Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – November 2023
This month I planted a Remembrance tribute on behalf of Crawley in the Constituency Garden of Remembrance outside the Palace of Westminster, and I had the honour of laying a wreath at the War Memorial at St John’s Church as well as attending the excellent parade.
It is right that our nation has the ambition to make Britain the best place to be a veteran.
I welcome a £3 million funding boost to ensure that thousands more veterans will receive HM Armed Forces Veteran Cards by the end of this year. All service leavers since December 2018 automatically receive the card as part of the discharge process, with the upcoming second phase of the roll-out seeing this expanded to veterans who left service before this date.
The ID card will allow veterans to speedily confirm their veteran status where required: granting simpler access to NHS, charity and local authority support, in addition to being used to apply for Defence Discount Service Cards and the Veterans Railcard.
The 60 commitments in the Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan have been backed with £70 million in funding; recognising the contribution of our veterans to society by boosting their healthcare and mental health services, helping them develop critical skills and find long-term employment.
Op COURAGE: the Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, provides NHS mental health specialist help to serving personnel due to leave the military, reservists, Armed Forces veterans and their families.
In the south east of England Op COURAGE can be contacted by calling: 0300 365 2000 (option 4) or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
While the majority of veterans and their families transition successfully into civilian life, it remains that this is not the case for all veterans. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs have launched a consultation – open to all but in particular seeking to hear from veterans, veteran groups and those who provide support to veterans – to enhance understanding of the needs of veterans and how current policy interacts with those needs. The consultation is open until 4th January 2024.
Government can lead by example and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs Secretary instructed officials to open up more roles for veterans through an offer of guaranteed interviews to recruit veterans into the highest levels of the civil service and diplomatic service.
Work to support veterans into employment include tax cuts for firms employing former Armed Forces personnel, through National Insurance contributions relief for veterans they have hired during their first year of civilian employment.
While many of us noticed a change in how the Royal British Legion produce the Poppy this year, its message and importance remain the same.
The UK economy has outperformed expectations this year. Inflation – which inflicts rising prices on us all – is less than half its peak.
Responsible decisions by Government to limit borrowing have supported the independent Bank of England in their work to bring inflation down from over 11 per cent last autumn to 4.6 per cent in October.
Fiscal events such as the Autumn Statement are an opportunity for a Government to set out its stall and highlight what its priorities are.
Backing people in their day-to-day lives is essential and I welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirming tax cuts, boosting wages and enhancing support for the vulnerable.
We know that the best way to help workers is to ensure they are able to keep more of the money they earn.
From January 2024, Employee National Insurance will be cut from 12 per cent to 10 per cent: a tax cut of £450 for the average worker earning £35,000.
National Insurance for the Self Employed is also being cut: a total average saving of £340 a year.
From 1st April 2024, the National Living Wage (NLW) will increase by 9.8 per cent to £11.44 an hour. This marks a boost of over £1,800 to the annual earnings of a full-time worker on the NLW; expected to benefit around 2.7 million workers.
NLW eligibility will also be extended by reducing the age threshold to 21-year-olds for the first time.
Since 2010, the minimum wage rate will have risen by £5.64. Young people and apprentices on the National Minimum Wage (NMW) will also see a boost to their wages.
I note that earlier this month it was announced the proportion of workers on low pay has halved since 2010, thanks to the National Living Wage.
A further measure confirmed at the Autumn Statement will see extra support with the cost of housing for some 75,000 households in the south east of England.
Local Housing Allowance – used to calculate housing benefits – will be raised and means 1.6 million families will be £800 better off overall in 2024-25.
Crawley pensioners will also receive a boost – in line with the Triple Lock – of 8.5 per cent. Indeed, the basic State Pension will be £3,750 higher than in 2010.
Working-age benefits will be uprated by 6.7 per cent in 2024-25. The Back to Work Plan – supported by over £2.5 billion in funding – will reform the welfare system to better support people into work.
It is through backing our businesses that jobs are created and the Autumn Statement cuts business rates by freezing further the small business multiplier – saving an average shop £1,650 – and extending the Retail, Hospitality & Leisure Relief for a year.
State Opening of Parliament: Key legislation recently announced includes the Sentencing Bill, which will ensure rapists and other serious sexual offenders are kept behind bars for the whole of their custodial terms and make Whole Life Orders available for murderers who kill with sexual or sadistic conduct: life must really mean life.
The Bill builds on measures introduced in recent years to see that the law responds more effectively in cases of murder and manslaughter.
This includes Harper’s Law, which imposes a mandatory life sentence where the victim of manslaughter is an emergency worker, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act which added the pre-meditated murder of a child to the range of circumstances which enable a Whole Life Order as a starting sentence.
Through the Criminal Justice Bill the police will be provided with the tools they need to prevent offences including digital-enabled crime, child sexual abuse and child grooming.
Additional safeguarding protections will be brought in for our children alongside new measures against those who would harm them. The police will have more powers to seize and destroy knives and criminals may face reasonable force if they refuse to appear in the dock.
The Victims & Prisoners Bill will go to enhance the confidence of victims of crime that the criminal justice system will work for them as it is supposed to, with ministers being able to block parole of the worst offenders as well as preventing those on Whole Life Orders from getting married in prison.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel development: Five years ago I welcomed a Virgin Atlantic – of course headquartered in Crawley – flight into Gatwick Airport: the first ever sustainable fuels flight to land at the airport and used fuel derived from the recycled steel-making process.
The use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) is one I have continued to highlight the salience of. Virgin Atlantic is undertaking the world’s first transatlantic flight using 100 per cent SAF.
The Civil Aviation Authority have given permission for Virgin to fly from London Heathrow to New York JFK to test the feasibility of flying a fully-SAF journey.
This flight has been welcomed by the Transport Secretary and I am grateful for Government’s backing for this technology. I have been clear through my representations in Parliament that our country can do more to support the development of SAF.
It is vital that the Government back decarbonised aviation in Britain through a home-grown SAF industry. In the House of Commons I have held the Nuclear & Networks Minister to account over Government’s plans for five SAF plants to be under construction in this country by 2025. A few days ago the Department for Transport reiterated to me the commitment for looking into a SAF revenue certainty scheme by the end of April.
Through the Advanced Fuels Fund, the Department for Transport has recently announced that the UK SAF industry will receive a £53 million boost which will help save 2.7 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.
Nine projects have been chosen to help create a brighter, cleaner future, including utilising forest waste and transforming power to liquid fuel. This investment is part of Britain’s plan to deliver its net zero commitments and make low-carbon flight a reality, with the Advanced Fuels Fund totalling £135 million altogether.
The upcoming SAF mandate requires at least 10 per cent of jet fuel to come from sustainable feedstocks by 2030. Industry is to save up to 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) annually: equal to taking almost 1.3 million petrol cars off the road in one year.
King’s Speech debate: We have seen the UK economy and in particular the aviation sector continue to bounce back from the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is plenty more to do to boost our links with the rest of the world and utilise our position as an island trading nation.
I continue to call on the Government to support the Crawley, Gatwick and UK aviation sector through backing business with development of sustainable aviation fuel to secure the flights of the future.
Ensuring duty-free shopping on arrival would provide a further boost to British business and jobs. These are sales which are taking place abroad – we can help passengers to spend their money in Britain.
No live animal exports have taken place since we left the European Union and the Government’s Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill will make that position permanent. Let’s deliver the manifesto commitment to use the UK’s new Brexit freedoms to end live exports of animals for slaughter and fattening, and boost animal welfare standards.
Another manifesto commitment I want to see kept is the pledge to ban trophy hunting imports. While my Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill was filibustered, blocked and eventually timed out by a small number of members of the House of Lords, my Bill had the unanimous support of the House of Commons and there is a clear will for Government to introduce its own legislation.
It was a privilege to take part in the first King’s Speech debate for seven decades – and on King Charles III’s 75th birthday as well. Happy birthday, Your Majesty!
Train station ticket offices: Confirmation that the Department for Transport – following a meeting with the Secretary of State, Mark Harper – has decided that Rail Delivery Group proposals to close train station ticket offices and move staff to station platforms, concourses and ticket halls do not meet the high thresholds set by Government: and therefore, in a boost to local rail passengers, should not go ahead.
In July I made a formal submission to Transport Focus, who ran a consultation on behalf of rail operators, in July.
I am acutely aware of the legitimate concerns over the plans put forward by the Rail Delivery Group on the effect they would have had on people who are digitally marginalised.
My submission to the Transport Focus consultation earlier in the year made clear there was no case to close ticket offices at any train station in Crawley – it is welcome that the views of those Crawley residents who contacted me on this important subject have been respected and adhered to.
Cost of Living Payment: Welcomed the arrival of the second Cost of Living Payment worth £300 for 13,600 vulnerable and low-income households in Crawley from 31st October 2023, as part of the Government’s record £94 billion cost of living support package.
The record financial support has already supported thousands of families across Crawley, and this latest £300 Cost of Living Payment for 13,600 eligible households will make a huge difference to the most vulnerable households and those on the lowest incomes as we move into the colder months.
While the Government is taking immediate action to support those most in need, they rightly remain committed to halving inflation which is the best way to help everyone with the cost of living.
Repairing our roads: Over £67.6 million of funding from Government confirmed over the next 11 years in West Sussex, meaning thousands of people across Crawley will enjoy smoother, safer and faster road journeys.
West Sussex County Council is to receive £2.1 million this financial year, followed by a further £2.1 million for 2024-25, as part of a long-term funding plan through to 2034.
The importance of work: Highlighting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that work is the best way out of poverty.
Swimming Pool Support Fund: I know how important swimming is for many people across Crawley – I also understand that swimming pools and leisure facilities have struggled over recent months as operating costs have increased.
This is why I welcome the Government’s investment of more than £290,000 into K2 Crawley as part of the £20 million fund for swimming pools and leisure facilities across England.
This contributes to the Government’s long-term aim to cut obesity rates and get millions more people active.
Royal Mail: Raised the issue of the sub-standard performance of Royal Mail in Crawley with the Leader of the House of Commons.
Chagos Islands APPG: With Crawley home to one of the largest Chagossian communities in the world, I am honoured to be elected by colleagues as Chair of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group.
In this role I will continue my advocacy for the voices of the Chagossian people. We have long campaigned for them to have the right to return to their homeland after the injustice of their forced exile under the Harold Wilson administration.
Additionally, the future of the Chagos islanders must be decided by the Chagossian people themselves. The notion of this being chosen anywhere else – in London, Port Louis, the United Nations in New York, or the International Court of Justice in The Hague – is wrong and goes against the very idea of self-determination.
The Chagos islanders must be able to determine their own future and that of their homeland.
Foreign Secretary scrutiny: The new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs Secretary of State taking a place in the House of Lords raises important questions over parliamentary scrutiny of Government, I am suggesting that the new Foreign Secretary takes questions from myself and other UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee members on the same schedule that Commons ministers take questions in the Commons.
Overseas Territories: The Foreign Affairs Committee has launched a new Sub-Committee which will scrutinise the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s management of relations with the UK’s Overseas Territories.
Diego Garcia: Questioned the Defence Secretary about the importance – in terms of national security – of British sovereignty of Diego Garcia.
Local radio boost: The Media Bill protects local radio by ensuring stations are not charged by smart speaker platforms.
With my best wishes
Member of Parliament for Crawley