James GRAY   Conservative MP for North Wiltshire

Campaigns

Unaccompanied Children in Calais

As you may be aware, there was a recent debate on the appalling situation in Calais, during which I called for a collaboration between French and British officials in order to ensure the safety of the children in the camp.

It seems to me obvious that unaccompanied children who have a legal right to be in the UK with their relations should never be left to suffer in the Jungle in Calais, or anywhere else for that matter. The safety of these children is paramount, and prior to this debate, I had also added my name to an open letter to the Home Secretary:

Dear Home Secretary,

Our Prime Minister recently returned from President Obama’s global summit on the refugee crisis having rightly committed to ensure that the UK can tackle this problem at its source. We now must show we can do the same closer to home. 

Recently, a 14-year-old boy died in Calais when he fell off a truck while trying to reach the UK. He had a legal right to be with his brother, but having waited for months in wretched conditions for the process to work, he took fate into his own hands with devastating consequences. He had travelled thousands of miles to find his family and his journey ended in tragedy twenty miles from our border.  

We are sure you feel as heartbroken as we do about this and the conditions in the camp he was trying to escape. Children are living alone in tents donated by the generous British people, living each day in fear of violence, exposed to criminals and, as we have seen, at risk of losing their lives. With the French authorities planning to dismantle the camp, life is only likely to get harder for these vulnerable children.  

It is critical that we in the UK ensure that unaccompanied children with a legal right to be here are kept safe while they wait. This means working with France to ensure children are moved out of the camp before the bulldozers arrive, and into a safe place  where  they have access to the legal support and social care they need.  

We must ensure that it is the authorities and the law that help these children, and not the criminals who would put them in the back of trucks or leave them to take their own chances. We know how seriously you take this issue and we want you to know you have our full support to act to ensure these children learn their legal rights to be with their family and get to be with them safely and quickly. We can do more to help these children and in doing so we will defeat the traffickers. 

Above all, as Conservatives, we must champion the role of the family in resolving this refugee crisis. Family reunion is the best tool we have for offering a legal and safe way to get unaccompanied children back into the arms of their family and out of the hands of the traffickers. We must ensure we do all we can to use the love and power of the family to keep children safe.

Lord Shinkwin's Private Member Bill - 'We’re All Equal’ campaign

Abortion is a highly sensitive area of public policy on which there are a range of strongly held views.  I have always been ethically of the view that abortions should be avoided wherever possible, but that there are certain circumstances under which they may be medically necessary.

In 1990,  Parliament voted to amend the Abortion Act 1967 to permit termination of pregnancy where two medical practitioners form the same opinion in good faith that "there is there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped."  These are known as ground E abortions and can be performed at any gestation in the pregnancy.

Not every pregnancy goes to plan and foetal abnormalities of varying degrees of severity occur.  Parents need support and information to reach an informed decision about how to proceed. I recognise that these decisions are extremely difficult and painful for them.  Health professionals must adopt a supportive and non-judgemental approach regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or continue the pregnancy.

Lord Shinkwin's Bill would have the effect that abortions for foetal abnormality could no longer be performed.  Women with a pregnancy where a foetal abnormality is diagnosed could  still seek a termination for another reason within the law, but only if they were less than 24 weeks pregnant. The only exception to that would be if the termination were deemed necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the health of the mother.

I have some sympathy with the bill. Many very happy children with Down’s Syndrome, for example, might well not be with us today under the terms of the current legislation. So I do sympathise with Lord Shinkwin’s desire to make terminations of this kind less likely. I am also aware that concerns have been expressed that abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality is discriminatory and does not comply with obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  

For both of these reasons I intend to consider the content of the Bill very carefully and listen to opinion from my constituents and others before finally deciding whether or not to give the Bill my support.

Broadband

I appreciate how important broadband is to both individuals and businesses. Reliable, fast broadband is now seen as the norm, not a nice-to-have. It underpins economic growth and allows homes to function in a digital age. Over 90 per cent of UK premises are now able to connect to superfast broadband, and we are on track to reach 95 per cent by the end of next year. This means that the UK has the highest superfast broadband coverage amongst the top five European economies. But I recognise that more needs to be done to ensure that all parts of the country have the access to the broadband they need.

It may be helpful if I start by recapping where we are with regards to Wiltshire Council's broadband rollout.

The Wiltshire Online programme, both Phase 1 and Phase 2 contracts, were designed to provide a fibre broadband service to those premises that commercial providers considered to be financially non-viable. Without Wiltshire Council's investment approximately 40% of Wiltshire would not have access to superfast broadband.

Wiltshire Council have always been aware that despite significant investment they cannot get to every premises and so made the strategic decision to deliver fibre broadband to the greatest number of premises for the budget available. To achieve this, the roll-out design is based on not just one factor but a combination of several factors such as existing infrastructure, speeds already received, number of premises in the area and distance of premises away from the infrastructure. Other roll-out designs were considered, such as prioritising specific communities or the most rural areas, but the roll-out becomes less efficient and more costly and ultimately reduces the number of premises they can provide a service to within the available budget.

The brief given to BT by Wiltshire Council was to cover as many premises as possible within the available funding. BT use the chief engineers model (CEM) which takes at its starting point the intervention area postcodes (those postcodes in which Wiltshire Council are allowed to invest public money) and seeks to maximise coverage for the available money. The CEM has been validated by BDUK to ensure it is modelled to effectively maximise coverage which it does by going to the lowest cost locations and then sequentially moving through the next best value structure and it repeats this process until the funding package is exhausted. Given that funding is not exhaustive clearly not all locations will be served.

Ministers have noted Ofcom's view that the current relationship between BT and Openreach will not deliver the country's needs for more competition, better innovation and better service and they strongly support Ofcom in taking whatever action is needed to correct any competition problems, however radical a change that might be. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is clear that a more independent Openreach is needed to benefit consumers and the UK's digital infrastructure. I share Ministers' concerns that BT's proposals do not go far enough and think it is right that full structural separation remains an option.

I understand just how frustrating it is to have a bad broadband connection. Broadband is a modern necessity, and the Government is working hard to ensure that the whole of Britain has the broadband that it needs.