving the business environment, working with the World Bank, as well as a number of areas of including growing bilateral and regional trade relationships and improving trade standards; access to education and identifying work-skill gaps; Anti-corruption to support Nigeria's policy commitments at the London Anti-Corruption Summit last year; and utilising digital technology to support and grow business.

I would therefore encourage those of you who wish to learn more about trade opportunities in Nigeria to contact the DIT team in Nigeria. Department for International Trade have deployed a new, restructured team in Lagos, focussed on connecting UK-Nigeria businesses; supporting in winning contracts; and listening to business and helping them navigate through some of the challenges I have identified above.

I wish you a productive time in your discussions today and look forward to seeing more business created between the UK and Nigeria as a result.

Thank you


17 OCT 2017

My speech on health in Oxfordshire

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair) Mr Howell has indicated to me very courteously that as one of Her Majesty's trade ambassadors he has an unavoidable commitment. I know that the Opposition and Government Front Benchers will understand that he will therefore not be able to be present for their winding-up speeches, but he has undertaken to read them in Hansard.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Thank you, Sir Roger. I do apologise that I have to go to meet the Minister of Agriculture from Nigeria. He is here at my own invitation, so I can hardly be absent from the meeting.

Let me say straightaway that I chair a group of Oxfordshire MPs who meet approximately every six weeks to discuss their relationship with the CCG. The meetings were started in order to discuss delayed discharges of care, and I have to say, from the last meeting that we had, they are going very well. Oxfordshire had the difficulty that it was one of the worst performers in delayed discharges, but is now coming back to being one of the best. I have been outside the STP process because my area was handled separately in advance. Townlands Hospital in Henley needed a multi-million pound investment before the STP process started, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) that the process of consultation that was started by the CCG left a lot to be desired. As a former professional in the area of consultation, I looked with some disdain at what was taking place, but I appreciate that the CCG had a particular difficulty in seeing the hospital as Henley's or south Oxfordshire's, which they deliberately intended it to become. In the villages outside Henley that make up the largest proportion of people in south Oxfordshire, there was enormous support for the proposals. It was only in Henley that people took the opportunity to complain about the lack of beds.

Let me turn to the lack of beds. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney spoke about treating people in hospitals close to them. I fully agree with that, but a better model would be to treat them in their own homes. That healthcare system is called ambulatory care. I have spoken about that in this Chamber at length, so I will not repeat all of what I have said before. Ambulatory care requires a full integration of social care activities and medical activities in an area, because it turns the hospital into an extremely efficient medical campus-type facility, with very few people needing to stay in overnight.

In fact, if people stay in overnight, the effects on them are quite horrendous. Anyone over the age of 60 who stays in for four or five days is immediately incontinent. Without wishing to comment on people's ages, some of us in the Chamber would look at that with great horror. If people stay in for a lot longer than that, other bad effects come from that.

When the consultation took place, there was a tremendous amount of antagonism about the beds being put—

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Philip Dunne)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Howell

Of course.

Mr Dunne

I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is making a powerful, constructive contribution to the debate, would not want to give colleagues the impression that of necessity, someone over the age of 60 would become incontinent if they spent four nights in a hospital. I think he is trying to suggest that there is a greater risk of adverse effects the longer one stays in hospital.

John Howell

I thank the Minister for that point; I was not suggesting that it was an inevitability. However, at this stage let me extend an invitation to him to visit the hospital so he can see how it works and how it has integrated social care with the medical activities there. It is based around a RACU—a rapid access care unit—which is similar to the EMU—emergency multidisciplinary unit—in Abingdon that is being proposed elsewhere. As I said, it turns the hospital into a diagnostics hospital, similar to a hospital developed in Welwyn Garden City that I went to see.

I saw the difficulty for the CCG with regard to its consultation when I went to a SELF—a South East Locality Forum—meeting. People from Henley were sitting around the table with big beaming smiles on their face saying how wonderful the hospital was, and a member of the CCG had to stop them and say, "Well, it is a pity you didn't say that when we were developing the hospital. Right to the end of the consultation you were attacking us on this and on taking the beds out and putting them in a care home at the side of the hospital. That is working very well and now you say that it is absolutely wonderful." The fact is that, apart from some minor snags with the new hospital, it is a fantastic new investment by the Department of Health. It shows the way a community hospital should be developed not just in Oxfordshire but across the country. I repeat my invitation to the Minister to come and visit.

The great thing about the hospital was not the consultation initiated by the CCG but the support that I got from the Royal College of Physicians, which came out very strongly in favour of an ambulatory healthcare model and very favourably in support of the hospital. That is an interesting point, which goes back to my comments in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney about the lack of consultation experience on the part of the CCG. That organisation is willing to learn, and I hope that it will. I also hope that we, as MPs who meet it from time to time, will be able to keep up our pressure on it to deliver the sort of services that we feel our constituents want.

Nadhim Zahawi

On the point about learning, the Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group has only one district council from Warwickshire—Stratford-on-Avon District Council—on its board. In phase 1 of the consultation, which began in January, it only met the council in March; the council's overview and scrutiny committee had requested a much earlier meeting. Should that not be part of the learning process?

John Howell

I fully agree that it should be. As I said, I am not here to defend how the CCG does its consultation. If I had the chance, I would make many changes to the consultation, and including others on the list of people who will be consulted as part of the decision-making process would be an important part of that.

I think I have probably said enough both to support the hon. Member for Witney and to make the point that it is possible to get through even a bad consultation by a CCG and get a fantastic hospital—ours is doing a brilliant job for all the constituents of South Oxfordshire, not just for one town.


17 OCT 2017

Design of housing intervention

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is talking about quite serious snagging problems, and slightly worse. Would he, like me, put more emphasis on getting those who produce neighbourhood plans to spend more time on making sure that the design is right rather than waiting for the buildings to be built and then people finding the snagging?

Steve Double

I agree that we need to put more attention into the design of the housing that we are building rather than just building to the usual design standards.


17 OCT 2017

Question on Culham and Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Following conversations with the leadership of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is in my constituency, does the Secretary of State agree that their stance on Euratom is not about Euratom itself, but about knowing when all the details will be finalised?

Greg Clark

My hon. Friend, who has a close connection with his constituents who work at Culham, is absolutely right. He knows that we are keen to agree the greatest possible continuity for the arrangements for research at Culham as soon as possible.

 


17 OCT 2017

My question on Iran

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

If the agreement will not in itself control Iran's financing of terrorist groups, will the Minister say a word about how it is acting as a springboard? That would give people more confidence in the deal.

Alistair Burt

My hon. Friend goes into other aspects of Iran's activity in the region over which a veil cannot and should not be drawn. I will again make the point that the JCPOA was not meant in any way to draw a line under or cover up Iran's activities. It is not the case that if Iran stuck to this element of the deal, everything else would no longer need to be considered. Other measures are in place to deal with such things. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is covered by EU sanctions, for example, and sanctions are available against those who finance terrorist activity, which would include some in Iran. EU sanctions are already in place in relation to Iranian individuals who have been suspected of human rights abuses, for example. Other leverage is available to deal with our concerns about Iran, and sanctions remain available to us, but we want to use the agreement as an opportunity to deal with the things on which Iran could and should do more. We will continue to do that by developing a bilateral relationship with Iran.


14 OCT 2017

My question for the President of Ukraine at the Council of Europe

Mr Howell (UK) - There has been speculation in the New York Times and elsewhere that the success of North Korea's missile programme is due, perhaps inadvertently, to Ukraine.  Would the President like to set the record straight.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on Youth against Corruption

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Nothing that I say in the next few minutes should be taken as indicating that I am against tackling youth corruption – quite the opposite – but I think that we should do so with our eyes open. One of the most instructive paragraphs in this report is paragraph 7 of the report's main body; it sets out the negative factors that affect youth. Whether we are talking about Transparency International, the Eurobarometer, the Ernst & Young Fraud Survey or Generation Y, they show that youth are as subject to corruption as older generations, if not more so. That does not mean that we should not make big efforts with this group, but we should do so with utter frankness. One such example is social media, which has the potential to be a useful force, but in reality is one of the most corrupt and corrupting powers known on this earth. The British Parliament, among others, has looked into this issue and has come to some conclusions. It found that social media was misused and was potentially misusing, particularly with regard to the young. Social media tells gross lies that go beyond differences in public opinion or politics – mostly conducted by young people. It makes a hateful contribution to growing social unrest as well as the corruption of individuals, who are told stories that they know not to be true. It contributes to the appearance of lies in the fabric of society.

Back in the UK, I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, a country that has a reputation for corruption. One thing that has most influenced the successful treatment of corruption by the Nigerian Government has been legislation to allow whistle-blowing. I give my full support to the recommendations in the report for anything that can be done to improve the situation for whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowing has had a very significant effect on dealing with corruption in Nigeria and it would be useful for the committee to look at this issue.

I am not sure what is going to succeed – although I think whistle-blowing will – but those who take the report forward should set up an effective mechanism to monitor the success of the different proposed activities so that we know what actually works.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on intersex children

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Let me also congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report. The report concentrates heavily on the rights of the child, quite rightly, and talks of the secrecy, stigma and shame faced by a child born with intersex characteristics. Those factors are also shared by the parents of children born in that way. Indeed, it is often at the insistence of the parents, perhaps advised by some doctors, that medically intrusive operations are carried out. That raises so many issues, including issues of harm, ethics and the practicality of dealing with the situation.

Leaving the regulatory framework aside for a moment, this is where we should spend our time: educating and understanding, and providing psychological advice and proper healthcare. There is much we can do to help parents who have a child that they love who has intersex characteristics. We can raise public awareness and help them to face the huge prejudice and ignorance that they often come across. It is right to concentrate on the human rights of an individual and ensure that they are of an age to understand the impact of any surgery that they might be offered or might wish to have. It is also right to set this issue in the context of strengthening children's rights in a bioethics framework. Although this is a subset of that framework, it is an important one, which we need to keep our concentration on.

We have a long way to go to ensure the integrity of the individual and that parents receive the necessary counselling to understand the situation and make sure that it works. We need to move away from seeing this as a medical problem and look at it in a human context, and we need to move from the long tradition of seeing this as a phenomenon that needs correction to a position of understanding.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on new genetic technologies

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – As the rapporteur said, one of the biggest issues we need to guard against is the use of new genetic technology for eugenics. There is a fine line between eugenics and work to help eradicate disease. It is clear where the genetic techniques are used to achieve a result that is not required by medicine, but we need to be careful and ensure that rules are in place to prevent that. The report sets out the current situation and several recommendations for the Assembly to consider. I will not repeat them, but no one should want regulation for its own sake. However, the report sets out the context for those regulations as well as those for ensuring the health and safety of individuals undergoing the treatments.

The trouble with a common regulatory and legal framework is that developments in genetic technology move so quickly, as the rapporteur explained. It is crucial that regulation and the law are flexible and updated to take account of those developments.

The Nuffield Council in the UK has just published a guide to bio-engineering, in which it sets out four points to provide a framework. The first is that we need to build and maintain trust. Secondly, we need to ensure that research addresses the needs of society. Thirdly, we need to promote responsible health policy, and fourthly, we need to show real international leadership.

It is right to move at a slow pace on this matter and to share the results over a long time to ensure that nothing interferes with individuals' lives and health. It is also right to adopt a precautionary principle. That is not to deny the benefits of the new technology or to be anti-science, but science needs to be put in the context of humanity.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on prosecuting Daesh

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – It is clear that the atrocities of Daesh have been absolutely hateful and are acts of utter horror. The title of this debate recognises the difficulties that the term "genocide" creates. We have seen in the former Yugoslavia that there were different results for crimes brought under genocide. That is why, in the United Kingdom, we leave the decision on this to judges rather than it being a political term. I do not think we should consider that there is a hierarchy of crimes with genocide at the top.

The origins of genocide and of crimes against humanity of course lie in the Nuremberg trials that followed the Second World War. Just as an aside, it seems so easy to have set up the Nuremberg trials when it is proving so difficult to identify who might hear the trial against Daesh. There is a need for the world to come together on this one. It is necessary to defeat Daesh and bring its leaders and activists to trial.

I do think that there may be a problem in bringing a charge of genocide against Daesh. I am not saying that it should not be tried. But the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity distinguish between us as members of a group and us as individuals. This goes back to the legal arguments started before the end of the Second World War. I raise it now because without the law we are nothing. My heart is completely with this motion, but my head suggests we need to be really sure that we have all the facts if we are not to turn this into a coup for Daesh.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on Ukraine

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I am genuinely troubled by this debate and the context of the report's recommendations, and I say that as a friend of Ukraine. On the one hand, we have a government that wants to improve people's lives and make them fully functioning members of society; on the other hand, we have those who complain that the right to teach in their mother tongue is being undermined. I am concerned that the matter has been brought to the Council of Europe at all, particularly when we are waiting for a response from the Venice Commission. I am not sure how I would respond if a particular group were to challenge the actions of a democratically elected government in my own country on education or health. There would be genuine outrage.

There is a model for how the situation might be addressed, as can be seen in the European schools. There is one in my constituency, and it teaches different subjects in different languages – science in German, history in French, geography in Italian or Dutch, for example. The school was originally intended for children of people working for the Commission, but so popular has it become that parents of UK children want to send their children there. It is a question of choice, of course, but the schools could be adapted to fit the current circumstances.

I simply do not understand why this should not be the subject of more discussion with Ukraine. Indeed, what the president had to say was quite straightforward. In the UK we have already dealt with such a situation in Wales with the Welsh language. I appreciate that Ukraine has a large number of minorities, but it is trying to build a new country. It is a country under threat, and I urge it to find a democratic resolution, particularly when it is faced with more serious problems, such as the threat of Russian activity and the annexation of Crimea.

I pointed out yesterday that this debate does not easily fit within the Venice Commission's remit. It is a political issue, and I urge the commission, within its rules, to indicate how it would deal with it. If we are to refer every law of every country to the Venice Commission, we would be in a right state.


14 OCT 2017

My speech to the Council of Europe on the Venice Commission

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Let me say straight away that I welcome the checklist. The Venice Commission has set out a very clear benchmark in this list, against which the rule of law can be measured and evaluated. There were those who thought this was an impossible task, but I think it is useful and the commission has done a very good job. It is a very good starting point from which to begin our deliberations. If one were looking for the next edition, I would like to see something at the front that addresses the political aspects of what is being said. Of course, I accept that it has to deal with both civil law and common law jurisdictions, and can be extended to that. If we take for example the current submission of the Ukrainian education law to the Venice Commission for an opinion, on one side you have a government that intends to do good things for its people and, on the other, you have people complaining that it does not do good things for its minorities. There is perhaps no right answer in the middle of that. I mean something about that kind of situation and how it is dealt with.

One of the things the report contains is the need for flexibility, which is absolutely important. It is essential if we are to make sure that we do not create a rigid structure that will act as a legal straitjacket for the future. For example, access to justice starts with the right to access justice. Does that depend on State help for access to justice, or simply on the availability of justice and on that justice being fair? The situation with equality before the law is similar.

The law is itself changing. The report concentrates on courts, but decisions in legal judgments are moving away from courts into alternative dispute resolution forums. That takes place in Dubai, Singapore, Australia and, I would argue, in the European Court of Justice. What that does is to move away from the central role of the justice system. It is not just for small commercial issues, but actually for very large cases. In the next edition, we need to see that included and some reference to how it can be incorporated in the future.


14 OCT 2017

My question at the Council of Europe to the President of the Czech Republic

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Mr President, I want to take you outside Europe for a moment. What can you do, and what can we do, to bring peace to the Middle East? Mr ZEMAN – My response will probably be a deep disappointment to you. I am a friend of Israel – a deep friend of Israel. That is why I think that peace in the Middle East should be based primarily in the safety of Israel. I know the history of all the wars starting from 1948. Israel was victorious in every war, but had it been defeated it would have meant the end of that State – the Jewish State. Unfortunately, in some countries or movements – Hezbollah, Hamas, and others – there survives a tendency to diminish or to destroy Israel. What should we do to have peace in the Middle East? We must disarm the terrorist organisation, and first of all Hamas and Hezbollah.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on the OECD

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I read the report on the OECD with a great deal of surprise. There is a lot of talk in the report about going back to growth, about inequality and about people left behind, but one group of people have been left behind and the OECD has not been very helpful in helping us find a solution. I am referring here to the series of islands in the Caribbean that have suffered enormous devastation as a result of the hurricanes that have swept across that area. The UK already contributes 0.7% of GNI to international aid. I would have thought there would have been a little more interest in helping us out with a major catastrophe that is both humanitarian and economic by helping us to revise the definition of what constitutes international aid. The devastation caused by the series of hurricanes that have struck the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and others has been absolutely phenomenal. Occupation of the island of Barbuda has ended after 300 years as a result of these hurricanes. I am convinced that the cause of the hurricanes is climate change caused by the very OECD countries mentioned in the report, so there is every reason why they should take a great deal of interest in trying to sort the problem out. There is enormous frustration at the inability of the OECD to make itself relevant, by which I mean helping people to believe that it can help and make a difference to them.

 

The OECD has a long reputation for its model tax convention and for looking after double taxation more generally. I hope that in its efforts to increase transparency it will not lose this focus on avoiding double taxation, which has been a mainstay of the OECD.

Finally, I turn to the comments on employment. There is a good reason why the UK has not implemented the OECD recommendations set out in the report: unemployment in the UK has fallen to a 42-year low, and the OECD recommendations simply might not be the right ones for the country to adopt if it is to go forward and make the unemployment figure even lower.

Mr GURRÍA (Secretray General - OECD) – Yes, Mr Howell, inequality must be fought, but let me make something clear: the OECD does not set the rules for ODA – overseas development assistance. That is done by the Development Assistance Committee, which is formed by the donor countries. They set the rules for what is and what is not ODA. I fully agree you – I have submitted this in writing and I have spoken about it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister of the UK – and believe we need more flexibility in those definitions when we face exceptional circumstances. I think that the islands of Caribbean, given the disaster that has struck them, deserve that flexibility now. We should be reactive and agile in reacting to the size of the disaster that struck these islands, where all of what made up people's livelihoods has been flattened and disappeared. It will take years for that to come back and they will face massive emigration. It is a real disaster. I fully agree with you and am fighting for that flexibility, but let me tell you part of that rigidity was introduced by the UK itself as a donor when things were normal. But I totally agree and I am fighting for that. I will present the economic survey of the UK on 17 October, so of course, we are updating and upgrading the recommendations and the kind that are made.


14 OCT 2017

My question at the Council of Europe to the Committee of Ministers

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Should the Committee of Ministers not appoint a special envoy to deal with the situation between Catalonia and Spain?

Mr ZAORÁLEK – I am convinced that we do not need a special envoy. I am convinced, and I hope that this is the position of other colleagues, that the problem is an internal problem for Spain. The issue has to be solved through dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona. That is true for other organisations. It is an internal problem that has to be solved in Spain.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on integrity

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – First, I warmly congratulate Ian Lidell-Grainger and the Bureau and the Standing Committee on their work on some very important aspects of the Council of Europe. Their discussions will set up the Organisation for the future so that, as you have said, Mr President, it can act with courage and determination. On the question of who the next President will be, I hope that we will go a stage further and completely abolish the practice of cosy little deals whereby the President is chosen by individual political parties rather than by the Assembly as a whole. I hope that we can make enormous progress in that regard.

I want us to promote and strengthen transparency, accountability and integrity with the members' code of conduct. The greatest of those three is integrity. Following recent events in the Council of Europe, its members should seek to show integrity that is second to none. I am deeply worried by the lack of integrity that has been shown and by the attacks on the Council of Europe because of alleged corruption. The majority of us are not corrupt, but the accusations affect us all, as Ian Lidell-Grainger has said.

I have absolutely no problem with the formation of the new political group, but it is already mired in allegations of corruption and irregular signatures. Questions need to be asked and the situation needs to be examined in great detail. This is not a technical issue; it goes fundamentally to the heart of this Assembly and it needs to be addressed properly. I hope that we can tackle it and come up with a solution. The formation of the new group must allow for democratic rights to be expressed, but it has to be done properly.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on Jordan

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I have nothing but praise for the report and its rapporteur, and I have tremendous sympathy for Jordan. I particularly agree with the report's statement that this Assembly should definitely not abandon Jordan at this difficult time. One reason why is the enormous problem that Jordan faces of refugee camps, which provide enormous potential for instability in the region. We know, for example, that Isis has infiltrated one camp, with enormous potential for problems. That the camps consist of Syrians, of course, puts Jordan at odds with Syria. One camp, at Zaatari, is now the fourth largest city in Jordan, which is quite remarkable when you think that Zaatari was only established in 2012.


The king has already described the country as being at "boiling point" and it is right to concentrate our aid on the camps, not just by providing help for sanitation, water and food, but by concentrating on the individual people there and looking at efforts to move them out and on. I welcome Jordan here in its own right, but we cannot ignore the geopolitical stance of Jordan. It is also good to welcome it here as a great ally in the fight against terrorism. It participates in a wide network of intelligence that goes right across the region, and that intelligence is transforming how we all look at what is happening in that region and what can be done to tackle such things as terrorism.

The report encourages Jordan's Parliament to move in the direction of democracy, as I think we all encourage them to. The report shows that it needs to do so in certain areas, such as capital punishment, which has been mentioned, and improvements in the role of women. However, I echo what my friend and colleague Lord Blencathra said about the need for Jordan to go at its own speed and with its own cultural perspectives on what can happen there, so that we do not end up with a worse problem in that country spreading out across the area and resulting in instability for the whole region, including for its neighbour, Israel.


26 SEP 2017

More money for Neighbourhood Plans

Neighbourhood Plan groups across the country will benefit from support worth almost £23 million (£22.8 million) to help them develop Neighbourhood Plans. Neighbourhood Plans give communities a real say in the development of their area and encourage them to work closely with their district councils with whom they are in partnership.

The funding, which will be around £5.5 million per year until 2022, will provide communities with specialist support to help develop a Neighbourhood Plan.

I said:

"Neighbourhood Plans gives local communities a real say in the development of their area including where homes, shops, green spaces and offices should go and, crucially, what they should look like. Since 2012, over 2,200 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process and of those so far taking the Plans to a referendum the average 'yes' vote has been 88%."

In July 2017 Neighbourhood Planning Act reforms came into force to ensure the plans local people have worked hard to create are used as the starting point for determining planning applications up to 8 weeks earlier, following a successful referendum. The changes also mean that when local authorities are making planning decisions, they must respect emerging neighbourhood plans which have passed examination but not yet been agreed at a referendum.

The government is committed to giving communities even more of a say in the development of their area.

Trudi Elliott, Royal Town Planning Institute Chief Executive, said:

"Having worked directly with over 274 groups to help them develop neighbourhood plans since their inception, the RTPI knows how much people care about these plans and how important they are in shaping places and building public trust in the planning system.

"It's also clear from our experience that people need support to make the plan-making experience easier and worthwhile, so this latest funding is very welcome."

The government's housing white paper published in February 2017 set out measures to give local people more of a say over development in their area and build the right homes in the right places. The white paper committed to continue to support neighbourhood planning groups so they can access essential support to allocate sites for housing and to plan for better designs in their area.


20 SEP 2017

A third bridge

I want to correct the impression given by broadcasts on Radio Berkshire yesterday that a new bridge is about to be built across the Thames to the east of Reading. It is not.

A meeting was held on Monday 18th September between councillors from Berkshire and Oxfordshire and the two MPs for the areas concerned. The Local Enterprise Partnerships were represented and consultants who had done relevant research were present. We listened to a presentation from Wokingham Borough Council on the traffic modelling work we had asked them to do and we took a decision on the next steps. The meeting did not agree to build a bridge for which, amongst other things, there is no funding in place.

At the meeting is was agreed that we would draw up a common statement for the press and media. This has not yet been done. I personally declined the offer of a broadcast and am therefore disappointed that others did not stick to the agreement. I regard any statement made to date as inaccurate and premature. I now feel the need to correct this misrepresentation.

The meeting agreed that the traffic modelling contained some interesting results which we needed to study in detail and explore further when the detail is provided. We also needed an opportunity to discuss these with residents. In addition, the question of funding of the next stage of the business plan was discussed and further work agreed.

There is no agreement that a bridge can yet be built.


15 SEP 2017

Win for South Oxfordshire residents in housing need calculation

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced in the House of Commons this week (14 September 2017) a proposal to consult on changes to the way in which district councils calculated their housing need numbers and the introduction of a new formula.

This is a matter of enormous significance for South Oxfordshire and much more important than it may at first seem. Under the proposals, South Oxfordshire will be expected to provide 617 new dwellings per year instead of the 725-825 it currently has to provide. In other words, the proposed new methodology means a potential saving of between 108 and 208 dwellings per year. It also means that South Oxfordshire should once again have a 5 year land supply.

I said:

"Of course there is a need for more housing, particularly cheaper market housing to allow first time buyers to get on the housing ladder. But this proposal establishes a balance which is currently missing for making sure we get the right houses in the right place. I, therefore, very much welcome the proposed new methodology for calculating housing need. It is in fact very close to what I and others argued for in the Local Plan Expert Group report which I helped prepare for Government before the election and has been supported by South Oxfordshire District Council. It ends the tyranny of the current Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) which has dominated discussions between councils over recent months and sets out a new and cheaper basis for undertaking calculations. It is very good news for Oxfordshire."

What is now proposed is an approach using Office for National Statistic household growth projections, adjusted to reflect local affordability, with a cap on any increases.

This is the starting point in the preparation of Local Plans, and does not set unrealistic housing targets. District Councils are expected to work with their local communities to decide how many of these homes they can build, and where. Some will find they cannot build that many – others might well want to build more. Local authorities should not be forced to take unmet need from their neighbours but they are expected to work together where necessary.

In the report submitted by the Local Plan Expert Group to Government it pointed out that there was no definitive guidance on the way in which to prepare a SHMA, leading to significant disagreement and uncertainty over housing numbers, which then affects every stage of the plan making process. These create serious problems including the lack of an agreed approach to SHMAs, which have become one of the most burdensome, complex and controversial components of plan making. The report set out detailed recommendations for a shorter, simplified, standard methodology for SHMAs and, in particular for assessing housing need, with the aim of saving very significant time, money and, most importantly, with the intention of removing unnecessary debate from this aspect of plan making.

As the Secretary of State pointed out:

"With no consistent nationwide approach, two companies could produce wildly different estimates for the same area – and the whole process is expensive, time-consuming and opaque. It can cost local planning authorities across England over £3 million a year and can add months to the plan preparation process, which leaves communities vulnerable to speculative development."

John Cotton, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said:

"John Howell deserves a big pat on the back. The announcement on a new formula is remarkably similar to what he and others proposed in the Local Plan Expert Group report and will help us tackle speculative development that spoils villages and fails to deliver infrastructure. On behalf of local government struggling with spurious SHMA's I say "Thank you!"."

The results for the rest of Oxfordshire also show good news with Cherwell, Vale of White Horse, Witney and Oxford City all showing reductions on current figures.


15 SEP 2017

Henley constituency schools get an average increase of almost 2% increase under new National Fair Funding Formula

I have long campaigned for fairer funding in schools and was pleased, from the perspective of this constituency, that the Government has announced that no schools will lose out as a result of the new National Fair Funding formula, whether primary or secondary schools. The average increase across all schools is 1.7% Particular secondary school increases are set out at the end of this press release. Primary school increases can be provided on request.

The national funding formula will come into effect from April 2018, delivering on the manifesto pledge to make school funding fairer. It will replace the current unfair, opaque and out of date funding system that sees each area of the country receive very different amounts of money for no justifiable reason.

I said:

"I, with the help of others, have been campaigning on this issue for some time and I am glad that we have had some success. The national funding formula will direct resources where they are most needed, helping to ensure that every child can get the high quality education that they deserve, wherever they live. It will also provide that money through a transparent formula, delivering greater predictability."

The release of this information follows on from an earlier announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening MP, of an additional £1.3 billion for schools on top of existing spending plans. The core funding will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £42.4 billion in 2018-19 and £43.5 billion in 2019-2020. It means that per pupil funding will now be maintained in real terms of the remaining two years of the Spending Review period.

In addition, the announcement also stresses that there will be a minimum per pupil funding in which all secondary schools will attract £4,800 per pupil in 2019-2020 and all primary schools will attract £3,500 in 2019-20.

I added:

"I welcome this news and the increase for schools. It goes a long way to meeting the needs of schools. I look forward to discussing this with schools as I visit them over the coming weeks and months."

Percentage increase per secondary school

  • Gillotts School 1.8%
  • Wheatley Park 2.2%
  • Lord Williams 3.4%
  • Chiltern Edge 2.0%
  • Icknield 1.0%
  • Langtree 1.0%


13 SEP 2017

Good news on unemployment

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show the Henley Constituency retains its position as one of the best constituencies in the UK for dealing with unemployment.

The total number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in August 2017 was 265, little changed from the previous month. It ranks us as 648th of the 650 parliamentary constituencies where 650 has the lowest claimant count.

There were 35 claimants aged 18-24 in August 2017.

Unemployed claimants' include people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or who are claiming Universal Credit and are required to seek work.

More people are in work than ever before. The level of people out of work is at its lowest since 1975. The rate of employment is 75.3% – the highest since comparable records began in 1971. The unemployment rate is 4.3% – the lowest since 1975. Youth unemployment has fallen by over 40% since 2010.

Full time employment level is at 23.59 million – a new record high. The number of people on zero hours contracts does not account for 3% of people on employment contracts. 70% of workers on zero hours contracts are happy with the hours that they work and value the flexibility. This includes those working at McDonalds with whom I have personally spoken.

With a million more women in work since 2010, the female employment rate remains at a record high of 70.8%. There are also now almost 3.5 million disabled people in employment. In the last three years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by nearly 600,000.


10 SEP 2017

John Howell MP poses in pink at Westminster to support Breast Cancer research

I have dressed in pink to lend his support to Breast Cancer Now's flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, which will see thousands of people across the UK adding a splash of pink to their outfits on Friday 20 October and raise vital funds for breast cancer research.

I am encouraging constituents to join me, and sign up to take part in the UK's biggest pink fundraiser. The event, which takes place during October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is in its 16th year and has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now's life-saving research.

I, joined by fellow parliamentarians in Westminster this week, showed my support for the thousands of women and men affected by breast cancer each year, encouraging people across the UK to take part on wear it pink day.

Anyone can take part in wear it pink, which brings together schools, workplaces and communities. All you need to do is wear something pink, or hold a pink event at home, work or school, and make a donation to Breast Cancer Now. Whatever you do, you're helping the charity achieve its aim that, if we all act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.

I said:

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. This is why I'm urging everyone in the constituency to take part in wear it pink on Friday 20 October. It's such a fun and easy way to support Breast Cancer Now's vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love."

Also in attendance was Sky News presenter and former Olympic gymnast Jacquie Beltrao. Jacquie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, is lending her support to wear it pink in the hope that thousands of people across the country will take part in the event.

Jacquie Beltrao said:

"I'm very proud to support wear it pink; it's a great excuse to dress up in pink and have some fun while raising money for a really important cause. I have had breast cancer myself and following my diagnosis and treatment have become incredibly passionate about raising awareness and funds for research.

"Wear it pink has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now, which is incredible. The event raises funds for the charity's world-class research, which will hopefully one day put a stop to this dreadful disease. That is why I'm asking people across the country join me, and the MPs who took part in Westminster, by adding a splash of pink to their outfits on wear it pink day and donating to Breast Cancer Now. I hope lots of people across the UK take part!"

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

"It is fantastic that so many MPs dressed up in pink at our Westminster wear it pink event and we are really grateful for all of the support and enthusiasm shown. We hope that by wearing pink, John will encourage his constituents  to get involved in their local community and help us fund life-saving research this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"Wear it pink is a wonderful opportunity for communities across the UK to come together and have fun, whilst showing their support for everyone affected by breast cancer. Simply by wearing something pink and donating, you're raising funds for life-saving research and helping Breast Cancer Now reach our goal that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live."

To take part in wear it pink this October, please visit wearitpink.org/2017 for further details, fundraising ideas and how to register for your free fundraising pack.


06 SEP 2017

Development in South Oxfordshire

Today, the SODC Planning Committee met to discuss a planning application for 245 houses located on the border of Reading and South Oxfordshire near Emmer Green. John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for Henley, in whose constituency the proposed development lies, was unable to be present due to commitments in the House of Commons. He sent the following message to be read out at the meeting. The MP had earlier emailed every member of the planning committee with his concerns and had also spoken with the Minister of Planning.

"I have emailed all members of the committee to share my concerns on this application. There is a long list of objections to the application which raise many matters of detail. I trust that members are fully conversant with these. I have visited the site and met with residents.

The application meets with objections from both sides of the county boundary. The applicant recognises that there are few facilities in South Oxfordshire to support the development and points to Reading for this. However Reading Borough Council note the negative impact of such a development on its infrastructure which would not be able to support the development. It is accepted that there can be new infrastructure provision in relation to new development. I have long argued for infrastructure ahead, or at very least in line with, new development. This application appears to stand alone with no such provision. Looking at the emerging new Local Plan there is no provision for new infrastructure to support such a development in this area of South Oxfordshire.

The SODC officer has written a thorough report, setting out the objections and concerns in relation to this application. In the light of the detail of the report I am surprised at the conclusion reached in the officer recommendation. In particular I am surprised at the assessment in relation to paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework concerning adverse effects of the development. Reading the list of concerns there seem to be many which would suggest that the adverse impact of the development would indeed significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefit.

The cross-boundary nature of the application, merging urban Reading with rural South Oxfordshire would seem to cause significant and permanent harm to the rural character of the area.

I thank the Committee for its work in considering the detail of the application and hope they will conclude that it should not be approved.

With thanks. John Howell MP"


16 AUG 2017

Unemployment in July

The Henley Constituency remains one of the best performers when it comes to unemployment. In July the constituency ranked 649th out of 650 where 1 has the highest claimant rate and 650 the lowest.

The total number of unemployed in the constituency is 255 which is a rate of 0.5% of the economically active population. Within the figure of 255, there were 25 claimants aged 18-24 in July 2017, 10 lower than July 2016. By way of comparison, the UK unemployment rate, which includes people not claiming benefits was 4.4% between April and June 2017.

Across the UK. the growth in employment over the last year has been overwhelmingly in full-time and permanent roles. The number of people on zero hours contracts fell 20,000 compared to a year earlier to 883,000 people across the country. This accounts for considerably less than 3%.

Employment has been delivered for over 3 million more people -- seven in ten of these roles being in higher skilled work.

I commented:

"The figures are another record-breaking set of figures, showing more people in work than ever, unemployment falling to the lowest rate for over 40 years and more people working full-time.

"Long-term unemployment is down to 374,000, a reduction of 74,000 from the previous year. 400,000 more young people are in work since 2010, the level of people in work at the highest level since records began and these new jobs are full-time."

With a million more women in work since 2010, the female employment rate remains at a record high of 70.5%. There are now almost 3.5 million disabled people in employment. In the last three years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by nearly 600,000.


04 AUG 2017

Thames Farm Planning Appeal Decision

Like many people I have reacted with disappointment and disbelief at the decision by the Planning Inspector over Thames Farm. The Decision casts doubt over whether SODC even has a 3 year housing land supply. For the avoidance of doubt, I have been assured by SODC that, by usual calculations, they have a housing land supply of just over 4 years. The Inspector has taken some additional information into account and has decided that SODC does not have a 3 year housing land supply by one house! On the basis of this he is prepared to overturn an established and approved Neighbourhood Plan and the safeguards introduced by the previous Planning Minister. This was only recently reinforced by the current Planning Minister, Alok Sharma MP. As you may recall I recently held a debate in the House of Commons and was reassured by the Minister of the Government's commitment to Neighbourhood Planning.

This is not a time for panicking by there are several things that we can do:

  • First, we need to wait for SODC to decide to challenge the Inspector's decision in the High Court. Personally I feel that such a challenge is worthwhile and that the grounds are strong. SODC will want to consult legal counsel.
  • Second, I recommend that all groups who are doing Neighbourhood Plans continue with these as even the Inspector would have to agree that the district does have a 3 year housing land supply when the Thames Farm development is taken into account.
  • Third, I was assured by John Cotton, the Leader of SODC at my Neighbourhood Planning Conference that the cost of legal challenge would not inhibit going forward where the planning evidence was strong.

We will have to wait for SODC to consider this. However, should it be necessary, I am prepared to lead an initiative to crowdfund a contribution to the costs and to make sure that local parish councils are represented. I have also written to the Planning Minister to raise the issue which flies in the face of the Government's expressed intentions on the spirit of Neighbourhood Planning.

NOTE: The housing land supply is a requirement in the National Planning Policy Framework. It is an assessment of land availability identifies a future supply of land which is suitable, available and achievable for housing and economic development uses over the plan period. Five years is the standard requirement but the Planning Minister has said that where there is an adopted Neighbourhood Plan a t3 year housing land supply is sufficient.


01 AUG 2017

National Lottery investment in the Henley constituency's heritage hits £11,402,365 million

I welcome investment in the Henley constituency and I encourage constituents to apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund for grants.

I have today welcomed news that more than £11,402,365 million of National Lottery money has been invested in Henley's heritage projects since 1994. Most recently, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley and the Thame Museum in Thame both received grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

From exploring local archaeology and restoring local parks and churches to protecting wildlife and researching local history, the HLF has awarded more than 89 grants to heritage projects in the area. As someone trained as an archaeologist, I very much appreciate this.

Now, HLF is encouraging people in the Henley constituency to apply for grants of between £3,000 and £10,000 to undertake projects exploring the impact and legacy of the First World War beyond 1918. Whether that's looking at the role the war played in bringing about universal suffrage; the introduction of daylight saving; or the mechanisation of agriculture, there is a wealth of local stories waiting to be explored about life following the war.

I said:

"The Henley constituency has an incredibly rich history and I'm delighted to learn that thanks to the National Lottery local people have been exploring and enjoying that heritage. Just like many towns and cities across the UK, the constituency was shaped by the First World War, and so I strongly encourage local people to make use of the money available from Heritage Lottery Fund to explore its legacy further."

Sir Peter Luff, Chair of HLF, said:

"Sadly, the 'war to end all wars' was no such thing and so it is right the events of the First World War should never be forgotten. We've been helping people across the UK explore an incredible array of stories from 1914-18, but the war had an impact beyond 1918 and we must recognise this. The legacy of the First World War needs to be better understood and so we are encouraging people to come to us with their ideas for projects."

The money is available through HLF's community grants programme, First World War: then and now.

Details of two of the most recent constituency projects are set out below

THAME MUSEUM PROJECT 2016

The project relates to a collection of Elizabethan wall paintings found in an upper chamber of a merchant's house in Thame and now installed in the town's museum. Their existence reflects both the status of the owner and wider social and economic changes underway in Early Modern England. The decorated walls reflect the merchant's growing wealth and status and, from their siting, indicate the shift towards separate social spaces away from the medieval hall. The meaning of the content of the paintings is intriguingly elusive, hinting at changes underway with the impact of the Reformation. The paintings therefore throw light on changing economic, social and cultural development in Thame, during its journey to become the thriving market town of today. The project aims to raise the profile of the paintings and enable visitors and members of the community to develop greater understanding and awareness of this local heritage. Workshops and research opportunities will develop knowledge and skills and link with the installation of an improved interpretation for the wall painting display, including a digital element and content that better reflects the significance of the paintings as a source of information about social and cultural change.

RIVER AND ROWING MUEUM PROJECT 2017

'Peter Rabbit: Mischief and Mayhem' will be the first exhibition to draw together original artworks, first editions and contemporary depictions tracing the development of Peter Rabbit as a character and a brand. This mischievous rabbit was author and illustrator Beatrix Potter's first creation, and has formed part of the early reading heritage of children for over a century. Today, over two million Beatrix Potter books are sold every year, and Peter features on television screens and merchandise across the globe. Based around an archive held by the publishers, the exhibition will both introduce a new generation to Peter Rabbit and encourage older generations to revisit their childhood. Highly interactive, it will be family friendly and provide visitors with a fun learning experience. The exhibition will be accompanied by a learning and events programme, which will focus on art and creative writing. Building on the success of the Wind in the Willows gallery, the exhibition will be hosted first at the River & Rowing Museum, before touring to museums and other cultural venues to reach the broadest possible audience. The exhibition will include a gardening project, which will see local primary schools invited to grow vegetables for Mr McGregor's garden.


19 JUL 2017

Good news on Neighbourhood Planning

Two important reforms to Neighbourhood Planning come into force today (19 July 2017) which are really good news for communities doing Neighbourhood Plans. In the first of these, local planning authorities such as SODC must 'have regard' to Neighbourhood Plans which have passed their examinations when they are taking planning decisions rather than waiting to after the referendum. This reform makes it clear that planning decision-takers such as the planning committee must take these plans into account at any earlier stage.

This ensures that the plans that local people have worked so hard to create are used as the starting point for determining local planning applications up to 8 weeks earlier than now following a successful referendum.

I am the Government's Neighbourhood Planning Champion. I said:

"This is very good news. These changes come out of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. I welcome them and the contributions they make to Neighbourhood Planning. I am also pleased to see that the Government remains firmly committed to Neighbourhood Planning and is taking active steps to make them a success."


19 JUL 2017

Intervention and speech on British prisoners in Iran

John Howell

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She is being very generous with her time. She is describing a scandalous systematic abuse of human rights in Iran. Does she accept that, when the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 was put together, we missed an opportunity to put a human rights clause in there? In the two years since it was signed, there has been no improvement at all in Iran's activities.

Tulip Siddiq

I agree that it was a missed opportunity, but there have been other big missed opportunities, including a visit by diplomats to Evin prison, which I shall talk about later.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on her excellent speech and on securing this brilliant debate. She did not comment on another British value—a belief in human rights. I have a fundamental belief in human rights, but Iran is not a place where human rights are prevalent.

Human rights were not discussed at all during the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, in spite of Iran having one of the worst human rights records on this planet. In per capita terms, Iran leads the world in executions, and overall is second only to China. In Iran, moreover, it is mandatory for all women to veil their hair, homosexuality is illegal—I could go on and on.

Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this crucial debate. My hon. Friend is making some important points, and I want to add one. An important human right is that of legal representation to ensure access to justice. One of the most horrifying aspects of both Nazanin and Kamal's cases is the absence of that legal advice. Will he comment on that?

John Howell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that point.

At least three British citizens are detained in Iran. I have heard that a fourth person, whose name I do not know, has also been detained. We will have to see who that person is. Those four people stand in great contrast to the four Americans who were released from Iranian prisons in 2016 as part of a prisoner swap that came about following the Iran nuclear agreement. Nothing similar has occurred with regard to those Britons who have been detained in Iran over the same period.

In the few seconds I have left, I make the point that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn fully identified the reasons why we need those people released. It is fine to hear warm words from the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, but we need to see action on those words. We need a real release of prisoners from Iran as quickly as possible.


18 JUL 2017

Speech today on Anglo-Polish relations

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) missed out from his list of trade envoys our brilliant trade envoy to Nigeria—I cannot imagine who has that job. I just refresh his memory on that.

I, too, will start with a history lesson, although not one that goes back as far as the second world war. Let me go back to the time of Mrs Thatcher and the setting up of what became known as the Know How Fund, Britain's technical assistance programme to central and eastern Europe. The fund, of which I was a board member, started in Poland, because the British Government saw the attractions of Poland and the innate spirit of entrepreneurial activity there, and decided that they would work with individual Polish organisations—not governmental organisations—to take reforms forward. I spent many years afterwards doing non-exciting things such as trying to import British accounting, law and stock exchange and banking practices to Poland, with some great success. That is why so many British companies feel comfortable doing business in Poland now.

Daniel Kawczynski

Of course I recognise the role that my hon. Friend undertakes as the excellent trade envoy for Nigeria. I agree wholeheartedly about the initial support that Britain gave to Poland after the communist era in the form of technology transfer and support in setting up institutions. He will, of course, agree that Britain was at the forefront of ensuring that the Paris Club nations rescinded many of Poland's communist era debts.

John Howell

I agree. The point that I would make is that it is a fundamentally good way of transferring British technical assistance, for the benefit of both countries, as it transpires. It makes the other countries much more receptive and makes it easier for British companies to operate there, and it certainly improves the activities in those countries.

The involvement with Poland goes back more years than I care to remember, but it has not stopped there. I still have a great deal of involvement with Poland and Polish MPs. It is worth remembering that Poland supplies many Members of Parliament to the European Conservatives Group at the Council of Europe. In a post-Brexit world, the Council of Europe goes far beyond the 27 EU members, with a full membership of 47. That says a lot about the Council's interest in human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I have heard Polish members of the Council of Europe participate in many debates on refugees, and I know full well that they understand the needs of Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in Europe, because they have said so in public debate. The point that they make balances good practice across Europe and seeing the refugee pattern as a whole with keeping an eye on what Poland can take for itself.

My hon. Friend mentioned that Prince William had been to Poland recently; Donald Trump was there as well, which led to many protests. There have also been protests about the court reforms that the current Polish Government are undertaking. Will the Minister comment on those? The difficulty with the court reforms, according to the opposition, is that the Government there are seeking more power over the courts, trying to end the separation of powers within Poland and introducing more rules to allow members of courts to be chosen by parliamentarians. Is that compatible with the country's continued membership of the Council of Europe and its commitment to democracy?

My experience with Poland goes back many years, and I hope that it will continue for many more years to come. It is a place full of great entrepreneurs who contribute to our lives every day.


18 JUL 2017

John Howell MP appointed new Envoy for autism charity

Last night (17 July) I was appointed a new Envoy to the autism charity, SPACE. The acronym stands for Supporting People with Autism into Continued Employment.

SPACE is a project of the Sycamore Trust sponsored by the Glyn Hopkins Charitable Foundation. It aims to find continued employment for those with autism.

I said:

"We must bear in mind that every autistic person is an individual and as such we must take care of their special needs. What impresses me about the work of this charity is that it aims t help employers as those it wants to become employees. Minor, easy adjustments in the workplace can make such a huge difference. Employers will find workers with a good work ethic and with a good attention to detail.

"The starting point will be to find suitable work placements in the Houses of Parliament where the House staff have done much to make the place more welcoming to those with autism."


18 JUL 2017

John Howell MP welcomes announcement on £1.3 billion boost to the core schools budget

i have welcomed the announcement that there will be an additional £1.3 billion for schools funding over two years – helping to create more good school places in the constituency.

Education Secretary Justine Greening today announced the boost to the core schools budget, which will deliver the biggest improvement to the school funding system for well over a decade.

This additional funding to fairer schools funding will mean an increase in the basic amount that every pupil will get, protected funding for those with high needs and will ensure every local authority is in a position to give schools a cash increase through the new formula.

This means that, working with teachers and schools across the country, we can continue to raise standards and give every child the best possible education, and the best opportunities for their future.

I commented:

"The Conservatives are committed to ending the postcode lottery of school funding – so all children receive the education they deserve, wherever they live. We will ensure that every secondary school attracts at least £4,800 per pupil during this period, in response to the views we heard through the consultation.

"As we said in our manifesto, no school will lose any funding as result of the new formula. We will go further than this, and provide for a 0.5% cash increase for every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Those schools that have been underfunded will see increases of up to 3% in both years.

"Today's announcement sends a clear message that we are committed to raising standards and giving every child the best possible education and the best possible opportunities for their future."


15 JUL 2017

Beating Cancer

This week I committed my support to help Cancer Research UK save more lives in this constituency and across the UK.

I attended a parliamentary event held by Cancer Research UK in Westminster on 12 July to find out how I can keep cancer at the top of the new Parliament's agenda.

Over the course of this Parliament, two million people will be diagnosed with cancer across the UK, so Cancer Research UK needs political support in order to continue to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Cancer survival in the UK is 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. I found out how many people in the Henley Constituency are diagnosed with cancer each year, underlining the need for MPs to join the fight against the disease.

What I said was:

"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 prevent and 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."

Matt Davies, Cancer Research UK's Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning said:

"At Cancer Research UK, we're resolute in our ambition to see 3 in 4 patients surviving cancer by 2034. To achieve this we need cancer at the top of the political agenda and so we're grateful to John for helping to highlight the importance of research and action in beating the disease.

"Survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years. But there's still so much more to do and we cannot do it alone.

"Creating the right environment for cancer research alongside cancer prevention, early diagnosis and ensuring patients have access to the best possible treatments must be key priorities for the new Government."


12 JUL 2017

Comments on Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

As I mentioned in my intervention, I represent the Culham UKAEA establishment. The urgency to resolve this issue is that Euratom's work programme runs out in December 2018. The European Commission is pushing hard to negotiate terms for the 2019-20 programme, but the fly in the ointment is Austria's taking over the EU presidency in June 2019. Of course, as has already been mentioned, Austria is notoriously anti-nuclear, and it is therefore urgent that an agreement should be in place by June 2018.

Ministers have apparently written to the Commission to continue with the JET—Joint European Torus—project, and to commit the UK's share, which has gone down very well. Everything has been delayed to accommodate Brexit, and willingly so, but there is a need to get a move on with this. Staying a full member of Euratom provides the best continuity to that programme.

I do not believe that the legal issues are as black and white as has been set out. However, associate membership with bespoke terms is a perfectly acceptable compromise. That would mean that there would be a transition period that would leave us as full members of Euratom until 2020. There are two principal models of associate membership: the Swiss model, which includes freedom of movement for nuclear scientists and the use of the European Court of Justice, and the Ukrainian model, in which there is no free movement of nuclear scientists and for which the Ukrainian courts decide disputes. The Government need to make their mind up quickly on that in order to provide the certainty that the industry needs.

There is a lot at stake. UKAEA is targeting £1 billion-worth of work on ITER—the JET project's replacement in the south of France. That is £1 billion of work against the UK's £85 million investment. It is important to bear those sort of figures in mind when we come to look at the future of Euratom and the sort of relationship that we have with it.


12 JUL 2017

Job Centres saved and unemployment

Today, new figures for unemployment in the constituency were released which show a further drop in the level of unemployment to 260. This means the constituency remains one of the most successful UK constituencies for dealing with unemployment.

The Department for Work and Pensions has also announced that two Job Centres close to the constituency are to be retained despite being initially threatened with closure. These are the centres in Reading and Oxford, important to those who claim from Henley and Thame and across the constituency. These offices were being reviewed to take account of the increased use of online services and the anticipated demand. Both centres have been saved as they will now contain a Centre for Health and Disability Assessment (CHDA) office. These offices undertake assessment for benefits for people.

The rate of unemployment in the Henley constituency stood at 0.5% compared with a claimant rate of 2.5% across the country.

I commented:

"The news that the Reading and Oxford offices are to remain is good news. So too is another drop in the number of people unemployed in the constituency. I would like to thank all those who have helped achieve this."


11 JUL 2017

Chiltern Edge update

Speaking on BBC Radio Oxford this morning, I welcomed the news that the County Council were recommending not to proceed with a notice to close Chiltern Edge School and to commission an external review in October for review in November.

However, the big test for the long term security of the school is agreeing a sponsorship deal with another school to turn Chiltern Edge into an Academy.

I commented:

"I appreciate that this takes time to organise but we do have a potential sponsor interested and those discussions should, as far as possible, not be held behind closed doors."

I went on to say:

"In addition, commissioning a report in October for a review in November seems to me to be a bit rushed. The school is just about to go into the summer holidays so there is in reality not a lot of time for the school to show the progress we all hope it will make."

I praised the new head of the school for doing a fantastic job and also praised the new school Governors (the IEB) who as volunteers were conscientious and doing all that they could for the school.


10 JUL 2017

Question to Secretary of State for Defence

Mr Speaker

On this question, I call John Howell.

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

The millions spent on technical innovation on bases around the UK is crucial, particularly on my own base of RAF Benson, where CAE is a big contributor. Does the Secretary of State agree with that and what will he do to continue it? [900307]

Sir Michael Fallon

Yes, I do agree with that. That is why we have set aside a specific innovation fund to encourage more innovation in defence and to get more of our small and medium-sized businesses, of which I know there are a large number in and around my hon. Friend's constituency, to help us find these cutting-edge solutions.


09 JUL 2017

Thame Town Music Festival

On Saturday 8 Jul 2017, I attended the Thame Town Music Festival. I met some of those who had organised the festival including Simon Davidmann, the chairman. I listened to The Dung Beatles play a variety of pieces including songs written by the Beatles. This took place on the main stage outside the Town Hall.

What I said was:

"This was a brilliant Festival and I congratulate all those who organised it. There was a great atmosphere and a lot of people simply enjoying the occasion and listening to a wide variety of music. I do hope the Festival will be repeated next year and who knows I might even participate. The organisers wanted the Festival to add to the fun and vibrancy of Thame. It certainly did that. I also believe that the Festival will help small businesses and add to the local economy."


05 JUL 2017

Speech on the Middle East

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

Yesterday, there was a debate on the middle east in the other place. My noble Friend Lord Polak made a typically interesting contribution. He pointed out that in 1948 there were 726,000 Palestinians refugees, and 856,000 Jewish refugees living in Arab lands, yet since then the UN's focus has been solely on the Palestinians. He pointed to the more than 170 resolutions, the 13 UN agencies created or mandated to look after the Palestinian issue and the billions of dollars that have been provided to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, he still hoped that the UK would do all it could to bring Israelis and Palestinians around the table to hammer out a solution. I agree with him.

Israel remains committed to an independent Palestinian state through, among other things, direct negotiation to end the conflict. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly underlined his commitment to restarting peace negotiations without pre-conditions. Israel has accepted the principle of a future Palestinian state based along 1967 lines and for land swaps to take place.

Polling in 2016 has shown that there is still an appetite for a two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis. The figures were almost 60% for Israelis and just over 50% for Palestinians. The biggest obstacle to peace involved the infighting between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian approach unilaterally to wanting statehood and the rearmament in Gaza by Hamas. Personally, I would add to that the seemingly blinkered approach of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. When I was last in Ramallah, I visited the PLO and had talks with its members. I found that there was little basis on which to have those talks. There was an attempt to blame us for all the ills of the region and a dislike for the involvement of anything that smacked of the private sector. I also wish to stress the levels of co-operation that already exist between the Israelis and the Palestinians and to point to one organisation in particular, Save a Child's Heart, which I have visited on a number of occasions and does fantastic work.

I would be the first to admit that settlement expansion is counterproductive, and I have made that point to the Israeli Government, but the settlement issue is not a permanent obstacle to peace, and it is one of the five final status issues. It is not the reason for the continuation of the conflict, as violence predates the settlements, and the majority of settlers live within established settlement blocks along the green line, which are widely anticipated to become part of Israel in the peace settlement.

The past two years have shown a rising level of terror and Palestinian incitement in Israel. Since 2015 alone, there have been around 180 stabbings, 150 shootings, 58 car ramming attacks and one bus bombing. The result has been more than 389 terror attacks and over 759 injuries and some 50 Israeli or foreign deaths. The violence escalated to the point that, in October 2015, an Israeli mother and father were gunned down in front of their four young children. The sort of attitude that we have seen from President Abbas is not very helpful. He vowed to Palestinians that he would not stop prisoner salaries even if he had to resign, despite telling the US that he would do so.

Bob Blackman rose—

John Howell

I will not give way, as I am fairly close to the end.

No peace agreement will be able to guarantee peace in the medium to long term if a generation of Palestinians are growing up indoctrinated to hate Israel and the Jews. 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. Although I welcome France's recent efforts to promote peace, I do not think that the best way to make progress is to hold an international conference without the attendance of the two main parties. We must get the two main parties around the table at the same time.

5.53 pm


05 JUL 2017

Question to Cabinet Ministers

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What steps the Government are taking to ensure the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations. [900237]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Caroline Nokes)

Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and assets; deter our adversaries; and develop the skills and capabilities we need. Our experts in the National Cyber Security Centre provide advice and guidance to help both public and private sector organisations be more resilient to cyber-attacks.

John Howell

There seems to be a misleading impression that IT and cyber-security are of interest only to boys. What are the Government doing to encourage women to take part?

Caroline Nokes

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Only 10% of the global cyber workforce are female. That represents a huge pool of untapped talent. As part of our ambitious plans to transform the nation's cyber capabilities, we have launched new initiatives, such as the incredibly successful CyberFirst Girls competition to encourage young women to pursue a career in the industry—it has more than 8,000 participants. We also want business to do more to encourage women into that exciting and rewarding sector.


05 JUL 2017

Debate on Neighbourhood Planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have been involved with neighbourhood planning since I first entered Parliament almost 10 years ago. I am the author of "Open Source Planning," which has guided many of the planning reforms initiated by the Conservative party in government. When I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), we introduced neighbourhood planning. When he was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, he appointed me as the Government champion for neighbourhood planning, a role in which I was confirmed by the current Secretary of State only last week. In this role I have been to numerous Members' meetings to discuss neighbourhood planning. I say all that to illustrate that I have some experience of this subject.

I will particularly address two groups of points this evening. The first is on when neighbourhood plans carry weight. The Minister's predecessor introduced a helpful change—albeit only temporary, and it is currently subject to challenge—to ensure that when councils do not have a five-year land supply, those places with neighbourhood plans that allocate sites need only demonstrate that they have a three-year land supply. We also looked at changing the time when neighbourhood plans carry full weight and bringing it back to when the document is submitted to whoever will inspect the plan, but even that is not early enough.

Let me give examples from my constituency of why that time is not early enough. The initial attempt of two villages to put together neighbourhood plans was unsuccessful. Almost immediately, developers moved into the villages and put in planning applications, not for just a couple of houses but for large-scale developments. The developers did nothing wrong in targeting two villages that had not been able to produce a neighbourhood plan, but in other cases developers are targeting villages that have just started the process of putting a neighbourhood plan together, so that they can get in before the community can decide where it wants the housing to go. That amounts to sharp practice, as in many cases it forces a race between those putting the neighbourhood plan together and the developers attempting to get the planning application through. With more and more communities now moving to put a neighbourhood plan together, this creates a situation where developers are trying to beat a neighbourhood plan and to frustrate its intention by putting the housing where the developer, not the community, wants it to go.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work on neighbourhood planning, and particularly for supporting and advising me in Mid Sussex, which is in exactly the position he describes. Does he agree that all the hard work and effort of our constituents in putting together these plans, voluntarily, needs to be reflected and recognised, as our right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) originally intended?

John Howell

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The thing we need to remember is that the people who have put these plans together are all volunteers—they all do this work for nothing and they all do it for the future of their village. I shall say a little more about that in a moment.

I should say at this point that in the main we are not talking about communities who are anti-development; we are talking of communities who want to embrace new housing for the long-term sake of their communities and to ensure that facilities such as pubs and sports clubs do not fall into disuse. They also want new housing above all to cater for younger people and families. There is nothing for the Government to fear here about being in the world of the nimby; neighbourhood plans have allocated some 10% more housing than it was originally suggested they should provide by their district or borough councils. From that point of view, they have been a great success.

An emerging neighbourhood plan can be a material consideration according to the national planning policy framework. The Department for Communities and Local Government's own guidance suggests that factors to consider include the stage of preparation of the plan and the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies. It goes on to suggest that although a referendum ensures the final word, weight should be given to evidence of local support prior to the referendum and the quality of the consultation should be taken into account. I want to add that the consultation on neighbourhood plans is normally very good, which is why they pass their referendums with almost North Korean levels of approval, and this level of consultation goes on throughout the process of putting the neighbourhood plan together. However, in actual fact little weight is given to such neighbourhood plans until the referendum has been passed.

The findings of research conducted in Cornwall show that emerging neighbourhood plans should be given weight in the decision-making process, but that the amount of weight must still be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I had sought the hon. Gentleman's permission to intervene on this issue, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my constituency, Ards and North Down Borough Council has initiated a regeneration plan for the area and also a neighbourhood plan, in that it has sought the opinion of the general public by holding public meetings. Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that the general public's opinion is being ignored?

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The point I would make is that we have initiated a process whereby public opinion is taken into account throughout the process of putting a neighbourhood plan together, and that is reflected at all stages of the neighbourhood planning process. Whether that is the same in Northern Ireland I will leave for him to judge.

In the Cornish case, it is harder for the council to refuse permissions for proposals that conflict with an emerging neighbourhood plan, although this may have now been taken care of if the three-year land supply required for the neighbourhood plan areas still stands. But what this shows is how precarious the weight to be attached to neighbourhood plans really is, because it is ​ still for the decision maker, whether that is the council or the inspector, to assess the application on a case-by-case basis. There appears to be a great discrepancy between the emphasis given to neighbourhood plans by the Secretary of State and that given by the Planning Inspectorate. I suggest, therefore, that we need to put neighbourhood planning on a firmer basis.

The fact that there are so many cases where a neighbourhood plan has not been given weight causes great frustration. It is a cause of much frustration that so much work has been put into producing a neighbourhood plan and yet it has been overturned. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said, that work is undertaken by volunteers, to whom we all ought to give our grateful thanks.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on initiating this debate and I agree with everything he has said. Is not the danger that if neighbourhood plans are undermined in this way, confidence in the whole process and the willingness of volunteers to undertake the process of putting together a neighbourhood plan will be damaged?

John Howell

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. That is the last thing I want to see. I want neighbourhood plans to continue to flourish and contribute to house building and to the development of communities.

Of course, not all developers behave as I have described. Many follow what I set out in "Open Source Planning". They try to reduce tension between themselves and the community and to work effectively with the community. However, there are those who play the game of getting in before the neighbourhood plan is fully made and frustrating the work that is going on.

I suggest that the Minister considers introducing a moratorium on new house building where a neighbourhood plan is being put together. To prevent communities from cheating and claiming that they are producing a neighbourhood plan when they are not, rules would be needed that show that the plan is genuine. There would have to be rules to make sure that communities are allocating sites for development, not using the plan as a nimby charter. That could be done by strengthening the guidance to the Planning Inspectorate and making sure that it is applied consistently, or ensuring that neighbourhood plans are given more weight when, for example, they include a list of sites or the initial consultation has taken place.

Although I say it myself, neighbourhood plans are a great success. They are giving communities a real say and responsibility for new housing by allowing them to work in partnership with their district or borough council and decide where that housing should go. Villages that were once hostile to development have become pro-development. A neighbourhood plan can take up to two years to put together and it represents a lot of hard work for the community—all done by volunteers—but so it should. It makes a major contribution to the future state of any village and cannot be written on the back of a cigarette packet. However, we have to make sure that the effort is not taken for granted or wasted by allowing some developers an opportunity to move in ahead of a neighbourhood plan. Anything the Minister ​ can do to strengthen guidance or advance the time when neighbourhood plans carry protection would be much appreciated.

One of the major things we need to do as a Government is to provide housing for younger people. The average age at which people acquire their first home is now over 30. As was put to me, one cannot expect people to be capitalists if they do not have any capital. We need to provide people with houses to buy, and there are two issues here—first, the number of homes and secondly, affordability. On the first, I encourage the Government to move ahead with the consultation on the changes to the calculations being made by councils of their housing numbers.

I was part of the local plan expert group—I am localist through and through—and the suggestions that we made to change how housing numbers were calculated were not anti-localist. Serious problems are generated by the lack of an agreed approach to strategic housing market assessments, which have become one of the most burdensome, complex and controversial components of plan making. We set out detailed recommendations for a shorter, simpler standard methodology for strategic housing market assessments, in particular for assessment of housing need, with the aim of saving significant time and money, and—most important—removing unnecessary debate from that aspect of plan making. I recommend the LPEG report to the Minister. I know he is new to his position, but I urge him to read it. It would help if a table of recommendations and how they are being dealt with were produced by his officials. The thinking behind that uplift is that allocating more housing land will lower prices, increase development and improve viability. Of course, the sites allocated need to be actually developed.

This is not entirely a district or borough council problem. As I have said, neighbourhood plans allocated more houses than was originally intended. We need to encourage neighbourhood planners to look to the future of their area when they plan and to be part of the solution, rather than being held at a bit of a distance as they are now.

We can be more localist by stressing to neighbourhood planning groups that they can and should have much more say over the type of housing they allocate. The need in my area and that of the Minister is not for vast swathes of council housing, but for affordable market housing. It is not for more developments of four-to-five bedroom housing, but for more developments of genuinely cheaper one-to-two bedroom houses.

I want to suggest to the Minister that it is time to be radical about the future and to be ultra-localist. The steps we have taken so far have given only some of the involvement to local communities. That process needs to go further and bring neighbourhood planning groups into the equation, so that they may stress the types of housing in terms of the number of bedrooms, and have some say over affordability. Schemes such as Help to Buy have actually touched very few people—some 360,000. We need to find a way of involving local communities in tackling the issue of affordability or they will simply blame us that houses continue to be unaffordable.

We need to stress that this is a dynamic part of the planning system. It is very unlikely that we got it right the first time and we should have the courage to make changes as we go along and to seek to expand the scheme as it proves to be ever more successful. But it is ​ essential that we do not row back on our commitment to involving communities in the decisions over where the houses should go, what they should consist of and, crucially, what they should look like—their design. To that I would add that communities should also have a role in ensuring affordability.

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Alok Sharma)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) on securing this incredibly important debate on neighbourhood planning policy. As he himself has noted, he has made an enormous contribution to developing our approach to neighbourhood planning, and I pay tribute to him for his enormously hard work.

My hon. Friend mentioned his booklet "Open Source Planning", which was crucial in informing the 2010 Conservative manifesto and the Localism Act 2011. He has played a leading role throughout that time as my Department's champion for neighbourhood planning. He has also done an enormous amount of work in his own constituency to promote neighbourhood planning. In Woodcote, in his constituency, homes identified in the neighbourhood plan are now being lived in. It is a fantastic example of the real power of neighbourhood planning and of letting people decide where homes should go.

There are many other examples from around the country which have shown what neighbourhood planning can do to deliver more homes. Communities such as Winsford in Cheshire have planned for more than 3,300 homes. In Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes, there are plans for 1,400 homes. I congratulate all groups across the country on carrying out this incredibly valuable work.

I am proud to say that thousands of community-minded people across England have turned the legislation passed by this House in 2011 into a reality. My right hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) both noted that in their contributions.

Those community-minded individuals are now creating plans that make a real difference and are benefiting the places in which they live. My hon. Friend will of course be aware, because of the work he has done on this, that, since 2012, more than 2,100 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process, in areas covering nearly 12 million people. There have been more than 360 successful neighbourhood plan referendums, and over 500,000 people have taken the opportunity to vote on those plans.

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)

I see a different side to this. We have big issues in my constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, with many keen groups who want to create plans, but who are very cynical about the planning process. We have two particularly large developments. In north Abingdon, we have 950 homes on the green belt. In Kidlington, the development involves four villages that will coalesce with a plan for 4,400 homes —an enormous number of homes. Local groups are rightly very worried not just about infrastructure, but, mainly, about their voices not being heard. Does the ​ Minister understand that local people now feel very cynical about all levels of planning and that is the main reason why they are not taking up neighbourhood planning?

Alok Sharma

May I make a general point to the hon. Lady that I hope will help other colleagues too? Local authorities need to consult their local communities in reaching these decisions on housing and, of course, they are accountable directly to them. The White Paper stated that we will amend national policy to make it clear that authorities should amend green-belt boundaries only when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting their identified development requirements. The hon. Lady may well have noted that today the Secretary of State has launched a £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund that is now open for bids from local authorities to fund much-needed infrastructure. I encourage all local authorities to consider this.

Let me turn to a number of the extremely important and valid points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley. I want to begin by making it absolutely clear that this Government remain firmly committed to neighbourhood planning. We all recognise the significant effort neighbourhood planning groups make and that is why we are keen to support them. The Government have made £22.5 million available through a support programme for neighbourhood planning for the period from 2015 to 2018. All groups can receive grant funding of up to £9,000 and priority groups, such as those allocating sites for housing in their plan and those in deprived areas, can receive up to £15,000 as well as full technical and professional support. The housing White Paper, which I know hon. Members will be familiar with and which was published in February, set out our commitment to further funding for neighbourhood planning groups in this Parliament.

My hon. Friend spoke of the importance of bringing forward the point at which neighbourhood plans start to influence planning decisions. As he will know, as plans are progressed they will gain increasing weight and our planning practice guidance makes it clear that decision makers must consider emerging neighbourhood plans. I will look carefully at his suggestion of changes to strengthen guidance to ensure that decision makers are in no doubt of the importance the Government attaches to neighbourhood plans.

When the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 comes into force, it will further strengthen the position. It will ensure that neighbourhood plans have full effect straight after a successful referendum. That is earlier than at present, when neighbourhood plans only have full effect after they have been made by the local planning authority. I can confirm that I have asked my officials to prepare the necessary orders to start this provision as soon as possible. The Neighbourhood Planning Act will also require local planning authorities to notify neighbourhood planning groups of planning applications in their local community. I know that many groups feel that that is incredibly important.

On my hon. Friend's comments about a moratorium on planning decisions while a neighbourhood plan is being produced, I recognise his concerns about those who seek to game the system and I know that other right hon. and hon. Members have made similar points ​ in previous debates. I absolutely understand the frustrations felt by communities around the country when plans they have worked hard to produce are undermined. That is why the Government issued a written ministerial statement in December 2016 concerning an important policy for recently produced neighbourhood plans that plan for housing.

The statement sets out that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a made neighbourhood plan should not be deemed to be out of date under paragraph 49 of the national planning policy framework where all of the following circumstances arise at the time the decision is made: the neighbourhood plan has been made within the past two years; the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

I know that all Members will agree that it is important that we strike the right balance so that we do not inadvertently create delays in planning for the homes needed. Of course, we keep these matters under review.

Sir Nicholas Soames

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new job and look forward to working with him. Does he agree that what is extremely important is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, that although many developers behave perfectly properly, there are others who game the system? That is extremely prevalent in Mid Sussex. May I ask the Minister whether or not what he has just said will protect the district council and all those who work to secure their neighbourhood plans in the public inquiry, which will continue in late July?

Alok Sharma

The Government are absolutely committed to neighbourhood planning. As the new Minister, I am completely committed to it. We want this to work, and it is important for the communities that we represent. I hope that that demonstrates to my right hon. Friend the ​ strength of feeling in the Government when it comes to supporting neighbourhood planning.

The best protection against unplanned development is to get a local plan in place. The best local plans are those where the local authority has engaged proactively with the local community. A local plan provides certainty for communities, developers and neighbourhood planning groups. It also removes the pressure on neighbourhood planning groups to fill the vacuum created by the failure of local planning authorities to keep their local plans up to date. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley knows, the housing White Paper sought views on what changes are needed to ensure that all forms of plan making are appropriate and proportionate. We will consider how we can further speed up the neighbourhood plan process so that communities get the plans they want in place as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend touched on the wider recommendations of the local plans expert group, to which we responded alongside the housing White Paper. He made a strong case for the introduction of a standard methodology to assess housing requirements. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government confirmed earlier today in his speech to the Local Government Association in Birmingham that a consultation will set out further details later this month on our proposals for a new way for councils to assess their local housing requirements.

To conclude, I thank my hon. Friend for securing this valuable debate and for his ongoing contribution to neighbourhood planning. I have listened carefully to the contributions made by right hon. and hon. Members and I welcome further suggestions on how best we can support neighbourhood planning in practice.


04 JUL 2017

Speech on Serbia and Albania and Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

This is a time for everyone to congratulate you on your successful re-election, Mr Deputy Speaker, so let me do so again on behalf of the whole House.

Let us just reflect on what we are doing here. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) said, we will not be in the EU when Albania and Serbia are admitted as members, so we are using our role as members of the EU now to set out something for their benefit for the future, and that is an important point to remember. We are acting responsibly in our current membership of the EU, not simply washing our hands of those two countries.

In an intervention on the Minister, I asked what the difference is between the work of the Agency for Fundamental Rights and that of the Council of Europe. That is a very relevant question. According to the description she gave, what the agency does is exactly the same as what the Council of Europe does. I could not get a cigarette paper between the two definitions. As many Members have said in interventions, many of us, as delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, are actively involved in monitoring Albania and Serbia—for example, regarding participation in their elections—and will continue to do so for many years after the UK has left the European Union, because the Council of Europe is not an EU body. The UK will, I hope, continue as a member of the Council of Europe and its subsidiary body, if I can use that term, the European Court of Human Rights. It is important to recognise that it is the Council of Europe that owns the European Court of Human Rights and the convention.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) said, we should not take lightly the situation in Serbia. I have spent many years in central and eastern Europe helping countries to develop along the paths of democracy and a market economy. Only a few years ago, Serbia appeared to us to be full of warlords, and full of all the angst of the Balkans at the time. It seems a miracle that Serbia has come so far. In my work at the Council of Europe, I spent a lot of time working with Serbian Members of Parliament. That was done on a cross-party basis—it was an extreme pleasure to work with a Serbian Socialist MP. Serbia has come so far in what it is trying to do, in what it has achieved and in where it is going.

The co-operation that we had encompassed all three areas that the Council of Europe looks after: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is important to stress those. There are two examples of Serbia's problems in the region: one is Kosovo, which some EU members still do not recognise as a separate state, and the other is Montenegro. I am pleased to say that the last Council of Europe meeting was addressed by the Prime Minister of Montenegro, which shows the enormous respect those countries have for the institutions and for the individual members of those institutions.

Albania is a slightly different case. It was, I think, the 35th member of the Council of Europe, and we still monitor Albanian elections very closely. In fact, I was invited to be a monitor of the recent Albanian elections but was unable to do so because of our own general election. There has been an enormous difficulty with corruption in Albania. I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, which has a reputation for corruption, but I can tell hon. Members that Albania runs it a very close second in that respect. When I mentioned to an hon. Friend that I was going to say that in this debate, he warned me, "You'd better watch out. There will be gangs of Albanians wandering about, wanting to throw you into the boot of a car and do away with you." Well, I have taken the risk and said it.

The Minister set out the responsibilities of the agency: to collect, analyse and disseminate objective, reliable and comparable information relating to the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. I see no difference between that and what the Council of Europe does. In Serbia, the Council of Europe is strengthening the capacity of law enforcement and the judiciary specifically in the fight against corruption. An additional project aims to harmonise court practices and to raise the capacity of judges, to ensure consistent application of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Those seem to me to be identical to the activities the agency undertakes on behalf of the EU, so I believe there ought to be considerable co-operation between the Council of Europe and the agency. It shows how far Serbia has come that it also plays an active role regionally in promoting minority protection, in particular for the Roma community, and inclusive education.

The Council of Europe's overall strategic objective in Albania is to promote the reform agenda across various sectors. Protection of human rights, anti-discrimination, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and reform of the judiciary, as well as freedom of the media and free and fair elections in line with general European standards, are all part of the effort to increase good governance and democratic participation. I know that Albania has a long way to go—it is behind the other countries of the Council of Europe and the EU in taking that agenda forward—but we are working on that.

It would be churlish of me to deny the rights of Serbia and Albania to be members of the agency on the basis set out in the Bill and in the agreements, but I do think that the European Scrutiny Committee could have looked more carefully at what the Council of Europe is doing and pointed out the overlap between that and what the agency will do. We have talked about how long accession takes. I suggest that the reason it takes such a long time is that there is little in the way of co-operation and harmonisation of aims between individual organisations.

Having expressed my belief that Serbia and Albania should be admitted, I will answer the question put earlier about what we can do to put pressure on those countries, which have emerged from horrendous periods in their history. We have to welcome them into our institutions. It is not necessarily about harmonising legislation and making it EU-compliant, as the agency does. All of that can be taken care of. What we have to do—this is where the Council of Europe works very effectively—is work with them, include them as part of our bigger European family, and press them to act in the right way in their own territories. As those other members of the Council of Europe will affirm, that is an effective practice when it comes to dealing with this issue. I welcome those countries, and cannot think of a reason to keep them out, but I do ask for more co-operation across the board.

Let me turn very briefly to the Canadian competition issue, on which many Members have commented. Personally I can see no difficulty in exchanging information and having a better system for exchanging information—whether that is via the EU or with Canada directly as a result of the activities that take place. On that note, I will sit down.


29 JUN 2017

Question on 21st century Fox/SKY merger

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am glad that the Secretary of State has pointed to the need to make her decisions on the basis of evidence. She will be aware that there was a long email campaign of rather emotional emails on the matter. What role have they played in her thinking, and how will that help her to retain public confidence?

Karen Bradley

The petitions and campaigns to which my hon. Friend refers have been considered as part of Ofcom's work. He will see in the report that Ofcom has considered more than 51,000 responses as part of its work. He is right that, in my quasi-judicial role, I am obliged to look at the evidence and analysis before me. I said in my statement that shouting the loudest is not necessarily the way to get the result one wants. We are looking for new and substantive evidence that may make a change to the decision.


24 JUN 2017

Participation in debate on housing

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend accept that one way of driving forward house building is through neighbourhood plans? They are delivering more houses than originally set out by the district councils that instructed councils to build houses.

Mr Bacon

I thank my hon. Friend for that and agree with him, although the caveat is that some developers are good at getting around neighbourhood plans, undermining their basis and confidence in them. The Government need to address that.


24 JUN 2017

Question to the PM about Grenfell Tower

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the results of the individual examinations to which the Prime Minister has referred be produced as they become available, or will they all be subjected to the public examination? If the former, may we have a timetable for that?

The Prime Minister

I assume that my hon. Friend is talking about the tests on the cladding—

John Howell

indicated assent.

The Prime Minister

As regards the tests on the cladding, as soon as the results are available—and the test can be done within hours of the samples being received—the local authorities, housing associations or private landlords will be informed of them.


21 JUN 2017

'World of Opportunity' SME Export Grants Programme

Applications can be made for 20 UK SMEs to win a grant of £2,000 to fund a trade mission, trade show or market research. The scheme is being offered by Heathrow as part of its 'World of Opportunity' SME Export Grants Programme. Through partnership with the Exporting is GREAT campaign run by the Department of International Trade each successful applicant f can prepare for international trade. More details can be found at https://your.heathrow.com/takingbritainfurther/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Heathrow_Logistics_Brochure_LORES.pdf

 


19 JUN 2017

Chiltern Edge and Benson

Two good news stories. First, great news for Chiltern Edge. I have received a letter as a serious expression of interest from a potential sponsor of the school.  I have already made both the School and OCC aware of it.

Second, at the invitation of the Benson Neighbourhood Plan, I chaired what was a promising meeting between them and developers to try to resolve problems on proposed existing development in the parish.  It was described as open and constructive.


15 JUN 2017

John Howell MP sworn in as MP for the Henley constituency

It was a great privilege to be sworn in at the House of Commons as the MP for the Henley constituency. I look forward to continuing the public service I have shown over the last few years.


14 JUN 2017

John Howell MP welcomes fall in constituency unemployment figures

I have welcomed the figures announced today that show a drop of 20 in the number of people unemployed in the Henley constituency. The total now stands at 265. This makes the constituency the second best performer in dealing with unemployment in the UK.

What I said was:

"I welcome these figures. While the claimant rate for unemployment across the country is running at 2.6%, this constituency's figure is only 0.6%. In addition, there were only 30 young people unemployed. I am particularly grateful for all employers taking on apprentices and for schools and colleges for promoting apprenticeships."

Unemployed claimants include people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or who are claiming Universal Credit and are required to seek work. The employment rate across the country stands at a record high of 74.8%. The people in work is at the highest level since records began

I added:

"It's great news that yet again we have more people in work nationally than ever before. Over the last 7 years we have been working hard to ensure the economy continues to create jobs – there are 2.9 million more people in work than in 2010. But we know there is more to do – we want to protect and build on this progress to make sure everyone has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they live or their background."

In addition, the number of working age women in employment was over 70% – the joint highest rate ever recorded and the unemployment rate for 18–24 year olds not in full-time education was 10.7% – a joint record low.


28 APR 2017

Two new academies in South Oxfordshire

Two new academies are to be funded in South Oxfordshire. The Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, has agreed to enter into a Funding Agreement to allow Garsington Church of England Primary school, and Horspath Church of England Primary school to become academies with a start date of 1 May 2017.

Academies are an integral part of the Government's education policy to raise attainment for all children and to bring about sustained improvements to all schools.

I said:

"I am pleased that both Garsington and Horspath schools recognise the benefits academy status will bring. I have visited them both. Garsington recently had a good report from Ofsted and Horspath is joining the River Learning Trust. I believe these will protect the sustainability of both schools."


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 8 - World Forum for Democracy

At the Spring Council of Europe I was invited to play a role in taking forward the World Forum for Democracy in 2017.

The objectives are to review novel initiatives and approaches which can enhance democratic practices and help Parties and the media reconnect to citizens. The next in the series of discussion will be "Is Populism a problem".  It is important to remember that this is an initiative which covers the whole of Europe - all of the countries which are members of the Council of Europe.

Dramatic changes in the media - and the rise of social media - present a challenge for democarcy as we know it. New political actors are emerging and they offer new ways of participating in politics. All of this makes a disconnect between citizens and traditiional politics.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 7 - Interpol

I made a seech on the importance of getting interpol right and stopping abuse of the Red Notice system

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I too welcome the report. We face a situation today where our justice system across the board is at risk of being abused. It is not just Interpol, to which I will devote the majority of my speech; it is the European arrest warrant, too. We have already seen how that is being abused by countries such as Poland, which are reported to be using it to issue warrants for parking fines. This is an issue for Interpol. It, too, is being abused. It is important to point out, as the report does, that Interpol is an important part of the fight against serious crime and particularly of the fight against terrorism. It should be used for the important work of sharing information via its own channels among member States. There is much need for that. It plays an important part in cross-border law enforcement. Its databases and the tools it uses are important in dealing with transnational crime, in dealing with dangerous people and indeed in dealing with vulnerable people.

As the report shows, it is the Red Notice system that is being abused. That is a useful system to seek the location and arrest of individuals in certain circumstances. To put that into context, there are now almost 50 000 Red Notices in circulation, some of which are public.

What happens when a Red Notice is misused? It can result in the detention or arrest of an individual. They may be stopped from travelling. It can harm their reputation and increase the stress the feel at being wanted internationally. Therefore, it is important to ensure that it is used correctly.

This report is not the first from this Assembly to draw attention to the way in which the Red Notices are being used. We have already highlighted how that can conflict with human rights and with the need for Interpol to stay out of military, political and religious matters, for example. However, as the report brings out clearly, one of the biggest problems is the lack of ability of anyone served a notice to challenge it before their own national or international courts. The rights that gives Interpol to be above the law is quite considerable and places people who have been targeted politically at a disadvantage. The internal appeals mechanisms are limited and the report rightly calls for reform of that area. It asks that more resource be put into that part of Interpol.

Interpol is a valuable part of our armoury for dealing with organised crime and terrorism. It is important that it works and that it is not abused.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 6 - European values

I looked at the question of antisemitism and Islamaphobia as well as the role of the Liberal Democrats.  There is a hatred in the soul of our country which we need to expunge.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I want to deal with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as two examples of a spirit of hate that pervades society. Let me turn first to anti-Semitism. There has been serious concern about the safety of the Jewish population across Europe in recent years, especially after a series of terror attacks that specifically targeted Jewish communities in France and Belgium. Anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom reached unprecedented levels in 2016, after a 36% rise on the number of incidents in the previous year. Just over 1 309 incidents were reported in 2016 – the highest number on record. The UK has adopted a broad definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organisation backed by 31 countries, in a ground-breaking step towards eradicating anti-Semitism. The definition provides examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests. The definition will be used by police, councils, universities and other public bodies. Guidelines on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism are universally understood and need to be acted on at all times, including by universities.

There needs to be a zero tolerance policy against anti-Semitism. In the United Kingdom, this involves a commitment of more than £13 million for security measures for the Jewish community, to safeguard all Jewish schools, colleges, nurseries, and synagogues, so that we can rid this scourge of hatred from the soul of our country. The first step in defeating anti-Semitism is to define it clearly, so that we remove any doubt about what is unacceptable, and so that no one can plead ignorance or hide behind any kind of excuse.

Two political parties in the United Kingdom have members who have been accused of anti-Semitism, including the Liberal Democrats. I call on them to take a firm stand on this issue. Political parties have to set an example. In the case of Islamophobia, I stress that there is a great role for faith groups in taking this argument forward and dealing with the issue. They may be able to bring about a great deal of calm and tolerance in the current situation.

What stuck with me after the dreadful terror attack on Parliament was not the attack itself, but the group of Imams who got together to say that this terror does not belong to Islam. That made a big impression on me. We need to recognise that communities are not simply blocks of people with the same views. I have worked with Ahmadi Muslims, who are an extremely peaceful group. More education is required; we see the importance of that in Holocaust memorial events, and we need to see it in dealing with this issue across the world.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 5 - N Caucasus

The N Caucasus may seem a long way away but it is essential to keep the pressure up on Russia on human rights

The PRESIDENT – I call Mr Howell, who speaks on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – If I was worried about the North Caucasus before this afternoon, I am even more worried now as a result of this report, which I welcome; I thank the rapporteur for his work.

I am very concerned about the reports of serious human rights violations in the North Caucasus, including abductions, torture and what are called "extrajudicial killings". I firmly encourage Russia to implement European Court of Human Rights judgments relating to the North Caucasus. That would be a vital step towards ending the climate of impunity in the region that means that the Russians can simply do as they wish.

I call for action on individual cases through the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. The recent targeting of LGBT communities in Chechnya is deeply concerning, as others have said and as I mentioned in an earlier sitting. I condemn the mass arrests, detentions and ill treatment of more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation. Reports suggesting that at least three people have been killed and many tortured are particularly shocking. I call on the authorities to investigate promptly and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

I continue to have significant concerns about measures taken under the auspices of tackling terrorism, including the use of registers of Salafi Muslims in Dagestan to round up suspects. I also have concerns about the use of collective punishment in Chechnya, including the burning of houses of the relatives of suspected militants. It is in Russia's interests to address the root cause of conflict and radicalisation in the North Caucasus, including poverty, governance and human rights issues.

Let me give one example. In Dagestan, Russian security forces stand accused of human rights abuses in their operation against insurgents, for example, denying suspects legal representation, destroying houses without offering any compensation and carrying out mass round-ups. In Chechnya, people and their relatives have been ordered to be expelled and their houses destroyed. Human rights activists continue to be at risk. NGOs across the region have reported attacks on their staff in the last year. We need to condemn all of that.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 4 - Corruption, the fate of LGBT men in Chechnya, Bulgaria

I made a seech summarising a number of points - corruption, the fate of LGBT men in Chechnya, Bulgaria. The fate of LGBT men in Chechnya is very worrying and I asked for the Human Rights Commissioner to visit to help stop this.

 

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I would like to start by going back to the question of corruption, the statement on which in the report I found all too brief. This is a really serious issue which affects the whole credibility of this institution. However you look at this issue, I cannot help but think there has been a general weakness in this area, with a lot of burying of heads in the sand. I know it is going to be dealt with, and I of course support the proposals being put forward by Ian Liddell-Grainger. This should not be a witch-hunt, but it should not be a cover-up either. It is very important to make that point.

The rapporteur's report also mentions the revised terms of a general rapporteur for the rights of LGBT people. As has been mentioned in the Assembly today, one country where this issue is of great concern is Chechnya, where, as I understand it, homosexuals are being put to death. I urge the rapporteur to use his good offices to ask the Human Rights Commissioner to go to Chechnya to see for themselves what is going on and to try to stop this situation.

I was supposed to be part of the delegation to monitor the elections in Bulgaria, but was unable to go due to the requirements of my own Parliament. I am glad that the ad hoc committee found that the elections were well conducted. However, it does point out a number of factors which are concerning. The first of these is xenophobia and the role of nationalities. To what extent was xenophobia really present, and how big an impact did it make on the elections? Allied to this is the involvement of foreign powers in the election. We have seen this charge being aimed at Russia for their involvement in, amongst other things, the United States elections. But the question must remain to what extent, if any, they were involved in trying to influence this election.

I appreciate the point the report makes about voter fatigue; I can well understand that, coming from a country that is about to go through another general election. But the fact that TV devoted little time to the elections and to electoral candidates is a worry, if we are ever to get an election in Bulgaria that people feel really matters and that is going to lead to stable government.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 3 - Secretary General

Sticking to the topic of corruption in the Council I posed a question to its Secretary General

The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Secretary General. I call Mr John Howell, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I want to stick with corruption for the moment. We have been faced with issues of corruption since about 2012, and I am sure we would all like to ask what it is that you, personally, have been doing to try to combat them?

Mr JAGLAND – As I told you, I have taken action against any kind of allegation or suspicion of corruption in the Secretariat. There is a person in place in the Secretariat full time to investigate any small allegation or suspicion that corruption has taken place. We have an external audit and an internal audit, so we have a very solid system.

What I cannot do, of course, is start an investigation of the Parliamentary Assembly – that is in the hands of the Assembly itself – but I very much support the approach taken by the Assembly's Secretary General, Wojciech Sawicki, and what he tried to start. I note that the Bureau has followed up on that.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 2 - Chair of committee of ministers

It was essential given the accusations of corruption against the Council to find out from the chair of the Committee of Ministers what their attitude to the Council was and what they were going to do about the Council's budget.

The PRESIDENT – I call John Howell, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Minister, how is corruption within this Assembly seen by the Committee of Ministers? Is the committee happy with how it is being dealt with? Is it correct that you are not happy with it and that you are planning a meeting shortly to consider cutbacks in the budget of this Assembly?

Mr KASOULIDES – I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. First of all, I would like to say that the Council of Europe has a leading role in fighting corruption as corruption poses a major threat to its core values – particularly the rule of law. The allegations of corruption concerning members of the Parliamentary Assembly are a very serious matter, which strikes at the heart of the Council of Europe and its values. The credibility of the whole Organisation is at stake. I trust that your Assembly will initiate an independent external investigation and, if need be, take the action that the situation requires.

On the second part of the honourable gentleman's question, let me first say that the Committee of Ministers has not envisaged and is not at present, as far as I know, planning to envisage taking any actions regarding the budget of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. On the budget itself, making the Organisation more relevant and more flexible and ensuring greater value for money is a clear priority of the Committee of Ministers. Significant progress has been made in this respect through the reform process initiated by the Secretary General in 2009. At a time when Europe is facing major challenges such as terrorism, the ongoing refugee crisis and other threats to democratic security, we must provide the Organisation with the necessary means to address them effectively. The preparation of the next Programme and Budget (2018-2019) has started. No decision has yet been taken on the overall budgetary envelope. A first discussion among member States will take place in early May. I count on your support in national parliaments to ensure that the Organisation receives the financial resources it needs in these challenging times.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 1 - The President

The Spring session of the Council of Europe was dominated by the situation regarding its President, Pedro Agramunt, a senator in the Spanish parliament.

He visited Syria in the company of two other members of the Council and had a meeting with President Assad. The trip was facilitated by the Russians and coincided with the news of the mass gassing of people in Syria. The Council did not know about the visit. The visit has cast the Council, with its emphasis on human rights, in a very bad light.

The Council agreed to hold a special hearing and to ask Mr Agramunt and his associates questions about the visit and I was chosen to be one of seven individuals to ask him questions.

In his statement he said that he was manipulated by certain Russian media outlets. I pointed out that his explanation of this manipulation and that he only had access to Internet at night was inadequate. Why did he not immediately issue a press release at night saying he was there as a Spanish senator and not as the President of the Council and, why did he not inform the Council of Europe that a problem might arise. Thirdly, he had created the impression that he only sought to address the problem after we had flagged it up to him. Fourthly, knowing the difficulty between the Russian Federation and the Council should he have been wiser than to board a Russian jet and put himself in the hands of the Russians.

His response to these questions was dismissive and arrogant and having lost the confidence of the Council I said he should consider his position.


20 APR 2017

Prison Governor Empowerment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I too want to raise the question of governor empowerment. I had the opportunity to discuss this with the governor of HMP Huntercombe in my constituency when I visited it recently. Does my hon. Friend agree that dealing with the risk of increased prisoner complaints which the Committee identified is actually within the control of the prison, as is happening at Huntercombe?

Robert Neill

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution and for his work on the Committee, which has been tireless. Huntercombe is a good example of a prison where the governor is managing within the existing arrangements. We need to see more of that. We should not assume that everything has to be driven from the centre, although minimum standards must be adhered to in a system of complaints management that everyone, including prisoners, can have confidence in. Good governors can and do make a difference, but they must be confident that they have the support of the system and the management of the service in doing that.


20 APR 2017

Question on agriculture

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What progress her Department is making on opening up new markets for British farmers and food producers. [909664]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)

Since 2015, DEFRA has opened or improved terms for over 160 markets for agri-food commodities. Increasing access to markets is a priority set out in the food and drink international action plan. We work with industry to identify and prioritise new markets and increase export value.

John Howell

In my role as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I have recently invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister to come to the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be important to show him the whole of the value chain in agriculture, in which we do so well?

George Eustice

I commend the work that my hon. Friend does in building relations and important trading links with Nigeria, which is an important trading partner. It is also an important market for some fisheries products, including mackerel. I am delighted to hear that he has invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister here to see some of the great work that we do through the supply chain and some of the technology that we use to reduce waste in the supply chain.


19 APR 2017

Prison reform: governor empowerment

The Justice Select Committee has issued a new report entitled "Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance." I welcome the report, a summary of which can be accessed here https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/1123/112303.htm

I also welcome the Government's reforms relating to prison performance and giving more autonomy to prison governors. I had the opportunity of discussing this with the Governor of HMP Huntercombe, Mr David Redhouse, recently in the constituency when I visited the prison.

I said:

"Both David and I were both supportive of the principle of greater governor empowerment. While at Huntecombe I discussed the current situation relating to prisoner queries with prisoners themselves. It was good to see the work which was being undertaken in this context. Huntercombe is of course a specialised prison dealing with foreign prisoners nearing the end of their sentence. However, it was good to see that their needs were acknowledged."

The Committee found a risk of increased prisoner complaints if greater autonomy and deregulation are not balanced with a need for consistently applied minimum standards.  I was pleased to see the hard work which had gone in to this area at Huntercombe.

The Committee pointed to the need to co-ordinate contributions of agencies involved in providing services relating to rehabilitation at a local level, including prisons and probation.

In relation to prison performance, the report points to the need for absolute clarity so that everyone involved can see what is going wrong in a prison. As the Committee report shows, the arrangements proposed do not offer this clarity and further Government clarification is required on the matter.

Under the new reforms, Governors will be accountable through three year performance agreements they sign with the Secretary of State. These are based on four new performance standards which reflect the purpose of prisons included in the Prisons and Courts Bill; public protection; safety and order; reform; and preparing for life after prison. The Committee supports the principle of transparency about what constitutes good performance and looks forward to receiving clarity on how these issues will work.

The report seeks information from the Government in its response on how many Performance agreements have been signed, and how it will proceed if they are not signed.


12 APR 2017

Delivering a better deal for people in the South East

I today praised the Government for the action it has taken in the South East to deliver a better deal for people. I particularly pointed to the rise in employment which was up by over 300,000 and noted that the Henley Constituency was now top of the 650 UK constituencies for dealing with unemployment.

I said:

"4.5 million people in the South-East have more money to take home because of the decisions we have taken such as cutting taxes and freezing fuel duty. Most importantly, there are over 400,000 more apprenticeships in the South-East since 2010 giving young people a good start in life. I am very pleased to have visited some of these within the constituency. While we await the results of the consultation on the Schools National Funding Formula it is worth bearing in mind that over 200,000 children are now attending good or outstanding schools in the South-East and especially within this constituency. On the question of health, I am particularly pleased that there are now 2,197 more hospital doctors and 1,180 more nurses. It is good news."

The major initiatives undertaken across the region include:

MORE PEOPLE IN WORK IN THE SOUTH EAST

Employment is up in the South East by 346,000 since 2010. That's 346,000 more people who are earning a regular wage and better able to provide for their families.

BACKING BUSINESSES IN THE SOUTH EAST

Backing businesses in the South East to create more jobs – so that Britain is the best place in the world to start and grow a business. Our cuts to Corporation Tax, our changes to small business rate relief, and our modern industrial strategy will spread jobs and prosperity across the country as we build a more outward looking, Global Britain – ensuring we are a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

CUTTING TAX FOR WORKING PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH EAST

4.5 million more people in the South East have more money to take home each month because we have cut their income tax. We are helping ordinary working people with everyday costs and bills and cracking down on individuals and businesses who abuse the system – building a fairer economy where everyone plays by the same rules.

Freezing fuel duty – saving drivers in the South East money at the fuel pump. Freezing fuel duty for the seventh successive year will save the average driver in the South East £10 every time they fill up the car.

HELPING YOUNG PEOPLE GET THE SKILLS THEY NEED FOR A GOOD FUTURE

Since 2010, 404,390 people have started an apprenticeship in the South East. Investing in the skills and education young people need is the key to inclusive growth – and central to an economy that works for everyone.

There are 221,000 more children attending good or outstanding schools in the South East than in 2010. We want to provide a good school place for every child so that no matter what their background, they have the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them.

In 2016/17, schools in the South East will receive £287 million through the Pupil Premium. We are giving disadvantaged children the support they need to succeed – ensuring that success is based on merit, not privilege.

SUPPORTING THE LOCAL NHS

There are now 2,197 more hospital doctors and 1,180 more nurses in the South East looking after patients than under Labour, ensuring that people receive the care they deserve. We have the commitment, the will and the economic plan to deliver a sustainable future for the NHS, and have put record investment into our most important public service.

WE ARE INVESTING IN THE SOUTH EAST

Investing £31 million in roads and local transport across the South East. Over the next 12 months, this will support new projects to improve local transport networks to ease congestion, and get goods and people moving around the region that will create an economy that offers better jobs with better pay. Some of the local transport networks include:

  • Improved access to the Enterprise Zone at Westcott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire,
  • Measures to reduce congestion and improve public transport in Newbury,
  • Major maintenance on the A284 and A259 to support development and relieve congestion in Lyminster and Littlehampton, and
  • The Redway Super Route cycling scheme in Milton Keynes.
  • Supporting the South East's regional economy. We are providing £625,000 for strategic transport planning to support local authorities in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor. This builds on the nearly £140 million to develop the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission, that was announced in November.
  • A pay boost for people across the South East. We have raised the National Living Wage to £7.50 an hour to support jobs and earnings across the South East, while strengthened minimum wage enforcement means that workers are paid what they're due.
  • Reducing the cost of childcare in the South East. We recognise that the cost of childcare is an important issue for ordinary working families and can put considerable pressure on household budgets. That's why we are introducing Tax Free Childcare for working families with children under twelve, providing up to £2,000 a year per child to help with childcare costs, and up to £4,000 for disabled children under seventeen.
  • £690 million investment in transport networks. The government has announced that £690 million will be invested between 2018 and 2021 to tackle congested networks. Councils across the South East will be able to bid for this funding to boost local growth and create an economy that offers better jobs, with better pay.


10 APR 2017

John Howell MP welcomes plans to tackle litter across South Oxfordshire

Litter affects us all, it blights our local environment in South Oxfordshire and costs £1,101 to clean-up. That is why, the new Litter Strategy sets out plans to help to tackle this anti-social behaviour, making South Oxfordshire and the Henley constituency a more attractive area and helping our local economy to prosper and grow.

As part of the first national Litter Strategy litter louts could be hit with £150 fines. This will build on measures to better distribute public bins, making it easier to throw away rubbish, and the recommendation that offenders on community sentences help to clear up fly-tipped waste. These plans will make sure in South Oxfordshire we can all enjoy the local environment and it is a clean, healthy place to live and work in.

We want to be the first generation to leave our environment in in a better state than we found it, and tackling litter is an important part of our drive to make this area a better place to live and visit.

I commented:

"Litter is something that affects us all in this area and blights our local environment. I want to make sure South Oxfordshire and the Henley constituency are great places to live in, work in and the local economy can thrive.

"The Litter Strategy will make it easier for people to get rid of litter properly in South Oxfordshire, creating an anti-littering culture and introducing tougher enforcement measures to hit thoughtless litter louts in the pocket.

"We want to make sure we have a nice local environment for us to all enjoy and tackling litter is an important part of our drive to make South Oxfordshire and the Henley constituency a better place to live."

Notes

  • The Litter Strategy will help to address litter across the country. Those who litter could face fines of up to £150.
  • This builds on new measures to cut back on litter including:
  1. Issuing new guidance for councils with ideas for updating the nation's 'binfrastructure' through creative new designs and better distribution of public litter bins, making it easier for people to throw away their rubbish
  2. Recommending that offenders on community sentences, including people caught fly-tipping, help councils to clear up litter and fly-tipped waste
  3. Working with Highways England to target the 25 worst litter hotspots across our road network to deliver long-lasting improvements to cleanliness
  4. Creating a 'green generation' by educating children to lead the fight against litter through an increased number of Eco-Schools and boosting participation in 'national clean up days'
  5. Creating a new expert group to look at further ways of cutting the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles and drinks containers, cigarette ends and fast food packaging. The group's first task will be to consider evidence from schemes that reward the return of plastic bottles and drinks containers.


04 APR 2017

John Howell MP welcomes new income boost for ordinary working families in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the news that ordinary working families in the Henley constituency are set to benefit from a range of Government measures coming into effect this week. From today (April 3), the tax-free personal allowance will rise for the seventh year to £11,500, benefitting around 50,431 people in the Henley constituency and meaning a typical basic rate taxpayer will pay a full £1,000 less income tax than in 2010.

As a result of our changes to the personal allowance and higher rate threshold, 4,590,000 individuals in the South East gain on average £205 and a total of 174,000 individuals will have been taken out of income tax altogether, compared to 2015-16.

In addition:

  • The National Living Wage – which delivered a pay rise to a million people last year – will rise again to £7.50: an income boost of over £500 for a full time worker in the Henley constituency.
  • The Government will provide up to £2,000 a year per child through the roll out of tax-free childcare, to help with childcare costs for families in the Henley constituency.
  • Hard-pressed savers will get a boost, with access our new market-leading NS&I bond which will pay 2.2% on deposits up to £3,000.

I said:

'We've come a long way in the last seven years – there are 2.8 million more people in work, unemployment is at its lowest for twelve years and we've cut income tax for over 30 million people. But there is more to do to help people locally and across the UK feel the benefits of the recovery, and make ends meet.

'By giving the lowest paid a wage boost, taking more people out of income tax, boosting savings and helping with the cost of childcare, we're putting ordinary working people at the heart of our plan for Britain: to build a stronger, fairer economy that works for everyone'.

Notes

  • The Personal Allowance is rising to £11,500 from Thursday 6 April 2017. The personal allowance is rising from £11,000 and will increase to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament. Since 2010, the government has taken action to reduce taxes and enable working people to keep more of what they earn. We are building on this progress by increasing the personal allowance by more than inflation for the seventh consecutive year (HM Treasury, Income Tax: personal allowance and basic rate limit for 2017 to 2018, 16 March 2016, link; HM Treasury, Spring Budget 2017, 8 March 2017, link).
  • Helping people keep more of what they earn. 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 tax cut for 31 million people since 2010 and taking 1.3 million people out of income tax altogether (HM Treasury, Autumn Statement 2016, 23 November 2016, link; HM Treasury, Spring Budget 2017, 8 March 2017, link).


01 APR 2017

Another Personal Manifesto Commitment: broadband

Digital infrastructure is critical to the future of our economy and the Government is working hard to ensure high-speed, high-quality broadband is rolled out to every home and business in the country with the help of the County Council. Superfast broadband would now appear to be available to 92% of premises nationally.

I said:

"Ensuring that broadband is accessible to this constituency was a personal manifesto commitment for me in 2015 and I am pleased to set out how we are doing in this. The amount of Government funding so far has come to over £8 million.

"By taking-up superfast broadband, consumers get a better service and it also encourages providers to invest. When more people sign up in areas covered by the Government-funded Superfast Broadband Programme, more money is made available for additional investment locally. I thank the County Council for the work they do to make this happen.

"I would also like to thank Peter Richardson, a Howe Hill resident, and those who have been working with him for arranging the new wireless equipment which was installed on the TVP Masts at Britwell Hill. This provides wireless connectivity for broadband immediately with the mast and fibre at Stonor Park. The first community to use this link starts next week. I was happy to join in at Stonor Park to help launch the project. This provides another source of fast broadband to many of those outside BT's current reach."

Locally, the details are as follows:

  • The Government funded BDUK programme has made superfast broadband available to 22,431 homes and businesses.
  • Current superfast coverage, both funded by Government and delivered commercially is 89.2%
  • Estimated superfast coverage by December 2017 will be 90.2%
  • A list of postcodes in the constituency which have benefited from newly available coverage between October and December can be found at the end of this information.

By 2020 everyone can request a connection of at least 10Mbps. That is around half the speed of superfast broadband, but still quick enough to download a half-hour TV show in two minutes.

Constituents can check the availability of superfast broadband services for specific homes and businesses at http://gosuperfastchecker.culture.gov.uk/ from where they will be directed to available superfast broadband providers. In the recent Budget we announced a £200 million investment fund to enable local bodies to fund full fibre connections in their area. This will include gigabit-speed business connection vouchers, stimulating the economy and creating jobs, and installing full fibre broadband to public buildings which in turn, will stimulate investment by suppliers in those areas. We are also providing funding for trials of 5G, including investment in a national 5G Infrastructure Hub that will provide the necessary infrastructure for the forthcoming testbeds and trials.

For those with very poor broadband the Better Broadband Scheme provides access to a subsidised broadband connection for homes and businesses which are unable to access a basic broadband speed of at least 2Mbps. This provides access to satellite broadband across the whole of the UK, and also to wireless, fixed 4G or community fibre broadband in some areas of the country. Further details are at http://basicbroadbandchecker.culture.gov.uk/

Appendix 1: Postcodes with the newly available superfast coverage between October and December 2016.

OX14 3BT, OX14 3DA, OX14 3DD, OX14 3EB, OX33 1LH, OX33 1PR, OX33 1PS, OX33 1PT, OX33 1PU, OX33 1PX, OX33 1PY, OX33 1PZ, OX33 1QA, OX33 1QB, OX33 1UU, OX33 1XE, OX33 1XH, OX33 1YJ, OX33 1YS, OX33 1YT, RG4 9AP, RG4 9AR, RG4 9AS, RG4 9AT, RG4 9AU, RG4 9AX, RG4 9AY, RG4 9AZ, RG4 9BA, RG4 9BB, RG4 9BE, RG4 9BH, RG4 9BJ, RG4 9BL, RG4 9EB, RG4 9EE, RG4 9HA, RG4 9HB, RG9 4PG, RG9 4PN, RG9 4QB, RG9 5RR, RG9 5RS, RG9 5RT, RG9 5RU, RG9 5RX, RG9 5RY, RG9 5SB, RG9 5SE, RG9 5SH, RG9 5SJ, RG9 6DP, RG9 6DR, RG9 6DS, RG9 6DT, RG9 6DX


30 MAR 2017

Challenge to Government over Crown Dependencies and Brexit

As a member of the Justice Select Committee, we have just issued another Report ("Implications of Brexit for the Crown Dependencies") which challenges the Government to ensure that the priorities of Crown Dependencies such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are looked after during Brexit. The Report points out that financial services, agriculture and fisheries are key concerns of the islands.

None of them are part of the UK and they are not part of the EU either. However, Brexit will affect them all the same. One area which is of concern to them is the preservation of their existing relationship with the UK and especially the constitutional relationship. That is why the Report asks the Government to reaffirm that there will no change in that relationship.

I said:

"Maintaining an engagement with the Government during the Brexit negotiations will be essential. Not least to ensure that interests do not diverge. This is why we ask the UK Government to be clear about how it will represent the interests of the Crown Dependencies especially where they differ from the UK."


29 MAR 2017

Testing the ground for archaeology: question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The levels are very important because they often have quite sensitive archaeology. Would the Bill affect that in the slightest?

Kevin Foster

My understanding from the promoters of the Bill is that it is about the framework for the management of the levels and the waterways, rather than specific developments or projects. If the commissioners decided to pursue such things, they would have to go through the usual process to get permission. Given the historical nature of some of these sites, that could involve an extensive consideration of archaeological impact.

 

(Picture from Archaeology Image Bank)


28 MAR 2017

Regenerating our towns question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend think that the transformation of shops and offices into homes can regenerate town centres?

John Redwood

Yes, it can, with the right mixture. Some offices may need to be transformed into homes and a broader retail offer, with a higher proportion of coffee shops, restaurants and so on, may need to be made. If more people are living in flats or smaller properties that they can afford in the town centre, they may well then make more use of the town in the evening, and the range of services and the life of the town is thus extended beyond the traditional shopping hours during the day. I am sure the Minister understands all that. I hope he will see how he can develop other ways to ensure that our planning system for commercial property is sufficiently flexible to allow residential use where that is the best answer and to ensure flexible use patterns in the commercial property that we have, as massive change will be needed.

The planning system of course has to be there to protect the things that the community legitimately wants to protect, so we do not want non-conforming uses in certain areas and we certainly do not want bad or noisy neighbours, who may be regulated by planning or by other general laws on nuisance. Within that, we need maximum flexibility so that commercial owners and managers can adapt or change the use of their premises, or swap them for a more appropriate property for their use. If the planning system can facilitate that, it will greatly improve our flexibility as an economy, meaning that we can modernise more rapidly and move on to a more productive world, which is the main feature of the Chancellor's policies for our economy.


28 MAR 2017

Iran's supporting of terror question

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What recent reports he has received on the expansion of Hezbollah's weapons arsenal.

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

We are aware of reports that Hezbollah continues to amass an arsenal of weapons, which is in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701. In addition to Hezbollah's interference in Syria, there is also a risk of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah returning. If what happened in 2006 were repeated, it would not just devastate Lebanon but be hugely destabilising for the region.

John Howell

I thank the Minister for his response. Earlier this month, Iran's Defence Minister said that Hezbollah is now capable of producing rockets that can hit any part of Israel, and reports have emerged that Iran has established rocket factories under the control of Hezbollah. What steps is he taking to stop Iran's unconstrained financing of terror?

 

The involvement of Iran through proxy influences across the region is of huge concern, not least in Lebanon, and we are looking at these reports very carefully indeed. I should also say that Hezbollah, which has a political involvement as part of the Government in Lebanon, needs to move forward and be more constructive. It is thanks to disruption by Hezbollah and its blocking decisions in the Lebanese Government that the country was without a president for two years.


28 MAR 2017

My comments on why a National Bus strategy unhelpful

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting distinction between buses and trains. Surely the point is that there are policy initiatives the Government could take, for example on access for disabled people, but that does not mean that a national strategy will take away from the requirements of a local strategy, which is what the buses are based on.

Mrs Miller

I am not arguing against having local strategies, but a number of issues to do with the provision of services have a national resonance. The Government have identified this problem in the provisions on information that is available to bus passengers when they are on buses. That is nationally applicable. I am simply asking the Minister whether he will confirm what further thoughts he has given to ensuring that what is good enough for train operators is good enough for bus operators in respect of disability access.

 


27 MAR 2017

Question to DWP on mental health and employers

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

Ensuring that people with mental health conditions are able to start businesses and also remain in business is very important. What is the Minister doing to encourage employers to make that a possibility? [909495]

Damian Green

My hon. Friend is right. We are taking action through Access to Work and Disability Confident, which I mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), but this needs to be part of a much wider programme of education specifically for employers. We have set up a Disability Confident business leaders group because I suspect that employers will listen more to other business people than they necessarily will to politicians.


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.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

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

-----------------------------------------------------

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.

------------------------------------------------------------------

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.

xxxxxxx

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.

xxxxxxx

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 H