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.

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John Howell

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

Mrs Main

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


15 MAR 2017

Question in statement on Daesh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Priti Patel

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


15 MAR 2017

Henley unemployment ‘top of the class’

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

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

John said:

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


15 MAR 2017

Intervention in debate on detention of vulnerable adults

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Anne McLaughlin

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


10 MAR 2017

Nigeria - the business opportunities and challenges

PwC Press Release

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

John Howell MP, commented:

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

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

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

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

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

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


09 MAR 2017

My intervention on broadband

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Matt Warman

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


08 MAR 2017

Contributions in a debate on hare coursing

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

John Glen

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

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John Howell

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

Joanna Cherry

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


07 JUL 2016

John Howell MP BACKS CANCER CAMPAIGN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


07 JUL 2016

Contribution in a debate on electric cars

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Neil Parish

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


05 JUL 2016

My question on health

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

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt)

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

John Howell

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

Mr Hunt

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


04 JUL 2016

My speech in debate about court and tribunal fees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


04 JUL 2016

My education question today

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Gibb

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


01 JUL 2016

Interventions on homicide debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Alex Chalk

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

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John Howell

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

Philip Davies

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


30 JUN 2016

Question on the Henley regatta

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

Chris Grayling

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


29 JUN 2016

Intervention on the debate on alcohol guidelines

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Byron Davies

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


29 JUN 2016

Intervention in debate on Bangladesh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Simon Danczuk

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


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 6 - no to fear of terrorism

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


25 JUN 2016

Oxford research team opens lab for diabetes week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Working with the police

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Statement on the referendum

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 5 - violence against migrants

 

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

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

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 4 - transparency and openness

 

 

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

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

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

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 3 - culture and democracy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 2 - sexualisation of children

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

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

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


25 JUN 2016

Council of Europe 1 - Greece

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

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

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


15 JUN 2016

Interventions in the debate on jobs in the developing world

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Jeremy Lefroy

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

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John Howell

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

Chris Evans

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

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Sir Desmond Swayne

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

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


12 JUN 2016

MPs meet NATS re aircraft noise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


09 JUN 2016

My speech in the debate on still birth

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Howell

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

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

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

John Howell

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


09 JUN 2016

Question to Sec of State for Culture

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

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

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

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

John Howell

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

Mr Whittingdale

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


09 JUN 2016

Intervention on Southern Health

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Suella Fernandes

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


09 JUN 2016

Intervention in diabetes debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab)

indicated dissent.

John Howell

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

Paula Sherriff

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

Liz McInnes

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

John Howell

I did mean type 2 diabetes.


22 MAY 2016

Universal Broadband Service Obligation

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

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

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

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

I said:

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

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


22 MAY 2016

Mobile coverage in OX10 6 area

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

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

I said:

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

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

I said:

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


14 MAY 2016

Goring Neighbourhood Plan Exhibition

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

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

I said:

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


10 MAY 2016

New amendment on child refugees

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

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

I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I added:

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


10 MAY 2016

Question to Education Secretary

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Nicky Morgan

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


03 MAY 2016

Latest In Touch

You can read my latest In Touch here


29 APR 2016

My speech on autism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP)

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

John Howell

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

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


27 APR 2016

My speech on ambulatory care

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

That this House has considered the use of ambulatory care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con)

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab)

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

Ben Gummer

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

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

Question put and agreed to


26 APR 2016

My comments in the BHS statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Anna Soubry

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


25 APR 2016

John Howell MP: Welcomes crime falling to a new low

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

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

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

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

Notes

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


23 APR 2016

My expenses

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

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

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


23 APR 2016

Speech on the WHO

Speech to Council of Europe on the WHO

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

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

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


23 APR 2016

Speech on terrorism and Brussels

Speech to Council of Europe on terrorism and Brussels

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

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

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

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


23 APR 2016

Speech on Ukraine-Russia

Speech to Council of Europe on Ukraine-Russia

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

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

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


23 APR 2016

Speech on antisemitism

Speech on antisemitism to the Council of Europe

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

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

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

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


23 APR 2016

Speech on radicalisation of young people

Speech to Council of Europe

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

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

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


09 APR 2016

I welcome cash for councils to fill potholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


09 APR 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


02 APR 2016

The Living Wage

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

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

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

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

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

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


02 APR 2016

Academies

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

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

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

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

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

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


27 MAR 2016

MP comments on air quality study

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

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

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

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

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

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


27 MAR 2016

NHS England supports reducing time spent in hospital

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

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

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

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

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


27 MAR 2016

Two local schools receive CIF funding

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

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

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

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

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


22 MAR 2016

Speech in CLG debate on the budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


20 MAR 2016

My question on Townlands Hospital

Question to the Leader of the House

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

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


16 MAR 2016

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

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

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

This Budget put the next generation first by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


16 MAR 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


16 MAR 2016

Henley Constituency remains best in the UK for dealing with unemployment

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

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

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

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


15 MAR 2016

My intervention in the debate on Engineering and Design

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

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

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

John Howell:Touché!


15 MAR 2016

Changes to ESA

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

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

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

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


15 MAR 2016

John Howell MP welcomes National Apprenticeship Week in the Henley constituency

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

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

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

I want to give young people the chance to get the skills that they need to get on in life. That's why I am supporting the Government's commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and congratulate every college and business locally that has taken on an apprentice.

The Government is driving up the standards of apprenticeships and introducing new routes into the professions. The recent figures show that we are making progress towards our goal.

The Government also plans to launch the new independent, employer led, Institute for Apprenticeships. The Institute will regulate the quality of apprenticeships in England, taking on responsibility for approving new apprenticeship standards and assessment plans. Only standards that are valued by employers will be approved and funded.


02 MAR 2016

My speech on end of life care

John Howell (Henley) (Con):It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate today. A number of common themes run through the debate, the first of which is the fact that most people want to die in their own beds. Before coming to this debate, I tried to find some statistics on the subject. I trawled through a whole lot of figures on the internet, and what I came up with was the fact that 70% of us want to die in our own beds, yet 60% of people die in hospital.

Why is there such a discrepancy in the figures? Is it a ridiculous aspiration for 70% of us to want to die in our beds, or do we need to be better at organising end of life care services? The evidence from the Netherlands suggests that the latter is the case—we need to be better at organising end of life care services. In particular, there needs to be more emphasis on the social care aspect, the reorganisation of that and its delivery.

What does that come down to in practice? The issue came to the fore in my constituency with the re-provision of a hospital in Henley, the Townlands hospital. The hospital will be re-provided with a greater range of services for people to access and a limited number of beds at the side of the hospital in a care home. The gap is being taken up by a system that has come to be called ambulatory care, involving greater use of social care packages. This follows a change in practice, where the aim is to reduce the number of beds and keep people out of hospital for as long as possible.

Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con):My own father died at home. The Government's response to the report states that a priority is to ensure that families are kept in the loop in the final days, but in our case, we did not know it was my father's final days. A nurse turned up on the last day with an end of life care kit. In front of my father she said, "Here's the end of life care kit," and he died a few hours later. Does my hon. Friend agree that better communication is needed with those who want to die at home?

John Howell:I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As many hon. Members know, I recently lost my mother. Contrary to what I said earlier, she died in hospital, but I have to say that the services provided were exemplary. We were taken into the thinking of the clinicians as her illness progressed, we were told exactly what would happen, and this led to a greater feeling of comfort with the whole process when she eventually died. I am reconciled with the idea that it was what she wanted. That fits in with the idea of personal choice, where that is possible. In my mother's case it was not possible because of the illness, but I do not know the circumstances of my hon. Friend's case. It is something that needs to be borne in mind.

There are still those locally who cannot see that the best interests are served by reducing unnecessary admissions to hospital and moving people out of hospital as soon as possible. I have listened to the clinical advice and the clinical evidence that this is the best way to go. Hospitals, contrary to what they may seem, are not necessarily healthy institutions. Even a short stay reduces the ability of muscles to function and affects quality of life. I spoke to the Alzheimer's Society about this. The evidence was clear: although admission to hospital or, better still, to care homes will inevitably be required, the best advice was to keep people out of hospital for as long as possible. That was true even in the case of people suffering from Alzheimer's.

This approach is not just about providing services to those who need periodic treatment, especially end of life care. It demands a revolution in the way that social care is provided. I am a great advocate of integrated social care and healthcare, and I have heard from doctors about the way in which they decide on the services to be provided. When somebody presents to them with an illness, whatever it might be, the choices are a medical solution—they can be shipped off to hospital or given a prescription—or a social care solution. The feedback I have received from doctors is that they do not have control over the social care aspect, they cannot provide the services and it is very difficult for individuals to access those services, particularly at weekends.

We need this revolution for better control of social care by clinical commissioning groups. We need this revolution for the better use of providing medicine in the home, for example by using internet services, as has been mentioned, which I think is a magnificent way to go. We need this revolution for the timeliness of the provision of services. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) that we need to work across organisations to get this right, including those in the charity sector. If we do that, we can get a really integrated approach.


02 MAR 2016

My intervention in the Science debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con):As my hon. Friend knows, my constituency houses one of the centres for fusion technology. In the context of her remarks, I wonder what she has recommended in relation to taking that forward and helping to develop it.

Nicola Blackwood:My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be proud of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. I have visited it on more than one occasion. One of the fundamental proposals that we have made is to increase R and D investment in the UK. If he will listen a little further, he will hear exactly what we have proposed to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in that particular area of research.


02 MAR 2016

My question on refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the position she has taken in this crisis. I urge her to continue to put the emphasis on the refugee camps, which will have a big destabilisation effect in places such as Jordan. I wonder, given the expertise of her Department, whether she can say a little more about the technical assistance she is providing to Greece.

Justine Greening:It is in several different areas. Part of it is more Home Office-related assistance on border management, and part of it is humanitarian, working through UNHCR and, latterly, assisting UNICEF on child protection. Although we often focus on the amounts of aid we are giving, the most effective aid is often technical assistance, which is very cost-effective and highly effective in terms of outcomes.


29 FEB 2016

Sunday trading for the 21st Century

I co-signed a new letter to the Sunday Telegraph and a report from the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), 'Sunday trading for the 21st Century', supporting the government's plans to devolve power to local authorities over Sunday trading rules.

Nowadays people rightly expect greater flexibility in all aspects of their lives. Being able to shop when it's convenient is one such freedom. Yet whilst times and attitudes have changed, Sunday Trading laws have stayed the same. British high streets and physical retailers have been left trying to compete with 24/7 online shopping. A task which is made harder by a shortened trading day at the weekend, just when many families might hope to go shopping together.

The trend across Europe is for liberalising Sunday trading laws. A comparison of European countries where trading laws had been relaxed or removed found that the changes resulted in a 7-9% net increase in employment. Consumers will also benefit from greater flexibility around when to shop and high streets will be a more enjoyable place to be on Sundays.

I believe that the time is right to give local communities a choice about whether shops should be allowed to extend their Sunday trading hours in England; just as is already the case in Scotland. This position is endorsed by 39 of my fellow MPs and over one hundred council leaders who have written to the Communities Secretary to support the Government's proposals. It is right that local communities and their leaders be given more control over powers for their high streets. It could have a big effect throughout the constituency.

Today's report notes that in addition to helping our constituents shop at times more convenient to them, modernised trading laws could also provide economic benefits worth £1.4 billion per year to the overall UK economy and £64 to each family in this country. These are benefits that will be welcomed by hard working families and communities across England and Wales.


24 FEB 2016

Henley MP supports AlzheimerÂ’s SocietyÂ’s Fix Dementia Care campaign

On Wednesday 10 February I joined over 160 other MPs at the launch of Alzheimer's Society's new campaign Fix Dementia Care which calls for improvements in hospital care for people living with dementia.

MPs gathered in Westminster to call for greater transparency across the NHS following an Alzheimer's Society investigation which found too many people with dementia are falling while in hospital, being discharged at night or being marooned in hospital despite their medical treatment having finished. Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) carried out by the charity found that in 2014-15:

  • 28% of people over the age of 65 who fell in hospital had dementia - but this was as high as 71% in the worst performing hospital trust In 68 trusts that responded to this FOI (41%), 4,926 people with dementia were discharged between the hours of 11pm and 6am In the worst performing hospitals, people with dementia were found to be staying five to seven times longer than other patients over the age of 65

Good hospital care for people with dementia should never be a throw of the dice – yet in some hospitals people are routinely experiencing the consequences of poor care.  Alheimer's Society were in Westminster to urge MPs to back their new Fix Dementia Care campaign to end the postcode lottery on the quality of hospital care people with dementia face. The first step to improving the issue across the country is greater transparency - once we know where the shortcomings are we can take steps to tackle them.

George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer's Society said: "We must put a stop to the culture where it's easier to find out about your local hospital finances than the quality of care you'll receive if you have dementia. We are encouraging everyone to get behind our campaign to improve transparency and raise the bar on quality."

"Poor care can have devastating, life-changing consequences. Becoming malnourished because you can't communicate to hospital staff that you are hungry, or falling and breaking a hip because you're confused and no-one's around to help, can affect whether you stand any chance of returning to your own home or not.

"We are delighted to have been able to engage over 160 MPs in one day. John has a huge influence in the Henley constituency and we hope he will use this opportunity to take action and improve the care for people living with dementia."

The campaign is making the following recommendations to fix dementia care:

All hospitals to publish an annual statement of dementia care, which includes feedback from patients with dementia, helping to raise standards of care across the country

The regulators, Monitor and the Care Quality Commission to include standards of dementia care in their assessments

Alzheimer's Society is calling on people to back the Fix Dementia Care campaign by signing up at www.alzheimers.org.uk/fixhospitalcare


24 FEB 2016

My question at Welsh questions today

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Does the Minister share my view that a prime mover behind rebalancing the economy is the sense of fairness? Does he agree that the action taken by the Government in freeing generations of people in constituencies throughout Wales is about making the best use of their talents? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker:Order. The House and the nation should have heard Mr Howell, and I fear they might not adequately have done so. [Interruption.] No, it will do for today—as long as the Secretary of State heard. But courtesy dictates.

Stephen Crabb:I did not hear the full question, but what I did hear was a really important point about fairness when it comes to rebalancing the economy. Unlike previous Labour Governments, who stood by while the economy of the United Kingdom became hopelessly imbalanced towards London and the south-east, we do not think that is good enough. We think that there are talents and resources in the north of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the west of England that need to be captured and enhanced to drive growth in the UK.


11 FEB 2016

My important intervention in the debate on local councils funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that within this process councils are still required to do things in a fundamentally different way, such as setting up trading joint ventures, as one county council told me it had done on Monday, or looking at Uber-type services for buses?

Greg Clark: Yes, councils should take the opportunities to be innovative. My hon. Friend and I served on the Committee on the Bill that became the Localism Act 2011, which introduced a general power of competence for local councils precisely so that they could take decisions in the interests of their residents and contribute effectively.


10 FEB 2016

Local MP is quizmaster in the WorldÂ’s Biggest Pub Quiz

On Sunday (7th February) The Crown in Sydenham played host to a PubAid Quiz and I took up the role of quizmaster.

The event was part of a national challenge by PubAid to break the world record for the largest multi-venue quiz. It was estimated that 30,000 pub goers would join the bid for the World Record and raise £100,000. More than 20 other MPs also acted as quizmasters for the event in their locals. In Sydenham they decided to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society and the teams raised over £250.

I thoroughly enjoyed being quizmaster for the evening. It was a great event and I think that everyone had a good time while raising money for charity. I take my hat off to PubAid for a brilliant idea and for getting so many people involved across the county.

Local resident Des O'Flanagan is one of the founders of PubAid which works alongside the press and via social media to showcase the great work that pubs and their customers do for charity in raising over £100,000,000 every year.


08 FEB 2016

My question in the local government finance statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his pragmatic approach to these issues. He rightly points out that demographic pressures affect different areas in different ways. When does he expect the needs review to be completed, and what role will the figures obtained from that play in any closer integration of social care with the NHS?

Greg Clark:I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who was of considerable assistance to me when we consulted on the national planning policy framework, and we were able to make sensible responses to that consultation too. I am keen to get the review under way as soon as possible so that it can inform not only business rates retention but other decisions the Government have to take from time to time about rural areas and the different needs of different areas. The sooner it is done, the better, and I will set out in the coming weeks the process involved, so that colleagues across the House can contribute.


08 FEB 2016

John Howell MP supported World Cancer Day 2016

I attended an event in Parliament on Wednesday 3 February to show his support for World Cancer Day on February 4, 2016.

I met with representatives from four of the UK's leading cancer charities who are working together to unite the nation and help transform the lives of millions of people who are affected by cancer.

Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and the Movember Foundation called on people to show their support by wearing a Unity Band with pride on February 4.

The Unity Band is made of two parts, knotted together, to represent strength in unity and the power of what can be achieved when people come together.

The Unity Bands are available from each charity in their own colours at www.worldcancerday.co.uk for a suggested donation of £2. All money raised from the Unity Bands will go towards the charities' individual research projects and support services.

One in two people born in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime.

February 4 was World Cancer Day and I called on people in the Henley constituency to join me by wearing a Unity Band, making a donation or spreading the word on social media.

Whether you want to celebrate people who have overcome cancer, show solidarity to those going through treatment or remember loved ones – World Cancer Day was a chance to get involved and help reduce the impact of cancer on future generations.

Collectively the four charities support millions of people every year through their individual work in the prevention, detection, treatment and support of those affected by cancer.

Money raised from the Unity Bands will fund breakthroughs in scientific research; save and improve the lives of people with blood cancers; provide high quality care, support and information for people with breast cancer, and fund research and support services to tackle prostate and testicular cancer.

By joining together this World Cancer Day, they aimed to show that a small action taken by many will transform our future.

For more information, to get any of the charities' Unity Bands or make a donation visit www.worldcancerday.co.uk


02 FEB 2016

MEDIA STATEMENT ON TOWNLANDS HOSPITAL, HENLEY

I was concerned to read the headlines in the Henley Standard last week about Townlands Hospital. I have, therefore, spoken directly to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) regarding the matters raised in the article.

My understanding was that there was always an intention to have a phased implementation plan for the RACU service after opening and note that this is recorded in the CCG September Board Minutes. Initially the RACU was to start operating from December. We have long known about the slip in this due to building delays. However there were no precise timescales given from opening to full operation. What is now being reported is speculation which I think represents a worst case scenario. I am concerned to see the whole facility fully operational as soon as possible.

In order to avoid any undue speculation or confusion I have asked the CCG to provide more clarity for the wider community on the expected timeline by which patients will be able to access the new service.

In response to concerns over the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group I have suggested to the CCG that they appoint an independent chair to the Group. I believe that this would help allay the alleged concern that the group is a 'PR machine for the commissioning group'. The CCG has accepted my proposal and will now seek to identify a suitably independent person.

I am pleased to learn that there will be an opportunity for the Stakeholder Reference Group to visit the facility before it opens and that there will also be a drop-in session for members of the public after opening. This will enable us all to see the new provision and make up our own minds..


01 FEB 2016

Nagorno-Karaback

John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for Henley and a newly appointed member of the Council of Europe, was appointed spokesman for the European Conservative Group on the question of the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The MP addressed the plenary session of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and said:

I am concerned at the recent escalation of violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. However the issue of resolving the crisis between the two countries has been given to the Minsk Process under the chairmanships of Russia, France and the US. The Council of Europe should support that process and all delegations should cooperate as the only way of getting to the truth.

The Council of Europe voted not to adopt a report which was generally seen as being biased in favour of Azerbaijan.


01 FEB 2016

Attacks on women in Cologne

John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for Henley and a member of the Council of Europe, gave a speech to the Council of Europe this morning in Strasbourg on the subject of the recent attacks on women and the attitude of the media to these attacks. The debate was initiated by the European Conservative Group.

The attacks on women in Cologne and other cities was absolutely dreadful. However, it took the media, including the BBC, a long time to cover them and to report. If there is not timely reporting of crimes such as these, however unpalatable and contrary to political correctness, it fuels suspicion. The Council should conduct an investigation into why media outlets delayed reporting to the public what the truth of these dreadful attacks on women were and who conducted them.


23 JAN 2016

MP signs Broadbad report

Today I co-signed a new report from the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG) revealing that despite £1.7bn of taxpayers' cash being pumped into subsidising the construction of UK high-speed broadband, there are still a staggering 5.7million people across Britain who cannot access the internet at the Ofcom required 10 Megabits per second.

In 2016 people rightly expect access to high-speed internet connections. Whether at home or work, fast broadband should be a reality in all our communities. Sadly, this is not yet the case. In the Henley constituency, people are dealing with some really poor connections and gaps in services. In fact the constituency falls into the bottom 10% of seats for the availability of superfast connections

Today's report, 'BroadBad', calls on the regulator Ofcom to take radical action over the 'natural monopoly' too long enjoyed by BT Openreach. The comprehensive report, which details connection speeds in every part of the country, argues that given our modern economy being so reliant on the internet, it is time to stop being held back by BT's lack of ambition and underinvestment.

I believe Britain should be leading the world in digital innovation. Yet instead the Britain suffers from having a BT run monopoly clinging to outdated copper technology with no proper long-term plan for the future. Britain needs to start converting to a fully fibre network so it is not left behind the other nations who are rushing to embrace digital advancement.

However, Britain will only achieve this by taking action to open up the sector. Given all the delays and missed deadlines, I believe that only a formal separation of BT from Openreach, combined with fresh competition and a concerted ambition to deliver, will now create the broadband service that our constituents and businesses so rightly demand.


21 JAN 2016

Intervention on health of women on IVF

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I thought I would get an intervention in while the hon. Lady was in the mood for taking them. I appreciate that she is talking about women who are going through IVF, but has she considered the health effects on women who want IVF but are prevented from doing so due to their age?

Siobhain McDonagh: I have no comments in my speech that address the hon. Gentleman's concerns about age and effectiveness. I mostly want to ask the Minister, and through her the Department of Health, to consider how figures are recorded, what the practice is and how we can improve on what is now a 26-year-old Act.


21 JAN 2016

My speech yesterday on youth justice

John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), and I am glad that she has secured this debate. As I mentioned in my intervention, the Select Committee on Justice, including the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer), has been investigating the experience of young adults in custody. A key point raised in that inquiry is that the distinction we make between young adults and youths is meaningless. The development of the brain is such that, at times, there are many people who are much more mature for their age and many people who are less mature for their age. Although those people will be treated as young adults in the prison system, they should be treated as if they were much younger. That is an important point that the hon. Member for Bradford South needs to take into account.

Yesterday we held an important informal seminar that was attended by a number of parents of people who were under 18 when they first committed their offences, some of whom have died in custody. It was very sad and moving to listen to their testimony. There were also young people who had been in custody, and it was clear that some of them should really have been treated as youths during that period.

One of the key points to come out was the issue of mental illness. I do not think that the prison system understands mental illness in its complexities or recognises it in individuals when they present with it. We even heard examples of where people had presented with some forrm of mental illness to start with and their records had been flagged up, but where nobody had had the time to check what the flag meant. If someone had checked that, they would have seen that there was some mental illness attached to that person and would have taken different action while they were in custody.

As I am sure the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston would agree, it was a very moving experience to listen to those testimonies from individuals and to hear the real experience of people who had been through the loss of a son or a daughter—in many cases they were sons rather than daughters—and the reasons for that. The point the hon. Lady made about mental health is a very good one, and it is one that we need our prison system to be more flexible in identifying, picking up and dealing with.

With that, I will leave my remarks there.

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab) rose—

John Howell: Sorry, I will happily give way.

Jo Stevens: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me in at the last minute. I am glad that he has raised the issue of the mental health of prisoners, because the prison ombudsman's report, which I think came out today or yesterday, has highlighted that very issue—in relation, obviously, not only to children in prison, but to adults as well—and the lack of mental health services for prisoners. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it should be a priority for the current Government to address what are clearly failings in the current system?

John Howell: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I do not want to make this a party political piece; it is a duty of all Governments to identify the need for mental health services and to take that issue forward. She makes a valid point.

We also met some people who were dealing with this issue—for example, an organisation called A Band of Brothers—by taking young people in, giving them a role in life and helping them to overcome some of the difficulties they had experienced, including some of the mental health difficulties. I am therefore not saying that it is a forlorn hope that mental health will be dealt with: there are many different ways of dealing with it, and we saw some of those yesterday. I hope that the report we produce will be able to address some of them in the future.


20 JAN 2016

John Howell MP promoted to Trade Envoy

I have been appointed by the Prime Minister to be his Trade Envoy to Nigeria.

Trade Minister Lord Maude said:

"To move the needle on exports and meet our commitments we need to do things differently. We want to make the UK the easiest country in the world to do trade with by making it easier, faster and simpler for more UK businesses to start exporting, generating a more vibrant export support marketplace, and giving more financial support to exporters. The use of new, lower-cost, digital technologies will help us do more for businesses, more efficiently.

"We will co-ordinate the energies of the whole of government on boosting exports, sharing responsibility across departments, harnessing their deep sector knowledge, focusing on priority targets, and monitoring progress closely. UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) will be at the heart of this work, as well as retaining its remit to attract and support investment to the UK, but we are bringing together all of government to play a role."

I am delighted to have been selected for this important task to boost UK exports to one of the largest markets in Africa. It plays to the enormous strengths I can bring to Government and integrates my experience of doing business internationally with that of helping to develop business across Government. Nigeria is a market with its challenges but I look forward to seeing an increase in our exports.

The focus on trade as a government priority has been reinforced by the Prime Minister's decision to announce a small number of new Trade Envoys. The Trade Envoys will supports the government's overall strategy to drive economic growth and Envoys are appointed by the Prime Minister to act on behalf of government and to carry his personal mandate. Envoys are carefully selected for their experience, skills and knowledge of particular sectors or markets, or their knowledge of business. This means they can work closely with the government to promote the UK's excellence globally and champion trade and investment priorities.


20 JAN 2016

Unemployment in the Henley constituency

The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in December 2015 was 216. This represents a rate of 0.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 650th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.) The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.4%.

This includes 176 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 40 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 69 lower than in December 2014 and 6 lower than in November 2015.

There were 25 claimants aged 18-24 in Henley constituency in December 2015, 15 lower than in December 2014. (Figures for 18-24 year olds are rounded to the nearest 5.)

These data are not seasonally adjusted.

I am delighted that we are topping the charts in the UK for our performance over unemployment. It reflects the enormous amount of hard work by companies and those providing training in putting together apprenticeships and offering job opportunities. It would be easy to downplay this achievement but I think this is very good news indeed.


18 JAN 2016

John Howell MP signs Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment

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

Wednesday 27th January will mark the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

After signing the Book of Commitment, I commented:

"Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and make sure they are not forgotten. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join members of my community in the fight against prejudice and intolerance."

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

"We are proud that John is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mark the 71st anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps in 2016, it is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry."


14 JAN 2016

My question on Network Rail

I raised the following question today in questions on the Business Statement to the Leader of the House, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):May we have a debate on the activities of Network Rail in landscape-sensitive areas, such as the area of outstanding natural beauty in which the Goring gap sits? Nobody wants to hold up electrification, but sensitivity in such areas over the installations that are used to carry the electrification wires would be very much appreciated.

Chris Grayling:I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. Indeed, I walked through the Goring gap recently and saw the work that is taking place on the line. The electrification of the Great Western main line is great news for people in his constituency and, indeed, in south Wales, so it will be of benefit to the constituents of the shadow Leader of the House. It is long overdue. When Labour was in power, only 10 miles of railway were electrified. We are now doing the job properly. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that Network Rail needs to be careful and thoughtful in areas of outstanding natural beauty to ensure that this essential work does not damage the landscape.


06 JAN 2016

Speech on the Palestinian question

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

I shall be brief, Mr Chope. I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing the debate, and it is a great pleasure to follow her. I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

The context for the debate is the level of incitement against the state of Israel from the Palestinian territories. Both Israel and the Palestinians are legally bound to abstain from incitement and hostile propaganda in accordance with the Oslo agreement and the 2003 road map, which called on all Palestinian institutions to end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian Authority's failure to deliver on its commitment to end incitement and hate education explicitly undermines the principles and conditions on which the peace process is built.

In that context, the level of continuing incitement from the Palestinian Authority is hard to believe. Considering the use of young people in the incitement process, it is quite amazing that the state of Israel has made the changes that it has to the process by which it deals with that serious matter. The majority of arrests, for example, occur during the day, and those that are conducted at night are done at that time to minimise the danger to Israelis and Palestinians, including Israel defence forces.

The interrogation procedure is carried out in Arabic, not in Hebrew, and statements are written in Arabic. Appeals can be made to the courts that have been set up to hear the cases, and all minors brought before the court during the investigation or thereafter are represented by lawyers of their choice, provided by them or by the Palestinian Authority.

Sarah Champion:

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the process being conducted in Arabic, but we do not have evidence of that because it is not being recorded. Will he comment on access to lawyers? The maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours for an Israeli child, but 90 days for a Palestinian child.

John Howell:

I believe that the hon. Lady is wrong about the evidence that interrogations are held in Arabic. I have the figure for investigations of which an audio or audio-visual recording was made. The number of cases in 2013 and 2014—the figures that I have—in which the investigating officer recorded the hearings is about the same, at about the 300 to 400 mark.

We are being unfairly selective against Israel, when we should focus our attention on the Saudi execution of minors. The point should also be made that the Palestinian Authority are responsible for human rights violations in the west bank, including the detention of journalists critical of the Palestinian Authority and the detention of peaceful demonstrators. In 2014—according to a Palestinian non-governmental organisation, so the figures are independent—some 2,500 Palestinian children in the west bank had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority. A number of those children were mistreated, and I will give some examples. One 15-year-old Palestinian was arrested on 24 April 2015 after a group of youths threw rocks at Palestinian Authority forces. He was beaten on his head, arm and foot with a rifle butt by a Palestinian Authority policeman.

If hon. Members want another example, in August 2015, a 14-year-old Palestinian suffered a broken arm and bruises when he was seriously beaten by a Palestinian Authority police officer who was breaking up a fight. Of the 81 Palestinian children whom the NGO had identified and provided legal aid to in 2014, almost half had suffered some form of physical violence at the hands of Palestinian police and security forces, so the argument here is not at all about just one side—that it is Israel that is the perpetrator of these attacks on children.

Andrew Percy:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the biggest issues, of course, is incitement. Does he share my concern about the container of children's dolls that was headed for the Palestinian territories? I have brought one with me today—although we are not allowed to use aids. Each doll is dressed up, has a rock in its hand and has messages saying, "Jerusalem is ours" and "We are coming for Jerusalem" on it. A child with a rock in its hand—how on earth are we ever going to get peace between these two peoples when children are incited from a young age into committing what are, quite often, very serious acts of violence that have resulted in death?

John Howell:

I agree with my hon. Friend. His example is a good example of the level of Palestinian incitement.

Guto Bebb:

Does my hon. Friend agree that the extent of Palestinian incitement of young people to take arms and violent action almost becomes an issue of child abuse?

John Howell:

I agree with that. It is a question of child abuse, and we need to direct attention to the Palestinian authorities for their handling of children.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con):

Is not the nub of the problem the fact that there are two legal systems operating and they are not equalised? If a child happens to be Israeli, they are treated much more fairly than if they happen to be Palestinian. That is wrong and Israel should sort it.

John Howell:

No, the nub of this issue is that Palestinian incitement continues. As long as it does, we will not get peace in the area. We have to end the Palestinian incitement. I urge the Foreign Office to take action on that.

Ian Austin:

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell:

I will not give way; I will finish there.


06 JAN 2016

Speech on Neighbourhood Planning late last night

The House sat until the early hours of Wednesday morning last night.  This was the short speech I gave on the Housing and Planning Bill at about 1.30am.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I understand completely where my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) are coming from, but I take a slightly different view. Let me start with finalised neighbourhood plans. I have some sympathy with their argument that there should be a community right of appeal in these circumstances, but when we looked at this in the context of the Localism Act 2015, we originally did not include it to avoid the situation where part of a community would appeal against something that the rest of the community had just voted on. I urge Ministers to look at the issue again in the context of the Bill to see whether that problem can be worked out.

On emerging plans, I take a completely different view. First, such plans already have protection. The closer they get to finalisation, the stronger that becomes. Secondly, if communities undertaking neighbourhood plans start off at the end point rather than at the beginning, they are likely to have lots of help along the way, including at appeals.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con) rose—

John Howell: I will not take interventions at this late stage.

The end point is not the inspection, but the referendum. Many communities in my own constituency have started the process of producing a neighbourhood plan and for one reason or another have abandoned it along the way, in some cases fairly close to the referendum. There is many a slip before the referendum takes place and votes are counted. To take the view that emerging plans should have a greater degree of protection would sterilise a whole area from development while that neighbourhood plan was theoretically an option. Plans have a proper place and they are being followed at appeal. There are examples of front-runners in my constituency where development has been proposed that was not in accordance with the neighbourhood plan and it was rejected at appeal.

Neighbourhood plans share responsibility with the district or borough council for the development of the planning system for their location. It is not just a matter of protecting a village. It is a view of the development of the village for the future, and in my experience the planning inspectorate is fully prepared to back those plans as they proceed.


05 JAN 2016

My question to Sec of State for Health

John Howell (Henley) (Con):What progress his Department has made on integrating and improving care provided outside hospitals.[902858]

The Minister for Community and Social Care (Alistair Burt):Happy new year, Mr Speaker—and happy new year to the familiar faces opposite in the shadow Cabinet.

The Government are committed to transforming out-of-hospital care for everyone, in every community, by 2020. We have seen excellent progress in areas led by the integration pioneers such as Torbay and Greenwich. The Government remain fully committed to delivering integration through programmes such as the better care fund and the vanguards.

John Howell:Seventy per cent. of people would prefer to die in their own homes, yet we still allow 60% of people to die in hospital. This has to change, as it has in the Netherlands owing to the better social care provided outside hospitals. What message would the Minister give to clinical commissioning groups, such as mine, which are trying hard to bring this about and to integrate services?

Alistair Burt:I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We share his view: we want to see greater choice in end-of-life care so that people are able to be cared for and die in the place they choose and which is appropriate to their needs, whether that is a hospice, a hospital or their own home. The recent Choice review set out a vision of enabling greater choice at the end of life. I am working with NHS England to see how this can be best achieved and the Government expect to comment on that soon.


05 JAN 2016

MP comments on Henley College

Following several meetings with the Chair of Governors and Principal of The Henley College, I am fully supportive of any discussions regarding collaboration between the College and Berkshire College of Agriculture. Collaboration between the two colleges would have enormous benefits for the College, for the town of Henley and the surrounding villages.

I have already spoken with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George osborne MP, who has agreed with me that the College provides excellent education and training as part of a strong brand. The College offers community learning, Apprenticeship training and 16-18 full-time educational provision.

The Government's purpose of the reviews is to assess the economic and educational needs of the area and the implications for post-16 education and training provision. All FE and sixth form colleges in England will be part of a review over the next 18 months. The Government's aim is to achieve a transition towards 'fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers' and more effective collaboration across institution types.

Jayne Davis, Principal at Henley College said,

"This college has been included in the Thames Valley area review. This means that Government representatives are going to be reviewing all colleges in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire to see whether we can be more efficient and whether there are changes to be made that will benefit students. This will include looking at more collaboration with schools and other colleges in the area in particular, Berkshire College of Agriculture."

"I would like to reassure all of our students that this area review will have no impact on day-to-day life at College and will not affect the learning experience. We will continue to focus on providing excellent education and training to our students before, during and after the process. Applicants to the College should continue to apply as normal."


18 DEC 2015

John Howell MP reaches top 100 backbenchers for speaking in the House of Commons

I have been included in the top 100 backbenchers for speaking in the House of Commons. According to data compiled by theyworkforyou.com, I rank 100 in the House after excluding frontbenchers such as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Chris Bryant and the speaker and deputy speakers.

I have spoken on a number of subjects since the General Election including Schools funding, Human Rights in Egypt, Refugees, Aircraft noise over Henley, NHS and Social Care integration, Operation Bullfinch in Oxfordshire, Prison reform, Dangerous driving, Business rates, the BBC, Mental Health and children, Junior Doctors, the Middle East, Right to Buy, Grammar Schools, Lead shot, and Unemployment in the constituency and the role of Henley College.

I raise many issues in Parliament. It is always essential to choose the right way of doing so. I raise very many issues directly with Ministers. Other issues can, where appropriate and where they relate to Government policy, be raised on the floor of the House. I am pleased that I have been able to contribute so much in Parliament. All these issues cross so many different areas and give a good indication of those that are important to the country and to the local constituency. I am pleased, too, that in addition I have been able to attend so many different events and meetings in the constituency. It is good that this has been recognised by so many communities some of whom I have started off on the process of preparing a Neighbourhood Plan as in Goring.

Since the date of the General Election in May 2015, I have attended some 148 meetings and events in the constituency (excluding surgeries) and made over 30 broadcasts for radio or the television.


16 DEC 2015

Interventions in the Armed Forces Bill debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

As a member of the Select Committee, let me add that when we looked into these provisions and interviewed the relevant official, I was impressed with two things. The first was the need to refer to the Attorney General. The link between the DSP and the Attorney General is a good one. I have to say that I have forgotten what the second one was, but let the first point stand as the major point I wanted to make.

xxxxxx

John Howell:

I do not want to intervene on the substance of this debate, but since this is the last grouping of such amendments, it is appropriate to offer my appreciation—I am sure the Minister would agree with me on this—to my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti), who chaired the Select Committee that looked at this Bill, and did so in an excellent fashion. The Select Committee showed a tremendous degree of cross-party agreement on the Bill, and I thank the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his involvement. The Bill is a direct result of that process.


16 DEC 2015

Questions at today's International Development questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con):How her Department monitors outcomes of its spending in the Palestinian territories.[902748]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening):I would first like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) for all the work he did during his time in the Department, and also to welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) who I know will continue in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield.

The Department for International Development provides assistance and support to poor and vulnerable Palestinians, as well as supporting state building and economic development. Our operational plan for the Occupied Palestinian Territories contains a results framework that is monitored quarterly.

John Howell:I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

The Prime Minister has been clear that Palestinian incitement will not be tolerated. As many as 25 Palestinian Authority schools are named after Palestinian terrorists, including Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 Israeli citizens. Will the Secretary of State assure me that no British aid goes towards such schools or to support the glorification of terrorism?

Justine Greening:The Prime Minister and I have been very clear that the UK deplores incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We monitor any allegations of incitement closely and raise instances with both the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities. Regarding the UK's direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which provides civil service salaries, it goes only to approved individuals through a World Bank trust fund that has an independent audit.


14 DEC 2015

Heathrow

I gave a warning to the Government today that his support for the expansion of Heathrow would crucially be based on the resolution of the current noise issues of aircraft approaching Heathrow on an easterly wind. The warning was made during questions on a Government statement on Airports Capacity in the House of Commons. The exchange is detailed below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I welcome the decision to delay the final decision until the environmental concerns have been resolved. Colleagues and I are in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS to control noise from aircraft coming in to Heathrow over the Thames valley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the resolution of that issue is crucial to our future support for Heathrow?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Aviation capacity does not only affect the areas directly involved but has a wider impact across the rest of the economy and the rest of the country.

Flights approaching Heathrow on an easterly wind do so in a more directed way than in the past and without the benefit of a higher descent path. I am arranging a second meeting with the CAA and NATS in January for the people of Henley and the surrounding area to discuss the changes that there have been to flight patterns.


14 DEC 2015

Warning on Heathrow

My notes from my intervention in the statement on airports capacity today:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I welcome the decision to delay the final decision until the environmental concerns have been resolved. Colleagues and I are in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS to control noise from aircraft coming in to Heathrow over the Thames valley. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the resolution of that issue is crucial to our future support for Heathrow?

Mr McLoughlin:My hon. Friend makes a good point. Aviation capacity does not only affect the areas directly involved but has a wider impact across the rest of the economy and the rest of the country.


09 DEC 2015

My speech in today's Mental Health debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I want to consider mental health in the justice system, and will draw my remarks quite widely to include the police. I am very pleased that we have made progress in this area. In my county at least, police cars are no longer used to transport mental health patients; ambulances are used instead.

NHS England has been charged with developing better healthcare services for people in the criminal justice system, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has also been asked to develop guidelines on improving mental health for those in prison. The need is to identify those who have mental health problems and to support them, as the Government have recognised. The choice is for the prisoner either to have support for their mental health issues as they move along the criminal justice pathway, or to be diverted into treatment—or, indeed, social care. The integration of social care and the NHS can contribute a lot to that process.

The service provided to prisoners needs to be consistent across the UK, and I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State's remarks on the involvement of the King's Fund in that. There is a great need for prisoners to have the same access as non-prisoners to mental health services. It is also necessary to ensure continuity of treatment across the prison estate and through to the non-prison environment. That continuity is crucial to the provision of better facilities for those prisoners with mental health issues.

That takes us back to the crisis care concordat and the need for good access to support. Prisoners need to know that their problems are genuinely taken seriously, and that they can get help when they need it. That could help tackle the issue of the huge number of men who commit suicide, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) has mentioned. That has to be acknowledged.

I congratulate the Government on the progress they have made, and on recognising the need for parity between mental and physical health services. I am also extremely grateful for the £600 million of additional funding for mental health that the Chancellor put into the system in the recent autumn statement and spending review. The Royal College of Psychiatrists was also pleased with that commitment, and said that it was good news.


09 DEC 2015

My question in the debate on lead shot

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I am struggling to understand why the hon. Gentleman thinks that the existing regulations are not sufficient to deal with the problem. Would he back more detailed environmental studies to work out what the real effect on the community is?

Gerald Jones: During the remainder of my contribution I hope to address the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Simply removing lead shot, as I said, does not solve the problem, because traces of lead can be left in the meat. In the UK, as many as 12,500 children under eight eat game once a week in the shooting community alone. In children, less than one meal of wild-shot game a week could result in blood lead levels associated with a decrease in IQ.


02 DEC 2015

Petition on Schools Funding Formula

Last night (1 December) I presented a petition from 592 residents of the Henley Constituency to Parliament on the subject of the fair funding campaign for schools. (See attached photo). The existing school funding model in England is arbitrary and unfair. The best funded areas of England have on average received grants of £6,300 per pupil this year, compared to an average of £4,200 per pupil in the ten most poorly funded areas of England. Oxfordshire is particularly poorly funded. By better funding it, schools will be infinitely better off and have more resources to play with. They will have to make fewer choices about whether they can pay staff or cut courses. I welcome the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce fairer school funding. However the purpose of the petition, which was accompanied by over 100 similar petitions, was to support the earliest possible introduction of a new National Funding Formula for schools in England.

I welcome the Chancellor's statement that a new fairer schools funding formula would be introduced. In introducing this petition I wanted to keep the Government up to the mark in going ahead with this and I was very glad to see the Education Secretary in her seat to hear the submission of these petitions.


01 DEC 2015

My speech on the Middle East

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try to fill the 10 minutes that you have now made available to me, although I have prepared a speech to last for seven minutes. We will see how it goes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is no longer in his place, on securing this debate. I draw Members' attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

In recent years, we have witnessed the ascent of a brutal and destructive form of Islamic fundamentalism across the region. Mosul's nearly 2,000-year-old Christian population has been purged, the Yazidis have endured what is arguably a genocide, ancient cultural heritage has been destroyed and once stable countries have descended into chaos.

It is without question that the terrorist attacks in Paris were a direct assault on our way of life, just like, in their own way, the attacks on British citizens in Tunisia. Political leaders and the public alike are now coming to the realisation that this is not a problem in some far-flung region of the world that we can simply will away. Sadly, it has taken the tragedy of Paris to open our eyes to the fact that this is a problem that we cannot afford to ignore any longer. If ISIL is allowed to fester, we will see a continuation of the ethnic cleansing, the indoctrination of future generations in ISIL-held territory and thousands more displaced Syrians and Iraqis. I therefore welcome the fact that the Government will, I hope, put the question of British intervention in Syria to the vote in the House this week.

Let us note also that ISIL is but one manifestation of the evil of radical Islam. It would be unwise now to cast similarly reprehensible groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah, Hamas and others in a different or, indeed, a better light. They have all actively participated in Islamist-driven violence, destroying lives across many communities in the middle east and beyond. It is important to recognise that there are democratic forces in many countries in the region and Britain should take the lead in supporting them wherever possible. The majority of citizens in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere want to live their lives in normality without the daily interruption of car bombs and gun attacks. The Arab spring surely demonstrated a desire for change and for democracy.

In this conflict, we have the advantage of military superiority, but this alone is not enough to win and it is not what is being proposed. When ISIL is eventually defeated, unless we are careful and can also target the cause, which is the ideology, and not only the effect, which can be seen in the actions of ISIL, another group will re-emerge under a different name. Some, such as the Foreign Minister of Sweden, have relayed the misguided notion that the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of the current turmoil in the middle east and that once it is resolved the blight of Islamist radicalism will end. That is simply not the case. In fact, part of the reason we are in this current state is that too much focus rather than too little has been placed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of other conflicts in the region.

I was at a dinner last week at which a somewhat left-wing Canadian journalist made a speech with which I happened completely to agree. He said that when he first went to Israel, he pointed out that in his news office there were a huge number of journalists concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of the whole of the region. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at best a minor sideshow. The wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere have raged on, yet just last week the UN decided to pass six resolutions against Israel, the only stable democracy in the region.

To suggest that the existence of Israel is at the root of the entire middle east's turbulence today is to overlook the sectarian divisions in the region that have existed for centuries. It also ignores the large part played by certain countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, that have spent billions to fund the toxic and destructive spread of Wahabist ideology across Muslim communities worldwide. It is imperative that Britain and the whole civilised world does whatever is necessary to combat that ideology and stop its spread.

Mr MacNeil: I understand from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the UK has eight planes in Iraq, of which two are active. If the UK is going to intervene in Syria, is it going to lessen its efforts against ISIS in Iraq or is it not? Or is it not bombing ISIS in Iraq intensely enough? We are only talking about one or two planes that will go in to Syria.

John Howell: That is a debate we can have on Wednesday, I am not going to answer that question now.

We need to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop exporting its radical ideology worldwide, despite our geopolitical alliances. I ask the Minister perhaps to write to me in reply to the question of what steps the Government will take to ensure that the Wahabist ideology does not spread further across the middle east.

Before I finish, I want to highlight another important country in the region that has been consumed by a less violent but equally destructive Islamist threat. The AKP Government in Turkey have increasingly eroded democracy by arresting dozens of prominent journalists, turning to authoritarianism and reigniting the conflict with the Kurdish PKK to seal their power. The same Government are a vocal supporter of the terrorist group Hamas, which has masterminded deadly attacks against Israelis from its Istanbul headquarters. In our approach to Turkey, as is too often the case, realpolitik has taken precedence over human values, ignoring the fact that democracy is not only about having an election.

In addition, despite their latent arrests of ISIL suspects, the AKP Government in Turkey have turned a blind eye to ISIL terrorists, instead prioritising fighting Kurdish forces in Syria, the very people making the largest territorial gains from ISIL. The erratic actions of Turkey, especially taking into consideration last week's developments with Russia, give us increasing cause for concern. I ask the Secretary of State to join me in condemning the Turkish Government's undermining of the freedom of press in the country and to explain how we can expect ISIL and other jihadists to be dislodged from their territory in Syria when Turkey is bombing the Kurdish YPG.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Turkey is still talking to the European Union about accession, so when the Government take such actions, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, what signals does that send out about potential entry to the EU?

John Howell: My hon. Friend raises an important point. At best, it sends a very confused signal and, at worst, it sends a signal that we do not care what Turkey does in the middle east. That is a signal that we do not wish to send to Turkey and we should not send it. We should say that we do not agree with what Turkey is doing and that it is supporting a form of Islamic fundamentalism in its actions.

I am not sure that I have fully used my extra allotted minutes, but let me conclude by going back to what I said at the beginning of my speech. The situation in the middle east is very confused, but it is not surprising, in my view, that the western press ignored totally the rise of ISIL, because they were not looking. All their action was focused on what was happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not in the wider middle east.

Edward Argar: Does my hon. Friend agree that sadly the same is true of the press's attention to the conflict in Yemen in recent months and years? Again, they just were not looking.

John Howell: To a certain extent, the press are still not looking at Yemen. We have heard excellent contributions from Opposition Members about the situation in Yemen and I am very concerned about it. I know that my hon. Friend is, too. We all need to concentrate on that and to ensure that the press do not just focus on the one thing that it is easy for them to get a grip on, which is made easy by the openness of Israel in allowing the press in and allowing access to everything that there is to talk about in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just the media? Too often, many of us looking on events in the middle east have done too much wishful thinking. Now is the time to take pragmatic action grounded in a much wider strategy to solve the challenges that we face.

John Howell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is time to look at the bigger picture, and I am sure that the Foreign Office is doing so. We need to encourage the press and the general population, as well as Members of Parliament, to take into account the fact that there are many conflicts in the region. Some of them are more serious than others. I would put the Yemen conflict in that category. In my book, it is probably the No. 1 conflict. My hon. Friend makes a good point about encouraging people to take a larger view of what is happening in the region. With that, I have almost taken my 10 minutes. It is kind of you to make that available, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr Ellwood: I am delighted to use up the last minute of my hon. Friend's time by responding to the two points that he made. He is right to be concerned about the growth of Islamic extremism in Syria. We are focused on working with the 100 or so factions that have proved themselves by saying that they do not want to be part of Assad's regime. They want to look after their own communities, but they do not want to be part of terrorism.

Turkey is now part of the international coalition. It was struck by ISIL in a terrorist attack in Ankara not long ago, and it is participating in the Vienna talks, which is welcome news.

John Howell: I thank the Minister for that. We will probably have further discussions about Turkey.


30 NOV 2015

My question to the Health Secretary

John Howell (Henley) (Con):As the chairman of the alternative dispute resolution all-party group, may I confirm that it is always right to identify common ground before going into a negotiation at ACAS? I do not think that anyone should underestimate the amount of common ground that the Secretary of State has achieved in getting the ACAS talks going. What will it now take to get the BMA to call off the strike?

Mr Hunt:My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What is the common ground between the Government and junior doctors? We want to make sure they are working safe hours; we do not want to cut their pay; we want safer services for patients; and we want to make sure that the many junior doctors who do work weekends get proper consultant support and training opportunities at weekends as well as during the week. I think that that is enough on which to come to a deal.


30 NOV 2015

John Howell MP supports Thame in Rising Star category of Great British High Street Awards

Today (30 November) I attended the award ceremony in London for the Great British High Street. Thame had won a prestigious Rising Star award in what was a closely fought competition. Speaking at the event, Marcus Jones MP, the Minister for High Streets, praised Thame's entry and pointed to the quality of the offering on Thame High Street and the robustness of its Neighbourhood Plan.

It was a great pleasure to be at the awards ceremony and to support Thame. I think Thame did very well to be chosen from across the country and I was particularly pleased to see that its Neighbourhood Plan was specifically mentioned. This is good news for Thame and the excellence of what it has to offer in its High Street.

Picture shows Marcus Jones MP (Minister), John Howell MP, Helen Johns (Thame), Sonja Francis (Thame), Simon Roberts (President of Boots).


26 NOV 2015

John Howell MP pledges to help STOP bowel cancer in the Henley constituency

Following a recent event held at Westminster by leading charity Bowel Cancer UK, John Howell MP for Henley and Thame pledged to take action in Parliament and locally to stop bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, affecting both men and women. Every year over 41,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, that's one diagnosis every 15 minutes, and more than 16,000 people die of the disease. Bowel Cancer UK supports research and campaigns to stop bowel cancer.

As the local MP, I am totally committed to improving outcomes for bowel cancer patients both locally and nationally.

There are still too many people dying from bowel cancer when we know that it is preventable, treatable and curable, if it is diagnosed early. That's why I'm backing Bowel Cancer UK's call to improve bowel cancer services and support their aspiration to transform survival rates from one in two surviving bowel cancer for five years to three in four surviving by 2025.

Bowel Cancer UK's Parliamentary Reception aimed to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of developing a world class, consistent service across the UK. Currently there are huge variations in the availability and quality of diagnostic testing, treatment and care. The event provided Parliamentarians with national and local data to highlight how their own Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is currently performing in a number of key indicators relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer versus other areas of the country.

I would urge my constituents to see their GP if they are worried about symptoms they think might be caused by bowel cancer. Early diagnosis really can save lives.

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said, "Bowel cancer is the UK's second biggest cancer killer with survival rates being one of the lowest in Europe. As a charity, we are determined to save lives and improve the quality of life for all those affected by bowel cancer. But we can't do it on our own. The support of people such as [insert name] is vital to helping us make a difference. That's why I'd like to thank [insert name] for supporting our campaign to stop bowel cancer. Together we can save lives."


25 NOV 2015

John Howell MP welcomes the ChancellorÂ’s commitment to deliver economic and national security for working people in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the Chancellor's Spending Review and Autumn Statement. It delivers on the promise the Conservative Party made to the British people that we would put their security first by:

  • Protecting our economic security – taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. The public spending plans set out in the Spending Review mean Britain will reach a surplus of £10.1 billion in 2019/20 – that's higher than was forecast at the Budget and means Britain will be out of the red and into the black.
  • Protecting our national security by defending our country's interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home. The Spending Review announced there will be no cuts in the police budget with real terms protection for police funding and delivers on the Government's commitment to spend 2 per cent of our national income on defence.

In total, the Spending Review commits £4 trillion pounds over the next five years. A huge commitment of the hard-earned cash of British taxpayers, and the Conservative Party knows we have an obligation to make sure it is well spent. Our approach is not simply retrenchment, it is to reform and rebuild, by:

Protecting police funding in real terms. There will be no cuts to police budgets at all.

Enabling local government to meet growing social care needs. Local authorities responsible for social care will be able to levy a new social care precept of up to 2%. This is something I have campaigned on together with the integration of the NHS and Social Care.

Full funding of the Five Year Forward View put forward by the NHS itself as the plan for its future with the first £6 billion delivered up-front next year. This is something I have always said we would do and I am glad to see it enacted.

A new school's national funding formula will start to be introduced from 2017 phasing out the arbitrary and unfair system which exists today. This is something on which I have campaign and am about to deliver a petition in the House of Commons.

The biggest real terms rise in the basic State Pension in 15 years. Thanks to our commitment to the triple lock, next year the basic state pension will rise by £3.35 to £119.30 a week.

The biggest house building programme by any government since the 1970s with a doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion a year. Our bold plan to back families who aspire to buy their own home will deliver 400,000 affordable new homes by the end of the decade.

The phasing out entirely of the local government grant. By the end of the parliament local government will keep all of the revenue from business rates. We will abolish the uniform business rate so councils will be able to cut rates to attract new businesses, but because the amount government raises in business rates is much greater than the amount we give to local councils through the local government grant we will phase that grant out entirely and devolve additional responsibilities.

New apprenticeship levy to deliver 3 million apprenticeships. This will ensure large businesses share the cost of training, but businesses with a wage bill below £3 million won't have to pay. We will also increase funding for apprenticeships to make sure they are high quality apprenticeships.

The largest ever investment in free childcare so working families get the help they need. From 2017, we will fund 30 hours of free childcare for working families with three and four year olds. We'll support £10,000 of childcare costs tax-free and, to support nurseries delivering more free places for parents, we'll increase funding for the sector by £300 million.

The improvement in the nation's finances used to help on tax credits. Because of the improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether. Tax credits are being phased out anyway as we introduce universal credit. This is something on which I have been lobbied throughout the constituency.

This Autumn Statement delivers on the promise we made to working people in Henley that we would put their security first. Protecting our economic security by taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. And protecting our national security by defending our country's interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home.


24 NOV 2015

John Howell MP meets Minister to discuss aircraft noise over Heathrow

I held a meeting with the Minister of Transport responsible for aircraft, Robert Goodwill MP, on Monday 23 November. The meeting followed up the debate in Parliament in October at which the issue had been raised. The meeting took place with John Redwood MP and Dr Phillip Lee MP who represent Wokingham and Bracknell. The MPs made the point that aircraft approaches to Heathrow on an easterly wind had been changed without public consultation. They also pointed out that the greater accuracy of aircraft routings meant that aircraft were squeezed into a more confined space than hitherto. They pointed to the height of incoming aircraft as one of the major factors which increased noise. Over Henley, it would appear that the average height was about 5,000 feet with some aircraft being below this. A much steeper descent closer to the airport would help ensure noise was dissipated.

We asked the Minister to raise this issue with the CAA and NATS and to seek an explanation as to why a change had been allowed to happen. It was quite clear that people were now living with an unacceptable level of noise even before the decision had been made on the next phase of airport expansion. I was pleased that the Minister agreed to hold such a meeting and was looking sympathetically at the issue.


24 NOV 2015

John Howell MP: new figures show our plan to help one million more people to own their own home is working

I have welcomed new figures showing the increase in housing supply in South Oxfordshire. In the area covered by SODC (South Oxfordshire District Council) there have been 610 new houses built since last year.

The official statistics show that our plan to make home ownership an achievable dream is working in South Oxfordshire and across the country. With a 25 per cent increase nationally in housing supply since last year, there are now 170,690 more new houses available for people who want good quality homes, both to rent and buy. These figures show that we are moving towards our ambition to create a million new homeowners by 2020, with our crusade to get homes built being realised in South Oxfordshire.

These figures are excellent news, showing the number of houses available in the SODC area has risen giving a boost to the number of homes available for hardworking families and individuals.

We want to give hard working people the security and stability of owning their own home, with government initiatives nationally already having helped 230,000 people buy a home since 2010. We want to go even further and double the number of first-time buyers compared to the last five years and deliver 200,000 new Starter Homes at 20 per cent discount to first-time buyers under 40. I am particularly pleased that so many communities are taking forward Neighbourhood Plans as the way to plan for the future of their communities and I offer them my support.

I would recommend anyone aspiring to own a home of their own to log on to www.ownyourhome.gov.uk to see what government help may be available to help them buy a home of their own.

John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said

"The District Council fully backs the Government to help families buy their own home and we are delighted that so many parishes are working on Neighbourhood Plans to determine where houses should go in their area. Our next year's refresh of our Local Plan will focus on building more high quality homes in the right places."


24 NOV 2015

John Howell MP: welcomes investment in our national defence

I have welcomed the publication of this week's Strategic Defence and Security Review – a comprehensive plan to back our Armed Forces, counter-terrorism police and intelligence agencies with the resources they need.

Our national security depends on our economic security. Our renewed economic security means we can afford to invest further in our national security. This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing.

  • Our plan to invest £178 billion in our defence over the next decade, includes:
  • Creating two new strike brigades with forces of up to 5,000 personnel each who will be fully equipped to deploy rapidly and sustain themselves in the field.
  • Increasing the size of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force by a total of 700 personnel.
  • Renewing the continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent – our ultimate insurance policy.
  • Investing in nine maritime patrol aircraft to protect our nuclear deterrent, hunt down hostile submarines and enhance our maritime search and rescue.
  • Extending the life of our multirole Typhoon for 10 extra years through to 2040, meaning we will be able to create two additional squadrons.
  • Accelerating the F-35 programme, by buying 42 jets by 2023.
  • Investing £1.9 billion over five years in our cybersecurity.

These investments are an act of clear-eyed self-interest to ensure our prosperity and security. Britain is fortunate to have some of the finest Armed Forces, counter-terrorism police and security services in the world. Using our renewed economic strength, we will equip them to defeat the terrorist threat and help keep us safe for generations to come.

By working through our long-term economic plan to create a stronger economy, we are now in a position to invest further in our security.

The first duty of any government is to keep the nation and our communities safe – that is why this investment is fantastic news for the people of this area. I am proud that we are the only major country in the world which is simultaneously going to meet the NATO target of spending 2 per cent of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our GNI on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism. Today's announcements underline how committed we are to the long-term, future security of Britain.


19 NOV 2015

Intervention in debate on Further Education

Below is my intervention in the debate on Further Education.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend surprised that nobody has yet mentioned our ambition to have 3 million apprenticeships by 2020? There has already been a significant increase in my constituency.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is pre-empting what I am coming to. I would like to say that I am surprised that Labour Members have not so far mentioned apprenticeships, but they would not want to bring attention to our track record in the last Parliament of delivering double the number of apprenticeship starts than that delivered by the last Labour Government.


18 NOV 2015

John Howell MP says that new apprenticeships mean more young people in the Henley constituency are getting the skills they need to succeed

 

 

 I have welcomed new figures showing 540 new apprenticeships were started by people in the Henley constituency last year. In total 2,620 new apprenticeships have been started in the constituency since 2010 – meaning more young people getting the skills they need for a successful and secure future.

The figures showed a strong rise in the number of apprenticeships started – up 8% in the South East in 2014/15 from the year before.

This means more young people getting the skills they need to get on in life and make the most of their talents – as they do locally at the Henley College, Lord Williams School in Thame, DAF and the Culham Fusion Centre.

In total 2.4 million apprenticeships were started in England over the last parliament. And the Conservatives are committed to go even further over the next five years and deliver 3 million more by 2020. This is being funded by an apprenticeships levy on large employers, who will have control over funding to ensure it is giving young people the skills they will need to succeed.

These figures are fantastic news. 2,620 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in this constituency getting the skills to succeed and get on in life.

Apprenticeships have been at the heart of our plan to deliver a more secure future for young people and as Conservatives we are committed to go even further over the next five years, with the commitment we made in our manifesto to deliver 3 million more high quality apprenticeships by 2020.

We are giving young people proper training and the prospect of a better future. Millions of young people are getting a good start in life, learning a trade, and knowing the purpose and pride that comes with that.


17 NOV 2015

Question on refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What steps the Government is taking to tackle people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Prior to resettlement, a mechanism needs to be established through which refugees can claim asylum. What is the impact of this on the overall progress towards resettlement?

Mrs May: Refugees who are resettled under the scheme for resettling Syrian refugees are provided with five years of humanitarian protection. Of course, there are also individuals who will come here and claim asylum and who will be dealt with under the normal asylum processes, but those who are resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme are given five years' humanitarian protection here in the UK.


11 NOV 2015

Intervention in Trade Union Bill

John Howell: The hon. Gentleman and I have shared many an anecdote about this, both in Committee and elsewhere. He will recall that in Committee I raised a number of concerns from the Open Rights Group which called for prudence in the use of internet voting. Has he looked at that in greater detail?

Chris Stephens: The hon. Gentleman is right. I found it curious that when I googled my name I got a link to his website and it was the exchange that we had in Committee. In fairness, the same thing happens with the hon. Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens). The Open Rights Group is saying that trade union ballots do not apply in these cases, because there is the additional safety of a scrutineer and so on.


10 NOV 2015

Oxfordshire MPs and head teachers meet

On Wednesday 4 November 2015 a meeting was organised in Parliament by me between Oxfordshire Secondary School Heads and all six Oxfordshire MPs including the Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron MP.

The meeting, which was held in the Prime Minister's House of Commons office, was called to discuss six main issues. These were: the fair funding formula in relation to Oxfordshire, recruiting and retaining good teachers, post-16 education, Academy funding and rural schools.

The issue of inequality between local authorities and the amount of funding per pupil was raised. There was general acceptance that the issue needed addressing in full and that the longer the funding disparity had continued, the greater the disparity had become.

Daniel Sadler, Head of Chiltern Edge School, commented that:

"The Fair Funding argument is of vital importance to Chiltern Edge if we are to continue to provide a good education for our pupils. As we are in Oxfordshire, one of the lowest funded authorities in the country we are up to a million pounds worse off each year than similar schools elsewhere. This is very unfair and also completely unsustainable."

Commenting on the issue of Academy funding, Catherine Darnton, Head of Gillotts, said:

"At Gillotts, we have been able, over the first few years as an academy, to build up a small reserve as a cushion against the unexpected. However this is now being rapidly eroded just to be able to afford the pay rises the Government continues to award, despite our funding staying at the same cash value each year. We have already cut back on all areas except staffing and we have only the minimum level of staffing as it stands to be able to deliver the excellent education that we do. If the issue of fair funding is not addressed by 2017, we fear that the cuts we would be forced to make would have a negative impact on the quality of teaching and learning - that is not a position any Headteacher wants to be in."

We all understood the point being made about fair funding and that the issue has not been resolved. I am grateful for those schools that have returned petitions on this subject which I can present in Parliament. There was general agreement that this was an issue which needs addressing. In addition, we are also looking for schools to think creatively by for example greater collaboration and developing packages that could help with the cost of living issues crucial to retaining teachers.

Daniel Sadler added:

"We really appreciate John Howell's initiative in arranging our meeting with David Cameron and the other Oxfordshire MPs at Westminster on 4th November. We were able to get over our point about the need for a prompt and fair change to the funding formula to ensure that our students will not continue to be disadvantaged in the future. We will be working hard to engage the whole school community in pressing for this urgently needed change."

Catherine Darnton also added:

"To be able to explain this in person to David Cameron, John Howell and the four other Oxfordshire MPs was a great opportunity. We hope for a positive announcement as part of the spending review that is currently underway."

I am anticipating presenting a petition in Parliament from all schools within his constituency on fairer funding around the end of November.


05 NOV 2015

Question in Urgent Question on Human Rights in Egypt

My question today in the Urgent Question on Human Rights in Egypt.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):What assessment has the Minister made of how effective the parliamentary elections in Egypt will be in tackling human rights and will the Prime Minister raise that in his discussions with President Sisi?

Mr Ellwood:The elections were well overdue and we are pleased that the first round has taken place, as I have just mentioned. This is a new Parliament. There is an awful lot of work to be done as it takes its infant footsteps in understanding how it, as a legislature, needs to hold the Executive to account. I am pleased that the Arab Partnership scheme and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and funds from the FCO will provide financial assistance to help train the Parliament and ensure that it is as effective as possible in holding the Executive and the presidency to account.


03 NOV 2015

MP promoted to the Council of Europe

I have been appointed by the Prime Minister to join the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is not part of the EU but is a separate body of 47 member states set up in 1949. It exists to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law. One of its statutory bodies is the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The best known part of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights.

I am very pleased to have received this important appointment from the Prime Minister to join the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. It is a crucial time for the UK with this organisation as we take forward our human rights agenda. It will be essential to ensure we have a strong voice on the Council. In addition, the Court is looking to appoint a new UK judge and it will be necessary to have some oversight of the appointment.

I am one of only 6 Conservative MPs to be appointed as full members to the Council of Europe. It will not involve me being away from the constituency for any length of time. The Council meets in Strasbourg quarterly.


03 NOV 2015

My question in Justice Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con):With the growth in litigants in person there has been a growth in McKenzie friends. There are two types: those who provide backgrounds to unfamiliar settings and those who act effectively as lawyers and charge for their services. What is the Minister going to do about the latter?

Mr Vara:The concept of McKenzie friends is relatively new. [Hon. Members: "No, it's not."] I said relatively new. We are keeping an eye on advice and what fees, if any, are being charged.


28 OCT 2015

My question at International Development Questions this morning.

My question at International Development question this morning.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Will my right hon. Friend praise the doctors at the Hadassah medical centre in Jerusalem, who are showing real humanitarian characteristics by treating victims and attackers at the same time?

Mr Swayne:That is an object lesson on the measure of leadership now required to overcome the huge amount of distrust and hatred.


28 OCT 2015

MP responds on tax credits

A number of constituents have contacted me about the Government's proposals to reform tax credits which the House of Commons has already approved and for which an opposition motion was decisively defeated. I understand the concerns that have been raised but I disagree with them. The House of Lords used its position on 26 October to oppose the Government - a move which will haves serious repercussions. Incidentally, I followed Heidi Allen into the voting lobby which defeated the opposition motion.

The tax credit changes are part of a package that includes tax reductions, additional childcare support as well as a national living wage. Compassionate Conservatism is about delivering a low welfare, low tax and high income society and that is what we are doing. We want to make work pay and allow people to earn more. We want to cut their taxes and make welfare affordable. This measure does all of that.

Tax has already been cut by increasing the personal allowance. When Labour left office it was less than £6,500. It currently stands at £10,800 and will, by 2020, be £12,500. We're also introducing 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds and tax free childcare worth up to £2,000 a year. Finally, we are introducing a new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour from April 2016 and companies are already increasing wages in line with this. Since we announced the new National Living Wage bands hundreds of firms have said they'll increase pay. Nearly 200 firms have agreed to pay the National Living Wage in recent months. We've changed the conversation about pay and real pay is now growing strongly, with pay up 3.0 per cent this year.

This is an area of spending that simply grew and grew under Labour more than trebling in real terms between 1999 and 2010. Tax credits were introduced to help people in low paid work but, by the time Labour left office, 90% of working families were eligible. I think this shows a strong argument for reform at the same time as we take action to ensure people are paying less tax, have more childcare and have a living wage.

Let me add one further point. Tax credits effectively allow employers to pay their staff less than they need to make ends meet, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will top their salaries up. The former Labour Lord Chancellor, Alistair Darling, has said that "tax credits are subsidising lower wages in a way that was never intended."

I want to live in a country where people are paid enough (and taxed low enough. It is a single, thought-through, coherent plan. You can't pick and choose between its elements. It's simply not credible to impose higher wages and leave tax credits unreformed, condemning taxpayers to ever-higher welfare bills. That's a classic approach of thinking you can have everything, and in the end achieving nothing.

Will the average household lose £1,300? That analysis just doesn't take into account the other things we are doing, for example: raising the personal allowance; the new National Living Wage which will see someone on it get nearly a £1,000 pay rise next year; offering 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. It also doesn't take into account the wider ripple effect of the National Living Wage on increasing pay. And it doesn't take into account the fact that we have created over 2 million jobs and employment is continuing to rise.


27 OCT 2015

John Howell MP Champions fantastic low unemployment figures in Henley during Treasury Question Time:

Today (27 October) I raised the important issue of unemployment and apprenticeship training in the Henley constituency with the Chancellor of the Exchequer during Treasury Questions in the House of Commons Chamber.

I said: "The total number of unemployed in my constituency is 219, with youth unemployment at only 36. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising institutions such as the Henley College, which is providing excellent apprenticeship training?"

George Osborne responded "It is very good to hear about the success the people in my hon. Friend's constituency have had in finding work over recent years and the clear business confidence that exists in Oxfordshire. The Henley college is doing an excellent job in making sure that young people have the skills they need to take the opportunities now out there in the jobs market. We will, of course, go on helping such institutions by increasing the number of apprentices we fund in this country, so that we deliver the 3 million apprenticeships mentioned in our election manifesto."

I wanted to highlight the unemployment figures in the constituency, which clearly show that the Government's long term economic plan is working. I also wanted to share the fantastic work undertaken by the Henley College with regards to highly successful apprenticeship training. I was pleased to hear the Chancellor share my enthusiasm for continued success in Henley and am pleased that further funding is being provided for apprenticeships".

Notes

The exchange between me and George Osborne was taken from the Parliamentary Hansard, which can be accessed here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/7/


27 OCT 2015

My question yesterday about mental health and families

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Colleagues have rightly pointed to the impact of mental health on the children themselves, but children's mental health problems also impact on the family as a whole. Will the Secretary of State explain what we are doing in that respect?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that when somebody in a family, particularly a younger person, is struck with mental ill health, it affects the whole family. That is why funding through the voluntary and community sector programme and organisations such as Mind and Place2Be, as well as the MindEd website, which provides resources for parents, are important. I strongly encourage any parents who are worried about the mental health of their children to have an early conversation with people in their schools, including headteachers and teachers, so that they can then make the referrals


26 OCT 2015

Letter re Townlands Hospital

Sir,

In response to your correspondents, it might be a handy slogan to say that Townlands Hospital is a hospital without beds but it is simply not true. There are up to 14 beds associated with the hospital – 8 permanent, the rest hired on demand. Beds associated with the old hospital have been saved by working with the Clinical Commissioning Group not by throwing stones at it. The beds are located on the same site as the hospital, on the same campus, as part of the same medical village. Yes - they form part of the adjacent Care Home where the beds are likely to be co-located. But precisely why does that matter?

The important point is not where these beds are located but that there is excellent medical cover and good social care available for them. While much of the discussion has been about where the beds should go, I have been questioning the robustness of the provision of social care under the ambulatory care model. This has nothing at all to do with Government policy but with the views of clinicians and of the NHS. As your readers will know, I have been lobbying Government for the full integration of social care with the NHS for some time.

The papers prepared by the Clinical Commissioning Group show the involvement I have had with the project. The paper prepared for the Board meeting in July 2015 references me on pages 2,13,14,and 15. While that prepared for the September 2015 Board meeting references me on pages 3,4,14,15, and 16.

This is not Henley's hospital but a hospital for a large part of Southern Oxfordshire, the majority of which supports and is grateful for what we have achieved. How do I know this? I asked them.

It is a much more helpful form of politics for a politician to engage with a problem and try to solve it so delivering a 21st century healthcare service rather than simply oppose it. Would I do this again? With the success of this campaign, you can bet your life, literally, that I would.

Yours faithfully,

John Howell


23 OCT 2015

MP comments on electronic voting

Herewith the text of my speech delivered as a member of the Trade Union Bill committee on electronic voting.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I accept that electronic voting is gaining widespread political support, but I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the evidence that was put to the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy, particularly the evidence from the Open Rights Group. The Guardian commented:

"The chief fear of many is that...electronic voting would make electoral fraud easier, not harder. In the worst-case scenario, rather than forging ballots"—

an individual—

"could simply flip a switch and win the election with no trail in sight."

The executive director of the Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, said:

"This is a very hard problem to solve and so far nobody has managed it. Accountability in most software systems means a clear audit trail of who did what, which of course would violate the basic question of secrecy."

Regardless of that, the other part of that argument is that the system has to be made so secure and the voting equipment has to be trusted to such an extent that accountability is not open to doubt.

Stephen Doughty: On the basis of that argument, I have to ask whether the hon. Gentleman considers the election of his colleague, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London to be unsound in some way.

John Howell: I thought the hon. Gentleman would ask that question, so I thought of an answer. The answer is that I am not suggesting that anything at all was wrong with that election or, indeed, other elections that have used electronic voting, but I urge extreme caution where it is applied to elections that are enduring and on a statutory basis.

To finish—I wanted this to be only a brief intervention—I go back to Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group. He said:

"Given the vast numbers of machines that are infected by criminally controlled malware and the temptation for someone to interfere in an election, internet voting is a bad idea."

Nick Boles: Will my hon. Friend tell us where he unearthed those comments from Jim Killock to ensure that Hansard can record that for all Members?

John Howell: I am grateful to the Minister. Part of it comes from my role as the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on design and innovation—it did a lot of work in this area before the election—at the time that the Speaker's Commission was working, and part of it comes from an article in The Guardian. The Minister will appreciate that, as a lively reader of The Guardian, I pick up these things wherever I can. I can probably give him the exact date on which the article was published, if he wants to know that.

Chris Stephens: We are not talking about an election, though, but a ballot, which will be a binary choice. It will either be yes or no. What specifically would concern the hon. Gentleman about introducing electronic balloting in a case of industrial action or to confirm or otherwise the political fund arrangements of a trade union?

John Howell: I think there is a great deal of similarity between using electronic means for an election and for this sort of statutory balloting. The thing that most concerns me is that, as in the words of the Open Rights Group that I just quoted:

"This is a very hard problem to solve and so far nobody has managed it."

The question is how we deal with the problems of security and particularly of accountability.

Stephen Doughty: I think that it is important to test this point. The hon. Gentleman is referring to decisions that have statutory implications, are regulated and so on, but these methods are also used by major financial institutions. For example, the Nationwide Building Society, the Yorkshire Building Society, J.P. Morgan and others—

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con) rose—

The Chair: Order. You cannot intervene on an intervention.

Stephen Doughty: At their annual general meetings, which are often taking very serious and significant decisions, which are bound by the financial law set out by this House, those organisations are using these systems, so what is the problem? Why is this the only part of our democracy that is not able to use them?

John Howell: I think that a number of hon. Members want to intervene. First, does my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble want to intervene on me, as she could not intervene on the intervener?

Seema Kennedy: Sir Edward, I apologise. I am a relative novice, including on interventions. Are you aware that in the last year alone, online banking fraud has increased by 48%? Hon. Members are talking about the use of electronic methods in the financial and banking sector.

The Chair: Order. I am not aware of anything, especially not in The Guardian. When you say "you", you are addressing the Chair. Anyway, you have got the message.

John Howell: I think that that question was directed to me, Sir Edward. I am aware that online banking fraud is up by 48%. That is an example of what I am talking about—

Julie Elliott: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell: Not at the moment.

Julie Elliott: Just on that specific point.

John Howell: Not at the moment. If we look at Barclays bank, for example, we see that the level of tolerance of this is phenomenal. It is frightening to see that; in fact, it makes one wish to change one's account straightaway.

In answer to the question asked some time ago by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth about other organisations that use these methods, I fully accept, as I said at the beginning, that electronic balloting—electronic voting—is gaining wider and wider significance and acceptability. However, the organisations using these methods are approaching that in a systematic way. All I wanted to say at this point was that tremendous caution needs to be exercised. I shall finish again with the opinion of Mr Killock that

"internet voting is a bad idea."


22 OCT 2015

Henley MP champions NHS and Social Care integration

One of my great political objectives is to see the integration of social care and medical care provided by the NHS.  In the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill debate this week I was able to raise the question of the protection afforded to social care.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): My right hon. Friend has talked a great deal about the safeguarding of NHS provision. Can he reassure me that the social care element will be protected by the same level of safeguards?

Alistair Burt: Yes, in that the regulatory powers of the CQC and the safeguarding inspection regime will be retained for the social care element that is covered by a devolution deal. Again, the whole point is to give as much flexibility as possible to areas that want to exercise their powers to deliver services differently, with the reassurance that there will no compromise in relation to key standards—not that that would be wished for in a local area, and not that it would be anticipated by any of the devolving powers.


21 OCT 2015

Henley MP speaks out on aircraft noise

MPs in constituencies surrounding Heathrow joined forces in a debate in the House to call for action to mitigate aircraft noise. In a debate secured by Philip Lee, MP for Bracknell, MPs, including me, called for reversal of recent changes to the flight paths and offered possible solutions that could be introduced to mitigate noise.

I added my voice to the call for action ensuring that concerns from Henley and surrounding villages were on record. Speaking after the debate I said:

"Air traffic control have now admitted that they have changed the flight paths which means there are now lower flights over the constituency creating noise pollution. There are several measures that can be undertaken. Firstly I would like to see flight paths put back to where they were. I would also like to see other measures introduced such as bringing the planes in at a much steeper angle of descent and getting rid of older planes which are among the nosiest in the skies."

In response to the debate the Minister for Transport, Robert Goodwill, gave his assurance that government was aware of the concerns and that Heathrow was taking steps to cut back and mitigate its noise impact. He drew attention to the Aviation Policy Framework published in 2013 in which overall policy is to limit and where possible reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise. The Minister also mentioned the 'Blueprint for noise reduction' published this year by Heathrow setting out practical steps it is taking to mitigate noise.

I further commented:

"I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the concerns and that action is being taken. I will continue to work with my colleagues to hold all concerned to account on this and to push for some of the solutions offered in the debate to be taken on board."


20 OCT 2015

MP raises question about Palestinian extremism

John Howell (Henley) (Con):What assessment has the Minister made about the significant damage to the holy site of Joseph's tomb at Nablus, which was destroyed by up to 100 Palestinian rioters?

Mr Ellwood:I strongly condemn the burning of the tomb of Joseph in Nablus. The basic right of freedom to worship in safety and security should be protected for all. We have called for a swift and transparent investigation into the incident and for those responsible to be brought to justice.


20 OCT 2015

MP talks about aircraft noise in debate

My speech on aircraft noise from Heathrow

John Howell (Henley) (Con): First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this important debate. It is a pleasure to participate briefly in it. Although Henley-on-Thames is a little further up the River Thames than his constituency, it is also very badly blighted by noise pollution from aircraft, particularly those on easterly operations, which appear to do the equivalent of a handbrake turn over Henley, with all the attendant noise that brings.

I invited Heathrow, NATS and others to a public meeting to look at this problem. They willingly attended it, for which I am very grateful to them. However, their solution was that everything depended on the air patterns—whether aircraft were on a westerly or easterly approach. I can understand the logic of that, but it does not answer the whole question.

The fact that the landing routes have changed is a big contributor to the difficulties my constituents face. It affects the whole of Henley. Emails from my constituents say that they are woken up early in the morning, particularly with the old 747s that are among the noisiest aircraft in the skies, and late at night. It is necessary to do something about that. I approve of what my hon. Friend has said about steepness of the descent. That would keep aircraft significantly higher as they come in to land over my constituency, which would be a major improvement. Something needs to be done about older aircraft, because when the big 747s come in they are powered in such a way—I do not know whether the pilots do it deliberately, but they certainly seem to—that it creates an enormous noise.

Like my hon. Friend, I am looking forward to the results of the inquiry into the future of Heathrow. We need the capacity and we need to build something there, but if we are going to do so, we must solve the mitigation problem first.


20 OCT 2015

Response in the statement on education expansion

Response in the statement on educatio expansion

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Given the confessional mood in the Chamber this afternoon, let me confess that I, too, went to a grammar school. Is not this expansion about fulfilling unmet need, and will it not therefore appeal to those parents and children who really want to get on?

Nicky Morgan: I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend was also a grammar school boy. He is absolutely right to suggest that the request for this expansion reflects the need for more good school places in that particular area. It is also about parental choice. Those are two important criteria. I mentioned in my statement that just under 42% of the school's current intake comes from the Sevenoaks area, which is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) has also welcomed this decision.


19 OCT 2015

Questions 2nd day on Trade Union Bill

Q 246 John Howell (Henley) (Con): Thank you, Sir Edward. May I stay on the same subject? If a dispute gets out of hand, you are required to go and police it. Does the notice period in the Bill not give you advance warning, so you can tell whether policing is likely to be needed? I cannot see what the problem is with the notice period.

Deputy Chief Constable Hall: I think my experience is that in past situations in which we have been required to be involved, or in which we planned to be involved, notification has usually come forward fairly quickly, particularly through the employers, who say, "We believe that we may have issues when this picket line meets." Those situations are relatively rare, in terms of when picket lines sit. Yes, of course notice helps us to plan, but my experience is that planning does not need to be done in the vast majority of cases, simply because of peaceful picketing. Steve talked about the planned fuel dispute. A lot of planning went into the ability to police picket lines at that time, and as you know, it never quite materialised into a dispute. Those are the sorts of circumstances where advance notice would be very helpful.

Q 247 John Howell: May I follow up with one question? I am still struggling to see what harm the notice period causes.

Deputy Chief Constable Hall: I do not believe it causes any harm, as such. The challenge for policing is whether it is necessary for us, how we then administer it within police forces across the country, and whether we could obtain that information in other ways, either through local authorities or directly with the employer. As I say, we do not see any direct harm in receiving it, but we feel it could be discharged in other ways.

--------------------------

Q 313 John Howell: Mr Palmer-Jones, earlier you threw away a line about the intimidation you had been facing being likely to affect your ability to invest. Would you like to explain that?

David Palmer-Jones: As I said, together with others, I have invested probably around £700 million and I employ more than 500 people in that area. I have the ability to invest more, but when faced with the sort of intimidation and protest that we have been suffering, I have to think twice about where I spend my money. I am currently in the process of employing people from SSI: I have taken on 20 people and am looking for others to help me to run that plant, and we are taking on apprentices. But you can see why, when faced with an uncontrolled set of continual protests—the 29th—we would think twice about whether we bother to invest in that area. It is an area that we have supported for the past 15 or 20 years.

Q 314 John Howell: So you would welcome putting the existing code of conduct into a statutory form?

David Palmer-Jones: We would have to. Again, it is important that you widen and capture this particular grey area. You really need to look at the fact that the unions should be held responsible if they are actively supporting these types of protest.

-----------------------------

Q 414 John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is clear from the evidence we have heard that a charge is being made that your proposals go against the International Labour Organisation. Would you like to deal with that now?

Nick Boles: There is no question but that representations have been made to the ILO, and within ILO discussions, that some of the restrictions that we propose could conflict with ILO provisions. What is clear is that the governing body of the ILO has never accepted those arguments. Having looked at all the governing body's comments and decisions, we are entirely satisfied that nothing that we propose would conflict with them. Reference has been made to the European Economic and Social Committee; the truth is that we do not entirely accept its actions and status. It often says things that we and the governing body of the ILO do not agree with.

Q 415 John Howell: Like you, I listened intently to John Cridland's evidence on Tuesday, but the intention of the questions we have been asking has not been to show that the Bill is a pro-business measure. What we have tried to show is the impact of that on parents, patients, carers and commuters. I think we have actually demonstrated that quite effectively. Would you like to comment on how that fits into the purpose of the Bill?

Nick Boles: That is absolutely right. We were always thinking, when drafting the Bill, about what to tell the public when a strike has happened to reassure them. The public support unions' and individuals' ability to strike, and they often would like to feel that they have the ability to avail themselves of that right in an extreme situation. There is absolutely no question about it; the public do not support something that withdraws people's legitimate right to withdraw their labour in a case where they are being badly treated or a dispute that cannot be resolved otherwise. The public are frankly not very impressed when a strike happens that closes schools or bus services on an incredibly low turnout or a ballot that is several years old, and we are responding to that concern.


18 OCT 2015

Townlands Hospital - a final word

It might be a handy slogan to say that this is a hospital without beds but it is simply not true.  There are up to 14 beds associated with the hospital.  What I have been trying to do is save the beds associated with the old hospital by working with the Clinical Commissioning Group not by throwing stones at it.  That is precisely what has been achieved.  The beds are located on the same site as the hospital, on the same campus, as part of the same medical village.  Yes - they form part of the adjacent Care Home where the beds are likely to be co-located.  But precisely why does that matter?

The important point is not where these beds are located but that there is a good medical cover and good social care available.  While much of the discussion has been about where the beds should go, I have been questioning the robustness of the provision of social care under the ambulatory care model.

The papers prepared by the Clinical Commissioning Group show the involvement I have had with the project.  The paper prepared for the Board meeting in July 2015 references me on pages 2,13,14,and 15.  Whilte that prepared for the September 2015 Board meeting references me on pages 3,4,14,15, and 16.

This is not Henley's hospital but a hospital for a large part of Southern Oxfordshire, the majority of which supports and is grateful for what we have achieved.  How do I know this?  I asked them.

It is a much more helpful form of politics for a politician to engage with a problem and try to solve it so delivering a 21st century healthcare service rather than simply oppose it.  Would I do this again?  With the success of this campaign, you can bet your life, literally, that I would.


18 OCT 2015

John Howell MP backs campaign to have equal access to TV for people with sensory loss

I attended a parliamentary drop-in hosted by Action on Hearing Loss where I pledged support for the charity's campaign Subtitle It! which is backing legislation that will mean people with sight and hearing loss are able to watch fully accessible video-on-demand services with subtitles, signing and audio description.

The event held on Wednesday 14 October in Portcullis House, Westminster was jointly hosted with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Sense, where I was briefed on the ability of people with sensory loss to access TV via Video on Demand (VOD) services.

The rise of on-demand, streaming and catch-up services has led to the way that we watch television content being transformed- something which Parliament couldn't have foreseen when it passed the 2003 Communications Act. The Act led to huge improvements in the provision of subtitles and audio description on traditional TV, but it's now 12 years old, and technology has outgrown it.

The way TV is watched has transformed over recent years – but far too many people with hearing loss are missing out on enjoying the latest shows because subtitles are absent from thousands of hours of 'on demand' content. That is why I am backing Action on Hearing Loss' Subtitle It! campaign to stop people being digitally excluded so that they are able to watch television content when and how they want to.

Paul Breckell, Chief Executive at charity Action on Hearing Loss says: 'We are delighted that John Howell MP is backing the Subtitle It! campaign and is calling on the Government to bring in legislation so that deaf and hard of hearing residents from his constituency of Henley can have the same viewing experience as their hearing peers.'

Action on Hearing Loss is jointly working with Sense and RNIB to improve access to TV for people with sight and hearing loss. Access to TV programmes for people with hearing loss has vastly improved in recent years, however many programmes on catch up or video on-demand services do not have subtitles or audio description, even if the programmes were subtitled when they were originally broadcast. To find out more please visit www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/subtitleit


15 OCT 2015

Thames Valley crime down 31%

I have welcomed news that crime has fallen by 8 per cent year-on-year, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, and by more than a quarter (30 per cent) since 2010.

Today's figures show that police reform is working and crime is falling.

In the Thames Valley crime recorded by the police has fallen by 31%. This is good news for families across this area – meaning their communities are safer and more secure than ever before.

However, with the changing nature of crime, it's important that we continue to make Britain a safer place to live, work and do business – that is why we must continue to tackle the scourge of crime.


15 OCT 2015

MP speech on prison reform

John Howell (Henley) (Con):It is, as always, a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). I was going to say that I am the last surviving member of the previous Justice Committee, but that would appear to suggest that all the others were dead. Since the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) were two prominent members of that Committee, that is probably not the case. It was interesting to serve with them.

I am one of the few Members left on the Justice Committee, if not the only one, who had a role in preparing the report that we are debating. It was the Committee's first major report on prison policy. There were good reasons for undertaking it at the time, because prison policy was the subject of much reform. We wanted to look particularly at benchmarking and the new-for-old programme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has referred to. I want to comment on a couple of the points that he raised about resettlement and rehabilitation, and the engagement of prisoners in purposeful activity. Those are crucial, and they are very much interlinked in the whole programme.

As part of the preparation of the report, the Committee had a trip to Denmark and to Germany. Members might imagine, from anecdotal evidence, that the two places were very similar; in fact, we found them to be radically different. That was particularly true of Denmark. Although the feeling on the street may be that its regime is easy for prisoners, we found it to be quite stiff, and some good lessons arose from the experience. For example, we visited an open prison in Denmark that was surrounded by an enormous steel fence. That came as a bit of a shock to us, because one does not expect to see such a thing around an open prison, especially in Denmark. We asked why it was there, and the answer that we were given was that it was not so much to keep prisoners in as to keep the drug pushers out. That brought home to us the first point of similarity between the Danish system and our own: the acknowledgement that the use of drugs in prison is a major problem that has to be overcome. When we went to Germany, we found that there was the same level of drug use but, interestingly, it was not recognised to be a problem.

On our visit to Denmark we gained a particularly interesting insight into rehabilitation, which we bring out in a recommendation in the report, when we went to see how the prisoners cooked their food. I suppose that phrase gives the game away—the prisoners did not eat at enormous benches where food was slopped out to them in the style of the television series "Porridge"; the system allowed them to earn money in the prison and go to buy food, which they could cook communally for themselves and other prisoners. It is true that the knives used in the process were chained to the wall, but such a precaution is only to be expected in a prison.

That single activity was very important, because it created a sense of prisoner responsibility, which was absolutely conducive to the idea of rehabilitation. We pointed out that the Government should consider that for prisons in the UK, and I was pleased to see in their response that they would look to increase the opportunities for self-catering where appropriate. Perhaps I can push the Minister to confirm that that is happening—particularly in new-build prisons, where I think it is perfectly feasible and appropriate to work in such an arrangement.

Something else that we noted on our trip—this was most obviously the case in Germany—was the amount of industrial or commercial activity that the prisoners undertook. We visited a furniture operation in part of the prison, which involved prisoners in a tremendous amount of work producing excellent furniture for sale at a later stage. Such work is absolutely crucial: not only does it give prisoners dignity in work, which we have claimed to be important throughout the process, but it helps with their rehabilitation by giving them the ability to manage their own time and responsibilities. I am conscious that the ability to provide such a facility in prisons in this country is lacking. I ask the Minister what has been done, and what continues to be done, to take that forward.

Our impression from both trips was positive about prisoner rehabilitation. When I looked again at the situation in the UK, I saw that, as we demonstrate in the report, a lot of emphasis is placed on health and safety, on the safety of prisoners in prisons and on the sorts of figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst mentioned concerning the performance of the prison estate. I cannot help but feel that those things are linked—that the decrease in safety and the increase of attacks in prisons are due to the difficulty of trying to make purposeful work happen.

Another issue that we point out in the report is the role of prison governors, who are seen by the general public as being almost like latter-day Roman governors in their own prison. In fact, they are not. We visited one prison governor who had virtually no control over the educational activities taking place in his prison. There needs to be some move back to giving prison governors control of the places they run and what they do in them, which will improve the workings of the prisons and the outcomes for prisoners. Implementing the key recommendations of the report will help.


15 OCT 2015

MP raises situation in Israel & the West Bank

My question during Business Questions today to the Leader of the House

John Howell (Henley) (Con):There has been a dramatic escalation in violence across Israel and the west bank over recent weeks, so may we please have a debate on this serious issue?

Chris Grayling:I think we are all concerned about what is happening in Israel and the west bank. Utterly unacceptable incidents have taken place, including stabbings out of the blue and other incidents that have led to death and serious injury. We need to be constantly aware of that in this country and use every opportunity to try to facilitate talks and peace between the two sides. Obviously, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary addresses the issue in this House before too long.


15 OCT 2015

MP question on vulnerable people in court

You may find here my question to the solicitor general about the attitude of courts to vulnerable people.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Operation Bullfinch, in Oxford, introduced a number of radically different procedures for coping with vulnerable witnesses. What lessons have been learnt from that?

The Solicitor General:I know that my hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in improving the processes as a result of that case, which helped to revolutionise the way in which the investigatory authorities all work together. There have been a number of other successful investigations in his own police area, which are helping to improve national practice, and there is a much greater understanding across the country of the way in which in which such cases can be effectively prosecuted.


14 OCT 2015

Questions in the Trade Union Bill committee

Below you will find the questions and exchanges I had during the Trade Union Bill committee on 14 October 2015.

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Q 6 John Howell (Henley) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. The Bill has already been described by Mr Doughty as "draconian". Can you give me your impression of how much this is a fundamental change to the way that trade unions operate and how much you think it is more of a step-by-step increase in the modernisation of the trade union movement?

John Cridland: I echo Mr Martin's comment about a failsafe. In most workplaces, relations are harmonious. Most workplaces are now not unionised, but in the unionised part of workplaces, most relationships are harmonious, and employers recognise that. There is a small minority of situations, which we have already described, where many people—businesses and consumers —are significantly disrupted. If that is to happen, and if the right to strike is to be exercised, I think it is reasonable, given the level of disruption involved, that there is clear evidence of a significant mandate. That is a modernisation of a system that is broadly working well.

Dr Adam Marshall: I would probably agree with my colleague and simply add that having an expiry for ballot mandates is an important thing in this day and age, given that we are in a more complex world for both business and industrial relations than perhaps ever before. Having a clear mandate renewed on a regular basis is very important.

David Martin: I again echo the comments. I can only refer to what I said earlier—that in the event of a breakdown in industrial relations, which does not happen very often, let us have a very clear mandate that reflects the wishes of the membership as a whole, and let us have a situation where we can minimise the overall impact on the travelling public and the UK economy at the same time.

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Q 55 John Howell: Can I move you on to some questions about the political levy? It seems to me that there is a fundamental principle of fairness in this. Voluntary funds, which is what the political levy is, should not be taken out of someone's pay packet without their consent. Do you agree with that?

John Hannett: My union has a very clear position on this that has been in place since the union merged in 1947. First, our rulebook is very explicit about the right to be paying the political levy. On our membership form, when somebody joins the trade union, there is a very explicit clause that says, "If you do not wish to pay the levy, you do not have to." Some of our members exercise that right, so we already cover it with our form and we are transparent about this in all our communications with our members.

Q 56 John Howell: Do you think that offers the sort of consumer protection that others outside of the trade union movement would expect in being able to deal with the political levy?

Roy Rickhuss: It is a fair question, but I also believe that trade unions are so transparent and democratic—we are probably the most democratic organisations in the country. Our members decide whether they want to have a political fund. Our rulebook and our constitution is voted on by our members—we have to re-ballot them every 10 years, but we have rule changes in between. We have conferences where members can put forward motions and debate issues, so I really do think, democratically, that the fact we have a political fund and we use it for political campaigning is well understood by our members. They vote for it positively time and time again, so I think we are covered. I fully agree with John—people are aware of the unions' activities because we make them well known. We publicise them, and people do opt out of paying the political levy if they want to do so.

John Hannett: I am conscious of other questions, but I should remind you that in terms of our own levy, the political levy has to be balloted every 10 years. We had a 93% vote in favour, and we communicate that through all our journals.

Q 57 John Howell: Do you think that is applicable right across the board, to other trade unions? You have said what the position is in your own union.

John Hannett: I do. It is very difficult for a trade union to not be transparent in an issue like this, because if you are politically active and campaigning, you have to demonstrate how you spend your money to not only the certification office but also to your members. My union has an annual conference. The idea of not being transparent to an annual conference plus regional conferences would be impossible. As Roy said, it is the most open, democratic process you can have. Our members are not silly. They know where the money goes; they know how it is spent. And if you get a 93% vote in favour, I think that is pretty conclusive in agreeing that they should pay it.

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Q 72 John Howell: We heard from the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce that all this Bill does is modernise the way in which trade unions behave. It does not introduce a fundamental change in the trade union rules that apply, so it is very difficult in that circumstance to understand why you describe the Bill as unlawful and unwarranted. In the example that you use of not being able to tell what the nature of the dispute is, surely it is in the interests of transparency that that should be settled and be clearly on the ballot paper.

Stephen Cavalier: The problem here—I was in a meeting with some employers' lawyers and they were expressing it this way—is about forcing such a detailed description of all the matters at issue in a dispute at the start. The lawyers' concern is that unions will be forced to draw the dispute as broadly as possible to include every single aspect, and moreover, that it is likely to escalate matters because unions will feel reluctant to compromise on individual issues in the dispute, as employers will otherwise argue that consequently the dispute has changed and that there needs to be a re-ballot. It forces extreme behaviour, if you like, and it is likely to mean that a dispute escalates.

In terms of being unlawful, we mentioned in our submission the areas where we believe it contravenes the European convention on human rights and the International Labour Organisation code. The other point to make is that, as the Regulatory Policy Committee said in its response to the impact assessment, there is absolutely no evidence that it will work. In terms of modernising industrial relations, the Regulatory Policy Committee has said that there should be separate assessments of the 50% threshold and of the 40% threshold. It completely rejects the analysis of the likely impact of the threshold on the outcomes of disputes, because there is no analysis of the impact of a threshold on voting behaviour and turnouts in the elections themselves.

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Q 102 John Howell (Henley) (Con): The health service would be subject to the 40% threshold for strikes. Do you think that that has been drawn widely enough, and would you like to see any other bits of the health service included in that?

Julia Manning: In terms of detail, I have not clocked all the amendments, and one of my concerns was that certain areas would be excluded. Maybe you can tell me, for instance, what the terms are for some of the critical services, such as intensive care and emergency services, and whether they are different.

Q 103 John Howell: So you would like to see those included.

Julia Manning: I would like to see them excluded. I do not think, if you are working in intensive care or emergency services, you should have the right to strike.

Q 104 John Howell: What do you think the effect of the Bill will be on patients seeking healthcare?

Julia Manning: Thinking about the Bill, the wider context is really interesting in terms looking at the trends for our ageing population, the greater proportion of people who will have long-term conditions, who will be dependent on interventions and who will have been lined up potentially seeking to have treatment and then feel that that might be jeopardised by industrial action. There is a volume issue here.

For me, the Bill raises the discussion that I feel we should be having around the changing nature of the workplace for the NHS as a whole, because of the impact and influence of technology, which is changing many of the duties and roles that people have and the opportunities for the public to look after themselves. It feels to me as though we are still talking about skills and the workforce as it is now, but what is it going to look like in five or 10 years' time? It could be very different.

Q 105 John Howell: Would you like to give us a view of what you think it will look like, and how the Bill would affect that in five to 10 years' time?

Julia Manning: Again, I will try not to get too technical or philosophical. The Bill does not go into the detail of the many different NHS roles and responsibilities, but those are going to change. As patients, as the public and as what we call "participatients", we will have information and access to all sorts of things that we currently do not have access to, which have been the preserve of the NHS. Down the line, the impact of action could be quite different because of what we as the public will have access to, which will no longer be within the control of NHS professionals. That is something we should be mindful of.

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Q 140 John Howell: Do you think that the balance is right in the Bill? Is it likely to have an adverse effect on industrial relations?

Janet Cooke: I do not think that I have a view on that and, I will be honest, I am not sufficiently familiar with exactly what you are proposing to be able to comment. Without doing proper research, I could not give a view.

David Sidebottom: I think the same. We do lots of research into how passengers are disrupted, with Network Rail, train operators and passengers. If there were more frequent strikes and disruption on the railway caused by industrial action, we would perhaps be prompted to spend time and do some research on the impact felt by passengers. Like Janet, I have not formed a particularly strong view based on any evidence that we have gathered.

One point that I picked up from doing some background reading was notification of strike action. For rail passengers, whether it is seven days or 14 days, the issue of getting the information is the key thing. It is not just social media and websites, it is posters at stations and that kind of thing. That is probably the best help I can give in terms of answering the question.

Q 141 John Howell: I am slightly surprised that you do not have a firmer view on that, and on the balance between people's ability to strike and the enormous impact on the travelling public.

David Sidebottom: I am interested, as a representative of a consumer organisation, in the impact on individuals of planned or unplanned engineering work or disruption such as industrial action. I am interested in the quality of information and how passengers are empowered to make a decision about where to go and how they make an alternative journey.

One thing we ask is for passengers to rank their priorities for improvement. We often see nothing in our research about information on the back of industrial action. It is about the things that are important to them: a punctual, reliable railway, good value for money and getting a seat.

Janet Cooke: Having done a little research on the internet on strikes that have been reported, certainly in the past six months there seems to have been an increasing amount of industrial activity in the London area, which has an impact. In the past six months we have had five actual strikes—three on the underground and two on Great Western—and four threatened strikes—three on National Rail and one on the tube. We have just had the last strike, which in the end did not have that much impact on passengers because Transport for London continued to run the service on the Waterloo and City line. Now DLR workers are balloting about strike action, so there certainly has been an increase in the amount of activity.

Q 142 John Howell: Would you like to sum up the overall impact?

Janet Cooke: It is the attrition. For the first strike, people can often make other arrangements. Strikes have a particular impact on people in jobs where they do not have flexibility. I could work from home if I could not get into work or I could start late and finish late, or whatever. People working in critical, front-line jobs, who do not have that flexibility, are affected disproportionately, because they have no options.

David Sidebottom: Back in 2009-10, London Midland inconvenienced passengers as a result of its inability to roster railway staff to work on Sundays. That is a traditional working pattern that was provided largely through overtime and informal arrangements. We have seen a bit of that with one or two other train operators in recent years, but not on a large scale.

The bigger impact for passengers is short notice and cancellations. It is not a week's or two weeks' notice. The ability of a train company to buy out those working arrangements is very much between it, the unions and the staff. It seems to be something that is not quite cured yet. I do not know how that would fit with the Bill, but it does come across as inconveniencing passengers slightly more.

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Q 188 John Howell: I have a question for Mr Wilson. Can you describe the strike that your company faced? What was its effect on the travelling public and what are the likely effects of the thresholds?

Tony Wilson: The most recent strike was in relation to Unite's quest for sector-wide collective bargaining across London. They obviously had to try to co-ordinate many legal entities. They managed to do that and we had a very low turnout in terms of our own workforce actually voting yes for the strike. It was even lower among union members as a proportion of the number of employees.

We were quite successful in the marketplace in terms of operating services. On the first day of operation, we got between 30% and 40% of the service out, but that is the peak-time service, which is what is mostly going to affect commuters both in the morning and afternoon. On the second day, 5 February, we got up to nearly 50% of our peak-time service out on the road. In any respect, that is a major disruption to the travelling public and it was not a great day for anybody who was trying to catch a bus. We were one of the most successful companies in terms of turning out services. Others varied at certain depots around London from zero to all the way up to similar levels to us. As a proportion of the total network, however, it was less than 50% out, certainly on the second day, which was the better of the two.

Q 189 John Howell: And the effect of the thresholds in the Bill?

Tony Wilson: To me, the thresholds are all about proportionality. We rely entirely on collective bargaining within our organisation. We have a very good relationship with Unite. Across many years, I have never had any great issue with them. For us, it is the fact that very low numbers of the organisation can dictate to the mass. Some of that is to do with the fact that our particular company has quite a low percentage of union members in the first place, but even they do not all go and vote. I think something like 12% of the total bus driver workforce actually voted yes and dictated to the vast majority.

I heard something earlier on about picket lines. On 13 January, there was no police presence on our picket lines, but there were a lot of people, and a lot of staff who would otherwise have come to work were deterred from doing so. Most pickets were not particularly antagonistic—some were a bit different—but the sheer number of people that they had to pass to get into work was a barrier to them. At one depot, the roadway was blocked, so we could not actually get buses in and out. On the second day, co-ordinating with Transport for London, we had a large police presence on all of our sites. It was far more organised and there was a lot less disruption. It was noticeable that people do not want to come to work and cross that barrier. Whether on the day or the stigma afterwards, they do not feel comfortable.


14 OCT 2015

Henley constituency a top performer in employment

The constituency is the 649th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.).

The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in September 2015 was 219.

This includes 186 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 33 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 83 lower than in September 2014

There were 36 claimants aged 18-24 across the Henley constituency in September 2015, 19 lower than in September 2014.

Once again this constituency is a top performer in tackling unemployment. Congratulations to institutions like the Henley College for all the work they do in encouraging apprenticeships and to schools like Lord Williams in Thame for the help they provide in keeping the youth employment figures so low. This is very welcome news.


12 OCT 2015

MP comments on Right to Buy

The exchange I had during the urgent question on the Right to Buy is reproduced below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):From listening to those on the Opposition Benches, we might get the impression that this is a stand-alone measure, but is it not a part of our broader programme to encourage home ownership among the widest collection of people in the country, and is this not a good illustration of how we are committed to doing that?

Brandon Lewis:My hon. Friend makes a good point. Yes, it absolutely is part of a wider package of work we have been doing and will continue to do to drive up home building as well as homeownership throughout different parts of the sector and with different types of tenure, while always remembering that 86% of our population want to own their own home and doing everything we can to support them in that aim.


10 OCT 2015

MP at Party Conference

During the Conservative Party conference I took a high profile and very active role in promoting a number of areas, many of which I have responsibility for at a national level.  In particular, I participated in fringe meetings to discuss the role of Neighbourhood Planning and the work I am doing to simplify Local Plans and also in a roundtable on a related topic with Localis.

This also included a very good session on the type of housing we needed across the country and a roundtable on housing specifically for the retirement market. We appear to be pushing at a very wide open door when it comes to simplifying Local Plans and encouraging Neighbourhood Planning and I look forward to continuing my work in this area.

I also participated in a roundtable with the Royal College of General Practitioners on the issue of tackling health inequalities. The questions I asked related to what actions GPs and others could take to get people to take action for their own health particularly when dealing with hard to reach people. There are clearly major issues around how health campaigns are run which affect this.

 

In addition, I also took part in the Conservative Party's international activities. In this capacity I met delegates from Bulgaria, Bosnia and the Maldives and heard of the situation in their countries.  I also had meetings with a number of organisations including the Jersey Government, Taylor Wimpey and the CIPD where we talked about apprenticeships.

 

 

I visited a number of exhibition stands at the conference including some on cancer including secondary breast cancer, apprenticeships and Guide Dogs where I participated in trying to hook obstacles out of the way of pavements. Sadly, my timing on this was not exceptional and neither was my timing trying to screw in five screws on the apprenticeship stand.

 

Finally, I participated in a Holocaust Educational Trust event in which we heard from a survivor of the kinder transport and I attended a dinner with the Prince's Trust to talk about youth unemployment.  In this constituency the total number unemployed and on Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Benefit is only 35.


10 OCT 2015

John Howell MP Hooks-a-Truck to clean up problem pavement parking

I took on the challenge of cleaning up the streets at the Conservative Party Conference this week, when the charity Guide Dogs offered me the chance to learn more about the daily difficulties faced by people living with sight loss.

Guide Dogs is calling on MPs and the public to back a new Bill to outlaw irresponsible parking. According to the charity, badly parked cars are putting the lives of pedestrians up and down the country at risk every day. These vehicles are forcing people to step out into the road, without being able to clearly see on-coming traffic.

The charity used a unique twist on the fun-fair game, Hook-a-Duck, to highlight the campaign and Mr Howell became the guide when he helped a rubber duck navigate a stream full of obstacles.

I am supporting Guide Dogs' campaign on pavement parking, including a proposed law to restrict it to designated areas.

There are nearly two million people in the UK who are living with sight loss and by 2050, there could be nearly four million. So it's more important than ever that our streets are safe for people who are blind or partially sighted.

I agree that this is a serious issue and needs to be tackled. I had a close friend who had to negotiate cars parked on pavements so I know the difficulties involved. Congratulations for highlighting this issue.

James White, Senior Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, said: "Parking on pavements is blighting Britain's streets. It puts all pedestrians in danger, particularly those living with sight loss.

"It is terrifying for someone who cannot see oncoming traffic to take the risk of stepping out into a road because someone has decided to park on the pavement. We hope this year will see this dangerous practice outlawed once and for all, and call on all MPs to back a change in the law."


10 OCT 2015

MP congratulates Thame on High Street awards

Thame has been named as a 'Rising Star' in this year's Great British High Street competition. This is in recognition for the work that has been done to keep the high street vibrant and attractive, meeting the needs of the local community. The award comes with a £1000 prize. Thame has also be listed in the top ten Great Places in England by the Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI). The voting for the top place is open until December so do support our local town and add your vote on the RTPI website: www.rtpi.org.uk/egpvoting

I recorded a video of support as part of the presentation for the Great British High Street award. On hearing the news of the I said that I am absolutely delighted that Thame has been awarded Rising Star status in the Great British High Street competition. So many people work hard to make Thame High Street the lively and successful place that it is and I am sure that this award offers great encouragement to them. My congratulations to all. I am sure that the £1000 will come in very handy too in making additional improvements and I look forward to hearing how it will be used. I am also delighted to see that the RTPI has listed Thame as one of the top ten great places in England. Entry onto this list is based on careful planning and community support and I would encourage those who know and love Thame High Street to cast their vote to get it to the number one slot.

Thame was selected to be included in the list of 10 finalists from over 200 nominations received by the RTPI. In selecting Thame as a finalist, the RTPI panellists noted that 'Good planning over a long period has protected and enhanced the character of this small market town and the High Street, and it now has the benefits of one of the first neighbourhood plans. It is an example of exemplary community support and careful, sensitive planning.'

i added that as Government Champion for Neighbourhood Planning I am particularly delighted to learn that the Thame Neighbourhood Plan has led to such recognition by the RTPI. The Plan is a great example of the value of effort put in by the whole community to draw up a collective plan. At referendum it was supported by 76% of those voting.

NOTES

The Great British High Street http://thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk/

RTPI England's Great Places http://www.rtpi.org.uk/events/rtpis-englands-great-places/


03 OCT 2015

MP completes Recess tour

I have completed my September recess tour for 2015. In the course of 2 weeks I had discussions with 25 parish councils and held 15 other meetings with community groups, companies and members of the community.

This tour is in addition to the regular visits to villages and towns in the constituency which I carry out every week. The September recess from Parliament whilst the various Party Conferences take place provides an opportunity for a more intensive programme of meetings than is usually possible.

This year a highlight of the tour was a meeting in the Watlington Sports Pavilion on Broadband to which the MP had invited parish councils (see picture). The meeting discussed the roll-out of broadband in the constituency which had been raised many times during the tour. It was attended by the Minister in charge of broadband, Ed Vaizey, who agreed to take up a range of issues with BT and others and explained how the roll-out programme was being widened to include more and more houses.

A wide range of issues were raised across the constituency. Where parishes are in the Townlands Hospital catchment there was contentment with what has now been negotiated which, it was generally agreed, is substantially improved from the original proposal. They were also grateful for work put in to achieve this. Traffic issues were commonly raised as were questions on planning. There was much interest in Neighbourhood Development Plans and the opportunity to have a greater say in planning policy.

This was an important opportunity to give people the chance of raising matters on their minds and for me to catch up with any particular concerns in the different communities across the constituency. I was particularly conscious how concerned the villages were about the removal of county council subsidies on buses and what this would mean for their services. I was also pleased that so many communities are considering producing Neighbourhood Plans which offer a unique opportunity to share in the development of the planning system in their area.


29 SEP 2015

Older People's Day Thame

On 1 October I will be coming to Thame to meet some older people and some carers. It will be part of the celebration being organised for Older People's Day. This coincides with the UN International Day of Older Persons and its main aim is to be a celebration of the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and the economy. I recognise the contribution older people continue to make and I want to ensure we all have dignity and respect in later life. Older people's issues are not a bolt on to government policy. They cut across many government departments and are at the heart of what we do.

I am reminded that we have restored the link with earnings, and that the Basic State Pension had been increased by the highest of prices, earnings or 2.5%. As a result of this, the State Pension is now £950 higher than in 2010. In addition, key universal benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment and bus passes have been protected, and we are committed to retaining them for this Parliament. Alongside this, Cold Weather Payments have been increased and the Warm Home Discount has been introduced to provide vulnerable pensioners with an £135 rebate on their energy bills.

Older People's Day supports the campaign to challenge negative attitudes and outdated stereotypes. It is about recognising that older people can do so much to keep themselves happy and healthy by the choices they make in what they do. There is much to value in later life and much to celebrate. That is why we have the UK Advisory Forum on Ageing. This forum ensures that the views of older people are heard and, importantly, responded to. It gives older people a direct line to government to comment on new policy ideas, services, legislation and other areas they feel the government should deal with. I welcome this and hope that it is something we all remember not just on this one day a year but throughout the year.


28 SEP 2015

Townlands Hospital

I am pleased that the issue of Townlands has been finalised at the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Board Meeting and that the Townlands Steering Group (TSG) will continue to be involved as the hospital is taken forward. I appreciate that this has been a difficult time for many in the community and I hope that we can now all move forward together and look forward to benefiting from 21st century healthcare provision on our doorstep.

This represents a huge amount of hard work by all those involved and I am pleased to have played a leading role in the negotiations. As a result, the proposal on the table is radically different from the proposal that was first brought forward. For example,

  • The RACU will now be open 7 days a week and 12 hours a day;
  • Out-patient services will be available 6 days a week;
  • There will be 14 beds available – 8 on permanent lease and 6 based on demand;
  • The CCG will work with the OSJ to ensure the 8 beds will be collocated in the Care Home and a recommendation that these be called Peppard Rooms;
  • The medical cover for these beds has been defined and strengthened and its relationship to the RACU established;
  • Oxford Health will fund journeys from Henley to Wallingford for those wishing to see loved ones in the transitional period between the Hospital coming on-line and the Care Home being built.

These are all significant improvements on the initial proposal and have come about as a result of the negotiations.

This is a hospital for a large part of southern Oxfordshire not just Henley itself. When I have spoken to representatives from the villages in the Townlands catchment area they have endorsed their support for what we have achieved for our communities.


20 SEP 2015

MP about to begin 'annual village tour'

I am about to begin my 'annual village tour' of villages in the constituency.

The term 'annual village tour' does not imply that I visit villages in the constituency only once a year. I am out and about across the constituency every Friday and weekends. The September recess from Parliament whilst the various Party Conferences take place provides an annual opportunity for a more intense programme of meetings than is usually possible.

This year the tour is based around meetings with Parish Councils. In total, he will visit some 25 parish councils and have meetings with about 10 other organisations and community groups. These include meetings in Henley, Thame and many of the villages where there are fewer opportunities to meet with people during the year.

I am pleased that so many parish councils have also opened the meetings up to other village residents. This always provides a good opportunity to discuss a large number of issues and this year it is important that so many have begun to prepare Neighbourhood Plans. It is important to give people the opportunity of raising matters on their minds and for me to catch up with any particular concerns in the different communities across the constituency.


17 SEP 2015

MP speaks on dangerous driving

Today I sopke in the debate on dangerous driving. The transcript of my speech is set out below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, praise my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for securing this important debate. I also praise those who lie behind it, not only for backing the debate, but for their petition.

This important issue has been raised with me by constituents on a number of occasions. I, too, have raised it with the Ministry of Justice, and I will refer to that later. A huge concern is that with the increase in traffic comes an increase in dangerous driving, which can have a big effect on our constituents. Only yesterday I was at a meeting of the joint all-party group on rural issues and policing, where a startling statistic was revealed, that the fear of crime in rural areas was much increased over the reality—although in the case of dangerous driving, the reality is all too visible. More than 63% of people who had responded to the survey had a fear of road traffic crime. It was a huge and sad number, and behind it is the public reaction to lenient sentences in the area. Happily, the Select Committee on Justice, of which I am a member, has picked up on the matter a number of times. Only this week, we had the opportunity to question the Attorney General on lenient sentences.

A letter that I received from the Ministry of Justice in 2013 explained:

"When considering the appropriate charge, it is the driving behaviour that is the deciding factor, that is, whether the driver was careless or dangerous, rather the outcome of the incident however tragic."

I suspect that at some point that ought to lead us to a review of sentencing guidelines, which are produced independently of government. The Justice Committee is a statutory consultee of the Sentencing Council, which produces the guidelines, and I shall certainly take it upon myself to respond and to try to achieve the things that my hon. Friend set out in this debate, so that is an important contribution that I can make.

We need to do something to take forward work on the subject, which has never been more required. I can illustrate this with a couple of cases from my own postbag. For example, a constituent wrote to tell me that his nephew had been run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver. His nephew was a 22-year-old student who was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing by a driver who went through a red light at twice the legal speed. The killer received a sentence that means he will spend less than two years in prison. That example from my constituency makes the very point that my hon. Friend was making and shows why the law needs to be changed.

Another constituent wrote to me asking for an urgent review of how such criminals are allowed to turn the law on its head. One wrote:

"To make a difference we need larger fines to act as a deterrent"—

although I am not sure that larger fines are the only answer. We should submit proposals to the Sentencing Council to review the guidelines.

Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con):

My constituency has the fifth worst record in Britain for serious incidents involving people being killed and seriously injured. The issue of sentencing and fines has come to my postbag as well. For example, an individual was banned from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay a fine of £300 for a drink-driving incident in south-east Sussex. In another incident, the driver who was behind the wheel of his car while twice over the alcohol limit was banned for six months. Another individual was caught with herbal cannabis and admitted to smoking the drug, but was only banned for 12 months and fined £300. I would like some clarity on sentencing and some sort of order to the convictions—sentencing is erratic and often depends on which part of the country an individual is in. Clarity would be useful.

John Howell:

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent remarks and for providing yet more examples of what my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West was discussing when he opened the debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the various cases. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) made about the criminal process is a good one, and one on which I would like to see action.

I fully support the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West and his call for consecutive sentencing, because that will help to overcome some of the problems that he illustrated. I echo his call for the information requested to be provided, so that we do not have such a situation again.


16 SEP 2015

"Virtually full employment" says MP

The total number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in August 2015 is running at a rate of 0.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, This makes it the 649th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.) The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.5%.

The total figure stands at 218 people. This includes 197 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 21 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment. Some of these Universal Credit claimants may no longer be seeking work.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 111 lower than in August 2014.

I welcome this news. We are virtually at full employment in the constituency which is very good for constituents. However, I recognise that it creates problems for employers in finding people to recruit who live locally.


15 SEP 2015

Exchange at BIS questions re Shayne Hadland

This is the exchange which took place today at BIS questions:

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Senior Aircraftman Shayne Hadland on winning a silver medal for aircraft maintenance at the WorldSkills competition in Sao Paulo and on being named best of nation for the United Kingdom? Does that not illustrate the importance of good technical skills and how the RAF is providing them?

Sajid Javid:I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Shayne Hadland. It was a huge achievement to win such a prize at the WorldSkills competition—I know just how competitive it was. Luckily for Britain, we had many other winners and I congratulate them too. It is an inspiration to many people.


15 SEP 2015

New planning appointment for Henley MP

Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, confirmed today in Communities and Local Government questions in the House of Commons my appointment to an Expert Group to look at how Local Plans, such as that produced by South Oxfordshire District Council, can be improved.

The Government's Productivity Plan "Fixing the Foundations" published on 10 July 2015 set out a commitment to bringing forward proposals to significantly streamline the length and process of Local Plans. The Government wishes to see radically shorter and simpler Local Plans.

The core purpose of the Group is to look objectively at the plan making process, and consider ways to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, making the process swifter and plans radically shorter, simpler and clearer.

In his answer to me, Greg Clark MP commented that the MP had been instrumental in producing radically shorter national planning policies and he looked forward to him tackling Local Plansd which had become far too long.

The full exchange can be read below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): The Government's productivity plan said local plans should be radically shorter and simpler. Does the Minister agree that local plans can deliver? What is he doing to facilitate this?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend was instrumental in helping us transform the planning guidance, taking 1,000 pages down to 50 in the NPPF, and I am delighted that he has agreed to serve on a group that will help to simplify local plans, which have become far too long. I believe his first meeting with the group is taking place tomorrow

It is a great pleasure to help the Government achieve the objective of shorter and simpler Local Plans. These must be accessible to all who might want to read them including members of the public. It also has to make sure that the process is less litigious.


12 SEP 2015

John Howell MP: ConservativesÂ’ Help to Buy has helped 78 people buy a new home in this area

I have welcomed new figures showing that Help to Buy has helped 78 people to buy their own home in this area.

Help to Buy was introduced by the Conservatives to help working people doing the right thing and saving for a deposit to achieve their aspiration of buying their own home. Across the country, Help to Buy has now enabled nearly 120,000 families to buy a new home, less than three years since it was launched. 80 per cent of those helped are first-time buyers – realising the dream of owning their own home – and 95 per cent of completions have been outside of London.

The Chancellor has now said that the stronger economy and financial system means the Government expects banks to start to exit the Help to Buy Mortgage scheme, which was introduced in times of financial distress and will come to an end next year in any case.

The Help to Buy shared equity scheme continues to go from strength to strength and the new Help to Buy ISA the Government is launching in December will provide generous support to those saving for their first home by providing a government boost on their deposit.

Conservatives are committed to helping working people achieve the aspiration of buying their own home and our Help to Buy scheme has now helped 78 families to buy their own home in this area.

The stronger economy and financial system means the Government expects banks to start to exit our Help to Buy Mortgage scheme, and it was introduced in times of financial distress and will come to an end next year in any case.

The Help to Buy shared equity scheme goes from strength to strength and our new Help to Buy ISA we're launching in December will provide generous support to those saving for their first home by providing a government boost on their deposit.

Supporting people who want to work hard, save and buy their own home is a key part of the Conservatives' long term plan to provide economic security for working people at every stage of their life, across the UK.


12 SEP 2015

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

I have shown my support for women with breast cancer by dressing up in pink and encouraging my constituents to take part in Breast Cancer Now's flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, on Friday 23rd October.

wear it pink, the UK's biggest pink fundraiser, calls on supporters across the country to ditch the day-to-day colours and pull on some pink to raise money for Breast Cancer Now's life-saving breast cancer research.

I joined fellow parliamentarians in wearing it pink in Westminster this week to encourage people across the UK to get involved. Now in its 14th year, wear it pink raises over £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it is back and bigger, brighter and bolder than ever before.

Anyone can take part, whether in school, at work or at home. All you have to do is wear something pink and donate whatever you can.

Right now breast cancer is at a tipping point. Every year in the UK around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly nearly 12,000 women still lose their lives to the disease. This is why we all must come together to support Breast Cancer Now's cutting-edge research, and, in wear it pink, there is a fun and simple way for everyone to get involved.

Together, we can make a big difference for women with breast cancer, now and in the future; I hope everyone in the local community will join me in wearing it pink on Friday 23 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.

Launched in June 2015 with the ambition of ensuring that no one dies from the disease by 2050, Breast Cancer Now is the UK's largest breast cancer charity, created by the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

This is a day when we stand out, stand together and stand for something: wear it pink on Friday 23 October to support Breast Cancer Now's life-saving research. For more information or to register for wear it pink visit www.wearitpink.org.

 

For more information on Breast Cancer Now's work, visit breastcancernow.org or follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.


08 SEP 2015

Business rates debate

I intervened twice in the debate on rural business rates today in Parliament.  The text of my interventions is below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

My hon. Friend describes a situation in which a bank has been closed down in a constituency, which often happens in rural constituencies such as mine. Has he found that the current position inhibits people from taking up ATMs in the transfer of that banking business to another business?

Jake Berry:

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution; I will come on to the effect of that, but the short answer is yes. Cash machine operators have warned that the attachment of business rates to through-wall ATMs makes them uneconomic, particularly in rural areas where there is low footfall and their use is not as common. They have estimated that 1,000 existing ATMs, let alone ones that we would hope to bring into our communities following a bank closure, are at risk.

AND

John Howell:

I wonder whether the Minister will allow me to give a plug for that review. I am conducting a review of businesses in my own constituency, and I know that they see business rates as just another tax. It would be extremely good for them to see something in return for paying their business rates—something that they have control over.

Mr Marcus Jones:

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and it is always good to get the views of businesses, both in Henley and across the country. I will certainly take into account what he has said and I will feed those comments into the ongoing review.


06 SEP 2015

Syrian refugees

Like many of you, I have found the recent photos of Syrian refugees, displayed by the press, deeply upsetting. People have told me how they have been in tears at the sights that have appeared on our television screens recently.

I completely agree that we need to help and I am pleased that the UK is already taking action. I am sure you will be pleased to know that we have already granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrians and their dependents. The Vulnerable Persons Relocations scheme (VPRS) is up and running. We are also at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – including as one of the biggest bilateral donors of humanitarian aid, having already pledged nearly £1 billion.

Of course the Prime Minister is right that we have a responsibility to help those fleeing from the conflict in Syria by making a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable Syrians. That is why we are focusing on those refugees coming from camps bordering Syria and discouraging Syrians from giving their lives to disgusting people traffickers to make the dangerous journey to Europe. We have also sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean which is saving thousands of lives.

Our strategy for dealing with the problem needs to be based on more than an instant and understandably emotional reaction to very distressing pictures. The solution to this problem is not simply about taking Syrians on a short-term basis into our homes. We need a comprehensive solution that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: President Assad in Syria, the butchers of ISIL, and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people. We are working to end the violence and suffering and I will spare no effort in helping to work to find a peaceful solution to the crisis that will allow refugees to return home.


06 SEP 2015

MP opens Regatta for the Disabled

Yesterday (5 September 2015), I opened the Regatta for the Disabled held at Henley. This was the sixth year in which I had been involved with the Regatta which is held at Phyllis Court, Henley. The Regatta for the Disabled provides an excellent opportunity for children and adults with a disability to enjoy a variety of land and river based activities they would normally consider unavailable to them. It includes opportunities to get out onto the river in Rivertime – a boat equipped with a ramp and a lift for wheelchairs and in Bell Boats in which you can paddle along with friends. There is also racing which consists of dragon boats and this provides an excitement to the day as they race over the 2-300 metres of the course with drums banging furiously. There is also a range of stalls.

I think it is really important that the river is genuinely accessible to everyone. I congratulate the organisers of the Regatta and those that have sponsored it for the excellent work they do in fostering this spirit. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to open the event again and to share in the sheer joy of those participating particularly in the dragon boat racing. I am glad too that despite the event going from success to success each year, it has managed to retain the original spirit of the event. I hope that does not change.


05 SEP 2015

MP opposes closure of recycling centre

I have today expressed my opposition to the closure of the Oakley Wood recycling centre just outside Wallingford. Oxfordshire County Council proposes to reduce the number of recycling centres from seven to three or four, and to change the opening hours of the remaining sites. The result would be to close Oakley Wood Recycling Centre. The consultation runs to 5 October 2015.

I urge all local residents to complete the online consultation form, as I have done, and to make their views known. It is important that we get a massive response to the consultation. This proposal is bad news. In the first place, this is a much valued facility in this constituency and to lose it would mean that residents in the constituency would have to travel long distances to alternative recycling centres. By way of illustration, a resident of Henley using Oakley Wood currently has a round journey of some 18 miles. In the future, that would increase to a round journey of 46 miles to get to Drayton.

I have also commented on the effects of closure on the environment. 

We need to encourage people to recycle and to make it easy for them. The closure of Oakley Wood will have a potentially detrimental effect on people's willingness to recycle with either an increase in the use of domestic bins or fly tipping.

I have called for a change in legislation to allow councils more freedom over recycling centres. I realise the Government has only recently had a consultation on this issue which highlighted the risks of allowing councils to charge and the difficulties of changing legislation to allow this to happen. However, the precedent is already there for making a small charge for additional waste collection services such as garden waste in brown bins and I urge the Government to take another look at this issue. If charging for waste is going to increase fly tipping how much more will closing down recycling centres.


25 AUG 2015

Townlands update

On August 18, the TSG, OCCG and other principal stakeholders met at the offices of SODC under my chairmanship. The meeting was called by me to begin the process of further engagement in relation to a number of areas including transition plans, staffing arrangements, the proposals for step up and step down beds and clinical engagement.

I am very pleased that we had all the principal stakeholders in the same room to discuss these issues. OCCG listened carefully to the points made by the TSG. As a result of the discussion, we agreed a programme of work which would be undertaken jointly by OCCG and the TSG. This will cover the definition of the catchment area to be covered by the hospital and more information on the nursing provision to be provided by the Orders of St John. It will also include discussion of the speed and availability of community and social care to explore the capacity to support the timely provision of care packages, and the transition plans.

I thought the meeting was very productive and covered the principal areas of questions being raised by the TSG. We agreed to reconvene the meeting on 1 September to hear back from the working groups and to take the issues further.

Ian Reissmann, chair of the TSG, said:

"I found the meeting positive and constructive. All sides were keen to reach a common understanding. I am glad that we have agreed for a number of working groups to be put together to look at specific issues. This should help us bottom-out some of the remaining points including whether, at least in the transition phase, any beds can go into the hospital. I am pleased that we have arranged another meeting in two weeks' time and look forward to seeing the results of the working groups."

The meeting obtained clarification from OCCG that the total number of beds to be provided was likely to be up to 14. This was made up of 5-8 beds on permanent lease from the Care Home with the others leased on demand. The meeting also heard discussion of the level of medical supervision that these beds would enjoy and the extent to which the nurses to be provided were 'proper nurses' supervised by the Care Quality Commission and how they would work together with inreach medical staff from the RACU.

Leader of SODC, Cllr John Cotton said:

"It's been important to get both sides in one room and I'm very grateful to John Howell for chairing the meeting. It seems to me that the areas of disagreement are not that great - it's as much about sharing information as anything else. I hope that the working groups can now bring everyone even closer together and that an agreement on the best way forward for healthcare in Henley can be reached."

Commenting on the meeting, David Smith, Chief Executive of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group said:

"I was pleased that we had a full and frank discussion with members of the steering group. We have committed to working together on a number of issues and to meet again to hear the outcome of this work."


17 AUG 2015

LA Fitness Henley

The following is the text of my response to Mr Moore in relation to an enquiry about LA Fitness, Henley which also appeared in the Henley Standard August 14

Dear Mr Moore

Thank you for your email concerning LA Fitness in Henley. You say that you are a local resident but do not give an address. Whist I am happy to reply as best I can in this instance I would be grateful for confirmation of your address as there is a strict parliamentary protocol that MPs only correspond with their own constituents. If you reside in another constituency I should encourage you to correspond with your own MP.

I have already discussed the issue with the Mayor, SODC and with LA Fitness. The manager at LA Fitness in Henley was unable to given any details and referred us to the Head Office in Doncaster. Having spoken to one of the team in the property department we were told that negotiations on this have been going on with the landlord for some time. However LA Fitness were unable to offer anything that would change the landlord's mind. Further they advised that under the terms of their agreement the landlord is within his rights to serve notice. As this is a private matter, they did not feel that anything could be done by me that would change the situation.

However, I understand that negotiations are continuing to find LA Fitness another home in Henley which I am supporting.

We have also been in touch with SODC on planning matters as a change from a leisure centre to a care home would need a planning 'change of use'. As yet no planning application for change of use has been submitted for the site. Although a certain amount of land must be set aside for recreational use under local planning policy the overarching policy is not site specific. Individual applications are made on a site by site basis taking into account national and local policy and site specific issues.

I am also aware that an application has been made for the leisure centre to be listed as an Asset of Community Value. I am keen to support this and have already written to SODC accordingly.

Of course we need to do everything we can to boost participation in sport. I am very much aware of the positive impact that sport can have on everybody. Part of London 2012's bid was centred on the desire to use the power of the Games to inspire more young people into sport. I am therefore pleased that the Government is supporting this by investing £150 million over the next 2 years into primary school sport, more than £100 million of public and lottery funding into the School Games over the next 3 years and £1 billion over the next 5 years into the Youth and Community Sport Strategy. This, of course is aimed at young people, and I am pleased to see that the Sports Minister has launched a consultation to explore how we can encourage more people to participate in sport. This will help inform future decisions on funding. Locally of course there is already investment in leisure facilities through public money at the Henley Leisure Centre in Gillotts Lane which has a range of activities to offer and which I have visited several times to see what is being offered.

With best wishes

John

John Howell OBE MP FSA
Member of Parliament for Henley
House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA
Tel. 020 7219 6676

howelljm@parliament.uk


12 AUG 2015

July unemployment figures show record low

The total number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in July 2015 was 210.

This represents a rate of 0.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64 and puts us as the 649th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.)

There is a revised method of calculation this month. The figure includes 200 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance and 10 people who were claiming Universal Credit but were not in employment.

The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit) is 108 lower than in July 2014 and 25 lower than in June 2015.

New Office for National Statistics figures show real wages are up 2.8% on last year – good news for hardworking families

I welcome this excellent economic news. It is very easy to overlook these very good figures in a constituency such as this. But they tell a very good story of how we are tackling unemployment. New figures show wages still rising, women are in work at a record level & there is a low level of vacancies. We're helping those people abandoned by Labour to a life on welfare into work.


24 JUL 2015

Townlands - MP's latest achievements

DOWNLOADS

Letter to David Smith

The Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has published its paper on Townlands Hospital for the Board of the CCG. As a result of representations made by me, it recommends that a final decision is postponed on the hospital until full assurance can be provided on a number of arrangements including the ambulatory care model and the number of beds. In other words, the report recommends further engagement with stakeholders in developing the responses to these issues, in order that the Board can take a decision.

The report shows major changes to the model being proposed by the CCG as a result of representations made by me. These include:

  • Deferring a final decision on the hospital pending further engagement;
  • The RACU will now be open and available for 7 days a week rather than the 3 days proposed;
  • Further discussion and engagement on the ambulatory care model and the number of beds;
  • A firmer transition plan.

To quote Sir Winston Churchill 'to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war'. That is precisely what I have been doing with the CCG and the result is that it has taken on board many of the points I have made. The future of the hospital is not an academic exercise it is about our health and well-being and even about saving lives. The services which will be provided are likely to be best placed to do this and I welcome the CCG's inclusion of my comments.

They have not gone ahead with a final recommendation about the hospital. That is the subject of continuing discussion and engagement with stakeholders. It would be helpful if people would return to looking at the site as the provision of a 'health campus' – a phrase used by everyone before the rebuild. There is provision of beds on site. The issue of whether they are in the hospital or in the care home is not the main point. The main point is that I would like to see confirmation of what the term 'flexible' means in describing the number of beds available and exactly how many this will include.

I am also concerned, as I always have been, that the staffing of the ambulatory care model is not secure enough and that further engagement is required here. This would be materially improved if adult social care services and the services provided by the NHS were under one roof. I shall continue to use parliamentary means, particularly in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, to provide the County Council and the NHS with the opportunity for this to happen."

I have written to the Board with my comments (available for download). I will not be attending the Board meeting as I have an official, parliamentary trip abroad at the time.


20 JUL 2015

Townlands - new article

The issue of Townlands Hospital is actually very straightforward. It is this: what is in the best healthcare interests of the people of the area and how can it be provided? It is not a party political issue. Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) has a view of what that provision should be. Others have a different view based on what was originally proposed. OCCG has so far failed to get across their view in a way which many find convincing. However, talking to OCCG gains more than not talking to them and I will continue to do so, as I have been most recently since the arrival of the new CEO of OCCG and since Sue Ryder withdrew. For example, I wrote to OCCG setting out some key concerns. Their response is not fully satisfactory but it has teased out additional information. So, I will continue to have regular meetings with OCCG and question issues with them just as I will continue my meetings with local GPs.

What is the role of an MP in this situation? The decision lies with OCCG and I am not part of that organisation. Nor was I involved in the development of the Townlands model. However without my involvement there would have been no consultation on this project; consultation which rightly took place between OCCG and residents whose voices stand in their own right. They did not need me present to make their views known. Given the amount of time I spend with local people in Henley, I am of course aware of public opinion – particularly one that matches my own concerns.

The issue of Townlands Hospital remains at the forefront. It is important for the people of this constituency and our near neighbours. So, I will continue to meet with OCCG and to ask searching questions. I will continue to meet with local GPs and others and to ask searching questions. But, I will leave OCCG to consult with the people of the town and not stand between OCCG and the people they are consulting. Doing all this is what has led to the expose of the current issues and the response from OCCG which so far no one else has been able to get and I shall continue to press for the integration of the NHS and Social Care which is an important part of our healthcare provision.


17 JUL 2015

John Howell MP: Crime continues to fall

I have welcomed news that crime in the area covered by the Thames Valley force has fallen by 34% since 2010 and has fallen by more than a quarter (27 per cent) nationally under this Government – its lowest level on record – according to latest figure from the independent Office for National Statistics.

The Government has been following an action plan to tackle crime by:

Freeing the police to fight crime by cutting red tape and scrapping unnecessary targets Giving criminals tougher sentences so communities are protected and justice is done Giving the police the powers they need to tackle criminals, using the latest tools and techniques Stopping people from becoming criminals by tackling the root causes of crime Making the police answer to the community to help drive down crime in your area

We have been following an action plan to tackle crime and make Britain a safer place to live, work and raise a family. This plan is working. The independent Crime Survey of England and Wales shows that crime continues to fall under this Government, reaching a record low. In the Thames Valley force, crime recorded by the police has fallen by 34% since 2010.

I discussed these figures with the Superintendent responsible for this patch. I shared with him my impression of the success of his and his predecessor's activities in controlling rural crime which is making this area unattractive for this sort of crime. We also discussed the effects of changes in the way the legal profession act which made Operation Bullfinch such a success in helping to deal with crimes against children.


17 JUL 2015

John Howell MP steps back in time and into WaterAidÂ’s Victorian street to support call for taps and toilets for all

I stepped back in time this week to take a walk down WaterAid's Victorian street, experiencing the sights and smells of an era when open sewage ran through our roads and rivers, to mark 150 years of Britain's modern sewers.

The international charity invited parliamentarians to meet characters from Victorian times to discover what life was like during the Great Stink of 1858 to highlight its call for the UK Government to lead the way in ending the global water and sanitation crisis.

It has been an eye-opening day, seeing what life was like in Victorian Britain when people lacked access to safe water and there was no decent sewerage system. Investment in water and sanitation had a huge impact on our health and development, and that these are key to achieving a healthier and more prosperous world.

I am proud that the UK Government has made a significant commitment to ending global poverty, investing 0.7% of our national income in international development. As we develop the Sustainable Development Goals for addressing global development, it is clear that water and sanitation must play a central role.

Britain's first life-saving sewerage system was created following the 'Great Stink', when the stench of the polluted Thames was so unbearable, it sent MPs running from the House of Commons clutching handkerchiefs to their faces and spurring them into action to clean up the city.

The opening of the first modern sewage pumping station in 150 years ago, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, helped prevent cholera outbreaks in London. The disease had had a devastating impact across the country since its arrival in 1831, similar to the effect of Ebola in West Africa today. This marked the start of Britain's drive to protect public health through good sanitation with similar transformations following across the country.

This year also has a global significance, as the framework for the development priorities for the international community until 2030 is being agreed in September.

WaterAid Chief Executive Barbara Frost presented the 'Make it Happen' petition to Baroness Verma, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. She said: "Our own history shows how water and sanitation can transform a nation, helping to create a healthier and more prosperous society.

"Today, 650 million people across the world still lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Life in a densely populated slum bears far too close a resemblance to UK cities in the 1800s, representing a real and growing threat to global health and stability. Diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation is the second biggest killer of under-fives worldwide, claiming the lives of 1,400 children every single day.[i]

"The stink may be a bit further from Westminster now; but that's no reason not to act. With the right political will, we can solve the global water and sanitation crisis. This year we have a unique chance to right this wrong as world leaders agree the new Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate poverty over the next 15 years. Only with investment in sanitation can we achieve a safe and secure future for everyone everywhere."

A recent survey, commissioned by WaterAid and conducted by ComRes in May, revealed people in the South East believe most UK foreign aid goes to humanitarian disasters and emergencies but the greatest proportion of investment should go to water, sanitation and hygiene. However, water, sanitation and hygiene currently receives a small fraction of UK aid funding – just 2%, compared to 20% for health and 13% for education.

WaterAid is calling for increased investment in water and sanitation in order to achieve improvements in health and other development areas, as having access to these simple services is the foundation to climbing out of poverty. For example, for every £1 invested in sanitation there's a return of around £5 in increased productivity.[ii]

The charity is calling for the UK Government to:

  • Increase the proportion of aid spent on water, sanitation and hygiene by at least 1% every year over the next parliament to enable the UK to become a leader by 2020.
  • Maximise the impact of UK Aid investments by making sure that water, sanitation and hygiene services are in all health clinics, schools, maternal, newborn and child health strategies, and plans to tackle gender inequality.
  • End Aid Dependency by working with developing country governments to deliver and sustain water, sanitation and hygiene services as part of sustainable national plans.
  • Support the adoption and implementation of a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation, with targets for universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.

Find out more at http://www.wateraid.org.

[i] Adapted from UNDP (2006) Human development report, page 29.

[ii] World Health Organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage, page 4.


17 JUL 2015

The BBC's future

Yesterday (17 July 2015) the Secretary of State for Culture made a statement on the future of the BBC.  I welcomed the statement but also had a major point to add.  This was my exchange.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I used to be a presenter for BBC World Service Television, so I am not one of the BBC-phobic MPs on the Conservative Back Benches, but I understand the need for reform. Independent production in this country is a particularly vibrant and healthy sector. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that during the review he will examine the relationship between the BBC and the independent sector in order to ensure that it becomes less bureaucratic than it is at present, and takes full advantage of that vibrancy and health?

Mr Whittingdale: The growth of the independent production sector has been one of the outstanding successes of the last 10 years or so. It has been assisted in large part by the BBC's independent production quota, and also by the terms of trade. Obviously there have been big changes, and we will need to examine those. As my hon. Friend knows, the BBC itself has come up with a proposal for 100% competition for all BBC commissioning. It is an interesting proposal, but my hon. Friend can rest assured that I shall bear in mind the continuing success of the independent production sector throughout this process.


16 JUL 2015

John Howell MP supports charity's call for action on blood cancer

I have backed calls for action on blood cancer after a blood cancer charity revealed one in three transplant patients die within a year of their treatment.

I am supporting the Destination: Cure campaign launched by Anthony Nolan, which runs the UK's stem cell and bone marrow donor register. The charity also revealed that one in eight patients in need of a stem cell or bone marrow transplant do not find a donor, and praised the vital contribution of selfless individuals who donate their stem cells and bone marrow.

The Destination: Cure campaign is a very important reminder of the difficult challenges faced by blood cancer patients in need of a lifesaving transplant. It's absolutely vital we do all we can to support the recruitment of donors, boost scientific research and provide long-term care for patients in need.

In the next five years, over 11,000 people with blood cancer or a blood disorder will depend upon a stem cell transplant from a stranger. Anthony Nolan's Destination Cure campaign aims to save the lives of each of these people, by calling for more investment into the donor register, more pioneering research, and better post-transplant care.

Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said:

"For people in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, finding a matching donor is a potentially lifesaving milestone and usually their only hope of survival.

"Every day, selfless individuals give these patients a fighting chance by donating their stem cells. But heartbreakingly, for every two people who are alive a year after their transplant, there is one person who is not.

"We need the government to act now to accelerate research into why some patients survive and others do not, so that the precious chance of life provided by the donor is not wasted. The odds are not good enough and we will not stop fighting until we reach our destination of a cure for everyone with blood cancer."

The charity is now asking the public to back the Destination: Cure campaign to improve outcomes for transplant patients and accelerate scientific research at www.anthonynolan.org/destinationcure


16 JUL 2015

Watlington Barclays

Today (16 July 2015) I had a meeting with Barclays to discuss what they might be willing to do to keep some form of banking services in the town afetr the High Street branch closes.  We looked at what they were planning to do re. transfer of services to the Post Office (itself threatened, I understand), whether on-line banking could be better timed with the roll-out of broadband in the town, and what could be done in transition.  I pointed to the success we had had with Nat West in Goring in retaining an ATM machine after the branch closed. 


15 JUL 2015

The use of water cannon

The Home Secretary made a statement to the House today saying that she would not authorise the use of water cannon in controlling riots.  During the discussion I asked a question which is re-printed below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):The Home Secretary has commented on the powers that the police have to deal with such situations without the use of water cannon, but she has also commissioned a study on the use of Tasers. I wonder whether this is not the time for a comprehensive assessment of those powers and how they can be used.

Mrs May:My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. There are circumstances in which particularly tools that are available to the police are used, and there are questions about their use, particularly for Tasers, in particular environments, so it is right that we look at their use. With regard to the wider use of police powers, I am always looking to ensure that the police have the necessary tools and powers available to them, commensurate with requirements relating to medical and technical advice and with the need to maintain the firm trust between the police and the public.


15 JUL 2015

f40 and better deal for Oxfordshire

A large number of schools in the constituency have been discussing with me as their local MP the need for a new schools funding formula. At present the difference in funding per pupil between a rural school in Oxfordshire and one in an inner city area can be significant with Oxfordshire schools receiving less.

This issue has been raised with me by a group of head teachers representing secondary schools in the constituency including Chiltern Edge, Langtree and Gillotts as well as Wheatley Park school and primary schools such as Goring and Peppard.

On 14 July a meeting took place in Parliament organised by the f40 group, a group representing counties most facing difficulties as a result of the funding formula. I spoke during this meeting to raise the question of how schools were able to accommodate additional on-costs such as employee costs in their budget and why students in the constituency were facing cuts in the curriculum as a result of the funding formula.

I have also had the opportunity of sitting down with the Secretary of State for Education to discuss the issue.

We seem to be pushing at an open door on this one although the issue of timing is crucial. The Conservative manifesto gave a commitment to a new funding formula which is being taken forward. I am trying to get some indication of the principles which will be involved in setting the new funding formula.

In the meantime, I am trying to raise signatures on a petition to be presented to the House of Commons at the same time as similar petitions from around the country and I will be signing a letter to the Prime Minister advocating change.


15 JUL 2015

Latest unemployment figures

The total number of unemployed (JSA claimants) in the Henley constituency in June 2015 fell to 226. It represents a further drop of 18. This puts us at 649th out of 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK in terms of the best performance in dealing with unemployment.

The number of claimants is 107 lower than in June 2014 and 18 lower than in May 2015. These data are not seasonally adjusted. The proportion of the workforce in the UK claiming benefits because they are unemployed is at its lowest level since 1975.

Unemployment in this constituency continues to be a good news story. The further drop in unemployment is to be welcomed. I have had numerous meetings, including within Henley and Thame, over the past few months to encourage the take up of apprenticeships and to support our businesses as the providers of employment opportunities. This continual downward pressure on unemployment is an important factor in this.


12 JUL 2015

Townlands - my actions

 ITEMS TO DOWNLOAD

To OCCG

Letter from OCCG

Dan Poulter

At yesterday's (11 July 2015) Henley march concerning Townlands Hospital a number of comments were made about what I was doing to support the march and the campaign. I thought it helpful to set out the meetings I have had and the exchanges that have taken place with the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) and others over the most recent of months.

(a) The initial consultation on the OCCG proposal for the hospital came about because of my intervention. I made the case strongly to Ministers that there should be a consultation on the future of the hospital as the new model being proposed is a significant change to the original. This was at a time when the OCCG were at best ambivalent to the need for consultation. Ministers agreed and supported my view (see download).

This is how the Henley Standard described the situation, and the discussions I had had, in a note posted on 20 April 2015:

'Henley MP John Howell insisted there should be consultation and won the support of health minister Jeremy Hunt. Now the commissioning group has accepted the MP's argument following talks with Mr Howell, Yvonne Constance, chairwoman of Oxfordshire County Council's joint health overview and scrutiny committee, and Henley town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith. Mr Howell said: "I'm particularly glad that the commissioning group has accepted my version of events." They have accepted that it's a significant change in the provision at the hospital and they will now have a consultation on it.'

(b) It was as a result of the letter I wrote to the CEO of the OCCG (copy above) that we obtained the response also for download at the head of this article. While this response in no way answers satisfactorily the questions we all have on the new development it does continue the process of dialogue with the OCCG and provides some additional and worthwhile information.

(c) In addition, I am arranging a meeting between all of the county's MPs and the OCCG and Stuart Bell (CEO of Oxford Health) to understand the strategic thinking behind the proposed re-organisation of the county's community hospitals which lies behind the proposals for Townlands. It is important that we have the whole picture as without it we cannot be sure that we have the best provision for 21st century healthcare.

(d) During the election campaign I arranged (and attended) meetings between representatives of Townlands Steering Group, and, Stuart Bell and the doctors from the Hart and Bell surgeries in Henley to further develop thinking on the issues over Townlands.

(e) This issue of Townlands is not new. Over my years as MP I have had meetings and other exchanges (e mail and telephone calls) with the OCCG on a regular basis, together with meetings with other interested parties. I have had meetings with the GPs at Sonning Common, Hart, Bell, and Nettlebed surgeries to listen to their views. I have also had meetings with Stuart Bell, Oxford Health.

(f) I raised the situation with the Secretary of State for Health who dispatched one of his Special Advisers to examine the situation. I have also had regular exchanges about Townlands with Dr Dan Poulter, former Health Minister.

Some people have been asking for me to make statements on the current situation. However it would have been absurd for me to insist on a public consultation and then to prejudge that consultation by publicly commenting on it before it had ended. Indeed until the Henley Standard called for the recent march the Townlands Steering Group was itself in ongoing dialogue with OCCG on the most appropriate model for the hospital. OCCG are now analysing the results of the consultation.

Further, the consultation was between the OCCG and local residents – not between the OCCG and the MP - and it was important that I allow that to happen. Thus the fact that some meetings were called when my duties required me to be in the House of Commons was not of great concern. I have been well aware of the strength of feeling in the town and have conveyed that to the OCCG on your behalf. The OCCG is now analysing the results of the consultation and I have arranged an opportunity to discuss this with them before their Board meeting.

This project is about delivering the care that best meets the needs of the local population – and nothing more. It is not party political. There are clearly different views of what 'the best care' consists and how this can be organised, and, I shall continue to discuss these in a reasonable and considered manner with the OCCG and others as I believe this is likely to be the most productive way of proceeding.


09 JUL 2015

John Howell MP commits to beat cancer sooner

i pledged my support to help Cancer Research UK save more lives in my constituency and across the UK.

I attended a parliamentary event held by the charity in Westminster this week (8 July) to speak to Cancer Research UK about how MPs can help keep cancer at the top of the new parliament's agenda.

With one in two people now set to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, the charity says the political drive to beat the disease must keep pace with the progress in research.

UK cancer survival rates are still lagging behind other countries and too many cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat successfully.

At the event, I met some of Cancer Research UK's dedicated volunteer Campaign Ambassadors and received local cancer statistics for the Henley constituency which underline the need for MPs to join the fight against the disease.

We must not underestimate the devastating impact cancer will have on people in this constituency now and in the future, so it gives me hope to hear that Cancer Research UK's pioneering research is turning the tables on the disease.

The outlook for new and better cancer treatments in the UK is bright. However, it is clear that there is a critical role for politicians to play in helping to detect cancer earlier and bring innovative new treatments to patients faster.

One life lost to this terrible disease is one too many and that's why I'm supporting Cancer Research UK in their mission to beat cancer sooner.

Layla Theiner, Cancer Research UK's Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning said:

"Without increased political support we could see the death toll from cancer rising in the UK and so we're grateful to John for helping to highlight the power of research in beating the disease.

"Survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years. But there's still so much more to do and we can't do it alone.

"Investment in creating the right environment in the UK to not only enable and foster research, but also to help prevent cancer and give patients the best possible access to treatments must be key priorities for the new Government."

For more information please visit cruk.org.


09 JUL 2015

John Howell MP supporting science in Parliament

I met some of the scientists that are helping drive the UK economy at an event held by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics in Parliament on Tuesday 7 July.  I met with scientists to talk about UK success stories from research in both chemistry and physics, where innovations and companies have developed from work that began in university science departments. These successes from the UK's science base are now creating jobs and economic growth across the UK.

The event highlighted the importance of government funding to science and the benefits it has on the UK economy. The UK science and innovation system produces 15.9% of the world's most highly cited publications, with only 4.1% of the world's researchers.

It was good to hear about how chemistry and physics are creating much-needed jobs across the UK and to link this back to what is happening at Culham. The Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics are showing why science is good for the economy – and it also shows that science is an excellent career choice for young people to consider.

Professor Dominic Tildesley, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "We have the evidence to show that Britain is a world leader in science and that Government investment in science boosts the UK economy. There are innovative projects and companies springing up all the time and we want to see a commitment to a long-term strategy for increasing investment to ensure that we all continue to benefit from our scientific success."

Professor Tom McLeish, Vice-President, Science, at the Institute of Physics, said, "Investing in science and engineering drives economic growth and is at the heart of advances and innovation in healthcare, communications and national security. The UK has a unique, interdisciplinary ecosystem of innovation between global businesses and universities that we must nurture if it is to deliver the innovation-based supply chains, manufacturing and exports of tomorrow."


09 JUL 2015

Cremation of infants

I intervened in a debate held in Westminster Hall about the cremation of infants and the long time that parents had been waiting for their chidlren's ashes to be returned to them.  I asked about the excuses given by the crematoria that babies/children may not produce ashes.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What excuse was given by the crematorium? Perhaps my hon. Friend will come on to that.

Daniel Kawczynski: I will come on to some of the report's findings later in my speech, but I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.....The answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), is in the report commissioned by Shropshire Council, published last month, which says that poor training and out-of-date equipment were mainly to blame. I am pleased that more than £3 million has now been spent on new machines


08 JUL 2015

John Howell MP: welcomes clear plan to deliver security for people in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the Summer Budget, endorsing the Chancellor's plan to finish the job on the deficit, keep moving to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare economy and put security first for families in the Henley constituency.

The budget sets out the action the Chancellor will take to put security first:

  • The economic security of a country that lives within its means: the forecasts show Britain will be the fastest growing major advanced economy for a second year in a row, but the deficit is still too high so the Budget sets out a balanced plan to cut the deficit at the same rate as in the last Parliament to achieve a surplus.
  • The financial security of lower taxes and a new National Living Wage: The new National Living Wage will mean two and a half million people get a direct pay rise. Those currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by over a third this Parliament, a cash increase for a full time worker of over £5,000. There's further support for working people with an increase in the tax-free personal allowance so someone will be able to earn £11,000 before paying any income tax at all. We will also raise the 40p rate to £43,000, lifting 130,000 people out of this higher tax rate.
  • Cutting tax on business to secure growth with Corporation Tax reduced to 18 per cent: we've already taken this rate to the lowest in the G20 and aligned it for large and small businesses, but we cannot afford to stand still so will cut it further to send out the message that Britain is open for business.
  • The national security of a country that defends itself and its values: The Budget commits to meeting the NATO pledge to spend 2% of our national income on defence – not just this year, but every year of this decade.

I welcomed these measures as good news for taxpayers in the constituency. This is a Budget that delivers security for working people here and keeps Britain moving from a low wage, high tax, high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare country. The new National Living Wage and tax cuts for working families will boost take-home pay for those who work hard and want to get on in life – meaning more financial security.

Reducing the tax burden on businesses will create jobs and give more people the security of well-paid work, and having a strong economy means we can invest in our world-class NHS and meet our defence commitments, helping families across the country feel more secure in their homes.  The economic security of a country that lives within its means. The financial security of lower taxes and a new National Living Wage. The national security of a country that defends itself and its values. This is a Budget that puts security for families in the constituency first.


08 JUL 2015

New tax cuts to make people in the Henley constituency more financially secure

I have welcomed further income tax cuts for people in the Henley constituency, delivering on the Conservatives' key election promise to raise the personal allowance. 

In the Summer Budget, the Chancellor set out the next steps in his plan to support working people by ensuring they keep more of the money they earn:

  • A downpayment on a £12,500 Personal Allowance: in 2016-17, the personal tax-free allowance will increase by £400 to £11,000, so that next year a typical rate income taxpayer will be £905 better off compared with 2010. This is part of our commitment to raise the allowance to £12,500 by the end of the parliament.
  • Delivering on our promise to raise the higher rate threshold: in 2016-17, the threshold for the higher rate of tax will increase from £42,385 to £43,000, saving the typical higher rate taxpayer £142 and lifting 130,000 people out of the rate altogether. This is a first step on our commitment to raise the threshold to £50,000 by the end of the parliament.

The Summer Budget also introduced a new National Living Wage for over 25s to support people who work hard and do the right thing. The new National Living Wage will mean two and a half million people get a direct pay rise. Those currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by over a third this Parliament, a cash increase for a full time worker of over £5,000.

The new National Living Wage combined with these income tax cuts are excellent news for hardworking people in this constituency, and shows we will deliver what we promised.

The rise in the personal allowance will mean lower taxes for around 48,178 working people here in the constituency, with an estimated 818 people taken out of income tax altogether.

The rise in the 40p threshold will also mean fewer people in this constituency will now pay the 40p rate of tax.

That means local people keeping more of the money they've worked hard to earn, giving them and their families more financial security for the future.


04 JUL 2015

John Howell MP pledges to champion autism awareness in the Henley constituency

On Monday 29 June, at a reception at the Houses of Parliament, as a member of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA), I pledged to promote more autism awareness in the Henley constituency.

I met local families and heard moving testimonies from people living with autism, a lifelong condition which affects over 3,000 people in every Parliamentary constituency.

The event was attended by nearly one hundred Parliamentarians and by President of the National Autistic Society, Jane Asher.

I was impressed and moved by what I heard today from people living with autism. More than 1 in 100 people in the UK have the condition and many have battled to get their needs identified, diagnosed, understood and then met. We heard how negative public attitudes and misconceptions about autism can harm families and individuals and limit their opportunities.

I plan to promote more awareness in the Henley constituency which will enable more people living with autism to play an active role in their community and to achieve their full potential.

Jane Asher said:

"Awareness of the word autism has increased dramatically since I first became involved many years ago, but understanding of this complex condition is still desperately low, that's why I'm very grateful that so many Parliamentarians came to the event.

"Parliamentarians have the power to make a real change in the lives of those with autism by helping us to spread understanding among their local communities. I do hope they will work with us in trying to make the world a more welcoming place for those affected and their families."

Chair of the APPGA, Rt. Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP, said:

"I am delighted to have been elected Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, a cross-party grouping of 200 MPs and Members of the House of Lords. There are over 3,000 people in each constituency affected by autism and it's crucial they all get the right support."


01 JUL 2015

Child poverty changes

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, made a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday 1 July on child poverty. In it he said that he wanted to focus on making a meaningful change to children's lives by extending opportunity for all, so that both they and their children can escape from the cycle of poverty and improve their life chances. This process will mark a shift from solely measuring inputs of expenditure to measuring the outcomes of children-focused policy.

I had the following exchange with the Minister:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Prior to 2010, when I was the party's child poverty champion, we discussed these changes, so I welcome the Secretary of State's statement. Does he accept that they represent a comprehensive approach to dealing with child poverty that is actually going to help?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am glad that my hon. Friend believes that, because so do I. The purpose of what I have set out today, after a great deal of consideration over the past few years and a full consultation on the matter, is to arrive at a situation in which we are able to help those children and families in the greatest difficulty and try to move them out of poverty so that they sustain their lives out and beyond poverty.


29 JUN 2015

New positions for Henley MP, John Howell.

Today (Monday 29 June 2015), I was invited to assist the government in the further development of Neighbourhood Plans and to help spread their take-up across the country. My appointment was announced during parliamentary questions to the Communities and Local Government team.  My question and the reply were:

John Howell: Does my right hon. Friend agree that neighbourhood planning represents the best way of ensuring that communities have a real say in the planning system when it comes to deciding where houses should go, what they should look like, and what green and open spaces should be preserved?

Greg Clark: I do indeed. My hon. Friend is a pioneer of neighbourhood planning. He worked closely with me when I was last a Minister in the Department to ensure that it was introduced, and it has been a huge success. The first neighbourhood plan was in Thame, in his constituency. More than 1,500 communities are now engaged in the neighbourhood planning process, and 300 neighbourhood plans have been published for consultation. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has accepted my invitation to work with me to see what we can do to speed up the possibilities for other neighbourhoods throughout the country.

I am very excited to be taking on this role at a crucial time in the development of Neighbourhood Plans. In my own constituency, Thame and Woodcote already have their plans and I hope Henley will soon follow. They are an excellent way for communities to play a major role in the planning system and help shape the future of those communities.

In a separate development, I was re-elected to be a member of the Justice Select Committee without any opposition. I am very pleased to be continuing my work in a vital area of Government. In the last parliament we undertook a number of key enquiries into areas to do with our prisons and the justice system. I look forward to continuing this work.


25 JUN 2015

Local MP pledges to end the ovarian cancer postcode lottery

I have signed up to a new campaign to end the ovarian cancer postcode lottery, launched by national charity Target Ovarian Cancer.

I pledged my support for the new campaign in parliament this week after Target Ovarian Cancer released a new report highlighting the regional differences between survival rates of ovarian cancer, awareness and participation in clinical trials.

More needs to be done to ensure that all women with ovarian cancer get the support and care that they need, regardless of where they live. I have pledged to make sure that is happening in the Henley constituency. A great friend of mine died from Ovarian Cancer and I remember her in supporting this campaign.

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive for Target Ovarian Cancer, said: "Whilst cancer doesn't discriminate by address, this new report clearly shows that women with ovarian cancer are facing a life-altering postcode lottery. Women with ovarian cancer should be able to access the best standards available, no matter where they live in the UK.

"This is why we're launching The Ovarian Cancer Postcode Lottery report today and calling on all MPs to make sure that women with ovarian cancer are getting access to the best treatment and care possible. We need to stop women needlessly dying because of where they live.

"The most important thing is that women know what to look out for. That is why we need a national awareness campaign so that every woman knows the key symptoms which are having a bloated tummy or tummy pain, needing to wee more often/urgently and always feeling full."

For more information and to read the report visit www.targetovariancancer.org.uk


25 JUN 2015

John Howell MP supports heart research to save lives

This week I showed my support for UK medical research by joining British Heart Foundation (BHF) scientists and heart patients to hear how research is helping to save and improve the lives of the millions of people affected by heart disease.

At an event in Westminster, I spoke with heart patients and BHF-funded researchers to learn more about the latest research projects, the hope they offer to people with heart conditions and why government support is vital.

Heart disease is a devastating condition that affects thousands of people across the Henley constituency.

But with the public's support, charities like the BHF are able to fund some of the world's leading researchers, who work tirelessly to find the next major breakthrough that could help save more lives.

If we are to continue making great strides in heart research both the public, including people in the Henley constituency, and the Government need to support our brightest scientists.

There are an estimated 10,360 people in the Henley constituency living with heart and circulatory disease, and seven million people across the UK. It causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK.

The BHF is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research and spends around £100 million every year on world class research to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. The charity sector is by far the largest funder of life sciences research in our universities and every year the Government contributes £198 million towards the indirect costs, such as heating and electricity in laboratories, of charity-funded research. But this figure falls short of covering all the costs of undertaking life-saving research.

The government's science budget is currently protected from cuts to expenditure until April 2016.

The BHF is calling on the Government to maintain the current ring-fencing of the science budget and to commit to future increases.


25 JUN 2015

Comments on superfast broadband

I had prepared a speech for the debate on superfast broadband held today in Westminster Hall. In the end, the debate ran out of time before I was called. However, I did manage to make an intervention which I reproduce below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that inviting other technology providers is an option, albeit one that could prejudice access to Government money by showing that there is no market failure? That would leave a legacy of high costs for individuals in the provision of broadband.

The points I was going to make include the following. First, the debate was about those who were not yet on broadband rather than those who already had it. It was important not to forget this latter group because this was a time when the Government was moving more and more services on-line. If they were unable to access broadband they were effectively excluded from a tranche of life. Although estimates are that 95% of the county will be connected by the end of 2017, we still have a long way to go. We should also not forget the 5% who would not be connected and I wanted to hear how the Government was going to tackle providing them with broadband. In addition, some certainty was required to avoid the situation where communities took the matter into their own hands and brought in an alternative provider rather than wait. Bringing in a new provider might blight their chances of getting funding for broadband by showing that there was no market failure and leaving a legacy of a cost regime which may be disadvantageous.

Ed Vaizey, the Minister, answered my question about the 5%. He said: "Phase 3 is about no one being left behind, which is the theme of the debate. The key point about that last 5% is that we do not know how much it will cost. Back of an envelope costings can run into billions, but we need a proper figure. That is why we have launched the pilots, some of which are already delivering broadband connections to people all over the country. Better still, they give us an idea of the kinds of technologies we can use to get to that 5%. That will include suppliers other than BT and other technologies that BT and others are using, such as wireless and satellite."


23 JUN 2015

Justice Select Committee

Good news today! I have been re-elected to membership of the Justice Select Committee.  Some continuity is important as is the presence of someone who is not a lawyer. 


23 JUN 2015

Question about rehabilitation

I asked a question today in Justice Questions about the use of cooking by prisoners as a means of rehabilitation.  This is not a reward for good behaviour but an essential component of reducing reoffending.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):In the last Parliament, I visited a prison in Denmark with the Justice Select Committee. One of the biggest contributors to preventing the prisoners from reoffending was their ability to cook their own food. Does the Minister agree that that ability is not a reward for good behaviour but an essential part of dealing with reoffending?

Mike Penning:I am not the Prisons Minister but I have visited many prisons, not least the ones on the edge of my own constituency, and I have seen that happening in our own prisons. Giving people life skills is vital, as is giving them somewhere to live when they come out.


22 JUN 2015

Neighbourhood Plans and wind turbines

I asked a question today during the statement on windfarms to ensure that Neighbourhood Plans were paramount in deciding whether a community wanted a wind turbine or not>

John Howell (Henley) (Con):I welcome the statement. As my right hon. Friend knows, I had a role in the development of neighbourhood plans at the very beginning. If local communities decide not to pursue wind turbines, will she reassure me that she will give precedence to those neighbourhood plans over anything else in the planning system?

Amber Rudd:I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I know that he was the great man who developed the neighbourhood plan. He is absolutely right that the neighbourhood plans will be the central tome on this, and they will allow communities to have the authority that they need on the planning decisions that would be impacted in this situation.


19 JUN 2015

New measures to give people in the Henley constituency the final say over new onshore wind turbines

I have welcomed new measures announced by the Government that will see the law changed to give local communities the final say over planning decisions for new onshore wind farms. We have enough new onshore wind to help us meet our renewables target and wind turbines will only get the go-ahead if the local community has made it clear they support onshore wind projects in their area. They will be free to decide where turbines should go and any proposals must address the concerns of local people and have their backing.

In addition, the law will be changed to end billpayer subsidies for new onshore wind farms from April 2016. This will ensure that we meet our renewable energy commitments in a way that protects taxpayers and keeps bills low for working people.

For too long our communities were powerless to stop wind farm developments that they objected to from going ahead despite the fact that we have enough new onshore wind to help us meet our renewables target.

Thanks to us, this will now change. Delivering on our manifesto commitment, local communities like ours here in the Henley constituency will now have the final say over planning applications for onshore wind turbines which will ensure only those schemes that have the support of local people can go ahead. And we are stopping billpayer subsidies for new onshore wind farms so that energy bills are kept down. This will mean that projects like the wind turbine originally planned for Horspath will not be resurrected.

This is part of our plan to give power back to communities and local people so that they can decide and determine the future of their areas – not be forced to accept decisions imposed on them.

Through the Energy Bill we will close the Renewables Obligation - which supports the overwhelming majority of onshore wind - to new onshore wind from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned. Support for renewables is also available through Contracts for Difference, and we will announce plans to implement our manifesto commitment with these too in due course.

The Energy Bill will also build on the existing changes to planning rules so local councils have the decisive say on projects which don't already have planning permission – by putting onshore wind back in the locally led planning system. As part of this two new planning tests will be applied to wind energy developments. Wind turbines will only get the go-ahead if provision for them has been clearly allocated for them in areas by local people though the Local or a Neighbourhood Plan. It is important that communities are free to decide whether they want wind turbines in their local area and, if so, where they should go.

A planning application should not be approved unless the proposal reflects the planning concerns of the affected local community and has their backing. This second test will reassure a local community that even when their Plan outlines provision and support for wind power, any concerns they have about its impact will be addressed before any permission is granted.

There are now enough onshore wind projects planned to meet our 2020 renewables target. But onshore wind is unable to provide the firm capacity a stable energy system needs – so any new projects should be able to pay for themselves.


17 JUN 2015

Speech on skills and growth

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

May I say what a privilege it is to be called in this debate—first, Mr Deputy Speaker, to welcome you back to the Chair, but also to follow the excellent maiden speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)? She represents a fascinating area of the country and she gave a very good explanation of what has been going on there and her role in it. Her speech comes on the back of an enormous number of excellent maiden speeches, including those of the new broom, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), if I may pick out just two. The latter reminded me of my days as an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh. I am very familiar with the Antonine Wall that he described.

I want to deal with apprenticeships. I can agree with the first bit of the motion—

"That this House notes that improving education is imperative for the future economic growth of the country"—

but not with the rest of it. If the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who is no longer in his seat, wants a more bipartisan approach, it could start with this motion acknowledging that the apprenticeship programme has been a flagship programme of this Government and we have put £1.5 billion into making sure that it works.

The wording of the motion does not bear comparison with the situation in my constituency, where the advancement of the apprenticeships scheme is having an excellent result. One way of seeing that is to look at the unemployment figures in the constituency. The figures released today show that the total number of people unemployed across the whole constituency amounts to 244. That is a diminution in the number of unemployed on the previous month, and in effect it represents full unemployment and the normal churn of people looking for jobs. Most importantly, in the previous month the number of youth unemployed in the constituency was down to 30. I have every sympathy for those 30, but this represents a very good achievement for the Government. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), who is no longer in the Chamber, to his new position. He is right to stress the role of MPs in driving the process along; each of us has the ability to do that. In my constituency I have Henley College, which is a very strong player in providing training for apprenticeships and has been working hand in hand with companies to promote those apprenticeships.

Dame Angela Watkinson:

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the increasing number of girls who are taking STEM subjects, which are leading to apprenticeships in engineering and technical subjects, and does he agree that we need more of them?

John Howell:

I absolutely welcome my hon. Friend's comments. She makes a very good point that we all need to bear in mind.

At the time when the recession was at its deepest, I took the initiative in my constituency to get together a whole lot of players in this field, including Henley College, to help businesses cope with the fact that they were going into recession. Henley College rose to the challenge very well. It was instructive to find that many people in the room from firms that had done business in the area for 25 years did not know a single soul among the rest of those gathered there. I think that if I were to do the same thing now, that would not be the case. They know where they are going, and they are taking the lead in promoting apprenticeships.

Colleges like Henley can make an important contribution in encouraging the provision of training. This is to do with a lot of the work that companies are undertaking to find the best training providers to help them in delivering apprenticeships. I recently went to see two contrasting companies in the constituency to hear about the work they were doing in apprenticeships. One was DAF, the truck manufacturer, which is one of the biggest companies in my constituency and sits at the centre of a web of apprenticeships that goes right across the country. It has made great efforts to find the right training provider to help it in this—a college down in the west country with which it can work to deliver this training. It has degree-type award ceremonies at the end of the apprenticeship training so that people feel they have got something out of the whole process. I have been invited to the ceremony it will conduct in September, to witness it at first hand.

The other company I went to visit was Williams Performance Tenders. Despite the constituency being landlocked, Williams Performance Tenders is the biggest producer of boats by volume in the whole country. Having been on one of those boats, I know they are extremely fast. This company, too, has a very good apprenticeship scheme that it manages largely by itself. That scheme operates in the most deprived village in the whole of my constituency, and it is making a big difference to people's lives.

As a result of all this, if we look back to the beginning of 2010, we see that there has been an increase of some 58% in the number of apprenticeships taken up in the constituency. That is an excellent achievement. I put on record my thanks to all the businesses that have participated in and are contributing to this.

Dame Angela Watkinson:

Does my hon. Friend attribute that to good co-operation between local education and training providers and local employers, so that the skills that employers need are identified and young people are taking the right courses?

John Howell:

That is a difficult question to answer. I attribute it partly to that, but the role of schools needs to be worked on further, because they can do more.

During the election campaign, I became aware of the way schools in the constituency still regard apprenticeships in an academic light as providing an academic training rather than a genuine life option for people.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab):

I am interested in the increase in the number of apprenticeships in the hon. Gentleman's area. Despite the statutory duty on schools to provide a better careers service, the opposite has happened. We are finding that they are not giving people the option of doing very different things or telling them about the availability of apprenticeships. Does he agree that we need to invest more in the careers services in our schools so that people get proper advice and are offered the very different options that are now available?

John Howell:

I think I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I would like more effort to be put into encouraging schools to focus on apprenticeships being self-standing as a life's ambition that can be fulfilled. So many schools approach apprenticeships as though such people were going to university and deal with them in the same way—the careers advice process still encapsulates the whole thing—which is wrong. We need to ensure not just that providers and companies provide quality, but that the schools regard them as providing quality. To that extent, I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is therefore an onus on the Government to redirect some of their efforts towards schools to encourage them to do this, and to move the debate on so that in a few years' time people will have genuinely equal opportunities, whether they want to go to university, as I did, or have an apprenticeship, as so many young people in my constituency want. I welcome the Government's emphasis on apprenticeships, and the important part that apprenticeships play in delivering the long-term economic plan.


17 JUN 2015

Unemployment in the Henley constituency falls to low of 244 people

The total number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in the Henley constituency in May 2015 has fallen to a low of 244. This represents a rate of 0.5% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.). The number of young people unemployed and claiming JSA fell to 25.

The number of claimants is 127 lower than in May 2014 and 16 lower than in April 2015. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

This is very good news indeed. This is a substantial drop in the number of people unemployed and claiming JSA. I have been very impressed with the number of firms in the constituency who are undertaking apprenticeships which is helping to keep the number unemployed very low. It shows our long term economic plan is working and bringing very tangible results to the constituency. 16 more people have jobs now than a month ago which is to be welcomed.


17 JUN 2015

John Howell MP welcomes schools advances

I have welcomed the news that from September all pupils will study the EBacc at GCSE to ensure they get the crucial skills and qualifications they need to succeed in life. The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is awarded when students achieve A* to C in five core GCSE subjects including English, Maths, Science, Humanities and Languages – the courses that universities and employers value the most. From September 2015 all pupils starting secondary school will study the EBacc when they reach their GCSEs.

In this region – the South East – this will mean that around 53,000 more pupils will be able to study these crucial subjects from September 2015. This comes as new figures from Ofsted show that 80% of schools in the South-East have been judged good or outstanding in their most recent inspection – this equates to almost 3,000 schools in the SE. Across the country the proportion of all schools judged to be good or outstanding at their most recent inspection was 82 per cent – the highest ever recorded. As a result over 1 million more children are now in good schools compared to 2010.

As part of the Conservative's commitment to opportunity we want everyone to have access to the best opportunities Britain has to offer. This means making sure that children have access to the best schools and study the key subjects that will provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

That's why it's great news that the latest figures show that 80% of schools in the South-East are now rated good or outstanding. And thanks to changes being introduced by the Government, from September around 53,000 more pupils will be studying key academic subjects at GCSE in this area. We are firmly on the side of people who want to work hard, get on and provide a decent education for their children. We are committed to ensuring that every child has the schools and skills they need to reach their full potential.


16 JUN 2015

MP on Iran

I participated in the debate held today on Iran.  I remain concerned that the agreement proposed with Iran envisages Iran as a nuclear power.  I think it is very difficult to see that allowing Iran to become a civil nuclear power would not also allow it to become a military nuclear power.  I believe this would encorage the spread of nuclear power in the region.  The mover of the motion, Guto Bebb MP, talked about how disquieted the Gulf States were.

The intervention I made is set out below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not feel that what he has described as the thoughts of the Gulf states are increased by the attitude to the detail, including about centrifuges? If Iran is allowed to retain 6,000-plus centrifuges against the original estimate of 1,000, that is clearly a bad sign.


11 JUN 2015

Local MP John Howell pledges support to carers in the Henley constituency for Carers Week 2015

I today pledged my support to carers across the Henley constituency as part of the national Carers Week 2015 awareness campaign, which runs from 8-14th June. There are 6.5 million people in the UK who care for a partner, relative or friend, of which 10,125 carers are in the Henley constituency. Without the right help and support, caring can have a devastating impact – carers can quickly become isolated, with their physical and emotional health, work and finances all hit hard.

The six charities (Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, Independent Age, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Multiple Sclerosis Society) driving Carers Week 2015 are calling on individuals, organisations and services throughout the country to take action to improve the lives of carers by building 'carer-friendly communities' that consider and support their needs.

The call comes after research for Carers Week revealed that the variation in the support and recognition carers experience from services across the country is putting the health of many carers, and their ability to support the people they care for, at risk.

Carers make a hugely valuable contribution to society and they need support to carry on the work they do. That is why I am supporting this initiative to encourage services in my community to think about the needs of carers and reach out to carers across the Henley constituency and help ensure they don't miss out on support.

Carers Week Manager Diana Walles said:

"It's fantastic to see MPs supporting carers. Families are increasingly taking on caring roles for older, ill or disabled loved ones, yet still struggle for recognition and support from health and care services and in their communities.

Much progress has been made – indeed, over 1,000 people and organisations have already pledged to actively engage with carers in their local community for Carers Week and into the future. But we still have a long way to go. This Carers Week, we're calling on individuals and organisations to think about what they can do to improve the lives of carers in their community."


10 JUN 2015

Participation in HoC debates/questions

Yesterday's interventions in the Westminster Hall debate on City regions and Metro Mayors:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): My hon. Friend is talking about devolution and has mentioned rural communities. I agree about that; I come from a rural community. But how does that link to the Metro Mayors concept? Is the Metro Mayors concept as appropriate to somewhere such as Oxfordshire as it is to somewhere such as York?

John Howell: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the big prize is not just in transferring the NHS services, but in linking up the NHS with social care, so that they are all under one roof and decisions can be made about both at the same time?

This morning's question at Scottish questions:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with business groups in Scotland.[900152]

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and other UK Ministers and officials meet business groups in Scotland regularly. I am pleased to say that one of my first visits in my new role will be to Aberdeen.

John Howell: The UK Government are committed to reducing the burden of red tape on businesses. The Scottish Government have some powers in this area. Is it not a good idea for them both to work together to reduce the burden of regulation on businesses full stop?

Anna Soubry: Absolutely. It is imperative that Administrations right across the United Kingdom work together to reduce the burden of red tape and deregulate as much as they can. We achieved £10 billion of benefit to small businesses and other sectors under the previous Government, and our aim is to achieve another £10 billion of savings for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom.


04 JUN 2015

The Townlands hospital situation

I have been working on the situation at Townlands Hospital since I first became an MP. I too am frustrated by the current situation over the provisioning of the new hospital. I am actively involved in this and set out what I am doing.

I have agreed with the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that I will have a specific opportunity to comment on the service model they are proposing together with the results of the consultation prior to their appearance at the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting at which they are appearing on 30 July. That will include my comment on the recommendations they wish to take to the CCG Governing Body. I have also asked for historic information about the use of the hospital.

I have heard the views expressed by the Townlands Steering Group and by the people of the area including local GPs. I have every sympathy with those views which ask valid questions about the model and the provision of social care which it envisages. Indeed, I mentioned this issue in debate in the House of Commons.

I was amongst the first to call on the CCG to undertake a consultation on what they were proposing for the Henley hospital at a time when they were at best ambivalent on doing so. I also lobbied extensively to ensure that a consultation took place and that the people of Henley were consulted. Having secured this consultation, it would be bizarre for me not to wait for the outcome before commenting on it. I am still lobbying for the CCG to take the points raised as a result of the consultation into account and I have arranged for the feedback to be given to me when it is complete and they have assessed what they have learnt.


04 JUN 2015

MP speaking in HoC Chamber

It has been a busy week at the House of Commons and I have contributed throughout the week to important debates and question times.

On Monday, I participated in the foreign affairs debate by asking the Foreign Secretary about Iran and its nuclear capability.  The exchange is below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Before my right hon. Friend moved on from the middle east I wanted to catch him on the nuclear verification programme for Iran. Is he really happy with it, and does it capture the potential military uses that it could be put to?

Mr Hammond: The programme as agreed at Lausanne does indeed capture that and provide very good levels of protection. Of course, we have now got to translate that into a detailed written agreement. That is the process that is going on at the moment.

On Wednesday, I participated in the question session to the Ministers from DfID.  I asked:

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of UK aid to the Palestinian Authority. [900063]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): Our support has enabled the Palestinian Authority to carry out state-building reforms in public financial administration and security. The international community has recognised that the PA is now ready for statehood.

John Howell: I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. Is the Minister aware of reports that the Palestinian Authority continues to pay convicted terrorists, and will he investigate whether UK payments are being used for that purpose?

Mr Swayne: I assure my hon. Friend that no UK payments are made for that purpose. Our support to the Palestinian Authority is paid through a World Bankcontrolled trust fund to named civil servants and then independently audited.

On Wednesday, I also joined in the debate on the Queen's Speech on Cities and Decentralisation to raise the issue of rural areas such as our own.  What I said can be read here

Debate 3 June 

Finally, on Thursday I asked a question of Ed Vaizey about broadband in the constituency.  Not entirely happy with the answer and will pursue.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):As the Minister knows, my constituency is sandwiched between Reading and Oxford and is only a stone's throw from London, but there is great frustration at the impoverishment of the broadband coverage there. What is he doing to encourage improvement?

Mr Vaizey:The other day I received an e-mail of congratulations from one of my hon. Friend's constituents thanking me for the broadband that is being delivered to his constituency. As his next door neighbour, I know that the Oxfordshire broadband team is doing a fantastic job in rolling out broadband to thousands of homes across Oxfordshire.


01 JUN 2015

More help for hardworking families in the Henley constituency with 30 hours per week of free childcare

I have today welcomed the Government's plans to double free childcare for hardworking families – which will benefit up to 90,000 parents in the South-East. The offer of 30 hours of free childcare per week during term time – worth around £5,000 a year – means parents will be able to get on while bringing up a family.

All three- and four-year-olds in working families will be eligible for 1,140 hours of free childcare per year – twice the current entitlement. Thanks to our reforms, including free childcare and Tax-Free Childcare, working families will be able to save thousands of pounds – extra money in their pocket towards day to day living costs.

Childcare costs can be a burden on family finances that prevents parents from working. This is so in this constituency where so many rely on childcare in order to go to work. We want to make it easier for those parents who do want to work, to do so.

That's why we are going further than ever before to help with childcare costs, helping hardworking families and giving people the opportunity to get into work. Doubling free childcare will make a real difference to up to 90,000 parents in the South-East. Parents will be able to return to work and hold on to more of their hard-earned money, while their children benefit from 30 hours of free, flexible childcare.

We are helping people get on and supporting them at every stage of life.


19 MAY 2015

MP welcomes the flag designed by Crowmarsh Gifford School flying in Parliament Square this week

A flag designed by children from Crowmarsh Gifford School to represent the local community in the Henley constituency took its place at Westminster on Monday 18 May at the culmination of a unique parliamentary project. I appeared beneath the flag.

The flags stem from an educational journey undertaken by children in over 450 primary schools to discover the importance of elected representation in the UK Parliament – a project developed to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the House of Commons (Simon de Montfort parliament of 1265).

Between 18 – 22 May, 80 flags designed by primary school children from across the UK will fly in public for the first time in Parliament Square – during the same week that the House of Commons meets for the first time after the General Election. The result is a fascinating child's eye view of the UK.

Speaking at the culmination of Parliament's 2015 Flag Project, David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons said today:

"Flags are one of the key ways in which individual and group identities are represented around the world. This makes them a perfect vehicle to encapsulate a project celebrating this year's anniversary of 750 years of political representation in the UK.

"The flags also demonstrate the wonderful creativity and imagination of all the participants who have drawn upon the natural environment of their area, a local trade or industry, myths, legends or history in order to represent their local identities in a variety of highly imaginative ways."

Jonathan Parsons, the renowned flag artist who was the creative lead on the project said:

"I am thrilled to have been involved with a project where children from across the country have been able to learn about their democratic heritage through creative work and secure such a prominent platform for their visual achievements here in Parliament Square- a space usually reserved to mark royal occasions, state visits or military events.

"As an artist, I know that having your creative work validated is very empowering, so I hope that through this ultimate 'show and tell' every participant feels this project has given them a degree of influence - something that many children do not possess."

Speaking about the project, I said that I like the way in which the 2015 Flag Project has great potential to deliver both a cultural and democratic legacy for the young participants and our community. I am delighted that Crowmarsh Gifford School's flag will be there and am thrilled to see it flying in such an iconic space to coincide with the sitting of the new parliament. We should all feel proud of the achievement of the pupils at Crowmarsh Gifford School whose excellent work has enabled them to be selected out of 500 flags. I congratulate them!

The 2015 Flag Project forms part of the Houses of Parliament's public programme, Parliament in the Making, which commemorates two important anniversaries in 2015: 750 years since the Simon de Montfort parliament (20 January 1265) and 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta (15 June 1215).

The display of flags in Parliament Square is made possible with support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.


26 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes funding from the Condition Improvement Fund for schools in the constituency.

I welcome funding from the Condition Improvement Fund for schools in the constituency.

The following schools have won funding for the projects listed:

  • Gillotts School for the replacement of internal buried building services;
  • Langtree School for window replacements;
  • St Joesph's Catholic Primary School, Thame for the replacement of a temporary classroom.

The Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) replaces the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund (ACMF) and the Building Condition Improvement Fund (BCIF). Most CIF funding is awarded to projects that address building condition issues including refurbishing or renewing roofs, windows or toilet areas and compliance issues such as fire protection systems, electrical upgrades or asbestos removal. A small proportion of the fund will be for projects supporting schools and colleges that need to expand their existing facilities and floor space to accommodate more pupils within their existing age range or address overcrowding or a lack of specialist facilities.

I am delighted that these schools have been successful in winning CIF funding. It is really good news. I hope that this money goes some way to them be able to address the problems they have. I have visited all the state schools in the constituency and seen for myself these individual problems. This funding will, I am sure, be very welcome.


26 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes funding to repair local churches

I have welcomed today's announcement of funding for repairs to local churches in the Henley constituency.

These repairs will also help to prevent further damage to these buildings – ensuring they are preserved for generations to come.

I'm delighted to hear that the following churches have got funding for repairs:

  • St Nicholas Britwell Salome £43,000
  • St Swithun Merton £99,200
  • St Margaret Mapledurham £13,200
  • St John the Baptist C E Church, Stanton St John £28,800

The only reason we can afford this investment is because of the action Conservatives have taken to fix the economy. Labour's plans would mean economic chaos – and Britain unable to afford this kind of work to protect our national heritage.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said:

'Churches and Cathedrals are a unique part of our national heritage, and play a vital role in community life – we want to support them, and thanks to our long-term economic plan, we can.

'Whether it's our country's future or these important buildings, the sun is shining and we're starting to fix the roof.'


26 MAR 2015

John Howell MP on Defence

A number of people have written to me about defence. The question about defence has frequently come down to whether we will stick to the 2% GDP target. The Government is committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence. We have spent 2% of GDP on defence throughout this Parliament and we will do so again in 2015/16. In addition, we have already committed to spending £163 billion on our armed forces over the next ten years as I set out below. However, no country in the world can maintain, support and invest in their Armed Forces while having a broken economy, a soaring budget deficit and unfunded spending commitments. You can only ultimately improve our defences by having a stronger, healthier economy to support them. That is precisely what we have done. Now that the defence budget is stable and the economy improving and we have plugged the £38 billion hole in the defence budget left by Labour, we will be spending £163 billion over the next ten years to ensure our Armed Forces have the best military hardware. Defence is now on a secure footing so we can invest again in the Royal Navy, the Army, and the Royal Air Force. We have the biggest defence budget in Europe and the second largest in NATO.

Over the years I have worked closely with successive station commanders at RAF Benson to help keep the Base on site and to encourage Government to invest in the upgrade of the PUMA helicopter fleet. I am happy to have done this and to have welcomed Ministers of Defence to look at the Base's achievements. I was also pleased to be invited to participate in Chinook training on the simulators on the Base (pictured). This is an essential and value for money activity.

The argument over defence is so often portrayed as one of quantity over quality. But as Professor Michael Clarke, the director general of RUSI, tells us "the numbers in the Regular Army are rather less important than the structure, training and equipment that it embraces." All the experts tell us that the next war, if it comes, will not be fought as a classic, conventional war. It will be fought using the latest technological equipment. That is why we are spending £18 billion on ships, completing two Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, and 6 state-of-the-art Type 45 Destroyers as well as a further £37 billion on submarines and the nuclear deterrent.

That is why we will also be spending £18 billion over the next 10 years on Combat Air, as the RAF continues to move towards a combined fleet of Joint Strike Fighter and Typhoon aircraft, with enhanced multi-role and Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance capabilities. The plans also include £13 billion for helicopters, providing 14 additional Chinook helicopters and a £3.5 billion contract for 600 Scout armoured fighting vehicles, the biggest Army vehicle order for thirty years.

The Prime Minister has already said that he will not cut the size of our regular armed forces beyond the level already agreed. So our personnel will have certainty about the future size and shape of the army, and confidence that they will have the kit, equipment and platforms they need. This will ensure our Armed Forces retain their formidable range of cutting-edge capabilities and ability to project power across the globe.

As Professor Clarke said "We are re-designing the Army, not just for the period after Afghanistan, but for the new years facing us that will be times of disorder, interdependence and technological novelty." To that end the deals done with companies to support our revitalised Reserves are a vital step in the right direction. We will be one of very few countries able to deploy a Division-sized force when required.

Finally, we have enshrined the principles of the Military Covenant in law and during this Parliament we have supported personnel and their families.


25 MAR 2015

John Howell MP: new apprenticeships mean more young people in the Henley constituency getting the skills they need to succeed

I have welcomed new figures showing 270 new apprenticeships were started by people in the Henley constituency between August 2014 and January 2015. In total 2,350 new apprenticeships have been started in this constituency since 2010.

This means more young people getting the skills they need to get on in life and make the most of their talents – as they do locally at DAF and Stuart Barr.

Across England over 2.2 million apprenticeships have been started since 2010.

A future Conservative government would go even further, committing to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, funded by reducing the maximum amount that can be claimed on benefits from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting young people's access to housing benefit.

These figures are fantastic news. 2,350 new apprenticeships since 2010 means more young people in the Henley constituency getting the skills to succeed and get on in life.

We are putting apprenticeships at the heart of our long-term economic plan, funding more of them and making sure they are high quality, teaching the skills that businesses need. A future Conservative government would build on the great progress we have already made, committing to deliver 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020 and effectively to end youth unemployment.

We are giving young people proper training and the prospect of a better future. Millions of young people are getting a good start in life, learning a trade, and knowing the purpose and pride that comes with that.


25 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes move to change culture of late payments

In a debate yesterday in the House of Commons, I praised the Government's attempts to change the culture which made late payments in business acceptable. I said that when I was running a small business of my own, late payments bedevilled the business, and it was always the larger companies that were responsible for it. The Henley constituency has many small businesses and I am sure this measure will be very welcomed by them.

I went on to praise the moves by Ministers to introduce unprecedented steps to tackle late payments and to end the late payment culture once and for all.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill introduces a tough new prompt payment reporting requirement for the UK's largest companies. The measure is accompanied by steps to strengthen the prompt payment code with an announcement last month that 30-day payment terms will be the norm of acceptable behaviour, with 60 days as the maximum in all but exceptional circumstances.

After the Bill was passed, I said that the Minister had put it succinctly. We are continuing to work to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. The transparency measures in the Bill will shine a light on poor payment practices and make a company's payment terms a reputational boardroom issue. This is a culture change to even up the relationship between big companies and their suppliers and the transparency measures in the Bill will have a significant impact, changing prompt payment from being an issue for finance directors to being an issue for the board.


24 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes new agreement to bring improvements to the railways in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the new franchise agreement with First Great Western – bringing the most significant upgrade of infrastructure and rolling stock to the Great Western line for a generation, benefitting people in the area who rely on our railways to get around.

The agreement will bring more seats, more services, and two new fleets of state-of-the-art trains on to the line – benefitting passengers across the west of England, Thames Valley (including Henley) and South Wales. As part of the agreement there will be a major increase in capacity, with about 3 million extra seats a year by 2018, and 4,000 more seats a day into London during the morning peak. New trains on the line will also help to deliver more frequent services, and faster journeys.

This is excellent news for all the people in this constituency who rely on our railways to get to work and get around day-to-day – and I'm particularly pleased to see that Goring & Streatley station will benefit from improvements to the car park from 2016 while electrified services will run on the Henley branch line from December 2017. I am also glad that busy commuting routes into London such as ours will see a significant increase in capacity and better journey times.

Delivering investment in our railways is a key part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan, and as this agreement shows, it is bringing real improvements to our railways. We are investing the most in our railways since the Victorians. We are investing a record £38 billion in Britain's railways from 2014-2019 – with investment in improvements 12% higher than the level set by Labour in 2009 - and enough to fund more than 850 miles of electrification.


20 MAR 2015

John Howell MP supports AlzheimerÂ’s SocietyÂ’s general election campaign

On Tuesday 17 March I pledged to make this election memorable by taking action to support the 850,000 people living with dementia across the UK.  I joined over 200 other MPs and representatives from Alzheimer's Society in Westminster to meet people with dementia and commit to support those affected by the condition. On the day, I supported Alzheimer's Society's general election campaign that is calling for more people to get the dementia diagnosis they need and for everyone to be properly supported afterwards.

We all have a part to play in improving the lives of people living with dementia. There are around 1,500 people living with the condition in the constituency - and many more who are in regular contact with family and friends with the condition. It is an issue we absolutely cannot afford to ignore.

Alzheimer's Society campaigners were in Westminster to urge MPs to make this election memorable for all those affected by dementia. The charity is striving to ensure that more people get a diagnosis and the support they need.

While in Westminster, Alzheimer's Society supporter Shelagh Robinson, 73, who was diagnosed with dementia five years ago, delivered a petition with 67,375 signatures to the Prime Minister. The petition calls for everyone diagnosed with dementia to have access to a Dementia Adviser or Support Worker – a named contact who can help them come to terms with the diagnosis and guide them through the complex health and social care system.

George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer's Society said:

'Dementia is the biggest health and care challenge our country faces – one that all of society must respond to. By the end of the next parliament more than a million people will be living with dementia. There is unlikely to be a family in the country that is not affected.

'We are pleased to have been able to engage over 200 MPs in one day. John has a huge influence in Henley and we hope he will use this opportunity to take action and improve the lives of people living with dementia. 2015 is set to be an important year for politics – but together let's also make it an historical year for people with dementia.'


18 MAR 2015

Question to the PM

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our long-term economic plan is doing an outstanding job in my constituency? Unemployment now stands at 269, making it the best performance of any constituency in the country. Will he join me in thanking the firms that I visited last week in Thame that are running fantastic apprenticeship schemes, and the young people joining them?

The Prime Minister:

I will certainly do that. I am delighted that unemployment is so low in my hon. Friend's constituency. The latest figures show that the UK's employment rate has seen the largest rise of any G7 country over the past year. Today, there are nearly 1 million fewer people on the main out-of-work benefits and nearly 2 million more people in work in our country. More young people have got into work in the UK over the past year than in the rest of the European Union put together. Those are the benefits of having a long-term economic plan, sticking to a long-term economic plan and ignoring the hopeless advice from the Labour party.


18 MAR 2015

We are the best performing constituency in the country for unemployment

The Henley constituency is now the best performing constituency in the country for unemployment (JSA claimants) with the lowest rate of unemployment.

The number of those unemployed has dropped to 269. This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 650th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 183 lower than in February 2014 and 9 lower than in January 2015. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

This is fantastic news. I spent last week visiting companies that provide apprenticeships like DAF in Thame. Their hard work and that of the young people who take up the apprenticeships is paying off. All this work has contributed to us being the best constituency in the country. Well done to everyone.


17 MAR 2015

The NHS

Many of you may have seen a recent report from the Kings Fund in which it describes the privatisation of the NHS as a myth. It points out that the NHS has always involved a mixture of public and private provision, right from its inception. Overall, use of the private sector in the NHS represents only some 6% of the total NHS budget. By no stretch of the imagination can this be classified as privatisation or holds out the potential to become so. The NHS is not being privatised. We are providing the best care for patients.

Thanks to the strong economy we are delivering, the NHS is better-resourced than ever. Since 2010, we have invested £12.7 billion more into the service, and will be putting £2 billion extra every year into the frontline from April. It's only because of those tough economic decisions – decisions that were opposed by Labour every step of the way – that we can fund the NHS's own plan for the future, the Five-Year Forward View, in the next Parliament.

The evidence of better care for patients can be seen in the numbers of clinical staff – over 23,000 more professionally qualified clinical staff since May 2010, including:

  • 9,580 extra doctors
  • 8,476 more hospital nurses
  • 2,231 more midwives
  • 3,147 more health visitors.

All of which now stand at record levels within the NHS.

In addition, under our leadership the NHS is meeting the challenge of rising demand. Since 2010, the NHS has:

  • carried out 9 million more operations during this Parliament compared to the last
  • referred 51% more suspected cancer patients to a specialist and performed nearly 700,000 more cancer treatments
  • ensured over 100,000 more people got a diagnosis of dementia and support to manage their condition.

Even more crucial is our focus on ensuring that patients are treated safely, and with the compassion and dignity we'd want for our own families. During the course of this Parliament:

  • a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals has been appointed introducing Ofsted-style inspections. 20 trusts have been put into special measures, and six have come out with around 450 lives saved annually as a result of dramatic improvements in care.
  • mixed-sex wards have been virtually eradicated.
  • hospital infections have nearly halved.
  • the number of people in official surveys saying they think they'd be treated with dignity and respect and that they'd feel safe in an NHS hospital are all at record levels
  • for the first time in any health system, all NHS patients are asked if they would recommend the care they receive to a friend or member of their family, helping create a major change in culture to put patients first.

Under this Government, the independent Commonwealth Fund has said that the NHS has become the top-ranked health service of 11 leading nations.

Labour still haven't apologised for the policy failings on their watch that put targets ahead of patient care in places like Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay. What's more, countries that failed the key test of economic credibility have had to cut their health budgets – Greece by 14%, Portugal by 17%. The Labour record on health includes:

  • a shameful record of failure in Wales where Labour actually run the health service. The budget has been cut by 8%, A&E targets haven't been met since 2008, and the Royal College of Surgeons says patients are dying on waiting lists.
  • a hollow funding pledge that has completely unravelled. NHS patients and staff were promised £2.5 billion each year – but now the Shadow Chancellor has confirmed that there won't be any money at all in the year from April, and the Director of the IFS said the mansion tax proposal amounts to 'guesswork'.
  • A GP access promise opposed by the profession that has already failed once before. The BMA welcomed our decision to scrap Labour's target on clinical grounds, and the Royal College of GPs said their plan to re-introduce it was 'ill thought-out'. It stood in the way of patients getting the appointments they wanted.


16 MAR 2015

John Howell MP welcomes school funding commitment

I have welcomed the decision from Government to introduce a new national funding formula for schools in the next parliament. The move will help deal with the situation at schools in the constituency where the amount of funding is very much lower than the average. At Goring School for example the total income per capita is over £1,000 less than the average.

The Government intends education to reach schools and the pupils that need it most. It believes that good, popular schools should find it easier to expand in response to demand from parents and that school leaders should have greater certainty over their budgets so they can plan ahead. To achieve this, the Government has committed to the introduction of a national funding formula in the next Spending Review period which will ensure that schools in similar circumstances and with similar intakes receive similar levels of funding. In the meantime, the Government will simplify the way that local authorities and the Education Funding Agency (EFA) currently fund schools so that it is more consistent and better focused on the needs of pupils.

Schools in the constituency are under-funded compared to other parts of the country. It is particularly frustrating when the staff and headteacher have a very good OFSTED inspection that they are still constrained by the amount of money they have to spend. I welcome the proposed changes which will help to ensure that our schools are treated fairly, more consistently and transparently.

I have now visited every State school in the constituency and I have seen for myself the difficulties they face. I welcome the additional funding for education in recent years. However, the changes made to the funding formula have not solved the problem. Schools such as those in this constituency are still losing out. I look forward to seeing these reforms come to fruition.


16 MAR 2015

Call for evidence by John Howell MP to support enquiry into business rates

I have today issued a call for evidence from businesses within the constituency as part of the Treasury's enquiry into business rates. The call asks businesses to sign up to help provide evidence on what should happen to the current system of business rates.

This follows the launch today of the widest-ranging review of national business rates in a generation which will pave the way for changes to how businesses across England pay business rates. The review is set to report back by Budget 2016 and will examine the structure of the current system and will look at how businesses use property and what the UK can learn from other countries about local business taxes.

Over the last few years I have taken up the cause of local business rates for companies in this constituency. I have already lobbied the Chancellor on business rates. Business rates is an unfair tax for which businesses see little in return. When I took this up with the Chancellor last time, it contributed to further changes through a business rate discount of up to £1,000 for retail premises (including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants) with a rateable value of up to £50,000 in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Now as the Chancellor has asked for views on what should happen to business rates, I am keen that the businesses of this area have their say and am looking for an early forum with local businesses to ensure the Chancellor has feed-back from small and medium sized businesses directly and can hear those concerns for himself."

The Government review acknowledges that the time has come for a radical review of this important tax to ensure the system is fair, efficient and effective. Local businesses are asked to e mail me to express an interest in participating in a forum to make a formal response to the consultation. My e mail is howelljm@parliament.uk


13 MAR 2015

John Howell MP celebrates National Apprenticeship Week with visit to Thame businesses

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, I visited two businesses around Thame that have taken a leading role in the apprenticeship programme. I was accompanied by Paddy Patterson of Oxfordshire Apprenticeships, the organisation set up to allow people to find out about local opportunities, news and events, and to learn about other people's experiences, and understand how they can get started.

I visited DAF, the truck manufacturer, and Stuart Barr a construction and design company. The visits occurred at a time when there was real celebration that 2 million apprenticeships have been awarded since 2010 and that 3 million have been promised to be delivered by 2020. I met and talked to apprentices and heard how both companies had approached taking on apprentices with enthusiasm and the sort of experiences the apprentices had had.

 

At DAF I heard from Tony Shepherd, the company's After Sales Service Manager, how apprenticeships were really worth having. The company had established a partnership with other organisations including City of Bristol College to deliver consistent and high quality apprenticeships. A key part of this was the relationship they had with training providers Skillnet. This allowed them to provide a training package that put great emphasis on the quality of care they provided to apprentices. The company's network which includes dealers has some 300 apprenticeships.

At Stuart Barr, I heard from Stuart Barr how the company choses apprentices and how much the apprenticeships are valued. The quality of training providers is no less important to them. This involves working with local schools. However, their experience suggested that some schools were still too wedded to academic qualifications.

It was very good to meet young apprentices and hear how getting an apprenticeship has transformed their lives. So many have stayed on with the company after the apprenticeship finished so this was a real investment in the future. I have a very clear message to take to schools to encourage them to get involved and work with companies to provide apprenticeships. I also have a very clear message about the importance of the training provider. Both companies had issues with the way the apprenticeships and particularly the funding were delivered. If we want more companies to become involved we have to keep the process simple. I offered to take up issues for them with Government. In both companies what I saw was a very good way of investing in the future.

The number of apprenticeships has been very high. Here in the Henley constituency we have had over 2,000 young people getting apprenticeships since 2010. I congratulate them and the companies that have taken them on."


10 MAR 2015

Treasury questions

My intervention in questions to the Treasury team is set out below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con):Is my hon. Friend aware of the Institute for Fiscal Studies report on living standards showing that living standards are back to where they were before Labour's great recession? Does this not help the very people she has mentioned?

Andrea Leadsom:Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The IFS report also showed that 200,000 fewer people were in relative poverty in 2014-15 compared with 2009-10, including 100,000 children, and that since 2010 the number of children under 16 in workless households had fallen by about 390,000, taking it to the lowest level since records began. That is very good news.


09 MAR 2015

Pensioners

I recognise the contribution pensioners have made, and continue to make, to British society. A number of steps have been taken to support pensioners in their retirement and I set them out below first in summary and then in more detail.  It is important to bear in mind that pensioners benefit from the enormous improvements to the econony we have been able to make and especially to the changes in taxes which apply - all of which is making us more prosperous.

Specifically, a triple lock on the State Pension has been introduced, which will ensure that the basic State Pension increases every year by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. As a result of this, the State Pension has increased by £950 since 2010.

A new pensioner bond has been created that offers retired savers a return that is better than anything pensioners can get now. Alongside this, from April 2015 millions of people on Defined Contribution schemes will no longer have to buy an annuity if they don't want to and there will be no punitive 55 per cent tax rate if you want to draw down more than your tax free lump sum. Importantly, people who have worked hard and saved all their lives will now be able to pass on their hard-earned pension pot tax-free.

The Government is protecting free universal benefits, including Winter Fuel Payments, bus passes and TV licences and the Prime Minister has committed to protect them for the duration of the next Parliament, supporting people who work hard and do the right thing.

Here are a few more details of the things we have done.

TRIPLE LOCK

  • The triple lock ensures that the basic State Pension rises by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. As a result of this lock, the full basic State Pension in 2015/16 will be around £11.30 a week higher than it would have been if it had been uprated only in line with average earnings growth since 2011-12.
  • We are committed to protecting this principle.

PENSION FREEDOM

  • Under the changes, it will still be possible to take 25 per cent of a pension pot tax-free on retirement. Anything taken over this will be taxed at normal marginal tax rates.
  • A new guarantee, enforced in law, that everyone who retires on Defined Contribution schemes will be offered free, impartial, face-to-face advice on how to get the most from the choices they will now have. The Government will spend £20 million over the next two years to work with consumer groups and industry to develop this new right to advice.
  • From April 2015 there will be no minimum income requirement for flexible drawdown, no capped drawdown limit, and no cap on the lump sum that may be withdrawn from a Defined Contribution pension, subject to marginal rates of taxation.

PASSING ON YOUR PENSION

  • The Government has announced that from April 2015 it will abolish the 55 per cent tax on pension pots, allowing people to pass on their hard-earned pension pot tax-free. When someone over 75 or over dies, beneficiaries will only pay their marginal tax rate when they draw down the income. For people who die under the age of 75 there will be no tax to pay at all.

PENSIONER BOND

  • A new pensioner bond has been introduced. It offers a better return than any equivalent in the market today.
  • The amount people can invest in Premium Bonds will also rise, first to £40,000 on 1 June this year then to £50,000 in 2015/16.

UNIVERSAL BENEFITS FOR PENSIONERS

  • The Government has made a commitment to protecting universal benefits for pensioners, including free Winter Fuel Payments, Cold Weather Payments, free television licenses and bus travel until the end of this parliament.
  • The Prime Minister has committed to protecting universal pensioner benefits should a Conservative Government be elected.

ENERGY BILLS

  • The Government's Warm Home Discount Scheme will provide over 2 million households, including over 600,000 vulnerable pensioners, with a £135 discount on their electricity bills.
  • Ministers are maintaining the spending on Winter Fuel Payments, spending over £2 billion this winter. Cold Weather Payments have also been permanently increased from £8.50 to £25, helping the most vulnerable when extremely cold weather strikes.

COUNCIL TAX SUPPORT

  • We want to help local residents, hard pressed families and pensioners bear down on the cost of living. It has worked with councils to help them offer a council tax freeze for four years in a row. The result is that, on average, council tax bills have fallen by 11 per cent in real terms and a fourth year of freeze could be worth up to £718 for the average bill payer.

Ensuring that older people are aware of the support that is available to them is key. The Department for Work and Pensions' National Partnerships Team works with over 4,440 customer representative organisations, both nationally and locally, to provide a wide range of advice and support for pensioners. We are ensuring pensioners have security and dignity in their retirement. The State Pension is now at the highest percentage of earnings since 1992.


08 MAR 2015

International Aid

The effect of our review of the International Aid Programme is often ignored. The Government has carried out a complete review of where UK aid is spent. As a result of this, the decision has been taken to end aid to 16 countries that we consider no longer need it. For example this includes Russia, India, China and South Africa. In addition, programmes that are not good value for taxpayers' money have been closed. This includes Trademark Southern Africa and the BOST agricultural park in Afghanistan.

In November 2012, we announced that our development relationship with India would change. From that point onwards, the UK would approve no new financial grant aid to India. After 2015, the UK would only provide support in the form of private sector expertise and technical assistance. These changes reflect India's rapid growth and development progress in the last decade. India's growing resources and global status meant that the time had now come to end the UK's traditional aid programme.

The plan to enshrine 0.7% of GNI as the legal target for our international aid was the subject of a backbench private members Bill. The fact is that we are already comfortably meeting this target which includes the cost of overseas assistance provided by our military. What is also important is to note that we have made great efforts to strengthen financial controls over the money that is spent including increasing ministerial oversight of programme design, introducing a code of conduct for our suppliers, and, strengthening programme management and internal audit. The UK is one of five countries to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, and the first G7 country to meet this longstanding commitment.

International aid is in our national interest and is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. UK investment overseas has transformed the lives of millions for the better and, investing in jobs, opportunities and peace, is ultimately about ending aid dependency through jobs and growth. International development is in our interests not just because it creates new markets, but also because it can deliver a more balanced, resilient global economy. We are now focusing on driving economic growth in developing countries alongside core work on basic services and we are working hand-in-hand with UK business to do that. The countries in which DFID works to boost economic growth will be the growth markets of the next 20 or 30 years, and by boosting their economies we will help stop their reliance on aid. Over the last year we have provided over £75 million in humanitarian aid to over 1 million people in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan. We have helped other governments help themselves by assisting them in improving tax collection by as much as 100 per cent and we have helped bring economic stability to countries which will be growth markets for Britain, for example by helping 1.4 million farmers to raise their collective income by over $127 million.

In relation to international aid money being spent on military purposes, the aid budget can only be used to fund military spending in three areas – security, demobilisation and peacekeeping. The idea that our international aid is being diverted into Kalashnikovs for regimes hostile to us is false.


08 MAR 2015

Tax and the closure of tax loopholes

The Government is leading the world on changing international tax rules and implementing those changes in Britain. I am proud that we have gone further than any previous government, closing more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and raising £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament. The details of what we have done can be read on my web-site at http://www.johnhowellmp.com/news/tax-and-hsbc/610 But let me highlight a few points. This is what we have done:

  • Closed many of the loopholes exposed and taken action to get back money lost in Swiss Bank Accounts.
  • Brought in more than £135 million, increasing the maximum penalty for hiding money in tax havens to 200% of the tax evaded.
  • Over 90 countries last year signed up to new international Comprehensive Reporting Standards, further shutting down the options for tax cheats who pursue this increasingly high risk practice.
  • To date our agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein alone have brought in around £2 billion in previously unpaid tax.
  • Introduced a 25 per cent tax on multinationals' profits where they're artificially shifted out of the country.
  • Led efforts within the G20 to reform the international corporate tax rules and to put tax transparency at the heart of the G8. All major financial centres (including Switzerland), all the G20, all the EU and all of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories – have committed to begin exchanging this information by 2018.
  • Invested £1 billion in HMRC since 2010 to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance recovering more than £31 billion in tax as a result of interventions.
  • Made over 40 changes to tax law, closing down loopholes and introducing major reforms to the UK tax system.
  • Introduced a General Anti-Abuse Rule which will deter the creation of abusive tax avoidance schemes.
  • It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010.

What we have done has been based on solid action over the past 5 years which I have supported and will continue to support. We have cut taxes as a key part of our long-term economic plan to build the most competitive corporate tax system in the world – but not everyone is paying their fair share and they should be. We believe in low taxes, but taxes that are paid. We are making sure everyone pays the taxes that they owe – securing a stronger economy and a better future for Britain.

In relation to the so-called 'Mayfair loophole' whereby private equity firms can treat their profits as capital gains when there is capital at risk, we have taken action to increase tax on private equity by raising the rate of capital gains tax from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. Hedge fund managers no longer pay less tax than their cleaners – a situation Labour did nothing about in 13 years in office.


08 MAR 2015

Employment in the constituency

The unemployment news for this constituency is very good indeed. Unemployment in this constituency has sunk to a low of 278 people across the whole constituency who are unemployed and on JSA. The number of young people unemployed and on JSA is 35.  Despite this, some cannot help themselves from trying to criticise.  Typically they do so with a number of myths. Here are some of the jobs myths that are being made about our excellent success in relation to employment.

Myth no. 1 - Zero Hours Contracts: "Most of new jobs created are on zero-hours contracts and the Conservatives work with their big business pals to defend them"

  • Just 2.3% of people in employment are on a zero hours contract.
  • Over 80% of part-timers choose part-time as it suits them.
  • This Government is reforming Zero Hours Contracts by banning the use of exclusivity clauses on Zero Hours Contracts to ensure they aren't abused.
  • The ONS directly rebuked Labour for wildly misleading zero-hours contracts claim.

Myth no 2 - Full Time/Part Time Work: "All the jobs are part-time and no one can get a full time job"

  • Over three quarters of new jobs since the election are full-time (up 1.38 million since 2010)
  • Full-time jobs accounted for 95 per cent of the rise in employment over the past year.

Myth no. 3 - UK Wide Jobs: "All the new jobs are in London and there are no new jobs in the regions"

  • Nearly three quarters of the rise in employment since 2010 has been outside London.
  • Every region in the UK has seen a fall in unemployment in the last year.

Myth no. 4 - Young People: "Young people (18-24) can't get work and youth unemployment has gone through the roof"

  • Youth unemployment has fallen by 188,000 in the past year.
  • Excluding those in full-time education, there are now 498,000 unemployed young people.
  • The number of young people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has fallen every single month for the past 38 months, and is at the lowest since the 1970s.
  • The number of young people in this constituency who are unemployed and on JSA is 35.

Myth no. 5 - Wages: "All the new Jobs are rubbish - they are all manual, unskilled minimum wage jobs"

  • Since 2010, two thirds of the rise in employment has been in higher skilled occupations.
  • There has been a real terms rise in pay in last year. Regular pay for employees is up 1.7% on the year and total pay up 2.1% on year. Annual inflation rate over the same period was 0.9%.

Myth no. 6 - Women: "Women can't get jobs"

  • There are a record number of women in work - 14.47 million.
  • Female employment is up 839,000 since 2010
  • The female employment rate is at a record high of 68.5%.
  • The men/women pay gap for full time workers has been eliminated for under 40s.


07 MAR 2015

TTIP

I sometimes feel that 38 Degrees has lost the plot and is now attacking the player rather than the ball. Recent standard emails have sought to claim that people are worried about 'further privatisation' of the NHS. As there has been no privatisation of the NHS there can be no further privatisation. A recent report from the Kings Fund describes the privatisation of the NHS as a myth. It points out that the NHS has always involved a mixture of public and private provision. Overall, use of the private sector in the NHS represents only 6% of the total NHS budget. I do not think this can be classified as privatisation by any stretch of the imagination or holds out the potential to become so.

You can only have a strong NHS with a strong economy. That's how we've increased the NHS budget by £12.7 billion over this Parliament and how we will continue to make real-terms increases if we're elected in 2015. As well as endorsing the NHS's own five-year Forward View, the Chancellor has announced an extra £2 billion funding every year for frontline NHS services.

For all these reasons, TTIP will not change the way that the NHS, or other public services, are run. Access to NHS services will continue to be based on patients' needs, not ability to pay. Local NHS commissioners will remain in charge of deciding who should provide services in the best interests of patients. It will always be for the UK to decide for itself whether or not to open up our public services to competition.

The freedom of national Governments to regulate is explicitly protected. The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions being discussed cannot overturn laws. Their purpose is to protect our investors from discriminatory treatment by protectionist Governments, whilst safeguarding the Government's freedom to make laws and regulations in the public interest. The UK already has over 90 bilateral investment agreements in place, the majority of which include similar provisions, and has never lost a case. The Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions do not threaten our sovereignty and will not prevent Parliament from passing laws or lead to laws being repealed.

Unprecedented steps have been taken to publish negotiating texts, it has been debated on a number of occasions in Parliament and it will be coming under further extensive scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. The TTIP discussions are expected to continue for many more years. The final version will be freely available for everyone to see before it is approved or rejected by Parliament, which will have a final power of veto.

I think there is considerable potential to the TTIP concept. The agreement could bring economic benefits of up to £10 billion annually to the UK, the equivalent of almost £400 per household. There are, however, many untrue scare stories being spread about TTIP and most of them originate with 38 Degrees.


07 MAR 2015

Mayfair tax loophole

The material supplied by 38 Degrees is grossly misleading. It seeks to imply that what has come to be called the 'Mayfair loophole' is part of an active programme of tax avoidance being created by the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have cut taxes as a key part of our long-term economic plan to build the most competitive corporate tax system in the world – but not everyone is paying their fair share and they should be. We believe in low taxes, but taxes that are paid.

The material ignores the work we have done changing international tax rules. It also ignores the work that continues to be done to close more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and to raise £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament.

If you look at the so-called 'Mayfair loophole' you will see that it is part of the capital gains system that was agreed by the last Labour Government. It allows private equity firms to treat their profits as capital gains when there is capital at risk. We have already taken action to increase tax on private equity by raising the rate of capital gains tax from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. This tax increase also means that hedge fund managers no longer pay less tax than their cleaners – a situation Labour did nothing about in 13 years in office. 

The amount raised from compliance has increased to a record high under this Government and the tax gap has been reduced. It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010. The tax gap has actually fallen from 8.5 per cent in 2005/06 to 6.8 per cent in 2012/13.


04 MAR 2015

Contribution to question on Oxfordshire child sex abuse

Below is the exchange I made in the Urgent Question raised about Oxfordshire child sex abuse.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I, too, pay tribute to the victims of these appalling crimes. Has the Secretary of State taken into account the fact that Operation Bullfinch, which brought the perpetrators to justice, has transformed the legal landscape in which cases can be heard? Have the good points that were brought out from Operation Bullfinch been taken into account across the country?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to put support for the victims at the heart of all this. He is right that things have moved on as a result partly of Operation Bullfinch and partly of other operations and lessons learned from other cases. It is a different landscape but, as he will appreciate, that does not take away from the harm done to the victims.


03 MAR 2015

Success of Henley aircraft meeting

On the evening of 26 February 2015 some 50 people attended a meeting to discuss aircraft noise over Henley at my invitation. In attendance to answer questions were Stuart Lindsey of the Civil Aviation Authority, Matt Gorman of Heathrow and Dan Edwards of NATS the air traffic controllers. In short presentations, each of them described the current pattern of airspace use around Henley and set out the opportunities provided by the Government inspired review of airspace being undertaken over the coming years. They confirmed that nothing had changed in the way aircraft used the airspace. They also pointed to the fact that aircraft need to land into wind and that, in some months at the end of last year, about half of winds were easterlies requiring planes to use the airspace above Henley to line up for landing at Heathrow. Members of the audience were able to put their questions directly to the three organisations responsible for the use of the air space.

The meeting was very well attended and there were good questions from the audience. I was very pleased to be able to arrange for three knowledgeable individuals to come and talk to local people. The answers they provided were very clear and very robust and covered issues such as time of aircraft arrival and the amount of pollution deposited in the Thames Valley. They have all agreed to return to Henley later in the year to update people on what is happening.

Following the meeting, I will be writing to the Government and Heathrow to ask for sound monitoring to be undertaken around Henley further from the airport than is currently arranged. I will also be raising the question of where controlled airspace currently ends which allows local planes doing acrobatics to interfere with the peace and quiet of the area.


20 FEB 2015

Unemployment in the Henley constituency

The total number of unemployed claimants (measured by those on Jobseeker's Allowance) in the Henley constituency in January 2015 was 278. This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 647th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.) The number of claimants is 173 lower than in January 2014 and 7 lower than in December 2014. The number of young people unemployed has fallen to 35.

Most of the jobs have gone to British nationals.  These jobs are also not insecure or poorly paid – in fact three-quarters of the new jobs that have been created since the election are full-time and wages are rising significantly faster than inflation with total pay going up by 2.1 per cent and inflation over the same period at 0.9 per cent.

This is very good news and represents another month when the constituency is the envy of the country. I thank all those who have helped boost employment and congratulate the 2,080 who have obtained apprenticeships. I have always said that we should carry on with our reforms and reduce unemployment. Having the security of a regular income through employment is the best way to improve the economy for everyone. One way in which this effect can be seen here is in the use of foodbanks. In this constituency the number of boxes given out is quite low – reported as 30 in Henley and 15 in Thame. This shows that with increased employment the use of foodbanks is reduced.


16 FEB 2015

Tax and HSBC

For a number of years I was a Tax Inspector. This experience has given me a special insight into the issues raised by the HSBC affair and an in-depth knowledge of what has happened in this situation. It also gives me an insight into how HMRC have been successful in gaining back the money that it is owed but which has not been paid. I realise, of course, that the emails sent to me were based on a standard on the subject, but I would have thought they could have given credit for the enormous efforts undertaken by the Government in tackling the abuse of the tax system. In summary, we have led the world on changing international tax rules and are implementing those changes in Britain. We have gone further than any previous government, closing more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and raising £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament. Let me give some more information on some of these points.

International:

Since 2010 we have closed many of the loopholes exposed and specifically taken action to get back money lost in Swiss Bank Accounts. We have systematically worked through the 2010 'Lagarde' list of tax avoiders and brought in more than £135 million, increasing the maximum penalty for hiding money in tax havens to 200 per cent of the tax evaded. Over 90 countries last year signed up to new international Comprehensive Reporting Standards, further shutting down the options for tax cheats who pursue this increasingly high risk practice. To date our agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein alone have brought in around £2 billion in previously unpaid tax.

Some of the largest companies in the world use elaborate structures to avoid paying tax. To make sure they contribute we are introducing a 25 per cent tax on multinationals' profits where they're artificially shifted out of the country. This will raise over £1 billion over the next five years.

We have led efforts within the G20 to reform the international corporate tax rules and the Prime Minister put tax transparency at the heart of his presidency of the G8, promoting the development of automatic information exchange. This standard was developed over the last two years and now, thanks to UK leadership, all major financial centres (including Switzerland), all the G20, all the EU and all of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories – have committed to begin exchanging this information by 2018.

At home:

At home, we have invested £1 billion in HMRC since 2010 to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. HMRC have recovered more than £31 billion in tax as a result of interventions with large businesses since 2010. HMRC's High Net Worth Unit has collected £852 million from the UK's wealthiest people. Between 2010-11 and the end of March 2015, HMRC will have collected more than £100 billion in additional compliance revenues.

The Government has made over 40 changes to tax law, closing down loopholes and introducing major reforms to the UK tax system. In particular, we have introduced a General Anti-Abuse Rule which will deter the creation of abusive tax avoidance schemes, clamped down on Stamp Duty avoidance with an Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings and we've stopped hedge fund managers using partnerships to avoid paying tax on their income. It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010.

In Saturday's papers there were reports that the richest in this country are paying more. These measures have helped that situation. HMRC estimates that those paying the 45% tax rate will contribute over £46 billion in 2014/15 up some 8 billion on what they were paying in 2012/13 when the 50% tax rate was in place. The share of tax paid by the richest 1% has significantly increased.

The statement, therefore, that ".... that the government has not been acting to stop" the avoidance of tax is untrue. What we have done has been based on solid action over the past 5 years which I applaud and have supported and will continue to support.


10 FEB 2015

New figures show Henley constituency to be in top 6% of homes and businesses getting superfast broadband investment

I have welcomed new figures showing how families and businesses in the Henley constituency are benefitting from the Conservative's investment in superfast broadband.

The figures show that thanks to this investment, 20,311 properties across the Henley constituency now have access to superfast broadband and by 2017 a total of 23,098 homes and businesses here will have access to superfast connections, who would otherwise have had to suffer from a slow, unreliable internet. This puts the Henley constituency in the top 6% of constituencies in England receiving superfast broadband investment.

Across the country this investment has already got an extra 2 million premises connected-up to superfast broadband, with 40,000 more being added every single week. By 2017, 95% of the UK will have access to superfast broadband – this compares to only 45% in 2009.

This investment is part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan that will mean families will be able to enjoy the full benefits of the internet and businesses being able to open up new markets and do business across the world, helping them to expand and create new jobs.

These figures put us in the top 6% of constituencies in England receiving Government investment. I recognise that a large number of people in this constituency are still lagging behind and fall within the 5% who are not included in the roll-out. I am campaigning hard to ensure that they receive an improved and acceptable service. This is a highly rural constituency. However, these figures show real progress to securing 95% of properties.

When Labour left office, 3 million homes and businesses didn't have access to the fast broadband speeds they needed. That's why the Conservatives, as part of our long-term economic plan, are investing £1.7 billion to roll out superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017. This investment has already meant 20,311 premises in the Henley constituency now have access to superfast broadband. And by 2017, 2,787 more homes and businesses will have got superfast connections in the Henley constituency who would otherwise have been stuck with a slow, unreliable internet.

This investment is only possible because we have a strong economy and a long-term, economic plan. Only by sticking to that plan will we be able to continue to improve Britain's infrastructure and ensure the whole country can access world-class broadband connections.


08 FEB 2015

Text of my speech on GPs

The text of my speech from Hansard can be found by following the link below

GPs speech


06 FEB 2015

John Howell MP SUPPORTS CANCER RESEARCH UKÂ’S CROSS CANCER OUT CAMPAIGN ON WORLD CANCER DAY

I am backing an appeal from Cancer Research UK to save the lives of more cancer patients, as news comes that one in two people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives. The new figure was announced on World Cancer Day (February 4) to highlight the urgent need to bolster public health and NHS cancer services so they can cope with a growing and ageing population and the looming demands for better diagnostics, treatments, and earlier diagnosis.

I attended a parliamentary event held by Cancer Research UK to mark World Cancer Day and encourage MPs to support their Cross Cancer Out campaign.

In the run up to the General Election, the charity is calling on candidates to back measures to ensure cancer patients receive the best treatment and are diagnosed early enough for that treatment to make a difference.

UK cancer survival rates are still lagging behind the best in Europe and in England nearly half of all cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat successfully. Cancer Research UK says that support for public awareness campaigns, increasing screening uptake and ensuring equal access to innovative evidence-based treatments are key to saving more lives.

We cannot underestimate the devastating impact that cancer will have on people in the Henley constituency now and in the future. The good news is that Cancer Research UK is making huge advances in the battle against the disease.

But with around five people diagnosed with cancer every hour in the South East and this number set to rise, it's vital that we detect cancer earlier across the UK and that the NHS is fit to offer all patients the best possible chance of surviving.

I'm backing the Cross Cancer Out campaign, because it's clear that MPs have a crucial role to play in helping to beat cancer sooner.

Layla Theiner, Head of Public Affairs at Cancer Research UK, said: "The increase in the lifetime risk of getting cancer is primarily because more people are surviving into old age, when the disease is more common.

"We can't avoid growing older, but we can prevent a crisis in the future by acting now to make our NHS cancer services among the best in the world.

"Without increased political support we could see the death toll from cancer rising in the UK and so early diagnosis and better treatments must be key priorities for the next Government.

"That's why we're calling on MPs and parliamentary candidates from all political parties to commit to 'Cross Cancer Out' and help ensure no-one's life is cut short by this devastating disease."

For more information and ways to get involved in the campaign, visit cruk.org/crosscancerout or join the conversation on twitter #CrossCancerOut.


06 FEB 2015

JOHN HOWELL MP AND BHF HIGHLIGHT IMPORTANCE OF FUNDING FOR LIFE SAVING RESEARCH

I attended a British Heart Foundation (BHF) event calling on the next government to guarantee the future of the science budget to protect life-saving research.  I joined heart patient Emily Sullivan, 8, for a science lesson to highlight the importance of charities being able to continue funding medical research.

Emily has had three open heart surgeries after being born with three large holes in her heart, a condition that more and more people are surviving because of BHF research.

I joined thousands of people across the UK to help the BHF continue to fund life-saving research. Medical research charities, like the BHF, rely on government investment to pay for the indirect costs of research, such as lighting, electricity and heating for laboratories. Without government support, the BHF's ability to fund world class research to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease (CVD) would be significantly reduced.

Charities are an essential part of the UK medical research environment and the science budget is vital to supporting their research. If we are to prevent and treat devastating conditions like cardiovascular disease in places like the Henley constituency, we need continued investment in pioneering research and to guarantee the future of the science budget.

For every £1 charities spend directly on medical research, the Government pays 26p to help fund the indirect costs. The BHF is calling on the next government to maintain the current ring-fencing of the science budget and to commit to future increases.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "If the UK is to maintain its strong position in biomedical research, the next government must guarantee the future of the science budget.

"Every single research grant we fund is underpinned by Government investment in universities.

"This fund is a vital partnership between Government, charity and universities and any cut to it would be extremely damaging to our life saving research and the fight against heart disease."

A quarter of all deaths in the UK are caused by CVD and there are an estimated seven million people living with the condition.

For over 50 years the BHF has pioneered research that has transformed the lives of millions of people living with CVD.

The BHF is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research and invests over £100 million every year.


02 FEB 2015

John Howell MP welcomes record number of young people in the Henley constituency studying core academic subjects

I have welcomed the news that more students in the Henley constituency are studying the core academic subjects which will help them to get the best start in life.

The new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is awarded when students achieve A* to C in five core GCSE subjects including English, Maths, Science, Humanities and Languages – the courses that universities and employers value the most. New figures show that the EBacc is encouraging more young people in our area to study the core academic subjects.

30.2% more students in the Henley constituency are now achieving an EBacc compared with 2010, meaning they are gaining the skills they need to get a good job or go on to further study.

These figures follow news that there are now 1.75 million more people in work since 2010 and university applications are at a record high, further evidence that the Conservatives' long-term economic plan is securing a better future for Britain.

Young people here deserve the very best start in life. That means they need good quality, rigorous exams which help them gain the skills they need to succeed. Sadly, under the last Labour Government subjects were dumbed down, employers lost faith in exam grades and our young people were let down.

That's why it is great news that the action the government has taken to improve standards in our schools is paying off locally, with new figures showing 32.3% of young people in our area are achieving the EBacc in subjects which will help them find a good job or university place.

Conservatives are working to a long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain and a crucial part of that is delivering the best schools and skills for young people in this area. These new figures show that the plan is working, and we need to stick to it so that even more young people in our area can gain the skills they need to get on in life.


29 JAN 2015

New Growth Deal funding means more jobs and security for hardworking people in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the announcement of additional funding to support businesses and infrastructure in the Henley constituency – helping to support businesses and maintain our enviable jobs record.

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has been allocated an additional £9.9 million. This brings the total allocation of Growth Deal funding to Oxfordshire to £118.4 million.

I have already held talks with the LEP about the sort of assistance that could be provided in the constituency. This includes support for additional skills training in businesses and for apprenticeships. This is a constituency with a fantastic record for jobs. It is the fourth lowest in the country in the number of people unemployed and on Job Seekers Allowance.

Growth Deals bring together government funding for investment in infrastructure, housing, and other projects such as training and put it in a single pot, which is placed in the hands of local authorities and businesses to invest – because they are best placed to know how to deliver local jobs and growth.

As part of its long-term plan to build a stronger economy, across the country the Government has announced a further £1 billion of funding for Growth Deals, which comes in addition to £6 billion from the Local Growth fund announced in July last year.

This £9.9 million of extra funding is fantastic news for local people in this constituency and we must ensure that it is spent well within the constituency. We are the envy of the country when it comes to jobs and I want to keep it that way. I want to ensure that it is not all taken by projects such as Harwell and that Culham Science Centre and businesses across the constituency have their fair share.

This Growth Deal is a key part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better future for the hardworking people of the Henley constituency. Its funding will help local businesses create the jobs we need so more hardworking families can have the security of a regular pay packet, and will help equip our young people with the skills they need to get on in life.

Greg Clark MP, Business Minister, said:

'For Britain to fulfil its potential every part of the country must be an engine of growth.

'Our successful programme of City Deals and Growth Deals have put local people in the driving seat as the local economy powers ahead. This billion-pound expansion of Growth Deals fuels the momentum that is now underway in our local economies.'


27 JAN 2015

John Howell MP welcomes protection for community pubs announced by the Government

Under the Localism Act's Community Right to Bid, the Government has invited communities to nominate buildings and land which add most value to the local community, to be listed as Assets of Community Value, giving them a greater stake in the future of those assets. Already some 600 pubs have been so listed.

The new protection proposed means if a pub is listed in this way it will trigger a removal of the national permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of those pubs premises. National permitted development rights mean that the conversion of the pub could be brought into effect without a full planning application. However, as a result of the change, in future where a pub is listed as an Asset of Community Value, a full planning application will be required for the change of use or demolition of a pub.

It is crucial that where communities wish to protect pubs, they list them as Assets of Community Value. This requires 21 local voters to make an application to the council to have the asset listed and for this to be determined within 8 weeks.

Once this has been done, national permitted development rights on that asset are withdrawn and a full planning application is required which must be determined in accordance with the district council local plan, any neighbourhood plan, and national policy.

The new process provides an opportunity for local people to comment and to object to an application in person before the local planning committee. It enables local communities to have a say in planning applications for the change of use of a pub of particular local value. The listing may be taken into account as a material consideration when determining any planning application by the district council.

I believe this offers protection for assets and strengthens the hands of the community in deciding (a) what are the assets of most importance to the community, and, (b) having a say in the determination of a planning application concerning them.


25 JAN 2015

Labour plans for massive onshore wind expansion threatens chaos in the Henley constituency

I have today challenged the Labour candidate for the General Election to condemn plans for thousands more publicly subsidised wind turbines.  The plans emerged after one of Britain's biggest wind farm companies revealed that in private discussions senior Labour and Liberal Democrat figures have given 'very strong support for onshore wind in one-to-one conversations'.

Conservatives are the only party that would end the public subsidy for newly planned onshore wind farms in the UK such as the one it was intended to erect near Horspath. A Conservative Government would also ensure that large-scale onshore wind farms in England and Wales are determined through the locally-led planning system - not the national infrastructure regime.

Conservatives in Government have already changed planning rules in England to give greater protection for landscape and heritage – and we will go further and amend planning policy in England to give even greater protection to locally valued landscape, heritage and other local concerns.

Many families in the Henley constituency, who are concerned that wind farms could be approved locally without their views being heard, will be appalled to hear about these Labour plans for a massive expansion of onshore wind – Labour must either condemn them or come clean to local people about [his/her] plans for more windfarms.

Now that we have enough onshore wind power to meet our renewables target we should be ending bill payer funded subsidies for newly planned projects and give local communities the decisive say on them, but only a Conservative government that would deliver that.

At the next election local people in the Henley constituency now have a clear choice: between the strong leadership of the Conservatives who will protect our local natural beauty for our children and grandchildren – or a vote for any other party which would lead to the chaos of more publicly subsided wind farms.


25 JAN 2015

Chiltern Centre invitation

I have been invited to become a Vice Patron of the Chiltern Centre. The chair of trustees, Paul Barrett, said "As someone with an interest in our local community we feel your support, knowledge and guidance will help the charity greatly." The Chiltern Centre offers a unique support of services to children and families in the area in their vital role of caring. Each year they help more than 50 families some of whom have additional medical needs. They help them enjoy every day experiences. All the children supported have learning disabilities and associated communication and behavioural difficulties.

I said: "I am delighted to accept. I first visited the Chiltern Centre with George Osborne MP and have been back on a number of occasions. It will be a delight to work with them and to help them with their endeavours including the raising of £240,000 to support short breaks for disabled children."


25 JAN 2015

Holocaust Memorial Day

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

Tuesday 27th January will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

After signing the Book of Commitment, I commented:

"Holocaust Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and make sure they are not forgotten. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join members of my community in the fight against prejudice and intolerance."

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

"We are proud that John Howell is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps in 2015, it is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry."


20 JAN 2015

Exchange with Minister for Women and Equality

John Howell (Henley) (Con): What steps she is taking to close the gender pay gap. [907016]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): The gender pay gap is at its narrowest ever and has been entirely eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40. Of course the gender pay gap is still too wide, which is why we are closing it further by encouraging girls and young women to consider a wider range of careers, including well-paid careers in technology and engineering.

John Howell: Does the Minister agree that closing the pay gap further means that businesses could still do more to ensure that they recruit, retain and promote the best women?

Nicky Morgan: I agree with my hon. Friend. Successful businesses know that they cannot afford to miss out on the talents and experiences of half our population, and the Government are working closely with business on that, especially through the Women's Business Council,


18 JAN 2015

New pensioners bond will reward savers in the Henley constituency in their retirement

I have welcomed the launch of a new National Savings and Investments Bond for pensioners. The new bonds for people aged 65 and over will offer market-leading rates and support people who rely on their savings in retirement. Two bonds are being launched:

  • A one year bond will offer returns of 2.8 per cent gross/AER interest,
  • A three year bond will pay 4 per cent gross/AER interest.

£10 billion has been made available to allow these bonds to be issued – this should ensure these bonds are on the market for a period of months, giving those pensioners who wish to take advantage of the rates plenty of time to do so.

A key part of our long-term economic plan is to support savers and boost hardworking peoples' financial security at all stages of life.

That's why we've introduced government-backed savings bonds for people aged 65 and, over that, pay the best interest rates in the market. They have already been a huge success and because this is the biggest ever retail bond offer, these bonds will be available for many months.

This is great news for pensioners in the Henley constituency. It's time savers were rewarded and these bonds do that by giving older savers the certainty and comfort of a good return over the life of their investment.


07 JAN 2015

Party of Opportunity

Party of Opportunity may be donwloaded here.

I attended the launch of the second edition of The Party of Opportunity booklet, compiled by Sir David Amess MP, on Wednesday, 7th January, in the Jubilee Room at the Houses of Parliament. I feature in the booklet and was pleased to speak to its launch.

The Party of Opportunity booklet includes short summaries from Conservative MP's about their working class backgrounds and how they came to join the Conservative Party. The aim of this booklet is to raise awareness about how the Conservative Party represents people from all aspects of society rather than just the elite that is so often the inaccurate stereotype.

After a successful first edition in 2014, a second edition was launched on Wednesday, 7th January. Along with a Foreword by Sir John Major and an introduction by Jonathan Evans MP, the MP's included in this second edition are listed below.

The launch provided an opportunity to hear speeches from some of the MP's who are included in the booklet as well as to chat with these MPs about their experiences with the Conservative Party. The second edition of The Party of Opportunity received positive reviews at the launch and Sir David Amess MP was very pleased to see the booklet go down so well amongst the attendees after all the hard work that many people had put into producing it.

Sections of the public and of the media like to portray the Conservative Party as a bunch of toffs. What this booklet does is to show how many of us are from solid working class backgrounds who have made it in life because of the aspiration and opportunity encouraged by the Conservative Party.

Sir David Amess MP commented: "My motivation for compiling this booklet was a response to those who portray the Conservative Party as being elitist. Specifically I wanted to combat the false impression that is given about the background of Conservative Members of Parliament."

"I would like to thank all the MP's who contributed to this booklet, helping to demonstrate that the Conservative Party appeals to, and benefits, people from all walks of life."

"I would also like to thank the Association of Conservative Clubs for their generosity in funding the production of this booklet, Soapbox Communications in London for designing and editing this booklet, and Charsley Stewart in Leigh-on-Sea for the printing of this booklet. They have made it possible to launch this fantastic second edition of 'The Party of Opportunity'"


05 JAN 2015

Exchange with Minister for Crime Prevention

John Howell (Henley) (Con):

What assessment she has made of changes in the level of crime since May 2010.[906749]

The Minister for Crime Prevention (Lynne Featherstone):

Police reform is working and crime is down by more than a fifth under this Government, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales. England and Wales are safer than they have been for decades, with the survey showing crime at the lowest level since it began, in 1981.

John Howell:

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will she join me in congratulating Thames Valley police? We saw a 30% drop in recorded crime between June 2010 and June 2014. What does that say about the extent to which Thames Valley police are keeping my constituents safe?

Lynne Featherstone:

I am happy to do as my hon. Friend suggests and congratulate Thames Valley police on all they have done in reducing crime by 30% in their area, but I also congratulate all police forces that are rising to the challenge of driving efficiency and cutting crime. Effective policing plays a key part in reducing crime, as does tackling the underlying drivers of crime, which this coalition is also doing.


05 JAN 2015

Rail privatisation

For those with short memories, let me remind you what our railway was like under a single, publicly-owned operator. It was an industry in decline and had been declining ever since the 1950s and 60s. Such infrastructure as there was, was poor. Reliability was poor. The food was poor. Cleanliness was poor. Customer service was poor. The culture overall was poor too. Rail travel had dwindled to such an extent that most people thought the private train operators would manage a decline in both passenger and freight traffic.

Privatisation changed all this. Since 1993, passenger journeys have doubled in the UK. On a network roughly the same size as 15 years ago, the railway is running 4,000 more services a day. Rail freight has grown by 60%. Revenue is up more than £3 billion since privatisation. Safety levels are at an all-time high. Punctuality is at near record levels. And passenger satisfaction is up by 10% over the past decade.

None of this would have happened without privatisation. But our main intercity network was built to serve a Victorian economy, not a 21st century one. Historic underinvestment left the railway ill-prepared to meet soaring demand. We have therefore embarked on an unprecedented rail modernisation programme. Between 2014 and 2019, Network Rail will spend over £38 billion running and expanding our railway.

Improvements include an extra 140,000 seats on peak services by the end of the decade, a major electrification programme, a multi-billion pound deal to replace intercity rolling stock, and a new high capacity railway for London and the south east called Crossrail.

But there is still much to do. Fares and ticketing, for example, is still complex and impenetrable. By making it simpler and more user-friendly, more people will travel by rail, and they'll also have a much better experience. Operators are investing in better stations, better trains and better facilities.

The ultimate test of any market is its popularity. Here again, rail can claim success despite intense competition from bus companies and budget airlines, which only took off in this country after rail privatisation. When the plan was first promoted, we all took on average 11 train trips a year; now we take twice that number. Since the turn of the century freight traffic has risen substantially and passenger numbers have soared by 49% – far more than under those state-run services in France, Germany and the Netherlands. This means the level of subsidies per passenger has fallen while revenues to Whitehall have risen by more than £1bn.

As one commentator has said: we should stop being dazzled by nostalgia, ignore the groans of vested interests and focus on keeping an unlikely success story on track.


05 JAN 2015

Ed MilibandÂ’s borrowing would put at risk all the hard work in the Henley constituency

I issue a warning that Ed Miliband's Labour Party would put at risk all the hard work to turn the economy around in the Henley constituency, after new research was published showing Ed Miliband's Party would borrow £20.7 billion more in 2015/16 – £1,200 for every working household in the constituency.

The published research is an objective, thorough and detailed cost analysis of Labour's policies for 2015/16. It includes their policies that would save money, as well as spend money, and is based on official Treasury costings and public sources.

It shows that Ed Miliband's Labour Party still wants to spend and borrow more – putting at risk all the recent progress in the constituency, just as increased uncertainty in the international economy shows we need to stick with the Conservatives' long-term plan to build a stronger and healthier economy.

Ed Miliband's Labour Party haven't learned their lesson. With just four months until a crucial election, we've now found out they still want to spend, borrow and tax more – borrowing an extra £1,200 for every working household in the Henley constituency.

It hasn't been easy, but with local businesses growing and jobs being created, the economy here is getting stronger. Unemployment for example is down to 278 with youth unemployment down to 40. But Labour would risk all that progress with more borrowing and return us to economic chaos. Just as the global economy is struggling with the Eurozone teetering on the brink of a possible third recession, we need to stick with the Conservatives' long-term economic plan that is helping turn our country around.

The general election will be a critical moment for Britain's future and the future of our local area, and there is a clear choice – between the competence of a long-term economic plan that is helping make families more secure here or the chaos and instability that is offered by all the other parties.

The cost analysis of Labour policy is available here - http://betterfutu.re/labourcostanalysis


30 DEC 2014

New pothole money

I have welcomed the announcement of £16,695,000 of new funding in Oxfordshire – which will mean more money to tackle potholes and improve roads in the Henley constituency.

This is part of £87,143,000 of funding allocated for roads maintenance in Oxfordshire up to 2020/21 – the first time councils have had certainty over funding for this length of time. This will mean they can plan ahead and spend more efficiently and effectively.

Overall, £976 million a year will be invested in roads maintenance in England – enough to fix around 18 million potholes across the country.

We all know potholes and poorly maintained roads are a menace, particularly around Christmas, so this is great news for everybody who relies on the roads in the constituency.

Almost £17 million funding – part of an £87 million package for maintenance over the next six years - will go a long way to dealing with the problems we face on our roads, giving us another reason for cheer in this festive period.

"Investing in Britain's roads and infrastructure is a key part of the Conservatives' long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain – and it's only possible because we've taken the difficult decisions to cut ineffective spending elsewhere. By fixing our roads we are backing local businesses, and making life that bit easier for the hardworking people in this constituency who use them to get around.


30 DEC 2014

Increase in NHS budget

The increase in the NHS budget for 2015/16 that was announced in the autumn statement has been allocated to individual CCGs.

The allocations are decided by NHS England, and were agreed at their board meeting. There have been a number of factors influencing the allocations - population change, revised inflation figures and above all the extra cash from the Autumn Statement which is providing £2 billion more for next year.

Every area, including Oxfordshire, is seeing their budget increase ahead of inflation.

NHS Oxfordshire CCG: % increase = 6.64%. Amount of increase = £664,961

I am delighted that the Oxfordshire CCG has received an above inflation increase. I am sure that they will be able to put this to good use. It is important that the CCG receives this money and I look forward to it being spent on improvements to the NHS in the constituency.


17 DEC 2014

Unemployment in the Henley constituency

News out today is that the number of unemployed who are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) in the Henley constituency has dropped below 300. The number of JSA claimants in the Henley constituency in November 2014 was 278. This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 648th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest rate of unemployment, 650th = lowest rate of unemployment.)

The number of claimants is 161 lower than in November 2013 and 22 lower than in October 2014. These data are not seasonally adjusted.

This is very good news indeed. I am very pleased to see the number of unemployed drop below the 300 mark. It shows the excellent work being done by local businesses and by the apprenticeship schemes. It also shows that our long term economic plan is working and is having a big effect here in the Henley constituency.


15 DEC 2014

JOHN HOWELL MP AND DONNA AIR UNITE TO SUPPORT NEW CARE2SAVE SHOPPING WEBSITE SET TO BENEFIT HOSPICES AND CHARITIES

I have shown my support at a Westminster event for Care2Save.co.uk, the newly-launched shopping site that will help raise funds for charities across the constituency when people shop online. Online spending over Christmas is predicted to reach an all time high of £13bn. If just 5 per cent of purchases are made through Care2Save.co.uk, £19.5m could be raised for good causes this festive season.

The briefing enabled MPs to learn how Care2Save.co.uk provides a new income stream for hospices and charities in the UK. Donna Air – actress, designer and supporter of Care2Save – was also at the event, having recently revealed that her grandfather is suffering from dementia and is being cared for in a hospice.

Care2Save is unique in the UK, as it is the only charity owned and run shopping website that gives 100% of the money that it makes through commission directly to the charity sector.

The site offers over 12 million products from over 2,000 UK-based high street retailers, making it a one-stop shop for Christmas shopping whilst giving commission from all purchases to charity – without costing the customer a penny. 80 per cent of the commission generated through each purchase goes to a registered charity of the shopper's choice, and the remaining 20 per cent goes to the Care2Save Charitable Trust, which supports hospice and palliative care in the UK and globally.

This enables people to support their chosen charity this Christmas and each time they shop in the future. It also provides much-needed funds for the hospice sector: a service which most families will need at some point.

Representatives from Care2Save, including the founders, were on hand at the briefing to explain how the website works and demonstrate how much money it could raise for charities this Christmas.

It was great to attend the Care2Save event today and to find out more about hospice care in my constituency. I am delighted to support care2save.co.uk and can't believe how easy it makes it to raise funds for our local hospices – and in fact for all local charities this Christmas.

Andrea Fragata Ladeira, CEO, Care2Save: "Hospice care will touch all of our lives at one point or another; whether for ourselves or those close to us. Together through Care2Save we have the opportunity to transform the hospice sector and to raise significant sums for other charities in the process. The support of MPs is vital, and we sincerely hope that the MPs who kindly joined us today and as many people as possible will now join us in making Care2Save.co.uk their shopping website of choice for Christmas and beyond."


09 DEC 2014

Church roof repairs

I have written to churches in the constituency to tell them how to apply for funds to repair roofs and guttering on vulnerable listed church buildings. The fund, amounting to £15 million, was announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement. Eligible parishes can receive grants of between £10,000 and £100,000 to be allocated by 31 March. Those interested in applying should contact the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division at Church House.

Our historic church buildings are places of worship and also hubs for the wider community. They have a powerful role as symbols of local identity. This new fund will offer a real solution to the many churches who sadly are in need of urgent repair. I hope that parishes will apply.


09 DEC 2014

Broadband

The issue of faster access to the internet has been one on which I have focussed for some years now. The slow speeds accessed in the constituency are at best frustrating and at worst debilitating. I know of businesses that struggle and people whose house sales have fallen through due to poor broadband. I am of the opinion that fast internet access is becoming an essential utility.

Government has put in substantial monies to improving the situation at a national level. However, being of a rural nature and also being in the shadow of places such as Oxford does not make it easy. On early Ofcom maps I noticed that rural Oxfordshire was stated as having good speeds but only because it was lumped in with Oxford. I met with Ofcom to raise this and get a more accurate picture portrayed. Indeed I undertook my own survey to get a clear understanding of the issue across the constituency. I have actively offered my support for a number of communities. I have also met with groups of Parish Council representatives together to discuss this issue.

I have lobbied Ministers, had meetings with Government departments, local councils, groups of interested constituents and suppliers of different technologies including BT. The rollout programme under BDUK is managed by the county council and I am in regular contact with them to review progress. Things are now moving in a positive direction and at a fair pace. However I do remain concerned at the last 5% who still stand to be disadvantaged due to their rural locations. We cannot get away from the fact that small hamlets and isolated properties will be the last and most expensive to reach.

Some communities have not wanted to wait for the general rollout, fearing that they will not be covered in the end anyway. Where I have been approached I have been able to put them in touch with people who may be able to help them pursue a community scheme and some have been able to access grant funding towards this. However new technologies are coming forward and the county council is keeping on top of this to see how far they can make the rollout funding stretch. In addition South Oxfordshire district council is putting in some additional funding to support their communities and extend the reach. The current advice from the county council is that with improved technology they envisage being able to extend the planned coverage next year and for communities to hold on just a little longer before seeking alternative solutions. The intention is to use my web site to keep people up-to-date.

I will be seeking my next update from the county council on this earlier in the New Year.


03 DEC 2014

Letter re Heathrow noise

The following is the text of a letter I have sent to the Henley Standard:

"Sir,

Over the past couple of months a number of people have contacted me concerning a noticeable increase in aircraft noise over Henley. Information on the operations of all airports is in the public domain and readily available on the internet. However I recently wrote to the Minister to raise constituent concerns and find out what might be causing the noticeable difference. Three different things come together which start to explain the situation.

Firstly, there is the simple change sometimes needed due to wind direction. Aircraft have to take off and land into the wind. For about 70% of the time the prevailing wind is westerly which means that aircraft depart over Windsor and arrive over London. However when there is an easterly wind the aircraft are more noticeable over this area. This may cause short term increases in noise.

Second, at night the arrival and departure of aircraft is limited. For the flights that do operate in the late evening or early morning there is a pattern of weekly alternation of runways which also makes a difference to local noise. The alternation of runways is designed to provide different communities with respite three weeks in four. This is also dependent on wind direction. However, this year there has been essential maintenance and resurfacing works on one of the runways and thus no weekly alternation during the week. This may be a second reason for a noticeable increase in noise.

Finally, NATS (the main air traffic controller) has been running airspace trials. This is part of a series of trials driven by the Civil Aviation Authority's 'Future Airspace Strategy' which is looking at airspace modernisation. The flight paths used have barely changed in the last 40 years despite the fact that air traffic has almost doubled. During that time aircraft design has changed, technology improved and navigation has become more sophisticated. The trials will help to explore operational efficiency, reducing emissions, reducing noise and sharing noise relief. I have written to the CAA and the Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport for information on the effect of these trails over the Henley area.

Any permanent change in take-off and landing directions would have to go through government for permission and would be preceded by public consultation. As I understand it we are still some years away from that, at present, but none the less it is important that local feedback is on record. I would encourage all residents to record incidents of increased noise which can be easily done by calling Heathrow Community Communications on 0800 344 844. In addition to seeking information from the relevant bodies covering different aspects of this, I am looking to see if I can get experts to attend a public meeting locally to explain more about both normal operations and the trials and to receive direct feedback. If this is possible notification will be made through this paper.

Yours faithfully,

John Howell OBE MP"


03 DEC 2014

Henley and Thame MP to hold consultation meetings on Business Rates

In today's Autumn Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Right Hon George Osborne MP, promised to help small businesses deal with the burden of business rates. He doubled Small Business Rate relief for another year. This is a relief which benefits half a million firms. He also agreed to continue to cap the inflation-linked increase in business rates at 2%. However, in addition to these actions, the Chancellor announced a full review of the structure of business rates and urged business groups to engage with him.

I welcome these moves and offer to organise feedback meetings across the constituency, but particularly in Henley and Thame, for local businesses to give their views.

The Chancellor called on businesses to join him in discussing the future of business rates. Businesses in the constituency have been very anxious to see changes to business rates and I agree with them. As soon as the terms of the Chancellor's consultation are known, I shall be organising meetings for businesses in the constituency to tell me how they want to see Business Rates changed. This is an important chance to discuss with me what they want and I commit to feedback this information to the Chancellor.


03 DEC 2014

John Howell MP welcomes clear plan to stay on course to prosperity in the Henley constituency

I welcom the Autumn Statement, echoing the Chancellor's argument that it is only by working through the Conservatives' long-term economic plan that we can achieve prosperity and security for families in the Henley constituency

The new forecasts for the British economy in the Autumn Statement shows the Government's long-term economic plan is working:

  • Deficit will be halved this year (not increased)
  • British economy expected to grow by 3 per cent this year
  • Employment up and unemployment down – with over half a million new jobs forecast this year. The current figure of JSA claimants in the Henley constituency stands at 300.

The Chancellor set out the next steps in his long-term economic plan in the Statement:

  • We will overhaul stamp duty so that 98% of stamp duty payers pay less tax when they buy their home.
  • We will continue to back businesses to create jobs in all parts of the country - with action on business rates and more help for the high street.
  • We will abolish the jobs tax on apprenticeships for people under 25 to help more young people get the skills they need.
  • We will raise the personal allowance, and higher rate taxpayers will also benefit – a down-payment on our promises to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 in the next parliament.
  • We will cut tax for families by abolishing the air passenger duty paid for children.
  • And we will support savers by letting husbands and wives inherit their partner's ISA and keep its tax free status.

This is excellent news for hardworking families here. The fundamental reform of stamp duty will cut taxes for the overwhelming majority of people trying to buy a house here – and the personal allowance rise and change to the ISA rules back people who want to work hard and save.

This Autumn Statement confirms the Government's long-term economic plan is working. This matters to families here because it's only with a strong and healthy economy that families here can have economic security for the future.

We must carry on working through our plan and stay on course to prosperity.

Notes

This Autumn Statement shows that our long-term economic plan is working. Four years ago Britain was on the brink. Today unemployment, inflation and the deficit are all falling, while Britain is forecast to be the fastest growing economy of any major advanced economy in the world. This Autumn Statement's forecasts show:

  • Falling deficit – the deficit will be down by a half this year. The deficit is forecast to fall from £98 billion last year to £91 billion this year. There will be a surplus of £4 billion in 2018/19 and £23 billion in 2019/20 – falling every year. Debt as a share of GDP will peak next year at 81.1% and then fall to 72.8% in 2019/20.
  • The British economy expected to grow by 3% this year – an increase from the 2.4% predicted a year ago and the 2.7% forecast in the Budget. Manufacturing is growing fastest and investment is set to be up 11% this year.
  • Employment up and unemployment down. Over half a million new jobs are forecast this year. Unemployment is predicted to fall from the 8% we inherited to 5.4% next year.

Reforms in the South East

BACKING THE ASPIRATION TO WORK AND SAVE.

Around 67,000 apprentices in the South East stand to benefit from a reduction in their employer's NICs.

CUTTING INCOME TAX.

In the South East, this will lift 54,000 of the lowest-paid people out of income tax altogether in 2015-16. 3.55 million people will see an average real terms wage boost of £95.

SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES WITH ACTION ON BUSINESS RATES AND MORE HELP FOR THE HIGH STREET.

250,000 properties in the South East will benefit from these business rates measures. 199,000 properties will benefit from the cap on business rates, with savings worth £15m. 82,000 small businesses will benefit from the extension to Small Business Rate Relief, with savings worth £60m. 51,000 of these businesses will pay no business rates at all. 4,000 properties will benefit from the £1,500 discount for retail properties.

SUPPORTING SCIENCE WITH HELP FOR POST GRADUATES. Student loans of £10,000 for young people undertaking post-grad masters degrees will be backed by the government for the first time. This could benefit Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford.

MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT. As part of the National Infrastructure Plan announced earlier this week, 22 Strategic Road Network projects will be built, while around £686m of Government funding from its 6-year floods programme is supporting at least 312 projects in the South East. The Government supports a new garden town at Bicester, which could provide up to 13,000 homes, and will make £100m available at Ebbsfleet to fund infrastructure and land remediation. Oxford will benefit from the continuation of the Cycle City Ambition scheme, providing capital funding for better cycle infrastructure.


27 NOV 2014

Iran

I am very concerned at the situation in Iran.  I heard the Foreign Secretary's comments on the progress in discussions and I welcome that.  In addition to the oral question I asked at the statement on Iran I have also raised several written questions which I reproduce below.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the implications for negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme of recent satellite imagery indicating a possible nuclear clean-up operation at that country's Parchin facility.

The IAEA have been clear that clean-up activities have seriously undermined their ability to verify whether weaponisation related activities took place at Parchin. IAEA access to the site remains an important step in addressing the Agency's concerns. We fully support the IAEA's work on this crucial issue. A comprehensive agreement between the E3+3 and Iran remains the best way to ensure Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful going forward.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what recent assessment he has made of whether Iran's oil exports comply with the terms of the Joint Plan of Action.

We assess that Iran's oil exports are complying with the terms of the Joint Plan of Action. Recent reports from the International Energy Agency show that deliveries of Iranian crude this year have been in line with the restrictions set out in the Joint Plan of Action.


26 NOV 2014

Question to the Foreign Secretary

Question I raised yesterday (25 November) on the floor of the House to the Foreign Secretary.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Iran must be asked to provide details of its previous nuclear activity? Otherwise a mechanism for monitoring Iran's future actions will be fundamentally flawed.

Mr Hammond: Yes. An essential part of the agreement will be a proper investigation into, and understanding of, past breaches of Iran's international obligations in respect of nuclear weapons.


22 NOV 2014

Children's Transplants

I have joined heart charity Children's Heart Federation in its call to raise awareness of thne need for more heart donors for children. Opinion polls in the UK show the vast majority of population is in favour of organ donation but evidence shows low levels of awareness and the need for transplants. Across the UK there are 6,893 people waiting for transplants.

The need for heart donors is being highlighted by the Children's Heart Federation as the consent rate for organ donation remains the static while children with congenital heart conditions is growing each year due to the tremendous developments in surgical treatment and care . However, many of these children will need a heart transplant in the future.

Nick and Claire Bingham from Chesterfield, Derbyshire were told the devastating news that their five year old daughter Freya needed a heart transplant. Nick says "Our world turned upside down. It was a living nightmare. We arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night and Freya was put on a Berlin Heart Machine for 63 agonising days. Thankfully we received a heart but without the donor Freya would not be alive today. All our family are on the register now."

I have committed to working with the Children's Heart Federation to raise awareness of the increased need for heart donors in the Henley constituency and across the UK.  I have also signed a pledge to support the setting up of an All Parliamentary Group on the issue.

I'm supporting the Children's Heart Federation in their call for all political parties, including my own, to commit to raising awareness of the need for heart donors for children. We've come a long way with medical advancements for these children over the years - we now need to look to their future.

Anne Keatley Clarke, Chief Executive of Children's Heart Federation, said:

"Being told that your child needs a heart transplant is devastating. The Children's Heart Federation wants to give heart children the best chance of life. The charity is committed to working closely with government, industry and stakeholders to  raise awareness of the need for an increase in the consent rate for heart donors."


19 NOV 2014

The NHS

On 21 November I shall be attending a number of longstanding engagements and meetings in the constituency and will not be able to attend the debate. I will not be voting for the Bill which fundamentally undermines the reforms we have made to the NHS which are right and where we continue to pledge additional funding for the NHS. I will continue the work I do with the NHS locally across the constituency to improve the services they offer.

The Bill seeks to prevent 'privatisation' that simply isn't happening. There are no new competition provisions in the Health and Social Care Act. We have made it a matter of law that commissioners cannot pursue competition in the NHS if it is not in the
interests of patients. The NHS Confederation, the independent membership body that represents the service, has already expressed serious concerns about the Bill, citing the 'potential for disruption caused by further changes'. The Bill also stops local doctors making decisions about the best services for their patients. Clinical leadership is highly valued in the NHS - but this Bill seriously undermines it.

What the reforms actually did was remove layers of bureaucracy so we have been able to recruit additional frontline staff. This is a party political Bill of the worst kind.

I love the NHS no less than those who have written to me. I recognise that I have family and friends who would not be with us today if it were not for the dedication and expertise of the doctors and medical staff of the NHS. I am fully committed to the NHS being a service free at the point of use and unrelated to the ability to pay. I will take no lessons from Clive Efford MP on my dedication to the NHS.

We have always been clear that we are committed to protecting the NHS. This is a ringing endorsement of the Government's decision to reform the NHS and to invest an extra £12.7 billion in the health service. There are 850,000 more operations being delivered each year compared to 2010, 8,000 more doctors and over 5,000 more nurses. I am also proud that the Prime Minister has promised to continue this investment in the next Parliament. This will mean spending on the NHS will rise in every year in real-terms. It has guaranteed that it will always provide treatment free, regardless of ability to pay. The Government will never privatise the NHS.

In my view, giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision - but it has always been clear that Ministers are responsible for the NHS, and I am proud of its performance in challenging circumstances. The Government's health reforms have focused on the role of the GP, believing that they are best placed to commission local health services as they have the best understanding of local needs. This is hardly centralisation.

The use of private providers in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept. The Government's health reforms do not favour any particular type or ownership of provider. They preclude the Department of Health, NHS England and Monitor from pursuing policies which would seek to increase the market share of, for example, independent providers. It is for local NHS commissioners to decide, not the Government, which providers - whether from the public, private or voluntary sectors - can best meet the needs of their patients and deliver high quality care. Any use of private or other types of provider will be a result of decisions by commissioners taken in the best interests of their patients, never as an end in itself.

I am, quite frankly disappointed that 38 Degrees shows no ambition for our health service. As the Prime Minister has said, there are many parts of international co-operation and trade from which our national health service can be a huge beneficiary. We should not be frightened of our NHS being a great British success story, parts of which can be exported to the rest of the world. We need to ensure that the TTIP makes that possible. TTIP will not change the way that the NHS, or other public services, is run. Local NHS commissioners will remain in charge of deciding who should provide services in the best interests of patients.