Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – December 2023
Over Christmas, many of us in Crawley take a moment to reflect on a busy year which is almost at an end.
In March, I announced that I have taken the decision not to stand for re-election as Member of Parliament for Crawley at the next General Election.
It has been an immense honour to have been chosen by the people of our great town to represent Crawley in Parliament in 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
There is plenty of work to get on with in the months ahead though and I continue to campaign for lower taxation, secure borders, environmental protection, our security as well as a dynamic economy.
It is time for a new generation and, later in the year, Crawley Conservative Association chose Cllr Zack Ali as the party’s candidate for the next General Election.
This year marked the first crowning of a British monarch in seven decades. I was privileged to mark the Coronation of King Charles III in Westminster and in Crawley.
Ahead of the ceremony I met His Majesty in Westminster Hall for the first time as King. I was also honoured to join the West Sussex High Sheriff with Crawley Hospital League of Friends to officially plant three cherry trees for the King, our late Queen Elizabeth II and local charity campaigner Maria Hains who sadly passed away this year.
In 2019, I stood on a manifesto commitment to ban imports from trophy hunting of endangered animals. My Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill passed the House of Commons unanimously in March, but while the Bill had Government support it ultimately fell in the House of Lords: many of us in Crawley still want this pledge fulfilled.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee I helped establish its Sub-Committee on Overseas Territories. Enhanced engagement is essential; many descendants of those born in the British Indian Ocean Territory have chosen to make Crawley their home.
Data from NHS England in recent weeks confirmed Government has met its manifesto commitment to recruit an additional 50,000 nurses six months early. This year I also welcomed confirmation of £6 million for 64 new beds at East Surrey Hospital, with two new modular wards to increase capacity by 32 beds and reprovide a further 32.
To address cost of living pressures, support for households has reached £104 billion – worth an average of £3,700 per household – and I continue to press for such assistance to get to where it is most needed.
I would like to offer the sincerest of thanks to all who will be working on Christmas Day and throughout the festive period, including those whose service keeps us safe.
My very best wishes to all in Crawley this Christmas.
Upgrading Gatwick Airport Station: It is almost a decade since I attended and welcomed the formal opening of the new Gatwick Airport Station Platform 7.
It is a sign of the constant need to improve our infrastructure that passengers alighting the very same platform last month – from the 05:48 from Beford to Brighton on 21st November to be precise – were the first to enjoy the benefits of the upgraded Gatwick Airport Station which has now fully reopened.
Space available for passengers at the station has been doubled with the completion of a second, new concourse built above Platforms 5, 6 and 7.
This new concourse – which, to put into context, is the size of eight tennis courts – will be the new entrance for passengers accessing the airport terminal from the station, while the existing concourse will be for those exiting the airport into the station itself.
Furthermore, the existing station concourse, as well as station footbridges and the South Terminal linkspan, have been upgraded to ensure a seamless one-way system from train station to airport.
The addition of extra wide-aisle ticket gates will assist such journeys, as will the new open-plan ticket hall enabling passengers with luggage to move through the station more quickly.
Measures including moving station control rooms and staff accommodation to a new dedicated back of house building has led to the creation of some 1,640sq ft (500m²) of extra space.
Indeed, the existing concourse is bigger and better than before the project began with the addition of new customer information systems.
It will be possible to go to airport departures directly from train station platforms to the new concourse using new lifts, escalators and stairways now installed.
Boosting accessibility is key: with eight new escalators, four new lifts and stairways taking passengers directly from platforms up to the new concourse there is step-free access from train to plane for passengers.
A new lift has also been installed to get to Platforms 3 and 4 from the existing concourse and wheelchair user accessibility is enhanced through widening of Platforms 5 and 6.
New tactile signage including Braille has been integrated into the wayfinding signage strategy. This goes with 70 hearing loops at key touch points along the route including ticket retail and information points.
A new 24/7 special assistance point has also been established on the existing concourse to provide additional support.
Completion of this project strengthens the rail network: bolstering reliability on the Brighton Main Line, and as far as Cambridge and Milton Keynes.
Track remodelling around Gatwick will speed up Brighton Main Line travel by cutting journey times of up to 30 trains a day by five minutes: a further boost for rail passengers and our economy.
Migration: At the last General Election I, and every other Conservative MP, stood on a manifesto commitment to take action on unsustainable levels of migration to this country.
We know that this country has seen unprecedented levels of immigration to the UK since the Covid-19 pandemic.
In recognition of this, the Home Secretary has announced a series of initiatives to address levels of net migration.
Crucial to this are measures to prevent immigration from undercutting British workers.
Salary thresholds for skilled worker visas will be increased by 48 per cent to £38,700: in line with the average wage for equivalent jobs. Government will increase the current general salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700 from March, bringing it in line with the median full-time wage for equivalent jobs.
The ‘going rate’ threshold will also be raised for each occupation to the median earnings, with minor exemptions in critical sectors like care work, nursing and teaching. This will go to ensure employers do not have an incentive to undercut UK workers with cheaper overseas workers, and invest instead in the skills of the UK workforce.
At present, the Shortage Occupation List offers lower salary requirements for overseas workers in occupations with labour shortages that the Migration Advisory Committee believes could be addressed through migration. The 20 per cent ‘going rate’ discount for occupations on the List will be scrapped, with Government instructing the Committee to review occupations on the list with a view to reducing their number.
We know that overseas workers play a vital role in our care system. Where abuse and exploitation are found, however, they need to be addressed. Government are tackling abuse of the visa system by limiting care providers who can sponsor a worker to those undertaking Care Quality Commission-regulated activities; addressing speculative applications and fraudulent care agencies while enforcing existing rules to reduce abuse.
Following my introduction of the NHS Audit Requirements (Foreign Nationals) Bill to Parliament in 2012 to get health services costs provided to foreign nationals properly recovered, the Government introduced the Immigration Health Surcharge. The charge ensures temporary migrants make a financial contribution to the NHS, given they can access it during their time in the UK. In October it was announced that the charge will increase, in line with a manifesto commitment.
In May it was announced the right to bring dependants on the student visa route will be removed with the exception of a small number on postgraduate research programmes.
Such measures are to bring migration down towards more sustainable levels while making sure the NHS and businesses have access to the talent they need.
Recruiting an additional 50,000 nurses: Welcome news that the Government has met its manifesto commitment to recruit an additional 50,000 nurses six months early.
At the last General Election I stood on a manifesto commitment for Government to recruit an additional 50,000 nurses to the NHS.
I welcome confirmation from NHS England that shows the number of nurses has increased from just over 300,000 in 2019 to more than 352,000 now.
This includes an increase of 8,777 – some 22.6 per cent – in the south east of England.
Of course, behind these figures are the nurses who provide care and support for patients every day, and I am grateful for their dedication and hard work.
It is right there is a focus on the expansion of domestic education, training and recruitment. The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan almost doubles the number of adult nurse training places by 2031, with around 24,000 more nurse and midwife training places a year by 2031, including more than 5,000 more mental and learning disability nurses each year.
West of Ifield petition: Presented a petition of more than 7,300 local residents in the House of Commons in opposition to Homes England proposals for up to 10,000 housing units on greenfield land to the west of Ifield.
I am incredibly grateful to all those local residents who have highlighted the scale of opposition of people in Crawley to proposals put forward by Homes England for up to some 10,000 housing units on green fields to the west of Ifield.
We know that this location is not suitable, both in terms of environmental pressures in addition to the impact on local infrastructure.
We have seen the new community of Forge Wood in Crawley, as well as Kilnwood Vale just outside our town’s boundaries.
In Parliament I have continued to raise with Government the necessity for new homes to be built on brownfield sites and this is a cause I continue to pursue.
British Indian Ocean Territory: Questioning the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office about sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. I know this is an issue of great importance to the many Chagossians who have made Crawley their home. I look forward to furthering this cause as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Sub-Committee on Overseas Territories, which I recently helped secure the formation of.
100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) transatlantic flight: I am very proud of Crawley-headquartered Virgin Atlantic Airways for accepting the UK Government’s challenge to fly the world’s first transatlantic 100 per cent SAF flight which it has now achieved.
This historic journey took off from London and landed in New York. This is a significant and historic achievement for British aviation and I am grateful for Government’s backing for this technology.
For some time, I have been clear through my representations in Parliament that our country can do more to enhance the development of SAF in the UK.
I have been a long-standing advocate of Government giving its support for decarbonised aviation in Britain through a home-grown SAF industry.
Let this successful 100 per cent SAF London to New York flight be a moment we will look back on in the years and decades to come where new opportunities for aviation were proven.
With my best wishes to all in Crawley for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Member of Parliament for Crawley