Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – February 2022
In spite of the Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border which has been increasing over several months, last week we still watched on in dismay as Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded the sovereign and independent country of Ukraine.
Ultimately, however, our outrage alone will not help the Ukrainian people. The British Government are imposing the largest and most severe package of sanctions that Russia has ever seen alongside our international partners. This co-ordinated response with our allies will make clear to Putin that his attempts to undermine European stability will fail.
These measures target covering Russian elites, companies and financial institutions. Russian bank assets in the UK will be frozen, shutting off their banking system from UK finance markets. This includes a full asset freeze on VTB, one of Russia’s largest banks. Co-ordinated alongside the US this is the single biggest financial sanction in history.
The UK has been leading efforts to see Russia excluded from the SWIFT financial system. I welcome the US and EU joining Britain in action which will see a number of Russian banks cut off from this system.
Britain is also banning Russian state-owned and key strategic private companies from raising finance on the UK financial markets. More than 100 companies and oligarchs at the heart of the Putin regime will be hit with sanctions worth hundreds of billions of pounds, asset freezes and travel bans.
The UK has also announced its intention to take further restrictive economic measures by targeting the Central Bank of the Russian Federation (CBR).
This action is being taken alongside our US and EU allies to prevent the CBR from deploying its foreign reserves in ways that undermine the impact of sanctions imposed, and to undercut its ability to engage in foreign exchange transactions to support the Russian rouble.
The Government has recently announced a further £40 million of aid to provide vital medical supplies and other help to Ukraine.
The funding will support aid agencies responding to the deteriorating humanitarian situation, creating a lifeline for Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and medical supplies such as medicines, syringes, dressings and wound care packs.
UK Government humanitarian experts have also deployed to the region to support those fleeing the violence in Ukraine.
This latest assistance package brings the total amount of UK Government aid pledged to Ukraine this year to £140 million. Last week the Prime Minister also announced the UK would guarantee up to $500 million of loans to Ukraine through Multilateral Development Banks.
Following the UK banning Russia’s national airline, Aeroflot, from British airspace, the Transport Secretary has confirmed that this ban has been extended to include all scheduled Russian airlines from entering UK airspace or touching down on British soil.
This is clearly a developing situation with the UK response continually updating. Please click here for the latest details on GOV.UK.
Freedom is not free. There will be a cost to us in Britain. There is, however, no alternative.
When I was in Kyiv and Donetsk in January as part of my work as a member of the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee the Ukrainian government ministers and front line military commanders I met with did not request NATO troops, although Britain has of course been providing weapons and training.
Last week I asked the Defence Secretary in the House of Commons about Russian-backed false-flag operations in their attempts to set a pretext for what has now become a full-scale invasion.
I remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet communism, and the freedom that followed for the citizens of Ukraine.
It is vital for the safety of all of us that Putin’s attempts to quash democracy should ultimately fail and be seen to fail.
This has to be the steadfast and unflinching goal of the United Kingdom and our allies. Slava Ukraini.
Providing security for local families: In total, 35,000 workers across Crawley have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension with some 1,660 employers. This not only helps provide security for local families but is an example of Government delivering on an important priority.
We know that strong financial security later in life is vital and we should do everything we can to help people with this. I am pleased that there are plans to go further by removing the lower earning limit.
Automatic enrolment has been transformative for thousands of employees, and especially transformative for young people and women – creating a stronger savings culture for future generations.
We can be proud of our town’s involvement in the roll-out of auto-enrolment. B&CE The People’s Pension are based at Manor Royal and are one of the UK’s main workplace pension providers.
Last year the Pensions Minister confirmed to me in Parliament that The People’s Pension has more than five million members. As Crawley employees benefit from a more secure future financially, the company’s presence creates jobs locally and contributes to our economy as well.
Helping Crawley households with energy bills: Many people in Crawley will be aware of price pressures on energy bills. While this is down to the fact that it is more expensive for suppliers to buy oil, coal and gas internationally, it falls to the Government to put in support measures that help people locally and nationally with the cost of living.
Steps have already been taken which are helping people in our town. The reduction to the Universal Credit taper rate, the increasing of the National Living Wage, the freezing of fuel duty for the twelfth year in a row and the launch of the £500 million Household Support Fund all go to support the lowest-income households.
This month the Chancellor announced a three-part plan to provide support for household fuel bills.
This will comprise of: a £200 ‘smoothing’ rebate on energy bills for all households; a non-repayable £150 cash rebate for homes in council tax bands A to D; and £144 million of discretionary funding for local councils to support households not eligible for the council tax rebate.
Firstly; all households in Great Britain will receive a £200 rebate on electricity costs from their supplier this October. This is to be identified clearly as a line on electricity bills.
Secondly, the Government will fund local authorities to give all households in England a one-off council tax rebate of £150 in 2022-23 for homes in council tax bands A to D.
HM Treasury expect the vast majority of people who pay by Direct Debit to receive this money in April. For those who do not pay via Direct Debit, the local authority will be ready to process their claims in the same month.
Thirdly; Government is also providing £144 million of discretionary funding for councils to support households not eligible for other support, including those properties in bands A to D that are exempt from council tax, as well as households on lower incomes in higher bands.
Supporting our police through legislation: In recent years we have seen public transport carriages stopped and attempts to stifle the freedom of the press, all in the name of protest.
Those images of London Underground and Docklands Light Railway services being disrupted, the sight of ambulances being blocked from getting to hospital, not to mention those who sought to prevent newspapers reaching the shops, cannot be tolerated. They are a chilling insight into the kind of society that some may want us all to live in.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill goes to address such anxieties. This legislation will allow the police to take a more proactive approach in managing highly disruptive protests causing serious disruption to the public.
These proposals were considered by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, which broadly concluded that the measures would improve police effectiveness while not eroding the right to protest.
Of course, the vast majority of protests are lawful and will be unaffected by these changes. The measures will balance the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered, with this being achieved by enabling the police to better manage highly disruptive protests.
My voting record in the House of Commons reflects the value I place on our civil liberties and this is what I will continue to pursue in Parliament.
Having first called some years ago for the introduction of a Police Covenant, I welcome the legislation including the enshrining of this in law. The Bill also increases the maximum prison sentence for anyone who assaults or commits an offence of battery against an emergency worker.
Record NHS funding: I spoke in the House of Commons in support of the record levels of NHS funding we are seeing as well as calling for diagnosis and treatment of blood cancers to be a priority for the Rapid Diagnostic Centres which are being rolled out.
Funding boost to support rough sleepers: Crawley Borough Council will receive £930,000 in extra funding next year as part of the Government’s £174 million Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme.
Covid-19: Welcoming the end of Coronavirus Act restrictions and I asked the Prime Minister about targeted support for those who are immunosuppressed and immunocompromised. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancer I have continued to pursue this point.
Domestic abuse: Domestic abuse is a horrific crime, and we must do everything we can to help victims recover and rebuild their lives.
I am pleased the Government is giving additional funding to Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council to help local victims of abuse and their children start again – with better services such as healthcare, social workers and benefits.
Mobile coverage boost: People across Crawley and West Sussex are set to benefit from improved mobile coverage as part of a new scheme to cut red tape and install more 4G and 5G kit.
Free trade: Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU taking effect we need to utilise further our departure from the bloc and I asked the Prime Minister to appoint a Minister with the responsibility for realising the Brexit freedoms and benefits which are now at the UK’s disposal. Shortly afterwards it was confirmed that a Minister for Brexit Opportunities & Government Efficiency has now been appointed.
Level Up Culture: Urging cultural organisations across Crawley to bid for Government arts funding which will be boosted by around £75 million by 2025.
I welcome Government delivering on its commitment to level up culture across the nation – ensuring that opportunity is spread to everyone, in every part of the country.
With my best wishes
Member of Parliament for Crawley