Ipsden Village website, Ipsden Parish Council website John Howell


I know that many people are finding the lockdown harder and harder as time goes on. I fully appreciate this and, indeed, I too find it difficult in many ways. Everyone has had their challenges. For me it has been a particularly busy time and I realise that it is some while since I have been able to write one of my E-newsletters. Now that we have a short parliamentary recess I have the opportunity to write.

Covid-19 Inoculations
The vaccine rollout is the offer of hope that we have all been looking for. Many will have had their inoculation and many more will be booking themselves in now that the age range has been extended. I hope that you will join with me in offering our congratulations to all those who have been involved in getting us to this point and in completing the first phase with the inoculation of 15 million people. I have had emails of congratulations from reasonable people from right across the political divide. Although the BBC also congratulated the Government, they could not help but point to what they saw as negatives as well. The number of black and Asian people who have not come forward for their inoculation, for example, is a cause for concern. But the Government is aware of this and has been conscious of the race disparities throughout. As Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister, has said: none of us is safe until we all are safe. One individual criticised me for thanking Nadhim Zahawi for his work. What they said was that Nadhim had given no vaccinations and that the programme was successful entirely due to great local organisations. How sad that at a time like this people cannot be a bit more generous and praise the exceptional leadership that Nadhim has shown.

Recently, an elderly constituent said that they had visited a friend by going round to the back of the house. The argument was that they both had their jabs so it was OK. Not so. There are clearly some who feel that as they have received their vaccination they no longer need to follow restrictions so closely. Much as I want to see greater freedoms as soon as possible, we must be careful not to undo all the good that has been done. We need to remember the mantra of hands, face and space. Everyone has had their lives restricted during this pandemic and they need to remember to stick to the advice for a little while longer. A particular worry is that we could find vaccine resistant mutations. We must remember that although the vaccines we have are effective, as shown by Israel, no vaccination programme is 100% certain.

That is all I am going to say on Covid-19. So much has been written and broadcast that many people seem to have become epidemiologists overnight. I am looking for our lives to get back to normal so that businesses can once again flourish, the strain of mental illness can be lessened and the NHS can concentrate on doing its wider job properly.

Domestic Abuse
During the pandemic we have seen the number of domestic abuse cases increase. It is therefore good news that victims and their children will be able to receive more support thanks to extra Government funding. Oxfordshire County Council is to receive £1,141,151 and South Oxfordshire District Council £33,540 to help fund a new duty to ensure victims and their children are able to access life-saving support in safe accommodation. This is part of £125 million which has been allocated to councils across England to support domestic abuse victims and their children. What the extra money will do is help victims and their children access life-saving support in safe accommodation, including advocacy, counselling, and therapy in safe places where victims and their children can go to get away from their abusers.

The new duty on Councils will come into force later this year with the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, with funding announced in advance so local authorities know how much they will receive for these vital services and can begin to plan. This funding is part of a wider package of support for victims of rape and domestic abuse, with a £40 million funding boost for victim support services announced on 1 February 2021, building on the £76 million pledged in May 2020 to ensure vital services including refuges, helplines and counselling remain accessible throughout the pandemic.

Domestic abuse is a devastating crime that ruins lives, which is why we are committed to empowering and protecting victims. What I want this money to do is to ensure that anyone who needs to access safe accommodation and the support services they need to recover and rebuild their lives will be able to do so.

Funding for policing
We are also providing extra funding for policing in the Thames Valley by an extra £1,160 million. This will go towards Violence Reduction Units, which will be special units designed to tackle serous violence and prevent young people being drawn into it. It is part of £35.5 million announced across the country for these units. I am delighted that Thames Valley will receive this money to tackle the violent crime that has been robbing too many young people of their futures. This funding will help bring together organisations across our community to tackle violent crime and also to address its underlying causes. It will help to fund vital local projects that do positive preventative work with children and young people. By backing our police with the funding, powers and resources they need, we are keeping the public and our communities safe, so that people everywhere can live their lives free from the fear of crime.

The total funding to tackle violent crime is now up £105 million and this is the third year in a row where we have invested in the areas worst affected by serious violence. In their first year of activity initiatives funded by the scheme supported more than 100,000 young people, more than 51,000 of whom were identified as potentially high-risk of being involved in criminal and violent activity.

The units also helped bring police, education leaders, health workers and local government together to share information about the causes of violence and agree a co-ordinated plan of action to tackle it, which is crucial to preventing crime at a local level. Today’s funding means that they can continue this vital work.

In addition to this funding, more than £2 million is being made available via a winter contingency fund package. This money is being delivered through Violence Reduction Units to local charities and social enterprises that support vulnerable young people at risk of involvement in violence through the lockdown period. The money forms part of a wider government drive to tackle crime and make communities safer, which includes bringing in 20,000 additional police officers over the next three years, 6,620 of which have already been recruited.

East-West Rail
I welcome the Government’s new £760 million funding pledge to help deliver the next phase of East West Rail, benefiting people across the constituency and particularly in the north of the constituency. This investment marks an important milestone in the delivery of East West Rail, which will provide better connectivity along the Oxford-Cambridge arc and shorten journey times between routes outside of London, stimulating economic growth. By 2025, two trains per hour will run between Oxford and Milton Keynes via Bletchley.

At the 2019 General Election, I was elected on a pledge to level up infrastructure across the country – and this £760 million investment in our local railway delivers on that promise. I am delighted that the Henley constituency, particularly in the north of the constituency, will benefit from the delivery of this next phase of East West Rail, which will help to reconnect smaller communities, regenerate local economies and improve access to jobs, homes and education. This shows how we are committed to building back better across every part of the United Kingdom as we recover from coronavirus.

Holocaust Memorial Day
On 27th January we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day. As a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust i joined forces with Labour MP and fellow trustee, Tulip Siddiq, to speak out on the urgent need to learn the lessons from the Holocaust whatever one's politics. Neither of us are strangers to working with our political differences. On some occasions, however, is it important for us to join hands and commemorate the Holocaust. This is even more important as we come from different religious traditions. One of us is a Christian and the other a Muslim. Commemorating the millions of people who were murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur is vital for us to learn where persecution based on faith and identity can lead.

We have also witnessed a recent increase in hate and intolerance towards minority groups in this country and a real polarisation in our rhetoric. Tell MAMA, a national project which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the UK, recorded a 50% increase in online anti-Muslim hatred during the first lockdown. And according to research from the campaign group Hope not Hate, the QAnon conspiracies that first took root in the US is now branching into Britain’s online conversations. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable; we cannot be complacent.

We must learn from the past. That’s why, on Holocaust Memorial Day, we encouraged all Britons to learn about the dangers of hostility and be warned about how unspeakably quickly division can escalate. On an important day like 27th January, it is important to set any political differences aside; and to call on the nation to unite and to remember those who were murdered for who they were and to stand against hatred and prejudice today.

Council of Europe
Some personal news now: I have been elected a Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The role involves me in acting as the equivalent of a deputy speaker of the Assembly. The role also involves me in assisting the President with his duties in the Council. I have also been asked by the Prime Minister to Lead the British Delegation to the Council. The delegation consists of 36 cross-party MPs and Peers as permanent or substitute members. I am very honoured by these roles and I hope all member states will follow the values of the Council. One of these values is human rights and it is a shame that two countries - Russia and Turkey – have more cases before the European Court of Human Rights than any others. The Council of Europe was founded in 1949, in the wake of the Second World War, to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. It has 47 member states and remains an important link with our wider European neighbours. The Parliamentary Assembly is made up of parliamentary representatives from the members states and has to reflect the political balance of the country.

I have long been concerned at how little attention has been paid to the Council of Europe by our UK Parliament. Hence the work done there is little known and undervalued. Given the three key arms of the Council (human rights, democracy, and the rule of law) I think it high time that we engage more fully with it especially in the light of our departure from the European Union. So perhaps one of my first challenges is to raise the profile of the work of PACE in the UK.

The Council meets in Strasbourg for plenary meetings which cover a range of topics including climate change, sexual discrimination, the treatment of refugees, conflicts between member countries such as Russia and Ukraine, and the monitoring of how well countries confirm to the three aims of the Council. It is also the lead organisation for monitoring elections across Europe. Among my other priorities over the coming years is to make sure that if Russia is to stay in the Council of Europe it does so by playing according to the rules. I also want to see the Council take a genuinely pan-European approach to climate change.

From John Howell MP - January 2021

As I write I am mindful of those whose loved ones have died prematurely at the hands of the virus and those who have suffered in other ways too. I doubt many people have come through the situation unaffected in some way or another. As we turn the corner into a new year, and with one vaccine already rolling out and others potentially close behind, let us hope that as 2021 progresses we will be able to return to a more normal situation.
Whatever their political view, during the course of 2020 many people told me that they did not envy the Government having to make decisions about how best to deal with the COVID crisis with the many different issues to be considered. Whatever decisions were made there were some people who were unhappy – some wanting tighter restrictions, some wanting greater freedoms; and whatever financial support measures were introduced there were some who felt they were too little and some who felt they were too much.
During the year The Speaker did much to keep parliament moving and enable business to carry on but inevitably it has been slower than usual with remote working. Debate was also curtailed to some extent with limited numbers of MPs allowed to be in the Chamber at any one time and so the usual pattern of discussion with interventions was limited. For some time there were also no Westminster Hall debates. This is where MPs can raise specific shared concerns for debate and reply by a Minister.
In all of this it has been difficult to move as quickly as the Government would have liked to act on election manifesto promises. The opportunity to bring things forward was hindered by the more urgent issues. Some things will still come forward but more slowly, and others may need refocus in the light of the experiences of 2020. It is my hope that in the year ahead we will be able to focus on some of the important issues that have been leapfrogged by COVID. I hope too that I may be able to get out and about more to meet people in the constituency in business and in the community as I have in other years. Although technology has enabled us to keep some contact going as human beings there are times when there is no substitute for meeting face to face. However some of the benefits of using technology in ways we had not previously discovered must not be lost. I will continue to use online meeting facilities where it is more efficient to do so. I think we have all learned to be adaptable and must harness new opportunities.
With my best wishes to you all for 2021.
John Howell

John Howell