James GRAY   Conservative MP for North Wiltshire

Campaigns

National Health Service

This winter, the NHS has made more extensive preparations than ever before for the added Winter pressures. There are, for example, 11,400 more doctors and 11,200 more hospital nurses in the NHS now than there were in 2010. An extra million has been added to  local Clinical Commissioning Group budgets in 2016/17 for resilience planning, and £50 million has been made available for national initiatives. The NHS also assured the winter plans of every trust, launched the largest ever flu vaccination programme and bolstered support outside A&Es, with 12,000 additional GP sessions offered over the festive period.

As a result of this preparation and, most importantly, the hard work of frontline staff, the system overall is coping well and even performing slightly better than last year. Earlier in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours and we are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four hour standard every single day compared with 2010.

However, I am aware that there are a number of trusts where the situation has been extremely fragile and NHS England is considering a series of further measures to be taken on a temporary basis at the discretion of local clinical leaders. Taken together, these actions will give the NHS additional flexibility to take further measures if appropriate at a local level.

Despite tight public finances, the Government has actively supported the NHS' own plan for the future. That is why it is providing the additional £10 billion of investment per annum in real terms by 2020/21 - compared to 2014/15 - requested to fund a transformation in care. I know that the Government recognises the current pressures facing local areas. That is why the Government is giving local authorities additional funding and flexibility so that they will have access to an additional £3.5 billion by 2020, providing a real terms increase in social care funding by the end of this Parliament.

The Government is committed to maintaining and delivering the vital four hour A&E standard to patients. It is widely understood that too many people are going to A&E unnecessarily, and therefore we must look at ways to protect the four hour target for people who need it most. This will be done through triaging more people at the 'front doors' and pointing them towards more appropriate services, as well as giving more information to the public so they can make the right decisions about the services they need to access.

I can assure you that the Government remains committed to ensuring that the NHS offers the safest, highest-quality care available anywhere in the world.

You may also be interested to see my Column from the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald on the longer term prospects for funding our healthcare.

Ofcom - Keep the Air Fair

Ofcom is responsible for the health of the UK mobile market, in line with its statutory duties. These duties include the promotion of competition and efficient use of spectrum. Ofcom recently launched a consultation on the upcoming spectrum auction. The auction consists of 2.3 GHz spectrum, which is already useable for better 4G services and 3.4 GHz spectrum which is unlikely to be useable for at least two to three years, but could help unlock a new wave of future services such as 5G.

Ofcom agrees that there is a competition concern around the 2.3 GHz spectrum available and it has therefore imposed a cap on bidding. The cap prevents any one company holding more than 45 per cent of spectrum that can be used immediately after the auction. It also argues that by the time 3.4 GHz spectrum is usable, other bands will become available and there is therefore no immediate necessity for action on competition grounds in respect of this spectrum. 

Ofcom has been clear that its intervention has been minimal as it does not want to distort the auction by giving the smaller operators a price break through the weakening of competition. Furthermore, there are concerns it would provide a perverse incentive for smaller operators to under-bid in this and future auctions if they always expected intervention in their favour on grounds of lacking spectrum.

I join the Government in welcoming Ofcom's focus on ensuring effective competition in the mobile market and on getting the spectrum into use as quickly as possible.

Live animal exports and the 1847 Ports and Harbours Act

I understand the strength of feeling about this issue and believe animals should be slaughtered locally wherever possible. Under European Union single market rules it is currently illegal to ban the export of animals to other EU countries; there are instead EU and UK laws to protect the welfare of live animals during transport. Amending the 1847 Ports and Harbours Act would not therefore prevent live export.

While the UK negotiates its exit from the European Union, it will remain a member and will continue to exercise the rights and obligations that come with membership. The UK's involvement in EU rules on animal welfare and trade will very probably form part of the exit negotiations, and thereafter policy in this area will be decided by ten UK Government.

The Government will in the meantime  pursue an ever more sustainable approach to the transport of livestock on long journeys.

Sir Philip Green and BHS

You will be aware of the two recently published Parliamentary committee’s reports into the matter, which highlight the Government’s determination to tackle corporate irresponsibility. I was very concerned about the content of the Reports, and am glad that the Insolvency Service is now carrying out an accelerated investigation and that jobcentres are standing by to provide support and advice to those who were affected by the closure of BHS.

You suggest that Sir Philip Green should as result of the BHS collapse and his role in it be stripped of his knighthood. As a general rule, something of that sort can only occur if they are, for example, sentenced to prison for at least three months for a criminal offence, or censured or struck off by a professional or regulatory body for something directly relevant to their honour.

The possibility of ‘forfeiture’ as this is known is considered by the Honours Forfeiture Committee. If the Committee recommends an honour is withdrawn, the decision is sent to the Queen by the Prime Minister. The Queen decides if the honour should be forfeited. I understand that it has been reported that Sir Philip Green's knighthood is being 'kept under review'.

The vote you refer to was a vote on an amendment to the motion being debated, which addressed BHS more widely. Motions passed in ‘backbench business debates' of this kind are not binding on the Government, but do represent the view of the House of Commons. Nonetheless the question of whether an honour should be taken away is exclusively for the Honours Forfeiture Committee to consider.

I would rather focus on what we can do to support the people affected by the collapse of BHS rather than on a punishment of this kind for Sir Philip Green, which will be considered in due time by others.