Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – September 2021
We know the importance of vaccines in beating Covid-19 and now details have been confirmed of how a third booster dose will be given to those in higher risk groups.
Thankfully, our response to the pandemic can now take place from a position of relative normality; certainly in comparison to the restrictions we have lived with over the last 18 months.
Booster vaccinations are being rolled out to the same priority groups as before, with the NHS contacting people directly when it is their turn to get a booster dose.
My thanks to all in Crawley who have had one or both doses already. More than 79,000 people have received their first dose and over 72,000 have been given both jabs.
Also at the forefront at this time of year are vaccinations against the flu. The annual NHS flu vaccination campaign started last month with jabs to be available for all previously eligible groups; primary school children, people aged 65 years and over, vulnerable groups and pregnant women. Government has also extended eligibility for the flu jab this year to include secondary school children and people between the ages of 50 and 64.
As we approach a total of 94 million Covid jabs in arms across the UK, we cannot be complacent. To address Covid pressures the NHS in England will see an additional £5.4 billion of investment over the next six months, which comes on top of the almost £36 billion over the next three years to help our health service recover and resolve the long-standing issue of social care.
Like many in Crawley I am very grateful for the efforts of all those involved in the vaccine roll-out. As we move towards the winter months, as we go about our daily lives we will need to continue to be mindful of coronavirus to help ensure that any restrictions do not need to be reintroduced.
In light of the UK’s successful domestic vaccine rollout, I welcomed in the House of Commons confirmation of a new, simplified system for international travel to England.
The new system will provide greater stability for industry and passengers. It will see the existing traffic light system replaced by a single red list of countries and territories which will continue to be crucial in order to protect public health, and simplified travel measures for arrivals from the rest of the world, from Monday 4th October at 4am.
Commencing at the same time, the Department for Transport have also confirmed that testing requirements will also be reduced for eligible fully vaccinated travellers, who will no longer need to take a pre-departure test when travelling to England.
These announcements come following intense lobbying by myself and the Future of Aviation All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) which I established and chair. Recovering international travel is vital in protecting local jobs and economic recovery.
Reforms to the testing regime, which industry and parliamentarians have long called for, are particularly welcome as it will remove a significant financial and bureaucratic burden that acted as a major disincentive to international travel.
It is essential that the relaxation of Covid restrictions and reforms to testing mark the start of the recovery for our aviation, travel and tourism industries. After over eighteen months of historically low passenger numbers, these industries face a long journey to recovery and the Government must continue to work with them to agree a full package of recovery measures including continuing financial support where required.
These announcements usher in the start of the long recovery of our aviation and travel sectors, but it is essential that the Government work in partnership with industry to ensure that aviation can play its vital role in moving our whole economy forward.
A new school year for Crawley pupils and staff: As pupils return to school, it is vital that they are able to catch up in a safe and secure environment. An important part of this is the National Tutoring Programme, which is being backed with £1 billion of investment.
This will go towards catch-up tutoring for over six million pupils. The expansion of the National Tutoring Programme, which has been proven to boost attainment by three to five months, will help young people as they recover from the pandemic and work to fulfil their potential.
Support for schools to flexibly access external tuition providers will extend coverage across the whole country, with the project expected to reach more than 500,000 students this year.
Blood Cancer Awareness Month: September marks Blood Cancer Awareness Month, which in 2021 comes after an incredibly difficult year and a half as people with blood cancer in Crawley and around the country have sought to not only live with this condition but to do so during a pandemic and all the consequences and restrictions which this has brought.
Earlier this year as Chair of the Blood Cancer APPG I launched our latest inquiry which looks at Covid-19’s impact on blood cancer services. Alongside the APPG on Stem Cell Transplantation the inquiry will focus on what is needed for blood cancer services to be able to recover from issues that have been caused or worsened by the pandemic.
The Government, NHS England, patient organisations, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals are being invited to contribute, and perspectives of people directly affected by blood cancer will be used to inform the inquiry.
Taking action against motorway disruption: There has been consternation at the sight of recent disruptive demonstrations on the M25, where people have put the lives of themselves and of others at risk by walking onto the motorway in the misguided belief that this will help to tackle climate change.
It is clear for all to see that stopping hard-working commuters from getting to work or people needing to attend hospital will not save our planet. The Transport Secretary and National Highways have won an injunction to prevent protesters from causing any further disruption to traffic on the M25.
Anyone breaching the injunction will be in contempt of court. Such a breach can be punishable by up to two years in prison as well as an unlimited fine.
Last week in the House of Commons I received assurances from the Crime & Policing Minister that, if it is necessary, the Government will seek to extend this injunction to address any further disruption which may take place elsewhere, including the M23 serving Crawley and Gatwick.
The reality is that those protesting in such a way are harming a cause which we actually all want to see addressed.
HGV driver shortages: Earlier this month I told the Transport Secretary in the Commons that the solution to HGV truck driver shortages is improved standards and conditions for UK drivers.
Action is being taken, with the Department for Transport announcing that up to 50,000 more HGV driving tests will be made available each year to streamline the testing process and tackle the worldwide shortage of lorry drivers. This new legislation is changing previous European Union regulations which the UK is no longer obliged to use.
One Punch Awareness Week: Raising awareness of the dangers around one punch assaults, focusing on the theme ‘one punch can kill’.
Afghanistan: Questioning the Foreign Secretary in Parliament on China’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Beatrice’s Bill: Introducing the Hen Caging (Prohibition) Bill in the House of Commons. This legislation seeks to extend the ban which started in 2012 to ban battery cages for hens, to so-called enriched cages. While larger, these cages still do not allow enough space for hens’ natural behaviours.
An increasing number of companies are calling for further progress to phase out the use of cages for egg-laying hens. I’m proud that Nestlé UK, who are based in Crawley, are standing alongside the likes of Greggs, Nando’s and Premier Foods in wanting this to happen.
World Lymphoma Awareness Day: To mark World Lymphoma Awareness Day on 15th September I helped promote the better understanding of rare blood cancers. Too often they can be misdiagnosed as milder, less life-threatening conditions. For instance, Cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (CTCLs) are often misdiagnosed for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Pension auto-enrolment: Asking the Pensions & Financial Inclusion Minister about the impressive levels of pension auto-enrolment in Crawley.
NHS Open Space: Welcoming the launch of an NHS Open Space at Crawley Hospital. The NHS Open Space scheme offers clinical and non-clinical spaces for hire on an hourly, daily or sessional basis, with greater flexibility and choice at an affordable price.
With my best wishes
Member of Parliament for Crawley