North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, quizzed Leo Docherty MP, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, during Defence Questions yesterday afternoon. 

Mr Gray raised the issue of Operation Warm Welcome, the initiative to ensure that Afghan refugees are fully supported as they rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom and asked what can be done locally to help.

“There are 100 [refugees] in my constituency. How can we find a way to give them a warmer welcome? Could local communities, for example, find ways of welcoming them to barbeques or other ways to make them feel at home?”

The Minister responded:

“Of course, there will be a very significant role for the wider community and the third sector to play in welcoming our Afghan friends. I recently visited an Afghan cricket team that had been put together by a local pastor. The whole community is quite demonstrably coming together.”

Mr Gray was quoted afterwards as saying

“It is incredibly important that communities across the country welcome any refugees and make them feel as comfortable as possible in their new surroundings. This is a time to pull together and help those who have, quite literally, lost everything. I am certain that North Wiltshire will be at the forefront of this initiative and look forward to seeing how we can put Operation Warm Welcome in action in the South West.”

James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire, has welcomed the return to normal business in Parliament and the chance to resume his usual advice surgeries after a long-enforced break due to the Covid pandemic.

Mr Gray said:

“Over the past months I have managed to keep in touch with constituents via telephone and email but there is really no substitute to face to face meetings to try and help people deal with problems and concerns. 

I have always held surgeries around the constituency on alternate Saturday mornings and have found them to be of great benefit in trying to assist people with all manner of issues ranging from bureaucratic muddles through to urgent personal and financial problems and many other things in between.  I make myself available without an appointment in a number of locations to try and ensure people can come and see me with as little difficulty as possible and I welcome the chance to help in any way I can. 

I am of course still available by phone and email, but this does not suit everyone and is not always suitable if people wish to bring in paperwork to show me.  I very much look forward to seeing people in my forthcoming surgeries at Cricklade and Malmesbury on Saturday 25th September.”

Historians will debate for decades to come what went wrong in Afghanistan, how it can be that after 20 years of investment of ‘Blood and Treasure’ by the West we are now abandoning the country to the Taliban from whom we liberated it; why it has all come as such a shock, and who is to blame for the short term chaos that we are now witnessing and the apparently bleak longer term future for the people of Afghanistan.

The retreat of the British from Kabul in 1842 which at the time was described as a ‘signal catastrophe’ was ignored by the British Empire in 1878, then by the Soviets in 1989 and now the Americans and British as we scuttle away from our responsibilities in that war-torn land. If you don’t study history, you may well be condemned to repeat it.

I argued at the time that we should have gone into Afghanistan straight after 9/11, destroyed Al-Qaeda, killed Usama Bin Laden and then withdrawn. That would have been a clean(er) military operation, very probably led by Special Forces and Paras, and would have been wholly justifiable under International law.

Instead of that, we allowed classic ‘mission creep.’ It became all about women’s rights and educating girls; it was about infrastructure such as the Kajaki Dam (which in the end was never completed); it was about destroying the poppy crop (and by that stroke the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers who were as a result ready recruits for the Taliban). Women’s rights are a disgrace in many parts of the world, but we do not invade those countries to try to make them better. Afghanistan is - and always has been - a loose amalgamation of territories governed by warlords. It’s a bit like Western Europe 1000 years ago; and the notion that we could (or should) establish a Guildford suitable style of democratic government was forlorn from the start.

Having said all of that on 167 occasions I stood with the people of (Royal) Wootton Bassett on their famous High Street to honour the return of a total of 345 coffins of men and women who had given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. By strange coincidence I hope to get back from the Recall of the House on Wednesday in time to attend the little service in Lyneham on the tenth anniversary of the last ever ‘Repatriation.’

Those 345 young lives were not ‘wasted.’ We have had 20 years of relative peace in the West thanks to the destruction of AQ. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has been – to a degree – suppressed, although whether the Taliban will once again become their willing hosts we will have to wait and see. Even Afghanistan itself has seen a level of prosperity and freedom, and relative peace which they would never have expected.

So we can be ashamed of much that is now happening in Afghanistan; we can takes as many steps as necessary to evacuate our own remaining people as well as those whose lives are at risk through having supported allied forces and governments over the last 20 years; but we must not go on from all of that to argue that it was all a waste of time. To do so is to dishonour those young men and women whose bodies were brought back through Royal Wootton Bassett. We can be proud of them and all they did while at the same time decrying what is without doubt a shameful end to it all.

James Gray MP hosted a Parliamentary event thanking St John Ambulance volunteers and frontline staff for their extraordinary efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, on Wednesday September 8th.

50 St John people, including volunteer and employed ambulance crews from the South West, attended the event.

Since March 2020, tens of thousands of St John people have given more than a million hours of their time to care for people in hospitals, on ambulances, at events, through community projects, and by helping deliver the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The event followed praise for St John volunteers during the day’s Prime Minister's Questions from Boris Johnson and was addressed by the Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid, the Charities Minister Baroness Barran, Minister for Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi, and Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, James Gray also raised the importance of the role of St John in supporting the health service:

“This is, I think, the first opportunity for the whole House to thank all those who have played a role in rolling out the superb vaccine programme over the past six months or so, ranging from the whole of the national health service to the military. If I may, I should like to make particular mention of the Order of St John—St John Ambulance.”

The Prime Minister replied: "The volunteers have been fantastic and I have met many of them over the past 18 months who have done an absolutely astonishing job.”

St John is now looking at how it can build a lasting legacy from the pandemic, ensuring clinically trained volunteers are ready to help the NHS when needed.

Chief Executive of St John Ambulance, Martin Houghton-Brown said:

“We want to develop and maintain the additional capacity we need to stand ready as the nation’s auxiliary ambulance service; to retain and engage the thousands of new volunteers who’ve joined us during the pandemic by creating new roles and opportunities within St John for them to help their communities through first aid; and to ensure the expertise and capacity of skilled volunteers like ours is included in future planning for emergency resilience and response.”

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, has congratulated Sammy's Kebabs Calne on being shortlisted for the prestigious British Kebab Awards.

Sammy's Kebabs Calne, in Sainsbury’s car park, has been shortlisted for the British Kebab Awards for Best Kebab Van. The van was announced as a finalist this week and the winners will be announced at a ceremony in London later this year.

Mr Gray has welcomed the news as showcasing local success in the kebab industry

“I am delighted that Sammy’s Kebabs has received such recognition by being shortlisted in the British Kebab Awards. There is some stiff competition in this category, and I am extremely proud that a local Wiltshire van has been chosen as a finalist. I wish Sammy all the very best of luck when the winners are announced later this year.”