The Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire, James Gray recently met with young volunteers involved in the Our Bright Future programme in Parliament; and pledged support for ensuring that more school time is spent learning in and about nature.

Our Bright Future is an ambitious and innovative partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts and funded by the UK’s largest community funder, The National Lottery Community Fund, The parliamentary event highlighted the programme’s work to empower young people to lead positive change in their local environment and community.

At the event, the MPs heard from some of the inspiring young volunteers on the key changes they want to see for the environment and their lives, including ensuring schools have at least one hour per day of lesson time outdoors.

James Gray MP said:

“I was delighted to hear about the experiences of the determined young people I met, like Tyler Tobin, a North Wiltshire local, who together, are helping to shape their local environment. Through their passion and courage they are making a real difference in their local communities and contributing to a greener economy.”

“I also had the pleasure of meeting with a group of local children from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust in my surgery and I share their passion for encouraging children to get outdoors, to explore and learn about wild places.”

“I fully support their call for schools to have at least one hour per day of lesson time outdoors. We all learn best from first hand experiences and by being outdoors we develop a stronger connection with the natural world.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts said:

“The future of this and future generations will depend on us developing a totally different relationship with the natural world. Today’s generation of young people recognises the environmental crisis we face and does not see this as separate from societal challenges such as poor mental health. They are determined to have an education system that helps generations to come support nature’s recovery.”

“Our Bright Future is working with young people across the UK fuelling the creativity and resilience they need to lead environmental and social change. Our Governments will be failing this generation if they do not listen and support them to create a brighter future’.

Peter Ainsworth, Chair of The National Lottery Community Fund, said:

“It’s fantastic to see how young people across the UK have been motivated and encouraged by this project. Thanks to National Lottery players, nearly 100,000 young people have played an active role in shaping the future of their local environment. An investment like this is a great start to empowering and inspiring young people to help make their own futures brighter and their communities thrive.”

On Wednesday, in response to Greg Clark’s ministerial statement on Honda, North Wiltshire MP James Gray showed his support for those affected by Honda’s Swindon closure. He also highlighted the strength of the local economy and growth of other sectors across the region. Mr Gray stated: 

“I am confident that I speak on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) and my hon. Friends the Members for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Salisbury (John Glen). The constituents of all of them may be affected by this matter, but they are all unable to take part in this statement because of their roles as Ministers. 

Across Wiltshire, we are deeply concerned about the 3,500 job losses and potentially more in the supply chain. May I therefore volunteer to take part in the excellent taskforce that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced? I think that is a very useful step forward. Will he join me in rejoicing at the fact that the economy of Wiltshire is actually extremely strong at the moment? The unemployment figures announced this morning are the lowest there have ever been, and we have had huge growth particularly in electric car manufacturing and our high-tech industries across the M4 corridor. I hope he will join me in thinking that we will therefore be able to find useful employment for all these people in good time before the plant closes.”

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, reinforced Mr Gray’s statement, adding that: 

“Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to our colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, whose commitment to the success of the economy in Wiltshire is unflagging. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) is absolutely right to refer to the fact that the success of Swindon and the whole of Wiltshire has been notable. In fact, one of the problems that Honda has occasionally discussed with me in the past is its struggle to recruit the volume of labour that has been required. It is a matter of sadness that that will not be a problem for the future, given this decision. He is right to emphasise that the demand for the kind of skilled labour that exists in that county is very strong. Through the taskforce, we will do everything we can to make sure that employers are matched with people with skills.”

Speaking during yesterday’s Cabinet Office Questions in the House of Commons, North Wiltshire MP James Gray raised the complex nature of the Government procurement process and asked how the Cabinet Office could find better ways to ensure SMEs were able to win Government contracts.

Mr Gray said:

“The Government give a very welcome emphasis to the employing of small and medium-sized enterprises in Government contracts, and that is very good stuff, but does the Minister not agree that in reality, Government procurement processes are so complex, so difficult, so massive and so expensive that it is actually companies such as the defence primes that get the contracts and then hammer down the prices ​they pay to their subcontractors? How can we find better ways to ensure that the SMEs win some of those valuable contracts?“

Responding, the Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden CBE MP, highlighted that the Government had abolished complex pre-qualification questionnaires and added that if major companies were not paying small providers on time, they would be excluded from government schemes.

Mr Dowden said:

“My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issue of SMEs winning contracts. This is why we have abolished complex pre-qualification questionnaires on small-value contracts, for example, and in November I announced that if major strategic suppliers were not paying their small providers on time, they could face being excluded from Government contracts.”

During Questions for the Secretary of Defence at the House of Commons on Monday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray spoke up for veterans. Mr Gray stated:

“It is anecdotally alleged, although not necessarily backed up by statistics, that a disproportionate number of prisoners are veterans. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to making better use of the MOD prison estate—particularly Colchester Prison, for example, which I understand is relatively empty at the moment? Would that not be more appropriate housing for soldiers and veterans who are in civilian prisons?”

Defence Minister, Mr Ellwood supported Mr Gray’s statement, responding that:

“I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the experience that he brings to the Chamber. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and I would like to pursue these conversations—perhaps with the Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart)—to see what more can be done.”

James Gray MP has called for greater ocean protections around Ascension Island, a British Overseas Territory, as part of the government's Blue Belt programme. Ascension Island's Council is currently considering a proposal to protect 100% of its waters but needs a funding commitment from the UK Government to support their plan.

The MP for North Wiltshire said, "Ascension Island provides a vital habitat for important marine species including sea turtles and some of the largest ever recorded Atlantic Blue Marlin. 85% of the critically endangered species we are responsible for are in British Overseas Territories like Ascension, and they need to be protected.

I hope that the Government will support the Ascension Council in its plans to protect this area by committing to fund it. We've already called for 30% of the world's oceans to be protected by 2030, and Ascension is the next step in this ambitious plan."

Ascension Island is currently working on plans to designate 50% of their waters as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). However, it would cost them less to designate the entire area as an MPA due to the additional costs from policing a partially protected area, such as regulating fishing permits. Creating a 100% MPA in Ascension waters would create a sanctuary twice the size of the UK at around 440,000 square kilometres, the largest MPA in the Atlantic.

Mr Gray is a member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) Caucus, which works to support environmental policies including those that promote ocean conservation. They recently met with Environment Secretary Michael Gove and the BLUE Marine Foundation to hear more about Ascension's plans and how they could help.

Adrian Gahan, Director of Policy at the BLUE Marine Foundation said, "It's very encouraging to receive the support of so many Conservative MPs and to hear Michael Gove make an important commitment to secure the funding for the Ascension marine protected area. This entire area could be protected for only £120,000 per year, which is some of the best value conservation on the planet."

Sam Richards, Director of CEN said, "In the last 40 years we've lost half of our marine wildlife, and marine protected areas are vital to reversing this trend and protecting these amazing creatures. Creating this protected area in Ascension would be a great example of the UK's international leadership on ocean conservation."

Find out more about the Blue Belt programme here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-blue-belt-programme