Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – June 2023
This month, Armed Forces Week provided an important occasion to highlight our support for the Armed Forces community, from serving troops to service families, veterans and cadets.
An official flag-raising ceremony took place in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster to mark the start of Parliament’s celebration and to thank our Armed Forces.
After events throughout the week at Westminster, in Crawley on Armed Forces Day, Saturday 24th June, we had the opportunity to offer our own gratitude to those who serve.
As an elected Member of Parliament, I am very much aware that we would be unable to vote for our Members of Parliament, nor have such robust debates in the House of Commons, were it not for our Armed Forces who protect our way of life every day.
It is vital that this appreciation is reflected in public policy and the actions of government.
I recently attended an event marking the 41st anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands in 1982, where we honoured the sacrifices of our military personnel.
Over the course of the last year I have followed up with a number of ministers over provision for our military veterans.
One issue I raised with the Veterans’ Affairs Minister is that of Government support for Armed Forces charities to increase provision of veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention initiatives.
Op COURAGE is an NHS mental health specialist service which provides support to serving personnel due to leave the military, reservists, Armed Forces veterans as well as their families, including former members of the Armed Forces even if they left some years ago.
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
I have been pleased to meet with Help for Heroes in Parliament and have followed up on some of the issues they have highlighted to me with the Government.
My thanks as well to the Crawley & Horsham Armed Forces & Veterans Breakfast Club who provide such important support for veterans locally.
In line with the manifesto which I stood on at the last General Election, the Government’s Great Place to Work for Veterans initiative offers guarantees of interviews in the civil service for veterans, boosting the employment chances of those who have served.
In addition, companies employing veterans can claim National Insurance contributions relief for veterans they have hired during their first year of civilian employment.
We must continue to ensure our Armed Forces veterans get the support they deserve all year round.
Taking action on inflation and the cost of living: The recent announcement from Ofgem that the Energy Price Cap will be set at an annual level of £2,074 for a typical household marks progress in the work to tackle inflation.
This new cap is almost £430 below the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee which has capped the typical bill at £2,500 since last October. The new cap is over £1,200 below the level of the previous cap without Government’s Energy Price Guarantee help for households.
Ofgem have confirmed that for the first time since the global gas crisis started around a year and a half ago, prices are falling for customers on default tariffs.
Crucially, these savings can be passed on to customers more quickly as a result of the price cap being updating quarterly, rather than every six months.
The Energy Price Guarantee will have saved a typical household around £1,100 since the scheme began in October.
Every household in Crawley knows that even though the price cap has dropped from its winter peak, it remains well above the pre-2021 average.
This is why the Prime Minister’s priority of halving inflation this year is so important. Through this we can further support people with the cost of living and ensure financial security.
We know that Putin’s war in Ukraine is driving up energy bills. With Government stepping in to pay half of people’s energy bills over the winter, we have managed to reduce one of the biggest outgoings for families and go to tackle inflation head on.
I have continued to call for action to address fuel duty to help Crawley motorists. At the Budget in March, the Chancellor delivered the 13th consecutive freeze to fuel duty: saving motorists £200 since the 5 pence cut was introduced.
Action to secure our borders: In an increasingly-connected world, we know that there are global issues which affect us here in Britain requiring international co-operation to prevent.
Illegal immigration is very much included in this category. As small boat crossings across the English Channel fall, the number of illegal migrants entering Europe has risen by almost a third year on year. The energy with which this issue is being pursued at the top of government is clear to see and producing much-needed results.
Any such crossings across the Channel which bypass the system and put lives in danger cannot be accepted.
Confirmation that small boat arrivals to Britain have reduced by 20 per cent since December is welcome: the first time since such small boats crossings began that arrivals in the first half of the year have fallen compared to the year before. We must also be clear that this serves as a timely reminder of the scale of the work that remains.
There is no compassion in support for such crossings which have seen lives lost in the Channel. The UK’s partnership with France stopped 33,000 crossings last year – 40 per cent more than the year before – and so far this year has prevented more than 8,600 people reaching Britain’s shores.
Renters’ (Reform) Bill: A quick look at my inbox over recent months goes to highlight the approach required when considering the Renters’ (Reform) Bill.
Broadly, of course, the majority of renters treat their home with respect and the conduct of most landlords is right and proper.
We know, however, that there are those who unfortunately do not fit into either of these categories.
The relationship between tenant and landlord is integral. We need to see reforms which will benefit both.
Benefits of British people’s Brexit vote: Seven years ago, by the largest majority of any UK poll ever, we voted for EU exit, with this subsequently reiterated at two further General Elections in 2017 and 2019.
At home and abroad, the enacting of our decision to leave has allowed us to make real positive changes.
In the House of Commons earlier this month I spoke about how, whilst Britain is experiencing economic growth, the Eurozone is now in recession.
We are, of course, no longer bound by EU law or billions of pounds in membership subscriptions, which have now been redeployed to our NHS and defence budgets.
As we all remember, Covid-19 had a significantly negative impact on the aviation sector, particularly felt here in Crawley with Gatwick Airport of such importance locally. Outside the EU, Britain was able to use its new powers to vary slot allocation rules to prevent ‘ghost flights’: not only cutting costs for airlines but saving carbon emissions as well.
The UK also set up its own pandemic task force to procure vaccines and by not signing-up to the EU vaccine strategy we were consequently much quicker than the EU bloc to vaccinate its citizens and reopen normal life sooner.
Through leaving the EU we have been able to amend the tax system: for example abolishing the ‘tampon tax’ on sanitary products and reducing VAT on energy-saving items.
Since Brexit we have been able to avoid more than 7,300 new EU laws, whilst the bloc has continued its goal of ‘ever closer union’ at democracy’s expense.
Our independence has made us more secure, sovereign and successful.
More people in work: New figures show there are four million more people in work since 2010 and over 450,000 more people in a job across the south east of England, helping to grow the economy.
There is more to be done to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt – but these figures show the Government is committed to ensuring everyone has the security of a job.
Bust elective backlogs: For many years I have continued to pursue with ministers the importance of diagnosing health conditions as early as possible to secure enhanced outcomes for patients.
The Government’s Community Diagnostic Centres will play an important role in ensuring these earlier tests, which can be done more conveniently for patients closer to home. When fully operational, Community Diagnostic Centres will provide capacity for over 740,000 tests per year. I am grateful for the work of Crawley Collaborative CDC.
The Department of Health & Social Care have confirmed that modalities offered at Crawley Collaborative CDC include: CT (Computerised Tomography) scans, NOUS (Non-obstetric Ultra Sound), X-ray, Phlebotomy, Respiratory testing, and Cardiology testing. Additionally, since opening it has also recorded some endoscopy activity (specifically Cystoscopy) and MRI activity.
The Government is showing progress on its promise to open 160 of the facilities by March 2025, with a further eight due to open before the end of the year, the Health & Social Care Secretary has confirmed. These will provide capacity for more than 742,000 extra tests a year once fully operational, bolstering access to care.
The Government is investing £2.3 billion to transform diagnostic services, with 108 CDCs already up and running. They have opened in a range of settings since the programme started in July 2021, including shopping centres and university campuses.
New measures to improve patient choice: Patients are being empowered to choose where they receive treatment; allowing them to choose which hospital they are treated at, as well as increasing the information they have about waiting times and quality when they do so.
Government is expanding the way the NHS app and website are used to improve how patients choose to receive their care. After speaking with their GP, patients will be able to view information for up to five healthcare providers – filtered by distance, waiting times and quality of care.
Utilising the latest AI technology in the NHS: Access to new technologies crucially means earlier diagnosis – and more effective treatments and faster recovery. This all helps to deliver better care for patients and cut waiting times – one of the Government’s five priorities.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the NHS is already having a positive impact on outcomes for patients, with AI in some cases halving the time for stroke victims to get the treatment they need by helping doctors diagnose stroke faster, which has been shown to triple the chance of patients of living independently after a stroke.
In the previous parliament I chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heart & Circulatory Diseases and also secured and led a debate in Westminster Hall on the involvement of patients in the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare.
The Government has already invested £123 million into 86 AI technologies, which is helping patients by supporting stroke diagnosis, screening, cardiovascular monitoring and managing conditions at home.
Guide Dogs: Found out more about Guide Dogs’ Open Doors campaign, which highlights the importance of access for all people using assistance dogs.
Refusals of access to service prevent people from living the lives they choose. We know that the fear of such a refusal can dissuade people from getting out and about independently and I am grateful to Guide Dogs for their vital work highlighting this issue.
The UK’s moral duty: Questioned the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Secretary about the UK's moral duty to allow the Chagos islanders the right to return to their homeland and asked for details of how this would work.
Brownfield first: Received assurances from the Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Secretary over the Government's commitment to 'brownfield first' when considering the location of new homes.
Syria: Sought clarification over the UK Government's position on the decision of the Arab League to readmit the heinous Syrian Assad regime.
Animal welfare: Spoke in the House of Commons to hold Government to account to ensure proposals previously included in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill are enacted through other avenues.
The Government has made great strides in recent years on issues relating to animal protections.
We have seen an increase to sentences for cruelty and the world’s toughest ivory ban. What we need to do now is fulfil the other commitments made: such as ending live animal exports for slaughter, in addition to introducing food labelling on farming standards and to method of killing.
My Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill was approved by the House of Commons in March and is currently making its way through the House of Lords, and has the support of the Government.
This would ban British hunters from bringing body part ‘trophies’ of endangered and vulnerable animals into Great Britain and fulfils a commitment made in the manifesto which I stood on at the General Election in 2019.
With my best wishes
Member of Parliament for Crawley