Armed Forces Bill will have Radical Impact

Michael has welcomed the news that the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill has now become law, saying that this “modest change” will have “radical consequences”.

The Bill was introduced by Michael when he was defence secretary to make provision for members of the Regular Forces to serve part-time or subject to geographic restrictions.  Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the Bill it received Royal Assent on 8 February. The Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law).

Michael said: “This is a modest change that will one day be seen to have had radical consequences.  Anybody considering a career in the armed forces – male or female – will now know they’re changing expectations over their careers will be recognised.  The new law will enable employees in the armed forces, for the first time, to apply for work for the days and hours that suit them best, removing barriers to female work and ensuring we don’t miss out on more talent and expertise.”

We Need Certainty Over Delayed Fast Service

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East “remains on track” in a letter to Michael today.

The fresh assurances follow the pair’s meeting last week, in which Michael demanded the Transport Secretary’s commitment to delivering the new Thameslink fast service in full after fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.

Click here to read Grayling’s letter to Sir Michael

Reacting to the letter, Michael said: “Last week, the Transport Secretary tried to reassure me that the new service will be delivered.  Now, its deliverability merely remains ‘on track’.  Kent commuters, businesses and families need more certainty.”

More Welcome News: Extra Funding for Police

Michael has welcomed the extra funding for Police announced this week by the Government.

The Police Grant for 2018/19 will release around £450 million extra for policing next year, creating a better a balance between funding raised locally and nationally.

As Kent Police expands its recruitment programme, the new funding will enable the Chief Constable to enlist up to an additional 200 Police Officers next year, thereby boosting rural and road, local community and cyber-crime policing.

Since May 2016 Kent Police has recruited 80 extra Police Officers and protected PCSO numbers at 300, when other police forces have seen reductions.  Sir Michael inspected some of the latest police recruits at a passing out parade last October.

The announcement comes weeks after the Sevenoaks MP met the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, to review his funding proposals and press for the roll out of a more effective speed prevention system in villages such as Otford and Brasted.

Reacting to the announcement, Michael said: “While crime rates are falling, criminality is becoming increasingly complex.  So it’s right that our police in Kent get the funding they need to continue to protect us.”

Welcome News: Extra Funding for Kent

Michael has welcomed the extra funding for Kent announced today by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

The announcement comes after Michael and other Kent MPs pressed the Communities Secretary to release additional funding in the forthcoming Local Government Finance Settlement and follows his visit to Sevenoaks yesterday morning.

In recognition of the growing need for Social Care, the Government is providing an extra £166 million Social Care Grant to Local Authorities across England for 2018/19.  Kent will get an additional £3.9 million next year.

Additionally, Kent County Council will benefit from being one of just 12 authorities piloting the retention of Business Rates, which is expected to generate around £25 million next year.

The Sevenoaks MP has also applied pressure on the Home Office to step up its support.  In a letter sent last week, Sir Michael said: “Kent continues to support more young asylum seekers than any authority in the country.

This is a national cost being covered by Kent residents.  Current grant funding from the Home Office is not adequate.”

Michael has pressed the Home Secretary Amber Rudd for an additional £8.6 million.

Children Should Switch Off Sometimes

Michael has supported the new Digital Sunset Challenge today, saying that children should “learn to switch off sometimes”.

The Digital Sunset Challenge was created by two local mums, Anna Firth and Linden Kemkaran, who want to encourage children to turn off their electronic devices at night and practice good digital habits.

Recent research by the Children’s Commissioner suggests that a growing number of under 13’s are using social media with 3 in 4 children aged 10-12 having their own accounts.  However, many parents struggle to divert their children’s attention away from the online world and back into the real world.

MF shows his support

The county-wide Challenge was launched today with the Sevenoaks MP and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, at Sevenoaks Primary School.

Michael joined local campaigners in calling on the Government to make the Digital Sunset Challenge a regular part of the transition PSHE for year 6 primary aged children by the end of the parliament.

He said: “Technology is a crucial part of daily life, but we should never be beholden to it.  Children need support in understanding how to regulate their use of pocket devices – it’s important that they learn to ‘switch off’ sometimes.”

MP Demands Transport Secretary’s Assurance

Michael has demanded the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the new Thameslink fast service will be delivered in full, following fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.

The new link – to run from Maidstone East through Swanley and Otford to the City – was set to begin at the end of this year.  But the start date was postponed until at least December 2019.

Worse still, the Sevenoaks MP discovered that the tendering documents for the new South East franchise operator asked for a cost analysis of the “indefinite” delay of the service.

He warned that this spelled bad news for families and businesses in his constituency and requested an immediate meeting with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which was granted.

Following the meeting, Michael said: “The Transport Secretary has committed to investigating why this paragraph was included in the Invitation to Tender.  He has also undertaken to provide further reassurance that the fast service will commence in December 2019 and will not be further postponed.”

Honouring Sikh Servicemen in Parliament

Michael has shown his support for Sikh servicemen at the launch of a campaign for a National Sikh War Memorial in Parliament this week.

The Sevenoaks MP and former defence secretary joined calls on the Government to support a memorial dedicated to those who made or were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of our country.

Though Sikhs made up only two per cent of the population of British India, they formed 20 per cent of the British Indian Army during the First World War.  More than 83,000 turbaned Sikh soldiers laid down their lives and more than 100,000 were injured during the World Wars.

Michael said: “I am proud to have attended the launch.  Given the scale of Sikh sacrifice in both World Wars, for which they volunteered, this is a great cause.”

Fallon on Importance of Diversity in Defence

Michael has criticised the lack of female defence ministers, saying it is a “mistake” that all five are male following Theresa May’s recent reshuffle.

The former defence secretary told of his “regret” at the “gap” left by the decision to move Harriett Baldwin from the Ministry of Defence to the Foreign Office.

As he spoke of the need for more women and ethnic minorities in the armed forces to reach top ranks, Michael said:

“If we are to attract more people from outside, more people where we are short, then we’ve got to show them that you can not only have a worthwhile career but that you can get on to the very top.

“And finally of course that applies to Government itself.  I too regret that after the recent reshuffle – and I’m not going to comment on how successful or not that reshuffle was – there is now no female defence minister.”

Speaking as MPs debated the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill at third reading in the Commons, he added:

“And as the matter has been raised, the House might wish to know that when the Prime Minister formed her first administration back in June 2016 and she was moving [Penny Mordaunt]

“I made it very clear that we needed to have at least one woman minister on the team and I was delighted that [Harriet Baldwin] was appointed as a defence minister.

“Now I congratulate her of course on her promotion to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but that does leave a gap – and it is a mistake, if I may put it as boldly as that to the Treasury bench, it is a mistake to have five defence ministers and to have them all male.

“If we are to get more women, and in the fullness of time more people from the ethnic minorities to join up, then we have to show that this kind of change is embedded there from the top.”

Measures in the Bill will give staff the choice to temporarily work part-time or restrict the amount of time they are posted away from their home base and their families.

Michael also said that the Government needed to work harder to bring women leavers back into the Armed Forces and not missing out on their experience, as well as ensuring those women can quickly recover the rank and entitlements they would have achieved had they not taken maternity leave.”

The Minister responded: “It was remiss of me not to have acknowledged the work of the former secretary of state who pioneered in this area – I know this is something he has long and continues to be passionate about, and that is reflected in his speech.”

Fresh Doubts over Thameslink Fast Service

Michael will meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling next Tuesday after expressing fresh doubts over the deliverability of the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East yesterday morning.

During an interview on BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP revealed he was “horrified” to learn that the Invitation to Tender document for the new South Eastern rail franchise outlines a hypothetical plan to delay the service “indefinitely”.

He said: “I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if this service will ever be delivered”.

The fast service was due to start in December 2018, but has been delayed until 2019 to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, according to the government.

Michael: “This is bad news for people in Maidstone East, but this also affects Otford and Swanley, because families, businesses, everyone has been looking forward to these regular express services to London for a long time.

My constituents in Sevenoaks have fast services to London through Southeastern.  The Thameslink trains from Maidstone East would balance the level of service in my constituency: that’s what we were promised, and that’s what we’re going to insist on.”

The Sevenoaks MP went on to say that while rail timetabling is “complicated”, local stakeholders “should at least insist that we have an hourly service, which would help reduce some of the peak capacity issues”.

Michael has lead the campaign to deliver the new Thameslink fast service in Kent.  He recently said the Transport Secretary’s decision to postpone the service betrays Kent commuters.

Michael: ‘Defence Needs More Money’

Michael has called on the government to give defence “more money” in the House of Commons today during a statement on the new defence review.

He said: “Is my Rt Hon Friend aware that he would have the support of the whole House if he were to secure additional funding for the pressures this year and next year Defence Review Statement 25th January 2018 standingbut then put the defence budget onto a more sustainable footing that allows our armed forces to tackle the increased threats that they face without these demoralising rumours of deep cuts.

The words here are interesting and they are important, but what really matters in the end is money – more money.”

The current defence secretary responded: “I’d like to thank my Rt Hon Friend for all that he has done for our Armed Forces.  Without his work, without his campaigning, we wouldn’t have been in a situation where we had a rising budget today, with the extra £4 billion worth of extra resources committed to our armed forces by the government.

I will certainly take on board his comments, and I notice his article in the Telegraph today which I thought set absolutely the right tone in terms of approach of how we take things forward, and I hope I have the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss how we get the balance right to make sure that we achieve everything that he has set out and built on for our armed forces over the past four years.

We do need to look at getting additional resources for our armed forces so that they have the capability to protect and truly defend Britain’s global interests both near and far.”

Watch the exchange here: https://goo.gl/7gqAot