Five years in Westminster and five years of Dartford Messenger Columns

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A few weeks ago I wrote my last Kent Messenger column before the General Election. I have used the column to comment on local and national events and to talk about legislation passing through Parliament. Constituents often contact me in response to my articles and I am pleased that some columns have provoked discussion in the following week’s newspaper.

Although all of the columns are on this website, I would invite you to look through some of those that have caused the most interest.  These are reproduced below.

 

14th October 2010 – Contaminated Blood in the 1980s

This week there is a debate in Parliament relating to those people who were infected with contaminated blood during the 1980s. The debate will push for an enquiry into contaminated blood to try and compensate haemophiliacs and others who were infected with Hepatitis C in the late 1970s and 1980s through their NHS treatment.  Over 4,800 people were affected.

Upwards of 1,200 people were also infected with HIV. Of those 1,200, more than 800 people have already died and hundreds more have died from Hepatitis C. In the 1970s and 1980s blood derivatives were sourced from within the UK and from the USA where donors were paid and in some cases, funded their drug habit through the payments. Blood was later found to be infected with Hepatitis C and HIV and thousands became infected. This problem arose partly because the UK was not self-sufficient in blood products.

Those people who were infected have suffered enormously. Life insurance is impossible to obtain and almost every month one of their number dies in the UK. Only a daily cocktail of drugs keeps these people alive.  They have been unable to have children and fear infecting their loved ones.

Understandably they claim that successive governments have failed to acknowledge any fault. Compensation has so far been limited to ‘ex gratia payments’. In 2009 an independent inquiry, chaired by former solicitor general Lord Archer of Sandwell, recommended that compensation be paid for victims but to date that level has not yet been determined.

It’s surely time that these people were given the support that has for too long eluded them.

 

7th November 2011 – Grammar School Debate

As a former Grammar School pupil myself, I have benefited first hand from an outstanding Grammar School education and the opportunities it has afforded me.  I believe that the Government should continue to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Grammar Schools and that we must all recognise the contribution they make to our education system.  This is why, on Tuesday this week I raised this matter in Parliament in the form of a Westminster Hall debate.

In Dartford we are lucky to have four excellent grammar schools; Dartford Grammar for Boys, Dartford Grammar for Girls, Wilmington Girls and Wilmington Boys offering something different to pupils in the local area.  In Kent alone there are 27 selective schools which make up a quarter of state funded secondary schools in the county.  These schools in the majority receive a higher number of applicants than places they have available, thus illustrating the demand for grammar school places.

It is reassuring that as recently as last week the Government has announced that the cap will be lifted on the number of places grammar schools are able to offer.  Therefore I am hopeful that we will see a rise in the coming years in the number of places grammar schools are able to offer.

There are many advantages to a Grammar School education in addition to the high academic results that they achieve. They provide the opportunity for a first rate education for pupils from all backgrounds and encourage genuine social mobility. Too often the catchment areas around successful Comprehensive Schools are only accessible to the well off because of the inflated house prices in the area.

Every pupil is different.  We must not fall into a culture of directing every child the same way.  Some pupils will be more suited to a vocational route whilst others will suit a more academic one.  Allowing pupils to follow the route most suited to them results in happier more focused pupils.

Grammar Schools are popular with parents and pupils, they provide excellent education and offer social mobility to those who attend the school, we need to allow them to flourish and I hope in the coming years to see Dartford’s Grammar Schools going from strength to strength.

 

 11th September 2012 – Health Tourism 

I was shocked to read in a recent report that the UK pays up on time for the treatment received by British nationals abroad, yet the record for recovering funds for treatment of overseas visitors in the UK, either from individuals or their governments, is abysmal. When I raised the matter with the Health Minister I discovered that this is not down to other countries failing to cough up, rather that we don’t even send the bill.

For those overseas visitors who do present an insurance card, the NHS recovers the cost but for many other overseas visitors, either Europeans without cards or those from further afield, there is no system in place to ensure that hospitals and GP surgeries actually charge for the service, or even bother to check who they are admitting. This lack of proper auditing is also leading to a large amount of debts from other countries and individuals being written off, to the tune of some £40 million per year.

This is why I have sponsored a Bill to be presented this week in Parliament which would require the NHS to record and audit the cost of treatment of individuals not entitled to free healthcare and those who use insurance cards from other countries. Healthcare in the UK is not free, it is paid for by British taxpayers, and I hope that this Bill will be the first step in making sure that those who aren’t eligible for care pay for it.

 

24th January 2013 – Unduly Lenient Sentences

This week I am presenting my Ten Minute Rule Bill to the House.  It is entitled “Unduly Lenient Sentences (Right of Appeal) Bill”.  The purpose of the Bill is to allow the prosecution or another concerned party, such as a victim, to refer a sentence received by a defendant for any case, in any Court, to the Attorney General for consideration as to whether a formal appeal should be lodged.

Currently the prosecution cannot appeal against any sentence imposed at the Magistrates Court or Youth Court, nor can it appeal against most sentences imposed at the Crown Court. The only cases that can currently be appealed by the prosecution are a small number of the most serious offences heard at the Crown Court.

The defence can appeal against any sentence imposed at the Magistrates and Youth Court and through ‘Leave of a Judge’ against any sentence imposed at the Crown Court. I don’t seek to change this but I feel that the prosecution should have the same rights of appeal as the defence.

The fact that the defence can appeal against any sentence yet the prosecution cannot is simply not right. The system should exist to protect victims and their families and yet, if a sentence given to a defendant in a Magistrates Court or Youth Court is felt to be too lenient there is absolutely nothing that can be done. It allows the Courts to be as lenient as they like without consequence, yet subject to appeal if they are too robust.

In Dartford we have Magistrates who tend to be fair but firm but this is not always the case across the country. This is why I am introducing my Bill to rebalance the scales of our Criminal Justice System and make sure victims of crime are adequately protected.

 

 14th October 2014 – Immigration 

Immigration is a subject I get questions about almost daily. Although significant steps have been taken to tackle the issue, much more needs to be done.

Since the Government was elected in 2010 we have reduced the numbers of people coming into this country compared to the uncontrolled immigration that we previously faced. We have also made significant steps in cutting bogus colleges as well as reducing the number of appeals that can take place on individual immigration cases.

Despite what some people believe, illegal immigrants cannot receive out-of-work benefits but it’s correct to say that when we have too many people coming into this country it places a huge strain on our public services.

Many people are seeking to come to the UK in order to work which is a direct consequence of the large number of jobs created in recent years. Whilst we should always welcome the brightest and the best we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be taken advantage of.

We see hundreds of people in Calais trying to come into this country to achieve a better life for themselves. It is a great disappointment that the French Government is not deporting those people who are illegal immigrants in France but instead leaving it to us to tackle the problem.

To help combat this the UK Government is strengthening its physical security by installing thermo-detection security cameras and enhanced security fencing at the border. Staffing levels have been increased, security patrols extended and technology is being invested in to detect people trying to enter Britain.

There is still much that more we need to do. It is right that we remain a place that welcomes talented people but we should not allow ourselves to be exploited.

 

5th December 2014 – Dartford Crossing

Sunday was a historic day at the Dartford Crossing as the toll booths were closed for the last time and the free-flow system began.

This is the first time in 23 years that significant action has taken place aimed at tackling congestion at the crossing.

There is nobody in Dartford who hasn’t been affected by the fallout from the congestion at the Dartford Crossing. It is not just the M25 that’s affected but many of the local roads in Dartford as well.

The M25 will always be problematic, but this major change means we should see some noticeable improvements in the levels of congestion.

I have always campaigned to scrap the tolls and I will continue to do so. Until then there are a number of ways people can reduce their costs. The Local Residents’ Scheme offers a number of options, including unlimited crossings for £20 per year. This applies to both cars and small commercial vehicles.  Alternatively, registering with Dart Charge, which is open to everyone, reduces the cost of each crossing to £1.67.

We will get a clearer idea of how effective ‘free-flow’ is when the toll booths are completely removed and the new layout is finished and fully operational in the spring.  Only then will we have a better idea of how to approach building a second Thames crossing, which I suspect we will still need.

In the meantime we can be optimistic of improvements in journeys for everyone in and around Dartford.

 

January 12 2015 – Darent Valley Hospital 

Figures released this week show that Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which runs Darent Valley Hospital, is coping very well with the pressures of winter.

In fact during one of the toughest weeks for healthcare in mid-December, the Accident and Emergency department at DVH was the top performing A & E department in England, exceeding the Government’s targets, with 97.7% of patients being seen in under four hours.

In the last three months of 2014, DVH’s A & E department has been by far the top performer in Kent, the 4th best performer in the south east and the 17th best in England. The A& E Department is currently expanding to deal with extra demand and the car parking facilities are also being increased.

This is great news for the people who use the hospital trust and its services and I am proud we have such a good hospital in our town.

The success of our hospital is down to the tireless work its staff, from the frontline doctors and nurses to the many people who are employed to ensure patients’ experiences are positive. Since I was elected, five years ago, the numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives has grown at DVH, whilst the number of hospital managers has remained the same.

I have visited the hospital on numerous occasions during the past year and it is always a pleasure to meet the caring and dedicated staff and these figures are a testament to their hard work.

There remains many challenges for the hospital over the coming weeks but I congratulate everyone involved in making DVH one of the top hospitals in England.

 

February 5th 2015 –  English votes for English laws

This week The Conservative Party announced proposals to bring in English votes for English laws in the House of Commons.

Under proposals drawn up by The Smith Commission, following the Scottish referendum, Scotland is set to get a variety of new powers including the ability to set income tax rates and bands.

Whilst it might be right for Scotland to get new powers, it is also time for England to have its voice heard as well.

It is wrong for MPs from Scotland sitting in Westminster to vote on budgets and laws that only apply to English voters.

There have been a variety of options put forward on how to tackle this, these include barring Scottish MPs from any role in English and Welsh bills, allowing English MPs to have a greater say over the early readings of bills and giving English MPs a veto over certain legislation at committee stage. There is also an option to establish a grand committee of English MPs, with the right to veto legislation applying only to England, with its members based on the share of the vote.

Our option is the proposal that English MPs would have a veto over legislation – including income tax – that only affects England. This is a fundamental issue of fairness and would properly balance the rights of all voters across the United Kingdom. The Labour Party disagrees with our plans to have English votes on English issues but I believe it must be right for England to have greater self-determination particularly when more powers are being devolved to Scotland.

What we need is a system which benefits the union as a whole whilst being fair to all its regions.

 

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