20 FEB 2019

Question in debate on foreign prisoners

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way very graciously. I hope he will be pleased to know that in my constituency we have a prison at Huntercombe that exists to house foreign national prisoners in the process of transferring them back to their own ​ countries. That has gone down terribly well with the locals, who wanted to see those prisoners transferred back. They can go to say goodbye to them, waving as the coach takes them back to the airport. It is close to Heathrow airport, so the transfer can be made easily.

Mr Hollobone

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will give way to him again if he knows—I do not expect him to, but if he does—the number of prisoners at HMP Huntercombe. The nation needs to know. Perhaps the Minister will advise us in his response how many prisoners are held there pending deportation. I am pleased for my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) that he has such a facility in his constituency, and that it is popular with his constituents, but my contention is that the prison is not large enough. We need to send a lot more of these people back, and quickly.

John Howell

The operational capacity of the prison is about 1,300.

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John Howell

On a point of order, Mr Austin. May I correct the record? I said that the capacity of Huntercombe was 1,300; it is actually 480. I read the wrong figure.


19 FEB 2019

Question in Statement on Making Tax Digital

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

One of the problems areas in my constituency is the farming industry, which seems to be having enormous problems with this. The Minister mentioned this in his statement, but can he tell me what is doing specifically to help the farming industry?

Mel Stride

My hon. Friend is right to say that I referred to the fact that specific software was available for those in the farming sector. There is also advice that is relevant to farming on gov.uk, but if there are any further specific points that he would like to raise with me in the context of his farmers, I would of course be happy to discuss them.


19 FEB 2019

Question in Statutory Instrument on mediation

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

As my hon. and learned Friend knows, I am hoping to become an associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration. I have spent much of my political life championing mediation as a means of settling disputes. To what extent are the Government committed to mediation for the future as a result of these measures?

Lucy Frazer

My hon. Friend is a member of the Justice Committee and has taken part in many debates on this subject. I know he has extensive experience of arbitration as well as mediation. I am very pleased that he is planning to go further on that. He must rest assured that the Government remain committed to mediation. It is a very important tool in the armoury to help people to resolve their disputes. Outwith this statutory instrument and the EU rules that we already have, as I will go on to explain, we have very strong domestic provision for mediation, and that will continue. The reason to bring forward this statutory instrument and the approach we have adopted is that the current arrangement with the EU is reciprocal and that following our leaving the EU we cannot rely on any reciprocity. This statutory instrument will therefore revoke the EU legislation.


18 FEB 2019

Question on FlyBMI

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The collapse of Flybmi is to be very much regretted, but does the Minister accept that connectivity is about more than one airline and that she should continue to establish growth in airlines across the country?

Ms Nusrat Ghani

Absolutely. Even though the airline sector is a tricky market to be in and it obviously favours larger airlines—for example, it is a little easier for them to buy fuel than it is for smaller airlines—my hon. Friend is right to say that competition is good and we should do what we can to support not only our airports, but our regional airlines.


18 FEB 2019

Question on Returning from Syria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In the European Court of Human Rights, the case of K2 v. the United Kingdom was about taking away nationality in the context of terrorism, and that was found to be manifestly ill founded. Why does that not apply here, since the defendant in that case had only one nationality at the time?

Sajid Javid

I am not familiar with the details of that case, and I do not have them to hand, but if my hon. Friend wants to send me more details I will give a more detailed response. As I said earlier, the tools available to us to remove someone's British nationality—to deprive them of it—can be used only when they have more than one nationality.


14 FEB 2019

Speech on human rights in the UK

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes, and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who is a fellow member of the Council of Europe. I understand and agree with a lot of what he said.

The European convention on human rights has been around since the early 1950s, and it is worth remembering that it was 1965 when we agreed to abide by the decisions ​ of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK. We have had almost 60 years of a relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and its decisions.

I start by making the point that the convention is not the same as the Human Rights Act, and the European Union is not the same as the Council of Europe. The two are very different and we should take them as such. I have a lot of time for the convention, and I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said about it. I was particularly irritated during the referendum campaign that a lot of people got the ECHR confused with the European Court of Justice. The two are completely separate. One is owned by the European Union and the other by the Council of Europe.

I would go on to say that the single biggest contribution to peace in Europe since the end of the second world war has come from the European convention on human rights, together with the work that NATO has done. We should state that, and we should be proud of it, because we have been very much involved in it from the beginning. As the hon. Gentleman and I know only too well, the European Court of Human Rights comes with a democratic mandate. I imagine the hon. Gentleman spends a lot of time, as I do, voting for the judges who are nominated to sit on the European Court of Human Rights. That gives democratic control and is also a means of reflecting, to some extent, the mixture of politics, competence and a whole number of other matters that give the European Court of Human Rights its character.

I am not as enamoured of the EU's involvement with human rights, which I think has created a very mixed picture. If I am not using the term wrongly, I think that the European Union has tried to steal the mandate of the Council of Europe, which applies to almost twice the number of countries as the EU does—that is where a large part of its strength lies. The relationship between the EU and the European Court of Human Rights is something that we are still debating at the Council of Europe.

UK involvement with the European Court of Human Rights has been a huge success story. It has been a very good illustration of how human rights overall are doing quite well in this country. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need to extend those human rights to matters such as housing. That is a route to socialist involvement in the running of this country that I do not agree with, and would steer clear of.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there are countries across the world, such as South Africa with its new constitution and some Nordic countries, that have a right to adequate housing in their constitutions? Does he consider those to be socialist countries?

John Howell

When the EU decided to bring out its own human rights framework, it thought very carefully about what should be included, and it differs from the European Court of Human Rights on only a few exceptions.

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab)

The European convention on human rights was opened for signature in November 1950 in Rome, and the Government in this country was a Labour Government from 1945 to 1951. Will the hon. Gentleman praise the socialist Government under which the ECHR was originally conceived?

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman plays politics with human rights, which is unworthy of him and of this Chamber.

To return to the issue I was discussing—the success of the British Government with the European Court of Human Rights—about 90% of applications that come before the European Court of Human Rights are deemed unacceptable and are not taken forward. Of those that are taken forward, since 1975, the Court has found no violation in a quarter. Our track record is particularly successful.

I want to bring up two cases that illustrate the extremes. The first is that of the Gurkhas. Members may remember that a few years ago we moved their headquarters back to the UK and their pensions on to the same basis as UK soldiers. They took their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that there had been no real discrimination against them, and found for the British Government.

In a slightly different case on the UK's mass surveillance regime, which it uses as part of security operations, the Court found that the UK had violated the convention and it asked for some changes. That brings us on to the very tricky issue of the role of human rights versus legislation regarding dealing with terrorism. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh East that this should be looked at in the context of what makes a better world to live in—I am not one of those who believes that tearing up the European convention on human rights is the best way to protect us against terrorism—but, having said that, and as the hon. Gentleman will know, at the last Council of Europe meeting, when the issue came up of whether we deprive those who have gone to fight with ISIS of their passports, I enthusiastically supported that motion. We should not have them back. The role of human rights in this plays out at different levels and in different ways.

In terms of how the ECHR works, people should understand that they have to exhaust all domestic remedies first, before they have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. They cannot go straight to the European Court of Human Rights. There has to be an alleged violation of the convention, and significant disadvantage from that.

The response I would like to hear from the Minister is along the lines of what has already been said—indeed, it was this Minister who said:

"The UK will remain a party to the ECHR after it has left the European Union. The decision to leave the European Union does not change our strong commitment to recognising and respecting human rights."

I am not sure whether he remembers making that statement, but it was in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).

I agree with the Minister wholeheartedly: human rights are too important to be used as a political football in this game of Brexit or, indeed, in anything else. We have a long and successful track record of using our involvement with the European Court of Human Rights and our long relationship with the Council of Europe, which oversees the Court, and of protecting the interests of British citizens.​


13 FEB 2019

Contribution to debate on young carers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Taking the hon. Gentleman back to the schools situation, does he think that the power that Ofsted is given to look at what the school is doing on this is very weak, and that strengthening Ofsted's power in that respect would be a great help in identifying those young carers and ensuring that they are looked after?

Paul Blomfield

The hon. Gentleman anticipates my very next point. We will never see consistently good practice across schools until they are measured and assessed on it, and Ofsted's role in that is crucial. I ask the Minister, in his winding-up speech, to say whether we can look forward to the Government's requiring schools to have a young carers lead and requiring Ofsted to include the issue in its inspections.


12 FEB 2019

Intervention in debate on seasonal workers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about workers' rights, but is he aware that in 1961 this country signed a treaty produced by the Council of Europe to give all workers the proper rights within their countries? That is still in force, despite the wealth of European Union legislation that has come in since. Will he hang on to that as a hope for the future?

Alex Norris

Those protections are in place, although we have seen that they have not been enough in the past. In the 50 or so years since, it is important that we have built on them.


12 FEB 2019

Question in debate on Non-surgical Cosmetic Procedures

John Howell (Henley) (Con) Does this matter not come down to a fundamental issue, namely that if something goes wrong, who do we sue? Is that not the nub of what my hon. Friend is trying to get at?

Alberto Costa

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, that is one of the core issues that I wish to raise today. The mark of a professional in our society is somebody who is regulated, who is trained, qualified and licensed, and who has ongoing regulation and development. However, in addition to that, in the private sector they must carry professional indemnity insurance, so that people do not sue men or women of straw and so that they have someone to sue when things go wrong.


12 FEB 2019

Question in BEIS questions today

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In my role as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I am aware that Guinness Nigeria is being sold by Tesco. Is the Minister aware that Diageo and other companies in Nigeria have pledged to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains?

Kelly Tolhurst

I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. He is quite right. That is just another example of where the sector, working with Government, is taking action to stamp out these practices where they identify them and telling us how they are taking action to eradicate them.


11 FEB 2019

Speech on school opening hours

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). I will say straight away that there is a kernel of truth in what he has said, but more research needs to be done on the subject. That is the bottom line of what I am going to say, so I could stop there, but I want to talk about a couple of things. Before he left this place, I remember George Osborne saying what a fine profession we are in when 9.30 is considered to be early. I think that illustrates the point that the issue should be examined in more detail.

When I saw the debate title, I was initially sceptical. I, too, thought it would be about giving teenagers more time to stay in bed for longer and, therefore, to stay up later. However, the scientific evidence, as mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, provides a different perspective. As I said in my intervention, we need to look closely at the amount of screen time used by teenagers during the day, but also, in particular, just before he or she goes to bed at night. Parents have a large part to play in dealing with that important element.

The results of my inquiries suggest that we should take a broader look at the issues. I started by looking at research undertaken in the United States, which is a different country, with different traditions, and where classes have traditionally started much earlier than ours. It is not unusual for them to start before 8 o'clock in the morning—so there is a lot that can be done. One study in the US replaced the self-reported information with information obtained from wrist-worn monitors. The importance of that is that, as the hon. Gentleman has said, many people, when asked how often they feel tired, will say "I feel tired quite a lot," but I think that wearing wrist monitors, which monitor the amount of sleep they get and when they begin to drop off, is a better approach to the problem.

A school in Seattle delayed its start time from 7.50 to 8.45, which is quite a big change. However, the difficulty is that it resulted in 34 minutes of additional sleep time for the teenagers—that is all. I have to ask: is that significant? One of the other results was that students were late on two fewer school days and had two fewer absences, which is not, I would argue, a large or significant result from the study. Nevertheless, it indicates a possible solution, which is to do more research. Another factor is that the approach in question appears to reduce the number of car accidents and, given that teenagers are at higher risk of having car accidents, that is significant. There are important societal issues at stake, besides just how much time teenagers can sleep.

The hon. Gentleman suggested a potential course of action, particularly for academies and free schools, which are free to do as they wish on the issue. There should be local action, if people think that is the right way to go, but I suspect that that is not what the hon. Gentleman or I want, because there is a difficulty. One school might move its start time to 9.30 and another might keep it the same. There would then be big knock-on effects on such things as childminding, as he explained. More attention needs to be paid to those considerations. The county councils, of course, have responsibility for decisions for maintained schools, and I suspect that they will not be as willing as academies and free schools to study the research.

As an aside, when I was a sixth former, there were completely different regimes for the sixth form and the rest of the school. Sixth formers came in for their particular classes, rather than spending all day at school. That flexibility in the system was a good thing to encourage. If I may say so, given that I am here participating in this debate, it certainly did me no harm. More research along those lines would be useful and I would welcome it.


10 FEB 2019

MPs expenses

As in past years, i am providing a note of my parliamentary expenses for the year - 2017-2018. 

Expenses are controlled under a scheme introduced by IPSA.  Of the total of £147,516.36 of my total expenses some 83% consists of the salaries I pay the staff who work for me.  MPs, not IPSA, are the employers of the staff.

Staff salaries £122463                                 83%
Staff travel    £926                                        1%
London accommodation £17237                    12%
Office costs £6889                                         4%
TOTAL £147515                                        100%


07 FEB 2019

Business Question on Sharia Law

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

At the recent Council of Europe meeting, we heard details of how sharia law courts are being used in the UK to dispense alternative dispute resolutions, which particularly disadvantage women. Can we have a debate on that to determine how to deal with it without driving them underground?

Andrea Leadsom

That sounds very concerning. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate so that he can raise the issue directly with Ministers.


07 FEB 2019

Question in Urgent Question on Roaming Charges

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Secretary of State agree that consumer protection is behind his announcement today and that that has been the great strength of the way in which he has approached this issue?

Jeremy Wright

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right. The Government have a responsibility, where we can, to continue consumer protection measures that currently reside in European law but that we think are sensible and desirable and that we will transfer into our own law in the event of our departure. Of course, as he will know, if there is a deal that includes an implementation period, the position will continue exactly as it is now during that period, which is one reason why such an implementation period and such a deal are desirable and one reason why it would be good for the Opposition to take their responsibilities seriously in this regard.


07 FEB 2019

Comments on debate on Pensions Dashboard

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Is it not true that we need to get the governance of the pensions dashboard correct? We have just seen that a hotel booking website has had to end its misleading sales activities. Is there a risk that without the right level of governance, something similar could happen to the dashboard?

Dr Offord

Once again, my hon. Friend has anticipated my speech. He is absolutely right; we need to get this right and ensure that people have confidence in the system, so that our constituents are not only keen to invest their money but reassured, after recent financial problems, that their concerns will be addressed. We will do that as part of the process.


06 FEB 2019

Participation in debate on the UK financial services hub

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am a former partner in Ernst & Young, so mine is a completely different perspective on the sector. Yesterday, I chaired a breakfast meeting to look at the future of digital currencies. Among those present, there was an overwhelming desire to see better regulations in place globally. We have an opportunity to take the lead on that. Does my hon. Friend see that as an opportunity for the UK?

Bim Afolami

I defer to my hon. Friend's experience as a very senior partner at a major accounting practice. The regulation of financial services has moved from a national to a regional level and now to a global level, for instance through Basel and Solvency II. Let us consider the reasons that Solvency II was brought in for the insurance industry. Britain—not just the Treasury but also the Bank of England—needs to make sure that as we leave the European Union, we do not lose our voice at the global level. If we do, we will have to implement regulations that we will not have taken part in shaping. I will address that further on in my remarks.

John Howell

The Bank of England was not only present at yesterday's breakfast meeting, but spoke. It took a strong role in looking at whether the digital currency sector needs future regulation.

 

I thank my hon. Friend; I will address that aspect directly in my remarks.


05 FEB 2019

Contribution to debate on Sport in the UK

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In that long list of sports, the Minister failed to mention one particular sport that I am particularly keen on—rowing, which is important not just for the high-class activity that takes place in Henley but because it contributes to the better appreciation of the sport by young people in that area. Will she give credit to those companies for attacking sport, as it were, at both those levels?

Mims Davies

My hon. Friend mentioned high-class behaviour in Henley—I expect nothing less. Absolutely—it is fantastic that rowing is thriving, and I have promised to visit.


04 FEB 2019

Question in education questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

 Will my hon. Friend tell us how maths hubs have helped to increase the teaching of mathematics and to enable its better appreciation by students?

Chris Skidmore

The key thing to note about the maths hubs is that we want to spread good practice across the country and increase participation and attainment in post-16 mathematics. In addition to the £7.2 million funding for the 35 maths hubs, we have introduced a £16 million advanced maths support programme and an £83 million advanced maths premium for 16-to-19 providers of up to £600 per additional student. This Government are absolutely determined to increase maths uptake at GCSE and A-level as well as in higher education. It is important for our industrial strategy that we increase maths participation.


31 JAN 2019

Comments in debate on Zimbabwe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

That story is horrific, but the problem lies subsequent to that, as they have no legal remedy because the judiciary is not independent. A number of lawyers have been protesting in the streets in the last few months. What should we be doing to support those lawyers who are trying to get an independent judiciary?

James Duddridge

There is lots that we can do. The hon. Member for Vauxhall talked about the problems of the legal service. It is worse—the Government are directing the courts as to what to do. There is a series of long-term actions, such as working through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other Commonwealth countries, but at the moment, the Government in Zimbabwe are simply not listening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) describes the situation as terrible, but unfortunately, I have not got to some of the worst bits, which gives me no pleasure to say. There have been several reports about the use of sexual violence, in particular. On 23 January, ITV reported rape claims against soldiers during the unrest. It is my understanding that ITV has met 11 women, all of whom said they were sexually assaulted—that is to say, raped—and that their attackers were members of the Zimbabwean army. This appears to have been systemic and organised use of sexual violence, which should concern us even more than isolated cases of sexual violence.


29 JAN 2019

Question in statement on HMRC

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

When I was an inspector of taxes, the office network was totally incapable of being developed for a digital situation. How will this new programme make such development a possibility?

Mel Stride

As a former tax inspector, my hon. Friend is probably about as popular as I am as a tax Minister, which is never the most popular job in the world. The answer to his question—in a short and pithy response, Mr Speaker—is that we have to move to the more digital-based, data-based and inspection-based system that is facilitated by the very hubs I have been describing.


29 JAN 2019

Questions in debate on short prison sentences

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is making some good points about overcrowding and the state of the prison estate. When looking at short sentences, the key issue for me is whether they achieve the rehabilitation of prisoners; my judgment is that they do not. Would he agree?

Chris Evans

The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point, which I will elaborate on later. There are numerous examples of people in the system with substance abuse issues, who cannot get into substance abuse rehabilitation or overcome their problem, who then find themselves outside, and get back into the system. I will develop this argument more as I go on and I will be happy to take another intervention, if the hon. Gentleman so wishes.

To me, short sentences do not help to reduce reoffending and they can cause unnecessary disruption to the lives of those who could have been dealt with in ways that have seen better results.

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John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman think there is a great contradiction in the health service engaging in social prescription, by encouraging people to engage in sports activities, while the Prison Service does not?

Chris Evans

Yes. The trend in the past 20 years has been that prevention is better than cure. The NHS is getting success in encouraging people suffering from obesity to go on to fitness and diet programmes. There is some success from that approach, and it could be transferred to the Prison Service. If people with energy have time on their hands, sport can fill it.


29 JAN 2019

Question in debate on children's life limiting illnesses

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend mentions the adjustments that need to be made in people's homes. To what extent does she think local councils are living up to expectations in that respect?

Antoinette Sandbach

I will come on to that point, but I know that in my area the situation is certainly not as good as it might be.

I hope that the Minister will commit to ensuring that children have a right to an integrated assessment, a plan and a personal budget to address their individual needs. Likewise, I hope that she will agree to review health and social care law, not only to strengthen the rights and entitlements for disabled children and their families, but to clarify them. That clarification would be hugely welcome, because uncertainty leads to some local authorities failing to meet their obligations. For instance, Together for Short Lives reports that 21% of local authorities are failing to meet their legal duty to commission short breaks for disabled children. That postcode lottery is deeply unsatisfactory and requires the Minister's attention.


29 JAN 2019

Speech on cervical cancer

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to follow the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) in this important debate. I thank the petitioners, as it is good to have the opportunity to discuss such an issue in open debate. I think that all Members will get the strong impression that there is agreement across the House for what is being proposed.

I will start with the Public Health England campaign, which I mentioned when intervening on the hon. Lady. I agree with her that it is about time we had such a campaign, and that it will have a hard job. On the one hand, it has to tackle issues concerning the women themselves—the enormous misunderstandings about the screening process, and the fear and embarrassment that surrounds it. There is not just fear about the illness; anything to do with cancer creates fear, so there is an enormous amount to overcome.

However, I suggest that the Public Health England campaign should also look at the other side. The Minister has heard us talk strongly today about the impact on GPs, and the way in which they have to handle the issue and make facilities available. It would be very good to have something in the campaign that targets GPs, making those points to ensure that testing happens in the right place, at the right time and in the most effective manner.

The hon. Lady also mentioned inoculation against HPV, which I support. I am pleased that we are now inoculating young boys against it as well, as that makes a very big difference. Those who have talked to medical professionals in this area will have heard stories about the number of people who develop cancer as a result of HPV. It is very good to have such inoculations, and to be able to support the campaign.

Like the hon. Lady, I am not yet convinced that the age for screening should be reduced. Around the world there has seemingly been a general trend to increase the starting age of such programmes. I think the American Cancer Society recommended that the age for cervical screening go up from 18 to 21, which is interesting. The reason she and I believe that the screening age should not be reduced is the false positives that are created. No one wants to be put in the situation of having a false positive test. It is not about the waste of money, but about the concern that a false positive creates for an individual. I am not yet convinced that the age should be brought down but, like the hon. Lady, I call on the Minister to look very carefully at it, to keep it always in his mind, and to keep reviewing it.

I think that Scotland has increased the age at which women go for their first smear test from 20 to 25. That, too, is an interesting reflection of the way things are going, and builds upon the difficulties in dealing with this matter. However, I thank the hon. Lady for presenting the case, and the petitioners for bringing it, and allowing us to discuss it in the way we are doing.​


25 JAN 2019

Speech on Sharia Law at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I think already in this debate we have heard some excellent speeches. The two that I would single out are the very well-balanced speeches from Lord Anderson and Baroness Massey.

The report raises some fundamental questions about how human rights are seen in Islamic countries. I know these questions are difficult and I know these questions have to be handled sensitively, but the influence of Sharia Law makes it very difficult to see how these issues can be reconciled. We already know that Sharia Law under theocratic regimes is incompatible with democratic society – many members have already spoken about that. That will not affect the countries of the Middle East where there is only one democracy, which is Israel.

It is worrying to see the application of Sharia Law in the United Kingdom as a form of alternative dispute resolution. It has no legitimacy under the United Kingdom legal system, but how do we deal with it? How do we work with Islamic communities, confident in our own vision and beliefs, to secure the spread of information to individuals, particularly women, and stop them going underground? Those questions are very valid and they need to be addressed.

The role of women, as so many speakers have said, is absolutely crucial. We should stand strong on this issue. The application of Sharia Law to marital, divorce and inheritance situations is utterly despicable and we should not stand for it. Women have not fought for equal rights only to see them taken away by Sharia Law. For me, one of the surprising things the report has brought out is how, among many other countries, the Palestinians fail the test of any human rights activities. I mention them as Palestine is a partner for democracy. They are also, of course, the darlings of the European left. I hope that even they would have to admit that the Palestinian area of the world fails to live up to human rights and discriminates against women.

I agree with the report that the countries that have signed the Cairo Declaration need to think very carefully about the Cairo Declaration and its compatibility with human rights. Personally, I do not believe, for the reasons that have already been set out, that they are compatible. I urge them to think again.


25 JAN 2019

Speech on Sergei Magnitsky at the Council of Europe

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

I start by saying that Lord Anderson has produced a very good report. I am glad to see that there is near unanimity in support of him, although, sadly, one group has already fallen out over this. Four out of five is a very good start, however. Despite the differences in our legal systems, there is a common theme here that can transcend those legal systems to maintain a very strong point.

Lord Anderson has raised a very important subject and I congratulate him on bringing it before us and on the way he has done so. The circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky's death are set out in the report. They make for very sorry – and very grisly – reading. Even more sorry is the fact that the crime's perpetrators have not been punished.

As the report says, it is strange how the death of one man can come to symbolise the failure of a whole nation's judicial and prison system, but that is exactly the case here. I am aware that a number of countries have introduced laws to deal with this sort of situation, and I am very proud that the United Kingdom has done so, as mentioned by a number of speakers. We are providing the opportunity to designate individuals for human rights abuses.

The report rightly calls for no co-operation with any politically motivated prosecutions relating to the Magnitsky case. That must be right. The report's emphasis on targeted sanctions against individuals is also the right way to proceed. This is not another attack on Russia simply for the sake of it, but it shows the Russians up for their inadequate response to this Assembly's recommendations. It also highlights the inadequate way in which the Russians dealt with this case and points to how – adding insult to injury – they have posthumously found Mr Magnitsky guilty of fraud.

The human rights violations set out in the report are fundamentally serious and go to the heart of what this organisation is all about. It is fundamental to our role as the premier human rights organisation in Europe to pursue the course set out in Lord Anderson's excellent report. I recommend it wholeheartedly to the Assembly.


25 JAN 2019

Speech on the Council, Georgia and Armenia at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – There are three items that I want to cover in this speech. First, we have two important elections in the territory of the former Soviet Union, in Georgia and Armenia. It is important to see how democracy has been embedded in those countries.

In Georgia, I have talked to my colleague Sir Edward Leigh, who was one of the monitors there. There is a difference of ppinion between our monitors and the monitors that the United States State Department report refers to, in looking at the country and how the elections were handled. I have noted the comments from our own monitors that the number of violent incidents in that country were isolated, whereas I did not get that impression from the United States State Department. It did see the election of a woman, who was supported by the ruling party. As Georgia faces challenges on women's potential, I think the impact of that will be excellent. I would also point out that we have an excellent Georgian representative in our own political group, who makes a very valuable contribution.

In Armenia, we saw a very positive campaign, with a high degree of transparency in the elections. From what I can gather, it was also an election that was free from the influence of what one might call "big money". 

On the contribution of Ian Liddell-Grainger, I note with much heartfelt regret that the Russians are not presenting their credentials. Among other things, this leaves a gap of about €0 000 000 in our budget and raises questions about where this place is going. I would like to suggest a new vision statement as a way of responding to that. That would be a very suitable 70th birthday present for this Organisation. It would ensure that this venerable institution keeps up to the mark and is very valid in the years ahead.

I am an enormous supporter of the Council of Europe. I have championed it in my own country very ferociously and I still do so. I want to ensure that the activities it undertakes in the future are relevant for the future activities of not just the Council of Europe, but Europe as a whole. I recommend that as an urgent message to be taken forward.


25 JAN 2019

Closing speech on referenda at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

This has been a good debate and I thank all the participants who have contributed. I have been struck by the kindness of the comments and by the cross-party agreement to the report. It has been particularly good that participants from Switzerland have commented on it. When Gianni Buquicchio began, he said that the Venice Commission had been critical of most referendums, and we have heard from speakers who have been equally critical of most referendums. I hope that my United Kingdom colleagues will forgive me for not rising to the challenge of trying to solve the problem of Brexit in one go at this sitting. I was also struck by the comments about the dangers of referendums, which I take to heart.

One of the biggest challenges we face is fake news. We need to make the information available more reliable and more neutral so that people can take reliable decisions, and we need to challenge the use of social media in this regard. I was struck by the comment that we need to make referendums respectful of the way that parliamentary democracy continues, and the remarks about enhancing parliamentary democracy. I will stop on that note because there is other business to come. I thank all participants who have contributed to the debate.


25 JAN 2019

Opening speech to debate on referenda at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – First, I should like to apologise on behalf of my colleague, Dame Cheryl Gillan, the rapporteur for this issue, who is unable to be present today because of a family illness. I thank the Secretariat and the Chair of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy for their invaluable assistance.

I shall not speak for too long. The Venice Commission will follow and it will go into detail. There are also a lot of people who want to speak in this debate and I want to make time for them. I just point out that we have not prepared a commentary on the Brexit referendum in the UK, the independence referendum in Scotland, the referendum in Catalonia, the various Irish referendums or any others. Rather, the report helps set out a framework in which a referendum can take place.

Referendums have increasingly been used to resolve issues in democracies around the world. The greatest number concern constitutional matters, but they can cover questions of self-determination, international agreements, moral issues, other policy issues and one-off decisions. Increasingly, challenges to referendum processes and their fairness have been raised in several countries. They have covered a range of issues, including the framing of the questions, the franchise, finance, thresholds, the accuracy of accompanying information and even the legality of holding a referendum itself. These are discussed in more detail in the report.

The Council of Europe's expert body on constitutional matters, the European Commission for Democracy through Law, is commonly known as the Venice Commission. Its code of good practice on referendums was adopted in 2007, and this Assembly called on member States to comply with it in November 2008. That was followed by an endorsement from the Committee of Ministers. Since that date, there has been an increase in the use of referendums and in technological evelopments that have dramatically changed the democratic landscape, through the explosion of social media and the increased access to information for voters. The code could therefore benefit from some revision and updating to reflect those changes, so that it can continue to provide modernised guidelines for all our member States. 

Following revision of the code, the report suggests that member States should ensure improved adherence to the code to enhance any referendum process. In addition, we are actively encouraging information exchanges between countries to enable gains from sharing good practice and we propose greater citizen participation, including through the possible use of citizen assemblies. The report reinforces the good working relationship between the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission, and makes a positive contribution to the continuing development of our democracies. It has been prepared with the knowledge and co-operation of the Venice Commission, and it combined the research resources of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission. We have also been expertly advised by Dr Alan Renwick of the constitution unit of University College London and Professor Nikos Alivizatos of the faculty of law of the University of Athens. On behalf of the rapporteur and the whole Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, I would like to offer my grateful thanks to them all.

We are also grateful that we have with us today the President of the Venice Commission, Mr Gianni Buquicchio and that he will make what I am sure will be an excellent presentation - he shared it with us in advance, and it will cover all the main issues raised by the report and the draft resolution. With that, I will sit down and allow Professor Buquicchio to take the floor.


25 JAN 2019

Question to President of Finland at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

Mr President, I understand exactly what you said about migration but the press also reports that Finland is looking to revise its immigration treaties. Could you tell us where immigration policy in Finland is going?

Mr NIINISTÖ – I am not aware that Finland is changing its treaties. I am aware, however, that Finland is going through the existing treaties and how they are interpreted. One example is the Dublin Agreement, of which we still hear two different interpretations. We should be clear about what the international agreements and conventions demand and what they do not expect from signatories. This is the work we are doing. I do not believe that there will be any huge change in Finnish migration policy. The problem, however, is that we received quite a lot of young men who were not entitled to refugee status but are not leaving the country. That is a dangerous situation for them and for others. Feeling yourself to be, in a way, empty is not good for a young boy.


25 JAN 2019

Speech on media freedom at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

There is a sense of déjà vu about the debate. Many issues that we discussed yesterday in the context of the debate on referendums are coming up again. In my role in that debate, I was struck by how speaker after speaker made the same point that their referendum had been the subject of fake news. I appreciate that one of the reports wants to abolish the term "fake news", but it is part of our language and it would be difficult to abolish.

When so many speakers bitterly complain about fake news, what has happened to our media? I speak as a former presenter for BBC World Service Television in London, where we had to provide independence, because that independence was so valued that it allowed us to broadcast and be trusted around the world. That editorial independence is still part of the BBC, but it would be foolish to look at any broadcaster outside the context of the society in which it operates. There is no doubt that the BBC is now an urban broadcaster with many young people and minorities. In other words, it is part of the liberal – with a small l – establishment.

In his contribution, Sir Edward Leigh pointed out the love-hate relationship that exists between politicians and official broadcasters, but that is nothing new. What has changed is the prevalence of online and social media; my local paper follows social media as much as any other activity that it covers. Social media may be vitriolic and unpleasant, but the false media – wide of the mark, wholly inaccurate, little more than individual views and conspiracy theories – that are put about are more worrying. How we regulate them, if we regulate them, is a major problem.

The pressures on television presenters are tremendous. When I did the job, there were particular parties that wanted to make their views known, of course, but I recall few attempts to try to push a view on us. I suspect that that has changed as a result of social media and how they pick up and use those stories.


25 JAN 2019

Speech on internet governance at the Council of Europe

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

I, too, acknowledge the importance of this report. In fact, earlier this afternoon I sat down with Martin Whitfield in an exercise in cross-party working and we agreed quite a lot of the contents of our contributions.

I agree that the Internet is a common good. It is difficult to see how society can function without an open, free and completely secure Internet. Like many, I use it to shift information and for general communications. Businesses use it as an essential part of trade. The extent to which we need regulation of the Internet is an open question. To some extent, we already have guidance on the use of the Internet which was started in 2005 by the United Nations.

The problem is not so much the Internet itself as the users of the Internet. This relates to content and behaviour online. The issue of behaviour takes us onto the ground that we have covered in other debates on the use of the Internet to host social media. I do not think the United Nations guidance sufficiently addresses the complexity of the problem. I agree that the task of getting the users to stand up on this is a difficult one. If we think of the number of users and their different needs, the task of getting them to agree on regulation is a hard one, although I too believe that it is essential that human rights should be at the heart of this.

The impact of technology also needs to be taken into account. This is a big part of the question about how the Internet can cope with future changes. I agree that the problems of dealing with the Internet are well understood: the difficulty is in getting solutions to those problems. That is a far more problematic issue to solve.

The report makes much of the need for a multi-stakeholder approach, and personally I agree with that. It is just that I think it will be a much more difficult task to arrange. If we think of all the stakeholders that are involved in putting material on the Internet, we can see the difficulties that that creates. Above all, we need to ensure that Internet users have absolute security.

I congratulate the rapporteur on producing this report and dealing with this thorny issue.

Mr KOPŘIVA (Czech Republic, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for


25 JAN 2019

Speech on tensions in the Sea of Azov at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – On reading this report, I rather got the feeling that the rapporteur had tried too hard to be too diplomatic in his handling of the issue. For example, the calls for both sides to observe the treaty around the Sea of Azov cannot hide the fact that this is another example of Russian aggression in Ukraine. True, the report goes on to call for the release of Ukrainian servicemen and upholds the integrity of Ukraine's sovereignty, but I am worried that this may apparently give succour to the views I heard coming out of organisations such as the OSCE that both sides in this conflict are to blame. They are not. This is naked Russian aggression.

Although the concentration of the report is on the capture, injury and deportation of Ukrainian servicemen and how they are to be handled, it also mentions the Crimea bridge that Russia has built. This is important. It is illegal. It breaches Ukrainian sovereignty. This is a particularly dangerous development, which we need to condemn. Personally, I would have made more of this.

All of those reasons were why the United Kingdom Minister in charge of defence made a visit to the Ukraine before Christmas and why we sent a naval vessel to the area. It was meant to send a very clear signal to Russia that we will stand by Ukraine, rather than it being an act of further provocation. We intend to send other royal navy ships to provide a more constant British presence. To our Ukrainian friends, I say that we will support you. I hope that they take that.

Nevertheless, I do not want to be too critical of the report. It does call for the immediate release of the servicemen. It does call for free passage through the area and for an end to violence. But one thing that has to end is the searching of Ukrainian and international ships in the area. Russia is engaging in economic warfare in this area to strengthen its control of the Crimea and the Black Sea. We must not let the Sea of Azov become the central battleground for this battle and we must support Ukraine.


25 JAN 2019

Speech on Iceland and Italy at the Council of Europe

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I, too, congratulate my colleague Sir Roger Gale on his excellent report. I am pleased to speak in the debate, because the form of the activity that the report sets out is valuable and goes to the heart of the Assembly's values. I know Iceland and Italy quite well, so it is interesting to see the recommendations that are set out.

I have an enormous amount of sympathy for Italy and its role in the migration crisis. Of course, human rights must be upheld, but Italy has suffered a great influx of migratory people, and I am aware of the internal problems that that has created. Sadly, I do not believe it is over. We need to concentrate on improving the situation in countries right across places such as sub-Saharan Africa to prevent mass migration from there if their economies do not improve.

The report is historical, but I hope the current situation reflects it; I give my congratulations to those who worked on it. The report is right to point out that Italy must deal with corruption. I work with several countries that deal with corruption and I praise the use of whistle-blowing legislation to tackle it. I hope that will be successful.

Briefly, on Iceland, I note that there is not much to say, although it gets a good mention for corruption. In a small country, it is difficult for everything to be done through codes of law, as the monitoring report argues, when the temptation is to do things more informally. That is understandable, and we should not try too hard to get Iceland to change its cultural approach. The report points out the major effect of the financial crash. I am glad to see, however, that Iceland is pulling through well.


25 JAN 2019

Speech on terrorism and nationality at the Council of Europe

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

I understand what the report is getting at. However, we all face a major problem, which we have addressed on numerous occasions in the Assembly in the past few years: terrorism. It is a major issue facing us all. The report makes the valid point that we should not sacrifice our values because of terrorism. I agree, but some values that we need to admire include a determination to address the problem and offer suitable protection to our citizens and, indeed, ourselves.

Having read the report, I was struck by the number of European countries that have adopted legislation to withdraw nationality, including my own country. Is that because it is a communal solution to a common problem that we all find ourselves in, and because these countries wish to fight terrorists? Do we really want these people coming back to our countries when they have finished their fighting? I suggest that the answer to that is no, so I see the attraction to the State of depriving such individuals of their nationality. However, if we are to go down that path, the report rightly makes a couple of points.

First, the process must not be arbitrary. That means having a proper process in place to deal with the situation. It means that the circumstances must be specified, and the means by which it is achieved defined. In the United Kingdom, we believe that depriving people of their nationality is a proper way to address national security, as is taking action against those who glorify terrorism. However, the process is not arbitrary. There is still a right of appeal through the courts, which is one of the most important factors that we can bring into this. AS (2019) CR 09

5

There are times when this process will create statelessness. I do not believe that that should be avoided, although it can be minimised. However, let us be clear: we do not want back those who have renounced their country to fight for terrorism.


17 JAN 2019

Comment in debate on children's social care

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Is my hon. Friend as worried as I am about the patchy way in which children are brought into the decisions being made about themselves?

Tim Loughton

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. There is certainly differential practice and this is an important issue. In my time in the Department for Education, we were really keen, as subsequent Ministers have been, that children in the care system should be at the heart of the considerations of what is best for them, but they actually have quite a good idea of what is best for them as well, so it is really important that they are brought into the decision-making process.

In my time as Minister, I made sure that every local authority in the country—with the exception of the City of London and the Isles of Scilly, where there were no children in care—had a children in care council, made up of children in the care system speaking directly to directors of children's services and councillors about their experiences. I am really pleased that the Government have decided not to do away with independent reviewing officers, who are that important link, consulting children face-to-face and feeding into their care plans.


17 JAN 2019

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 today.

Holocaust Memorial Day is marked annually on 27th January, the anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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 'Torn from Home'.

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. It is important to remember not just that the victims were killed but the horrible way in which they were killed."

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

"The Holocaust did not start in the gas chambers but with hate filled words. Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to John 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."


17 JAN 2019

Comment in debate on Guildford Local Plan

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend may be aware that Guildford has run into difficulties with many villages over the production of neighbourhood plans. My intervention is just to tell him that I too am aware of that, in my role as Government champion for neighbourhood planning, and I am dealing with the problem.

Sir Paul Beresford

I thank my hon. Friend; I think Guildford council, with its behaviour and reputation, will keep him rather busy.

By definition, the surroundings of those villages cannot have a building of any significant height or density. The number of homes per acre of footprint must be low. I wish to concentrate on just two specific areas, the village of Send and the Wisley site, as examples of what this draft local plan would mean if implemented. Both feed on to the A3, which feeds to Guildford to the south, London to the north and the M25 via junction 10. The A3 is overloaded at peak times, and junction 10 is the worst junction on the M25 for delays, heavy traffic and accidents. In recognition of that, Highways England is proceeding through the rigmarole of extending and developing the junction. However, its work will merely enable the better management of the current traffic flow. I believe that Highways England has not factored in, or has not been able to factor in, the increase that would come from the developments proposed for Send and Wisley, and others. Neither Send nor Wisley has a railway station.


17 JAN 2019

Contribution to debate on bioethanol industry

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I want to know—the hon. Gentleman might be coming on to this—whether he has done a calculation of the effect on the savings on air pollution that these fuels will have. Maybe he could tell us what that is.

Nic Dakin

I will come on to that in due course. If the hon. Gentleman can be patient, I will come to it when I come it.


16 JAN 2019

Debate on long term capital

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Has my hon. Friend looked at how many countries have a means of producing long-term capital, and at what sort of competitive advantage our having one would give us as a result?

Stephen Kerr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that timely intervention. That is the very point I will come on to. Let us examine the critical reason for our lack of national productivity, again comparing investment in our economy with that of the world's leading economies. A good indicator is the level of gross fixed capital formation as percentage of GDP, which is the value of the acquisitions of new or existing fixed assets in the economy less the disposal of fixed assets. It is just a single measure.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. He may be about to come on to the digital industry. It is a major industry and such a fundamental part of our economy, and it needs investment, as I know from my own costs when I ran a company involved in that area.

Stephen Kerr

Anyone would think that my hon. Friend and I were working in some form of symbiosis, because the very next thing I wanted to say was that the need for investment is never more pertinent than in the technology sector, in which large American corporations invest speculatively and then buy companies when they reach a sufficient level of development. One reason that so many British businesses go that way is that they reach a stage where their access to affordable long-term capital dries up. This is not just about start-ups but about how a business accesses capital to be able to invest in new assets or capabilities.


16 JAN 2019

Debate on business rates and pubs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I fully understand the point that my hon. Friend is making about business rates. I wonder whether she has calculated how much of the problem that pubs have is due to a change in drinking habits and why we go to pubs, and how much of it is actually due to business rates.

Mrs Main

I have not calculated that, but if my hon. Friend waits for the rest of my speech, he will hear how the huge hikes in business rates mean that pubs would have to sell so many extra drinks that they cannot possibly make up for those hikes. The fact that some people are declining to go to our pubs is one issue, but I am talking about successful, thriving pubs.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be some business rate relief when a pub has been bought under the asset of community value scheme?

Mrs Main

Actually, we have tried to save pubs under the asset of community value scheme, and we have not been successful in St Albans, because the developer wins every time. I can see the point that my hon. Friend is making, but I am not going to take a diversion down too many tracks about the price of beer and community assets. Pubs and businesses in my constituency want a fair system that does not, as the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) has said, discriminate against a business because it is located in a high-value area.


16 JAN 2019

Question for Health questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

 What steps he is taking to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients with rare diseases and cancer. [908567]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Brine)

Our much-mentioned new plan sets out the clear ambition to diagnose three quarters of all cancers at an early stage—up from half today.

John Howell

The blood cancer charity Bloodwise launched its "Hear our voice" report in Parliament last week. Will the Minister ensure that NHS England works with the charity to ensure that blood cancer is included in the 75% target?

Steve Brine

Yes, I will. I spoke at the launch of Bloodwise's excellent report at its parliamentary reception last week. I have been clear since the new ambition was announced that the 75% target applies to all cancers, and we will not achieve it unless we focus on harder-to-diagnose cancers, such as blood cancer


15 JAN 2019

My open letter on tonights vote

An Open Letter

Dear all

15 January 2019

I am writing this open letter to make it clear that I shall be supporting the Prime Minister tonight in the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and to set out my reasons.

I have listened carefully to the many differing views of constituents, to the debate in the House over recent days, and I have also thought very carefully about the issue for myself. There are a number of reasons why I have come to my decision.

At the Referendum I voted Remain and I would do so again if we had another Referendum. I lost the argument at the Referendum and we have to implement the results which flowed from it.

In this deal we have a compromise between the UK and the EU that takes us out of the EU after a transition period of two years. The bulk of the criticism of the deal, and what is seen as a continuing relationship with the EU, applies to this two-year period.

The Withdrawal Agreement does ensure that we take back control of our laws, borders and money, an end to free movement, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice coming to a close and after the £39 billion has been paid vast budget payments to the EU ending once and for all. We will also be out of the Common Agriculture Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. EU and UK citizens will have their rights protected, including for healthcare and pensions. We will be able to negotiate our own international trade deals.

The problem is the Irish Backstop. The issue we face comes down to making sure that we are not trapped in the Irish Backstop forever and that we have our own ability to come out of it. Since the EU does not want us to have a Backstop and, we believe it will never be used, it is difficult to see why the EU is being obdurate about it. But the letter produced this week by the Attorney General and the clarification that has been sought from the EU has given me comfort that we will not be kept in a Backstop, even if we do enter it, forever.

I have always said that I am happy to go with the deal as it provides a good foundation for the future. The movement in relation to the Backstop convinces me that we should not look at this through endless mistrust of the EU and I will support it.

I do not want a no deal exit from the EU. This is not about whether we can survive on WTO terms of trade. It is about bringing to a successful conclusion to all the issues which will have no solution if we leave without a deal. The £39 billion set out in the Agreement that we will pay the EU is not a sum plucked from the air but has been calculated carefully.

People have said I should think of the country rather than my Party or myself. I assure you that this is exactly what I have been doing. The view of what is in the best interests of the country does not lie with one group or one person. We all have different views of that and it is to exercise my judgement on an issue such as this that I was elected.

In voting the way that I intend to do I believe that I am voting in the best interests of the country. If the deal is accepted there will still be a long way to go but it will be a critical step forward to an ordered Brexit.

In addition, some have tried to argue that I am mandated to vote in a certain way by their claim that the constituency voted a particular way in the Referendum. The view of how the constituency voted is entirely a matter of statistical analysis since the way the vote was counted did not include the constituency at all. This was a national vote. An MP is not a delegate who can be mandated to vote in a particular direction.

I do not accept that people did not know what they were voting for during the Referendum or that the regrettable way in which the Referendum was conducted at all influenced the result. In addition, there is no link at all between voting for or against the Agreement and a "Peoples Vote" or remaining in the EU. It is not a case of "either/or". The options and the permutations are far more complex than that.

John Howell OBE MP

Member of Parliament for the Henley constituency


11 JAN 2019

Speech in debate on EU Withdrawal Agreement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), who is my honourable friend from the Council of Europe. This is only the fourth time that I have spoken in a Brexit-related debate. It is not the fourth time I have spoken in any debate, and it is important to point out that we continue to participate in things that are going on as part of normal business. By speaking only in four Brexit-related debates I have not been ignoring Brexit, but for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), in his fundamentally excellent speech at the beginning of this debate, I have been concerned by the language being used, and by the lack of respect for anyone who puts forward a contrary view, both in this place and outside. We have all seen Twitter feeds that have characterised that lack of respect.

My view on this process has been sorely tested, and a major turnoff for the British people comes from the humiliation of the Prime Minister and the British people by the European Commission. That humiliation followed the treatment of David Cameron when he tried to change the European Union. Are we surprised by that at all? We need only to think back to a Council of Europe meeting at which a pro-remain Member of this House questioned Mr Juncker, who was there as the equivalent of a visiting Head of State, about how he was going to handle the budget for the European Commission. To paraphrase his words, she was told to "mind her own business." We had to remonstrate with him to get him to come back and answer the question. That lack of interest in and that arrogance about the whole matter have sorely tested my faith in the deal.

My approach to the Irish backstop is to look at it in terms of risk. If it is so unwanted by the European Union and we are so sure we will not use it ourselves, one has to ask why it is there in the first place. However, I fully accept, having assessed the risk, that the likelihood of our using it is so remote as to be almost infinitesimal.

Similarly, I do not believe a no-deal Brexit is all about WTO rules. In fact, I do not believe WTO rules are the principal reason for wanting a deal. The principal reason for wanting a deal is to bring to a close the 40-plus years for which we have had a relationship with the European Union—to ensure that we know how to deal with all those things that are hanging over the edge, such as legal cases, charging mechanisms and so on.

The Archbishop of Canterbury may, according to press reports, have changed his view about the need for a people's vote, but I have not. For reasons that have already been set out, I do not think a new people's vote is a good thing. In putting forward an alternative vision of what we need to do beyond Brexit-related issues, I am very keen to ensure that we are still players in Europe. We will do that by giving more credibility to the Council of Europe and our involvement in it. Why should we do that? There is one very good reason: our leaving the EU does not mean a bonfire of workers' rights—they are protected by a 1961 treaty, which the Council of Europe brought in and we signed.

 


11 JAN 2019

Intevention in debate on Oxford-MK-Cambridge Expressway

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I hear what the hon. Lady is saying on this matter. I would like to pay some tribute to the Liberal Democrats, because this project started life in 2015 in a Department for Transport paper that was signed off by Baroness Kramer and Norman Baker, as well as Conservative Ministers. But does she accept the point of view of the Labour council in Oxford that this is a way of reducing the traffic that goes round Oxford?

Layla Moran

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I will deal with that point later, but no, I do not.


11 JAN 2019

My debate on the Europa school, Culham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am grateful for the Minister's attendance. He and I have talked about the Europa School at some length on a number of occasions, and he was, of course, responsible for the reply from the Department for Education to a petition that I presented in the Chamber not so long ago. My purpose this evening is first to highlight the importance and the unique history of the approach to languages that is demonstrated at the school, secondly to highlight the approach to providing the European baccalaureate as the final qualification for those leaving it, and thirdly to ask some questions and make some comments arising from the Department's response to my petition.

The background to all this is, of course, the situation in which we find ourselves as a country in the context of our relationship with the European Union. I am sure we all feel the need to end the current uncertainty as soon as possible, but that is felt nowhere more keenly than at this school, where the educational future of children is at stake.

The Europa School is one of the free schools created as a result of this Government's initiative. It is in Culham, in my constituency, but it serves a wide area, mostly in Oxfordshire and in the surrounding areas of neighbouring counties. Under the terms of the free school, parents have agreed to the provision of a certain type of education that I will describe in more detail shortly, but let me first say something about the school's importance and its unique history.

The initial meeting to discuss the establishment of a free school in Culham took place in 2011 with the then schools Minister, my noble Friend Lord Hill. The meeting was sponsored by me and attended by representatives of parents and educationalists who wished to speak in favour of the proposal. The aim was to meet three demands. First, residents of the county had given the clearest possible support for the new school; secondly, its founders wanted to bring a new form of education into the state school system; and thirdly, we all wished to build on a secure and well-established foundation of education in the European Schools curriculum, which leads eventually to the European baccalaureate.

At its core—this is the first of my major points—was a proposal to offer something that had not been offered before in the UK state system, and, indeed, had not previously been offered in the whole of the European School system. The proposers offered a complete, thoroughgoing commitment to full bilingual education from reception class onwards. Pupils would not simply learn the other language, but would learn through that language. They would learn the linguistic rhythm of that language. This was planned to be truly deep language learning, not just the acquisition of a second language overlaid on the first.

The Europa School was set up as a free school because that is what the parents wanted, which is a key component of the free school movement. The parents wanted that particular type of education to continue through the free school. It was a way of approaching subjects in languages. The pupils were taught subjects ​ through all those languages, so they could end up learning history in German or geography in Spanish, and so on. That is a valuable way of teaching. The parents wanted that system to continue in the school, and it is being continued.

During education questions, I asked the Minister whether he accepted that the school was proving popular with parents of all types, including those from the UK, and that it was a good model of language teaching to follow. He replied that he shared my admiration for the Europa School, and I want to build on that today. I understand that we are anticipating an Ofsted report. I believe that everyone expects the school to have done rather well out of it, and I hope that that expectation is fulfilled. However, this approach needs to be set in the context of Brexit, and the difficulties of negotiating a Brexit that does not see the school become a casualty.

The European School, Culham—not the Europa School—had for some time been destined for closure, as the resourcing for such a school at Culham could not be justified within the European Commission's budget for European Schools. A closure date of 2017 for the European School had already been announced. A plan was therefore advanced for the new free school to grow year by year as the European School diminished, and for the two schools to share the use of the Culham site on an agreed basis. An important aspect of this is that the free school was oversubscribed by some 30% at its opening in September 2012 and it has remained significantly oversubscribed at every subsequent admissions round since that date.

What promises and commitments has the school made? First, it sought to open multilingual education to all the residents of Oxfordshire. Secondly, it determined that the new school would have an important commitment to sciences and mathematics, particularly when the plans for the secondary school came into play. The school started with two stream languages, German and French, each joined with English, but it has recently added Spanish as a third stream language.

Critically, the freedom offered by the free schools programme to allow free schools to set their own curriculum has been essential. The founders of the Europa School adopted the European Schools' curriculum, modified by the mandatory elements of the English national curriculum. Thus, by the time of the all-important interview at the Department for Education, there was a distinctive offering to support the bid for pre-opening status. From the deep educational theory came the view that giving a child a second language from their earliest schooling was like giving them a second life—that is, an alternative cultural world in which they could immerse themselves. From the practical world came the view that multilingualism is in no way elitist: what the taxi drivers of many European cities achieve linguistically must be within the reach of schoolchildren, given the right environment and experiences.

Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a fascinating speech extolling the virtues of the Europa School in his constituency. I have had correspondence from constituents expressing their admiration for the school and I would like to associate myself with those comments. Does he agree with me on two brief points? First, does not the success of the Europa School show the success of the free schools ​ programme? Secondly, does that success not also illustrate that, while Britain may be withdrawing from the political structures of the European Union, she remains an enthusiastic participant in the culture, friendships and co-operation of Europe?

John Howell

I agree with both my hon. Friend's points. The school's success shows the importance of the free school movement and our commitment to continuing our co-operation in Europe. I thank him for making those points.

I was particularly proud when the Europa School was specifically mentioned here in 2011 when the then Secretary of State for Education announced that the school was to open as a bilingual free school in 2012. That was not the first time that the residents of Oxfordshire had reason to be grateful for the support of the House in determining the educational provision available to their children. The quality of education at Culham through the European Schools programme had long been held in high regard. David Cameron had supported the unique educational offer provided at Culham, seeking to preserve and enhance it.

I should like to praise the system of education offered under the free schools programme. We must not forget that in this case the school was principally set up to deal with parents of mainland European origin in the area. However, the approach to teaching languages has proved immensely successful—so successful that we are now in a situation where British parents are keen for their children to enter the school and be taught in that way. I ask the Minister to acknowledge this and to confirm that he will do all he can to encourage the continuation of this form of education.

Moving on to the question of the European baccalaureate, the Europa School became an accredited European School in 2014. This means that the school has approval to continue offering the European baccalaureate and to teach the European curriculum. This accreditation was confirmed at a more recent inspection in 2018 by the European Commission. No money flows from Brussels to the school as a consequence of that status; it is simply a validation of the quality of teaching and assessment in the school.

What is so valuable about that accreditation and affiliation? The European baccalaureate uniquely obliges all candidates to take written and oral examinations in at least two languages. The examinations do not just test competence in the additional stream language; the students, as I have pointed out, actually study history and geography through those languages, and use the stream languages as the mode of learning and assessment. As a result, students have a linguistic competence in their stream language on leaving similar to the linguistic competence of university undergraduates. At the same time, all students must study mathematics and at least once science subject to an advanced level. That outcome is not delivered by the UK A-level system. This free school also requires a leaving qualification that properly recognises the numerous years of education that are involved in becoming bilingual and studying diverse school subjects in two languages.

As a responsible step in school governance, the principal and governing body of the school have explored whether the international baccalaureate could be adopted as an alternative qualification. However, there are significant ​ limitations: examination and study of subjects through two languages is not mandatory; support for the English and German stream combination is weak; the middle years syllabus differs in significant ways; and, most of all, there is a risk of losing expertise among the teaching staff.

The school wants to be able to continue offering the European curriculum and to offer the European baccalaureate as its qualification for school leavers, and I support it most strongly in that aim. In conversation, the Minister likened the situation to the owners of a copyright. In this case, the copyright is owned by the European Commission, not by the Department for Education. I understand from the Minister that the Department is happy for the school to continue teaching the European baccalaureate, but the problem lies in the attitude of the European Commission. In this situation, I would like to ask the Minister to ensure that the Department for Education can continue to be a friend to this free school, to negotiate strongly on its behalf, and to offer a no-holds-barred assessment of how the school can continue even if the UK is not a member of the EU. I urge the Minister to explore every avenue as a matter separate from Brexit. I hope that this excellent educational establishment may continue its development in the direction that the founders of the free school have planned.

Finally, let me turn to the Department's response to my petition. I was glad that the Government were successful in securing a provision in the withdrawal agreement that allows for Europa School's continued accreditation as a European school until the end of August 2021. Beyond the withdrawal agreement, accreditation to deliver the European baccalaureate is available only to schools located in an EU member state. Continuing to deliver the European baccalaureate beyond that depends on a decision by European Union member states and the European Commission, through the European Schools board of governors, to change the rules on accredited schools. What are the Government doing to help the school talk to the European Schools board to try to get an agreement to include the school within its ambit after 2021? The Minister said:

"At present that seems highly unlikely."—[Official Report, 20 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 16P.]

This may be a lawyer's view, but I note the term "at present" in his statement, so I ask him to set out the full position and the likely changes he expects, so as to provide the school with the degree of certainty it requires.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) pointed out, there is something special about free schools, particularly in what they can teach and the way that they can teach it. The Europa School illustrates that above all, which is why I have spent the last few minutes telling Members about it. It is a good example of how free schools work, how they can take the attitudes of parents and make them a reality, and how they can, in this case, through the European baccalaureate, continue to offer something of enormous benefit to children. I would like to see the extent to which we can provide support for the school at this time.


09 JAN 2019

Intervention in debate on diabetes

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend is making a very strong case. Is he aware of the new research into the treatment of type 2 diabetes, which suggests that a change of diet can eradicate it, giving the person a clean bill of health?

Sir John Hayes

I was going to refer to the achievements of the deputy leader of the Labour party, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), later in my speech, but my hon. Friend obliges me to highlight them earlier than I had planned. He is a model example of someone who, having contracted type 2 diabetes, adjusted their lifestyle and diet, lost large amounts of weight, and fought back against—indeed, fought off—type 2 diabetes, exactly as my hon. Friend suggests. Many other hon. Members, including some in the Chamber today, are living with diabetes. Remarkably, our Prime Minister not only manages to hold down her job with immense dedication and determination, but manages type 1 diabetes simultaneously. I spoke about every family and every constituency, but many Members of this House have personal experience of dealing with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.


09 JAN 2019

Speech on journalists

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I will try to keep it as short as possible, Mr Bailey. I will start by re-emphasising the point I made in the intervention; I know that I am a bit of a Council of Europe buff, but I make no apology for saying it here. The issue is of great importance to the Council of Europe, both keeping journalists up to the mark and ensuring they do not exploit people, and ensuring that they are safe and that there is suitable protection for them.

The reason we are concerned about this in the Council of Europe is one of self-preservation. So many journalists from around Europe are there that there is a great need to ensure that their interests are kept up to the mark. For example, the head of the Ukrainian delegation is himself a journalist, and he and I have a lot of discussions about journalism in Ukraine. In addition to Azerbaijan and the problems we have with Russia at the moment, Ukraine is also a place that needs to look after its journalists in a big way where they are under threat from the Russian invasion.

Of course, the Council of Europe relies on the European convention on human rights, and article 10 is the appropriate bit. While I hope it is not necessary all the time to come back to the courts in order to ensure the protection of journalists, I am pleased to see that the European Court of Human Rights has produced a number of judgments that thoroughly protect the rights of journalists.

The other thing that the council has done, which I will just mention, is to introduce a platform for the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. The platform is a public space to facilitate the compilation, processing and dissemination of information on serious concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Council of Europe member states—it obviously cannot go outside those member states, but it does those things within member states. The two things required for that are, first, to ensure that we are all alerted on time when journalists' safety is threatened, which it does by putting their pictures up on a public database and, secondly, to take a systematic approach, ensuring that every journalist who is threatened is there, which I think it does.

The platform has a number of things that people need to comply with: it must be a serious concern about media freedom, it must take place in a Council of Europe member state, the information must be reliable and based on fact, and the information must also be in the public domain, which I think is a sensible requirement so that we do not have things that are half-hidden. With all that, I am encouraged that this mechanism is in place to enable the safety of journalism and journalists to be protected.


09 JAN 2019

Speech on Baillifs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), who introduced this important debate.

The debate is timely. The subject is very much on the lips of the Minister and of members of the Justice Committee, as both the Minister and the Committee are undertaking inquiries at the moment. The Ministry of Justice inquiry, which has called for evidence, will look at the effect of the 2014 legislation, which although it has brought some benefits, clearly did not go far enough and has created new problems, as the Lady told us. Those problems are due to the behaviour of many bailiffs—the way they go about their job is a real problem for us. I believe the Ministry of Justice has promised that any proposed changes will be put out to consultation, so we will all have the opportunity to engage with them.

The Justice Committee also decided to conduct an inquiry on the subject, and we discussed yesterday how it would feed into the Ministry of Justice inquiry and how we could submit it as evidence. The Committee's inquiry will look at the 2014 legislation and the way in which complaints are handled and dealt with throughout the process. Two issues emerge above all: the extent of regulation and the complaints system. The two are of course associated, but they need also to be looked at separately.

As the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) mentioned, the Civil Enforcement Association exists, but it is not independent. The system of regulation is effectively one of self-regulation or, in this case, pretty much no regulation. I listened to all the points made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East about why the system of regulation is not very effective. One point that came in, but was not actually mentioned, is that no sanctions can be levelled against a firm of bailiffs conducting its business in such a way.

Rachel Reeves

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Civil Enforcement Association is just a trade body. People have to pay a fee to be a member, but a bailiff does not have to be a member. The answer is to have an independent bailiff regulator capable of banning and prosecuting bailiffs who break the law. That is in the interests of bailiffs who respect the law and their customers, particularly vulnerable ones. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

John Howell

I very much agree with the hon. Lady's description of how the regulatory system should work, but I do not think we should concentrate solely on the regulatory system. I completely take on board everything she said about what the regulatory system needs to include, but we need also to examine how complaints are dealt with if we want to have an effect on bailiffs who are not doing their job properly or are abusing their position.

The current complaints system has seen an enormous increase in people trying to make complaints, but fewer people have been able to do so legitimately. I propose to the Minister that, before she proceeds with the results of the call for evidence, she and I have a conversation. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution, and I think we have the solution to the problem. The solution, which the rail system is using to try to deal with complaints, is to have in place a system of alternative dispute resolution, including such things as mediation, that can deliver quick advice.

One great thing about alternative dispute resolution is that it is much cheaper than going to the courts. That is what we need. If the Minister would like to have a conversation with me, I will propose a system to do that. From the experience that we have of how ADR has been used elsewhere, I think it will satisfy all the requirements that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East set out.


08 JAN 2019

Question in debate on Uganda

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman makes some good points. I wonder whether he has seen the Ugandan press coverage of this debate, which has essentially approached the whole of the subject from a position asking, "Why is the British Parliament trying to tell us what to do in our own Parliament? What gives them the right to do that?" Does that not show that we face an uphill struggle in getting our points across in the measured way he describes? How will we do that?

Dr Williams

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Having seen that press coverage, I thought it right to ask what our legitimate interest is and to establish why our relationship is important and how Ugandan democracy impacts on that relationship. I hope to develop that argument as I progress through my speech.

Our relationship is one in which we have worked together, for example to respond to the refugee crisis from South Sudan. It is a relationship in which we trade with each other and in which the UK provides development assistance to the people of Uganda. As countries, we have shared goals and shared interests in those areas.


08 JAN 2019

Speech on apprenticeships and skills

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and it is an even greater pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins). I will take advantage of the way in which she has drawn the subject so widely because I want to answer a fundamental question: how do we get students who are still at school to focus on the options of an apprenticeship and skills training rather than going to university? Those Members who know me may think that that is a rather surprising thing for me to say—I went to three universities and had attachments to two foreign universities while doing so. She will have to forgive that, but I ask the question seriously.

There are two aspects to answering that question: schools, and the method by which we get people attracted to the options of apprenticeships and skills training, which is through work placements. I will start by looking at work placements as a precursor to people going on apprenticeships. I am sure that we have all had people on work placements in our offices; I know that for much of the run-up to the summer holidays, I have a person on a work placement every week. I wonder how many people we are trying to line up to be politicians when we are supposed to be cutting back the number of MPs.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)

The hon. Gentleman's eyes might care to drift towards the Gallery, where he will see a young person from St Dominic's college in Harrow—just north of my constituency, but she does live in my constituency—who is the living embodiment of the ideals and ambitions that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed.

John Howell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that person out, and for the way in which he described them. It is fitting to include them in the debate.

It is important to get other people involved in providing work placements—it is not just something for politicians to provide. We need to encourage small businesses to become involved in that, so that people get a feel for the entrepreneurship that is involved in setting up and running a small business. There are a couple of examples of companies in my constituency that do that, such as Williams Jet Tenders, which makes boats to go on other boats. It has a scheme of taking 10 people from the most deprived area of the constituency each year, some of whom go on to do apprenticeships. That training provides them with a lot of experience, and also with a lot of fun, because they end their experience by building little boats that they race against each other. I have been along to present the prizes to the winners, and all of that might sound like great fun, but there is also a seriousness to the skills that they learn: how to make model boats, and how to scale them up from that. Other companies provide that experience as well, including a cabinet and kitchen maker that I have also visited.

Those work placements take a whole lot of learning away from the apprenticeships. I am principally going to mention three areas of learning, the first of which is working well with other people. That may sound obvious, but for young people, working with other people and dealing with the dynamics of that is a skill that needs to be learned. Another skill that is crucial to learn and which work placements can provide is how to cope with criticism. Of course, coping with criticism is something that we as politicians take for granted, so maybe the work placements in our offices do have a purpose, but that is an important thing for people to learn. The third thing is people managing their own time, and making sure that that is part of how they approach life. Those are three examples of skills that work placements can provide, which will take away the need to pick up on those areas of learning during apprenticeships and will also help to make apprenticeships more attractive.

Having dealt with the work placement side, let me turn briefly to the schools side. Schools need to participate. We have been only partially successful in encouraging schools to encourage people to go into apprenticeships and skills training rather than to university. Certainly, among the schools in my constituency, there is a huge variety of attitudes towards encouraging students to go into apprenticeships. Some still have a very old-fashioned view of life and only measure success by the number they send to university.

Mike Amesbury

I am an MP but I am also a former careers adviser. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is about time that we re-establish a careers service—formerly the Connexions service—that will help people make well-informed and realistic decisions?

John Howell

I am open minded. I just think back to my time at university when there was a careers service. I will not tell the House the advice that I was given, but I did not follow it at all—not one iota. I am not sure whether that was down to the quality of the advice or my own sheer cussedness, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

It is important that schools focus on promoting apprenticeships as a legitimate option that is equal to going to university, and we need to judge where people go according to their own skills and inclinations. I am pleased to have been able to contribute on the topic of how we get people to go into apprenticeships in the first place. I think we need to put a little more finesse into the work placements that are offered around the country.


08 JAN 2019

Urgent question on Universal Credit

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in my constituency, which neighbours his, our feedback on universal credit has been generally positive, and would he accept my appreciation for the positive response that he and his colleagues have given to me when I have raised implementation problems with him as we have gone along?

Alok Sharma

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I hope it is clear to colleagues on both sides of the House that my door is open. When colleagues come with individual cases, I do take them up. I am always open and ready to have meetings on individual cases, and I will continue to be ready to do that.


24 DEC 2018

Funding for lowland rescue charity

I have welcomed new funding awarded to Oxfordshire Lowland Search & Rescue in the Henley constituency.

The government funding is part of a £1 million package being awarded to dozens of charities working to keep inland waterways around the country safe, helping with the cost of new equipment to help volunteer search teams save lives more quickly and easily.

Oxfordshire Lowland Search & Rescue will receive £11,883.60, to ensure that it can continue to keep people safe. .As it says itself, "if a vulnerable person is missing then it is vital to their chances of survival that they are found quickly".

Commenting, I said:

"I am delighted that we have recognised the fantastic work done by Oxfordshire Lowland Search & Rescue here in Oxfordshire and in the Henley constituency in particular, and are providing support to allow them to continue doing so. The work they do for example if someone with dementia goes missing is invaluable and a great asset to the police.

"The volunteers of this charity really are unsung heroes – their commitment saves lives and on behalf of the whole community, I extend my sincere thanks to them for their work."

Notes to readers

• We are providing £5 million to support lifesaving charities keeping our waterways safe. The inshore and inland lifeboat grant scheme has provided £1 million for charities every year since 2014 (DfT, News Story, 19 November 2014, link).

• We have provided supported to almost 100 search and rescue charities since 2014. The money has paid for 65 new boats, in addition to launch vehicles, rafts, safety gear and other costs to support rescue teams (DfT, News Story, 23 December 2018, link).

• We are supporting 57 charities this year with £1 million of funding. This includes funding for 15 new boats and a hovercraft (DfT, News Story, 23 December 2018, link).


21 DEC 2018

Christmas and New Year message

I wish everyone a happy Christmas and a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

I am pleased to have been able to talk to so many of you through my conversations in the street. These have gone down well with constituents and they are a good example of how people feel happy to raise issues with me and do not have to wait for formal surgeries.

These are, of course, difficult political times. But I hope that we can look forward to more settled times in the future.

I have spent the year undertaking a wide range of activities in the constituency, the House of Commons and representing the UK abroad at various institutions. I was also pleased that I was able to introduce my own private member's Bill in the House of Commons on helping to protect communities that have done Neighbourhood Plans. It was one of the best attended private member's Bills that there has been in the House – largely because of timing and its introduction just before a major Brexit debate!

Incidentally, I went to a naval dinner recently at which anyone who mentioned Brexit was 'punished' by being made to drink a large glass of rum – something that might catch on here!

There is no doubt that Brexit has dominated a lot of thought during this time and will continue to do so. But for me it is important also to speak out for the everyday issues which affect people's lives and on which I was elected. I have raised problems faced by benefits claimants with Ministers and tried to get a mobile Job Centre introduced to help better access. It was also a great pleasure to work with SOHA's tenants to discuss how we can improve how they are regarded in the community.


20 DEC 2018

My questions at Justice Select Committee to head of the SFO

John Howell:

Can I pick up on one of the points you have just spoken of, which is your independence? There are other organisations that cover similar areas to yours. The Financial Conduct Authority is a good example. To what extent do you work with them and take into account the conclusions they have come to?

Lisa Osofsky:

That is a great question. First of all, they were my client for the past five years when I served as corporate compliance monitor of HSBC Bank. I reported to the supervision side of the FCA rather than the enforcement side. Here, we would be focusing on the enforcement side. I have already spent time with Andrew Bailey and Mark Steward to discuss ways we can work together in principle, and, as it turns out, a case that was live as of two months ago has enabled us already to work incredibly closely. It makes sense. When they are worried or concerned about informing the market about something the market needs to know, that is not my mandate or my role. When they are worried about insider trading, that is not my mandate or my role. Mine is different. When I am prosecuting a case of serious fraud and corruption, it is often the fraud angle that can have synergies with the FCA. We are already working very closely on a hot case day to day with the FCA, and we are working well. It was in my first or second week that I got a call from Mark Steward's secretary saying, "Mark needs to see you right away. He needs to talk to you right away." Of course, I thought, "Oh no. What's gone wrong now? I've just got here." Actually, he wanted to make sure that I knew how well we were working with his team. He wanted to second some of his people over to us during the course of the investigation, and wondered if I wanted to do likewise so that we could share our expertise and learn from one another.

John Howell:

Can I move the subject on to a question about your general counsel, who I understand has gone to another firm? That leaves quite a vacancy at the top of the SFO. What implication has that had for you? Basically, who is running the show?

Lisa Osofsky:

First of all, I am running the show, so that part of it does not worry me in a way. However, I could not agree with you more. lun Milford was an incredible asset. David Green brought him over; he was his chosen guy. He stayed for six years and he acquitted himself admirably. Needless to say, we need a good general counsel. I am happy to report the following to the Committee. We have gone out to the market. I decided I did not want it to be done in any way; I wanted it to be done absolutely right, so I engaged the headhunting division of the Cabinet Office. We have gone out to recruit in the market so that we can bring in people from all walks of life. Our recruitment closes on 4 January, and, so far, I can report that I have talked to a QC, two barristers, three senior people in other areas of Government and a private practitioner from a private law firm, all of whom wanted to have a sidebar conversation with me to see whether I might be interested in them. I do that with everybody. I always say yes to them, and I do it fairly to anyone who wants to talk to me. They are great candidates. I think, almost to a person, they would do a fabulous job. What I am interested in now with my GC, which I do not think was true as much in Alun's day, is that I want my GC to do only case review and case check—quality assurance. I do not want that person managing people. I just don't. I do not want them falling in love with human beings or cases. I want them to have the objectivity that I would expect from counsel at the Bar or another independent observer to check and challenge along the way.

John Howell:

In the gap that you have at the moment, who has picked up the casework that the general counsel was previously doing?

Lisa Osofsky:

To be fair, we do not really have much of a gap, in that Alun just left; his last day was 29 November. We are going into holiday season and our recruitment closes on 4 January. In the interim, we have very gifted lawyers. The heads of all our divisions are very strong; we are a lawyer-strong organisation. I do not think the SFO could ever be accused of not having a lot of good senior lawyers, so I am not seeing the gap.

We also have the good fortune to rely on counsel in a number of our cases because we seek charging decisions; we have a lot of litigation. We are hiring the ranks of my former colleagues at the Bar, who are obviously much more illustrious than I was. I was never a QC. We are able to hire from the best and brightest of the Bar. To date, I do not see a gap and I do not anticipate a gap, in the sense that, as soon as we get back, we are going to close our process, we are going to have a new GC in place and we are going to continue without missing a beat.

______________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell:

Can I move you on to deferred prosecution agreements? They are seen by some as being the ability of organisations to evade criminal charges for criminal activity. What is your approach to them? How many have you signed and how are you using them?

Lisa Osofsky:

I have not signed any yet, but our office has signed some. So far there have been four. One has to do with fraud and the three others have to do with corruption. As a prosecutor, my job is to look at the evidence and determine where the evidence leads us. It is not to have a favourite tool to use. I do not intend to favour a DPA over the prosecution of individuals. I have to look at the evidence and see where I have jurisdiction, where I have the evidence, where I need the threshold standard and then the evidential standard. If we focus solely on DPAs, because I think you want me to talk a little bit about my belief on them, I have seen them work as a unique tool in the following sense. They can help raise the bar for long-term sustainable corporate culture, because, under our law, the defence to our failure to prevent offence is that they have adequate procedures. In corruption, where the failure to prevent exists, it is a strict liability offence, meaning that the company has done it, unless they have the defence that they have adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery.

John Howell:

May I interrupt you? I want to pick up on something you said. You said you had seen them in action. Is that in the US or in the UK? How would you see the difference between the two?

Lisa Osofsky:

The one under which I worked was joint; the FCA, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Reserve Board were all regulators and prosecutors behind the HSBC DPA on which I worked for the past five years, before my current role in the Serious Fraud Office. There was input from both Governments. A nice feature of some of these agreements is that they allow multi-jurisdictional input. They are different in the US versus here. In the US, you do not need a judge overseeing them. That is the key feature and difference. Here Sir Brian Leveson has presided over all the DPAs we have had in place. It is meant to be a more transparent process. We initially evaluate the public interest when we determine whether we are going to invite a company to talk to us about a DPA. Then he will do a public and searching analysis of whether the public interest factors are met to make a DPA appropriate in a particular case. Again, I do not want to bore you with all the different details, but in the US they have a tool called an NPA, a non-prosecution agreement. We do not have that here. There are differences. The big one is how much judicial involvement we have. In the UK, we have quite a bit. In the US, we can have circumstances where there are court-appointed monitors, as we were in HSBC, but there are other situations where you do not necessarily have a lot of judicial involvement, especially in the early phases, in the way we do in the UK.

John Howell:

How are you going to use DPAs? What are the criteria against which you judge them?

Lisa Osofsky:

At the outset, I have to decide whether there is evidence of a crime or whether there might be evidence of a crime. We look at whether the full evidential test is met or whether there is a slight variant under the DPA code that allows me to look at whether I think, over time and investigation, the full code would be met. Our initial phase is the evidence part. Then we look at the public interest factors, which include things like whether we have a recidivist on our hands or whether it is a one-off problem. Have they cleaned house with the board or do they have all the people we think did something wrong still running the show? Have they put in place adequate procedures to guard against this in the future, or are they just hoping it is all going to go away, and they can conduct business the way they always did and act like they are immune from the law? Those are the kinds of features. In the Rolls-Royce case, Judge Leveson made a very public statement on whether it would harm the shareholders and the country. That is a fair thing for the judge to ask at the end of the day. For my purposes, I am also very interested in whether the company is co-operating with me. I am not interested in a company telling me to go away, and that they are not going to give me anything, and then thinking that they will get a DPA. That is not going to happen on my watch.


20 DEC 2018

Guide Dogs

I attended an event in Parliament run by the charity Guide Dogs to raise awareness of discrimination against guide dog owners. I heard from guide dog owners about the impact of being turned away by businesses because of their dog. They also collected a Christmas card with messages highlighting Guide Dogs Access All Areas campaign.

It is against the law to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances. However, a Guide Dogs survey found that three quarters of assistance dog owners reported that they had been refused entry by businesses.

Businesses that closed their doors to assistance dog owners included shops, supermarkets, gyms, campsites, places of worship, public transport, taxis and minicabs, pubs and hotels.

I said:

"I was shocked to hear about cases of guide dog owners being turned away by businesses. This isn't just poor customer service; it's discrimination and it's unacceptable. Disabled people have the same rights as anyone else to shop, take a taxi or visit their local pub.

I support Guide Dogs' Access All Areas campaign to open all doors to guide dog owners this Christmas."

James White, Senior Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, said:

"It's against the law for a business to close their doors to someone because of their assistance dog, but it's still a daily concern for many guide dog owners going about their lives.

When you rely on your guide dog to get around, leaving the dog outside is not an option. Businesses shouldn't be allowed to make guide dog owners feel like second-class citizens. That's why we're calling for better enforcement of the law, and better staff training in some sectors to stop this discrimination from happening in the first place."


20 DEC 2018

JOHN HOWELL MP WELCOMES OXFORDSHIRE INCLUSION IN NEW APPROACH TO MENTAL HEALTH CARE

Children and young people's mental health services are to be transformed as Oxfordshire becomes one of 25 trailblazer areas across the country that put the NHS and schools together to transform mental health care.

This commitment to improving children's mental health support will benefit about half a million children in England.

Under the scheme, the NHS is uniting with schools and colleges in 25 areas across England to provide expert mental health support for up to half a million pupils a year – part of the Government's ambitious plans to transform children and young people's mental health through the NHS Long-Term Plan. The county's Clinical Commissioning Group is one of the organisations chosen to be a trailblazer.

New Mental Health Support Teams will support a population of more than 470,000 children and young people. They will be based in and near schools and colleges, with support starting from next year. The first cohort of new staff are on track to begin their training at seven universities nationwide in January.

One in nine young people aged five to 15 had a mental health condition in 2017 and teenagers with a mental disorder are more than two and a half times more likely to have a mental disorder in adulthood.

i said:

"I very much welcome this initiative. The commitment to improving children's mental health is important and I am pleased that Oxfordshire has been selected as one of the trailblazers. I look forward to the Clinical Commissioning Group detailing what they are going to do and the impact it is expected o have within the county and within this constituency."


20 DEC 2018

Interventions in debate on leaving the EU and orchestras

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Fortunately, the instrument I play, the organ, cannot be put into the back of a van, but other instruments can. We need a firm indication that musicians will still be able to travel in order to make their concert schedules.

Stephen Timms

That is not the first issue that comes to mind when one thinks about the challenges ahead, but it is an important one, and it is absolutely right for the hon. Gentleman to raise it.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

My right hon. Friend is right to speak of the quality of Oxfordshire MPs and to say that I am an organist—I think that adds to our contribution to the arts as Oxfordshire's dedicated MPs. I want just to correct him on one thing: he is right to say that I cannot fit my organ in the back of a trailer, but many churches and halls around Europe have organs that can be used, provided that it has been arranged in advance.

Mr Vaizey

That is true. Yesterday I was at the Battersea Arts Centre, which houses a Wurlitzer organ—the largest electric organ of its type in the UK. I hope that my hon. Friend will have the chance one day to play that organ, which is currently being restored.​


20 DEC 2018

Speech on Heritage Zones

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this debate and particularly on bringing into the open the examples of town centre heritage action zones that he has mentioned. Of course, he concentrated on heritage-led regeneration and it was right for him to do so. However, he also concentrated on the need to use buildings to their greatest effect, stressing the importance of bringing buildings back into use as we go through the process of improving town centres.

The starting point for me on this issue is how all of this activity can help to show, first, that we can breathe new life into the high streets of our towns and, secondly, how we can help to regenerate people's shopping experience, eating experience and just the experience of enjoying a good environment in which to take a stroll, enjoy sport or whatever.

I look at this issue wearing two hats. First of all, I look at it wearing the hat of an archaeologist, which I was until a little while before I came into this House, and I also look at it wearing the hat of a planning expert. I use the term "expert" loosely; it is a term that is applied to me, rather than one that I apply myself.

I will consider the archaeological perspective first. We need to stress that people are genuinely interested in the archaeology and the history of the place in which they live. If I ask someone in one of the two towns in my constituency what their impression of the town is, they will always refer to some moment of history in describing how the town has grown.

Neither of the two towns in my constituency has become a town centre heritage action zone: the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that neither Henley nor Thame fall into that category. I know that he does not wish for us all to use this debate as an opportunity to lobby him to include our own towns within a HAZ, but let me not disappoint my colleagues by staying away from that subject. I do not actually mind which one of the two towns the Minister chooses—he could even choose both—but it would be nice to have one in a HAZ.

I will stay on the subject of archaeology for a little longer. We have a development in the centre of Henley, just off the market square, that has had to have archaeological excavation before the planned buildings can be put up. That excavation has revealed a fascinating pattern from the 12th and 13th centuries, which shows how the town developed. It did not develop in an ad hoc ​ way; instead, it developed on a medieval plan in a very focused way. The medieval planners were obviously very good at setting out the town. It would be really nice to believe that, in encouraging people to use Henley town centre and to enjoy the heritage there, some way could be found to include that find within the developments that will go up on that site, rather than just referring to it in the name of the street or by changing the name of that particular part of the town. That is an important element to bear in mind.

Since invitations are being given out to the Minister, I urge him to come to Henley and see that site for himself, so that he can hopefully put Henley forward as one of the next towns on the HAZ list.

I said that I approached this wearing two hats. The other hat is that of a planner, and somebody who was very much involved with the Government in producing the national planning policy framework in its original form and commenting on its second form. I wonder whether the Minister would take my advice that this issue needs to be looked at again. We do not judge planning applications in this House; that is the function of the local district council. However, when I go around the country in my role as Government champion for neighbourhood planning, I am astonished at the appalling glass, concrete and steel buildings that have gone up in our town centres. I do not want our town centres simply to become pastiches of what they were at a set point, but it is important to stress that there is good design from the 18th, 19th, and indeed 20th centuries that helped to shape town centres and give credibility to their status as heritage locations. When the Minister looks at heritage action zones, he ought to include buildings that were built in those times.

None of these proposals, on their own, will overcome the issues that have been raised by the internet. None of them will overcome the habitual appearance of nothing but charity shops on our high streets, except in Henley where they are matched by the number of coffee shops —it is always possible to get a decent cup of coffee in Henley. However, they will go a long way towards helping overcome some of those issues and talking about the pride of the place, making that town's heritage part of its future. For that reason, I urge the Minister to look carefully at those issues when he comes to the next list of heritage zone areas that he will bring into force, or rather that English Heritage—sorry, Heritage England; I am falling back into old money—will bring into force when it next thinks about this.

_____________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

I used to run a film production company and we chose to locate it in the Temple. The people who came to visit us were most impressed because we were the only film production company there, and there was all the surrounding heritage to see and enjoy.

Michael Ellis

We see that in many cases. Heritage buildings are an attraction to all types of business, including high-tech ones. The importance of our heritage was fully recognised in "The Culture White Paper", published by my Department in 2016. It was the first White Paper on culture to be published by any Government since 1965. It made commitments to several new schemes, including Historic England's heritage action zones, which several Members have spoken about today. As colleagues know, the zones are a flagship scheme to target areas of untapped potential, bringing historic places back to life to attract residents, tourists, businesses and investors, and to create economic growth in villages, towns and cities across England.


19 DEC 2018

Comments in Mental Capacity Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend mentions the Law Commission and its suggestions. What he proposes does not quite tally with all the Law Commission's recommendations. Where are the differences?

Matt Hancock

We built the Bill on the basis of the Law Commission report, but we have put some differences into the Bill. For instance, we think the principle of prioritising people over process is important, and we have strengthened that compared with the Law Commission's recommendations. The Law Commission improves the law but does not make policy decisions. On top of the Law Commission's work, which is incredibly helpful, we have made further policy decisions to ensure that people are put more foursquare at the heart of the process. It is true that the Bill and the Law Commission's recommendations are not exactly aligned, but I would strongly defend our further improvements.


19 DEC 2018

Mental health of firefighters

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She raises a pertinent point, which we should all pay attention to. She mentions the appointment of counsellors, which is absolutely crucial. The way to help someone to avoid mental health problems is for them to have somebody to talk to when they are experiencing the problems. There is no point in them just sitting there and experiencing the problems on their own; they need somebody to share them with and to help them.

Emma Dent Coad

I concur absolutely with the hon. Gentleman.

______________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

What my hon. Friend is saying is very powerful. Does he believe that there is more that the fire service can do—I encourage my own local fire stations to do this—to have public exhibitions of what they do and show how they go about their work, because once the public understand that, there is a tremendous amount of additional support for the fire service and for the actions that they take? It would help if we gave firefighters a lot more encouragement to do that.

Bill Grant

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, a lot is already being done to encourage people and to raise awareness. The fire service in Scotland used to have an annual event at the old Strathclyde regional station, with the slogan, "Reckless driving wrecks lives", where we brought along fifth and sixth-year schoolchildren. All the emergency services took part. We also make home safety visits now and we are very much part of the team that tries to prevent these events before they happen, through accident and fire reduction. Also, let us not forget the introduction of a very simple thing in people's homes, which is the smoke detector. In Scotland, we fit them free of charge for anyone who approaches us, and they are worth their weight in gold; they are very effective. A lot has been done on the preventive side. It is a failure if the fire engine goes out; we should prevent all the fires and reduce the number of accidents.


19 DEC 2018

Question on DRC election

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

How will this election affect the endemic corruption in the DRC, which is even worse than in Nigeria where I am a trade envoy, and how will it deal with the 2.7 million internally displaced people?

Mr Lewis

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman's concerns. The international community has poured billions of pounds into the DRC over many, many years. Until the leadership of that country changes so that it is transparent, open and accountable to the people, and free of corruption, we will not see the kind of changes that the people of the DRC have a right to expect. That is why this presidential election is so crucial. Without a change of leadership, we will not see the kind of changes that are so necessary and which the hon. Gentleman articulates.


17 DEC 2018

My question in statemnt on workers rights

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In 1961, under another Conservative Government, we signed the social charter, a Council of Europe treaty that is still in force and that enshrines workers' rights. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the rights he is now talking about follow in that same legal tradition?

Greg Clark

I am delighted to have a history lesson from my hon. Friend. I do not think he was there at the time to witness that important breakthrough, but it is important to remind ourselves, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) did, that the Conservative party has always believed that free enterprise should be associated with high standards for consumers, for workers and for members of our community. That is very much in our tradition, and it has not required the imposition from outside this Parliament. We embrace our responsibilities with enthusiasm.


17 DEC 2018

My question in education questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The Europa School in my constituency teaches languages by teaching other subjects in foreign languages. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is proving popular with parents of all types, including from the UK, and that it is a good model to follow?

Nick Gibb

I share my hon. Friend's admiration for the Europa School. It teaches the European baccalaureate, which is of a very high standard. The continuation of that qualification will depend on discussions with the European Schools system after the UK leaves the European Union.


16 DEC 2018

Details of Heathrow consultation

Further to my last comments about the work Heathrow is doing to consult with local communities about their operations, I can now provide the following information.

Heathrow's consultation into Airspace and Future Operations will run from 8 January until 4 March 2019. This will provide the chance to contribute to Heathrow's plans for future airspace use and on their proposals for how the airport will operate. The consultation is the next stage in the process to redesign the airspace for an expanded Heathrow. The consultation will refer to the airspace design principles determined through an earlier consultation and subsequent engagement and will outline the geographic areas (known as "design envelopes") within which flightpaths could be positioned.

This is part of the Government's wider Airspace Modernisation Strategy aiming to make airspace more efficient by improving punctuality; cutting CO2 emissions; better managing noise by using multiple routes; reducing holding aircraft at low levels; and ensuring capacity to meet future demand.

As part of this, Heathrow is looking for feedback on how they might operate the runways in the future should they be granted consent for expansion. This will cover issues such as runway alternation and night flights.

The consultation will also set out proposed changes for the existing two runways. They will be consulting on an arrivals procedure known as independent parallel approaches ("IPA") to enable more efficient use of the current two runways.

In addition Heathrow is also planning specific consultation on a departure route known as 'Compton'. This will be separate to the main consultation. They are looking to redesign the route and so we will be asking for feedback on local factors they should take into account when doing so. More information will be available in the spring.

The nearest locations to attend a consultation are:

MAIDENHEAD

Thursday 7 February, 2-8pm

Nicholsons Shopping Centre,

Nicholsons Lane,

Maidenhead,

SL6 1LB

WINDSOR

Friday 8 February, 2-8pm

Windsor Youth and Community Centre,

Alma Road,

Windsor,

SL4 3HD

WOKING

Saturday 16 February, 10am-4pm

Tringham Hall, Benner Lane,

West End, Woking,

GU24 9JP


16 DEC 2018

John Howell MP welcomes £970 million boost to police funding

I have welcomed yesterday's announcement that funding for the police system will increase by up to £970 million next year, the biggest increase since 2010.

Police funding in the Thames Valley] could increase by up to £32.7 million in 2019-20 as a result of these changes. That is an increase of 8.4% - one of the highest.

I have also welcomed the Home Office's commitment to fighting serious and organised crime, including economic crime and drug trafficking, with a £90 million investment in national, regional and local capabilities.

Additionally, the settlement will again see £175 million going into the Police Transformation Fund, which includes investment for innovative new crime prevention techniques and a new national welfare service for front line officers, and £495 million for national police technology capabilities.

Commenting, I said:

"I am delighted that police funding in the Thames Valley could increase by up to £32.7 million next year.

"This is part of our balanced approach to the economy – spending on key public services while keeping taxes down and getting debt falling.

"The Conservative Party will always ensure that the police have the powers and resources needed to keep our citizens and communities safe."

Notes

Enabling an increase in funding for the police system of up to £970 million, the biggest increase since 2010, to ensure our police have the resources they need. This includes increases in government grant funding, full use of precept flexibility, funding to support pensions costs, and increased national funding to meet the threats from counter-terrorism and serious and organised crime (Home Office, Press release, 13 December 2018).

Increasing the general government grants to Police and Crime Commissioners by £161 million, protecting them in real terms. This includes additional funding and brings it to a total of £7.8 billion. Specific grants to the Metropolitan Police Service and City of London Police will increase by £14 million – an affordable increase that will better reflect the additional costs of policing London.

Allocating a further £153 million of specific grant funding to support the policing system with increases in pensions contributions. This follows the announcement at the Budget that the Government would allocate funding from the Reserve to pay part of the costs of increases in public sector pensions contributions in 2019-20. This funding will be distributed according to a methodology developed with police leaders.

Proposing to double the precept flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners to enable them to take decisions locally and explain to their electorate how this additional investment will help deliver a better police service. This year, we propose giving Police and Crime Commissioners the freedom to ask for an additional £2 a month in 2019-20, to increase their Band D precept by £24 in 2019-20, without the need to call a local referendum. We cannot say today how much the additional precept flexibility will raise, but last year the vast majority used their flexibility. If all Police and Crime Commissioners use their flexibility in full in 2019-20, based on the latest Office of Budget Responsibility tax base forecasts, it will mean around an additional £509 million public investment in our police system.


16 DEC 2018

John Howell MP welcomes £1.3 billion increase in councils' funding

I have welcomed the news that councils will receive a real terms increase in funding for vital local services.

The provisional local government finance settlement, published today, gives councils a real-terms increase in core spending power for 2019 to 2020 – up from £45.1 billion to £46.4 billion. This brings the level of local government funding to more than £200 billion in the five years to 2020.

The £1.3 billion funding boost allows councils to deliver the services residents need while protecting them from unfair hikes in their council tax bills.

This increase follows significant Government investment in local services announced at this year's Budget. The Government is giving councils £650 million for social care next year - building on the £240 million announced to relieve winter pressures on the NHS, £420 million to tackle potholes and £84 million more for children's social care.

The Government is supporting opportunity for every community across the country by increasing business rates retention to 75 per cent from 2020.

Commenting, I said:

"I'm delighted the Government is delivering a settlement which paves the way for a fairer, more self-sufficient and resilient future for local government and a brighter future for the people and places they serve.

"This settlement delivers a real-terms increase in spending for local authorities in 2019 to 2020 and gives them more control over the money they raise too, while protecting residents against excessive council tax rises."

Notes

New statistics show we are increasing core local government spending power in real terms from £45.1 billion in 2018-19 to £46.4 billion in 2019-2020 - a cash increase of £1.3 billion to deliver the high quality services communities need. This is the final year of a multi-annual settlement deal – worth over £200 billion in the five years to 2020 – that was accepted by 97 per cent of councils in return for publishing efficiency plans (MHCLG, Oral statement to Parliament, 13 December 2018).

Building on our strong support for communities at the Budget, where we committed £1 billion of extra funding for local services:

Delivering an extra £650 million next year for social care so that councils are able to provide quality care for the most vulnerable. Councils will receive £240 million in 2018-19 and another £240 million in 2019-20 to provide Adult Social Care. They will also receive £410 million to provide care for children and adults from next year. This support is on top of the £150 million for Adult Social Care we announced after consulting on the provisional Local Government Finance settlement (HM Treasury, Budget, 29 October 2018).

Giving councils £420 million to repair potholes and other minor works so that we can all live in communities we can be proud of. We will make £420 million available immediately via an uplift in the Highways Maintenance block grant to help tackle potholes, bridge repairs and other minor works. £150 million will also be made available to improve local traffic hotspots such as roundabouts (HM Treasury, Budget, 29 October 2018).

Committing £84 million to support children in care and £55 million to the disabled facilities grant so the most vulnerable get the help they need. This investment will help more children to stay at home safely with their families and provide home aids and adaptations for disabled children and adults on low incomes (HM Treasury, Budget, 29 October 2018).

Removing the cap placed on local council Housing Revenue Accounts, which prevents them from using their asset base to borrow to build more homes. This will allow councils to more than double the number of homes they build to around 10,000 each year (HM Treasury, Budget, 29 October 2018.


13 DEC 2018

Speech in Third Reading on Courts and Tribunals

John Howell

I spoke on Second Reading and pointed out the extent to which the courts were undergoing reform. A number of Members have commented on that today and I will not go over what I said in that earlier debate again. It is understood that we are seeing a major reform process and the work of Lord Briggs on this is well understood, but to judge the effectiveness of those reforms and this Bill we must determine whether it passes two tests. First, does it make it easier and swifter to obtain justice? Secondly, does it provide better access to justice? The Bill passes both tests.

The Bill provides better access to justice by making sure that is quicker and swifter, and achieves that by freeing up judges' time to focus on the most pressing cases. As I said on Second Reading, when I was on the Industry and Parliament Trust course I sat with judges and was able to see their enormous workload. Anything we can do to help free that up has to be a very good thing.

I echo, too, the comments of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on the planning and housing courts. I have sat with a judge on a planning court, and I thought it achieved a tremendous amount in bringing things together. I take particular pleasure in the work Lord Thomas has done on this, as a former Lord Chief Justice and a reforming Lord Chief Justice. He went out of his way to help reform the system and I am glad he is still doing so. The comments of Lord Neuberger have also been excellent.

I assure the Minister that I support this Bill.​


13 DEC 2018

Intervention in debate on Courts and Tribunals

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the hon. Lady comment on whether the qualification provision will raise the bar significantly above that in current regulations for such people and whether that will put at a disadvantage people already carrying out those functions?

Yasmin Qureshi

We are talking about two different things. The authorised persons are to have delegated to them many judicial functions, and it is only appropriate that they have some experience. In those circumstances, three years' post-qualification experience is not a big ask, obligation or burden. We are asking for the minimum, and we are being very reasonable and practical about it. We are only surprised that the Government are not taking our concerns on board and changing the rules.


12 DEC 2018

Vote of no confidence in the PM

I have been asked how I will vote tonight in the vote of no confidence in the PM. I will vote for the PM. We must let her complete the task she has started. Ths is not the moment for change.

Contacts from constituents this morning are running at close to 95% in favour of the Prime Minister. This is a time for calm heads and I am grateful for this support


12 DEC 2018

Intervention in debate on NHS staff

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

On a similar subject, is the hon. Lady aware that Oxford University Hospitals agreed today to fund the cost of obtaining settled status for EU nationals who work there?

Tracy Brabin

That is something that we have discussed with our trust. The cost should not necessarily fall on the shoulders of the people we want to employ, so that seems like a good thing.


12 DEC 2018

Questionnin debate on cat welfare

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge the role that cats play in the social fabric of our society, particularly for the elderly or vulnerable? They play a vital role in providing the comfort and companionship that those people are looking for.

Rehman Chishti

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will have seen the PDSA's PAW report, which talked about cats' five welfare needs, one of which is ​companionship. We talk about loneliness and the Government doing the right thing and people having the required environment to be happy, and what cats and animals do is absolutely amazing, so he makes a valid point.


12 DEC 2018

Speech and interventions on state aid

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I will not hold up the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) for very long, but I have just a couple of points that are too long to make as interventions; therefore, I felt the best thing to do would be to speak.

To pick up on the question of rights, a number of hon. Members spoke about a bonfire of rights that will come about as a result of our leaving the European Union. However, there is another organisation responsible for protecting those rights: the Council of Europe. We ignore that at our peril. I know that it is seen as a great thing in this country that we send no journalists along to Council of Europe meetings—we send along our delegation, if they can be spared by the Whips Office, but it is always a secondary thing—and yet the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) mentioned a case that was heard by the European Court of Human Rights. That does not belong to the European Union; it belongs to the Council of Europe, an independent organisation set up in 1948 with the aim of protecting ​ human rights in Europe. The ECHR, which the Council of Europe looks after, is a unique body. It is one where we, as council members, elect the judges to serve for individual countries, so it has a democratic legitimacy.

I think back to the various meetings that we have held over the past few years, and I can assure the hon. Lady that employee rights, whether in specific circumstances or more generally, have been on the agenda for discussion on many occasions. For example, on at least one occasion we have looked at the rights of employees to access information about themselves and their cases, in order to take forward what they want to do. This conversation seems to be a bit one sided. So far it has not looked at the bigger picture or taken into account what the Council of Europe does.

________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She is right to have secured this debate in this Chamber. Before she moves on to employment ​rights, I want to take her back to state aid. How does she think it will be different, given that the UK helped to develop the EU's state aid rules, and the withdrawal agreement says that there will be a level playing field, which suggests that the sort of things we see now will be incorporated?

Laura Smith

I think the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will come on to that issue, and specifically the level playing field, later in my speech. I hope that I will answer his question shortly.

_________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

I remind my hon. Friend of the European Social Charter, which we signed up to in 1961. Of the rights guaranteed by that charter, there are the

  • "the right to work, the right to organise"—
  • that is to be part of a trade union—
  • "the right to bargain collectively,
  • the right to social security,
  • the right to social and medical assistance,
  • the right to the social, legal and economic protection of the family,"

and so on. Those are just some of the rights protected by this Council of Europe treaty that we signed up to in 1961 and it stands completely outside whatever is agreed in the withdrawal agreement.

Chris Skidmore

I thank my hon. Friend for putting that on the record. I listened to his speech on the Council of Europe and know he is a dedicated member of it. I pay tribute to his work, which often goes unheralded in this place. We know that there are many colleagues from across all parties who do a great deal of work on behalf of the United Kingdom at the Council of Europe, and it is right that that is recognised in this debate.


11 DEC 2018

Written questions on Dean of Christ Church

Question:
To ask the Right Honourable Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what is the process for the legal separation of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford and the college of Christ Church. (199380)

Answer:
Dame Caroline Spelman:

The institution of Christ Church was founded as both a cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford and as a college of the University in 1546. The Statutes then conferred were revised under the 1867 Christ Church (Oxford) Act and later modified by successive Commissions in 1882 and 1926, and by various Orders of Her Majesty in Council, with major revisions in 1963 and in 2011.

An Act of Parliament or a Measure would be required to legally separate Christ Church Cathedral Oxford and the college of Christ Church. There is no move to legally separate College and Cathedral.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Question:
To ask the Right Honourable Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, whether the employment rights of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, are the same as those of a Dean of a stand-alone Anglican cathedral. (199381)

Answer:
Dame Caroline Spelman:

Christ Church Oxford is unique. The Dean of Christ Church is not subject to the same terms of service as deans of other cathedrals within the Church of England. The terms of service of the dean and the residentiary canons of the cathedral are set out in the Statues of Christ Church


05 DEC 2018

My speech on Free Schools and the Europa School, Culham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) for introducing this subject, because it is one that I have spent quite a considerable amount of my time specialising in within my constituency. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has been incredibly courteous to me over the years, meeting with me and with schools of all sizes so that we can discuss problems. I place on record my sincere thanks to him.

One thing that I have been able to do in specialising in this area is to visit every school in my constituency. I think, from memory, that that is more than 100 schools, which is quite a lot. I have not done that all in one year; I have done it over a number of years, given that we have only Fridays and that the schools are on holiday for quite a lot of the year. But I have done it; I have visited all of them.

I would like to mention one school in particular that fits in with the subject of this debate, the Europa School in Culham in my constituency. Before I describe it, I re-emphasis the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham made about how free schools offer considerable flexibility to reflect a particular way in which parents want their children to be taught. In this case, being a free school offers a particular mindset for how to approach the area, which we should all bear in mind.

The Europa School is the successor to the European School. I am not going to get into a Brexit debate—in fact, I was at a naval dinner last night where, if anyone mentioned the term "Brexit", they had to drink a large measure of neat rum.

Alex Cunningham

Brexit!

John Howell

While I would love that to be the case here, I suspect it will not occur.

The European School had a distinguished record. It was set up when lots of European parents were over to work at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy at Oxford University and at the Harwell science centre. For several reasons, the European School's funding dried up, so the Europa School was started as its successor, and has gradually taken over its workings.

The Europa School was set up as a free school, because that is what the parents wanted. They wanted the particular type of education that the European School offered to continue through the free school. That type of education was a way of approaching subjects in original languages. Children did not go and learn in French, Spanish, German or English. They were taught in all those languages, so they could end up having history in German or geography in Spanish, and so on throughout the complete list of subjects. That is a valuable way of teaching. The parents wanted that system to continue in the school, and it is being continued.

To encapsulate that teaching at the end of the process, the parents also wanted the children to take the European Baccalaureate, which offers a comprehensive system for evaluating children at roughly the equivalent A-level period that they would have to face. We need to hold fast to that in what I say next.

We must not forget that the school was principally set up to deal with parents of European origin in the area. The approach to teaching languages has proved immensely successful—so successful that we are now in a situation where non-European parents are desperate for their children to enter the school and be taught in that way. Because it is a free school, it can offer that way of teaching and it can say to the parents, "We can take your child in." To be honest, I think it is a superb way of being taught languages.

The problem comes about because of the European Baccalaureate. As I said, the school is desperate to continue teaching it, but there is some difficulty about the ownership of the copyright for it, and a distinction is being made as to whether that is in the gift of the European Commission or the Department. The school has had some interaction with the Department about the issue, which needs to be resolved. It is important because that way of teaching is very special, and people have become not only wedded to it, but so attracted to it that it attracts parents from a wide area. Earlier this year, I presented a petition from something like 2,500 or 3,000 parents and friends of the school in the House of Commons to try to encourage the Government to make sure that the European Baccalaureate can continue to be taught there.

There is something special about free schools, particularly in what they can teach and the way that they can teach it. The Europa School illustrates that above all, which is why I have spent the last few minutes telling hon. Members about it. It is a good example of how free schools work, how they can take the attitudes of parents and make them a reality, and how they can, in this case, through the European Baccalaureate, continue to offer something of enormous benefit to children. I think the Minister agrees that there is no issue of quality about the European Baccalaureate; it provides just the same quality that children would get if they were taking traditional A-levels. For that reason, I fully support the school.


04 DEC 2018

My 10 minute rule Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I beg to move, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to limit the grounds of appeal against decisions on planning applications consistent with a neighbourhood development plan or local plan; and for connected purposes.

I am introducing this Bill to try to provide reassurance to communities who spend considerable amounts of time and money producing a neighbourhood plan that their work is valued, that it plays an important part in the planning system and the determination of planning applications, and that, together with the local plan produced by the district or borough council, it is a fundamental document—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker

Order. This is something of a discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman who is moving his ten-minute rule motion. It might not be front and centre stage in the minds of all right hon. and hon. Members, but it is extremely important to the hon. Gentleman and to a lot of people. Whether people are interested in listening or not, they should do him the courtesy of affording him a respectful silence.

John Howell

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I want to reassure those communities that neighbourhood plans are fundamental documents and that the effort made in producing them is worthwhile. In my own constituency, two more plans recently passed referendums by 94% and 98%, which shows how much they are valued by communities. The Bill would provide that, where a district or parish has taken control of the planning requirements in their area, that view is an important and determining one for taking applications forward.

I introduce the Bill having held the position of Government champion for neighbourhood planning. In that role, I have been around the country talking to groups of parish councils and their Members of Parliament about why they should produce a neighbourhood plan. I am grateful to the many colleagues—far more than the 11 supporter slots available—who have supported the Bill.

In my constituency, in a village called Sonning Common, the local community and district council are reported to have spent £90,000 defending the village's new neighbourhood plan against an appeal. The subject of the appeal was an application for 95 dwellings on a site located in the neighbourhood plan for just 26. Why the application was able to be taken to appeal is part of the reason for the Bill. The application was inconsistent with the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan and there were no mitigating circumstances. Local residents had worked very hard on the neighbourhood plan, and continue to do so. The question we have to ask is: why was the existence of the neighbourhood plan not sufficient?

In order to set the scene for the Bill, I will go back to what prompted me and the then Planning Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), to introduce neighbourhood plans in 2011-12. The starting point was the recognition that the previous system of taking parish views on applications into account by ticking one of three boxes was inadequate. The boxes were: "yes", "no" and "no firm opinion". As we live in a plan-led system, it was crucial that anything that replaced it was part of the plan-led system—hence a new plan, the neighbourhood plan. This has proved to be a much better way of crystallising local views of development.

The neighbourhood plan becomes part of the local development plan when it is approved at a referendum and thereby carries the full legal weight that the local plan does. It is not a nimby's charter. The plan needs to conform with the strategic objectives of the local plan, particularly the housing numbers, which should be seen as a minimum figure, and they have in practice allocated some 10% more sites than originally detailed by the district or borough council. About 2,500 communities around the country are producing a neighbourhood plan, and many have already passed a referendum with North Korean-style majorities. Nevertheless, despite the work of the local plan expert group, on which I served, to simplify the production of neighbourhood plans, the process is becoming more complex and time-consuming for ordinary people to carry out, and I pay tribute to the volunteers who spend so much of their time putting these plans together.

There is a bigger problem that the Bill seeks to address. Imagine a parish that has committed considerable money and time to producing a neighbourhood plan. It has been through the exercise of allocating sites. It may even have allocated more than it was told was appropriate by the district council. A developer wants to make a planning application that falls outside the neighbourhood plan. He makes the application. It is rightly refused as being not in accordance with the neighbourhood plan, yet he can still appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. That appeal will need to be defended. It will require vast amounts of time from the local people who put the plan together. It may require the services of a QC or other specialists, depending on the nature of the defence. As at Sonning Common, they and the district council may end up having to spend around £100,000 on defending it. Moreover, the chances of the neighbourhood plan being upheld are open to doubt. In other words, all that effort and all that money could be wasted. The question I am always asked is why, when we have a neighbourhood plan, should the developer be allowed to appeal?

How would the Bill work? Let me give three examples. First, we have the situation where there is a robust five-year housing land supply in place—or indeed, where appropriate, a three-year housing land supply—as well as a fully approved neighbourhood plan and local plan. In this case, a developer makes an application for development that is contrary to the neighbourhood plan and is earmarked for refusal on the basis of neighbourhood plan policy. The local planning authority first decides that the application is outside the plan, or contravenes a policy in it, and refuses it. It also makes a formal decision, which is published as a formal notice in the minutes of the planning committee, that the application is contrary to the neighbourhood plan: in other words, that the neighbourhood plan holds sway. In this instance the developer would have no right of appeal, because it would be withdrawn.

In the second case, there is still a five or a three-year housing land supply, but in reaching its decision, the local planning authority does not follow due process. It makes a decision in which there are processual errors. It is not possible to evaluate the significance or impact of those errors, and whether that would ensure that the decision could be overturned or whether it would make no difference at all. In this case, too, the finding of fact is that the application is contrary to a neighbourhood plan. The developer would have to make an initial referral to the court by way of judicial review of the processual issues, meaning that the bar for decision was a high one, and he would seek leave to appeal to the planning inspectorate. It would be for the court to review the processual errors rather than the issue of fact.

In the third example, there is no five or three year-housing land supply, but the local planning authority still refuses the application. In this case, the rights of the developer to appeal against the application to the planning inspectorate would continue as now. That would have a number of effects. First, it would send a strong message to developers that neighbourhood plans are to be taken seriously. I am fully aware of one developer who has devoted considerable resources to undermining neighbourhood plans and regularly submits objections to local planning authorities. The issuing of a notice by the local planning authority makes it clear that there is a finding of fact that the application is contrary to a neighbourhood plan.

Secondly, only through such action will we return real democracy to the towns and villages of this country, as we originally envisaged in the Localism Act 2011. It will have no bad effect on housing numbers: as I have said, neighbourhood plans provide for some 10% more housing than originally envisaged. It could even make the allocation of land for more houses more attractive to towns and villages, because they will be protected from rapacious interests. Thirdly, it will give those towns and villages confidence that producing a neighbourhood plan is worthwhile, and will be seen as producing a determinant for the planning system.

Fourthly, this can be seen as another step in the reform of the neighbourhood planning system, which has adapted to changing circumstances throughout. First, there was the Barwell ministerial statement, which in certain circumstances reduced the housing land supply to three years. More recently, changes have been included to simplify the process for updating a neighbourhood plan.

Lastly, the Bill will encourage communities to prepare plans, including local district and borough councils, and to support neighbourhood plans. Our Local Plans Expert Group report quoted the then national planning policy framework, which states that plans should be

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

However, we also commented that less than a third of the country was suitably covered. There are many examples of good practice in plan making; the Bill will add to that stock of good practice.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That John Howell, Sir Oliver Letwin, Sir Nicholas Soames, Sir David Evennett, Nick Herbert, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, David Hanson, Kevin Hollinrake, Gillian Keegan, Victoria Prentis, Damien Moore and Stephen Lloyd present the Bill.

John Howell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019 and to be printed (Bill 300).


03 DEC 2018

Question in Statement of the PM on G20

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I refer my right hon. Friend to what she said about renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. How will that support the 30% renewable energy target in Nigeria, a country that cannot provide electricity to half its population?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing that out. The point of the intervention we are making and the money that we are making available is that it will help to leverage private finance. It is through Government working together with private finance that we will be able to ensure that projects can come on board in a number of countries in Africa.


29 NOV 2018

Question about the Dean of Christ Church

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What support the Church of England is providing to the Dean of Christ Church cathedral Oxford in the case brought against him by Christ Church college. [907932]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Dame Caroline Spelman)

At this stage, there is little more that I can add to the written answer that I gave my hon. Friend on Monday. A formal tribunal process is under way, following the statutes of Christ Church, and that will enable the complaint made against the dean to be properly investigated.

John Howell

I have spoken to the Bishop of Oxford, and I am a little more reassured about the pastoral care that is being made available for the dean, but this raises the important question of why an Anglican cathedral is so much in the pocket of an Oxford college.

Dame Caroline Spelman

I can reassure the House that the Bishop of Oxford is giving pastoral support to the Dean, and I know that he went out of his way to speak to my hon. Friend. This is a very unusual case in the Church of England—the dean of a cathedral is at the same time the master of a college—but I must underline that the complaint against the Dean is an internal matter for the college, and neither the Church Commissioners nor the wider Church of England has any role in that process.


28 NOV 2018

Intervention in debate on sex for rent

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I praise the hon. Gentleman for rightly highlighting this disgusting activity. Does he have a feel for why this is increasing now?

Peter Kyle

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. A little later in my speech, I will highlight the fact that we have a perfect storm in certain cities and towns in our country. The housing crisis and the high cost of accommodation, combined with access to online platforms and the fact that university towns draw young people in, have created a perfect storm for exploitation in this way.


28 NOV 2018

Intervention in debate on Offensive Weapons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I hear what my hon. Friend says about the national co-ordination centre. From my experience talking to my local police force, I recognise that crime is interlinked. We can talk about drugs and we can talk about weapons, but they are interlinked issues, and they are interlinked with so many other things. We are asking the police to think holistically in how they look at these issues so that they can put into place a better strategy for dealing with these problems.

Victoria Atkins

That is very much the case. Indeed, in my previous career prosecuting serious organised crime, on occasions we prosecuted organised crime gangs for, for example, the importation of counterfeit cigarettes, because that is what we could get them on. We suspected that they were importing other things, because if they had the lines open to import one type of illicit material, it followed that they probably had the ability to important other illicit materials. Sadly, as we get better at identifying modern slavery, we know that that can also include people.


27 NOV 2018

Speech on Courts and Tribunals Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), not least because, like her, I am not a lawyer. I think the more non-lawyers who speak in this debate, the better it will be, because we bring common sense to such a debate, which I am afraid from time to time legally qualified Members do not.

I was, however, completely entranced by the description of justices' clerks given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). I thought that my opportunity had now come, because these were non-legally qualified people who had a role to play, and I thought, "This is an opportunity for me when I finish here". Sadly, however, even that has been taken away from me.

If I may, I will just pick up on one of the things that the hon. Member for Bristol West mentioned when she talked about other things distracting us from our examination of this area. I think this is just the sort of Bill that we need to concentrate on. I do not think we should be distracted by other things, because the Bill is crucial to the management of justice and of our courts.

Thangam Debbonaire

I just wish to clarify my point about Members being distracted. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is exactly the sort of Bill we should be focusing on, but my concern is that Members are distracted by the wider constitutional impact of the word beginning with B, which I will not mention.

John Howell

I am sure some Members are distracted by that, but I am incredibly pleased that neither she nor I are, and that we are going to concentrate on the Bill in a very big way.

I mentioned in an intervention on the Lord Chancellor that I was actually the first Member of Parliament to go on the Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship in law. It was a particularly enlightening experience. I cannot remember the number of days that I was allocated, but I doubled the number of days I spent on it, because I spent most of the time sitting alongside judges, on the bench, listening to what they did. The number of different courts I saw was tremendous—I remember starting in the commercial courts, which I will come back to in a little while. They represented such a technological advance on all the other courts I sat in on, and that was a really good thing to see.

To go back to a point I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the first thing that came out of that experience of sitting alongside judges was an absolute admiration for their integrity and for what they did and how they did it. The second thing was an understanding of how overworked they are. As non-lawyers, we perhaps tend to think of judges just turning up, sitting and listening to the case, and giving judgment, but the amount of preparation that goes into hearings is phenomenal. That was a good thing to see and experience, and it applied whether it was the bankruptcy court or the Court of Appeal, in which I sat on two occasions.

The point I made to my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor earlier was about the speed of justice. I am not a great advocate of speed in itself, but I think there is a threat to English law: not Brexit, but the ability of our courts to dispense justice on a timely basis. When I sat in with judges, I saw that they were often so preoccupied with the minor administrative elements of their role they did not have time to dispense justice in what I would consider a timely manner. That was the case whether I was sitting in a higher court or, in particular, in a tribunal—I will come on to tribunals in a moment. Efficiency in making judgments and delivering English justice is one of the hallmarks of the justice system and one that we lose at our peril. If that point alone is made, it is made well.

One issue I would like to raise, which may at first not seem immediately applicable to the Bill, is the age of judges. I believe it does apply to the Bill, because consideration is being given to other people taking on judicial functions. The point about age has also been raised in relation to the magistracy, and it also applies to lords justices and others. When the Lord Chief Justice appeared before the Justice Committee last week, we asked him about the age of justices and he explained that there were mechanisms by which they could be extended beyond the age of 70 in certain capacities. However, that is an artificial cut-off—if we were stopped from being MPs at 70, I think there would be shouts of horror. Some of us—I am nowhere near that age now—would consider that we were being cut off in the prime of our life. The same is the case with judges. They have acquired a tremendous amount of experience, principally as barristers. They have had a lot of judicial experience, and they are just coming to the point where they can use that experience in the best possible way. I therefore think it is necessary to look at extending the age at which judges retire to beyond 70. To be able to do that, we must look at the courts in a holistic way.

Robert Neill

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The coalition Government, as I am sure he will know, increased the age at which members of the public could sit as jurors to 75. It seems quite bizarre that a lay person who is fit, healthy and willing to serve can sit as a juror up to the age of 75, but people of that age cannot sit as a judge of the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court—unlike in the United States, where they can go on for a considerable time.

John Howell

I am not sure I would like to follow the experience of the United States in this matter, but my hon. Friend makes an absolutely first-class point. There needs to be a consistent approach to the age at which we can use people or force them to retire.

There is a lot to be said for the system in the Bill that would enable people to undertake some activities undertaken by judges. As an aside, I said that I am a non-lawyer, but I am currently seeking to extend my ability to undertake arbitration—I hope that that does not cut across or invalidate what I am saying. Such an ability is an important element of the mix that needs to be taken into account when we are looking at the judicial system as a whole.

When I was involved in sitting with judges for the fellowship, I was very much aware of the difference between courts in digitalisation and technology. In the commercial court, the system was utterly brilliant. I sat with a judge who was listening to an English law case in Portuguese. The transcript of the English translation appeared almost instantaneously on his laptop on his desk in front of him. The use of technology to get information out was absolutely fantastic. As I said to the Lord Chancellor, however, employment tribunals might as well have still been using the quill pen, they were so antiquated—not the judgments being made, but how the courts were organised and delivered justice. If we want access to justice, it is absolutely essential that the process of digitalisation in courts is seen through to the end. It materially influences access to justice.

When I sat in the Court of Appeal, prisoners appealed their sentences via video link. It was clearly not a good idea to bring the prisoners into court, so video links were used all the time to great effect, enabling judgments to be made. There were some discrepancies. For example, it took some time to get the focus right for some prisoners. I understand that that was due to the camera equipment, rather than the features of the prisoners.

When I started my work as chairman of the all-party group on alternative dispute resolution, I had the opportunity to speak to Lord Briggs about his proposals for the justice system as a whole. The Bill moves us closer towards what Lord Briggs was after, but it does not take us all the way to it. For example, the digitisation of divorce is welcome, but his proposal for online courts is very valuable. I know that that is controversial among lawyers, but it is important to enabling both the delivery of justice and access to justice. I would like that process to be extended beyond the scope of the Bill, so that we can receive and transmit electronic evidence in the handling of individual court cases. Anything that can move the legal profession into the 21st century is to be welcomed.

If I may, I would like to give a plug to the Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship. Having been the first to go on it, I recommend that hon. Members absolutely do so. The experience of sitting alongside judges is absolutely first class. My first appearance in court—if I can put it that way—was in a commercial court. I went to the court with the judge. We were just about to go through the door and I said, "I shall just go and sit at the back of the court." He said, "What do you mean? You're sitting up next to me in the court." It was a great shock to me—

Robert Neill

A great shock to the defendant.

John Howell

It was a great shock to the barristers, particularly when I sat in the planning court and the barrister was well known to me. We played a little trick on him by coming in through different doors so that he was unaware of who we were.

The point of all that is that it is a very valuable training scheme. The more that people can go on it, the more there will be an understanding of the issues raised in the Bill and of the need to bring the courts into the 21st century.

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John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend may be aware that I did an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship in the law with judges, and my experience of the different courts I went to showed the enormous gap between the commercial courts, which were technologically very superior, and the tribunal system, where we might as well have been using a quill pen. Is this going to solve that problem?

Mr Gauke

Our court reform programme as a whole, which I will come on to, will ensure that we use technology wherever possible. It is right that we embrace that. The Bill is part of the process—it is not all of the process—that will ensure that we modernise. I have quoted in the past ways in which artificial intelligence, for example, is being used within the legal profession. An example I have given is a case where AI was used to check a number of contracts to spot potential errors. The rate of success of the AI was somewhat better than that of the experienced lawyers, and if I remember rightly the task was done in 26 seconds rather than 92 minutes. I make that point to illustrate the opportunities that exist in terms of technology and the law.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

My right hon. Friend is being generous with his time. The place where these changes can have the most effect is in the tribunal system. I have sat through tribunals that have lasted for days for no good reason, tying up three independent assessors. Surely, it is there that the changes he proposes can have the biggest effect.

Mr Gauke

My hon. Friend may well be right. The Bill of course relates to courts and tribunals, and it is important to bear in mind the impact on tribunals. Tribunals perhaps do not always attract the attention that they might, but they play a vital role within our justice system. If we can find ways to improve their efficiency, we should all welcome that. That is a key part of what this Bill is about.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

May I take my hon. Friend back to where he left off? Does he agree that the threat to the use of English law around the globe comes about from the efficiency or otherwise of the judges, and that the more that judges are unable to be efficient in giving a judgment, the more there is a threat to the use of English law? Does he agree that this Bill goes a long way towards trying to sort that out?

Robert Neill

Yes, I do. That is very important, and that is why it is not surprising that experienced former judges have expressed a view on this. We have referred to the former President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, and the immediate past Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. I note also the observations of Lord Thomas's predecessor, the noble Lord Judge. They all supported the thrust of this Bill in enabling more flexible deployment of judges within tribunals and the assignment of procedural matters to non-judicial court staff. They also warned about not unduly fettering the ability of the court procedure rules committees, which have on them practitioner representatives who are able to set matters in the light of their practical experience. That is absolutely right, and it in no way contradicts the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham about the need to have the requisite number of top-class members of the judiciary. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) that this is a sensible and proportionate Bill.


27 NOV 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Ukraine and Russia

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May I urge my right hon. Friend not simply to ignore the Council of Europe when he considers European action? Will he support the work that I and others have been doing to prevent the readmission of Russia to that organisation?

Alistair Burt

As my hon. Friend will know, I do not ignore anything related to Europe—either the European Union or the Council of Europe. I welcome the collective action that we take through our friends, and will continue to do so. I value the Council of Europe, and my hon. Friend's expression of support for it is well made.


27 NOV 2018

Speech on Nigeria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate. It is a great pleasure to participate in it.

I will leap in straightaway, since we do not have much time. I, too, believe that President Buhari has not done enough to focus on the problem. He came to power with a radical agenda to get rid of Boko Haram, and he has been partially successful. As hon. Members have pointed out, however, some Boko Haram insurgents have transformed into terrorists in the country, and they might well be fuelling this particular crisis.

Since we last spoke in this Chamber about the issue, one of the major things to have emerged is the intensity of the problem and of the killings that are taking place. It is always possible to blame the President for what happens in a country, but let us remember that President Buhari faces action in the International Criminal Court for what he has done against Boko Haram. That is quite remarkable, but it is not surprising that his focus has been elsewhere. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) pointed out, the real focus in Nigeria is not the national Administration but the state governorships. I particularly condemn the governor of Ekiti state, Mr Fayose, who encouraged farmers to take up arms against the Fulani herdsmen. That was not helpful—it just increased tensions and killings in the country. We should ensure that we condemn that.

I have said several times in this Chamber that President Buhari was summoned to Parliament and condemned following the recent killings, and that a no-confidence motion was passed in respect of his advisers because they had done nothing to solve the problem. President Buhari was the first African leader to go to the White House, in April. I am afraid that President Trump's involvement with the situation in Nigeria was less than helpful—he made a rather simplistic judgment and did not put pressure on President Buhari to take action. We need to put pressure on the state governors and the national Government to do something.

One good solution to the situation would be for the national Government not to look at it solely in military terms. I do not think it will be solved by a military operation. It will be solved by political activism. There is a Bill before the Nigerian Parliament, which is known in shorthand as the land grazing Bill, that would allow national grazing reserves to be set aside for Fulani herdsmen to use without coming into contact or conflict with Christian farmers. We should support that and other actions the Nigerian Parliament is taking to solve this problem.

The situation is complex. It is wrong to characterise the conflict just as a religious one. It certainly has strong religious elements and overtones, but it has been going on for many years—it was going on before Open Doors became involved and long before we became aware of it. We can see that it is more than just a religious conflict by looking at the timing of the killings, which increase around national elections. That is instructive.

I always have poverty in my mind when I carry out my work in Nigeria. I am absolutely committed to trying to help the Nigerian Government improve the impoverished situation of many of people. I have explained on a number of occasions that that is in our best interests, because it enables us to prevent mass migration from Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, but it is also in Nigeria's best interests. We need to put pressure on the Nigerian Government and the state governors to solve this problem in order to deal firmly and finally with poverty.

Jim Shannon

Given his knowledge of Nigeria, can the hon. Gentleman see any reason why the Nigerian Government have been reluctant, unable or unwilling to respond to the high levels of violence?

John Howell

That is an interesting question. There is an ethnicity element to it. President Buhari comes from the area that identifies with the Fulani. I am not going to make that point more strongly. I do not know the extent to which that ethnic belonging influences him and his actions. All I will say is that I agree that less action has been taken in this area than anyone would have liked.

Since I am running out of time, let me conclude by saying that this issue is enormously important. I know the high commission raises it very frequently with the Nigerian Government. It is technically outside my remit as trade envoy, but in a country such as Nigeria, one cannot focus on one issue—they all interlock and play a part. I will continue to put pressure on the Nigerian Government to ensure that something occurs to resolve the situation.


27 NOV 2018

Contribution to debate on 100 years of the RAF

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that technology can be seen today in the helicopter fleets, particularly in the way in which the Puma has been used in the Caribbean to tackle the problems that arose from the hurricane? That technology is inspiring apprentices all the way through.

Martin Whitfield

Indeed, the multifaceted skills and techniques in the machinery and in the individuals who make up the RAF do inspire and save. To use an old ​phrase, the RAF is one of the greatest ambassadors that this country has at times like that of the recent hurricane.


26 NOV 2018

Speech on fireworks

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris).

When the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) started her speech, she made a throwaway remark about how, when we think about fireworks, we might look back to our childhoods. I do not look back to my childhood when thinking about fireworks, because the displays I attended were absolutely awful.

I have three reasons for not looking back to those firework displays with much enthusiasm. First, I do not think much of Guy Fawkes night. Why we celebrate the burning of a Catholic on that occasion is bizarre. Why we go to the effort of throwing the guy on the fire and letting off fireworks in celebration of it seems strange. Secondly, enormous effort is put into letting off fireworks and, frankly, I found that effort too much when I had smaller children and was a child myself. Thirdly, for many years, until she died, I had a Labrador as a pet. We, too, had to take measures to ensure that she was out of the way when firework displays took place.

I do, however, like some displays. Almost every year on new year's eve, I come to the House of Commons, partly for the sociability of the occasion, but also to see the Eye firework display across the Thames, which is spectacular. We can look at the displays that take place in other parts of the world—Sydney, for example—but the display put on from the Eye by the London authorities shows this city as the brilliant city that it really is. I enjoy that myself, and bringing friends and family.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)

The hon. Gentleman is making a rather curmudgeonly speech about fireworks, if he does not mind me saying so. I understand the point he makes about the huge display here in London, but a great deal of enjoyment is found by many different people in smaller displays in their local communities. My children greatly enjoy going to our back window to see the displays over Chesterfield, such as on fireworks night. Smaller displays can be tremendously enjoyable, but we are all concerned about those people who use them irresponsibly or cause danger. They are the ones we want to clamp down on.

John Howell

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I will try to be less curmudgeonly. I did not intend to sound like that, and am sorry it came across that way.

I was introduced to this subject by my local paper, the Henley Standard, which before Guy Fawkes this year ran a campaign, Ban the Bangs. I fully support it, though I had some observations to make about it. The people who participated in the campaign were principally pet owners—dog and cat owners—and one said that she and her dog "tremble uncontrollably" and "are very, very upset". It is important to bear that in mind.

The campaign was trying to push people to go to organised displays. Despite comments that have been made, in my constituency such displays are organised not just by the district and county councils but by individual parish councils—I will come on to say something about that—which are good displays organised by the parish councillors themselves.

I was struck by something said by one of the participants in the campaign:

"I don't want to spoil people's fun but why are they so loud?"

That is an important point: we do not want to spoil people's fun, but why are fireworks so loud?

The hon. Member for Warrington North referred to silent fireworks in response to my intervention. I appreciate that they are not entirely silent, but they are a lot more so and they could play a part in dealing with the situation, although they do not take away the whole problem. They take away the noise problem and the argument about fireworks being very loud, but they do not take away the problem of flashes, which often cause the most distress to animals. Many animals can cope with the increased noise—they cope with things such as traffic backfiring all the time—but they cannot cope with the sudden flashes. Although silent fireworks have their role to play, they do not answer the whole question.

There is a tremendous amount in the idea of us working together to provide organised displays for people to go to. The parish council of the village that I used live in was a little like Ipswich, I think, in that it organised a display each year on the green, which the whole village came to. It was always well organised. I cannot recall in the 20-odd years that I lived there ever seeing an accident there, and it was a good illustration of what can be achieved.

I understand the need for the campaign, but—perhaps I am being curmudgeonly again—we ought to push for intelligence, common sense and courtesy to rule, three of the rarest elements in the universe. We should push for intelligence on how to use fireworks, common sense in how to organise an event, and courtesy, which the hon. Member for Nottingham North spoke of, to tell people when we are planning to have a display. The Government have some public awareness: they produce "Celebrating with bonfires and fireworks: a community guide." It is time that that was updated to take into account the sort of activities organised by councils, so that they would be as safe as they could be.

I return to where I started: I like the big firework displays—I love the one in London—but, quite honestly, if I had to give up one for the other, I would happily give up the individual displays and go for the big displays that have all the razzmatazz I am looking for. Every new year, I stand open mouthed watching the display at the London Eye. It adds quite a lot to this city.


22 NOV 2018

Welcome for air space consultation

I have welcomed the announcement that Heathrow will be holding a consultation starting in January 2019 on airspace use. The Airspace and Future Operations consultation will ask questions about future airspace use and how the airport will operate. The consultation will refer to the airspace design principles determined through an earlier consultation and will outline the geographic areas (known as "design envelopes") within which flightpaths could be positioned.

This is part of a wider Airspace Modernisation Strategy which aims to make airspace more efficient by improving punctuality; cutting CO2 emissions; better managing noise by using multiple routes; reducing holding aircraft at low levels; and ensuring capacity to meet future demand. It will also be seeking feedback on how Heathrow might operate the runways in the future.

The consultation will also set out proposed changes for the existing two runways. Heathrow will be consulting on an arrivals procedure known as independent parallel approaches ("IPA") to enable more efficient use of the current two runways.

What I said was:

"Like all of us who have raised the issue of the low levels at which aircraft are held as they make their approach to Heathrow over Henley on an easterly wind, this consultation will give us an excellent opportunity to make our views known. Personally, I am keen to see the end of the system known as stacking whereby aircraft are held in a loop either side of Heathrow as they descend. I am also keen to ensure that aircraft are brought in at a much higher level than currently."

Further details on how to participate in this consultation will be provided over the course of the next month.

Heathrow is also currently consulting with the Local Authority on an Emerging Draft Statement of Community Consultation which sets out the approach Heathrow will undertake in relation to consulting with the community during the statutory consultation, and includes details such as when they will hold the consultation, who they will consult and how they will consult.


22 NOV 2018

Speech on legal services post Brexit

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I will not speak for very long, but I want to raise an important point about international arbitration while wearing my hat as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution, which looks at arbitration, mediation and other forms of dispute resolution.​

I was pleased to see that the withdrawal agreement commits us to international arbitration to resolve any disputes between us and the European Union as we exit it. That is a very positive step forward and a good compromise to have received from the European Union. I pay tribute to the authors of the withdrawal agreement for getting the EU to agree to that. I put so much emphasis on international arbitration because it is arguably a cheaper and much quicker way of resolving disputes. As we have heard, we are a leading centre for arbitration, as the number of people who come to us from around the world indicates. They do that because of our distinguished judges and arbitrators, and because English law is admired around the world.

I raised that issue with the Lord Chief Justice this week, and I asked him how secure he is in believing that we will be able to continue with this regime after Brexit. He said, first, that it is difficult to see it continuing unless we do something about the fact that the number of judges is so diminished at the moment. That is a very important point. Arbitration is not solely based on judges, but we need judges with a great deal of experience.

The second thing he said—I made this point in an intervention—is that we need to be more aware of the alternative centres that are emerging around the world to deal with arbitration. I mentioned Singapore, which has put tremendous effort into developing a commercial solution. I hope that in the summer recess—assuming we still have one—I will be able to go out to Singapore to see for myself how its arbitration courts work and what sort of cases they deal with. We should be concentrating on those important things.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) said that legal services make an enormous contribution to the UK's economic activity. I will not repeat what he said about them, other than to underline their phenomenal contribution.

I want much more emphasis to be put on tying up the elements that I have mentioned. We should not take for granted our legal position as the pre-eminent jurisdiction for arbitration. Our officials need some fight to ensure that we keep our jurisdiction and our reputation so that we can continue with that.

I stress the importance of ensuring that we have some sort of reciprocal arrangement for the family courts. My hon. Friend mentioned Brussels II and the maintenance regulations that apply to it. It is not the ideal form of governance of the situation with the European Union, but it is undoubtedly better than what preceded it, and we should be very careful about throwing it out.

I was disappointed not to see more in the withdrawal agreement about the protection of legal services. There is a gap there. It would have been nice to see more about how they will operate in the new environment and about how qualifications will continue to be recognised beyond the transition period. Those points have already been made, but I am happy to make them again because they are important and we need an answer.

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John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. Surely one of the biggest threats to the UK comes from Singapore, which is developing a good range of courts to tackle commercial issues. I have raised the subject on several occasions, but there does not appear to be a united Government front to see off the threat from Singapore.

Mr Djanogly

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Other jurisdictions are also mounting challenges. We must avoid doing anything that might impair the reputation of the sector.

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John Howell

My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. I am not sure that I heard him mention the family courts in his list of things that we need to establish good relationships over. The family courts are very important, because sadly the amount of work that they undertake—on both sides of the channel—is growing. There is enormous mutual responsibility for them.

Mr Djanogly

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. The Brussels II regulation is a single legal instrument that helps families resolve disputes about divorce and the custody of children where they involve parties in more than one EU state. Under the regulation, EU courts automatically recognise judgments on matrimonial and parental responsibility that are delivered in other states. That will no longer apply to the UK when we have left the EU. Similarly, the maintenance regulation, which helps to ensure the payment of maintenance in cross-border situations, will no longer apply.

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John Howell

My hon. Friend is stressing the role of the family courts, but he might also want to mention the ability to handle child abduction equally on both sides.

Robert Neill

That is entirely right. Some of the worst examples, before we developed the mutual enforceability of judgments, related to child abduction. In cases involving non-EU states, in which we are a third country, the parent here—frequently the mother—was at a significant legal disadvantage and did not have the protections that we have under the current arrangements, particularly the recast Brussels arrangements. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that issue.


21 NOV 2018

Speech on Nursing Education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith), especially because she was a nurse. Incidentally, on her point that nurses are more popular than politicians, when the Houses of Parliament burnt down in the 1830s, the cheers could be heard from Westminster Bridge, where people took out their frustration with politicians.

It is wrong to approach this debate in an aggressive "them and us" spirit. We all aim to increase the funding for nurses to an appropriate and proper level. I agree that nurses do a fantastic job, but we should acknowledge those nurses who are involved in end-of-life care—in my hospital, they work closely with social care staff.

However, before addressing that, I should say that, only last week, I visited my hospital in Henley—Townlands Memorial Hospital—with the previous Minister for Health. I extend an invitation to the current Minister to visit the hospital, which has a unique way of doing business. We and the NHS see it as an exemplar in the country. We spoke to a number of nurses about the services they provide, particularly in relation to the rapid access care unit, which looks after people above a certain age very well—they typically seek treatment there. I pay tribute to those nurses.

In our conversation with the nurses, we raised the point about funding for their education. We had a very mature discussion about the lack of bursaries following Government action. As a result, there was a general agreement that the situation that existed with the bursaries was not particularly helpful to nurses seeking to become part of the nursing profession—the NHS effectively generated a cap on the number of people who applied—and that we need a system that encourages people to become nurses as well as go into other professions. We pointed out that, under the bursary system, 30,000 people who applied to become nurses were rejected, which is not a good situation.

We went on to discuss other things in relation to the nursing profession. In particular, the one thing they saw as inhibiting people from becoming a nurse was the price of housing, which is astronomical in the Henley constituency. We need a tremendous amount of affordable housing, to help people to get a start on the housing ladder, and to provide them with rented accommodation where possible.

In addition to visiting the hospital, I have worked with parish councils to encourage them to provide much smaller buses on much tighter routes to give people the ability to travel from their home to their job.

I have been told that the shortage of staff was due to EU nationals leaving, but when I raised that issue with the matron, it emerged that that was not the case at all—the shortage was due to operational reasons.


21 NOV 2018

Question on Ebola

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Terrorists and refugees are extremely mobile. How adequate are the plans the Minister has announced for neighbouring countries to meet that challenge?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the risk of this outbreak being contagious across borders, given how close it is to the Ugandan border. The WHO and others are working with neighbouring countries to make sure that people are screened at the border, that there is a sufficient supply of vaccines and, as I mentioned earlier, that vaccines are approved for use within countries. We are taking all the steps we can, but what makes this outbreak so challenging is, as he rightly says, the prevalence of violent individuals disrupting the work of the health workers and peacekeepers.

 


20 NOV 2018

Question on Interpol

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Minister agree that the election of this Russian will undermine the work we are doing at the Council of Europe and will undermine the European Court of Human Rights, which the Council looks after and where the cases against Russia mount daily?

Harriett Baldwin

I pay tribute to the fantastic work that my hon. Friend does as part of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe. We value that strongly. This question is tightly constrained around the topic of the Interpol presidency election. A wide number of international organisations form an important part of the rules-based international order, and it will be the UK's position to support the working of that rules-based international order in all those organisations.


20 NOV 2018

Interventions in Finance Bill debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am not going to quote Cicero, although I am perfectly able to do so, but I think the debate needs to progress as it should do. Is the cut in stamp duty, particularly for shared ownership schemes, going to have a major impact? Has my hon. Friend done any assessment of how much that is going to affect the people who are trying so desperately hard to get on to the housing ladder in his constituency and in mine? Does he have anything to support this argument?

Alex Burghart

I have no doubt that a cut in stamp duty will help homebuyers across the country, in his constituency and in mine. I am lucky to represent a constituency in Essex, near London. Our area has much to recommend it, but the price of housing is high. We are going through a programme of home building, reflecting the Government's broader ambitions. I know from knocking on doors and speaking to young people and their parents that it is difficult to get on that housing ladder. Every incremental improvement that this Government can make on things such as stamp duty helps to make the dream of home ownership a reality for those young people and their families.

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John Howell

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that entrepreneurs' relief is aimed at securing longer-term investment? This country has been very used to short-term investment, but it has done nothing for us. We need people to invest in the longer term.

Mel Stride

My hon. Friend is exactly right. This is why we also have the enterprise investment scheme and the seed enterprise investment scheme, and why we have ​made this change to entrepreneurs' relief. An interesting fact is that of those who benefit from the entrepreneurs' relief, around a third go on to reinvest in further businesses, so those tax savings are being reinvested in further economic activity.


20 NOV 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Johnston Press

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Secretary of State agree that we should be celebrating a good news story today, in that all operations have continued and will continue in the future? Does he agree that the company has spoken clearly about both keeping employee rights and ensuring that the newspaper titles continue to be printed?

Jeremy Wright

My hon. Friend is right—the alternatives available to Johnston Press at this stage were immeasurably worse. As I set out to the House at the outset, a number of steps were taken to seek an alternative course, none of which was successful. He is right to recognise that, at this point at least, all the titles continue and all jobs have been retained, but of course, as we have discussed this afternoon, there are many long-term challenges facing not just that company but others in the same space.


19 NOV 2018

Question in DWP questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What recent steps the Government have taken to support care leavers into employment. [907658]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Justin Tomlinson)

This Government are committed to supporting care leavers. We have introduced a £1,000 bursary to those starting an apprenticeship, extended paid internship opportunities across Government, launched a care leaver covenant and are upskilling our Jobcentre Plus staff.

John Howell

What work is the Minister doing with Barnardo's, and what impact is the See Potential programme having?

Justin Tomlinson

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who made it a personal priority of hers to introduce Barnardo's not only to help train and improve the guidance for all of our frontline staff, but to offer a comprehensive work experience programme and opportunities for care leavers. This is a vital part of our See Potential work, as we unlock their undoubted potential.


18 NOV 2018

Health Minister visits Townlands

I invited then Health Minister, Steve Barclay MP, to visit Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley last Thursday.  Townlands is an exmplar of how the NHS can organise its services across discsipline and not in silos.  The level of integration with Social Services and changes in attitudes of clinicians is impressive.  It was important to show these to the Minister.

The Minister met with several people including Steve McManus, Chief Executive of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and Pete McGrane, Clinical Director for Community Services, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Following initial discussion the Minister toured the unit talking with staff in the Outpatients Clinic, the Minor Injuries Unit, the Rapid Access Care Unit, and the Care Home. The Minister was keen to hear from staff about how things worked and what feedback they would like him to take back to the Department of Health. It was particularly good to show him the beds in the Care Home at the side of the hospital.


14 NOV 2018

Oxford-MK-Cambridge Expressway

I and Ed Vaizey MP (Wantage and Didcot) met with the Minister of State for Transport Jesse Norman MP and representatives of Highways England to discuss the Oxford Cambridge Expressway, the A34, and the A420.

Both of us secured assurances from the Minister that there would be detailed consultation with local residents for the final route of the Oxford Cambridge expressway. A route corridor has been chosen and Highways England are currently considering route options within that corridor. There is a long list of around 100 routes which will be narrowed down to a short list of under 10 for public consultation in late 2019.

We also made clear our views that any work on the Expressway should include upgrades in safety and capacity on the roads in the South Oxfordshire area, in particular the A34 and A420. Specifically, Mr Vaizey ordered for upgrades to the A420 that would ensure it could form part of an east-west arc linking Swindon to oxford and Cambridge.

Mr Vaizey said "The South Oxfordshire Area is one of the most productive economic areas outside of London. The A420 connects the major economic centres of Swindon and Oxford and is currently dangerous and congested, particularly at rush hour. I would like to see the Oxford Cambridge Arc extended to Swindon along the A420 and improvement works for that road should be included as part of the plan."

I said "I have long argued that the Oxford-Milton Keynes- Cambridge Expressway should follow and make use of existing roads such as the A34. There are serious safety concerns which can be tackled at the same time by doing this. This suggests a route to the West of Oxford rather than through Wheatley. However, I hope that this will also be a one-off opportunity to bring relief for many villages along its route."

The meeting concluded with a promise from the Department of Transport to ensure that all Oxfordshire Area MPs are kept up to date with plans for the Expressway and a commitment to take part in further roundtable meetings to address the on-going safety concerns on the A34.


14 NOV 2018

Speech about local sporting heroes and interventions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

On that point, as I come from Henley it will be no surprise if I mention our rowers, many of whom are—like the hero the hon. Gentleman is talking about—not widely recognised outside the town, even though they participated in an international sport. Will he join me in celebrating the achievement of all these local heroes, particularly in attracting young people to their sport and giving them something to live for?

Nick Smith

I am very pleased to support the commendation that has just been made.

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John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I was not going to participate in this debate, but I will do for a short moment. Each year in Henley we have something called the Regatta for the Disabled, which has been going on for the past 10 or 11 years. I have gone along and supported it every year. I will come on to the sporting hero associated with the regatta in a moment.​

The regatta has a great impact on disabled people, showing them that the river is theirs; that it belongs to everyone. There is a good deal of fun about the day. I do a bit of the commentating on the dragon boat races, which is something to behold, but what I want to mention is that one of the really important people in the whole regatta is Helene Raynsford.

Helene is a world-class rowing champion and also a Paralympic champion. Her involvement in the regatta means a great deal to all of us who are involved, and it sets an absolutely brilliant example to everyone of what can be achieved despite a disability. It has always been a great pleasure to welcome Helene and to participate with her during the day. I offer her up as a local sporting champion and pay tribute to the enormous role she plays.

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John Howell

I want to pick up on the hon. Lady's reference to boxing clubs. I have a very poor village in my constituency that has a boxing club. It plays a fantastic role in providing some organisation for the young people who live there. The only thing one has to bear in mind is that last time I went there, I sat next to the ring, and I had to put my hand over my wine glass to stop blood from spurting into it after one boxer punched another completely on the nose.

Dr Allin-Khan

I thank the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the dangers of mixing sweat and blood, and of sitting ringside. He sounds like a true sporting hero himself for being there and supporting his local club, which I am sure was very grateful.


13 NOV 2018

Intervention in debate on taxis

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is being very kind in giving way. There is a lot in the report about the influence of new technology on how the taxi fleet should operate. He might be coming on to this, but what impact does he think new technology will have on the taxi industry?

Daniel Zeichner

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. I fear that were I to divert into a disquisition on the impact of new technology it would be very lengthy. I will say only that it has clearly had a huge impact over recent years and that, as so often with new technology, the impact is mixed. The new app-based technologies have, without doubt, not only created great opportunities for some but led to difficult working conditions for others. Some people, for example, question where some of the operators pay their taxes—no pun intended—and so on. A whole range of issues have come up, and the challenge for legislators and this place is to make some attempt to keep up. That, I am afraid, is one of my criticisms of the Government. As the years have passed, the legislative void has opened more and more problems, leaving local authorities and enforcement officers with considerable problems. We have seen people out there in the real world respond quite quickly to technological change whereas, quite frankly, we seem to struggle to set the right frameworks.


13 NOV 2018

Number of People in work at a Record High

New figures show that real wages are rising at their fastest pace in nearly ten years and the number of people in work is at a record high as our economy continues to grow.

I said:

"We are helping people into work by reforming welfare, backing businesses and delivering our modern Industrial Strategy to help create more, better paying jobs across the whole country.

"Since 2010 we have helped over 3.3 million more people into work and reduced the number of people who are unemployed by over 1.1 million – meaning more people have the security of a job and are able to provide for their families."

Key statistics:

  • Employment: 32.41 million (up 350,000 over the last year and up by 3.36 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 75.5 per cent (up 0.5 points over the past year and up 5.3 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.38 million (down 43,000 over the past year and down by 1.13 million since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 4.1 per cent (down 0.2 points over the past year and down 3.9 points since 2010) – almost halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent).
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees in real terms increased by 0.9 per cent compared with a year earlier.
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 463,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – almost halving since 2010. Youth unemployment has fallen by 49.3 per cent since 2010.
  • Almost 1 million disabled people (973,000) have entered work since 2013.

Other useful statistics:

  • Latest data shows that wages increased by 3.2 per cent and continue to rise faster than prices – this is good news, but there is more to do.
  • The number of vacancies is at a record high of 845,000 – up by 379,000 since 2010.
  • The employment rate among ethnic minority groups is now at a record high of 66.9 per cent – we are closer towards our target to increase the level of BME employment by 20 per cent by 2020.
  • 81 per cent of jobs created since 2010 are full-time jobs.
  • There are nearly 1.6 million more women in work since 2010.

At the Budget the OBR confirmed Britain's 'jobs miracle' is set to continue:

  • Employment is expected to be higher than forecast, with 800,000 more jobs forecast to be created by 2023.
  • This means that since 2010, there will be 4.2 million new jobs created, making John McDonnell's prediction of 1.2 million jobs lost out by 5.4 million


13 NOV 2018

Welcome for new £7.4 million funding to tackle potholes in Oxfordshire

I have welcomed £7,401,000 to improve the condition of roads in Oxfordshire.

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced at the Budget that a £420 million fund will be created to tackle potholes and other roadworks. Oxfordshire will receive £7,401,000 to repair potholes, keep local bridges and structures open and safe, and help with other highways works that may be needed.

The Budget also announced the biggest ever single cash injection to improve England's roads, meaning that people can get to and from home and work quicker, boosting the local economy and improving air quality.

Commenting, I said:

'I am delighted that Oxfordshire will be receiving this funding boost to improve roads, helping hardworking people here.

'This additional new funding represents a significant boost in road maintenance and is on top of £950 million we are already providing to councils across the country this year for local highways maintenance.'

HIGHLIGHTS

  • We are repairing Britain's roads with £420 million to tackle potholes. We are allocating £420 million in 2018-19 to tackle potholes, repair damaged roads and invest in keeping bridges open and safe. We are also making £150 available to improve local traffic hotspots such as roundabouts (HMT, Budget 2018, 29 October 2018, link).
  • We are investing £29 billion to improve England's roads – the biggest ever single cash injection. We will allocate £28.8 billion to the National Roads Fund from 2020-25, improving journeys for businesses and families (HMT, Budget 2018, 29 October 2018, link).


13 NOV 2018

Speech on plastic wrapping of fruit and veg

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) set out clearly the environmental aspects of the issue. I will not repeat what they said, but I acknowledge the enormous impact that plastic has on our environment.

We had a bit of a tour of people's favourite fruit and vegetables—my hon. Friend mentioned the cauliflower and the hon. Lady mentioned the avocado. Let me add the cucumber to the list. My biggest bugbear with the cucumber is the plastic it is wrapped in. I do not know where my hon. Friend got his figure that most plastic lasts only minutes. It takes me minutes to get the plastic off the cucumber, let alone to dispose of it. I often end up having to extract bits of plastic from the salad I make with the cucumber because I was not able to get it all off.

The difficulty is that plastic plays an important part in the life of the cucumber. Without plastic the cucumber would probably last for a maximum of three days—that is the time it would take the water in it to evaporate—whereas with plastic it can last up to 14 days. I repeat what I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend: we need much more research and innovation to replace the sorts of plastics we currently use with new forms of covering that keep some of the characteristics of those plastics.​

That leads to a number of other questions, including about the quantity of food we buy and the fact that there is little seasonality in the market. We can go out and buy anything the whole year round.

Mr Sheerman

I know that the hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about this subject. I beg everyone involved in this area to think holistically. We all know that we can get any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year, but it will probably have been flown 500 or 3,000 miles to get to our kitchen. I feel sympathy for him. I would hesitate to accept an invitation to eat a salad at his house. If he popped into a local farmers' market, he might find something a lot fresher with no plastic.

John Howell

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I was going to invite him to dinner, but since that would be refused—

Mr Sheerman

As long as it's not salad, I'll come.

That is fine.

The hon. Gentleman is right that by popping into a farmers' market one can get a cucumber raw, as it were. Like anyone else, I like to eat the things I like the whole year round, but I take the point that the economics of delivering them may mean they have been flown 3,000 or 5,000 miles. I question whether those economics are sound and sustainable in the long term. If that means I have to cut down on certain foods, I shall probably be none the poorer in health terms.

Turning for a moment from the cucumber to other fruit and veg, I notice that there has already been quite a development in fruit packaging, even in supermarkets. I think innovations have already been made in packaging for fruit, a lot of which is recyclable. Berries are a good example of that.

Jim Shannon

Most of us in the Chamber—there are a few exceptions—are probably of a vintage that means we can remember when everything was put in paper bags. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is right—there is a fruit and veg store on every high street and a farmers' market in every town, so there are still lots of opportunities in that respect. Does the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) agree that we should look at what more we can do with recycled newspapers, for instance? The resulting paper product may well be the answer. We can look at changing how people shop, but there may also be ways of changing packaging.

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The way we look at this issue is important. My district council always does very well on recycling, but it needs to look at non-recyclable elements such as plastic, which represent its biggest cost.

Mr Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman touches on a very interesting area. Does he know that the evaluation we have done in the all-party parliamentary sustainable resource group looks at the quality of local authorities' management of waste management? I beg him to consider what has happened in Oxford. The whole place has been transformed by good management and the city now makes money out of recycling rather than its being a cost to the local ratepayer.

John Howell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. It is no problem at all for me to look at Oxford City; it is the next district council to mine. Both councils have very good recycling. I shall certainly look at that and see how it gets on.

I recently returned from a visit to Israel, and there were enormous markets everywhere with enormous quantities of fresh food and vegetables. People took along bags, ordered what they wanted—if they knew the seller very well, even feeling the product first—and simply put it in their bags. There was no packaging whatsoever. I do not yet claim to be so old as to remember some things, but I remember when that was the normal way of purchasing fruit and vegetables in my area. There is something about that that we should go back to.

When we go to markets overseas, there is an instant smell—almost as soon as we get off the plane—that is characteristic of that country and which comes, to a large extent, from the raw fruit and vegetables and the herbs and spices that are produced there. They are not wrapped up and placed where they cannot be smelt. Smell is an important part of the debate, because if we cannot smell a product, how do we know whether it is fresh or ripe? The colour is perhaps an indication, but I have always gone by smell and touch. Those two things are two very important things, and it is insane, therefore, that we use so much packaging, for the environmental reasons but also because of our experience of and relationship with food.

A number of options are available, one of which is to buy smaller portions. We do not need to buy eight tomatoes if we are perhaps going to use only four. I also like the idea of the boxes of vegetables that are produced. I know that they are relatively expensive, but the vegetables come unwrapped. They are all the better for that, and you can get a good feel for them.

I know that plastic has a role in keeping food fresh and keeping dirty hands off it, but it would still be nice occasionally to see vegetables with the soil attached, before taking them home to wash and cook them. Plastic keeps sweat away from the vegetables and prevents contamination, but there must be other ways of doing that, using technology to overcome the problem.

Jim Shannon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very important point. Housewives want to see nice, clean products, with no soil or other materials in the bag. I cast my mind back to when we were all young at home and my mum would get 10 half-hundredweight bags of potatoes—there was a big family of us. They came in October and sat in the coldness of the shed until the following March—the whole winter—when they were finished. How is it that that could happen in those days, but today we cannot even keep a potato for a week?

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman asks a very valid question. Research done in schools showed that no one quite knew where vegetables came from. No one had ever seen vegetables with soil on, so no one knew that they came from the ground. Everyone thought that vegetables always came from the shop, and no one had a clue about where they came from before that. That is terrible, in terms of our relationship with food. I like to think of myself as a great foodie, and I like to have a relationship with food. The hon. Member for Strangford ​(Jim Shannon) smiles and nods at me. He is very welcome to come and dine with me; I promise there will be no salad.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay made the point that consumer must take the lead. After the initial flurry of interest that got consumers thinking, there is great fear that consumer interest may have peaked. We must ensure that that peak remains high and that interest in what is right continues. I am sure that many things can be done. Education and the role of children are vital in maintaining that interest, but we can all do a lot to set a good example. I was pleased to see the royal family taking a lead in banning single-use plastic from the palaces.

That is probably as much as I wanted to say in this excellent debate. I will certainly do all I can to encourage people not to use plastic, and I hope that my problems with the cucumber will be well and truly solved in the near future.


12 NOV 2018

Speech to the armistice

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great privilege to speak in this debate and a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and all who have spoken.

I want to concentrate on a theme that was brought up by I cannot remember which Front Bencher: how we will remember them. I want to give three examples from my own past of how I have participated in these acts of remembrance.

Ten years ago, before I came into this House, I used to conduct a choir, and I decided on one occasion that it would be a great thing to take that choir to Ypres. The choir consisted both of young children and a 90-year-old lady—who could still sing, I should say—whose brother had fallen in the trenches at the battle of Ypres. It was a wonder to see her wandering around the trenches. We sang choral evensong in the Anglican chapel at Ypres, which was a wonderful experience. Then we went to sing under the Menin Gate. I had been asked to do something different—they were used to the usual Anglican repertoire—so I decided to do an arrangement of the negro spiritual "Steal Away". As we were finishing that, we got quieter and quieter as the verses went on, and at the end of that rendition the only thing that could be heard under the Menin Gate was the sobbing of those who had been listening and remembering. To this very day, people who went on that trip cannot recall it without tears coming to their eyes as they remember the experience they had.

My second experience is with the town of Thame, which started a project a couple of years ago to lay a Thame cross—it is like the cross of Lorraine—on the grave of every soldier killed in acts of conflict since the first world war. The people of Thame have done this, and that has included marine graves, where they have sent divers down to place the cross on the grave. So far over 300 people have travelled 150,000 miles to lay a cross on the graves of 212 people who lost their lives.

I was very privileged to be able to do this for Second Lieutenant Richard Hewer, who had fought in the battle of Jaffa and was observing for the infantry at the attack on Jerusalem when he was killed. His body lies in the cemetery in Jerusalem, and I went to it and laid the cross on his grave. And I pay tribute to those who look after our cemeteries; the cemetery is absolutely immaculate, and that made the experience of going there to lay this cross all the more telling and emotional.

The third experience involves a gentleman from my constituency called Mike Willoughby, who has over many years undertaken a project called "Bringing them ​ Home" in which he has set out the lives of 298 soldiers who were killed or who died between 1914 and 1921. That has resulted in a number of memorials, and I was privileged to go to the Townlands Memorial Hospital, named after the first world war, only recently and see a memorial unveiled by the lord lieutenant for Oxfordshire. That, too, was a very moving experience, as we read the names on the brass plaque that had been produced there.

Earlier in this debate, many institutions were mentioned as playing a part in keeping the peace in Europe since the end of the second world war, and I would like to mention one that was not mentioned, because I think it has played a phenomenal part in that process: the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is not part of the EU; in terms of its membership it is almost twice the size of the EU, and although it was set up with a human rights focus in its initial creation and it looks after the European Court of Human Rights—the only court in Europe to which we elect the judges ourselves—it goes far beyond that.

If anyone is looking for an organisation that, alongside NATO, has helped to keep the peace in Europe over this time, they need look no further than the Council of Europe. I sincerely hope that it will rise to the challenge again in the future. It is unusual in having both the Israelis and the Palestinians on it, but it has not yet made a great effort to try to get them to engage in peacemaking rather than simply standing up and posing their usual views when they speak.

In giving the House those three examples, and setting out the importance of the Council of Europe, I hope I have demonstrated that I attach a great deal of importance to remembrance.


06 NOV 2018

Question in statement on health

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the Secretary of State agree that more education should be spent on understanding the total role of sugars in combating diabetes, to go with the success that he has had with regards to the direct focus of sugars in drinks and food?

Matt Hancock

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I strongly agree. Reformulation is critical. However, it is crucial to look not just at sugar, but at calorie count. Replacing sugars with higher calorie products is not necessarily the right way forward.

 


06 NOV 2018

Question in statement on Universal Credit

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In easing the passage to universal credit, there is a great role for jobcentre staff. The problem is that I do not have a jobcentre in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend bring forward the idea of mobile jobcentres to help the transition and manage the process?

Ms McVey

My hon. Friend makes a very good point—he has probably been reading my mind. Outreach work is key: how do we get to the most vulnerable, whether people in isolated parts of the country or those with learning difficulties or transport difficulties? We will ​look at outreach work and perhaps a mobile bus. We should look at new, good ideas for connecting with our claimants.


01 NOV 2018

Intervention in shale gas debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I will be quick. Does my hon. Friend think that shale gas extraction is worthwhile? Are there enough layers of schist in this country, as opposed to the vast expanses of the European plain, to make it profitable or to get enough gas out of it?

Mark Menzies

The companies concerned argue that there are substantial reserves of shale gas. The issue, and the difference between the United Kingdom and large swathes of America, is population density. We are not Dakota or rural Pennsylvania, where people can travel for hundreds of miles without seeing a farmhouse.


01 NOV 2018

Speech on the budget

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). I spoke to him in the Tea Room about fusion, and I think we both remain very excited about the potential of that project. I want to start by looking at unemployment. There was a time when the Library produced monthly assessments of constituencies, and my own constituency was invariably either at the top or near it in terms of best performance in dealing with employment. It should therefore come as no surprise that less than 1% of the economically engaged population in my constituency is unemployed at the moment. The number of young unemployed people—those under the age of 24—across the whole constituency amounts to 50. It is often argued that I know them all. I do not, but I wish I did.

Those figures illustrate an interesting point, which is that there is not a sufficient population within the constituency to fill the jobs necessary for growth and expanding businesses there. Two things need to happen in that regard. First, we need innovative solutions to the transport issue. I am pleased that the county council has helped to engineer smaller buses and lots of local buses, but I would like to see a little more help for this in ​ next year's spending review. Secondly, we need to make houses really affordable. A number of speakers have already mentioned the fact that houses are not genuinely affordable. There is one policy in the Budget that will help in this regard, and it is interesting that no one has mentioned it so far. It relates to the Chancellor's attempt to use the discount on houses to keep them for local people. I fully support that policy, and I do so in my role as a Government champion for neighbourhood planning.

Kevin Hollinrake

Hear, hear!

John Howell

Thank you. The whole point is to ensure that this is done through the neighbourhood planning process. This will give people an enormous incentive to undertake a neighbourhood plan, because they know that it might give them the opportunity to say that the houses involved are genuinely to be allocated to local people.

Moving on, business rates reform will be a real help for businesses, and I do not know why the Opposition are downplaying it. In Henley—I think that the same is true in Thame—the problem is not so much about high rents, but business rates, and the local paper maintains an empty-shop watch to note any fluctuations. I sought some information before this debate, and the number of smaller properties in the Henley area that will benefit from this third reduction in business rates is something like 250,000—a phenomenal number.

I mentioned fusion in several interventions, and it is something that I have kept a close eye on not only because the JET Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is in my constituency, but because I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nuclear fusion. I am therefore pleased that an additional £20 million will be spent on the fusion project, an element of which was recently opened by Prince William. As I pointed out in an earlier intervention, that is a useful sum of money because it is not the commercial project, which is being undertaken in France.


31 OCT 2018

Interventions on Culham Fusion project

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The one thing that goes across all the areas that my right hon. Friend has been talking about is our investment in fusion technology. He might be about to say something about that, but I was really pleased to see £20 million being given to that area in the Budget. Will he confirm that the Euratom issue is now over, and that we can look forward to a successful fusion technology industry continuing in this country?

Greg Clark

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, which gives me the chance to confirm that there will be £20 million of investment—and it is investment—in the centre of excellence in fusion research. It will pay dividends for many years to come. The discussions on the successor arrangements to Euratom have gone as I hoped they would—that is, cordially and expeditiously—and good progress has been made on all the issues under discussion. We have made the necessary agreements with most of our major counterparts.

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John Howell

I think the hon. Lady's figures on fusion technology are completely wrong, as she is not comparing like with like. The project in the south of France is a commercial project to make fusion possible at a commercial scale. That means that the projects continuing in the UK do not have to be at that scale, and the £20 million is an enormous contribution to what they are trying to do.

Chi Onwurah

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but in fact he illustrates the scale of the problem. Nuclear fusion requires significant investment in order to commercialise it, as he would agree. The level of investment that this Government are making in it is entirely inadequate to meet the challenge and in respect of the contribution fusion can make to our economic and climate future.


31 OCT 2018

Contribution to debate on hospice funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Maybe the hon. Lady will come on to this in her speech, but has she looked at the different effects that the pay rise has on hospices for adults and hospices for children, and whether there is effectively a two-tier system in the way that those services are delivered?

Liz McInnes

That is an interesting question. In terms of hospice funding, children's palliative care tends to receive less NHS funding, so I would imagine the problem is exacerbated for children's hospices, because they will have to find proportionally more money to fund the pay award than adult hospices. It is an important point, and I hope the Minister will be able to shed some light on those issues when she sums up at the end.


31 OCT 2018

Debate on Mental Health

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

We, as MPs, are among the first to come across the sort of patients the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Does he agree that training ought to be provided for MPs, so that we know how to deal with those people when they appear at our surgeries?

Jeff Smith

That is an excellent point; some training packages are available for MPs' staff. I encourage all colleagues to take advantage of that.


31 OCT 2018

Debate on Beauty and the Built Environment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend in the flow of such an elegant speech, but does he share my view that we gave ordinary people the ability to concentrate on the essence of good design as one of the key things in putting together neighbourhood plans? I am disappointed that very few ​have taken that up. Will he help me to try to instil it in the minds of those who are conducting neighbourhood plans?

Mr Hayes

That is a good and important point that relates to something I shall say later about taking a bottom-up approach to delivering better-quality housing, rather than imposing top-down targets. My hon. Friend is right that we need to inspire a new generation to believe that this can be done, because there are some who say that it does not matter or even that it cannot be done—that it is no longer possible to build wonderful, lovely things, and that we are no longer capable of imagining what generations before us created. I just do not believe that. I think we can and should do better, and my hon. Friend rightly describes one of the mechanisms that might achieve that.

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John Howell

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hayes

I happily give way to my hon. Friend, who is just as committed to social justice as I am.

John Howell

My right hon. Friend is being incredibly generous with his time. One point that I would bring out strongly is something that he has mentioned in passing but has not concentrated on: the need to include the environment in housebuilding, to be able to enjoy the space that comes with that, and to be able to provide opportunity for the family.

Mr Hayes

It will be alarming to some, but a delight to others, to know that I am only on page 3 of my very long speech, and I want to make a bit of progress. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that part of the sense of place, to which I referred earlier, is about green space. I will come in a moment to some of the research done by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales's organisations on what people want, because a lot of the interventions ​have mentioned the role of consultation, engagement and involvement in shaping policy around what people actually want. There has been a lot of work done on this by a variety of organisations, to which I want to refer.

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John Howell

The hon. Gentleman talks about the need to provide infrastructure along with housing, but environmental infrastructure is the big thing that is mostly missing in the development of new housing estates.

Jim Shannon

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right. That is why we make sure that the environmental impact is a big part of development approval in Northern Ireland. He is clearly right and that should be at the centre of any development on the mainland as well.


25 OCT 2018

Speech on freedom of religion

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I know that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), whom I warmly congratulate on securing this debate, has a debate coming up on 27 November on the subject of armed violence against farming communities in Nigeria, most of whom are Christian. I will use the situation in Nigeria as an example of how we might approach the issue of religious freedom. Although this does not fall under my remit as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I do know the country and feel that I can comment in that context.

The federal and state Governments in Nigeria are prevented from adopting a state religion or discriminating in any way on religious grounds. The split between Christians and Muslims is almost exactly 50/50—there is about a 1% difference between the two. Although some 12 states follow sharia law, they do so for Muslim-to-Muslim relations, and it would be wrong to characterise an area in Nigeria as either Christian or Muslim. For example, although significant numbers of Christians live in the north, which is traditionally thought of as a Muslim area, there is no evidence of sharia courts being used for Christian activities unless they particularly want to raise a concern about a Muslim activity. Sharia law is simply for Muslim-to-Muslim activities.

Both Muslim and Christian groups in Nigeria have complained about the Government's handling of disputes, particularly in the central band across the middle of the country where there are long-standing disputes between Christian farmers and Muslim herders involving rival claims and complaints that security forces did not intervene when farming villages were attacked by herdsmen. It is interesting to note that when farming villages were attacked by herdsmen, there was uproar in Abuja. The President was summoned to Parliament, as were service chiefs and security advisers, and they were subjected to intense pressure from parliamentarians. Equally, however, the media regularly report claims by Christians that northern leaders, backed by the Government, are trying to Islamise the whole of the country. Of course, the presence of Boko Haram is crucial to that.

Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation. It is not one that the Government can control. Although, with the help of British service personnel who are there as advisers, the Nigerian Government are trying to attack Boko Haram, Boko Haram will not be defeated by military means alone. It will be defeated by the country sharing in the wealth creation that is going on in Nigeria and by making sure it is shared at an individual level, so that people are offered something that Boko Haram cannot offer. There are already signs of success in that.

There have also been reports that Christian groups in northern states are not given building permits—I think that was raised earlier. So we have a situation where Christian communities decide they are simply going to build the churches that they want to and will wait until the Government come and bulldoze them, which they do from time to time. It has happened in various states. However, I also came across an example of a mosque in a similar situation. It was threatened with demolition because it did not have the right planning permit. This issue goes across religions, but we rarely hear about it. Unfortunately, it appears the demolition of the mosque was stopped before it went ahead, and no one quite knows why.

It is worth noting that Muslims, too, complain of a lack of freedom of religion more generally. In one case, a Muslim was denied the chance to be called to the Nigerian Bar simply because she wore a hijab. Christians also complain that it is difficult for them to be admitted into schools, especially to study medicine and engineering, and in many states it is also difficult for them to take courses in Christianity.

There are optimistic signs, however. Some good work is being done by religious leaders on both sides of the argument, including efforts to bring peace to the areas in question. Those were started as a result of the attacks between farmers and herdsmen, particularly after 300 farmers were killed by raiding herdsmen. The violence is related to religious differences, but we should not pretend that all the violence in Nigeria is the result simply of religious differences. Economic and social factors are involved as well.

Fiona Bruce

I absolutely acknowledge what my hon. Friend says. For example, many of the herdsmen, who used to have grazing grounds and could roam fairly freely, now find that the grazing grounds are restricted; but we cannot deny the element of ethnic or religious discrimination in the attacks—in large part, although not in all cases.

John Howell

I was not suggesting that religious differences played no part in the attacks, just that they are not the sole cause. We can legitimately blame a number of other factors, including the fact that the media misreport situations widely across Nigeria. We can also blame rapid population growth: the population of Nigeria is about 190 million at the moment, but the World Bank predicts that by 2050—not long hence—it will be 400 million, making it the third most populous country in the world, after India and China. In that situation it is not surprising that tensions arise.

The tensions do have religious aspects. On 15 April 2017, 12 worshippers died and many more were injured in Aso village in Kaduna state, when herdsmen opened fire on an Easter vigil service. Media reports said the attackers boasted about disrupting the Easter celebration, but it not known whether that is true. There are efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, to ensure that feelings on all sides are listened to and that reconciliation is reached.

I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) with a point about the importance of the European Court of Human Rights and what I might term its parent body, the Council of Europe. The right to hold religious beliefs is protected under article 9 of the European convention on human rights. A wide range of faiths have brought cases to protect their freedom to practise religion. I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) about needing to tighten that up, but it depends on countries being willing to accept the judgments of the Court. Russia has suspended itself from the Council of Europe and can no longer appoint judges, although the population of Russia still has access to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court is hearing a vast number of cases brought by Russian individuals against the Russian state.

That is important for the reason that I raised earlier. The European Court of Human Rights was born out of the conflict of world war two, which had a great deal to do with religion—the Jewish faith and the imprisonment of those of that faith in concentration camps. However, the Council has gone beyond that. We have produced a tremendous number of reports about the need to ensure respect for the religious backgrounds of refugee families coming to Europe—that must of course be mutual, and respect should also come from them. We must not forget the vital role that the Council plays. It may be ignored by many UK Ministers and the UK may be the only country never to send a journalist to monitor its actions, but it still carries out its role and the treaties are signed, by us and others, on a consensual basis. That is an important point to bear in mind.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford on bringing the debate, and hope my remarks have been helpful in elucidating some of the details.


25 OCT 2018

Question in Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

We have recently returned from a very important—if not tumultuous—meeting of the Council of Europe. Is not it time that we had a debate on the activities and future of the Council of Europe?

Andrea Leadsom

My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me previously and I am sympathetic to the idea. We have a lot of discussions about Europe at the moment, but I am keen to consider this matter and to give it time when we can.


25 OCT 2018

Petition on Europa School

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

This petition relates to the Europa School, which is a free school located in my constituency. It is a petition that has 2,469 signatures.

The petition of teachers at, parents of pupils at, or friends of the Europa School Culham, Oxfordshire,

Declares that in relation to the Europa School, the school currently offers children who attend the school a final qualification of the European Baccalaureate (EB). The ability of the school to offer this qualification has been extended by the Department of Education to 2021. However, uncertainty over the school's ability to offer the qualification after 2021 is causing difficulties for students and much uncertainty.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to ask the Department of Education to allow the Europa School in Culham, Oxfordshire, to offer to its students from 2021 the European Baccalaureate as an equivalent to A levels regardless of the status of the UK in respect of its membership of the European Union.

And the petitioners remain, etc.


25 OCT 2018

Intervention in debate on school funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Surely one of the problems is that different campaign groups, and indeed the Department for Education, use headline figures that vary from organisation to organisation. In working together to achieve a solution to the problem, it is not particularly helpful for words such as "deceptive" and "dishonest" to be used by one campaign against another or against the Department. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be a much firmer grip on the use of language by the campaign groups?

Mrs Main

I cannot comment on the campaign groups; I am commenting on what the headteachers in St Albans said, and no one used the words "deceptive" or "dishonest." The purpose of my being here today is to ensure that there is a degree of clarity about where the funding goes. The headline is that we are putting more into schools—and we are—but the reality on the ground is that teachers face undue pressures. I want to highlight that. I cannot accept anyone's use of inappropriate language—that is not fair on either side of the argument. We must be respectful of the pressures faced by the schools and by the Minister.


24 OCT 2018

Comments in Third Reading of Civil Liability Bill

John Howell

Earlier this afternoon, the Minister will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) give an example of how he was approached—hassled, in fact—by a claims management company. I, too, have been in that situation for a fictitious accident and I still get calls about that. Is dealing with this not one of the real ways that we will be able to prevent our being the whiplash capital?

Rory Stewart

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which has been made by the shadow Front-Bench team and others: dealing with claims management companies is going to be a central part of this. Consultation has taken place on this, and measures have been taken against claims management companies. A significant issue remains, which we are consulting on and trying to resolve—to be honest with the House, it is the fact that many of these calls come from foreign jurisdictions, so the challenge is trying to work out the best way to deal with that. On my way into the Second Reading debate, I received exactly that kind of call, encouraging me to make a whiplash claim for a car accident that I had suffered. For a moment, I wondered whether somebody had not put somebody else up to calling me in this fashion and whether this was not some kind of fuss. Sure enough, however, this is continuing to happen.

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John Howell

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. He is being most generous.

I have been a great champion of the online work that is being done in the judiciary. I have spoken to Lord Briggs, and in my time in the courts, sitting with judges, I have championed it there. Does my hon. Friend agree that a very important element of the online system is the dramatic improvement in access to justice for people who are making claims? I know that a great deal of testing is involved, but does he also agree that the delay in its introduction is regrettable because it deprives people of that access to justice?

Rory Stewart

My hon. Friend has made a good point, but there is, of course, a delicate balance to be achieved. It is absolutely true that really good online systems can transform people's lives and make access to justice much easier for them, but, equally, the Government do not always have an unblemished record when it comes to the delivery of IT systems. It is important to ensure that the system really works and that we have tested it again and again before rolling it out, because otherwise a system designed to increase access to justice may inadvertently decrease that access through the malfunctioning of the online portal.


24 OCT 2018

Intervention in Report Stage of Civil Liability Bill

John Howell

I thank the hon. Lady and fellow Select Committee member for giving way. She has talked about access to justice, but she has not mentioned at all the impact of the online courts. Does she have a feeling about what sort of effect that would have for increasing access to justice?

Ellie Reeves

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point.

The Bill will have a significant impact on access to justice, and we know that the portal system is nowhere near ready to accommodate the changes. It has not been properly tested


24 OCT 2018

Intervention in debate on Elder Abuse

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend kindly for giving way; he is being very generous. He is portraying this as a British problem, but does he agree that it is not just a British problem? The World Health Organisation has published material that shows that this is happening all around the world. It is a generational problem that we have to deal with, as he rightly points out.

Giles Watling

I absolutely take my hon. Friend's point that this happens all over the world, but we must clean up our own act first and make sure that we are far ahead of the game, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Where we lead, others follow.


24 OCT 2018

Speech on Drugs Policy

I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on securing the debate. I recently went out with the police force in my ​ constituency, and one of the first things we did was go to an accommodation block for young people, where we tested their rooms for drugs. The police had swabs that they pushed along surfaces in the whole block, and under examination they revealed whether the young people had taken drugs. It was not the first time those rooms had been tested. Many of the people had been tested before and many had come up positive before. This was retesting.

Members might ask why, if those young people had been caught once, they did not do something different the next time, but that is part of the problem. The police took the view that it was not something that needed to be enforced in law. They took the view that there was no point in making criminals out of these young people. The real check on what should happen to the young people was not taken by the police; it was taken by the people who run the building. If it was a small amount of drugs that was showing up, they would have a word with the young people and tell them that this was not encouraged. If there was repeatedly a large amount, they would lose their accommodation. That, more than anything, was a frightening prospect for many of those people, who had found the accommodation quite late. It provided them with a lot of security.

There is a real distinction between the policy that the Government have set out and are pursuing and the policy that the police are pursuing at the same time, and those two policies cannot live together. We cannot have people saying one thing and the other people, who are supposed to be a part of the organisation that delivers it, doing something completely different. The Government need to recognise what is actually happening on the ground, because the police are not implementing legislation in the way the Government think they are. They are doing that with a greater spirit of openness about what is good for those young people in the community, and I encourage the Minister to look at that carefully.


17 OCT 2018

My PMQ

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

The Prime Minister

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


17 OCT 2018

Intervention in debate on University of London

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Ms Buck

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


17 OCT 2018

Question in clinical waste Urgent Question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stephen Barclay

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


16 OCT 2018

My interventions in eating disorders debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Wera Hobhouse

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

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

___________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Matt Warman

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


16 OCT 2018

Protection for racehorses

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

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mike Hill

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on crash of Tu154M at Smolensk

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on plea bargaining

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on reunifying refugee families

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

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

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on decentralisation

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

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

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on nuclear safety

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

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Question at Council of Ministers to Chairman of Committee of Ministers

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

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


14 OCT 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on Palestinian minors

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

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

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


14 OCT 2018

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

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

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


13 OCT 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on funding of Islam

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

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

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


13 OCT 2018

Working with SOHA tenants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


15 SEP 2018

Holocaust Memorial Trust

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

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

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

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

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

I said:

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

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

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

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

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


13 SEP 2018

Intervention in debate on Colombia

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Chris Bryant

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


12 SEP 2018

Fracking

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

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


12 SEP 2018

Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway

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

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

I said:

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

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

I continued:

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

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

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

Expressway Action Group co-ordinator Peter Rutt said

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

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


12 SEP 2018

Speech on the Yemen

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graham P. Jones

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

John Howell

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

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


11 SEP 2018

Intervention in debate on travellers and gypsies

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrew Selous

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


11 SEP 2018

Question in Statement on Victims

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Edward Argar

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


09 SEP 2018

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

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

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

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

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

I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


07 SEP 2018

Henley MP backs campaign to 'Make Blood Cancer Visible'

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

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

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

I said:

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

Gemma Peters, CEO of Bloodwise said:

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

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


06 SEP 2018

Question in Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrea Leadsom

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


05 SEP 2018

Comments in debate on Civil Liabilities Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Gauke

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


04 SEP 2018

Question in Urgent Question about HMP Birmingham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Rory Stewart

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


04 SEP 2018

Interventions in debate on children's citizenship fees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stuart C. McDonald

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Caroline Nokes

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


30 AUG 2018

John Howell MP wlecomes Big Lottery Funding

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

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

The projects are:

Riverside Counselling Service (Henley) - £10,000

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

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

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

Towards Recovery (Henley) - £9,850

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

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

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


30 AUG 2018

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

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

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

I said:

"It's excellent to see the number of children in workless households falling – with 47,330 fewer across the South-East since 2010. This means more children in families with the security that comes with a good job and a regular pay packet.

"This is further evidence that the Conservatives' reforms to welfare and support for business to create more jobs, as part of our work to build a stronger economy, is working.

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

Notes

Headline national figures

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


22 AUG 2018

£9 billion broadband boost for local businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes for information

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

 


08 AUG 2018

Potential end in sight for Townlands Hospital parking fiasco

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

I said:

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

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

In particular, the Minister confirmed that:

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

The Minister continued:

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

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

I added:

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

Action by the MP

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

August 2018 Meeting with Chief Operating Officer NHS Property Services

July 2018 Referred to the Minister

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

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

February 2018 First raised with British Parking Association

January 2018 First raised with Smart Parking

January 2018 Liaison with Henley surgeries


25 JUL 2018

Intervention in family hubs debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Fiona Bruce

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

Anne Longfield says that

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


24 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on OBR

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Luke Graham

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


24 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on Mamba

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Ben Bradley

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


23 JUL 2018

Question on Neighbourhood Planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

Kit Malthouse

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


19 JUL 2018

Intervention on Oxfordshire roads

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Robert Courts

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


19 JUL 2018

Speech about domestic abuse

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this is the important point—

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

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

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

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

We understood

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

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

Wera Hobhouse

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

John Howell

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

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

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


18 JUL 2018

Speech about Russia and the Council of Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I beg to move,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

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

John Howell

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

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

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

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con)

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

John Howell

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

Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

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

John Howell

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

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

Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Edward Leigh

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

The Russian Ambassador to the Council of Europe said:

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

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

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

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

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

John Howell

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


18 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on homelessness and refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Kate Green

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


12 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on railways

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

John Penrose

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


12 JUL 2018

Aircraft in the constituency

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

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

I said:

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

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

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

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


10 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on Air Passenger Duty

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

Gavin Robinson

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

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

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


09 JUL 2018

Question at defence questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

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

The Secretary of State for Defence (Gavin Williamson)

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

John Howell

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

Gavin Williamson

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


09 JUL 2018

Thame Remembers

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

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

I said:

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

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


09 JUL 2018

Question in Statement on Amesbury

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Sajid Javid

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


05 JUL 2018

Home Educating petition

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

I said:

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

Additional petitions were presented by six other MPs.


05 JUL 2018

Question on Construction Deal and how it will affect the elderly

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Richard Harrington

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


05 JUL 2018

Calling for a debate on our High Streets

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrea Leadsom

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


05 JUL 2018

More on floating pennywort

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

Julia Simpson of the Environment Agency said:

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

I added:

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


05 JUL 2018

Intervention on Palestinian incitement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Joan Ryan

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

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


05 JUL 2018

Speech on planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

James Cartlidge

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

________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

4.53 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

5.23 pm

On resuming—

John Howell

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

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

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

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


05 JUL 2018

Petition on home education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

The petition states:

The petition of residents of Henley constituency,

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

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

And the petitioners remain, etc.


04 JUL 2018

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

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Karin Smyth

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

Stephen Barclay

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


04 JUL 2018

Speech on child sexual abuse

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Lisa Nandy

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

______________________________________________________________________

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair)

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

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair)

indicated assent.

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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


04 JUL 2018

Speech on Irael-UK trade

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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


03 JUL 2018

Comment in debate on Justice

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

David Hanson

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


02 JUL 2018

Intervention in debate on pet thefts

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mike Hill

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


02 JUL 2018

Question in Work and Pensions questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Sarah Newton

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


30 JUN 2018

Two new Neighbourhood Plans

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

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

I said:

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

John Fowler of the Benson Neighbourhood Planning team said:

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

Gill Bindoff of the Watlington Neigbourhood Plan team added:

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


30 JUN 2018

Question at Council of Europe to Croatian Foreign Minister

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

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

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

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


30 JUN 2018

Question to Croatian PM at the Council of Europe

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

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

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


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Syrian refugees

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

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

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

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


30 JUN 2018

Question to the Slovak PM at Council of Europe

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

Mr PELLEGRINI* –

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


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on asylum and refugees

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

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

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


30 JUN 2018

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

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

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

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

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


30 JUN 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Forced Marriages

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

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

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

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

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


30 JUN 2018

Speech at Council of Europe on Cultural Artefacts

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

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

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

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


21 JUN 2018

Intervention on NATO

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Nia Griffith

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


21 JUN 2018

Speech on the future of Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stephen Kerr

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

_________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

Mr Gregory Campbell

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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


20 JUN 2018

Speech on Rights of Persons with disabilities

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

Dame Cheryl Gillan (in the Chair)

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

John Howell

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

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

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

Luke Graham

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

John Howell

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

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

Vicky Ford

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Howell

Of course—provided my hon. Friend is brief.

Vicky Ford

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

John Howell

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

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


19 JUN 2018

Question in Health & Social Care Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Caroline Dinenage

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


18 JUN 2018

Speech on referenda and the House of Lords

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


18 JUN 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Cannabis Oil

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Hurd

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


14 JUN 2018

Interventions in debate on vaccinations in developing countries

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stephen Crabb

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

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John Howell

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

Stephen Crabb

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


12 JUN 2018

Speech on terrorism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


11 JUN 2018

Question on the Yemen

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Alistair Burt

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


09 JUN 2018

John Howell MP digital businesses moving from strength to strength

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

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

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

Commenting, I said:

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

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

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

Notes

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


07 JUN 2018

Speech on Turkey

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

Dame Cheryl Gillan

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Ryan

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

John Howell

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

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


07 JUN 2018

Question on school breakfast ckubs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrea Leadsom

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


07 JUN 2018

Question on Nigeria to Church Commissioner

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

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

Dame Caroline Spelman

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

John Howell

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

Dame Caroline Spelman

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


07 JUN 2018

Question on Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

David Rutley

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


07 JUN 2018

Interventions in debate on Hezbollah

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Hollobone

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

______________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Alistair Burt

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


05 JUN 2018

Question on the South Sudan

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Nic Dakin

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


05 JUN 2018

Quesion in Statement on expansion of Heathrow

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Chris Grayling

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


05 JUN 2018

Intervention in debate on potholes

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Yasmin Qureshi

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

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

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


04 JUN 2018

Question in Statement on US Steel and Aluminium tariffs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Dr Fox

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


04 JUN 2018

Intervention in debate on fur sales

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Kerry McCarthy

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

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


23 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Nicky Morgan

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

John Howell

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Nicky Morgan

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

John Howell

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

Nicky Morgan

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


23 MAY 2018

Speech in debate on persecution of Christians

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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


22 MAY 2018

Interventions in debate on unitary status

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Liddell-Grainger

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

__________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Rishi Sunak

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


22 MAY 2018

Question in Urgent Question on air quality

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Michael Gove

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


22 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on sale of puppies

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Christine Jardine

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

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


16 MAY 2018

Speech on the NHS and 70 years

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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


16 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on public legal education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Jayawardena

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


16 MAY 2018

Question in FCO qestions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Alistair Burt

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


14 MAY 2018

Question in Urgent Question on schools

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Damian Hinds

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


10 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on nursing education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stephen Barclay

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


09 MAY 2018

Intervention on electric cars

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Jim Shannon

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

The Library briefing for the debate states:

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

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


09 MAY 2018

Speech on lawyers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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


09 MAY 2018

Intervention on Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Richard Harrington

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


09 MAY 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Learning Disabilities

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Caroline Dinenage

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


08 MAY 2018

Question in debate on Rohingya

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Jo Stevens

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


08 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on skills

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Robert Halfon

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

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


02 MAY 2018

Intervention in debate on prison officers

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Gordon Henderson

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

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


02 MAY 2018

Question and speech on HPV virus

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Sir Roger Gale

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

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

______________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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


02 MAY 2018

Intervention in 3rd reading of Sanctions Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Sir Alan Duncan

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


02 MAY 2018

Question in debate on solitary confinement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Seema Malhotra

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


30 APR 2018

Intervention in Windrush debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Steve Double

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


30 APR 2018

Question on teaching of Syrian refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Penny Mordaunt

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


30 APR 2018

Notes of meeting between Minister and small schools

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

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

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

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

I said :

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


28 APR 2018

Question at Council of Europe to Macedonian Foreign Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on derogations from human rights

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on funding of Daesh

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

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

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on climate change

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on Libya

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

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on internally displaced people

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on hybrid war

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

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


28 APR 2018

Speech at the Council of Europe on educating refugees

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

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

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

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

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


20 APR 2018

Business Question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrea Leadsom

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


18 APR 2018

Speech on the Council of Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Vernon Coaker

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

________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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


17 APR 2018

Question at Treasury Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

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

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Robert Jenrick)

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

John Howell

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

Robert Jenrick

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


17 APR 2018

Who to contact over parking at Townlands

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

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


16 APR 2018

My Home Office question about Syrian refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

The Minister for Immigration (Caroline Nokes)

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

John Howell

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

Caroline Nokes

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


03 APR 2018

Ban on ivory confirmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said:

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

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

I said:

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

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

The CEO of Tusk Trust, Charlie Mayhew MBE said:

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

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


29 MAR 2018

Speech on autism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dame Cheryl Gillan

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

John Howell

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


29 MAR 2018

Question in Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrea Leadsom

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


29 MAR 2018

Question in debate on patient safety

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Dr Johnson

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

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


28 MAR 2018

Intervention in debate on GPs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Bridget Phillipson

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


28 MAR 2018

Question in statement on Warboys

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Gauke

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


28 MAR 2018

Outline of deposit return scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

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

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

I said:

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

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


28 MAR 2018

Question in debate about legal services

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Robert Neill

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


28 MAR 2018

Public meeting with GWR

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

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

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

_______________________________________________________________________________

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

Mark Hopwood - MD GWR

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

A local councillor


27 MAR 2018

Question on providing education in Nigeria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

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

Mr Speaker

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

John Howell

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

Harriett Baldwin

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


27 MAR 2018

Speech in debate on court closures and reform

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

Liz Saville Roberts

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

John Howell

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

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

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

Liz Saville Roberts

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

John Howell

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

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

John Howell

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

Kevin Hollinrake

No, I am asking you.

John Howell

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


26 MAR 2018

Questions in debate on English LIterature

John Howell

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

Nick Gibb

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

____________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Carol Monaghan

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

_____________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Helen Jones

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

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


26 MAR 2018

More money for Oxfordshire's roads

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

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

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

I said:

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

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


26 MAR 2018

Mobile van for DWP services in the constituency?

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

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

I said:

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

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


22 MAR 2018

Question to the Attorney General

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

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

The Solicitor General (Robert Buckland)

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

John Howell

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

The Solicitor General

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


22 MAR 2018

Question in DCMS questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

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

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

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

John Howell

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

Margot James

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


22 MAR 2018

Good news on employment

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

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

The broad points behind this are as follows:

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

Other useful statistics:

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


22 MAR 2018

Intervention in debate on UK-EU Aid

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Dr Williams

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


22 MAR 2018

Intervention in debate on HMOs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stephen Pound

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


21 MAR 2018

Question on playgrounds

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Leslie

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Mr Leslie

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


16 MAR 2018

Question on electric dog collars

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Ross Thomson

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


13 MAR 2018

Question on Euratom and Culham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Richard Harrington

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


13 MAR 2018

Contribution to statement on Afrin, Syria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Alistair Burt

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


12 MAR 2018

Question in urgent question on hate crime

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Victoria Atkins

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


07 MAR 2018

Speech on Local Museums

John Howell (Henley) (Con) I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


07 MAR 2018

Question in Urgent Question on Saudi Arabia

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Alistair Burt

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


06 MAR 2018

Question in debate on cladding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mr Reed

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


05 MAR 2018

Question on planning in Statement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Sajid Javid

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


01 MAR 2018

Government advice on snow clearing

Clear snow from a road, path or cycleway

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

How to clear snow and ice

When you clear snow and ice:

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

Council gritting

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


28 FEB 2018

Intervention in debate on Eating Disorders

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Edward Argar

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


28 FEB 2018

Intervention in debate on homelessness

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Layla Moran

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


27 FEB 2018

Question in debate on Diabetes

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Liz McInnes

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


27 FEB 2018

Question in Estimates Debate on Defence

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Sir Edward Leigh

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


27 FEB 2018

Question in Statement on Syria

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Boris Johnson

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


26 FEB 2018

Cold weather payments

Cold weather payments have been triggered for the following postcodes:

24/2/2018 to 2/3/2018

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

23/2/2018 to 1/3/2018

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


26 FEB 2018

Question in Statement on HMP Liverpool

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Robert Neill

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


20 FEB 2018

Question in statement on Oxfam and DfID

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Penny Mordaunt

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


20 FEB 2018

Speech on NHS in Oxfordshire

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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

Mr Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con)

We are all speculating now.

John Howell

I know, and I will leave that issue there.

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

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

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

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


20 FEB 2018

My question in debate on ME

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Carol Monaghan

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


20 FEB 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said:

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

Notes to Editors

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


18 FEB 2018

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

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

I said:

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

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

Peak congestion, Punctuality, and Cancellations

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

I added:

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


17 FEB 2018

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

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

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

I said:

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

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

I added:

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

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


17 FEB 2018

Better Broadband for our communities

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

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

I said

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

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

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

I added

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


08 FEB 2018

Question on suicide in prisons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Stephen Barclay

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


08 FEB 2018

Protecting local press

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

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

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

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

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

Commenting, I said:

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

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

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


07 FEB 2018

My speech in debate on treatment of Palestinian minors

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

Sarah Champion

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Howell

No, I will not.

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

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

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

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

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

Graham Stringer (in the Chair)

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

John Howell

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

Graham Stringer (in the Chair)

Thank you very much.


06 FEB 2018

Interventions in the debate on Overseas Aid

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Andrew Bowie

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Stephen Twigg

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


06 FEB 2018

Question on Northamptonshire and its effect on Oxfordshire

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Rishi Sunak

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


05 FEB 2018

Parking at Townlands

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

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

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

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

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

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


01 FEB 2018

Interventions in debate on public buildings and autism

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Thangam Debbonaire

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

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

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

Thangam Debbonaire

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


31 JAN 2018

Speech on planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

George Freeman

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

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

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

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

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


29 JAN 2018

Question during Urgent Question on Contaminated Blood

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Chloe Smith

Yes.


29 JAN 2018

Question during Urgent Question on Taliban and Daesh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

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

Mark Field

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Holocaust Commemoration

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

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

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

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech on Death Penalty

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

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

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

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech in debate on Israel-Palestine

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

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

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

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Contribution to debate on convention on lawyers

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

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

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Question to Danish Prime Minister

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

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

Mr RASMUSSEN –

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Contribution to debate on humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

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

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


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech on basic citizenship income

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

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

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

Another reservation I have concerns the absence of a link to employment. This flies in the face of the success we have had in the United Kingdom, where people have been moving away from benefits and into employment. The basic income seems to be tolerant of joblessness. More than 3 million new jobs have been created in the United Kingdom since 2010, which is a huge contribution to the employment statistics.

The cost of a basic income for the United Kingdom has been estimated at £100 billion more than the current benefits claim. It cannot take into account the varying needs of households. For example, if someone has a disability, that is an additional cost. It does not take away the need for laborious assessments. That money has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the tax system, so we are not really reducing taxes by doing this. We are increasing the rates at which taxes are collected.

The shift away from the idea of targeted support to a blanket State-sponsored amount that allows no flexibility is to be deprecated. A basic income is unfair. It takes no account of poverty, and it makes no contribution to tackling poverty. It does not take into account the needs of individual families, and it would mean, paradoxically, cuts in entitlements for some, whether those are disabled people or single parents. Its impact on the minimum living wage needs to be thought through more carefully. Why should people pay the minimum living wage when the State is paying it for them?


27 JAN 2018

Council of Europe Speech on Minority Languages

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

I approach this report with a sense of déjà vu. I remember speaking on this subject last October, when the President of Ukraine was here. We heard him try to establish a balance between the needs of the State and of building a State and the needs of individual minorities in preserving their specific languages. That is not to say that minority languages are not important—I believe that they are; nor is it to say that minority languages are not an important part of local culture, community development and self-identity. I recognise that languages make an important contribution to Europe's cultural heritage. The United Kingdom signed the charter in 2000 and recognises seven languages as minority languages. The responsibility for taking those forward is largely but not exclusively the responsibility of devolved governments. As we heard, what has been done with Welsh has been impressive and has set the language up for the future. The report envisages that the use of minority languages is not a matter of a hard and fast rule, and that the State may not ensure the use of those languages in all cases and under all conditions. I think that the rapporteur has done a very good job in retaining a great deal of flexibility. We get into a bit of trouble when we start imposing thresholds. I would not like to see a specific threshold for a language. A good model for approaching the teaching of these languages is the European schools system, where you may go in and have science taught in one language and maths taught in another language. I know that those are not minority languages, but I think that the same approach can apply.

The role of the media is crucial. We heard how the Welsh language has its own television station. However, I have enormous reservations about social media and the use of the internet. The whole point of social media and the internet is to establish the widest possible communication between people, which does not sit squarely with the idea of minority languages if you want to reach out to the largest number of people. We need to approach these issues through the democratic process, as I advocated last October for Ukraine, and to see languages taken forward in that context.


18 JAN 2018

Holocaust Remembrance

This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people today.

Saturday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history. It is important to remember the depth of inhumanity faced by those who suffered the Holocaust.

In the lead up to and on Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. The theme for this year's commemorations is 'The power of words'.

After signing the Book of Commitment, I commented:

"Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people from the Henley Constituency and across the country to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. As the Holocaust moves from living history, to just history, it becomes ever more important that we take the time to remember the victims and also pay tribute to the survivors. I would encourage my constituents to show their support for such an important day."

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

"The Holocaust did not start in the gas chambers but with hate filled words. Our mission is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. We are very grateful to John Howell for signing the Book of Commitment, signalling a continued commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust as well as challenging antisemitism and prejudice.


17 JAN 2018

Contribution to the debate on blood cancer

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent work he is doing in this sphere. Blood cancer is a bit of a hidden cancer. If someone has a solid tumour, it can be seen and treated and they can see what is happening with it, but blood cancer is difficult to detect. What is he doing to encourage early detection?

Henry Smith

My hon. Friend anticipates some of my remarks in a few moments' time, but he is absolutely right to use the words "hidden cancer". Blood cancer is very different from solid tumour cancers—that is a key point and problem.

I was going to say that, from four o'clock, right hon. and hon. Members are very welcome to come along to Strangers' Dining Room for the launch of our report.


17 JAN 2018

Reaction Engines at Culham

I raised the future for Reaction Engines, a company based at the Culham Science Centre. This was part of a positive exchange during the debate on the Space Industry Bill. The exchange with the Minister is reproduced below.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does the Minister share my view that companies such as Reaction Engines, which is based in my constituency, hold the future for space vehicles that can be used over and over again?

Joseph Johnson

Indeed. Reaction Engines is a great example of the kind of British company that is well placed to take advantage of all the opportunities that the Bill will enable. We have been supporting Reaction Engines and its SABRE technology through Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and, from memory, I believe that it has received around £55 million over recent years. We want it to be a great success, and have every confidence that it will be.

Reaction Engines is pioneering the next generation of hypersonic and space access propulsion. The company has achieved a breakthrough in aerospace engine technology by developing ultra-lightweight heat exchangers. These are capable of cooling airstreams from over 1,000°C to -150°C in less than 1/20th of a second with world leading compactness and low weight. Developed for our high speed SABRE engines, the heat exchangers stop engine components from overheating at high flight speeds, opening up a new era of high speed flight. SABRE class engines will enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere and allow space launch vehicles to be built that will radically improve the affordability and responsiveness of access to space. The company is supported by a £60m funding commitment from the UK Government via the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency and we have had a recent £20.6m investment by BAE Systems.

I said:

"I was delighted to see Reaction Engines praised by the Minister. It is a success story based in our midst at Culham and I am proud to see it based there and to be developing its exciting technology."


16 JAN 2018

Question to the Chancellor

John Howell (Henley) (Con) What assessment he has made of potential risks to the economy from high levels of Government borrowing. [903296]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr Philip Hammond)

In 2010, we inherited the largest deficit since the second world war, standing at nearly 10% of GDP. We have successfully reduced it by three quarters, meaning that it stood at 2.3% at the end of last year, but our debt is still too high. High levels of debt leave us vulnerable to economic shocks and incur significant debt interest, which is why the Government have clear and detailed fiscal plans to reduce borrowing further and to ensure that debt falls.

John Howell

Does the Chancellor agree it is essential that our policies continue to show that we are living within our means, because the alternative—a failure to do so—simply passes on our bills to the next generation?

Mr Hammond

Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that a policy of increasing borrowing simply means passing the cost of today's consumption to future generations and wasting more taxpayers' money on debt interest. Even Labour's shadow Education spokesperson has acknowledged that this is a ultra high-risk strategy that would be a gamble with our economic future.


16 JAN 2018

Question on Reaction Engines, Culham

John Howell (Henley) (Con)  

Does the Minister share my view that companies such as Reaction Engines, which is based in my constituency, hold the future for space vehicles that can be used over and over again?

Joseph Johnson

Indeed. Reaction Engines is a great example of the kind of British company that is well placed to take advantage of all the opportunities that the Bill will enable. We have been supporting Reaction Engines and its SABRE technology through Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and, from memory, I believe that it has received around £55 million over recent years. We want it to be a great success, and have every confidence that it will be.


13 JAN 2018

High Court ruling on Neighbourhood Plans

The High Court has made a judgement that the Written Ministerial Statement on Neighbourhood Plans and the 3 year housing land supply figure should stand.

The Written Ministerial Statement was issued by the then Minister of Housing, Gavin Barwell, at the end of 2016. Dismissing the challenge at the High Court, Mr Justice Dove said he could detect no legal flaw in the Written Ministerial Statement and ruled that the housebuilders' arguments were unsustainable.

The Written Ministerial Statement has set out the circumstances in which the policies contained in a Neighbourhood Plan would not be considered out of date if the District Council did not have a five year housing land supply. It set out when a three year housing land supply would be appropriate to use instead and the circumstances which would apply.

As Neighbourhood Planning Champion, I said:

"I am delighted with this judgement. It gives a great boost to Neighbourhood Plans. The fact is that Neighbourhood Plans are producing more houses than shown in their District Council Local Plans and are therefore helping to boost housing. I hope this now provides a suitably firm basis for the position regarding Neighbourhood Plans to be secure and I hope that many more communities will seek to take them up."

The case was Richborough Estates Limited & Ors v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/452/2017


13 JAN 2018

Update on Nettlebed Post Office

I had a meeting with the Post Office yesterday. The result was that the Post Office confirmed the following:

  • The Post Office wanted to ensure that a Post Office could be provided in Nettlebed;
  • They were trying to arrange an extension to the closure period set out by Malthurst in order to get more time to develop a replacement service;
  • They were looking to see whether the option of a permanent post office in Nettlebed would be viable;
  • If not, they were also looking at arrangements for a mobile service to be provided in Nettlebed subject to siting.
  • The meeting agreed that there was urgent need to find a solution to the problem of the post office in Nettlebed.

I said:

"This was a positive meeting and I commend the Post Office for the work it is doing to resolve the situation in Nettlebed. I am concerned to ensure that a mobile service will deliver what Nettlebed wants and needs if a more permanent solution cannot be found. Anyone who is keen to become post master in the village should let us know as quickly as possible."


11 JAN 2018

My question at Business Questions

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we have a statement on the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, because that would seem to be the only way of showing that no changes have been made to chemotherapy treatment at that hospital?

Paul Maynard

There has certainly been a degree of confusion over what is happening at the Churchill Hospital. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) was clear in the Chamber yesterday, and no one currently undergoing cancer treatment at the Churchill Hospital should in any way doubt that their treatment will continue. I would welcome any opportunity to make the situation at the Churchill Hospital clear.


10 JAN 2018

Speech on the NHS and winter

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I do not want to go through the increase in the number of operations carried out by the NHS, or to describe the enormous pressure of the numbers of people being seen by the NHS—plenty of other Members have already done that. I wish to concentrate on delayed discharges of care, which are an important factor not only when it comes to increasing the throughput of people in the health system, but in ensuring that people do not go into hospital in the first place.

In Oxfordshire, we have addressed delayed discharges of care in two ways, as part of our future planning for the NHS. First, with respect to the hospital in the town of Henley, I have been among those who have been active in trying to achieve the right balance with social care by ensuring that there are no beds in the hospital. There are beds in the neighbouring care home for those people who urgently need to stay, but all the emphasis is on ambulatory care—the treatment of patients in their own home—on which I have worked closely with the Royal College of Physicians. More and more patients now understand that they can get the right sort of treatment in their own homes and do not have to spend time in hospital. The approach has been taken up on the best of medical advice and I am grateful to the doctors who have supported it. I invite Ministers to come to see for themselves how the hospital works.

Secondly, we do cross-party work in the county involving all MPs who represent Oxfordshire. I chair the group that has a relationship with the clinical commissioning group, not so much to hold it to account, but to ensure that it is focused on the things on which it says it will focus. One of the CCG's great achievements is its focus on delayed discharges of care. I shall cite a couple of the figures so that Members will understand the CCG's enormous achievement over the past year in planning for the better treatment of delayed discharges of care. At the end of December, the number of Oxfordshire patients whose discharge of care was delayed was 96, whereas the number in May had been 181. That is a magnificent achievement, as the number of delayed discharges of care has been almost halved. When Ministers hear about that half, they should understand that it is not a half increase but a half decrease in the number of people whose discharge of care was delayed. That improvement has been achieved by making sure that the right resources are in place for those patients who need them to return home. It has not happened because people are going home without the support that they need.

Finally, on the story in The Times this morning about Churchill Hospital, I have with me a letter from the hospital saying it has not implemented any changes to cancer treatment whatsoever. I am happy to provide a copy of that letter to the Library so that Members can read it.


10 JAN 2018

Speech on mental health in prisons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

This is such a crucial issue that it has been of great interest to the Select Committee on Justice throughout our sittings. I remember well that when the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) was as member of that Committee, she and I attended a number of prisons and examined this issue together while looking round them.

There is a high likelihood that prisoners will have some form of mental illness. The 1998 study to which the hon. Lady referred, which showed that 90% of prisoners had some sort of mental health issue, had so many people in it because alcohol misuse and drugs misuse were included within that definition, and that is quite broad.

I want to mention the drugs scene in prisons. We have to accept that two groups of people suffer from drug problems in prison: those who had drug problems before they went into prison, which should have been picked up in the assessment process—I will say something about that in a minute—and those who are switched on to drugs while in prison. The hon. Lady and I both know that a lot of effort is being put in to try to prevent the smuggling of drugs into prisons, particularly as people use more and more sophisticated means, such as drones, to do so. We have to stop these things coming into prisons.

The point made about the need for information sharing and about the assessment process when prisoners arrive is absolutely crucial. From the experience that the hon. Lady and I have had looking around prisons, it is absolutely the case that the assessment process is de minimis: it does not go into the depth that one would expect. That is partly for the historical reason that mental health has been a second service, and I hope that it is now changing.

Kate Green

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about that initial assessment. Does he agree that it is important that, when someone is already under the care of mental health services in the community, evidence is gathered from their own practitioner, and that it is not enough just to gather the evidence, but that conclusions need to be drawn and appropriate routes taken and that may mean not remanding or incarcerating someone as a result of a conviction?

John Howell

I agree with the hon. Lady. This problem goes back to the whole way in which the justice system is set up in anticipating the mental health issues suffered by many of the people who are brought before the courts. If a problem can be identified there, a better treatment can perhaps be undertaken to solve it. A greater emphasis needs to be put on the assessment process, which needs to include a very good assessment of patients' mental health conditions.

There are two aspects that I want to mention in connection with that. One is the power that we are giving prison governors. I am all in favour of giving prison governors back powers over their own prisons, but as a component of that we have to ensure that prison governors and their staff are fully aware of the mental health issues that they will face. From my visits to the prison in my constituency, I would not want to put a huge amount of greater stress on the prison governor, who is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances, but I would like to ensure a minimum level of mental health awareness at that level so that it can be taken into account. After all, as we are trying to put mental health care workers, or somebody with responsibility for mental health, into schools, it seems only appropriate that we should do the same in our prison estate, where larger numbers of people suffer from those issues.

My second point is the importance of purposeful imprisonment. It is absolutely crucial that we do not allow prisoners to stay in their cells for up to 22 hours a day. We need to find things for them to do. I will mention an example, because I think it predates the time when the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston was a member of the Select Committee. We went on a trip to Denmark, where we visited a prison. There is nothing unusual in that, but there was a great deal of unusualness in the way in which the prisoners were allowed to operate. Instead of the "Porridge"-style large prison benches for food, the prisoners were allowed to cook their own food. There was an issue over knives, which had to be chained to the wall, and things like that, but the prisoners could earn their own money, buy food from the shops and cook their own food.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)

I cannot resist asking a question now, although I will be talking about this in my speech. Does my hon. Friend agree that gardening projects—for example, prisoners growing their produce at the prison and then cooking it—can also be highly beneficial?

John Howell

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to recognise the extent of purposeful intent in the prison system; if gardening can fulfil that purpose, it is a very good one. I would like to see more done on prisoners' ability to cook for themselves. I asked this of a former Lord Chancellor, who assured me that it was being developed within the prison system, so I hope that it is.

That is all I want to add to the debate. It is important and the issues that the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston raised are very germane to the topic.


10 JAN 2018

Intervention on housing in the Chilterns

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Dame Cheryl Gillan

If I must this early on.

John Howell

I thank my right hon. Friend for graciously giving way. Will she comment on the Campaign to Protect Rural England's position that AONBs should be used only for affordable housing? How does that fit into the rural set-up for AONBs?

Dame Cheryl Gillan

My hon. Friend will have to hold fire. I will come to such matters later in my speech, but I thank him for his intervention.


08 JAN 2018

Contribution in debate on Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. An important element of what he is talking about is the business community. What consultation has taken place with businesses, and what feedback has there been?

Mel Stride

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. At the heart of the issues that we are discussing are British businesses of all sizes. Because we want to ensure that we have an environment that is as good as possible for those businesses, consultation has been at the heart of our approach. We produced a discussion paper last year, as well as a White Paper, to which we received responses. I know that my colleagues in Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have been actively engaged for many months in roundtable discussions with not just businesses, but representatives of ports and airports, and all the important actors in the process of importing and exporting into and out of the United Kingdom.


08 JAN 2018

My question in the Urgent Question on the NHS in Winter

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In Oxfordshire, considerable effort is being put into growing home-based health and social care systems. Does the Minister accept that that will solve the problem of delayed discharges of care by preventing them in the first place?

Mr Dunne

I agree that prevention is an important part of the long-term solution to improve healthcare outcomes for the population. I believe we are on the cusp of some significant technological advances that will allow more treatment to take place at home and more diagnostic tests to be taken without the necessity of attending acute facilities. Oxfordshire is a good leader in that.


08 JAN 2018

Europe Prize

I have have been appointed to help decide who should receive the prestigious Europe Prize from the Council of Europe.

The Europe Prize was set up in 1955 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to reward municipalities which are particularly active in promoting European ideals.

The Prize recognises the efforts made by local authorities to champion themselves in Europe (by twinning their towns with other European towns, and organising exchange visits).

I said:

"I am delighted to have been appointed to help decide who should win the Europe Prize. It is a good example of us not leaving Europe and playing our full part across the continent. Last year's winner was Lublin in Poland, a town I know very well. I hope that we receive equally good applications this year. Following the Referendum, we may be leaving the EU but I am glad that we are still participating in strong European activities."


28 DEC 2017

Nettlebed Post Office

I only became aware that there is a problem in Nettlebed with the Post Office just before Christmas. I do appreciate how important the facility is and, of course, I will do all I can to help the village keep a Post Office.

In the last few days before Christmas we have had conversations with Malthurst Ltd who run the petrol station. It is clear that this decision is being taken because Malthurst Ltd believes the Post Office is not commercially viable and not because the Post Office nationally wants to close it down. There is some confusion as to whether the reason is insurance alone. We continue to be in touch with Malthurst and hope that now, after the Christmas break, we can meet them to pursue the matter. I also have a meeting with the Post Offices Ltd in the diary for early in the New Year and will, of course, discuss this among other things.

You may have heard a recent Government announcement on additional investment in the Post Office network. This may be timely and I will need to check the detail. I do think it is important to gather as much information as possible and I am grateful for this being brought to my attention. I will post updates on this web site.


26 DEC 2017

Neighbourhood Planning Champion

Neighbourhood Planning is transforming the planning system throughout the country and over 2,200 communities are now fully involved in producing a Neighbourhood Plan. This popular approach to planning, in helping to shape the future of local areas, is having a profound effect on local communities.

In order to help take this work forward the Department for Communities and Local Government has re-appointed me as Neighbourhood Planning Champion.

The experience and insights I have gained is very valuable. It is hoped I will be able to encourage commubnities to take up Neighbourhood Planning and to update their Plans as this becomes due. In addition, DCLG has announced a further £22.8 million for 2018-22 to support Neighbourhood Planning groups across the country.

I said:

"I am delighted to be reappointed to continue this important work of encouraging communities to develop Neighbourhood Plans. They are proving their worth in so many different locations around the country and are establishing good partnership arrangements with local district councils. I look forward to working with local communities."


26 DEC 2017

Good news for Puma 2 and RAF Benson

Airbus Helicopters has saved 25 jobs at RAF Benson and at its base at Oxford Airport. This arises as a result of Airbus Helicopters being chosen to continue its operational support to the RAF Puma 2 fleet which is based at RAF Benson. This follows speeches and questions I made in the House of Commons about the future of Puma 2.

The contract for this work is worth an initial £100 million and will see the company provide technical support and logistics until March 2022 with the facility to extend until March 2025.

What the contract will provide is repair and overhaul services to the helicopters together with training to all Puma avionics and mechanical technicians as well as engineering managers.

I said:

"I am delighted to see the continuation of Puma 2 and that this contract has been awarded. There were rumours that the Puma 2 was on its way out. But this suggests otherwise. I spoke in a debate in the House of Commons and asked a question at Prime Minister's Question time about the future of the Puma 2 which is essential to the future of RAF Benson."

"In addition, we only have to look at the contribution that these aircraft have made to operations around the world: whether deploying in Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral or supporting vital aid in the Caribbean following the recent hurricane disasters, the Pumas have shown their enormous ability to be ready for operations within a few hours of arrival, and they make an ideal platform to support special forces."

The contract follows on from a previous and very successful Interim Support Arrangement, which has seen Airbus Helicopters support the aircraft since the first upgraded Puma 2 entered service in 2012.

Ian Morris, Head of UK defence programmes at Airbus Helicopters, said,

"This follow on contract re-affirms the confidence that the MoD has in the aircraft and in Airbus to continue to provide a cost effective and highly capable solution that will allow the Puma to continue to support our forces on operations, in very demanding conditions."

"We are delighted that Airbus Helicopters has been chosen to continue providing operational support to the Royal Air Force Puma 2 fleet based at RAF Benson over the planned service life of the aircraft."


24 DEC 2017

Happy Christmas

I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful time.


21 DEC 2017

Universal Service Obligation for broadband

Yesterday, the Culture Secretary announced a Universal Service Obligation that will give everyone in the UK access to high speed broadband, meaning that everyone can get online, regardless of where they live or work. This will provide a minimum of 10 mbps.


20 DEC 2017

Interventions in debate on Ukraine

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What my right hon. Friend is saying makes perfect sense, particularly his description of the Russians' involvement. Those of us who serve on the Council of Europe are determined that Russia's bid to come back to the Council should be accompanied by concessions. The biggest concession I want to see is its removal from Donbass. Does he agree with that?

Mr Whittingdale

I agree very much with my hon. Friend. I want to see the entire territorial integrity of Ukraine restored, including not just Donbass but Crimea. In the immediate future, I believe he is right and I am delighted to hear of his work on this question in the Council of Europe. We need to put maximum pressure on Russia to withdraw its support from the terrorists in east Ukraine, and I will say more about that.

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John Howell

My hon. Friend mentions the word "genocide". Does she recognise that without Ukraine, we would not have the term "genocide" or, indeed, "crimes against humanity"? As Philippe Sands pointed out in his book, it was the invention of those at the time of the second world war that has prompted all our subsequent activity in this area.

Mrs Latham

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I will come on to that. It seems ironic that that is where the term "genocide" came from, yet this country does not recognise it.


19 DEC 2017

Question in Statement on police funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am sure the Minister will join me in congratulating Thames Valley police on their outstanding ranking in the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy review. Will he also tell us how the funding settlement takes into account the needs of rural policing?

Mr Hurd

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I join him in congratulating Thames Valley on its outstanding rating, which I know it takes great pride in. Rural policing is extremely important to many constituents. I come back to the central point, which is that we have devolved accountability and responsibility in the police system. The allocation of new resources and new investment in our policing is a conversation to be had with the local democratically elected police and crime commissioner. I know from personal conversation that they take the matter extremely seriously.


18 DEC 2017

Speech on enslavement of Africans in Libya

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The number of refugees in the world is colossal; I think it is in the region of 60 million people. It is certainly more than the population of Britain. We need to remember that when we discuss the refugee situation and how to stop making it worse in the future. We have the opportunity in Africa to get the situation right the first time, and I hope we will take that opportunity.

In my intervention, I mentioned that I spend a lot of my time in Nigeria as the Prime Minister's trade envoy. That is not just about trade; it goes right across the spectrum of political and DFID-related activities that occur in that country. I would like to say a little bit more about the conversations I had the last time I was there, because it is a very good example of how we can get it right if we try.

Nigeria has enormous problems with a terrorist group in the north-east and has contributed hugely to human trafficking in Africa. It has the potential to make an even bigger contribution, which I would not wish to encourage. Why would that occur? Why would people leave their homes and move away from where they live to entrust themselves to unscrupulous people traffickers on the coast of Libya? There are several reasons. One is clearly the terrorist situation in the country. The only way we will deal with that is not a military option but by ensuring that the growth we want to see in the country is shared out across it to the people who are participating in generating that growth. That goes to the heart of the second group of people involved, which is the population at large.

Unless we help to get sub-Saharan Africa right, which means contributing to the activities that Governments want to carry out to improve their countries so that growth can spread more evenly and more people can participate in it, the effect on Europe could be colossal. I mention Europe in that context because that is where we are and the perspective from which we are looking at the situation. We have to redouble our efforts as a Government and with companies there to ensure that that happens.

Many British companies are looking at the market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Prime Minister's emphasis on tackling modern slavery is providing an enormous competitive advantage to those companies. They can turn up in the Nigerian market and say, "We fully subscribe to the Prime Minister's modern slavery agenda." The people in Africa absolutely rise to that challenge, and it is really heart-warming to see.

As I mentioned, I have been to discuss this issue with Unilever, which is part-Dutch but principally a British company. It has been very successful in stamping out modern slavery from its entire supply chain. That company works, among other areas, in the agricultural sphere, in which many poor people are in need of something to live for and aspire to. It is a great triumph to have got rid of modern slavery, because that is just the sort of thing that will make the country right and ensure that people there have something to live for when they get up in the morning and go to work. I am very pleased to have been able to help with that.

I know there is a lot to do in the world in this area. For instance, there is a crisis that I do not think we have ever talked about in this Chamber: the second largest group of displaced people in the world is actually not in Syria or in Africa, but in Colombia.

I do not underestimate what we have to do to tackle this problem, but unless we are prepared to put the effort into tackling it and making sure our companies do the same, we will never solve it. That will not only be to the loss of Africa, which is an immensely rich and opportunistic continent—I mean that in the nicest possible sense of the word—with so much going for it, but it will also affect us. We all ought to bear that in mind. There is an element of self-interest in this, as there always has to be. By putting the emphasis on this issue and getting it right, we will help to make sure that the African situation does not extend into mass migration, with many millions of people putting themselves into the hands of unscrupulous people traffickers.

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John Howell

I want to pick up on the previous intervention. I think that there is a huge role for British companies in educating people in their country. I went to see Unilever in Nigeria; it has eradicated modern slavery from its whole supply chain, and that has had a big effect in the effort to convince Nigerians that they should stay and make something of themselves in their own country. Unless we do that, we shall run into a lot of problems.

Paul Scully

My hon. Friend makes a typically insightful point, and it is right to use some of our big companies working in the areas in question to provide education and secondary industries. As we move into looking at trade agreements with Africa but while we are also a member of the EU, we could seek tariff reduction as well. Obviously a big concern is tariffs on the least developed countries, but with the slightly better-off countries such as Nigeria, the "Everything but Arms" rules do not apply. They are charged a lot in tariffs on coffee and chocolate and similar things, and cannot build up the secondary industries that would help to develop gainful employment, so that people would have a stake in their own area and not feel the need to leave to find a better life.

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John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He mentioned Nigeria; when I visited it as the Prime Minister's trade envoy, I had a discussion about this problem. We all agreed that if we did not help to get sub-Saharan Africa right, the catastrophe waiting to happen in Europe would be colossal, as more and more Nigerians put themselves in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers on the way to Libya and the Mediterranean coast. Does he agree that that is a realistic view of the situation?

Paul Scully

I understand my hon. Friend's expertise and knowledge of the area and totally agree with him. There is a real risk. We can tackle the atrocities of the slave trade in Libya, and Libya's power vacuum, but ultimately the biggest threat to that part of the world and many others is migration—and not necessarily just migration through conflict. Economic reasons, climate reasons and any number of other reasons are moving such a mass of people, which causes other situations.


14 DEC 2017

Intervention in debate on Sharm el Sheikh

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does it not come as a great surprise to my hon. Friend that the ban on flights to Tunisia, which is immediately opposite ISIL- infested beaches in Libya, was lifted, whereas the Sharm el Sheikh ban has not been lifted, although it was British expertise that helped to restore that airport to its current excellent status?

Mr Lord

I agree with my hon. Friend. When the all-party parliamentary group on Egypt, of which the right hon. Member for East Ham and I are co-chairmen, visited the country recently, it was instructive to note that virtually everyone we met was aware of the continuing UK ban. Parliamentarians, Ministers and business people obviously knew that the UK was now encouraging tourism back to Tunisia, and they took it as a bit of an affront that we were not helping Egypt in a similar way. Given that the UK's 25-point plan has been fully implemented, they find it very disappointing that Sharm El Sheikh airport remains closed to UK flights. The UK is now unique in being the only European country to operate such a ban: every other country in the EU allows flights to Sharm El Sheikh. The ban has had a significant economic impact on the resort's tourist economy, which is highly reliant on the UK tourism trade. Hotels are operating at only 35% of capacity.


13 DEC 2017

Speech on quality in the built environment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on securing the debate. She covered in great detail and with great aplomb the snagging problems that arise with individual homes.

I want to take us back a stage in the process. I do not want to see the built environment characterised by little boxes or rabbit hutches, nor do I want to see it characterised by little boxes and rabbit hutches that are badly built. In around 2011, I was one of those here who was responsible for introducing neighbourhood planning as a means of dealing with that. Neighbourhood planning has become very well known for giving communities a say over where housing should go, but it is less well known that they have the right also to comment on what those buildings should look like.

The reason we have a large number of rabbit hutches and little boxes is that house builders largely go about the building of their houses on their own, with no influence from the communities in which they operate. A great deal of influence from communities would be of great advantage to the people who will live in those houses and to the communities, because of the overall impression they create, as well as to the house builders, who would produce exactly what someone wants.

That deals a bit with the big picture stuff. I completely agree that there is still a need to get the details of the housing right, but I want to continue on that in my role as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary design and innovation group. That is particularly relevant to the points I made about the use of neighbourhood planning for people to decide what sort of houses they want to get involved with.

I was very pleased to see that the Design Council has produced a guide to neighbourhood planning. When a body such as the Design Council gets involved in neighbourhood planning, it represents a significant shift in the attitude of communities to taking advantage of the principles we set out in neighbourhood planning, to talk about and have influence over the design aspects of what they are trying to include in their neighbourhood plan. Having some influence on design and being able to participate in the design process is fundamental to the success of the neighbourhood planning process.

Mrs Miller

My hon. Friend is right to bring up the issue of design. Does he share my concern at how often new houses and new settlements are designed without any thought for disabled people who might live in those settlements? At the moment, an office block is being converted into a new community in my constituency. The local authority is not able to insist on disabled access in that office block because it is a conversion, which means the rules on disabled access do not apply.

John Howell

My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The conversion of buildings is largely permitted development, and therefore the community has no ability to get into that. I go back to my fundamental point, which is that the community's involvement in the process at the beginning should take account of what will be required for disabled people. That should feed into the design parameters that should be being discussed with the house builders, to get the design of the house right.

I echo the Design Council's comment that embedding good design in a neighbourhood plan is crucial. The sad thing is that very few neighbourhood plans include design. They are mostly concerned with where the housing should go, and they do not look at design. Even within my constituency, there is a community that forgot to look at design criteria when producing its neighbourhood plan. Later, when it tried to object to a particular design format being used for an area, it did not have anything to rely on to make that change. It is of no consequence to that community now that it missed the boat, but that serves as a good lesson for communities looking at producing a neighbourhood plan that they should include some design features.

Overall, I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds in her concentration on problems with individual houses, but I urge communities to go back one stage in the process. They need to include design in their neighbourhood plan and ensure they have really got to grips with what they want to see, so that they can influence the type and design of buildings from the outset.


13 DEC 2017

Monthly unemployment figures

My assessment of the monthly figures on unemployment published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

  • There are 325,000 more people in work than this time last year.
  • Youth unemployment is down 416,000 since 2010.
  • 182,000 fewer people are unemployed than this time last year.

Let's look at the quality of the jobs which these ONS figures state have been created. All of the increase in employment in the last year has come from full-time employment. Full-time employment is up on the year. Part-time employment is down 12,000 on the year. Over 87 per cent of those in part-time work are working part-time by choice. The number of part-time workers who could not find a full time job fell 153,000 on the year.

Key facts for the Henley constituency:

  • The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in November 2017 was 275.
  • The number of claimants in the Henley constituency is the same as in October 2017.
  • There were 30 claimants aged 18-24 in November 2017.


12 DEC 2017

Question on animal welfare

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that preventing people who abuse animals from owning animals is a very good thing to include in the Bill?

Zac Goldsmith

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and I thank him for making that point.

The Secretary of State has said:

"As we leave the European Union there are opportunities for us to go further and to improve... animal welfare".

Of course, he is right. For example—this goes to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) was making—as we leave the EU, we will be able to end the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening, which is a grim process for tens of thousands of animals every year. Last year, 3,000 calves were transported from Scotland via Ireland to Spain and over 45,000 sheep were taken from the UK through continental Europe. Under EU single market rules, the UK has not been able to stop that—we have tried, but we have not succeeded. I am thrilled that Ministers have indicated that they are minded to act as soon as we are allowed. If we do, we will be the first European country to do so and will be setting what I hope will become a trend.


12 DEC 2017

Question on Lord Kerslake

Question on Lord Kerslake's resignation from the Kings Hospital Trust

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What has NHS Improvement said about this, and what has it recommended that King's should do?

Mr Dunne

As I have indicated, the chief executive of NHS Improvement said yesterday that no other trust

"has shown the sheer scale and pace of the deterioration at King's. It is not acceptable for individual organisations to run up such significant deficits when the majority of the sector is working extremely hard to hit their financial plans, and in many cases have made real progress."

That is from the regulator responsible for putting the trust into special measures for now.


12 DEC 2017

My question on the bank levy

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Is not the important point about the bank levy that we are trying to get a fair contribution paid by the banks, matched against the risk they pose to the whole UK economy?

Mel Stride

My hon. Friend is entirely right, which is why we have generally moved away from a levy on the capital assets of banks as regulation has improved, and towards a tax on the profitability of banks as that profitability has recovered following the events of 2008, which happened on the watch of the last Government. This re-scope forms part of the broader package of reforms announced between 2015 and 2016 that included an 8% surcharge on bank profits over £25 million. The package will help to sustain tax revenues from the banking sector in the long term.


09 DEC 2017

Brexit

As news came in from Brussels yesterday,  I offered my congratulations to the PM for securing a good deal for us over the Brexit negotiations. It is a good compromise on citizens' rights and has established some sound and good principles for the future. Many will not have wanted to leave and like me will have voted in the referendum to remain. That decision was won by those who wnated to Leave and should be upheld.  But this deal sets out some fundamental principles for the way forward and provides the security business and we all need. It allows us to put our energies into getting the right relationship with the EU for the future. It defies the negativiity that has dogged the press and media coverage of this issue.

There are some good concessions from the EU too. In essence they are:

  • UK courts to have final judgement.
  • Future EU spouses subject to UK immigration.
  • Rebate to apply to payments.

For a limited time, our courts will be able to ask the ECJ for a legal view on the law in relation to citizens' rights where there is a point of law that has not arisen before, but only if they wish to do so. The EU have accepted that future EU spouses will be subject to the UK immigration law provisions that apply to non-EU spouses currently. A bill in the range £35-£39 billion is significantly below initial EU estimates and will only be paid when the commitments are due and depend on broader agreement on our future partnership.


07 DEC 2017

Speech on prisons

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have three questions for the Minister. First, he has heard our concerns about the quality of the ageing estate and the living conditions of prisoners. What is he going to do about it? My second question relates to the status of the Government's closure plans and the plans to update and replace our ageing prisons. What is he going to do about it? My third is about the impact of the uncertainty over closures on what the prisons are trying to do to update and improve their facilities.

To deal with my first question, the Minister will have seen, as we have, responses from the chief inspector of prisons. He has heard from Members today that in many prisons they have seen that showers and lavatory facilities are filthy and dilapidated and there are no credible or affordable plans for refurbishment. In a report published only a couple of months ago, the chief inspector of prisons said:

"prisoners are held in conditions that fall short of what most members of the public would consider as reasonable or decent".

My first question on what the Government are doing to address that is therefore very relevant.

On my second question, the Minister himself said only a couple of months ago that although his first priority is to ensure public protection and provide accommodation for all those sentenced by the courts, the commitment to close old prisons remains a viable option with which he wishes to continue. I would like to hear some detail about what is happening with that programme. The prison estate transformation programme reconfigured the estate into three functions looking after reception, training and resettlement, and those three are crucial to the better treatment of prisoners. The Ministry was also given £1.3 billion in 2015 as part of the spending review to invest over the next five years to transform the prison estates. What exactly is happening to that, what progress is being made and how is it being dealt with?

As for my third question, on the impact of the uncertainty about closure on prison performance and staff morale, I would echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) about the visit to Rochester prison. I was unable to go on that visit myself, but it is crucial that the lessons from it are learned. One lesson was, as governors told the Committee, that the decision about investing in maintenance or improving the facilities had not gone ahead since the announcement that the prison would close. As we have heard, the old 1840s prison buildings there are described as "deplorable" and "deteriorating". That has an impact on recruitment, which had been frozen in Rochester, and it proves demoralising to staff.

I think that those three questions are the most pertinent.

Robert Neill

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the Rochester issue. He might like to know that we found on one wing that some 22 showers had been out of operation for months. When we spoke to people there, they said that the nub of the problem was that the facilities management contractors do not see the governors as their client. They see their client relationship being with MOJ's commercial arm. That needs to be got right, because it means that the efforts of governors get nowhere—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)

Order. Can I be honest? We need shorter interventions. The hon. Gentleman was hoping to get two minutes at the end of the debate; he is eating into that two minutes, and he will understand if he does not get them.

John Howell

I fully accept the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), which goes back to what I said about the prison having given up on trying to invest any money in refurbishment or in replacing its ageing facilities. I have already quoted the chief inspector of prisons, who said that the shower and lavatory facilities in many prisons are filthy and dilapidated.

What will the Government do to address our concerns about the quality of the ageing estate? What are they doing about the current programme of reform and estate modernisation? What impact is the uncertainty about closures having both on the prisons themselves and on the lives of prisoners? Those are the three most relevant questions.


07 DEC 2017

Question on moving US Embassy in Israel

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I completely share the Government's view on this statement by the President of the United States, but I do not believe that it brings the process for a two-state solution to an end. Indeed, I believe it gives greater emphasis to the work that we can carry on to achieve that. Does the Minister agree?

Alistair Burt

As I said earlier, the peace process towards a two-state solution will come to an end only when the parties themselves feel that it cannot go any further. It is vital that we and all our partners—including the United States—reaffirm that commitment to the two-state solution, and do our level best to ensure that it is not lost.


07 DEC 2017

Question on Nigerian agriculture

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on promoting UK agriculture in negotiations on future trade agreements. [902791]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Michael Gove)

Ministers and officials meet regularly to discuss the promotion of UK agriculture. Only last night I was talking to the Secretary of State for International Trade, to ensure that in the next 12 months we place the promotion of British food at the heart of our joint governmental endeavours.

John Howell

As the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I recently hosted a visit of the Nigerian agriculture Minister to the UK. Does the Secretary of State accept that the UK is leading in innovation and education in agriculture, and that we have a lot to offer that country?

Michael Gove

My hon. Friend has done an outstanding job as trade envoy to one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and there is much that we can do together to improve the transfer of technology between our two countries. Nigeria offers huge opportunities to our exporters, which I know my hon. Friend has done much to help to advance.


06 DEC 2017

Speech on unduly lenient sentences

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who hit the nail on the head in securing this timely debate. Under-sentencing has a number of effects—it causes outrage for the victim, it demoralises the police and it may cause public danger, but more important than all those things, it hinders the development of a rational sentencing procedure in the courts. It is important to bear that in mind.

We heard from my right hon. Friend that the subjects covered by the unduly lenient sentences scheme were extended in August to include terrorist activities, so it is open for them to be further extended in the way that he suggests. I presume that the Solicitor General has some sympathy with that view. I know that he is working hard to try to bring charges against people who have received unduly lenient sentences, and he has had some success with that in the courts.

Let me return to the point that I made in an intervention on my right hon. Friend. The Justice Committee is a statutory consultee of the Sentencing Council, which produces guidelines for judges about what sentences should be applied in individual cases and how they should be applied. I understand, having reviewed some of those things, that this is difficult because the issues are complex and challenging. For example, the Select Committee looked at intimidatory offences and domestic abuse, which would be ideal for inclusion in the scheme, but our efforts to give concrete examples were bedevilled by the complexity of the issues involved.

However, we should put more emphasis on this issue. We ought to give a firm steer to the Justice Committee that it can take as hard a line as it likes and give a good, rational steer in this area. One of the things I was most taken aback by when looking at domestic abuse cases was the mitigating factors that were brought in, which included good character, provocation, self-referral for treatment and so on. They have their place, of course, but there seemed to be too strong an emphasis on them rather than on getting sentencing right in the first place. Unless we get sentencing right, we will blunt the deterrent effect of the criminal law. That would be a disaster for us and a disaster for the judicial system.


06 DEC 2017

Speech on Israel

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who opened this debate, for his clear statement that the Labour party is not anti-Semitic. That is a very useful thing to have put on the record.

This region is one of the most contested in the world, with extremely complex land ownership issues. It is important to contextualise those before discussing the issue, rather than simply inferring from the debate's title that all Israel wishes to do is to destroy Palestinian homes. We need to go back to the Oslo accords of 1993 and how they split areas A, B and C. I have seen in press reports from the Palestinian side that the Palestinians have admitted that the structures they have put out in area C are in fact illegal. There is no getting away from that—that is exactly what they have admitted. I have spent years trying to reform the planning system in the UK; I am not going to try to reform the planning system in Israel.

The Oslo generation needs to move away from what we have seen so far. It is that generation that has participated in the stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks during the recent waves of terrorism. The institutionalised radicalisation behind those attacks is perhaps the most significant obstacle to a lasting peace in the generations to come.

It is time that we put more effort into a reconciliation deal, but that deal must include the demilitarisation of the Hamas terror group, and the Palestinian Authority must deliver on their commitment to end incitement and hate education, as they agreed to in the Oslo accords. If those obstacles can be overcome, the issues of borders, settlements—which have been discussed today—and security can finally be negotiated in direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.


06 DEC 2017

Speech on youth employment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on initiating a thoroughly brilliant debate.

I stand here with some embarrassment, as the product of three universities, and stand shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friend in a party that really believes in opportunity and matching those opportunities to the individual. That is a very important point to make. I stand here with some embarrassment also because in my constituency, the number of youth unemployed receiving jobseeker's allowance or universal credit was 25 according to the November figures. That is 25 people across the whole of the constituency, under the age of 24, who were unemployed. I want to look briefly at some of the reasons for that figure. We have discussed them but perhaps I can draw them together again.

This is all about apprenticeships. First, I will mention a type of apprenticeship that illustrates the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), which is at the company DAF Trucks, the truck maker in my constituency. It has established an academic relationship with a university just outside Bristol, and it celebrates the granting of those apprenticeships as if it were the granting of degrees. It is absolutely brilliant that they have done that.

Secondly, there are apprenticeships with semi-government organisations. Examples in my constituency include the work being done at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, in electrical training apprenticeships, and at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which has been running apprenticeships on site for 12 years. I have become very involved with them in the sort of apprenticeships that they run. Thirdly, there are the type of apprenticeships that companies themselves sort out. A very good example in my constituency is the furniture maker StuartBarr, which has organised apprenticeships for a number of young people.

There is a difference in the way in which different schools approach apprenticeships. Some schools have gone out of their way to establish good relationships with business, but others still see going to university as the prime reason for the school. They do their children no favours at all in pursuing that line.

Fourthly, there are apprenticeships in genuine government organisations, such as prisons, which I mentioned in my intervention, where there is an incentive to get purposeful living out of prisoners to ensure that they do not reoffend. The use of apprenticeships there can be quite helpful.

The thing that all those types of apprenticeship have in common is hard work. They are not easy to run. They are not easy for students to undergo—and nor should they be, because this is about getting the skills for a future in life. We MPs can play an enormous role by encouraging apprenticeships and by talking to businesses and explaining the motivation behind the Government programmes that support apprenticeships.

Leo Docherty

My hon. Friend makes his point very eloquently. Does he agree that the link between business and education establishments is really important? Industry knows what it wants, and if it tells educational establishments what it wants, people will study for apprenticeships with enthusiasm because they know that they will be employed meaningfully at the end. We have had tremendous success with Farnborough College of Technology, which speaks directly to industry in Farnborough. Does he agree that that link is critical to the success of this model?

John Howell

I totally agree that that link is essential. An example in my constituency is Henley College, which has good networks of relationships and runs apprenticeship programmes that businesses actually want and can deliver for the students who take them. That is a crucial point. It would be pointless to offer apprenticeships that just float about in space and give no benefit at all to the people who take them. We want high-quality apprenticeships that deliver for everyone. Apprenticeships need to be win-win for both the academic organisation and the business. From my experience, that is perfectly achievable.


05 DEC 2017

Big Lottery Fund winners

Congratulations to the following organisations on their recent award of Big Lottery Fund wins: Headway, Tetsworth PC, Checkendon PC and Little Milton School – a total of over £30,000.

Headway Thames Valley Limited

Living With Brain Injury Courses

£8,447

This project will develop their services for people facing physical and cognitive disabilities by delivering Living with Brain Injury courses to provide support and advice to people affected by brain injuries.

Tetsworth Parish Council

Provide a new play area & activity centre

£10,000

The Parish Council will install play equipment within the local play area to improve the health and wellbeing of children and adults in the local community.

Checkendon Parish Council

Checkendon Adventure Playground regeneration

£2,712

The project will provide play equipment and seating for to support the establishment of a village hub in the form of a play, recreational and social space for the benefit of people within the local rural village.

Little Milton Church of England Primary School

Fighting fit through martial arts

£9,931

This group will use the funding to run a programme of martial arts sessions and parent support networks to improve the lives, emotional and physical development of children.


30 NOV 2017

Floating Pennywort

i called for an urgent debate today in the House of Commons on the weed, Floating Pennywort. The weed is threatening aquatic wildlife in and around Henley and across stretches of the Thames.

The text of the exchange between me and the Leader of the House, the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, is reproduced below:

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

May we have a debate on a weed called floating pennywort? It is a strong contender for the worst aquatic weed in the UK and it is affecting large stretches of the Thames, including around Henley. A debate would allow us to sort out how to deal with it.

Andrea Leadsom

I agree with my hon. Friend that floating pennywort is a highly invasive non-native species that has a significant environmental impact. The Environment Agency has removed thousands of tonnes of this plant as part of a co-ordinated programme of removal and spraying to control its growth. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the EA redoubled its efforts to remove floating pennywort from the Thames and its tributaries throughout October and November and is putting in place a spraying, removal and monitoring programme from spring 2018.

This follows information i received from the Environment Agency confirming that it is using its permissive powers to work with riparian landowners. The EA went on:

"This is the case for works currently underway to remove floating pennywort along sections of the Thames . For example, backwaters of the River Thames at Sonning and the River Kennet at Blakes Lock were largely cleared of the plant in the last few weeks. We are aiming to begin similar works around Henley before the end of the year, with the support of specialist contractors. We will also undertake further works on some of the river stretches already tackled in order to reduce further the risk of regrowth.

"The current cool conditions have slowed growth down, making it a good time to remove floating pennywort, but in warmer months the plant can grow extremely quickly and spread from very small fragments. Effective long term management is extremely challenging, potentially very costly, but very important if the plant's spread is to be controlled."

i said:

"This is a case where I thought it right to call for a debate in the House of Commons to clarify what was being done and how it was being dealt with. This is a really nasty weed that changes the availability of oxygen in the river and thus threatens fish and invertebrates, chokes drainage systems and crowds out native water plants. It's able to grow at phenomenal rates. My post bag has had a lot of coverage of the issue."


30 NOV 2017

Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway

There has been much speculation and concern on the route of the proposed Oxford Cambridge Expressway. This is a project in which I have taken much interest in defence of constituents. I am of the firm opinion that the route should utilise existing roads wherever possible rather than carve a new path through Green Belt land to the south of Oxford. Given that there are alternatives, I believe that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to use Green Belt land for this. Further with the requirement for housing to help fund the new road there is even greater reason to avoid a route through the Green Belt.

I have had discussion with the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that he is aware of the local issues and have also put these concerns in writing to him. I have also discussed the matter with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government due to the potential issues of housing to be built along the route

I am encouraged by the view of the Chancellor that the new road is critical to the growth of Milton Keynes as this strongly suggests a northern route. The National Infrastructure Commission announcement published on 17th November also talks of an Oxford - Milton Keynes - Cambridge arc.

I understand that Highways England is close to finalising a strategic study to look at an Expressway that will run from the M4 through Milton Keynes to the M11. So far, I understand, there have been no decisions into which route should be chosen which is subject to further analysis. An announcement is expected in the summer of 2018. There will then be a non-statutory consultation on the preferred routes in 2019 with an announcement in the autumn of 2020. Queries on the Expressway should be directed to Matt Stafford at Highways England who can be reached on OxfordToCambridgeExpressway@highwaysengland.co.uk

In the meantime I have also raised concerns about the transparency of the work on this project and you will note above the situation with regard to the consultation. A project of this magnitude should have ready access to as much information as possible in the public domain. I accept that some competitive data needs to remain private but feel that the lack of information is adding to speculation. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene so that as much information as possible can be immediately put into the public domain with explanation as to what is being held back and why.


29 NOV 2017

Health issues and meetings

Today I held a number of meetings in Westminster on health issues.  The first of these was a meeting with two constituents from Goring on the problems of cystic fibrosis.  It is a disease I understand quite well as I used to do work for the CF Holiday Fund newsletter.

The second of these was a meeting with the Chief Executive of a Cervical Cancer charity to help make Cervical Cancer a thing of the past. 

And the third was a meeting with Leonard Cheshire with whom I have had a lot of contact in the constituency about their work in Africa.


29 NOV 2017

Animal Sentience updated

The Independent newspaper ran with a story that I was one of a number of MPs who had voted that animals were not sentient creatures. It was of course nonsense and the Independent has had to retract its statement. What the newspaper has now said is "Put simply, what happened is this: MPs did not vote that animals are not sentient creatures." It also said that "Campaigners – and some news coverage – initially said that the Government had voted against recognising sentience..... But it became clear that this claim was not right." It seems that a number of organisations owe us an apology. At least the BBC issued an apology for saying 100,000 universal credit claimants would lose money over Christmas in another false statement.

Michael Gove's statement which he issued as Secretary of State for the Environment after this said that the Government was committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals. He pointed out that voting against the amendment in the EU Withdrawal Bill was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. The Government's approach was driven by its recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings. It was simply a rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals. We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards. The current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It has not stopped bullfighting, the production of foie gras, live exports for slaughter, veal farming and puppy smuggling. The most rigorous animal welfare standards are already being proposed in primary legislation.


28 NOV 2017

State of broadband and telephony in the constituency

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Surely one of the ways in which we can improve innovation and productivity is by having better broadband and telephony. I heard what the Secretary of State said yesterday, but in my area we have zero G, not 5G. Would he like to encourage my area by saying that the strategy is meant for the whole of the country, not just towns and cities?

Greg Clark

It certainly is. There are significant opportunities in many of our rural areas, and it is essential that the progress we make in our towns and cities is shared with our rural areas, of which my hon. Friend's constituency is a particularly attractive and productive example.


28 NOV 2017

Maternity Safety Strategy

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I welcome the statement, and I am glad that the Secretary of State mentioned the role of tobacco. Has he also considered the role of alcohol?

Mr Hunt

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that. The evidence is very clear about the damage done to foetuses and babies if there is too much—or, indeed, any—drinking by a mother. I did not mention it in the statement because we are focusing on smoking cessation training, but he is right to mention the issue.


28 NOV 2017

Neighbourhood Plans and habitats assessments

I have called for early resolution of problems with the Habitats Regulation Assessment which mean that referenda for Neighbourhood Plans are being delayed. The work is being undertaken by Natural England following an earlier court case. The referenda are required to bring into legal force the contents of Neighbourhood Plans.

I said:

"There are two issues here. First, Neighbourhood Plans were supposed to be simple documents produced by communities but we are making them ever more complicated by the inclusion, for example, of assessments under the Habitats Regulation Assessment. If Neighbourhood Plans identify sites within them I agree that they have to have some form of habitat assessment. But the burden of this is falling in the wrong place on communities. Second, the length of time being taken to complete the work has held up the approval and referenda of Neighbourhood Plans. In two cases from my own constituency the Neighbourhood Plans are urgently required to make sense of a plan for new housing and development and to ensure that speculative development of houses in the wrong places do not succeed. I urge Natural England to rapidly pursue the work and for the Government to get fully behind simplifying the production of Neighbourhood Plans."

I have written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government following a conversation beteen us on these issues.


28 NOV 2017

Cadet units

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What plans he has to increase the number of cadet units in state schools. [902549]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Tobias Ellwood)

rose—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr Ellwood

I am pleased to see that cadets are so popular in the Chamber today.

In 2015, the Government committed £50 million to increasing the number of cadet units in state schools through the cadet expansion programme. The programme targets schools in less affluent areas and is on track to achieve its target of 500 cadet units by 2020.

John Howell

The sea cadet corps in Henley has provided the youngest of my daughters with enormous opportunities for personal development. Does the Minister agree that it is important to support cadet units in state schools, particularly with things such as uniforms?

Mr Ellwood

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. He is right that cadet units provide life skills, employability and social mobility—things that schools do not necessarily offer themselves. I also pay tribute to the work of the cadets who participated in Remembrance Sunday up and down the country.


23 NOV 2017

Animal Sentience

Parliament did not vote that animals were not sentient. It is completely wrong to suggest that we did. I am happy to reproduce the written statement issued on 23 November 2017 by Michael Gove which makes this clear.

"This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.

It has been suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals - that is wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain - that is a misconception.

Ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government's policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild. The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

The Prime Minister has made clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.

The current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is very unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.

In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as "the strongest in the world", and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.

This government will continue to promote and enhance "

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides protection for all animals capable of experiencing pain or suffering. I agree with Michael Gove and Ministers who spoke that of course animals are sentient creatures. But the EU protocol has been useless in preventing sentient animals being included in bull fights, being used for veal farming, to make foie gras, to end live exports for slaughter, or used to make cruel fur products.

Indeed in a debate in 2017, the point was made that cruelty to animals often led to cruelty to humans and the two offences should be seen together. As one speaker in that debate said: "The standard by which I judge civilisation is how we treat animals and animal welfare more generally." That remains the case.


22 NOV 2017

Contribution to debate on drugs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

  Thank you, Mr Gapes, for managing to squeeze me into the debate. I shall use the time wisely, I hope. We have all agreed that drug misuse can destroy lives, that it has a devastating effect on families and communities, and that we can help individuals by preventing drug misuse and through treatment and wider recovery support. That is where I would support the Government's new strategy—in putting recovery at its heart.

What I am uncomfortable with at the moment is the idea of going straight to a policy of decriminalisation. I should like smarter law enforcement. How to approach that is largely in the hands of police and crime commissioners. If we had a smarter enforcement response, it might produce beneficial results. There is no reason why the enforcement process against those who supply drugs should not be harsh, involving effective action. However, we need to be much more sophisticated in our approach to possession, and in taking account of the number of people using drugs, and who are therefore committing crimes. If it is possible to take a halfway position on the issue, I certainly advocate that.

We need also to ensure better outcomes, and better measurements to capture them, throughout the process. We have bandied figures around today, but there is not a lot of commonality between them, and the figures that I have are slightly different from those that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) set forth. We need some really tight figures; and I am surprised, given the amount of time that has been spent in combating the drugs problem, to find that we still do not have those figures.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet I mentioned the Prison Service, because I am a member of the Select Committee on Justice and have visited many prisons where the issue has come up. Sophistication is needed in the way we tackle that. There are people in prison who were taking drugs before they went there, and quite a lot who have taken drugs since they came into prison. How we handle that will say a lot about how we tackle the problem for the future.

The thing that has most impressed me is information I was sent by a charity called Release. I know that it argues for ending the criminalisation of drug possession; but it brought out some key points on which we need to concentrate. The first was the necessity to combat the situation by improving public health. We should spend some time on that. It also stresses ways that we can reduce the stigmatisation and marginalisation of vulnerable populations—a number of Members have spoken about that—and allied to that is the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Finally, it is also necessary to look at a range of other issues, such as addressing homelessness. Those things are in the Government strategy, but I do not yet see them being joined up in order to take them forward.

__________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the debate. Before he moves on to financial costs, will he say something about another side of the human cost—the extent to which prisoners are taking drugs and the efforts being made to try to stop that in prisons?

Craig Mackinlay

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We in the judiciary often feel that we put people in prison as a last resort and hope that that is a place where they may seek relief from drugs and get the treatment they need. However, all too often we hear of many examples where that is far from the case.


22 NOV 2017

Budget money for children at RAF Benson

Oxfordshire, and the Henley constituency in particular, has won out under the budget proposals announced today in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond MP, with grant of almost £100,000 to an organisation involved with RAF Benson and Dalton Barracks..

Under the terms of the budget, a further £36 million of banking fines has been committed over the next 3 years to support Armed Forces and Emergency Services charities and other related good causes. This completes the LIBOR Charity Funding scheme, bringing the total of funding committed since 2012 to £773 million. The successful applicants will receive the funding from April 2018.

The details of the grant are as follows:

  • Oxfordshire Play Association
  • To provide community support facilities to Service families at RAF Benson and Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire.
  • £98,535

Oxfordshire Play Association Oxfordshire Play Association (OPA) was established as a charity in 1974. For over 40 years, OPA has been one of the lead organisations in Oxfordshire to promote high quality play opportunities across the county for all children and young people aged 0 – 16 years.

I said:

"I am delighted that OPA has won this grant and that it can support children at RAF Benson with good quality play experiences. It is a great support to our Armed Forces and will be much enjoyed."


21 NOV 2017

Chiltern Edge School

Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet is being recommended to save Chiltern Edge School and provide it with a secure future.

Papers produced for the Cabinet of the County Council recommend that the Council should not issue a notice proposing the closure of the school and that the school should remain open. The papers also identify that an academy sponsor has been found for the school and that they should continue discussions leading to the school becoming an Academy.

I said:

"First, and above all, I would like to praise and thank everyone for the enormous amount of hard work that has gone into improving the school. The school has improved considerably and continues to improve further. This addresses the concerns raised by Ofsted. Second, I would like to thank all those from the community and from the school who have worked hard to try to save the school. The effort that has been put in has been tremendous and it is good that we have won. My thanks also go to the Head Teacher, Moira Green, for bringing the school out of a deficit situation. I hope the County Council will accept these recommendations from its Cabinet Member and officers and ensure that the school flourishes well."

The Cabinet meeting is due to be held on 28 November 2017


21 NOV 2017

VAT and Customs Bill

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

Will the Minister comment on the extent to which the Bill will allow the VAT and customs system to continue, whatever the outcome of the negotiations? Has enough flexibility been built in to the measure regardless of the outcome?

Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

My hon. Friend raises an important point that goes to the heart of the Bill. This is a framework Bill, so it will allow us to make sure that we can deliver wherever the negotiations land. It does not presuppose any particular outcome from the negotiations; its purpose is to enable the outcome of the negotiations to be put into effect.


21 NOV 2017

Yemen

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

UNICEF has praised the UK for the aid it has already contributed to the country. Will the Minister say a little more about what pressure he feels can be brought on Iran to end its supply to the Houthis, who are still indulging in things like forced marriage and the use of children as soldiers?

Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development)

Our relationship with Iran is changing: since going to the inauguration of President Rouhani we have made it clear that, although there are many differences between us—not least Iran's support for what we consider to be insurgencies and terrorist action—it sees the world differently from others in the region, but the logical consequence of that not being addressed is dire. Accordingly, if there are pathways to encourage people to see their region differently and to try to create relationships that at present seem difficult, the UK's role these days is to encourage that. There are already relationships between certain states in the region that 50 years ago we would not have expected, so who knows what can happen in the future, but we will continue to work with those in the region, including Iran, to encourage them towards a regional situation that no longer relies on confrontation, but relies instead on consensual support for their peoples.


21 NOV 2017

Student loans

John Howell (Henley) (Conservative)

Would the Minister like to explain what role the Office for Students will play in this, and how it will help?

Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science)

The new Office for Students comes into existence progressively from 1 January 2018, with its full operational existence commencing in April 2018. The Student Loans Company has its own statutory existence, independent of the Office for Students, and it will continue to carry out its vital function of ensuring that the loans we make available to remove barriers to access to higher education continue to be made available seamlessly to the students who are in need of them.


16 NOV 2017

Puma 2 and Benson

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

This subject matters fundamentally to me. The Puma squadron is based in my constituency at RAF Benson, and I was concerned by questions over the Puma's future and how that fits into any strategy that we may be thinking of developing. We need to take account of a proper strategy assessment that covers many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) in her initial contribution.

The Puma is not an old aircraft, as is occasionally stated. All the Pumas were found to be in excellent condition, and, in terms of airframe life, there is no impediment to their making the current out-of-service date of 2025, or indeed considerably later. In addition, we only have to look at the contribution that these aircraft have made to operations around the world: whether deploying in Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral or supporting vital aid in the Caribbean following the recent hurricane disasters, the Pumas have shown their enormous ability to be ready for operations within a few hours of arrival, and they make an ideal platform to support special forces. Moreover, Puma 2 has a relatively low operating cost, delivering excellent value for money.

The £260 million contract to upgrade 24 helicopters was noted by the National Audit Office as a programme delivered on time and to cost. I finish with a quotation from Major General Richard Felton:

"Out of all the aircraft I've flown, Puma 2 probably made my jaw drop most."


15 NOV 2017

Loneliness

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. I am very concerned about loneliness in younger people. I wonder whether she will come on in a moment to the effect of social media, which can increase the feelings of worthlessness and loneliness, which are fundamental and long term?

Rachel Reeves

Indeed; I think something like one in six calls to ChildLine are from young people who feel lonely or isolated. Loneliness is something we should worry about not only among older people, although that is a significant issue, but among younger people. The connection searched for on social media is sometimes not a real connection, which should concern us, although we should also recognise that things such as Skype can help to keep people connected. I definitely share some of those concerns.


15 NOV 2017

Reform of Family Law

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is talking passionately about the changes that have been made. Will she accept—I speak as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution—that a great contribution has been made by mediation? We should seriously encourage the use of mediation services in this area because they have a positive impact.

Suella Fernandes

I thank my hon. Friend for raising mediation. Compulsory family mediation information meetings were one of the measures introduced in the 2014 Act. They have had the benefit of diverting conflict and cases out of the adversarial system.

The Conservatives and the Government should be proud of a record that leaves family justice in a better place than where we found it in 2010. Why did I call this debate? I called it because there is further to go.

___________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I did not intend to speak today, but I feel I ought to comment on the mediation aspect, which has numerous advantages. Of course, any mediation is only as good as the mediator. If we acknowledge that, we can take the collaborative approach of mediation to put together something that is in the interests of the parties involved. There are a couple of other aspects of mediation that I want to bring up. First, it saves a considerable amount of time in dealing with the problems, rather than taking them, perhaps on several occasions, before a judge and expanding on them there. Secondly, it saves a considerable amount of money. I have been trying to get to the bottom of how much money mediation saves, and I think it is a considerable sum.

There is an important overriding aspect, which is that mediation is the best way of ensuring that we deal with the emotions involved. There is no doubt that a divorce is a very emotional time for both parties and for third parties such as children. Mediation can deal with matters in a non-emotional way.

Andrew Bridgen

My hon. Friend makes a good point about mediation, but how can it work without guidelines for parents, depending on the age of the children, on what contact might be reasonable and what they might expect? One of the main reasons why conflict over contact with children is so intense is because there are no guidelines on what parents might expect on separation. It is basically the all or nothing rule, so people go into battle and they could come out with nothing or they could come out with complete contact. That is the crux of the problem.

John Howell

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. However, there is much more to be gained out of mediation in terms of working out what the arrangements for contact are. I fully accept that that is a major difficulty, but there are many more opportunities for getting it right in a non-emotional way and by trying to take those raw emotions out of the situation than there are in a formal legal battle. That is why I emphasise taking away the difficult emotional aspects through mediation.

Above all, mediation leaves control of the situation in the hands of the parties. It does not take it away and give it to a judge. The parties do not lose control of the process or of how to deal with the children and with access. They retain control. Anyone who sits through a mediation will experience the enormous amount of power that that gives people to be able to decide for themselves, rather than passing it off to a third party. In the session that the all-party group on alternative dispute resolution had on family mediation, that came across strongly as one of the things that should be valued.

Andrew Bridgen

I hear what my hon. Friend is saying and I absolutely agree about the parties keeping control over the contact levels they have with their children. Normally in a court that is farmed out to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which came out of the family court welfare service. In correspondence with CAFCASS, we have established that in all the time that CAFCASS has been set up, there has never been any training for its main function, which is making recommendations to a court on the allocation of contact time for various parents. How can it be that it has such power, yet it admits to me in correspondence that it has never had any formal guidance, and it does not record the contact that it recommends at various stages? There is no record of the contacts awarded and whether they are right. Also, CAFCASS's statements are not sworn, so it cannot even be held to account for the recommendations it gives in court.

John Howell

My hon. Friend makes the very point that I was making about the difference between that system and the mediation system. Mediators are not people who have no knowledge. They are not appointed off the street. They have spent a large part of their time in office going through training to make sure that they understand the process and the sensitivities of the issues, particularly the emotional sensitivities, and can deal with those in a professional way. Certainly if there any examples of mediators who do not do that, I would like to hear about them, because that is contrary to the whole mediation process, which provides enormous benefits to couples. I say that as a final comment and contribution to the excellent debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) secured.


15 NOV 2017

Latest unemployment figures

Latest unemployment figures for the Henley constituency have just been released.

Key facts

  • The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in October 2017 remains broadly flat at 280 and shows virtual full employment.
  • This represents a rate of 0.6% of the economically active population aged 16-64, the 647th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. (1st = highest claimant rate, 650th = lowest claimant rate.)
  • The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.5%.
  • Youth unemployment is doing particularly well. There were 25 claimants aged 18-24 in October 2017, 10 lower than October 2016.

'Unemployed claimants' include people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or who are claiming Universal Credit and are required to seek work.

I said:

"We continue to do very well in making sure that young people have jobs to go to. The youth unemployment figure is down on the same month last year. It is of course important to watch the trends over time. As I have shown in previous months, those on zero hour contracts was a very small number and most people on them do so because they like the terms they offer. As a constituency, we are still towards the top of the table and I am grateful for all those who help this situation by providing apprenticeships."


14 NOV 2017

Bees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on an important point. He has spoken about the ban on neonicotinoids. I wonder how we will ensure that whatever replaces them is equally safe. My farmers have already made the point that what may follow may not be any safer.

Alex Chalk

As always, my hon. Friend makes a critical point. The issue is this. The Government have put a line in the sand, which is that anything that is to go on our crops must pass the test of rigorous academic and expert scrutiny. That applies to neonicotinoids, so it must apply to anything that comes next. Nothing should go on our crops unless it can be shown to be safe. That must be the rule of thumb that we apply.


14 NOV 2017

District Councils debate

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Has my hon. Friend taken into account the point that many district councils have struggled hard to put in place their five-year housing land supply, and that merging district councils into much larger councils may well result in the loss of that across the whole council?

Mr Liddell-Grainger

I agree totally with my hon. Friend, with whom I have worked on many issues. The problem is that bigger is not always better; in fact, it is horses for courses, whatever part of the country might be involved. It does not matter whether the council area is controlled by Labour, the Conservatives or the Scottish National party; one size does not fit all, and that is what I think is happening subliminally.

___________________________________________________________________________

John Howell

Is it not true—it is certainly my experience—that where district councils have merged, they have struggled with the democratic deficit that has arisen? What we have seen replacing them has effectively been the same as district councils, with local areas in which local people can hold councillors to account.

Jake Berry

I started off by putting my thanks to local councillors on record, which I am sure is a reflection of everyone's views, although it is unfortunate that there is no one here from the Opposition to put their thanks on record; I will do it on their behalf. Local councillors are a fantastic link with the community. Whether we have all-out elections or yearly elections, we get our opportunity to fire them if they stop doing a good job. Regardless of the size of the local authority—metropolitan borough, unitary or district—we must ensure that we do not break the link between the local community and the local councillor, because it is their job to be the voice not just of the borough but very specifically of the ward, the street and the area they represent in that local council. As long as proposals retain that strong local link for councillors to go out there and be champions for the local area, that should be considered, if it is widely supported.


14 NOV 2017

Council of Europe

In a Parliamentary Written Statement issued today by the Prime Minister I was re-appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Each new parliament, following a General Election, a new list of representatives is drawn up from MPs and Members of the House of Lords. 18 individuals have been put forward as full members of the Parliamentary Assembly. The new list includes 9 Conservatives, 8 members of the Labour Party and 1 member of the SNP.

The Council of Europe is a non-EU body which is responsible for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As such we remain members despite Brexit. One of the bodies the Council controls by electing judges to it is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states and covers approximately 820 million people. The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France. The Council is concerned with the problems of terrorism, organised crime, money laundering and human trafficking. Its remit also includes education, the environment, health and culture.

I said:

"I am delighted to have been reappointed to the Council of Europe. It is important that the UK maintains its place in this the oldest of political institutions in Europe. I have been delighted to have played a major part in its activities during the last parliament and look forward to doing the same in this one. As the Lord Chancellor recently pointed out; of the cases brought against the United Kingdom at the ECHR well over 90% do not even get to a judgment. They are rejected by the Court as inadmissible, and by no means all of that tiny minority of cases that go through to a judgment are found against us. We have a good track record."

The full assembly of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe meets 4 times a year.


06 NOV 2017

My question on apprenticeships

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What progress she has made on broadening participation in apprenticeships. [901600]

The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills (Anne Milton)

Apprenticeship starts for women have gone up from 52% to 53% approximately; for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, they have gone up from 10.4% to 11.2%; and for those with learning disabilities or difficulties, they are up from 9.9% to 10.3%. There is a great deal of work going on to broaden participation. The apprenticeship diversity champions network and the Careers and Enterprise Company are both doing an excellent job. I could go on, but I will not try your patience, Mr Speaker.

John Howell

I am glad the Minister agrees that people with learning disabilities can make a valuable contribution to the workplace. She has mentioned the numbers, but will she say what the Government are doing to increase the chances for those with learning difficulties and disabilities to access apprenticeships?

Anne Milton

Indeed, I will, and I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest in this. We have said that we will implement the Maynard taskforce recommendations in full. That includes introducing flexibility, so that the English and maths requirements can be adjusted for a defined group with a learning difficulty or disability. We have also made British sign language qualifications an alternative to English functional skills for those who have it as their first language. Of course, I am working closely with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.


03 NOV 2017

Question on prisoner voting

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I unreservedly welcome the statement and the decision made, which comply with our obligations to the European Court of Human Rights. While we are on that subject, will my right hon. Friend confirm that we win most of the cases that we take to it? Will he also consider producing a more detailed briefing for members of the Council of Europe who are also Members of this Chamber, because it would be useful to have that when we go back to Strasbourg for the next Council of Europe meeting?

Mr Lidington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, and I am happy to offer the briefing that he requests for members of the delegation from this Parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He is right about cases brought against the United Kingdom: well over 90%—from memory, 96% or 97%—of cases brought against the United Kingdom do not even get to a judgment. They are rejected by the Court as inadmissible, and by no means all of that tiny minority of cases that go through to a judgment are found against us. We have a good track record.


25 OCT 2017

Speech and intervention on the Balfour Agreement

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Balfour Declaration comes in three parts, not two? The first part is about a national home for the Jewish people. The second part is about protecting the civil and religious rights of Palestinians. The third part is about protecting the political status of Jews in any other country. That is not what the Arabs have done.

Dr Offord

I agree with that understanding of the declaration, but I will move on.

______________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to speak in this important and timely debate. Since the declaration and the foundation of the state, Israel has become one of the UK's most important trading partners on the international stage, with record levels of trade, intelligence sharing and ever closer academic, cultural and scientific collaboration. The bilateral relationship runs deep, and it all started as a result of Balfour. I am not oblivious to the fate of the Palestinians—having visited the west bank, I am all too aware of it—but the solution lies in producing a two-state outcome to the current impasse.

Allied to the Balfour Declaration is the issue of Zionism. The Balfour letter expresses

"sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations".

What we mean by Zionism is the belief that there should be a Jewish state in the land of Israel. The Zionist movement received cross-party support in the UK at the time, as well as Government backing in France, the US and other countries. Sadly, it appears that "Zionist" has become one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English political dictionary. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government's policies and actions should, of course, be permitted, just as we rightly criticise the Governments of other liberal democracies, but we must clearly set ourselves apart from those who hate Israel and call into question its right to exist as a Jewish state.

The excellent design for the new holocaust memorial and learning centre near Parliament was revealed only yesterday, and I look forward to seeing it built. In this centenary year, we need to recommit to the values of freedom and tolerance that we share with our friend Israel and proudly celebrate the incredible contribution that Israel has made to this world, which was started by that letter.


25 OCT 2017

My question at PMQs

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

In acknowledging the hard work that the men and women of RAF Benson in my constituency did in the Caribbean, will the Prime Minister also acknowledge that the Puma Mk 2 helicopter was ready and available for work in the Caribbean within a couple of hours of having arrived there?

The Prime Minister

I am very happy to commend the work of all those at RAF Benson and indeed all those in our military and the volunteers who were able to provide support after the devastating hurricanes that took place in the Caribbean. I am also happy to agree with my hon. Friend that, contrary to some of the stories that were being put about, we were there, we were there on time and we were able to act very quickly to give people that support.


25 OCT 2017

My contribution to a debate on mortgages

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

We face a situation in which banks have to ensure that they give good loans, but people want their rental payments to be taken into account. Rental payments do not seem to me to be a good guarantee for future performance, so does my hon. Friend have any suggestions about how they might be taken into account?

Paul Scully

I appreciate my hon. Friend's important point, which I will come to later. Rent clearly does not give any guarantee for the future but it gives a better guide to creditworthiness, in the sense that people have spent time paying rent regularly, on a monthly basis. As we heard, the petitioner spent £70,000 with little to show for it other than that he paid his bills, whereas obviously, when someone has the aspiration of home ownership, that same £70,000 could have been building up equity. If someone has a good record in one area, they would hope that that, combined with all the other checks that banks need to do, would be good for credit for a mortgage as well.


25 OCT 2017

My contribution to a debate on English language provision for refugees

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend is saying. I wonder whether she has any ideas about how we can make the provision of English language training effective. In Oxfordshire, I found that a number of people went into the training and a few years later were no better at speaking English—they just used it as an excuse to socialise and get out of the house.

Dame Caroline Spelman

Language classes are a start point for those who have experienced the awful isolation that one feels when unable to even speak the language. However, it is also really important to get out of the house, for example to do the daily shop, and practise speaking the language, because practice makes perfect. That is where community groups have an incredibly important role in complementing the language classes, because once someone has got it, they have to use it or lose it. That has certainly been my experience.


24 OCT 2017

IMB Report on Huntercombe Prison

The Independent Monitoring Board for Huntercombe Prison has recently reported to the Secretary of State on the prison. What it said was:

"Overall, the Board considers the prison to be well run; management, staff and contractors collaborate and work well together. Prisoners seem relatively content with the regime; there are few violent incidents, relative to the total prison estate. The prison works hard to deal fairly with prisoner complaints; the number of applications to the IMB has continued to fall."

This assessment of the prison accords with my own view. I have visited the prison on two occasions during the year. What I said was:

"I have taken a great interest in the performance of the prison. I have discussed with the Governor how the prison operates and seen for myself some of the issues in the prison. I have also spoken to prison officers who do a very good job at the prison. They are currently concerned with a number of terms and conditions issues including pensions, the age of retirement and their impact on promotion. I am grateful to them for providing me with individual case studies. I am pleased that steps have already been taken to deal with the issues the report raises."

The main issue to affect the prison during the reporting year was a Death in Custody; the first in the establishment's 70-year history. Due to staffing levels, it remains a challenge to recruit enough Assessment Care in Custody Teamwork (ACCT) Assessors. However, there is confidence that good and effective work is done. The IMB is content that the 'Duty of Care' within the establishment is good in this respect. A major area of concern is the difference between the repatriation process and deportation process and the impact on the individual prisoner.

The issues identified by the IMB include ensuring all prisoners receiving repatriation paperwork have a Risk Assessment completed and ensure the communication between the Offender Management Unit and all other staff concerning those prisoners receiving repatriation paperwork is effectively developed.

The Prison Act 1952 requires every prison to be monitored by an independent Board appointed by the Secretary of State from members of the community in which the prison or centre is situated. The Board has to satisfy itself, amongst other things, as to the humane and just treatment of those held in custody within its prison and the range and adequacy of the programmes preparing them for release.

I added:

"I congratulate the Governor and staff on running a good prison and I applaud the system of prison mentors who are themselves prisoners, some of whom I have met. I take on board the comments made by the IMB on the difference between the repatriation process and deportation process and the impact on the individual prisoner."


19 OCT 2017

Latest monthly unemployment figures

The total number of unemployed claimants in Henley constituency in September 2017 remains the same for the second month running. It currently stand at 265. This makes the constituency the 648th out of 650 constituencies where 1 has the highest claimant rate and 650 the lowest.

The equivalent UK claimant rate was 2.5%. The UK unemployment rate was 4.3% between June and August 2017. There were 30 claimants aged 18-24, the same as in September 2016.

Unemployment is at its lowest since 1975.


18 OCT 2017

My speech on people with learning difficulties

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I will not make a long intervention, but I put on the record my thanks to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for raising that case, which was clearly a distressing one, as the emotions she has shown illustrate. What she said about the safeguarding rules is absolutely crucial, and all our county councils could take note of those and ensure that they follow them clearly. My concern is always about the gap that might exist between the safeguarding rules that apply to children and those that apply to young adults. The gap that can emerge there causes many problems, so the more we can do about it, the better.

I make a suggestion to the hon. Lady. She has raised a lot of concerns about the law, and I wonder whether, if she could gather together enough evidence to make a presentation to the Select Committee on Justice, it might be willing to take up an inquiry into a review of this area, which would provide further support for her efforts to change the law. I cannot speak for the Justice Committee, even though I am a member of it, but I think it is worth her trying to gather as much information as possible to take that forward.​

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to look after people with learning disabilities. In my constituency we try to do that in a number of ways outside the country council system. First, the Ways & Means Trust's operation in my constituency tries to provide in-work experience for young people with learning disabilities by providing them with garden centre experience. They are trained in how to look after flowers, how to bag pots—if hon. Members see what I mean—and eventually how to sell them. At Christmas time in particular, it is a useful place to go to get wreaths and things like that, made by people with learning disabilities. That is a good way of showing that we care and of providing them with enormous opportunities to fulfil their lives by holding jobs that are meaningful and keep them in work.

Secondly, an event called the Regatta for the Disabled occurs in my constituency every autumn. I have been involved since its commencement some seven years ago, usually in opening and compering it. The regatta provides an opportunity for people with physical and learning disabilities to enjoy the river. It provides boat trips for them and allows them to share with others their enjoyment of life and what they can do. One would need to be there to see their physical enjoyment of life; it is absolutely catching. I point that out as a way in which my own constituency tries to look after people with learning disabilities.

Finally, every year, with the help of Mencap, we bring together all those people with learning disabilities who are able to come in the town square in Henley, and we sing to the population who come along and do their shopping, stop and have a cup of coffee and listen to the singing. The quality of the singing and the enthusiasm with which people with learning disabilities take it up are amazing. I am convinced that, by putting the effort into ensuring that we understand and care for people with learning disabilities, we can achieve a vast amount.


17 OCT 2017

My speech to Nigeria's agriculture minister

COPY OF MY SPEECH TO NIGERIA'S AGRICULTURE MINISTER AND PARTY

Good morning

I am delighted to be here with you today at such an important event with the Honourable Agriculture Minister and a list of guests that includes their Excellences, the Governors of so many States.

Firstly to give you some background into my role, the Trade Envoy programme was launched by the Prime Minister in November 2012. The original 8 Trade Envoys team from 2012 now has some 28 envoys covering over 50 countries which is a testament to its success. It is a network designed to support the UK Government's overall strategy to drive economic growth.

The countries covered by the Trade Envoys are primarily those where the opportunities tend to be less well known to UK businesses or where greater high level engagement could lead to a step change in business-to-business relations.

I was appointed in early 2016 and my job is to encourage and support the growth of business links and partnerships between our two countries. To do so, I work with a wide range of organisations. I try to act as a link with private sector companies to discuss their plans, issues and challenges.

On my visits to Nigeria, I have met a huge variety of people and organisations. I have been enormously impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and expertise that I have encountered.

Rather than attempting to cover everything, I choose to concentrate my attention on priority sectors, for both countries. I have high hopes for the deepening of collaborations in all areas the UK can assist the Nigerian Government.

Nigeria is at a crucial stage in its development, where the need to diversify from the focus on oil revenue could not be more pressing. In this vein, we are seeing major efforts being made in the Agricultural, Mining, Healthcare and other sectors, to contribute to the growth of Nigeria's GDP.

Chief in the diversification efforts is Agriculture and the Infrastructure sector and the need to fill the huge deficiency evident in the country. Nigeria is predicted to be the 3rd most populous nation in the world by 2050; the problems of resource depletion and demographic change are immediate and solutions need to be found.

Most people are aware of Nigeria's abundance in crude oil and gas (10th largest producer globally of crude oil) but not for its agriculture base. Before the discovery of oil, agriculture was Nigeria's major export. As the focus shifted to an oil economy, the agriculture industry has had little investment in production processing and distribution.

The current decline in oil prices coupled with Nigeria's high food import bill has meant the Nigerian government has reprioritised agriculture as a leading sector for development. Sizeable tax incentives and little or no import tariffs on agricultural development machinery are being used as incentives to attract FDI and develop Nigeria's export potential to regional and global markets.

Agriculture has now become Nigeria's new oil!

Agricultural science and technology is rapidly becoming one of the world's fastest growing and exciting markets. The UK has internationally recognised strengths in these areas. It has one of the most highly regarded agricultural technology sectors in the world, having contributed to the Agricultural Revolution with many developments in technologies used across the world.

The combination of world-class science, a progressive food and farming supply chain and a dynamic business environment makes it an ideal trade & investment partner.

We excel in areas such as design, engineering and innovation. The UK has unrivalled capability and workmanship. I want therefore to encourage more of the finest UK companies to enter Nigeria market to help deliver services and share expertise across sectors where innovation and expertise is needed.

Of course there are challenges to work in Nigeria however the UK government is here to support. DFID's economic development programme dedicates 25% of its £293m funds to supporting the environment for private sector growth. Areas of work include promoting financial sector reforms; developing open and inclusive economic institutions and processes, and improving access to markets.

Through our officials, the UK Government is engaged on influencing the current exchange rate regime, working with the Governor of the Central Bank, Vice President and other officials; and to explore ways for the Nigerian Government to increase its revenue collection, which is vital to support its budget and planned economic reforms.

These same FCO and DfiD economic advisers are also working with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and African Development Bank to unlock economic progress and review sector issues, such as developing Nigeria's capital markets.

The Cross-Whitehall Prosperity Fund has also be an important lever to scale up our influencing efforts. This financial year has seen almost £1m allocated to projects in Nigeria to build economic capacity in country and support economic diversification; ease the business environment by mapping the challenges at federal and state level; and strengthened country capability to tackle corruption.

Prosperity activity over the next year will continue to focus on improving the business environment, working with the World Bank, as well as a number of areas of including growing bilateral and regional trade relationships and improving trade standards; access to education and identifying work-skill gaps; Anti-corruption to support Nigeria's policy commitments at the London Anti-Corruption Summit last year; and utilising digital technology to support and grow business.

I would therefore encourage those of you who wish to learn more about trade opportunities in Nigeria to contact the DIT team in Nigeria. Department for International Trade have deployed a new, restructured team in Lagos, focussed on connecting UK-Nigeria businesses; supporting in winning contracts; and listening to business and helping them navigate through some of the challenges I have identified above.

I wish you a productive time in your discussions today and look forward to seeing more business created between the UK and Nigeria as a result.

Thank you


17 OCT 2017

My speech on health in Oxfordshire

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair) Mr Howell has indicated to me very courteously that as one of Her Majesty's trade ambassadors he has an unavoidable commitment. I know that the Opposition and Government Front Benchers will understand that he will therefore not be able to be present for their winding-up speeches, but he has undertaken to read them in Hansard.

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Thank you, Sir Roger. I do apologise that I have to go to meet the Minister of Agriculture from Nigeria. He is here at my own invitation, so I can hardly be absent from the meeting.

Let me say straightaway that I chair a group of Oxfordshire MPs who meet approximately every six weeks to discuss their relationship with the CCG. The meetings were started in order to discuss delayed discharges of care, and I have to say, from the last meeting that we had, they are going very well. Oxfordshire had the difficulty that it was one of the worst performers in delayed discharges, but is now coming back to being one of the best. I have been outside the STP process because my area was handled separately in advance. Townlands Hospital in Henley needed a multi-million pound investment before the STP process started, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) that the process of consultation that was started by the CCG left a lot to be desired. As a former professional in the area of consultation, I looked with some disdain at what was taking place, but I appreciate that the CCG had a particular difficulty in seeing the hospital as Henley's or south Oxfordshire's, which they deliberately intended it to become. In the villages outside Henley that make up the largest proportion of people in south Oxfordshire, there was enormous support for the proposals. It was only in Henley that people took the opportunity to complain about the lack of beds.

Let me turn to the lack of beds. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney spoke about treating people in hospitals close to them. I fully agree with that, but a better model would be to treat them in their own homes. That healthcare system is called ambulatory care. I have spoken about that in this Chamber at length, so I will not repeat all of what I have said before. Ambulatory care requires a full integration of social care activities and medical activities in an area, because it turns the hospital into an extremely efficient medical campus-type facility, with very few people needing to stay in overnight.

In fact, if people stay in overnight, the effects on them are quite horrendous. Anyone over the age of 60 who stays in for four or five days is immediately incontinent. Without wishing to comment on people's ages, some of us in the Chamber would look at that with great horror. If people stay in for a lot longer than that, other bad effects come from that.

When the consultation took place, there was a tremendous amount of antagonism about the beds being put—

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Philip Dunne)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Howell

Of course.

Mr Dunne

I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is making a powerful, constructive contribution to the debate, would not want to give colleagues the impression that of necessity, someone over the age of 60 would become incontinent if they spent four nights in a hospital. I think he is trying to suggest that there is a greater risk of adverse effects the longer one stays in hospital.

John Howell

I thank the Minister for that point; I was not suggesting that it was an inevitability. However, at this stage let me extend an invitation to him to visit the hospital so he can see how it works and how it has integrated social care with the medical activities there. It is based around a RACU—a rapid access care unit—which is similar to the EMU—emergency multidisciplinary unit—in Abingdon that is being proposed elsewhere. As I said, it turns the hospital into a diagnostics hospital, similar to a hospital developed in Welwyn Garden City that I went to see.

I saw the difficulty for the CCG with regard to its consultation when I went to a SELF—a South East Locality Forum—meeting. People from Henley were sitting around the table with big beaming smiles on their face saying how wonderful the hospital was, and a member of the CCG had to stop them and say, "Well, it is a pity you didn't say that when we were developing the hospital. Right to the end of the consultation you were attacking us on this and on taking the beds out and putting them in a care home at the side of the hospital. That is working very well and now you say that it is absolutely wonderful." The fact is that, apart from some minor snags with the new hospital, it is a fantastic new investment by the Department of Health. It shows the way a community hospital should be developed not just in Oxfordshire but across the country. I repeat my invitation to the Minister to come and visit.

The great thing about the hospital was not the consultation initiated by the CCG but the support that I got from the Royal College of Physicians, which came out very strongly in favour of an ambulatory healthcare model and very favourably in support of the hospital. That is an interesting point, which goes back to my comments in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney about the lack of consultation experience on the part of the CCG. That organisation is willing to learn, and I hope that it will. I also hope that we, as MPs who meet it from time to time, will be able to keep up our pressure on it to deliver the sort of services that we feel our constituents want.

Nadhim Zahawi

On the point about learning, the Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group has only one district council from Warwickshire—Stratford-on-Avon District Council—on its board. In phase 1 of the consultation, which began in January, it only met the council in March; the council's overview and scrutiny committee had requested a much earlier meeting. Should that not be part of the learning process?

John Howell

I fully agree that it should be. As I said, I am not here to defend how the CCG does its consultation. If I had the chance, I would make many changes to the consultation, and including others on the list of people who will be consulted as part of the decision-making process would be an important part of that.

I think I have probably said enough both to support the hon. Member for Witney and to make the point that it is possible to get through even a bad consultation by a CCG and get a fantastic hospital—ours is doing a brilliant job for all the constituents of South Oxfordshire, not just for one town.


17 OCT 2017

Design of housing intervention

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend is talking about quite serious snagging problems, and slightly worse. Would he, like me, put more emphasis on getting those who produce neighbourhood plans to spend more time on making sure that the design is right rather than waiting for the buildings to be built and then people finding the snagging?

Steve Double

I agree that we need to put more attention into the design of the housing that we are building rather than just building to the usual design standards.


17 OCT 2017

Question on Culham and Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Following conversations with the leadership of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is in my constituency, does the Secretary of State agree that their stance on Euratom is not about Euratom itself, but about knowing when all the details will be finalised?

Greg Clark

My hon. Friend, who has a close connection with his constituents who work at Culham, is absolutely right. He knows that we are keen to agree the greatest possible continuity for the arrangements for research at Culham as soon as possible.

 


17 OCT 2017

My question on Iran

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

If the agreement will not in itself control Iran's financing of terrorist groups, will the Minister say a word about how it is acting as a springboard? That would give people more confidence in the deal.

Alistair Burt

My hon. Friend goes into other aspects of Iran's activity in the region over which a veil cannot and should not be drawn. I will again make the point that the JCPOA was not meant in any way to draw a line under or cover up Iran's activities. It is not the case that if Iran stuck to this element of the deal, everything else would no longer need to be considered. Other measures are in place to deal with such things. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is covered by EU sanctions, for example, and sanctions are available against those who finance terrorist activity, which would include some in Iran. EU sanctions are already in place in relation to Iranian individuals who have been suspected of human rights abuses, for example. Other leverage is available to deal with our concerns about Iran, and sanctions remain available to us, but we want to use the agreement as an opportunity to deal with the things on which Iran could and should do more. We will continue to do that by developing a bilateral relationship with Iran.


14 OCT 2017

My question for the President of Ukraine at the Council of Europe

Mr Howell (UK) - There has been speculation in the New York Times and elsewhere that the success of North Korea's missile programme is due, perhaps inadvertently, to Ukraine.  Would the President like to set the record straight.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on Youth against Corruption

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Nothing that I say in the next few minutes should be taken as indicating that I am against tackling youth corruption – quite the opposite – but I think that we should do so with our eyes open. One of the most instructive paragraphs in this report is paragraph 7 of the report's main body; it sets out the negative factors that affect youth. Whether we are talking about Transparency International, the Eurobarometer, the Ernst & Young Fraud Survey or Generation Y, they show that youth are as subject to corruption as older generations, if not more so. That does not mean that we should not make big efforts with this group, but we should do so with utter frankness. One such example is social media, which has the potential to be a useful force, but in reality is one of the most corrupt and corrupting powers known on this earth. The British Parliament, among others, has looked into this issue and has come to some conclusions. It found that social media was misused and was potentially misusing, particularly with regard to the young. Social media tells gross lies that go beyond differences in public opinion or politics – mostly conducted by young people. It makes a hateful contribution to growing social unrest as well as the corruption of individuals, who are told stories that they know not to be true. It contributes to the appearance of lies in the fabric of society.

Back in the UK, I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, a country that has a reputation for corruption. One thing that has most influenced the successful treatment of corruption by the Nigerian Government has been legislation to allow whistle-blowing. I give my full support to the recommendations in the report for anything that can be done to improve the situation for whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowing has had a very significant effect on dealing with corruption in Nigeria and it would be useful for the committee to look at this issue.

I am not sure what is going to succeed – although I think whistle-blowing will – but those who take the report forward should set up an effective mechanism to monitor the success of the different proposed activities so that we know what actually works.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on intersex children

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Let me also congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report. The report concentrates heavily on the rights of the child, quite rightly, and talks of the secrecy, stigma and shame faced by a child born with intersex characteristics. Those factors are also shared by the parents of children born in that way. Indeed, it is often at the insistence of the parents, perhaps advised by some doctors, that medically intrusive operations are carried out. That raises so many issues, including issues of harm, ethics and the practicality of dealing with the situation.

Leaving the regulatory framework aside for a moment, this is where we should spend our time: educating and understanding, and providing psychological advice and proper healthcare. There is much we can do to help parents who have a child that they love who has intersex characteristics. We can raise public awareness and help them to face the huge prejudice and ignorance that they often come across. It is right to concentrate on the human rights of an individual and ensure that they are of an age to understand the impact of any surgery that they might be offered or might wish to have. It is also right to set this issue in the context of strengthening children's rights in a bioethics framework. Although this is a subset of that framework, it is an important one, which we need to keep our concentration on.

We have a long way to go to ensure the integrity of the individual and that parents receive the necessary counselling to understand the situation and make sure that it works. We need to move away from seeing this as a medical problem and look at it in a human context, and we need to move from the long tradition of seeing this as a phenomenon that needs correction to a position of understanding.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on new genetic technologies

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – As the rapporteur said, one of the biggest issues we need to guard against is the use of new genetic technology for eugenics. There is a fine line between eugenics and work to help eradicate disease. It is clear where the genetic techniques are used to achieve a result that is not required by medicine, but we need to be careful and ensure that rules are in place to prevent that. The report sets out the current situation and several recommendations for the Assembly to consider. I will not repeat them, but no one should want regulation for its own sake. However, the report sets out the context for those regulations as well as those for ensuring the health and safety of individuals undergoing the treatments.

The trouble with a common regulatory and legal framework is that developments in genetic technology move so quickly, as the rapporteur explained. It is crucial that regulation and the law are flexible and updated to take account of those developments.

The Nuffield Council in the UK has just published a guide to bio-engineering, in which it sets out four points to provide a framework. The first is that we need to build and maintain trust. Secondly, we need to ensure that research addresses the needs of society. Thirdly, we need to promote responsible health policy, and fourthly, we need to show real international leadership.

It is right to move at a slow pace on this matter and to share the results over a long time to ensure that nothing interferes with individuals' lives and health. It is also right to adopt a precautionary principle. That is not to deny the benefits of the new technology or to be anti-science, but science needs to be put in the context of humanity.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on prosecuting Daesh

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – It is clear that the atrocities of Daesh have been absolutely hateful and are acts of utter horror. The title of this debate recognises the difficulties that the term "genocide" creates. We have seen in the former Yugoslavia that there were different results for crimes brought under genocide. That is why, in the United Kingdom, we leave the decision on this to judges rather than it being a political term. I do not think we should consider that there is a hierarchy of crimes with genocide at the top.

The origins of genocide and of crimes against humanity of course lie in the Nuremberg trials that followed the Second World War. Just as an aside, it seems so easy to have set up the Nuremberg trials when it is proving so difficult to identify who might hear the trial against Daesh. There is a need for the world to come together on this one. It is necessary to defeat Daesh and bring its leaders and activists to trial.

I do think that there may be a problem in bringing a charge of genocide against Daesh. I am not saying that it should not be tried. But the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity distinguish between us as members of a group and us as individuals. This goes back to the legal arguments started before the end of the Second World War. I raise it now because without the law we are nothing. My heart is completely with this motion, but my head suggests we need to be really sure that we have all the facts if we are not to turn this into a coup for Daesh.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on Ukraine

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I am genuinely troubled by this debate and the context of the report's recommendations, and I say that as a friend of Ukraine. On the one hand, we have a government that wants to improve people's lives and make them fully functioning members of society; on the other hand, we have those who complain that the right to teach in their mother tongue is being undermined. I am concerned that the matter has been brought to the Council of Europe at all, particularly when we are waiting for a response from the Venice Commission. I am not sure how I would respond if a particular group were to challenge the actions of a democratically elected government in my own country on education or health. There would be genuine outrage.

There is a model for how the situation might be addressed, as can be seen in the European schools. There is one in my constituency, and it teaches different subjects in different languages – science in German, history in French, geography in Italian or Dutch, for example. The school was originally intended for children of people working for the Commission, but so popular has it become that parents of UK children want to send their children there. It is a question of choice, of course, but the schools could be adapted to fit the current circumstances.

I simply do not understand why this should not be the subject of more discussion with Ukraine. Indeed, what the president had to say was quite straightforward. In the UK we have already dealt with such a situation in Wales with the Welsh language. I appreciate that Ukraine has a large number of minorities, but it is trying to build a new country. It is a country under threat, and I urge it to find a democratic resolution, particularly when it is faced with more serious problems, such as the threat of Russian activity and the annexation of Crimea.

I pointed out yesterday that this debate does not easily fit within the Venice Commission's remit. It is a political issue, and I urge the commission, within its rules, to indicate how it would deal with it. If we are to refer every law of every country to the Venice Commission, we would be in a right state.


14 OCT 2017

My speech to the Council of Europe on the Venice Commission

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Let me say straight away that I welcome the checklist. The Venice Commission has set out a very clear benchmark in this list, against which the rule of law can be measured and evaluated. There were those who thought this was an impossible task, but I think it is useful and the commission has done a very good job. It is a very good starting point from which to begin our deliberations. If one were looking for the next edition, I would like to see something at the front that addresses the political aspects of what is being said. Of course, I accept that it has to deal with both civil law and common law jurisdictions, and can be extended to that. If we take for example the current submission of the Ukrainian education law to the Venice Commission for an opinion, on one side you have a government that intends to do good things for its people and, on the other, you have people complaining that it does not do good things for its minorities. There is perhaps no right answer in the middle of that. I mean something about that kind of situation and how it is dealt with.

One of the things the report contains is the need for flexibility, which is absolutely important. It is essential if we are to make sure that we do not create a rigid structure that will act as a legal straitjacket for the future. For example, access to justice starts with the right to access justice. Does that depend on State help for access to justice, or simply on the availability of justice and on that justice being fair? The situation with equality before the law is similar.

The law is itself changing. The report concentrates on courts, but decisions in legal judgments are moving away from courts into alternative dispute resolution forums. That takes place in Dubai, Singapore, Australia and, I would argue, in the European Court of Justice. What that does is to move away from the central role of the justice system. It is not just for small commercial issues, but actually for very large cases. In the next edition, we need to see that included and some reference to how it can be incorporated in the future.


14 OCT 2017

My question at the Council of Europe to the President of the Czech Republic

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Mr President, I want to take you outside Europe for a moment. What can you do, and what can we do, to bring peace to the Middle East? Mr ZEMAN – My response will probably be a deep disappointment to you. I am a friend of Israel – a deep friend of Israel. That is why I think that peace in the Middle East should be based primarily in the safety of Israel. I know the history of all the wars starting from 1948. Israel was victorious in every war, but had it been defeated it would have meant the end of that State – the Jewish State. Unfortunately, in some countries or movements – Hezbollah, Hamas, and others – there survives a tendency to diminish or to destroy Israel. What should we do to have peace in the Middle East? We must disarm the terrorist organisation, and first of all Hamas and Hezbollah.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on the OECD

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I read the report on the OECD with a great deal of surprise. There is a lot of talk in the report about going back to growth, about inequality and about people left behind, but one group of people have been left behind and the OECD has not been very helpful in helping us find a solution. I am referring here to the series of islands in the Caribbean that have suffered enormous devastation as a result of the hurricanes that have swept across that area. The UK already contributes 0.7% of GNI to international aid. I would have thought there would have been a little more interest in helping us out with a major catastrophe that is both humanitarian and economic by helping us to revise the definition of what constitutes international aid. The devastation caused by the series of hurricanes that have struck the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and others has been absolutely phenomenal. Occupation of the island of Barbuda has ended after 300 years as a result of these hurricanes. I am convinced that the cause of the hurricanes is climate change caused by the very OECD countries mentioned in the report, so there is every reason why they should take a great deal of interest in trying to sort the problem out. There is enormous frustration at the inability of the OECD to make itself relevant, by which I mean helping people to believe that it can help and make a difference to them.

 

The OECD has a long reputation for its model tax convention and for looking after double taxation more generally. I hope that in its efforts to increase transparency it will not lose this focus on avoiding double taxation, which has been a mainstay of the OECD.

Finally, I turn to the comments on employment. There is a good reason why the UK has not implemented the OECD recommendations set out in the report: unemployment in the UK has fallen to a 42-year low, and the OECD recommendations simply might not be the right ones for the country to adopt if it is to go forward and make the unemployment figure even lower.

Mr GURRÍA (Secretray General - OECD) – Yes, Mr Howell, inequality must be fought, but let me make something clear: the OECD does not set the rules for ODA – overseas development assistance. That is done by the Development Assistance Committee, which is formed by the donor countries. They set the rules for what is and what is not ODA. I fully agree you – I have submitted this in writing and I have spoken about it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister of the UK – and believe we need more flexibility in those definitions when we face exceptional circumstances. I think that the islands of Caribbean, given the disaster that has struck them, deserve that flexibility now. We should be reactive and agile in reacting to the size of the disaster that struck these islands, where all of what made up people's livelihoods has been flattened and disappeared. It will take years for that to come back and they will face massive emigration. It is a real disaster. I fully agree with you and am fighting for that flexibility, but let me tell you part of that rigidity was introduced by the UK itself as a donor when things were normal. But I totally agree and I am fighting for that. I will present the economic survey of the UK on 17 October, so of course, we are updating and upgrading the recommendations and the kind that are made.


14 OCT 2017

My question at the Council of Europe to the Committee of Ministers

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Should the Committee of Ministers not appoint a special envoy to deal with the situation between Catalonia and Spain?

Mr ZAORÁLEK – I am convinced that we do not need a special envoy. I am convinced, and I hope that this is the position of other colleagues, that the problem is an internal problem for Spain. The issue has to be solved through dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona. That is true for other organisations. It is an internal problem that has to be solved in Spain.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on integrity

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – First, I warmly congratulate Ian Lidell-Grainger and the Bureau and the Standing Committee on their work on some very important aspects of the Council of Europe. Their discussions will set up the Organisation for the future so that, as you have said, Mr President, it can act with courage and determination. On the question of who the next President will be, I hope that we will go a stage further and completely abolish the practice of cosy little deals whereby the President is chosen by individual political parties rather than by the Assembly as a whole. I hope that we can make enormous progress in that regard.

I want us to promote and strengthen transparency, accountability and integrity with the members' code of conduct. The greatest of those three is integrity. Following recent events in the Council of Europe, its members should seek to show integrity that is second to none. I am deeply worried by the lack of integrity that has been shown and by the attacks on the Council of Europe because of alleged corruption. The majority of us are not corrupt, but the accusations affect us all, as Ian Lidell-Grainger has said.

I have absolutely no problem with the formation of the new political group, but it is already mired in allegations of corruption and irregular signatures. Questions need to be asked and the situation needs to be examined in great detail. This is not a technical issue; it goes fundamentally to the heart of this Assembly and it needs to be addressed properly. I hope that we can tackle it and come up with a solution. The formation of the new group must allow for democratic rights to be expressed, but it has to be done properly.


14 OCT 2017

My speech at the Council of Europe on Jordan

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I have nothing but praise for the report and its rapporteur, and I have tremendous sympathy for Jordan. I particularly agree with the report's statement that this Assembly should definitely not abandon Jordan at this difficult time. One reason why is the enormous problem that Jordan faces of refugee camps, which provide enormous potential for instability in the region. We know, for example, that Isis has infiltrated one camp, with enormous potential for problems. That the camps consist of Syrians, of course, puts Jordan at odds with Syria. One camp, at Zaatari, is now the fourth largest city in Jordan, which is quite remarkable when you think that Zaatari was only established in 2012.


The king has already described the country as being at "boiling point" and it is right to concentrate our aid on the camps, not just by providing help for sanitation, water and food, but by concentrating on the individual people there and looking at efforts to move them out and on. I welcome Jordan here in its own right, but we cannot ignore the geopolitical stance of Jordan. It is also good to welcome it here as a great ally in the fight against terrorism. It participates in a wide network of intelligence that goes right across the region, and that intelligence is transforming how we all look at what is happening in that region and what can be done to tackle such things as terrorism.

The report encourages Jordan's Parliament to move in the direction of democracy, as I think we all encourage them to. The report shows that it needs to do so in certain areas, such as capital punishment, which has been mentioned, and improvements in the role of women. However, I echo what my friend and colleague Lord Blencathra said about the need for Jordan to go at its own speed and with its own cultural perspectives on what can happen there, so that we do not end up with a worse problem in that country spreading out across the area and resulting in instability for the whole region, including for its neighbour, Israel.


26 SEP 2017

More money for Neighbourhood Plans

Neighbourhood Plan groups across the country will benefit from support worth almost £23 million (£22.8 million) to help them develop Neighbourhood Plans. Neighbourhood Plans give communities a real say in the development of their area and encourage them to work closely with their district councils with whom they are in partnership.

The funding, which will be around £5.5 million per year until 2022, will provide communities with specialist support to help develop a Neighbourhood Plan.

I said:

"Neighbourhood Plans gives local communities a real say in the development of their area including where homes, shops, green spaces and offices should go and, crucially, what they should look like. Since 2012, over 2,200 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process and of those so far taking the Plans to a referendum the average 'yes' vote has been 88%."

In July 2017 Neighbourhood Planning Act reforms came into force to ensure the plans local people have worked hard to create are used as the starting point for determining planning applications up to 8 weeks earlier, following a successful referendum. The changes also mean that when local authorities are making planning decisions, they must respect emerging neighbourhood plans which have passed examination but not yet been agreed at a referendum.

The government is committed to giving communities even more of a say in the development of their area.

Trudi Elliott, Royal Town Planning Institute Chief Executive, said:

"Having worked directly with over 274 groups to help them develop neighbourhood plans since their inception, the RTPI knows how much people care about these plans and how important they are in shaping places and building public trust in the planning system.

"It's also clear from our experience that people need support to make the plan-making experience easier and worthwhile, so this latest funding is very welcome."

The government's housing white paper published in February 2017 set out measures to give local people more of a say over development in their area and build the right homes in the right places. The white paper committed to continue to support neighbourhood planning groups so they can access essential support to allocate sites for housing and to plan for better designs in their area.


20 SEP 2017

A third bridge

I want to correct the impression given by broadcasts on Radio Berkshire yesterday that a new bridge is about to be built across the Thames to the east of Reading. It is not.

A meeting was held on Monday 18th September between councillors from Berkshire and Oxfordshire and the two MPs for the areas concerned. The Local Enterprise Partnerships were represented and consultants who had done relevant research were present. We listened to a presentation from Wokingham Borough Council on the traffic modelling work we had asked them to do and we took a decision on the next steps. The meeting did not agree to build a bridge for which, amongst other things, there is no funding in place.

At the meeting is was agreed that we would draw up a common statement for the press and media. This has not yet been done. I personally declined the offer of a broadcast and am therefore disappointed that others did not stick to the agreement. I regard any statement made to date as inaccurate and premature. I now feel the need to correct this misrepresentation.

The meeting agreed that the traffic modelling contained some interesting results which we needed to study in detail and explore further when the detail is provided. We also needed an opportunity to discuss these with residents. In addition, the question of funding of the next stage of the business plan was discussed and further work agreed.

There is no agreement that a bridge can yet be built.


15 SEP 2017

Win for South Oxfordshire residents in housing need calculation

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced in the House of Commons this week (14 September 2017) a proposal to consult on changes to the way in which district councils calculated their housing need numbers and the introduction of a new formula.

This is a matter of enormous significance for South Oxfordshire and much more important than it may at first seem. Under the proposals, South Oxfordshire will be expected to provide 617 new dwellings per year instead of the 725-825 it currently has to provide. In other words, the proposed new methodology means a potential saving of between 108 and 208 dwellings per year. It also means that South Oxfordshire should once again have a 5 year land supply.

I said:

"Of course there is a need for more housing, particularly cheaper market housing to allow first time buyers to get on the housing ladder. But this proposal establishes a balance which is currently missing for making sure we get the right houses in the right place. I, therefore, very much welcome the proposed new methodology for calculating housing need. It is in fact very close to what I and others argued for in the Local Plan Expert Group report which I helped prepare for Government before the election and has been supported by South Oxfordshire District Council. It ends the tyranny of the current Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) which has dominated discussions between councils over recent months and sets out a new and cheaper basis for undertaking calculations. It is very good news for Oxfordshire."

What is now proposed is an approach using Office for National Statistic household growth projections, adjusted to reflect local affordability, with a cap on any increases.

This is the starting point in the preparation of Local Plans, and does not set unrealistic housing targets. District Councils are expected to work with their local communities to decide how many of these homes they can build, and where. Some will find they cannot build that many – others might well want to build more. Local authorities should not be forced to take unmet need from their neighbours but they are expected to work together where necessary.

In the report submitted by the Local Plan Expert Group to Government it pointed out that there was no definitive guidance on the way in which to prepare a SHMA, leading to significant disagreement and uncertainty over housing numbers, which then affects every stage of the plan making process. These create serious problems including the lack of an agreed approach to SHMAs, which have become one of the most burdensome, complex and controversial components of plan making. The report set out detailed recommendations for a shorter, simplified, standard methodology for SHMAs and, in particular for assessing housing need, with the aim of saving very significant time, money and, most importantly, with the intention of removing unnecessary debate from this aspect of plan making.

As the Secretary of State pointed out:

"With no consistent nationwide approach, two companies could produce wildly different estimates for the same area – and the whole process is expensive, time-consuming and opaque. It can cost local planning authorities across England over £3 million a year and can add months to the plan preparation process, which leaves communities vulnerable to speculative development."

John Cotton, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said:

"John Howell deserves a big pat on the back. The announcement on a new formula is remarkably similar to what he and others proposed in the Local Plan Expert Group report and will help us tackle speculative development that spoils villages and fails to deliver infrastructure. On behalf of local government struggling with spurious SHMA's I say "Thank you!"."

The results for the rest of Oxfordshire also show good news with Cherwell, Vale of White Horse, Witney and Oxford City all showing reductions on current figures.


15 SEP 2017

Henley constituency schools get an average increase of almost 2% increase under new National Fair Funding Formula

I have long campaigned for fairer funding in schools and was pleased, from the perspective of this constituency, that the Government has announced that no schools will lose out as a result of the new National Fair Funding formula, whether primary or secondary schools. The average increase across all schools is 1.7% Particular secondary school increases are set out at the end of this press release. Primary school increases can be provided on request.

The national funding formula will come into effect from April 2018, delivering on the manifesto pledge to make school funding fairer. It will replace the current unfair, opaque and out of date funding system that sees each area of the country receive very different amounts of money for no justifiable reason.

I said:

"I, with the help of others, have been campaigning on this issue for some time and I am glad that we have had some success. The national funding formula will direct resources where they are most needed, helping to ensure that every child can get the high quality education that they deserve, wherever they live. It will also provide that money through a transparent formula, delivering greater predictability."

The release of this information follows on from an earlier announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening MP, of an additional £1.3 billion for schools on top of existing spending plans. The core funding will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £42.4 billion in 2018-19 and £43.5 billion in 2019-2020. It means that per pupil funding will now be maintained in real terms of the remaining two years of the Spending Review period.

In addition, the announcement also stresses that there will be a minimum per pupil funding in which all secondary schools will attract £4,800 per pupil in 2019-2020 and all primary schools will attract £3,500 in 2019-20.

I added:

"I welcome this news and the increase for schools. It goes a long way to meeting the needs of schools. I look forward to discussing this with schools as I visit them over the coming weeks and months."

Percentage increase per secondary school

  • Gillotts School 1.8%
  • Wheatley Park 2.2%
  • Lord Williams 3.4%
  • Chiltern Edge 2.0%
  • Icknield 1.0%
  • Langtree 1.0%


13 SEP 2017

Good news on unemployment

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show the Henley Constituency retains its position as one of the best constituencies in the UK for dealing with unemployment.

The total number of unemployed claimants in the Henley constituency in August 2017 was 265, little changed from the previous month. It ranks us as 648th of the 650 parliamentary constituencies where 650 has the lowest claimant count.

There were 35 claimants aged 18-24 in August 2017.

Unemployed claimants' include people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or who are claiming Universal Credit and are required to seek work.

More people are in work than ever before. The level of people out of work is at its lowest since 1975. The rate of employment is 75.3% – the highest since comparable records began in 1971. The unemployment rate is 4.3% – the lowest since 1975. Youth unemployment has fallen by over 40% since 2010.

Full time employment level is at 23.59 million – a new record high. The number of people on zero hours contracts does not account for 3% of people on employment contracts. 70% of workers on zero hours contracts are happy with the hours that they work and value the flexibility. This includes those working at McDonalds with whom I have personally spoken.

With a million more women in work since 2010, the female employment rate remains at a record high of 70.8%. There are also now almost 3.5 million disabled people in employment. In the last three years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by nearly 600,000.


10 SEP 2017

John Howell MP poses in pink at Westminster to support Breast Cancer research

I have dressed in pink to lend his support to Breast Cancer Now's flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, which will see thousands of people across the UK adding a splash of pink to their outfits on Friday 20 October and raise vital funds for breast cancer research.

I am encouraging constituents to join me, and sign up to take part in the UK's biggest pink fundraiser. The event, which takes place during October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is in its 16th year and has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now's life-saving research.

I, joined by fellow parliamentarians in Westminster this week, showed my support for the thousands of women and men affected by breast cancer each year, encouraging people across the UK to take part on wear it pink day.

Anyone can take part in wear it pink, which brings together schools, workplaces and communities. All you need to do is wear something pink, or hold a pink event at home, work or school, and make a donation to Breast Cancer Now. Whatever you do, you're helping the charity achieve its aim that, if we all act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.

I said:

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. This is why I'm urging everyone in the constituency to take part in wear it pink on Friday 20 October. It's such a fun and easy way to support Breast Cancer Now's vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love."

Also in attendance was Sky News presenter and former Olympic gymnast Jacquie Beltrao. Jacquie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, is lending her support to wear it pink in the hope that thousands of people across the country will take part in the event.

Jacquie Beltrao said:

"I'm very proud to support wear it pink; it's a great excuse to dress up in pink and have some fun while raising money for a really important cause. I have had breast cancer myself and following my diagnosis and treatment have become incredibly passionate about raising awareness and funds for research.

"Wear it pink has raised over £30 million to date for Breast Cancer Now, which is incredible. The event raises funds for the charity's world-class research, which will hopefully one day put a stop to this dreadful disease. That is why I'm asking people across the country join me, and the MPs who took part in Westminster, by adding a splash of pink to their outfits on wear it pink day and donating to Breast Cancer Now. I hope lots of people across the UK take part!"

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:

"It is fantastic that so many MPs dressed up in pink at our Westminster wear it pink event and we are really grateful for all of the support and enthusiasm shown. We hope that by wearing pink, John will encourage his constituents  to get involved in their local community and help us fund life-saving research this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"Wear it pink is a wonderful opportunity for communities across the UK to come together and have fun, whilst showing their support for everyone affected by breast cancer. Simply by wearing something pink and donating, you're raising funds for life-saving research and helping Breast Cancer Now reach our goal that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live."

To take part in wear it pink this October, please visit wearitpink.org/2017 for further details, fundraising ideas and how to register for your free fundraising pack.


06 SEP 2017

Development in South Oxfordshire

Today, the SODC Planning Committee met to discuss a planning application for 245 houses located on the border of Reading and South Oxfordshire near Emmer Green. John Howell MP, the Member of Parliament for Henley, in whose constituency the proposed development lies, was unable to be present due to commitments in the House of Commons. He sent the following message to be read out at the meeting. The MP had earlier emailed every member of the planning committee with his concerns and had also spoken with the Minister of Planning.

"I have emailed all members of the committee to share my concerns on this application. There is a long list of objections to the application which raise many matters of detail. I trust that members are fully conversant with these. I have visited the site and met with residents.

The application meets with objections from both sides of the county boundary. The applicant recognises that there are few facilities in South Oxfordshire to support the development and points to Reading for this. However Reading Borough Council note the negative impact of such a development on its infrastructure which would not be able to support the development. It is accepted that there can be new infrastructure provision in relation to new development. I have long argued for infrastructure ahead, or at very least in line with, new development. This application appears to stand alone with no such provision. Looking at the emerging new Local Plan there is no provision for new infrastructure to support such a development in this area of South Oxfordshire.

The SODC officer has written a thorough report, setting out the objections and concerns in relation to this application. In the light of the detail of the report I am surprised at the conclusion reached in the officer recommendation. In particular I am surprised at the assessment in relation to paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework concerning adverse effects of the development. Reading the list of concerns there seem to be many which would suggest that the adverse impact of the development would indeed significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefit.

The cross-boundary nature of the application, merging urban Reading with rural South Oxfordshire would seem to cause significant and permanent harm to the rural character of the area.

I thank the Committee for its work in considering the detail of the application and hope they will conclude that it should not be approved.

With thanks. John Howell MP"


16 AUG 2017

Unemployment in July

The Henley Constituency remains one of the best performers when it comes to unemployment. In July the constituency ranked 649th out of 650 where 1 has the highest claimant rate and 650 the lowest.

The total number of unemployed in the constituency is 255 which is a rate of 0.5% of the economically active population. Within the figure of 255, there were 25 claimants aged 18-24 in July 2017, 10 lower than July 2016. By way of comparison, the UK unemployment rate, which includes people not claiming benefits was 4.4% between April and June 2017.

Across the UK. the growth in employment over the last year has been overwhelmingly in full-time and permanent roles. The number of people on zero hours contracts fell 20,000 compared to a year earlier to 883,000 people across the country. This accounts for considerably less than 3%.

Employment has been delivered for over 3 million more people -- seven in ten of these roles being in higher skilled work.

I commented:

"The figures are another record-breaking set of figures, showing more people in work than ever, unemployment falling to the lowest rate for over 40 years and more people working full-time.

"Long-term unemployment is down to 374,000, a reduction of 74,000 from the previous year. 400,000 more young people are in work since 2010, the level of people in work at the highest level since records began and these new jobs are full-time."

With a million more women in work since 2010, the female employment rate remains at a record high of 70.5%. There are now almost 3.5 million disabled people in employment. In the last three years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by nearly 600,000.


04 AUG 2017

Thames Farm Planning Appeal Decision

Like many people I have reacted with disappointment and disbelief at the decision by the Planning Inspector over Thames Farm. The Decision casts doubt over whether SODC even has a 3 year housing land supply. For the avoidance of doubt, I have been assured by SODC that, by usual calculations, they have a housing land supply of just over 4 years. The Inspector has taken some additional information into account and has decided that SODC does not have a 3 year housing land supply by one house! On the basis of this he is prepared to overturn an established and approved Neighbourhood Plan and the safeguards introduced by the previous Planning Minister. This was only recently reinforced by the current Planning Minister, Alok Sharma MP. As you may recall I recently held a debate in the House of Commons and was reassured by the Minister of the Government's commitment to Neighbourhood Planning.

This is not a time for panicking by there are several things that we can do:

  • First, we need to wait for SODC to decide to challenge the Inspector's decision in the High Court. Personally I feel that such a challenge is worthwhile and that the grounds are strong. SODC will want to consult legal counsel.
  • Second, I recommend that all groups who are doing Neighbourhood Plans continue with these as even the Inspector would have to agree that the district does have a 3 year housing land supply when the Thames Farm development is taken into account.
  • Third, I was assured by John Cotton, the Leader of SODC at my Neighbourhood Planning Conference that the cost of legal challenge would not inhibit going forward where the planning evidence was strong.

We will have to wait for SODC to consider this. However, should it be necessary, I am prepared to lead an initiative to crowdfund a contribution to the costs and to make sure that local parish councils are represented. I have also written to the Planning Minister to raise the issue which flies in the face of the Government's expressed intentions on the spirit of Neighbourhood Planning.

NOTE: The housing land supply is a requirement in the National Planning Policy Framework. It is an assessment of land availability identifies a future supply of land which is suitable, available and achievable for housing and economic development uses over the plan period. Five years is the standard requirement but the Planning Minister has said that where there is an adopted Neighbourhood Plan a t3 year housing land supply is sufficient.


01 AUG 2017

National Lottery investment in the Henley constituency's heritage hits £11,402,365 million

I welcome investment in the Henley constituency and I encourage constituents to apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund for grants.

I have today welcomed news that more than £11,402,365 million of National Lottery money has been invested in Henley's heritage projects since 1994. Most recently, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley and the Thame Museum in Thame both received grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

From exploring local archaeology and restoring local parks and churches to protecting wildlife and researching local history, the HLF has awarded more than 89 grants to heritage projects in the area. As someone trained as an archaeologist, I very much appreciate this.

Now, HLF is encouraging people in the Henley constituency to apply for grants of between £3,000 and £10,000 to undertake projects exploring the impact and legacy of the First World War beyond 1918. Whether that's looking at the role the war played in bringing about universal suffrage; the introduction of daylight saving; or the mechanisation of agriculture, there is a wealth of local stories waiting to be explored about life following the war.

I said:

"The Henley constituency has an incredibly rich history and I'm delighted to learn that thanks to the National Lottery local people have been exploring and enjoying that heritage. Just like many towns and cities across the UK, the constituency was shaped by the First World War, and so I strongly encourage local people to make use of the money available from Heritage Lottery Fund to explore its legacy further."

Sir Peter Luff, Chair of HLF, said:

"Sadly, the 'war to end all wars' was no such thing and so it is right the events of the First World War should never be forgotten. We've been helping people across the UK explore an incredible array of stories from 1914-18, but the war had an impact beyond 1918 and we must recognise this. The legacy of the First World War needs to be better understood and so we are encouraging people to come to us with their ideas for projects."

The money is available through HLF's community grants programme, First World War: then and now.

Details of two of the most recent constituency projects are set out below

THAME MUSEUM PROJECT 2016

The project relates to a collection of Elizabethan wall paintings found in an upper chamber of a merchant's house in Thame and now installed in the town's museum. Their existence reflects both the status of the owner and wider social and economic changes underway in Early Modern England. The decorated walls reflect the merchant's growing wealth and status and, from their siting, indicate the shift towards separate social spaces away from the medieval hall. The meaning of the content of the paintings is intriguingly elusive, hinting at changes underway with the impact of the Reformation. The paintings therefore throw light on changing economic, social and cultural development in Thame, during its journey to become the thriving market town of today. The project aims to raise the profile of the paintings and enable visitors and members of the community to develop greater understanding and awareness of this local heritage. Workshops and research opportunities will develop knowledge and skills and link with the installation of an improved interpretation for the wall painting display, including a digital element and content that better reflects the significance of the paintings as a source of information about social and cultural change.

RIVER AND ROWING MUEUM PROJECT 2017

'Peter Rabbit: Mischief and Mayhem' will be the first exhibition to draw together original artworks, first editions and contemporary depictions tracing the development of Peter Rabbit as a character and a brand. This mischievous rabbit was author and illustrator Beatrix Potter's first creation, and has formed part of the early reading heritage of children for over a century. Today, over two million Beatrix Potter books are sold every year, and Peter features on television screens and merchandise across the globe. Based around an archive held by the publishers, the exhibition will both introduce a new generation to Peter Rabbit and encourage older generations to revisit their childhood. Highly interactive, it will be family friendly and provide visitors with a fun learning experience. The exhibition will be accompanied by a learning and events programme, which will focus on art and creative writing. Building on the success of the Wind in the Willows gallery, the exhibition will be hosted first at the River & Rowing Museum, before touring to museums and other cultural venues to reach the broadest possible audience. The exhibition will include a gardening project, which will see local primary schools invited to grow vegetables for Mr McGregor's garden.


19 JUL 2017

Good news on Neighbourhood Planning

Two important reforms to Neighbourhood Planning come into force today (19 July 2017) which are really good news for communities doing Neighbourhood Plans. In the first of these, local planning authorities such as SODC must 'have regard' to Neighbourhood Plans which have passed their examinations when they are taking planning decisions rather than waiting to after the referendum. This reform makes it clear that planning decision-takers such as the planning committee must take these plans into account at any earlier stage.

This ensures that the plans that local people have worked so hard to create are used as the starting point for determining local planning applications up to 8 weeks earlier than now following a successful referendum.

I am the Government's Neighbourhood Planning Champion. I said:

"This is very good news. These changes come out of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. I welcome them and the contributions they make to Neighbourhood Planning. I am also pleased to see that the Government remains firmly committed to Neighbourhood Planning and is taking active steps to make them a success."


19 JUL 2017

Intervention and speech on British prisoners in Iran

John Howell

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She is being very generous with her time. She is describing a scandalous systematic abuse of human rights in Iran. Does she accept that, when the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 was put together, we missed an opportunity to put a human rights clause in there? In the two years since it was signed, there has been no improvement at all in Iran's activities.

Tulip Siddiq

I agree that it was a missed opportunity, but there have been other big missed opportunities, including a visit by diplomats to Evin prison, which I shall talk about later.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on her excellent speech and on securing this brilliant debate. She did not comment on another British value—a belief in human rights. I have a fundamental belief in human rights, but Iran is not a place where human rights are prevalent.

Human rights were not discussed at all during the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, in spite of Iran having one of the worst human rights records on this planet. In per capita terms, Iran leads the world in executions, and overall is second only to China. In Iran, moreover, it is mandatory for all women to veil their hair, homosexuality is illegal—I could go on and on.

Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) for securing this crucial debate. My hon. Friend is making some important points, and I want to add one. An important human right is that of legal representation to ensure access to justice. One of the most horrifying aspects of both Nazanin and Kamal's cases is the absence of that legal advice. Will he comment on that?

John Howell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that point.

At least three British citizens are detained in Iran. I have heard that a fourth person, whose name I do not know, has also been detained. We will have to see who that person is. Those four people stand in great contrast to the four Americans who were released from Iranian prisons in 2016 as part of a prisoner swap that came about following the Iran nuclear agreement. Nothing similar has occurred with regard to those Britons who have been detained in Iran over the same period.

In the few seconds I have left, I make the point that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn fully identified the reasons why we need those people released. It is fine to hear warm words from the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, but we need to see action on those words. We need a real release of prisoners from Iran as quickly as possible.


18 JUL 2017

Speech today on Anglo-Polish relations

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) missed out from his list of trade envoys our brilliant trade envoy to Nigeria—I cannot imagine who has that job. I just refresh his memory on that.

I, too, will start with a history lesson, although not one that goes back as far as the second world war. Let me go back to the time of Mrs Thatcher and the setting up of what became known as the Know How Fund, Britain's technical assistance programme to central and eastern Europe. The fund, of which I was a board member, started in Poland, because the British Government saw the attractions of Poland and the innate spirit of entrepreneurial activity there, and decided that they would work with individual Polish organisations—not governmental organisations—to take reforms forward. I spent many years afterwards doing non-exciting things such as trying to import British accounting, law and stock exchange and banking practices to Poland, with some great success. That is why so many British companies feel comfortable doing business in Poland now.

Daniel Kawczynski

Of course I recognise the role that my hon. Friend undertakes as the excellent trade envoy for Nigeria. I agree wholeheartedly about the initial support that Britain gave to Poland after the communist era in the form of technology transfer and support in setting up institutions. He will, of course, agree that Britain was at the forefront of ensuring that the Paris Club nations rescinded many of Poland's communist era debts.

John Howell

I agree. The point that I would make is that it is a fundamentally good way of transferring British technical assistance, for the benefit of both countries, as it transpires. It makes the other countries much more receptive and makes it easier for British companies to operate there, and it certainly improves the activities in those countries.

The involvement with Poland goes back more years than I care to remember, but it has not stopped there. I still have a great deal of involvement with Poland and Polish MPs. It is worth remembering that Poland supplies many Members of Parliament to the European Conservatives Group at the Council of Europe. In a post-Brexit world, the Council of Europe goes far beyond the 27 EU members, with a full membership of 47. That says a lot about the Council's interest in human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I have heard Polish members of the Council of Europe participate in many debates on refugees, and I know full well that they understand the needs of Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in Europe, because they have said so in public debate. The point that they make balances good practice across Europe and seeing the refugee pattern as a whole with keeping an eye on what Poland can take for itself.

My hon. Friend mentioned that Prince William had been to Poland recently; Donald Trump was there as well, which led to many protests. There have also been protests about the court reforms that the current Polish Government are undertaking. Will the Minister comment on those? The difficulty with the court reforms, according to the opposition, is that the Government there are seeking more power over the courts, trying to end the separation of powers within Poland and introducing more rules to allow members of courts to be chosen by parliamentarians. Is that compatible with the country's continued membership of the Council of Europe and its commitment to democracy?

My experience with Poland goes back many years, and I hope that it will continue for many more years to come. It is a place full of great entrepreneurs who contribute to our lives every day.


18 JUL 2017

John Howell MP appointed new Envoy for autism charity

Last night (17 July) I was appointed a new Envoy to the autism charity, SPACE. The acronym stands for Supporting People with Autism into Continued Employment.

SPACE is a project of the Sycamore Trust sponsored by the Glyn Hopkins Charitable Foundation. It aims to find continued employment for those with autism.

I said:

"We must bear in mind that every autistic person is an individual and as such we must take care of their special needs. What impresses me about the work of this charity is that it aims t help employers as those it wants to become employees. Minor, easy adjustments in the workplace can make such a huge difference. Employers will find workers with a good work ethic and with a good attention to detail.

"The starting point will be to find suitable work placements in the Houses of Parliament where the House staff have done much to make the place more welcoming to those with autism."


18 JUL 2017

John Howell MP welcomes announcement on £1.3 billion boost to the core schools budget

i have welcomed the announcement that there will be an additional £1.3 billion for schools funding over two years – helping to create more good school places in the constituency.

Education Secretary Justine Greening today announced the boost to the core schools budget, which will deliver the biggest improvement to the school funding system for well over a decade.

This additional funding to fairer schools funding will mean an increase in the basic amount that every pupil will get, protected funding for those with high needs and will ensure every local authority is in a position to give schools a cash increase through the new formula.

This means that, working with teachers and schools across the country, we can continue to raise standards and give every child the best possible education, and the best opportunities for their future.

I commented:

"The Conservatives are committed to ending the postcode lottery of school funding – so all children receive the education they deserve, wherever they live. We will ensure that every secondary school attracts at least £4,800 per pupil during this period, in response to the views we heard through the consultation.

"As we said in our manifesto, no school will lose any funding as result of the new formula. We will go further than this, and provide for a 0.5% cash increase for every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Those schools that have been underfunded will see increases of up to 3% in both years.

"Today's announcement sends a clear message that we are committed to raising standards and giving every child the best possible education and the best possible opportunities for their future."


15 JUL 2017

Beating Cancer

This week I committed my support to help Cancer Research UK save more lives in this constituency and across the UK.

I attended a parliamentary event held by Cancer Research UK in Westminster on 12 July to find out how I can keep cancer at the top of the new Parliament's agenda.

Over the course of this Parliament, two million people will be diagnosed with cancer across the UK, so Cancer Research UK needs political support in order to continue to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Cancer survival in the UK is still lagging behind other countries and too many cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat successfully.

At the event, I met some of Cancer Research UK's dedicated volunteer Campaign Ambassadors. I found out how many people in the Henley Constituency are diagnosed with cancer each year, underlining the need for MPs to join the fight against the disease.

What I said was:

"We must not underestimate the devastating impact cancer will have on people in this constituency now and in the future, so it gives me hope to hear that Cancer Research UK's pioneering research is turning the tables on the disease.

"The outlook for new and better cancer treatments in the UK is bright. However, it is clear that there is a critical role for politicians to play in helping to prevent and detect cancer earlier and bring innovative new treatments to patients faster.

"One life lost to this terrible disease is one too many and that's why I'm supporting Cancer Research UK in their mission to beat cancer sooner."

Matt Davies, Cancer Research UK's Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning said:

"At Cancer Research UK, we're resolute in our ambition to see 3 in 4 patients surviving cancer by 2034. To achieve this we need cancer at the top of the political agenda and so we're grateful to John for helping to highlight the importance of research and action in beating the disease.

"Survival in the UK has doubled in the last 40 years. But there's still so much more to do and we cannot do it alone.

"Creating the right environment for cancer research alongside cancer prevention, early diagnosis and ensuring patients have access to the best possible treatments must be key priorities for the new Government."


12 JUL 2017

Comments on Euratom

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

As I mentioned in my intervention, I represent the Culham UKAEA establishment. The urgency to resolve this issue is that Euratom's work programme runs out in December 2018. The European Commission is pushing hard to negotiate terms for the 2019-20 programme, but the fly in the ointment is Austria's taking over the EU presidency in June 2019. Of course, as has already been mentioned, Austria is notoriously anti-nuclear, and it is therefore urgent that an agreement should be in place by June 2018.

Ministers have apparently written to the Commission to continue with the JET—Joint European Torus—project, and to commit the UK's share, which has gone down very well. Everything has been delayed to accommodate Brexit, and willingly so, but there is a need to get a move on with this. Staying a full member of Euratom provides the best continuity to that programme.

I do not believe that the legal issues are as black and white as has been set out. However, associate membership with bespoke terms is a perfectly acceptable compromise. That would mean that there would be a transition period that would leave us as full members of Euratom until 2020. There are two principal models of associate membership: the Swiss model, which includes freedom of movement for nuclear scientists and the use of the European Court of Justice, and the Ukrainian model, in which there is no free movement of nuclear scientists and for which the Ukrainian courts decide disputes. The Government need to make their mind up quickly on that in order to provide the certainty that the industry needs.

There is a lot at stake. UKAEA is targeting £1 billion-worth of work on ITER—the JET project's replacement in the south of France. That is £1 billion of work against the UK's £85 million investment. It is important to bear those sort of figures in mind when we come to look at the future of Euratom and the sort of relationship that we have with it.


12 JUL 2017

Job Centres saved and unemployment

Today, new figures for unemployment in the constituency were released which show a further drop in the level of unemployment to 260. This means the constituency remains one of the most successful UK constituencies for dealing with unemployment.

The Department for Work and Pensions has also announced that two Job Centres close to the constituency are to be retained despite being initially threatened with closure. These are the centres in Reading and Oxford, important to those who claim from Henley and Thame and across the constituency. These offices were being reviewed to take account of the increased use of online services and the anticipated demand. Both centres have been saved as they will now contain a Centre for Health and Disability Assessment (CHDA) office. These offices undertake assessment for benefits for people.

The rate of unemployment in the Henley constituency stood at 0.5% compared with a claimant rate of 2.5% across the country.

I commented:

"The news that the Reading and Oxford offices are to remain is good news. So too is another drop in the number of people unemployed in the constituency. I would like to thank all those who have helped achieve this."


11 JUL 2017

Chiltern Edge update

Speaking on BBC Radio Oxford this morning, I welcomed the news that the County Council were recommending not to proceed with a notice to close Chiltern Edge School and to commission an external review in October for review in November.

However, the big test for the long term security of the school is agreeing a sponsorship deal with another school to turn Chiltern Edge into an Academy.

I commented:

"I appreciate that this takes time to organise but we do have a potential sponsor interested and those discussions should, as far as possible, not be held behind closed doors."

I went on to say:

"In addition, commissioning a report in October for a review in November seems to me to be a bit rushed. The school is just about to go into the summer holidays so there is in reality not a lot of time for the school to show the progress we all hope it will make."

I praised the new head of the school for doing a fantastic job and also praised the new school Governors (the IEB) who as volunteers were conscientious and doing all that they could for the school.


10 JUL 2017

Question to Secretary of State for Defence

Mr Speaker

On this question, I call John Howell.

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

The millions spent on technical innovation on bases around the UK is crucial, particularly on my own base of RAF Benson, where CAE is a big contributor. Does the Secretary of State agree with that and what will he do to continue it? [900307]

Sir Michael Fallon

Yes, I do agree with that. That is why we have set aside a specific innovation fund to encourage more innovation in defence and to get more of our small and medium-sized businesses, of which I know there are a large number in and around my hon. Friend's constituency, to help us find these cutting-edge solutions.


09 JUL 2017

Thame Town Music Festival

On Saturday 8 Jul 2017, I attended the Thame Town Music Festival. I met some of those who had organised the festival including Simon Davidmann, the chairman. I listened to The Dung Beatles play a variety of pieces including songs written by the Beatles. This took place on the main stage outside the Town Hall.

What I said was:

"This was a brilliant Festival and I congratulate all those who organised it. There was a great atmosphere and a lot of people simply enjoying the occasion and listening to a wide variety of music. I do hope the Festival will be repeated next year and who knows I might even participate. The organisers wanted the Festival to add to the fun and vibrancy of Thame. It certainly did that. I also believe that the Festival will help small businesses and add to the local economy."


05 JUL 2017

Speech on the Middle East

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

Yesterday, there was a debate on the middle east in the other place. My noble Friend Lord Polak made a typically interesting contribution. He pointed out that in 1948 there were 726,000 Palestinians refugees, and 856,000 Jewish refugees living in Arab lands, yet since then the UN's focus has been solely on the Palestinians. He pointed to the more than 170 resolutions, the 13 UN agencies created or mandated to look after the Palestinian issue and the billions of dollars that have been provided to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, he still hoped that the UK would do all it could to bring Israelis and Palestinians around the table to hammer out a solution. I agree with him.

Israel remains committed to an independent Palestinian state through, among other things, direct negotiation to end the conflict. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly underlined his commitment to restarting peace negotiations without pre-conditions. Israel has accepted the principle of a future Palestinian state based along 1967 lines and for land swaps to take place.

Polling in 2016 has shown that there is still an appetite for a two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis. The figures were almost 60% for Israelis and just over 50% for Palestinians. The biggest obstacle to peace involved the infighting between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian approach unilaterally to wanting statehood and the rearmament in Gaza by Hamas. Personally, I would add to that the seemingly blinkered approach of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. When I was last in Ramallah, I visited the PLO and had talks with its members. I found that there was little basis on which to have those talks. There was an attempt to blame us for all the ills of the region and a dislike for the involvement of anything that smacked of the private sector. I also wish to stress the levels of co-operation that already exist between the Israelis and the Palestinians and to point to one organisation in particular, Save a Child's Heart, which I have visited on a number of occasions and does fantastic work.

I would be the first to admit that settlement expansion is counterproductive, and I have made that point to the Israeli Government, but the settlement issue is not a permanent obstacle to peace, and it is one of the five final status issues. It is not the reason for the continuation of the conflict, as violence predates the settlements, and the majority of settlers live within established settlement blocks along the green line, which are widely anticipated to become part of Israel in the peace settlement.

The past two years have shown a rising level of terror and Palestinian incitement in Israel. Since 2015 alone, there have been around 180 stabbings, 150 shootings, 58 car ramming attacks and one bus bombing. The result has been more than 389 terror attacks and over 759 injuries and some 50 Israeli or foreign deaths. The violence escalated to the point that, in October 2015, an Israeli mother and father were gunned down in front of their four young children. The sort of attitude that we have seen from President Abbas is not very helpful. He vowed to Palestinians that he would not stop prisoner salaries even if he had to resign, despite telling the US that he would do so.

Bob Blackman rose—

John Howell

I will not give way, as I am fairly close to the end.

No peace agreement will be able to guarantee peace in the medium to long term if a generation of Palestinians are growing up indoctrinated to hate Israel and the Jews. The Palestinian Authority's failure to deliver on its commitment to end incitement and hate education explicitly undermines the principles and conditions on which the peace process is built. Although I welcome France's recent efforts to promote peace, I do not think that the best way to make progress is to hold an international conference without the attendance of the two main parties. We must get the two main parties around the table at the same time.

5.53 pm


05 JUL 2017

Question to Cabinet Ministers

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What steps the Government are taking to ensure the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations. [900237]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Caroline Nokes)

Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and assets; deter our adversaries; and develop the skills and capabilities we need. Our experts in the National Cyber Security Centre provide advice and guidance to help both public and private sector organisations be more resilient to cyber-attacks.

John Howell

There seems to be a misleading impression that IT and cyber-security are of interest only to boys. What are the Government doing to encourage women to take part?

Caroline Nokes

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Only 10% of the global cyber workforce are female. That represents a huge pool of untapped talent. As part of our ambitious plans to transform the nation's cyber capabilities, we have launched new initiatives, such as the incredibly successful CyberFirst Girls competition to encourage young women to pursue a career in the industry—it has more than 8,000 participants. We also want business to do more to encourage women into that exciting and rewarding sector.


05 JUL 2017

Debate on Neighbourhood Planning

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I have been involved with neighbourhood planning since I first entered Parliament almost 10 years ago. I am the author of "Open Source Planning," which has guided many of the planning reforms initiated by the Conservative party in government. When I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), we introduced neighbourhood planning. When he was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, he appointed me as the Government champion for neighbourhood planning, a role in which I was confirmed by the current Secretary of State only last week. In this role I have been to numerous Members' meetings to discuss neighbourhood planning. I say all that to illustrate that I have some experience of this subject.

I will particularly address two groups of points this evening. The first is on when neighbourhood plans carry weight. The Minister's predecessor introduced a helpful change—albeit only temporary, and it is currently subject to challenge—to ensure that when councils do not have a five-year land supply, those places with neighbourhood plans that allocate sites need only demonstrate that they have a three-year land supply. We also looked at changing the time when neighbourhood plans carry full weight and bringing it back to when the document is submitted to whoever will inspect the plan, but even that is not early enough.

Let me give examples from my constituency of why that time is not early enough. The initial attempt of two villages to put together neighbourhood plans was unsuccessful. Almost immediately, developers moved into the villages and put in planning applications, not for just a couple of houses but for large-scale developments. The developers did nothing wrong in targeting two villages that had not been able to produce a neighbourhood plan, but in other cases developers are targeting villages that have just started the process of putting a neighbourhood plan together, so that they can get in before the community can decide where it wants the housing to go. That amounts to sharp practice, as in many cases it forces a race between those putting the neighbourhood plan together and the developers attempting to get the planning application through. With more and more communities now moving to put a neighbourhood plan together, this creates a situation where developers are trying to beat a neighbourhood plan and to frustrate its intention by putting the housing where the developer, not the community, wants it to go.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work on neighbourhood planning, and particularly for supporting and advising me in Mid Sussex, which is in exactly the position he describes. Does he agree that all the hard work and effort of our constituents in putting together these plans, voluntarily, needs to be reflected and recognised, as our right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) originally intended?

John Howell

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The thing we need to remember is that the people who have put these plans together are all volunteers—they all do this work for nothing and they all do it for the future of their village. I shall say a little more about that in a moment.

I should say at this point that in the main we are not talking about communities who are anti-development; we are talking of communities who want to embrace new housing for the long-term sake of their communities and to ensure that facilities such as pubs and sports clubs do not fall into disuse. They also want new housing above all to cater for younger people and families. There is nothing for the Government to fear here about being in the world of the nimby; neighbourhood plans have allocated some 10% more housing than it was originally suggested they should provide by their district or borough councils. From that point of view, they have been a great success.

An emerging neighbourhood plan can be a material consideration according to the national planning policy framework. The Department for Communities and Local Government's own guidance suggests that factors to consider include the stage of preparation of the plan and the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies. It goes on to suggest that although a referendum ensures the final word, weight should be given to evidence of local support prior to the referendum and the quality of the consultation should be taken into account. I want to add that the consultation on neighbourhood plans is normally very good, which is why they pass their referendums with almost North Korean levels of approval, and this level of consultation goes on throughout the process of putting the neighbourhood plan together. However, in actual fact little weight is given to such neighbourhood plans until the referendum has been passed.

The findings of research conducted in Cornwall show that emerging neighbourhood plans should be given weight in the decision-making process, but that the amount of weight must still be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I had sought the hon. Gentleman's permission to intervene on this issue, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my constituency, Ards and North Down Borough Council has initiated a regeneration plan for the area and also a neighbourhood plan, in that it has sought the opinion of the general public by holding public meetings. Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that the general public's opinion is being ignored?

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The point I would make is that we have initiated a process whereby public opinion is taken into account throughout the process of putting a neighbourhood plan together, and that is reflected at all stages of the neighbourhood planning process. Whether that is the same in Northern Ireland I will leave for him to judge.

In the Cornish case, it is harder for the council to refuse permissions for proposals that conflict with an emerging neighbourhood plan, although this may have now been taken care of if the three-year land supply required for the neighbourhood plan areas still stands. But what this shows is how precarious the weight to be attached to neighbourhood plans really is, because it is ​ still for the decision maker, whether that is the council or the inspector, to assess the application on a case-by-case basis. There appears to be a great discrepancy between the emphasis given to neighbourhood plans by the Secretary of State and that given by the Planning Inspectorate. I suggest, therefore, that we need to put neighbourhood planning on a firmer basis.

The fact that there are so many cases where a neighbourhood plan has not been given weight causes great frustration. It is a cause of much frustration that so much work has been put into producing a neighbourhood plan and yet it has been overturned. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) said, that work is undertaken by volunteers, to whom we all ought to give our grateful thanks.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on initiating this debate and I agree with everything he has said. Is not the danger that if neighbourhood plans are undermined in this way, confidence in the whole process and the willingness of volunteers to undertake the process of putting together a neighbourhood plan will be damaged?

John Howell

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. That is the last thing I want to see. I want neighbourhood plans to continue to flourish and contribute to house building and to the development of communities.

Of course, not all developers behave as I have described. Many follow what I set out in "Open Source Planning". They try to reduce tension between themselves and the community and to work effectively with the community. However, there are those who play the game of getting in before the neighbourhood plan is fully made and frustrating the work that is going on.

I suggest that the Minister considers introducing a moratorium on new house building where a neighbourhood plan is being put together. To prevent communities from cheating and claiming that they are producing a neighbourhood plan when they are not, rules would be needed that show that the plan is genuine. There would have to be rules to make sure that communities are allocating sites for development, not using the plan as a nimby charter. That could be done by strengthening the guidance to the Planning Inspectorate and making sure that it is applied consistently, or ensuring that neighbourhood plans are given more weight when, for example, they include a list of sites or the initial consultation has taken place.

Although I say it myself, neighbourhood plans are a great success. They are giving communities a real say and responsibility for new housing by allowing them to work in partnership with their district or borough council and decide where that housing should go. Villages that were once hostile to development have become pro-development. A neighbourhood plan can take up to two years to put together and it represents a lot of hard work for the community—all done by volunteers—but so it should. It makes a major contribution to the future state of any village and cannot be written on the back of a cigarette packet. However, we have to make sure that the effort is not taken for granted or wasted by allowing some developers an opportunity to move in ahead of a neighbourhood plan. Anything the Minister ​ can do to strengthen guidance or advance the time when neighbourhood plans carry protection would be much appreciated.

One of the major things we need to do as a Government is to provide housing for younger people. The average age at which people acquire their first home is now over 30. As was put to me, one cannot expect people to be capitalists if they do not have any capital. We need to provide people with houses to buy, and there are two issues here—first, the number of homes and secondly, affordability. On the first, I encourage the Government to move ahead with the consultation on the changes to the calculations being made by councils of their housing numbers.

I was part of the local plan expert group—I am localist through and through—and the suggestions that we made to change how housing numbers were calculated were not anti-localist. Serious problems are generated by the lack of an agreed approach to strategic housing market assessments, which have become one of the most burdensome, complex and controversial components of plan making. We set out detailed recommendations for a shorter, simpler standard methodology for strategic housing market assessments, in particular for assessment of housing need, with the aim of saving significant time and money, and—most important—removing unnecessary debate from that aspect of plan making. I recommend the LPEG report to the Minister. I know he is new to his position, but I urge him to read it. It would help if a table of recommendations and how they are being dealt with were produced by his officials. The thinking behind that uplift is that allocating more housing land will lower prices, increase development and improve viability. Of course, the sites allocated need to be actually developed.

This is not entirely a district or borough council problem. As I have said, neighbourhood plans allocated more houses than was originally intended. We need to encourage neighbourhood planners to look to the future of their area when they plan and to be part of the solution, rather than being held at a bit of a distance as they are now.

We can be more localist by stressing to neighbourhood planning groups that they can and should have much more say over the type of housing they allocate. The need in my area and that of the Minister is not for vast swathes of council housing, but for affordable market housing. It is not for more developments of four-to-five bedroom housing, but for more developments of genuinely cheaper one-to-two bedroom houses.

I want to suggest to the Minister that it is time to be radical about the future and to be ultra-localist. The steps we have taken so far have given only some of the involvement to local communities. That process needs to go further and bring neighbourhood planning groups into the equation, so that they may stress the types of housing in terms of the number of bedrooms, and have some say over affordability. Schemes such as Help to Buy have actually touched very few people—some 360,000. We need to find a way of involving local communities in tackling the issue of affordability or they will simply blame us that houses continue to be unaffordable.

We need to stress that this is a dynamic part of the planning system. It is very unlikely that we got it right the first time and we should have the courage to make changes as we go along and to seek to expand the scheme as it proves to be ever more successful. But it is ​ essential that we do not row back on our commitment to involving communities in the decisions over where the houses should go, what they should consist of and, crucially, what they should look like—their design. To that I would add that communities should also have a role in ensuring affordability.

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Alok Sharma)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) on securing this incredibly important debate on neighbourhood planning policy. As he himself has noted, he has made an enormous contribution to developing our approach to neighbourhood planning, and I pay tribute to him for his enormously hard work.

My hon. Friend mentioned his booklet "Open Source Planning", which was crucial in informing the 2010 Conservative manifesto and the Localism Act 2011. He has played a leading role throughout that time as my Department's champion for neighbourhood planning. He has also done an enormous amount of work in his own constituency to promote neighbourhood planning. In Woodcote, in his constituency, homes identified in the neighbourhood plan are now being lived in. It is a fantastic example of the real power of neighbourhood planning and of letting people decide where homes should go.

There are many other examples from around the country which have shown what neighbourhood planning can do to deliver more homes. Communities such as Winsford in Cheshire have planned for more than 3,300 homes. In Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes, there are plans for 1,400 homes. I congratulate all groups across the country on carrying out this incredibly valuable work.

I am proud to say that thousands of community-minded people across England have turned the legislation passed by this House in 2011 into a reality. My right hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) both noted that in their contributions.

Those community-minded individuals are now creating plans that make a real difference and are benefiting the places in which they live. My hon. Friend will of course be aware, because of the work he has done on this, that, since 2012, more than 2,100 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process, in areas covering nearly 12 million people. There have been more than 360 successful neighbourhood plan referendums, and over 500,000 people have taken the opportunity to vote on those plans.

Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)

I see a different side to this. We have big issues in my constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, with many keen groups who want to create plans, but who are very cynical about the planning process. We have two particularly large developments. In north Abingdon, we have 950 homes on the green belt. In Kidlington, the development involves four villages that will coalesce with a plan for 4,400 homes —an enormous number of homes. Local groups are rightly very worried not just about infrastructure, but, mainly, about their voices not being heard. Does the ​ Minister understand that local people now feel very cynical about all levels of planning and that is the main reason why they are not taking up neighbourhood planning?

Alok Sharma

May I make a general point to the hon. Lady that I hope will help other colleagues too? Local authorities need to consult their local communities in reaching these decisions on housing and, of course, they are accountable directly to them. The White Paper stated that we will amend national policy to make it clear that authorities should amend green-belt boundaries only when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting their identified development requirements. The hon. Lady may well have noted that today the Secretary of State has launched a £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund that is now open for bids from local authorities to fund much-needed infrastructure. I encourage all local authorities to consider this.

Let me turn to a number of the extremely important and valid points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley. I want to begin by making it absolutely clear that this Government remain firmly committed to neighbourhood planning. We all recognise the significant effort neighbourhood planning groups make and that is why we are keen to support them. The Government have made £22.5 million available through a support programme for neighbourhood planning for the period from 2015 to 2018. All groups can receive grant funding of up to £9,000 and priority groups, such as those allocating sites for housing in their plan and those in deprived areas, can receive up to £15,000 as well as full technical and professional support. The housing White Paper, which I know hon. Members will be familiar with and which was published in February, set out our commitment to further funding for neighbourhood planning groups in this Parliament.

My hon. Friend spoke of the importance of bringing forward the point at which neighbourhood plans start to influence planning decisions. As he will know, as plans are progressed they will gain increasing weight and our planning practice guidance makes it clear that decision makers must consider emerging neighbourhood plans. I will look carefully at his suggestion of changes to strengthen guidance to ensure that decision makers are in no doubt of the importance the Government attaches to neighbourhood plans.

When the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 comes into force, it will further strengthen the position. It will ensure that neighbourhood plans have full effect straight after a successful referendum. That is earlier than at present, when neighbourhood plans only have full effect after they have been made by the local planning authority. I can confirm that I have asked my officials to prepare the necessary orders to start this provision as soon as possible. The Neighbourhood Planning Act will also require local planning authorities to notify neighbourhood planning groups of planning applications in their local community. I know that many groups feel that that is incredibly important.

On my hon. Friend's comments about a moratorium on planning decisions while a neighbourhood plan is being produced, I recognise his concerns about those who seek to game the system and I know that other right hon. and hon. Members have made similar points ​ in previous debates. I absolutely understand the frustrations felt by communities around the country when plans they have worked hard to produce are undermined. That is why the Government issued a written ministerial statement in December 2016 concerning an important policy for recently produced neighbourhood plans that plan for housing.

The statement sets out that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a made neighbourhood plan should not be deemed to be out of date under paragraph 49 of the national planning policy framework where all of the following circumstances arise at the time the decision is made: the neighbourhood plan has been made within the past two years; the neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and the local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

I know that all Members will agree that it is important that we strike the right balance so that we do not inadvertently create delays in planning for the homes needed. Of course, we keep these matters under review.

Sir Nicholas Soames

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new job and look forward to working with him. Does he agree that what is extremely important is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, that although many developers behave perfectly properly, there are others who game the system? That is extremely prevalent in Mid Sussex. May I ask the Minister whether or not what he has just said will protect the district council and all those who work to secure their neighbourhood plans in the public inquiry, which will continue in late July?

Alok Sharma

The Government are absolutely committed to neighbourhood planning. As the new Minister, I am completely committed to it. We want this to work, and it is important for the communities that we represent. I hope that that demonstrates to my right hon. Friend the ​ strength of feeling in the Government when it comes to supporting neighbourhood planning.

The best protection against unplanned development is to get a local plan in place. The best local plans are those where the local authority has engaged proactively with the local community. A local plan provides certainty for communities, developers and neighbourhood planning groups. It also removes the pressure on neighbourhood planning groups to fill the vacuum created by the failure of local planning authorities to keep their local plans up to date. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley knows, the housing White Paper sought views on what changes are needed to ensure that all forms of plan making are appropriate and proportionate. We will consider how we can further speed up the neighbourhood plan process so that communities get the plans they want in place as quickly as possible.

My hon. Friend touched on the wider recommendations of the local plans expert group, to which we responded alongside the housing White Paper. He made a strong case for the introduction of a standard methodology to assess housing requirements. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government confirmed earlier today in his speech to the Local Government Association in Birmingham that a consultation will set out further details later this month on our proposals for a new way for councils to assess their local housing requirements.

To conclude, I thank my hon. Friend for securing this valuable debate and for his ongoing contribution to neighbourhood planning. I have listened carefully to the contributions made by right hon. and hon. Members and I welcome further suggestions on how best we can support neighbourhood planning in practice.


04 JUL 2017

Speech on Serbia and Albania and Europe

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

This is a time for everyone to congratulate you on your successful re-election, Mr Deputy Speaker, so let me do so again on behalf of the whole House.

Let us just reflect on what we are doing here. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) said, we will not be in the EU when Albania and Serbia are admitted as members, so we are using our role as members of the EU now to set out something for their benefit for the future, and that is an important point to remember. We are acting responsibly in our current membership of the EU, not simply washing our hands of those two countries.

In an intervention on the Minister, I asked what the difference is between the work of the Agency for Fundamental Rights and that of the Council of Europe. That is a very relevant question. According to the description she gave, what the agency does is exactly the same as what the Council of Europe does. I could not get a cigarette paper between the two definitions. As many Members have said in interventions, many of us, as delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, are actively involved in monitoring Albania and Serbia—for example, regarding participation in their elections—and will continue to do so for many years after the UK has left the European Union, because the Council of Europe is not an EU body. The UK will, I hope, continue as a member of the Council of Europe and its subsidiary body, if I can use that term, the European Court of Human Rights. It is important to recognise that it is the Council of Europe that owns the European Court of Human Rights and the convention.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) said, we should not take lightly the situation in Serbia. I have spent many years in central and eastern Europe helping countries to develop along the paths of democracy and a market economy. Only a few years ago, Serbia appeared to us to be full of warlords, and full of all the angst of the Balkans at the time. It seems a miracle that Serbia has come so far. In my work at the Council of Europe, I spent a lot of time working with Serbian Members of Parliament. That was done on a cross-party basis—it was an extreme pleasure to work with a Serbian Socialist MP. Serbia has come so far in what it is trying to do, in what it has achieved and in where it is going.

The co-operation that we had encompassed all three areas that the Council of Europe looks after: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is important to stress those. There are two examples of Serbia's problems in the region: one is Kosovo, which some EU members still do not recognise as a separate state, and the other is Montenegro. I am pleased to say that the last Council of Europe meeting was addressed by the Prime Minister of Montenegro, which shows the enormous respect those countries have for the institutions and for the individual members of those institutions.

Albania is a slightly different case. It was, I think, the 35th member of the Council of Europe, and we still monitor Albanian elections very closely. In fact, I was invited to be a monitor of the recent Albanian elections but was unable to do so because of our own general election. There has been an enormous difficulty with corruption in Albania. I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, which has a reputation for corruption, but I can tell hon. Members that Albania runs it a very close second in that respect. When I mentioned to an hon. Friend that I was going to say that in this debate, he warned me, "You'd better watch out. There will be gangs of Albanians wandering about, wanting to throw you into the boot of a car and do away with you." Well, I have taken the risk and said it.

The Minister set out the responsibilities of the agency: to collect, analyse and disseminate objective, reliable and comparable information relating to the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. I see no difference between that and what the Council of Europe does. In Serbia, the Council of Europe is strengthening the capacity of law enforcement and the judiciary specifically in the fight against corruption. An additional project aims to harmonise court practices and to raise the capacity of judges, to ensure consistent application of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Those seem to me to be identical to the activities the agency undertakes on behalf of the EU, so I believe there ought to be considerable co-operation between the Council of Europe and the agency. It shows how far Serbia has come that it also plays an active role regionally in promoting minority protection, in particular for the Roma community, and inclusive education.

The Council of Europe's overall strategic objective in Albania is to promote the reform agenda across various sectors. Protection of human rights, anti-discrimination, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and reform of the judiciary, as well as freedom of the media and free and fair elections in line with general European standards, are all part of the effort to increase good governance and democratic participation. I know that Albania has a long way to go—it is behind the other countries of the Council of Europe and the EU in taking that agenda forward—but we are working on that.

It would be churlish of me to deny the rights of Serbia and Albania to be members of the agency on the basis set out in the Bill and in the agreements, but I do think that the European Scrutiny Committee could have looked more carefully at what the Council of Europe is doing and pointed out the overlap between that and what the agency will do. We have talked about how long accession takes. I suggest that the reason it takes such a long time is that there is little in the way of co-operation and harmonisation of aims between individual organisations.

Having expressed my belief that Serbia and Albania should be admitted, I will answer the question put earlier about what we can do to put pressure on those countries, which have emerged from horrendous periods in their history. We have to welcome them into our institutions. It is not necessarily about harmonising legislation and making it EU-compliant, as the agency does. All of that can be taken care of. What we have to do—this is where the Council of Europe works very effectively—is work with them, include them as part of our bigger European family, and press them to act in the right way in their own territories. As those other members of the Council of Europe will affirm, that is an effective practice when it comes to dealing with this issue. I welcome those countries, and cannot think of a reason to keep them out, but I do ask for more co-operation across the board.

Let me turn very briefly to the Canadian competition issue, on which many Members have commented. Personally I can see no difficulty in exchanging information and having a better system for exchanging information—whether that is via the EU or with Canada directly as a result of the activities that take place. On that note, I will sit down.


29 JUN 2017

Question on 21st century Fox/SKY merger

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I am glad that the Secretary of State has pointed to the need to make her decisions on the basis of evidence. She will be aware that there was a long email campaign of rather emotional emails on the matter. What role have they played in her thinking, and how will that help her to retain public confidence?

Karen Bradley

The petitions and campaigns to which my hon. Friend refers have been considered as part of Ofcom's work. He will see in the report that Ofcom has considered more than 51,000 responses as part of its work. He is right that, in my quasi-judicial role, I am obliged to look at the evidence and analysis before me. I said in my statement that shouting the loudest is not necessarily the way to get the result one wants. We are looking for new and substantive evidence that may make a change to the decision.


24 JUN 2017

Participation in debate on housing

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend accept that one way of driving forward house building is through neighbourhood plans? They are delivering more houses than originally set out by the district councils that instructed councils to build houses.

Mr Bacon

I thank my hon. Friend for that and agree with him, although the caveat is that some developers are good at getting around neighbourhood plans, undermining their basis and confidence in them. The Government need to address that.


24 JUN 2017

Question to the PM about Grenfell Tower

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Will the results of the individual examinations to which the Prime Minister has referred be produced as they become available, or will they all be subjected to the public examination? If the former, may we have a timetable for that?

The Prime Minister

I assume that my hon. Friend is talking about the tests on the cladding—

John Howell

indicated assent.

The Prime Minister

As regards the tests on the cladding, as soon as the results are available—and the test can be done within hours of the samples being received—the local authorities, housing associations or private landlords will be informed of them.


21 JUN 2017

'World of Opportunity' SME Export Grants Programme

Applications can be made for 20 UK SMEs to win a grant of £2,000 to fund a trade mission, trade show or market research. The scheme is being offered by Heathrow as part of its 'World of Opportunity' SME Export Grants Programme. Through partnership with the Exporting is GREAT campaign run by the Department of International Trade each successful applicant f can prepare for international trade. More details can be found at https://your.heathrow.com/takingbritainfurther/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Heathrow_Logistics_Brochure_LORES.pdf

 


19 JUN 2017

Chiltern Edge and Benson

Two good news stories. First, great news for Chiltern Edge. I have received a letter as a serious expression of interest from a potential sponsor of the school.  I have already made both the School and OCC aware of it.

Second, at the invitation of the Benson Neighbourhood Plan, I chaired what was a promising meeting between them and developers to try to resolve problems on proposed existing development in the parish.  It was described as open and constructive.


15 JUN 2017

John Howell MP sworn in as MP for the Henley constituency

It was a great privilege to be sworn in at the House of Commons as the MP for the Henley constituency. I look forward to continuing the public service I have shown over the last few years.


14 JUN 2017

John Howell MP welcomes fall in constituency unemployment figures

I have welcomed the figures announced today that show a drop of 20 in the number of people unemployed in the Henley constituency. The total now stands at 265. This makes the constituency the second best performer in dealing with unemployment in the UK.

What I said was:

"I welcome these figures. While the claimant rate for unemployment across the country is running at 2.6%, this constituency's figure is only 0.6%. In addition, there were only 30 young people unemployed. I am particularly grateful for all employers taking on apprentices and for schools and colleges for promoting apprenticeships."

Unemployed claimants include people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or who are claiming Universal Credit and are required to seek work. The employment rate across the country stands at a record high of 74.8%. The people in work is at the highest level since records began

I added:

"It's great news that yet again we have more people in work nationally than ever before. Over the last 7 years we have been working hard to ensure the economy continues to create jobs – there are 2.9 million more people in work than in 2010. But we know there is more to do – we want to protect and build on this progress to make sure everyone has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they live or their background."

In addition, the number of working age women in employment was over 70% – the joint highest rate ever recorded and the unemployment rate for 18–24 year olds not in full-time education was 10.7% – a joint record low.


28 APR 2017

Two new academies in South Oxfordshire

Two new academies are to be funded in South Oxfordshire. The Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, has agreed to enter into a Funding Agreement to allow Garsington Church of England Primary school, and Horspath Church of England Primary school to become academies with a start date of 1 May 2017.

Academies are an integral part of the Government's education policy to raise attainment for all children and to bring about sustained improvements to all schools.

I said:

"I am pleased that both Garsington and Horspath schools recognise the benefits academy status will bring. I have visited them both. Garsington recently had a good report from Ofsted and Horspath is joining the River Learning Trust. I believe these will protect the sustainability of both schools."


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 8 - World Forum for Democracy

At the Spring Council of Europe I was invited to play a role in taking forward the World Forum for Democracy in 2017.

The objectives are to review novel initiatives and approaches which can enhance democratic practices and help Parties and the media reconnect to citizens. The next in the series of discussion will be "Is Populism a problem".  It is important to remember that this is an initiative which covers the whole of Europe - all of the countries which are members of the Council of Europe.

Dramatic changes in the media - and the rise of social media - present a challenge for democarcy as we know it. New political actors are emerging and they offer new ways of participating in politics. All of this makes a disconnect between citizens and traditiional politics.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 7 - Interpol

I made a seech on the importance of getting interpol right and stopping abuse of the Red Notice system

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I too welcome the report. We face a situation today where our justice system across the board is at risk of being abused. It is not just Interpol, to which I will devote the majority of my speech; it is the European arrest warrant, too. We have already seen how that is being abused by countries such as Poland, which are reported to be using it to issue warrants for parking fines. This is an issue for Interpol. It, too, is being abused. It is important to point out, as the report does, that Interpol is an important part of the fight against serious crime and particularly of the fight against terrorism. It should be used for the important work of sharing information via its own channels among member States. There is much need for that. It plays an important part in cross-border law enforcement. Its databases and the tools it uses are important in dealing with transnational crime, in dealing with dangerous people and indeed in dealing with vulnerable people.

As the report shows, it is the Red Notice system that is being abused. That is a useful system to seek the location and arrest of individuals in certain circumstances. To put that into context, there are now almost 50 000 Red Notices in circulation, some of which are public.

What happens when a Red Notice is misused? It can result in the detention or arrest of an individual. They may be stopped from travelling. It can harm their reputation and increase the stress the feel at being wanted internationally. Therefore, it is important to ensure that it is used correctly.

This report is not the first from this Assembly to draw attention to the way in which the Red Notices are being used. We have already highlighted how that can conflict with human rights and with the need for Interpol to stay out of military, political and religious matters, for example. However, as the report brings out clearly, one of the biggest problems is the lack of ability of anyone served a notice to challenge it before their own national or international courts. The rights that gives Interpol to be above the law is quite considerable and places people who have been targeted politically at a disadvantage. The internal appeals mechanisms are limited and the report rightly calls for reform of that area. It asks that more resource be put into that part of Interpol.

Interpol is a valuable part of our armoury for dealing with organised crime and terrorism. It is important that it works and that it is not abused.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 6 - European values

I looked at the question of antisemitism and Islamaphobia as well as the role of the Liberal Democrats.  There is a hatred in the soul of our country which we need to expunge.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I want to deal with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as two examples of a spirit of hate that pervades society. Let me turn first to anti-Semitism. There has been serious concern about the safety of the Jewish population across Europe in recent years, especially after a series of terror attacks that specifically targeted Jewish communities in France and Belgium. Anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom reached unprecedented levels in 2016, after a 36% rise on the number of incidents in the previous year. Just over 1 309 incidents were reported in 2016 – the highest number on record. The UK has adopted a broad definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organisation backed by 31 countries, in a ground-breaking step towards eradicating anti-Semitism. The definition provides examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests. The definition will be used by police, councils, universities and other public bodies. Guidelines on the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism are universally understood and need to be acted on at all times, including by universities.

There needs to be a zero tolerance policy against anti-Semitism. In the United Kingdom, this involves a commitment of more than £13 million for security measures for the Jewish community, to safeguard all Jewish schools, colleges, nurseries, and synagogues, so that we can rid this scourge of hatred from the soul of our country. The first step in defeating anti-Semitism is to define it clearly, so that we remove any doubt about what is unacceptable, and so that no one can plead ignorance or hide behind any kind of excuse.

Two political parties in the United Kingdom have members who have been accused of anti-Semitism, including the Liberal Democrats. I call on them to take a firm stand on this issue. Political parties have to set an example. In the case of Islamophobia, I stress that there is a great role for faith groups in taking this argument forward and dealing with the issue. They may be able to bring about a great deal of calm and tolerance in the current situation.

What stuck with me after the dreadful terror attack on Parliament was not the attack itself, but the group of Imams who got together to say that this terror does not belong to Islam. That made a big impression on me. We need to recognise that communities are not simply blocks of people with the same views. I have worked with Ahmadi Muslims, who are an extremely peaceful group. More education is required; we see the importance of that in Holocaust memorial events, and we need to see it in dealing with this issue across the world.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 5 - N Caucasus

The N Caucasus may seem a long way away but it is essential to keep the pressure up on Russia on human rights

The PRESIDENT – I call Mr Howell, who speaks on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – If I was worried about the North Caucasus before this afternoon, I am even more worried now as a result of this report, which I welcome; I thank the rapporteur for his work.

I am very concerned about the reports of serious human rights violations in the North Caucasus, including abductions, torture and what are called "extrajudicial killings". I firmly encourage Russia to implement European Court of Human Rights judgments relating to the North Caucasus. That would be a vital step towards ending the climate of impunity in the region that means that the Russians can simply do as they wish.

I call for action on individual cases through the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. The recent targeting of LGBT communities in Chechnya is deeply concerning, as others have said and as I mentioned in an earlier sitting. I condemn the mass arrests, detentions and ill treatment of more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation. Reports suggesting that at least three people have been killed and many tortured are particularly shocking. I call on the authorities to investigate promptly and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

I continue to have significant concerns about measures taken under the auspices of tackling terrorism, including the use of registers of Salafi Muslims in Dagestan to round up suspects. I also have concerns about the use of collective punishment in Chechnya, including the burning of houses of the relatives of suspected militants. It is in Russia's interests to address the root cause of conflict and radicalisation in the North Caucasus, including poverty, governance and human rights issues.

Let me give one example. In Dagestan, Russian security forces stand accused of human rights abuses in their operation against insurgents, for example, denying suspects legal representation, destroying houses without offering any compensation and carrying out mass round-ups. In Chechnya, people and their relatives have been ordered to be expelled and their houses destroyed. Human rights activists continue to be at risk. NGOs across the region have reported attacks on their staff in the last year. We need to condemn all of that.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 4 - Corruption, the fate of LGBT men in Chechnya, Bulgaria

I made a seech summarising a number of points - corruption, the fate of LGBT men in Chechnya, Bulgaria. The fate of LGBT men in Chechnya is very worrying and I asked for the Human Rights Commissioner to visit to help stop this.

 

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I would like to start by going back to the question of corruption, the statement on which in the report I found all too brief. This is a really serious issue which affects the whole credibility of this institution. However you look at this issue, I cannot help but think there has been a general weakness in this area, with a lot of burying of heads in the sand. I know it is going to be dealt with, and I of course support the proposals being put forward by Ian Liddell-Grainger. This should not be a witch-hunt, but it should not be a cover-up either. It is very important to make that point.

The rapporteur's report also mentions the revised terms of a general rapporteur for the rights of LGBT people. As has been mentioned in the Assembly today, one country where this issue is of great concern is Chechnya, where, as I understand it, homosexuals are being put to death. I urge the rapporteur to use his good offices to ask the Human Rights Commissioner to go to Chechnya to see for themselves what is going on and to try to stop this situation.

I was supposed to be part of the delegation to monitor the elections in Bulgaria, but was unable to go due to the requirements of my own Parliament. I am glad that the ad hoc committee found that the elections were well conducted. However, it does point out a number of factors which are concerning. The first of these is xenophobia and the role of nationalities. To what extent was xenophobia really present, and how big an impact did it make on the elections? Allied to this is the involvement of foreign powers in the election. We have seen this charge being aimed at Russia for their involvement in, amongst other things, the United States elections. But the question must remain to what extent, if any, they were involved in trying to influence this election.

I appreciate the point the report makes about voter fatigue; I can well understand that, coming from a country that is about to go through another general election. But the fact that TV devoted little time to the elections and to electoral candidates is a worry, if we are ever to get an election in Bulgaria that people feel really matters and that is going to lead to stable government.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 3 - Secretary General

Sticking to the topic of corruption in the Council I posed a question to its Secretary General

The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Secretary General. I call Mr John Howell, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – I want to stick with corruption for the moment. We have been faced with issues of corruption since about 2012, and I am sure we would all like to ask what it is that you, personally, have been doing to try to combat them?

Mr JAGLAND – As I told you, I have taken action against any kind of allegation or suspicion of corruption in the Secretariat. There is a person in place in the Secretariat full time to investigate any small allegation or suspicion that corruption has taken place. We have an external audit and an internal audit, so we have a very solid system.

What I cannot do, of course, is start an investigation of the Parliamentary Assembly – that is in the hands of the Assembly itself – but I very much support the approach taken by the Assembly's Secretary General, Wojciech Sawicki, and what he tried to start. I note that the Bureau has followed up on that.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 2 - Chair of committee of ministers

It was essential given the accusations of corruption against the Council to find out from the chair of the Committee of Ministers what their attitude to the Council was and what they were going to do about the Council's budget.

The PRESIDENT – I call John Howell, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) – Minister, how is corruption within this Assembly seen by the Committee of Ministers? Is the committee happy with how it is being dealt with? Is it correct that you are not happy with it and that you are planning a meeting shortly to consider cutbacks in the budget of this Assembly?

Mr KASOULIDES – I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. First of all, I would like to say that the Council of Europe has a leading role in fighting corruption as corruption poses a major threat to its core values – particularly the rule of law. The allegations of corruption concerning members of the Parliamentary Assembly are a very serious matter, which strikes at the heart of the Council of Europe and its values. The credibility of the whole Organisation is at stake. I trust that your Assembly will initiate an independent external investigation and, if need be, take the action that the situation requires.

On the second part of the honourable gentleman's question, let me first say that the Committee of Ministers has not envisaged and is not at present, as far as I know, planning to envisage taking any actions regarding the budget of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. On the budget itself, making the Organisation more relevant and more flexible and ensuring greater value for money is a clear priority of the Committee of Ministers. Significant progress has been made in this respect through the reform process initiated by the Secretary General in 2009. At a time when Europe is facing major challenges such as terrorism, the ongoing refugee crisis and other threats to democratic security, we must provide the Organisation with the necessary means to address them effectively. The preparation of the next Programme and Budget (2018-2019) has started. No decision has yet been taken on the overall budgetary envelope. A first discussion among member States will take place in early May. I count on your support in national parliaments to ensure that the Organisation receives the financial resources it needs in these challenging times.


27 APR 2017

Spring Council of Europe 1 - The President

The Spring session of the Council of Europe was dominated by the situation regarding its President, Pedro Agramunt, a senator in the Spanish parliament.

He visited Syria in the company of two other members of the Council and had a meeting with President Assad. The trip was facilitated by the Russians and coincided with the news of the mass gassing of people in Syria. The Council did not know about the visit. The visit has cast the Council, with its emphasis on human rights, in a very bad light.

The Council agreed to hold a special hearing and to ask Mr Agramunt and his associates questions about the visit and I was chosen to be one of seven individuals to ask him questions.

In his statement he said that he was manipulated by certain Russian media outlets. I pointed out that his explanation of this manipulation and that he only had access to Internet at night was inadequate. Why did he not immediately issue a press release at night saying he was there as a Spanish senator and not as the President of the Council and, why did he not inform the Council of Europe that a problem might arise. Thirdly, he had created the impression that he only sought to address the problem after we had flagged it up to him. Fourthly, knowing the difficulty between the Russian Federation and the Council should he have been wiser than to board a Russian jet and put himself in the hands of the Russians.

His response to these questions was dismissive and arrogant and having lost the confidence of the Council I said he should consider his position.


20 APR 2017

Prison Governor Empowerment

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I too want to raise the question of governor empowerment. I had the opportunity to discuss this with the governor of HMP Huntercombe in my constituency when I visited it recently. Does my hon. Friend agree that dealing with the risk of increased prisoner complaints which the Committee identified is actually within the control of the prison, as is happening at Huntercombe?

Robert Neill

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution and for his work on the Committee, which has been tireless. Huntercombe is a good example of a prison where the governor is managing within the existing arrangements. We need to see more of that. We should not assume that everything has to be driven from the centre, although minimum standards must be adhered to in a system of complaints management that everyone, including prisoners, can have confidence in. Good governors can and do make a difference, but they must be confident that they have the support of the system and the management of the service in doing that.


20 APR 2017

Question on agriculture

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

What progress her Department is making on opening up new markets for British farmers and food producers. [909664]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)

Since 2015, DEFRA has opened or improved terms for over 160 markets for agri-food commodities. Increasing access to markets is a priority set out in the food and drink international action plan. We work with industry to identify and prioritise new markets and increase export value.

John Howell

In my role as the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, I have recently invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister to come to the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will be important to show him the whole of the value chain in agriculture, in which we do so well?

George Eustice

I commend the work that my hon. Friend does in building relations and important trading links with Nigeria, which is an important trading partner. It is also an important market for some fisheries products, including mackerel. I am delighted to hear that he has invited the Nigerian agriculture Minister here to see some of the great work that we do through the supply chain and some of the technology that we use to reduce waste in the supply chain.


19 APR 2017

Prison reform: governor empowerment

The Justice Select Committee has issued a new report entitled "Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance." I welcome the report, a summary of which can be accessed here https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/1123/112303.htm

I also welcome the Government's reforms relating to prison performance and giving more autonomy to prison governors. I had the opportunity of discussing this with the Governor of HMP Huntercombe, Mr David Redhouse, recently in the constituency when I visited the prison.

I said:

"Both David and I were both supportive of the principle of greater governor empowerment. While at Huntecombe I discussed the current situation relating to prisoner queries with prisoners themselves. It was good to see the work which was being undertaken in this context. Huntercombe is of course a specialised prison dealing with foreign prisoners nearing the end of their sentence. However, it was good to see that their needs were acknowledged."

The Committee found a risk of increased prisoner complaints if greater autonomy and deregulation are not balanced with a need for consistently applied minimum standards.  I was pleased to see the hard work which had gone in to this area at Huntercombe.

The Committee pointed to the need to co-ordinate contributions of agencies involved in providing services relating to rehabilitation at a local level, including prisons and probation.

In relation to prison performance, the report points to the need for absolute clarity so that everyone involved can see what is going wrong in a prison. As the Committee report shows, the arrangements proposed do not offer this clarity and further Government clarification is required on the matter.

Under the new reforms, Governors will be accountable through three year performance agreements they sign with the Secretary of State. These are based on four new performance standards which reflect the purpose of prisons included in the Prisons and Courts Bill; public protection; safety and order; reform; and preparing for life after prison. The Committee supports the principle of transparency about what constitutes good performance and looks forward to receiving clarity on how these issues will work.

The report seeks information from the Government in its response on how many Performance agreements have been signed, and how it will proceed if they are not signed.


12 APR 2017

Delivering a better deal for people in the South East

I today praised the Government for the action it has taken in the South East to deliver a better deal for people. I particularly pointed to the rise in employment which was up by over 300,000 and noted that the Henley Constituency was now top of the 650 UK constituencies for dealing with unemployment.

I said:

"4.5 million people in the South-East have more money to take home because of the decisions we have taken such as cutting taxes and freezing fuel duty. Most importantly, there are over 400,000 more apprenticeships in the South-East since 2010 giving young people a good start in life. I am very pleased to have visited some of these within the constituency. While we await the results of the consultation on the Schools National Funding Formula it is worth bearing in mind that over 200,000 children are now attending good or outstanding schools in the South-East and especially within this constituency. On the question of health, I am particularly pleased that there are now 2,197 more hospital doctors and 1,180 more nurses. It is good news."

The major initiatives undertaken across the region include:

MORE PEOPLE IN WORK IN THE SOUTH EAST

Employment is up in the South East by 346,000 since 2010. That's 346,000 more people who are earning a regular wage and better able to provide for their families.

BACKING BUSINESSES IN THE SOUTH EAST

Backing businesses in the South East to create more jobs – so that Britain is the best place in the world to start and grow a business. Our cuts to Corporation Tax, our changes to small business rate relief, and our modern industrial strategy will spread jobs and prosperity across the country as we build a more outward looking, Global Britain – ensuring we are a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

CUTTING TAX FOR WORKING PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH EAST

4.5 million more people in the South East have more money to take home each month because we have cut their income tax. We are helping ordinary working people with everyday costs and bills and cracking down on individuals and businesses who abuse the system – building a fairer economy where everyone plays by the same rules.

Freezing fuel duty – saving drivers in the South East money at the fuel pump. Freezing fuel duty for the seventh successive year will save the average driver in the South East £10 every time they fill up the car.

HELPING YOUNG PEOPLE GET THE SKILLS THEY NEED FOR A GOOD FUTURE

Since 2010, 404,390 people have started an apprenticeship in the South East. Investing in the skills and education young people need is the key to inclusive growth – and central to an economy that works for everyone.

There are 221,000 more children attending good or outstanding schools in the South East than in 2010. We want to provide a good school place for every child so that no matter what their background, they have the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them.

In 2016/17, schools in the South East will receive £287 million through the Pupil Premium. We are giving disadvantaged children the support they need to succeed – ensuring that success is based on merit, not privilege.

SUPPORTING THE LOCAL NHS

There are now 2,197 more hospital doctors and 1,180 more nurses in the South East looking after patients than under Labour, ensuring that people receive the care they deserve. We have the commitment, the will and the economic plan to deliver a sustainable future for the NHS, and have put record investment into our most important public service.

WE ARE INVESTING IN THE SOUTH EAST

Investing £31 million in roads and local transport across the South East. Over the next 12 months, this will support new projects to improve local transport networks to ease congestion, and get goods and people moving around the region that will create an economy that offers better jobs with better pay. Some of the local transport networks include:

  • Improved access to the Enterprise Zone at Westcott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire,
  • Measures to reduce congestion and improve public transport in Newbury,
  • Major maintenance on the A284 and A259 to support development and relieve congestion in Lyminster and Littlehampton, and
  • The Redway Super Route cycling scheme in Milton Keynes.
  • Supporting the South East's regional economy. We are providing £625,000 for strategic transport planning to support local authorities in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor. This builds on the nearly £140 million to develop the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission, that was announced in November.
  • A pay boost for people across the South East. We have raised the National Living Wage to £7.50 an hour to support jobs and earnings across the South East, while strengthened minimum wage enforcement means that workers are paid what they're due.
  • Reducing the cost of childcare in the South East. We recognise that the cost of childcare is an important issue for ordinary working families and can put considerable pressure on household budgets. That's why we are introducing Tax Free Childcare for working families with children under twelve, providing up to £2,000 a year per child to help with childcare costs, and up to £4,000 for disabled children under seventeen.
  • £690 million investment in transport networks. The government has announced that £690 million will be invested between 2018 and 2021 to tackle congested networks. Councils across the South East will be able to bid for this funding to boost local growth and create an economy that offers better jobs, with better pay.


10 APR 2017

John Howell MP welcomes plans to tackle litter across South Oxfordshire

Litter affects us all, it blights our local environment in South Oxfordshire and costs £1,101 to clean-up. That is why, the new Litter Strategy sets out plans to help to tackle this anti-social behaviour, making South Oxfordshire and the Henley constituency a more attractive area and helping our local economy to prosper and grow.

As part of the first national Litter Strategy litter louts could be hit with £150 fines. This will build on measures to better distribute public bins, making it easier to throw away rubbish, and the recommendation that offenders on community sentences help to clear up fly-tipped waste. These plans will make sure in South Oxfordshire we can all enjoy the local environment and it is a clean, healthy place to live and work in.

We want to be the first generation to leave our environment in in a better state than we found it, and tackling litter is an important part of our drive to make this area a better place to live and visit.

I commented:

"Litter is something that affects us all in this area and blights our local environment. I want to make sure South Oxfordshire and the Henley constituency are great places to live in, work in and the local economy can thrive.

"The Litter Strategy will make it easier for people to get rid of litter properly in South Oxfordshire, creating an anti-littering culture and introducing tougher enforcement measures to hit thoughtless litter louts in the pocket.

"We want to make sure we have a nice local environment for us to all enjoy and tackling litter is an important part of our drive to make South Oxfordshire and the Henley constituency a better place to live."

Notes

  • The Litter Strategy will help to address litter across the country. Those who litter could face fines of up to £150.
  • This builds on new measures to cut back on litter including:
  1. Issuing new guidance for councils with ideas for updating the nation's 'binfrastructure' through creative new designs and better distribution of public litter bins, making it easier for people to throw away their rubbish
  2. Recommending that offenders on community sentences, including people caught fly-tipping, help councils to clear up litter and fly-tipped waste
  3. Working with Highways England to target the 25 worst litter hotspots across our road network to deliver long-lasting improvements to cleanliness
  4. Creating a 'green generation' by educating children to lead the fight against litter through an increased number of Eco-Schools and boosting participation in 'national clean up days'
  5. Creating a new expert group to look at further ways of cutting the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles and drinks containers, cigarette ends and fast food packaging. The group's first task will be to consider evidence from schemes that reward the return of plastic bottles and drinks containers.


04 APR 2017

John Howell MP welcomes new income boost for ordinary working families in the Henley constituency

I have welcomed the news that ordinary working families in the Henley constituency are set to benefit from a range of Government measures coming into effect this week. From today (April 3), the tax-free personal allowance will rise for the seventh year to £11,500, benefitting around 50,431 people in the Henley constituency and meaning a typical basic rate taxpayer will pay a full £1,000 less income tax than in 2010.

As a result of our changes to the personal allowance and higher rate threshold, 4,590,000 individuals in the South East gain on average £205 and a total of 174,000 individuals will have been taken out of income tax altogether, compared to 2015-16.

In addition:

  • The National Living Wage – which delivered a pay rise to a million people last year – will rise again to £7.50: an income boost of over £500 for a full time worker in the Henley constituency.
  • The Government will provide up to £2,000 a year per child through the roll out of tax-free childcare, to help with childcare costs for families in the Henley constituency.
  • Hard-pressed savers will get a boost, with access our new market-leading NS&I bond which will pay 2.2% on deposits up to £3,000.

I said:

'We've come a long way in the last seven years – there are 2.8 million more people in work, unemployment is at its lowest for twelve years and we've cut income tax for over 30 million people. But there is more to do to help people locally and across the UK feel the benefits of the recovery, and make ends meet.

'By giving the lowest paid a wage boost, taking more people out of income tax, boosting savings and helping with the cost of childcare, we're putting ordinary working people at the heart of our plan for Britain: to build a stronger, fairer economy that works for everyone'.

Notes

  • The Personal Allowance is rising to £11,500 from Thursday 6 April 2017. The personal allowance is rising from £11,000 and will increase to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament. Since 2010, the government has taken action to reduce taxes and enable working people to keep more of what they earn. We are building on this progress by increasing the personal allowance by more than inflation for the seventh consecutive year (HM Treasury, Income Tax: personal allowance and basic rate limit for 2017 to 2018, 16 March 2016, link; HM Treasury, Spring Budget 2017, 8 March 2017, link).
  • Helping people keep more of what they earn. Someone with a salary of £15,000 pays just £800 a year in tax now compared to £1,705 in 2010. That's a massive tax cut for 31 million people since 2010 and taking 1.3 million people out of income tax altogether (HM Treasury, Autumn Statement 2016, 23 November 2016, link; HM Treasury, Spring Budget 2017, 8 March 2017, link).


01 APR 2017

Another Personal Manifesto Commitment: broadband

Digital infrastructure is critical to the future of our economy and the Government is working hard to ensure high-speed, high-quality broadband is rolled out to every home and business in the country with the help of the County Council. Superfast broadband would now appear to be available to 92% of premises nationally.

I said:

"Ensuring that broadband is accessible to this constituency was a personal manifesto commitment for me in 2015 and I am pleased to set out how we are doing in this. The amount of Government funding so far has come to over £8 million.

"By taking-up superfast broadband, consumers get a better service and it also encourages providers to invest. When more people sign up in areas covered by the Government-funded Superfast Broadband Programme, more money is made available for additional investment locally. I thank the County Council for the work they do to make this happen.

"I would also like to thank Peter Richardson, a Howe Hill resident, and those who have been working with him for arranging the new wireless equipment which was installed on the TVP Masts at Britwell Hill. This provides wireless connectivity for broadband immediately with the mast and fibre at Stonor Park. The first community to use this link starts next week. I was happy to join in at Stonor Park to help launch the project. This provides another source of fast broadband to many of those outside BT's current reach."

Locally, the details are as follows:

  • The Government funded BDUK programme has made superfast broadband available to 22,431 homes and businesses.
  • Current superfast coverage, both funded by Government and delivered commercially is 89.2%
  • Estimated superfast coverage by December 2017 will be 90.2%
  • A list of postcodes in the constituency which have benefited from newly available coverage between October and December can be found at the end of this information.

By 2020 everyone can request a connection of at least 10Mbps. That is around half the speed of superfast broadband, but still quick enough to download a half-hour TV show in two minutes.

Constituents can check the availability of superfast broadband services for specific homes and businesses at http://gosuperfastchecker.culture.gov.uk/ from where they will be directed to available superfast broadband providers. In the recent Budget we announced a £200 million investment fund to enable local bodies to fund full fibre connections in their area. This will include gigabit-speed business connection vouchers, stimulating the economy and creating jobs, and installing full fibre broadband to public buildings which in turn, will stimulate investment by suppliers in those areas. We are also providing funding for trials of 5G, including investment in a national 5G Infrastructure Hub that will provide the necessary infrastructure for the forthcoming testbeds and trials.

For those with very poor broadband the Better Broadband Scheme provides access to a subsidised broadband connection for homes and businesses which are unable to access a basic broadband speed of at least 2Mbps. This provides access to satellite broadband across the whole of the UK, and also to wireless, fixed 4G or community fibre broadband in some areas of the country. Further details are at http://basicbroadbandchecker.culture.gov.uk/

Appendix 1: Postcodes with the newly available superfast coverage between October and December 2016.

OX14 3BT, OX14 3DA, OX14 3DD, OX14 3EB, OX33 1LH, OX33 1PR, OX33 1PS, OX33 1PT, OX33 1PU, OX33 1PX, OX33 1PY, OX33 1PZ, OX33 1QA, OX33 1QB, OX33 1UU, OX33 1XE, OX33 1XH, OX33 1YJ, OX33 1YS, OX33 1YT, RG4 9AP, RG4 9AR, RG4 9AS, RG4 9AT, RG4 9AU, RG4 9AX, RG4 9AY, RG4 9AZ, RG4 9BA, RG4 9BB, RG4 9BE, RG4 9BH, RG4 9BJ, RG4 9BL, RG4 9EB, RG4 9EE, RG4 9HA, RG4 9HB, RG9 4PG, RG9 4PN, RG9 4QB, RG9 5RR, RG9 5RS, RG9 5RT, RG9 5RU, RG9 5RX, RG9 5RY, RG9 5SB, RG9 5SE, RG9 5SH, RG9 5SJ, RG9 6DP, RG9 6DR, RG9 6DS, RG9 6DT, RG9 6DX


30 MAR 2017

Challenge to Government over Crown Dependencies and Brexit

As a member of the Justice Select Committee, we have just issued another Report ("Implications of Brexit for the Crown Dependencies") which challenges the Government to ensure that the priorities of Crown Dependencies such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are looked after during Brexit. The Report points out that financial services, agriculture and fisheries are key concerns of the islands.

None of them are part of the UK and they are not part of the EU either. However, Brexit will affect them all the same. One area which is of concern to them is the preservation of their existing relationship with the UK and especially the constitutional relationship. That is why the Report asks the Government to reaffirm that there will no change in that relationship.

I said:

"Maintaining an engagement with the Government during the Brexit negotiations will be essential. Not least to ensure that interests do not diverge. This is why we ask the UK Government to be clear about how it will represent the interests of the Crown Dependencies especially where they differ from the UK."


29 MAR 2017

Testing the ground for archaeology: question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

The levels are very important because they often have quite sensitive archaeology. Would the Bill affect that in the slightest?

Kevin Foster

My understanding from the promoters of the Bill is that it is about the framework for the management of the levels and the waterways, rather than specific developments or projects. If the commissioners decided to pursue such things, they would have to go through the usual process to get permission. Given the historical nature of some of these sites, that could involve an extensive consideration of archaeological impact.

 

(Picture from Archaeology Image Bank)


28 MAR 2017

Regenerating our towns question

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend think that the transformation of shops and offices into homes can regenerate town centres?

John Redwood

Yes, it can, with the right mixture. Some offices may need to be transformed into homes and a broader retail offer, with a higher proportion of coffee shops, restaurants and so on, may need to be made. If more people are living in flats or smaller properties that they can afford in the town centre, they may well then make more use of the town in the evening, and the range of services and the life of the town is thus extended beyond the traditional shopping hours during the day. I am sure the Minister understands all that. I hope he will see how he can develop other ways to ensure that our planning system for commercial property is sufficiently flexible to allow residential use where that is the best answer and to ensure flexible use patterns in the commercial property that we have, as massive change will be needed.

The planning system of course has to be there to protect the things that the community legitimately wants to protect, so we do not want non-conforming uses in certain areas and we certainly do not want bad or noisy neighbours, who may be regulated by planning or by other general laws on nuisance. Within that, we need maximum flexibility so that commercial owners and managers can adapt or change the use of their premises, or swap them for a more appropriate property for their use. If the planning system can facilitate that, it will greatly improve our flexibility as an economy, meaning that we can modernise more rapidly and move on to a more productive world, which is the main feature of the Chancellor's policies for our economy.


28 MAR 2017

Iran's supporting of terror question

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

What recent reports he has received on the expansion of Hezbollah's weapons arsenal.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)

We are aware of reports that Hezbollah continues to amass an arsenal of weapons, which is in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701. In addition to Hezbollah's interference in Syria, there is also a risk of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah returning. If what happened in 2006 were repeated, it would not just devastate Lebanon but be hugely destabilising for the region.

John Howell

I thank the Minister for his response. Earlier this month, Iran's Defence Minister said that Hezbollah is now capable of producing rockets that can hit any part of Israel, and reports have emerged that Iran has established rocket factories under the control of Hezbollah. What steps is he taking to stop Iran's unconstrained financing of terror?

 

The involvement of Iran through proxy influences across the region is of huge concern, not least in Lebanon, and we are looking at these reports very carefully indeed. I should also say that Hezbollah, which has a political involvement as part of the Government in Lebanon, needs to move forward and be more constructive. It is thanks to disruption by Hezbollah and its blocking decisions in the Lebanese Government that the country was without a president for two years.


28 MAR 2017

My comments on why a National Bus strategy unhelpful

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting distinction between buses and trains. Surely the point is that there are policy initiatives the Government could take, for example on access for disabled people, but that does not mean that a national strategy will take away from the requirements of a local strategy, which is what the buses are based on.

Mrs Miller

I am not arguing against having local strategies, but a number of issues to do with the provision of services have a national resonance. The Government have identified this problem in the provisions on information that is available to bus passengers when they are on buses. That is nationally applicable. I am simply asking the Minister whether he will confirm what further thoughts he has given to ensuring that what is good enough for train operators is good enough for bus operators in respect of disability access.

 


27 MAR 2017

Question to DWP on mental health and employers

John Howell (Henley) (Con) 

Ensuring that people with mental health conditions are able to start businesses and also remain in business is very important. What is the Minister doing to encourage employers to make that a possibility? [909495]

Damian Green

My hon. Friend is right. We are taking action through Access to Work and Disability Confident, which I mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), but this needs to be part of a much wider programme of education specifically for employers. We have set up a Disability Confident business leaders group because I suspect that employers will listen more to other business people than they necessarily will to politicians.


23 MAR 2017

Thames Water prosecution

The prosecution of Thames Water for pollution offences and its fine of £20.3 million was right and proper but there should be no triumphalism in the outcome.

The pollution that occurred between 2012 and 2014 was disastrous for the environment and distressing for the public. It is clear that there was a series of failures by management which lead to repeated discharges of untreated or poorly treated raw sewage into rivers. Of particular interest was that these failures occurred at sewage works in Henley and Littlemore (amongst other places) on the edge of the constituency.

The reports on the incidents make depressing reading. However, what is important moving forward is that Thames Water has addressed the problems and made significant changes to management to try to prevent this ever happening again. I am grateful too that I was able to persuade Thame Water to address a serious sewage problem in the village of Sydenham with significant investment. In order to be able to see the changes that have been made in management by Thames Water and in the operation of their sewage works I have asked to visit Thames Water sites.

I am pleased that Thames Water has acknowledged the failures and in a briefing to me have set out the many changes that have been made. The treatment of sewage is a complex business. I am also pleased to learn that the company has made substantial investment for projects to help rivers, wildlife and the local environment.

Thames Water will be holding open days later this year at sites where incidents took place so that local people and other stakeholders can see what has been done. I encourage people to attend.

One concern from constituents has been over who pays in the end. Thames Water has made a statement that the fine will not increase customers' bills but will be paid by shareholders.