During Oral Questions for the Department of Health and Social Care on Tuesday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray asked the Secretary of State for Health to help clear away any blockages so a new medical centre in Calne can be built as soon as possible.

Before the debate, Mr Gray said:

“I do very much support plans to build a new surgery in Silver Street in Calne to replace the surgery building in Patford Street. The existing surgery really has reached the end of its working life and does not live up to the requirements of modern medical science. There are plans in place to achieve planning permission and funding to build a brand-new surgery in Silver Street, which would provide the absolute first class service which my constituents in Calne deserve to have.”

In the House of Commons Chamber, Mr Gray added:

“A much-needed new medical centre at Calne in my constituency was approved by the NHS in 2021, but there have since been a number of blockages to do with covid and the contractors. Will the Secretary of State look into those problems to find out what the blockages are - I think they are largely bureaucratic - and clear them out of the way to give the people of Calne their much-needed new medical centre?”

​The Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay MP, replied that:

“I am very happy to look into that specific issue, which I know my hon. Friend has raised with the Department. I am happy to have further conversations with him.”

I will happily serve behind at least most of the myriad candidates who are now declaring their suitability to be PM. Most of them are very capable and sensible individuals. But we MPs are duty bound to whittle down the Grand National team of candidates to two by the end of next week, when they will set off round the country for a month or so seeking to persuade the grassroots members of the Conservative Party to vote for them, with a view to the new PM being in place when the House returns from the Summer Recess on 5th September.

I have given a great deal of thought to each of them and will be listening very carefully to their campaigns. My criteria for this vitally important selection will include many of the following: - the new PM must be competent. We are facing huge problems and strife - Ukraine, the economy and subsequent inflation, food security, immigration, climate change to name but a few. The Johnson administration was chaotic, and I want to see a smooth running Rolls Royce in Downing Street. They must be a clean pair of hands and be able to put recent events behind them.  They must be a dynamic new thinker ready to offer the electorate the agenda they are seeking; and ready to do what is best for our Nation at this difficult time. They must be able to gather around them a group of talented, able, efficient people to run the great Departments of State. Above all they must be true Conservatives- espousing low taxation, smaller government, freedom, respect and the great old Conservative values which have been so respected by the electorate over hundreds of years. They must bring a clean slate which will ensure a renewed Conservative mandate at the next General Election which is likely to be about 2 years away.

So I have thought carefully through the virtues of all of the candidates who have so far declared, and those who seem likely to do so in the next few days and have concluded that I will give my support to one person who ticks most of those boxes. Penny Mordaunt would be a thoroughly competent and decent Captain of the Ship of State. She is charismatic and media savvy; she is a sound Brexiteer and a levelheaded and competent person; that she is a Royal Naval Reserve Officer and Honorary RN Captain counts in her favour in my eyes. She was a first-class Secretary of State for Defence amongst many other ministerial roles; she is thoroughly popular with my colleagues, and in every way is just a very decent person. She comes from a working-class background, and amongst other things paid her way through University by working as a conjurer’s assistant! She is a bit more of a social liberal than am I, but she is through and through a Conservative. Perhaps most important of all she will see herself as ‘First among Equals’, will not try to be Presidential preferring instead to leading a highly competent and unified team.

So it is right that you, my constituents should know that I will be supporting Penny this week, and doing what I can to help her campaign. I very much hope that she will win through the complex electoral system; and that she will then start her campaign in the wider world with a dinner in North Wiltshire a week on Friday. (Let me know if you would like to attend.) I will be perfectly content with most of the other serious contenders if she does not; but I am happy at this stage to declare my strong support for her candidacy.

PM4PM

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, spoke passionately about the issue of LGBT veterans’ rights in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

He raised with Leo Docherty, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, why the injustice faced by many LGBT veterans of being court-martialled, not receiving their military pension and not being allowed to wear military insignia has not yet been rectified.

Mr Gray stated during Defence Questions:

“I was horrified to hear that until 2001, LGBT servicemen and women were routinely court-martialled and dismissed; they lost their pensions and the right to wear their medals or their berets on Remembrance Sunday. That was an outrage, as the Minister correctly said. A far bigger outrage, however, is that that injustice has not been corrected. To this day, gay people—gay servicemen—from that time still have no pension and are treated with contempt by the armed service, which is absolutely disgraceful.”

He went on to question why a chair had not yet been appointed for the upcoming inquiry into such matters.

Following Defence Questions, Mr Gray said

“I am disappointed at the Ministry of Defence’s lack of urgency in dealing with this matter. It is an absolute disgrace that such actions occurred in the first place, but infinitely worse that they have not yet been rectified. There are large numbers of LGBT veterans who have fought for their country but who cannot draw a pension, cannot wear their berets nor military insignia and cannot feel pride for having served in the military. It is, quite frankly, a disgrace.”

On Monday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray asked the Minister for Defence People and Veterans to clarify the Government’s position in relation to NATO’s  involvement in the war in Ukraine

“I believe that any NATO involvement in Ukraine - even with as little as a no-fly zone - would very probably create a much wider war, including potentially a nuclear exchange. That is something we just cannot risk,” said Mr Gray. “ I wholly support the wonderful level of support which the Government has and will continue to provide the Ukrainian authorities to alleviate the hardship being experienced both by the millions of refugees and by the people left in Ukraine.”

Mr Gray added:

“I was proud to hear President Zelensky describe our support as ‘strong and resolute’, and Great Britain as being Ukraine’s best friend. That is great stuff.

But does the Minister agree that there are three risks associated with what is currently happening in Ukraine? The first is mission creep, which, as always, we must beware of; the second could be some kind of error, in which an American or Russian plane is shot down by mistake, possibly leading to some form of escalation; and the third would be a false-flag operation by the Russians, somehow using that as an excuse to try to drag NATO into the war. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must at all costs avoid NATO’s direct involvement in the war? Support is great; war fighting is not.”

​The Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Leo Docherty MP, replied that:

“I do, and that is a cogent analysis of the attendant risks to this: mission creep, some sort of error, and a false-flag operation. That is why throughout this we have based our response in a bilateral manner. We are clearly paying attention to what other NATO allies are doing, but it is a bilateral provision, which is right and proper. At all times, it has been entirely bespoke in response to what the Ukrainians themselves want, and we are particularly well placed to do that because of our long-term involvement and successful training of Ukrainian forces since 2014. That has led to a good basis and foundation of warm personal relationships across our two respective militaries, which has really borne fruit.”

North Wiltshire MP James Gray took part in two Parliamentary debates on matters associated with planning this week. On Tuesday during a debate on the role of Neighbourhood Plans in national planning policy, Mr Gray emphasised the importance of local people being able to decide what houses should be build where, when and in which quantity.

Mr Gray said:

“I am very proud of the fact that Malmesbury in my constituency was one of the first places in the UK to produce a Neighbourhood Plan, setting an example to other neighbourhood planners across the country. However, in practice, Neighbourhood Plans are often trumped in favour of expansion, are already out of date by the time they are fully completed and the so-called five-year housing land supply figures which determine whether an application should be allowed routinely trump the Neighbourhood Plan. Not only that, but because the required five-year land supply is calculated using completed houses, there is an inbuilt incentive for developers intentionally not to complete housing estates in the area. The developers are experts at gaming the system.”

Mr Gray added:

“At the moment, the planning system does not take account of local interests and beliefs and neighbourhood planning. It takes account of nationally set targets, which tend to trump the wishes of local people. I very much hope that during the passage of the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill, which will start tomorrow, the Government will consider some of these detailed points and change the Bill in such a way as to ensure that the interests of local people are looked after when we decide how many houses will be built and when and where.”

During the debate, Mr Gray further remarked that:

“Developers should, of course, be encouraged to reuse brownfield sites in town centres, but, given the choice between a brownfield site in a town centre or a greenfield site in the countryside, they are going to go for the greenfield site. We therefore have to change the planning system to focus house building on previously used land.”

Then on Wednesday, Mr Gray turned his attention to planning regulations on solar farms and battery storage solutions, on which he sponsored his own debate.

“While I am strongly in favour of renewable energy, the Government should rethink the type of land these installations will be built on. Solar farms seem to be spreading uncontrollably here in North Wiltshire. They are an unsightly desecration of the countryside; they reduce the agricultural use possible from the area just when we are facing a real crisis in food production due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; and they are of a technology which will probably be outdated before long. Further, battery storage solutions also seem to be springing up all over the place. They are a huge fire risk, and they do not make a single contribution towards renewables. Myself and other Colleagues across the House are therefore calling on the Government to reduce the number of solar farms and battery storage solutions on agricultural land in favour of increasing food production.”