George’s Views

Fox Hunting

First let me say that I very much appreciate that fox hunting is an emotive topic, and I respect that different people hold their views equally strongly. My own position on the issue is shaped by my personal and family experiences growing up in a farming and national hunt racing family. My father was a national hunt jockey (he won the Grand National in 1958) and he was the son of a family with four generations who lived as working huntsman (hunt staff who look after the horses and hounds). Given that, I find it very difficult to endorse some of the class-based attacks on hunting which, as those of us with first-hand experience of the sport know, is nothing like the caricature we see in the media.

However, as someone who grew up on a farm and in the countryside, I have always been personally very passionate about the highest standards of animal welfare. Equally, I do understand that, for many people who haven’t lived in the countryside, the realities of vermin and pest control are often difficult subjects, and one with which many urban voters aren’t comfortable with and find difficult to understand how they have become, over centuries of history, part of our tradition of country sports.

The truth is that the hunts across the country combine a series of different roles and activities. Hunts represent a form of recreation which I understand many, especially urban, voters may find distasteful. However, they also provide essential services such as managing the fox population in livestock and poultry farming areas where foxes wreak havoc, and maintaining hedges, fences and habitats, as well as providing the grassroots for a lot of equestrian activity in the rural economy.

This, therefore, presents a challenge when it comes to regulating its activities. For all of those reasons, I’m opposed to the very divisive ban on all hunts which criminalises all sorts of perfectly legitimate and sensible behaviour. Such a ban is impossible for the police to enforce, makes a mockery of the law and fuels disillusionment with the parliamentary process.

Instead, my approach would be to insist that all hunts are licensed, with an annual license renewal based on compliance with strict standards and rules around appropriate mechanisms of fox population control and conduct. I would be the first to admit that some people in the hunting world have occasionally let down the vast majority of respectful country people. However, just as in an urban setting it would be wrong to shut down, say, all nightclubs because a few venues fall foul of our drug laws, so too is it wrong in a rural setting to ban all hunts because of the conduct of an unrepresentative few.

I believe replacing the blanket ban with a licensing scheme - making licenses conditional on the highest standards of animal welfare and conduct - which reflects those areas of the country where hunts do important work controlling fox populations would be far better for animal welfare, fairer and more effective than the current ban which makes criminals of the innocent and makes the law an ass.

However, I do respect that there are many different views on this subject. My own have been formed from my personal experiences and the rural community I grew up in. Rest assured, I will always campaign for the very highest standards of animal welfare, and make sure the views of all my constituents are heard at the very highest levels of Government on this important issue.

Whilst you may not agree with me, I hope it is helpful to have my position clearly set out. 

 

Winter Fuel Payments

With such a high elderly population in Mid Norfolk, ensuring that all pensioners - but especially the most vulnerable pensioners who all too often in rural areas like ours suffer in silence from ailments of old age, dementia, disability and loneliness without the support of family or community - are properly supported has been one of my central aims over the last seven years. That’s why I have been working closely with Ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions and the Minister for Care at the Department of Health to make sure the Government supports our vulnerable elderly in every way it can.

Of course, we all want to spend more money but every pound has to be earned, taxed or borrowed and with continuing pressure on resources and a growing need to increase funding for the rising costs of elderly care, our focus must be to target help where it is most needed and to ensure that the elderly care system is sustainable for the future. That’s why the Conservatives set out in our manifesto recently that we will means-test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners, who are most at risk of fuel poverty. 

Currently, the benefit is paid regardless of need, giving money to wealthier pensioners when working people on lower incomes do not get similar support. The money released will be transferred directly to health and social care for the elderly, helping to provide dignity and care to the most vulnerable pensioners and reassurance to their families.

Importantly, Theresa May has also committed to maintaining all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament. By making sure that Winter Fuel Payments are targeted at those most at risk of fuel poverty, while maintaining the existing range of other pensioner benefits throughout this parliament, I believe we have tried to fInd the right balance to ensure that the elderly care system is sustainable as our elderly population continues to rise over the coming decades.

Rest assured, if re-elected on June 8th, I will continue to raise your concerns with Ministers and make sure they are heard at the very highest levels of Government. We need to get these reforms right and make sure that no vulnerable pensioners are adversely affected. 
 

Free School Meals

 

Over the last seven years, one of my main missions has been to improve education across Mid Norfolk, working with our excellent teachers to put Mid Norfolk’s schools into the top half of the national league tables. One key element of that is fairer funding. At the moment, the way funding is distributed to schools in England is not fair. Across the country, children with the same needs and expectations receive markedly different rates of funding for their school place.

That’s why I am delighted that Theresa May has pledged to take action on this issue by committing to increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022, representing more than a real terms increase for every year of the parliament, and continuing to protect the Pupil Premium to support those who need it.

However, it is vital that all commitments are affordable. Evidence suggests that giving school lunches to all children free of charge for the first three years of primary school  – regardless of the income of their parents – is not a sensible use of public money. Instead, the latest evidence shows that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children to make progress in school. So under a new Conservative Government, schools in England will offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school, while children from low-income families will continue to receive free school lunches throughout their years in primary and secondary education.

So vulnerable children will get both free breakfast and lunch, paid for by higher income families paying for their child's lunch. The savings made from this change will be added to the core schools budget, meaning that every penny saved will go towards children’s education. By providing a free breakfast for all, and free lunch for the most vulnerable, and addressing the issue of fair funding for all our schools, I believe we have tried to strike a fair balance which will make sure every pound is spent to maximum effect.

For years, rural schools have been discriminated against by a Whitehall funding formula which prioritises inner city poverty. Rural poverty exists too, and I am determined that we support our schools as the best way to tackle poverty and spread opportunity. With so many exciting new companies and jobs being created in our area, too many of our young people are not able to access the opportunities available, and I am committed to fighting for funding for schools and skills training to spread those opportunities.

 

Social Care

I do very much appreciate concerns over Social Care.  Tackling the historic underfunding of social care has been neglected by Governments for too long, because there are no simple solutions. It is important that there is a full consultation on all the proposals from the Conservative manifesto last week, so that we get the detail right. If re-elected, I will work closely with Ministers to make sure all local voices are heard on this vitally important issue for our area.

Through my It Starts Here!, Norfolk Way, Positive Politics! and Mind the Gap campaigns, I have always believed that all politicians have a duty to confront the major challenges of our time. People often complain that politicians say whatever’s popular and that’s why I believe that the Prime Minister deserves a lot of credit for confronting these difficult issues rather than promising money for everyone.

As you know, the real issue we face both locally and nationally is the rising number of pensioners due to the success of new medicines and technology, which means all of us are living a lot longer, which in turn means increasing pressure on our social care system. 

Everybody, across all parties, acknowledges that we need a new funding mechanism to fund social care properly.

The central question, therefore, becomes how social care should be funded. As the Prime Minister set out last week, our current system of care for the elderly is not working for the hundreds of thousands currently not getting the dignified and careful attention they deserve, nor for the people and organisations providing that care, nor is it sustainable for today’s younger people whose national insurance contributions are going to pay for the care of today’s pensioners, meaning they will face paying for their own care as well.

That’s why the Conservatives have set out a plan for reform in our manifesto, in addition to the £2 Billion per year extra we have already announced for the social care system, and allowing councils to raise more money for care themselves from Council Tax. What we are now proposing are medium and long-term solutions to put elderly care in our country on a strong and stable footing. 

We want to make sure that this new system is properly funded, that it’s fair, and that poorer pensioners are not abandoned without the care they need. And we want to stop the trauma and injustice of elderly people with more than £25,000 assets having to sell up and move out of their home to pay for residential care.  

Equally, it can’t be fair to expect the generation under 30 who have left school to inherit vast debts left to them by the rest of us, and have little or no chance of affording a home, or saving, to pay for the social care costs of a generation who have enjoyed the benefits of the post-war welfare state and huge property profits as a result of quantitative easing after the great crash of 2008.

Under the new Conservative proposals, we will make sure nobody has to move out of and sell their family home to pay for care, the threshold of assets we can keep rises from 25k to 100k, anyone who has saved up equity in a property will always have something to pass on to their family and the poorest pensioners will continue to receive Winter Fuel Payments.

The Prime Minister also clarified yesterday that the Conservatives, if re-elected, will come forward with a consultation paper which will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs, providing all those planning for old age with the certainty they need.

Though no solution to a challenge like this is simple, I believe the principle of this approach is fair for the whole country, providing security in old age for us all while maintaining the contract between generations. Funding social care is one of the major challenges of our time, and I believe it is right that Theresa May has decided not to pretend this can be fixed without funding, and to set out an honest assessment and proposal to tackle it.

Of course we need to get the detail right and, rest assured, if re-elected on June 8th, I will continue to raise all local concerns on social care with Ministers as the consultation on these proposals begins.

Triple Lock

A decade ago, the UK pensions system was in crisis and pensioner poverty starting to blight the retirement of many older people. That’s why, with such a high elderly population here in Mid Norfolk, I made it one of my central missions as a candidate and Member of Parliament to help put this right.

That’s why I made my pledge to support the elderly a key part of my It Starts Here! campaign, and have worked with Conservative Ministers over the last ten years to make sure all pensioners in our area get the support they need. By introducing the Pensions Triple Lock and the new State Pension, the Conservatives have lifted the incomes of millions of older people, reducing pensioner poverty to historically low levels. The Triple Lock has worked and now, having stabilised the system, I believe it is time to set pensions on an even and sustainable course for the future.

As the Prime Minister announced last week, the Conservatives will therefore fulfil our 2015 manifesto pledge to maintain the Triple Lock until 2020, and when it expires there will be the introduction of a new Double Lock, meaning that pensions will rise in line with the earnings that pay for them, or in line with inflation – whichever is highest. We will also ensure that the state pension age reflects increases in life expectancy, while protecting each generation fairly.

In addition to this, the Conservatives will continue to support the successful expansion of auto-enrolled pensions, enabling more people to increase their retirement income with help from their employers and Government, as well as continuing to extend auto-enrollment to small employers and making it available to the self-employed. We will also promote long-term savings and pensions products, including the Lifetime ISA, to encourage and incentivise more people to make provision for long-term needs, including a house purchase and retirement. 

The key to supporting all pensioners is having a system that is sustainable for the future. The PM has made clear that under a Conservative Government there will be guaranteed annual increases in the state pension, ensuring that all pensioners in our area continue to get the support they need.

 

Brexit

Last year the British people voted to leave the European Union and negotiate a new relationship with Europe. I have been clear from the start that I respect the sovereignty of that decision. Now we must ensure that we negotiate a new relationship with our European allies, trading partners and neighbours which works in all our interests to make the United Kingdom stronger in the world, more prosperous and more united. 

That’s why I have been working closely with Ministers to ensure that we negotiate a “One Nation” Brexit on behalf of everyone in all parts of this country—the 48% as well as the 52%. Our key focus now has to be on taking the right long-term decisions for the United Kingdom’s future security and prosperity. This means redoubling our commitment to our programme of domestic reforms, like our Industrial Strategy to support the innovation, infrastructure and skills which are so key to both our post-Brexit economic prosperity and for the spirit of unity of national purpose we will need to succeed. 

It is important to be clear: while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe, and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our European neighbours. We face a number of common security and other challenges which don’t respect borders and need joint work. The Brexit negotiations will undoubtedly be tough. But, from the work I have done with the Prime Minister, I know that she will enter the negotiations in a spirit of sincere cooperation, committed to getting the best deal for Britain and our access to European markets. It is in nobody’s interest to see a trade war or protectionism. Free trade benefits us all.

Rest assured, if re-elected on Thursday, I will be fighting to make sure the voices of all of us in Mid Norfolk are heard during the negotiations. Having spent fifteen years in small businesses before coming to Parliament, I will be fighting to ensure that workers’ rights conferred on British citizens from our membership of the EU will remain, that we pursue free trade with European markets, and secure new trade agreements with other countries, so that all entrepreneurs and businesses here in Norfolk can have certainty about the future. 

Equally, having served as Minister for Life Sciences and founded the Norfolk Innovation Awards, I will be fighting for the UK to maintain a deep and special partnership with our European neighbours, including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement and ongoing collaboration in science and innovation, making sure our key research centres like the Norwich Research Park can continue to lead the world. 

Indeed, as we look ahead to the negotiations, I believe the issues mentioned above and several other key points are essential to get right: 

- Securing the rights of UK citizens currently living in the EU and EU citizens living lawfully in the UK; 

- A sensible immigration policy which doesn't damage our public services or our businesses and economy; 

- A Free Trade Agreement with the EU single market which supports free trade between the EU and UK; 

- A sensible transition arrangement for key industries like Aerospace, Agriculture and Life Sciences which relies on access to European R&D and regulatory collaboration; 

- Active collaboration with our EU allies on civil and military security and counter-terrorism; 

- Safeguards for vital strategic industries like nuclear and the City of London that ensure against damage to our international competitiveness and prosperity;

On the first two points, it's clear to me that the British people have lost trust and faith in the ability of the EU to police and control its Southern borders to the Mediterranean and Middle East, which means that for many people free movement has now come to mean a 'free for all' in which anyone can come to Britain and enjoy our standard of living and benefits, including illegal asylum seekers, health and welfare tourists,  criminals and potentially terrorists. People have voted against free movement and want controlled immigration. So now we have to design and implement a new immigration system which provides UK citizens living legally in Europe reciprocal residency rights to EU citizens legally here on the same terms, and provides the staff that our businesses, NHS and education system relies on, and the scientists, entrepreneurs and students we need to attract to develop prosperity.  We need a controlled immigration system which the British people can have trust and confidence in. 

Fundamentally, I believe this is a once-in-a-generation chance both for our country and for Norfolk. By taking back control and sovereignty over our own social and economic policies, and while collaborating closely with our European allies on science, innovation and enterprise, we can continue to drive prosperity in our area and the wider Eastern region by offering exciting local career opportunities AND a high quality of life here in Norfolk, with fast broadband, upgraded infrastructure and continental investment in our science and technology “cluster” to create more high-skilled and high-paid jobs across our region.

By negotiating a Brexit that works for the 48% AND the 52%, we can hold the United Kingdom together, see off the shrill voices of the Scottish and English nationalists in the SNP and UKIP, and restore this country as a great trading nation. We need to make Brexit a moment for national renewal and unity, putting aside the divisions of the EU Referendum. If re-elected, that’s what I will be working for.

 

Cancer Funding

Having spent fifteen years supporting biomedical research before coming to Parliament, and having served as Government Life Science Adviser and then Minister for Life Sciences at the Department of Health for four years, making sure all cancer patients get proper support and funding has been one of my main missions during my seven years as a Member of Parliament. 

That’s why I worked closely with David Cameron on the Cancer Drugs Fund and launched the Accelerated Access Review as Minister to make sure that patients get new drugs and treatments faster, which the Government has committed to implement during the next Parliament. 

Funding for medical research and treatments has, in many ways, been my life’s work for the last twenty years, both inside and outside Westminster.  I am in close contact with the Health Secretary and other Ministers on this issue and, if I get re-elected on June 8th, will continue the fight to make sure all patients in our area and beyond get access to the funding and support they need. 

 

Homelessness

With my Norfolk Way Project and It Starts Here! campaign, I have always tried to focus attention on grassroots issues at the heart of our community. None could be more important than homelessness. 

That’s why I have been working with homeliness charities like Shelter and Ministers nationally to make sure we continue to combat homelessness and rough sleeping through a full implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act. This sets out an ambition to halve rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027 by setting up a new homelessness reduction task force that will focus on prevention and affordable housing, and piloting a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping.  

Rest assured, if re-elected on June 8th, I will keep working to make sure the Government continues to tackle homelessness and supports all those who have fallen on hard times. 

 

Apprenticeships

Having spent fifteen years in business before coming to Parliament, and having served as a Business Minister for two years, I know first-hand the importance of skills training and how vital it is that we train up the next generation, especially as we look to a future outside the European Union. 

That’s why I’ve been working closely with Ministers to further boost apprenticeships alongside a major overhaul of technical education. Over the last seven years, the Government has introduced high quality apprenticeships that can reach to degree level and beyond for 200,000 young people. I believe we now need to go further to improve technical education and offer young people a real choice between technical and academic routes at sixteen.  

That means replacing 13,000 existing technical qualifications with new qualifications, known as T-levels, increasing the number of teaching hours by fifty per cent to an average of 900 hours per year and making sure that each student does a three-month work placement as part of their course. We will also establish new institutes of technology to provide courses at degree level and above, specialising in technical disciplines, such as STEM, whilst also providing higher-level apprenticeships and bespoke courses for employers. 

The Prime Minister has also set out our plans to create 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020, alongside working with the business community to develop a new programme to allow larger firms to place apprentices in their supply chains, as well as exploring teaching apprenticeships sponsored by major companies, especially in STEM subjects.  

Apprenticeships are vital to the future of our local economy. Rest assured, if re-elected on June 8th, I will continue to fight to make sure everyone in our area has access to the skills training they need to succeed.

 

NHS and Public Sector

I absolutely understand and very much sympathise with your concern at the sustainability of our NHS (and indeed, I would add, all our public services).

As you will have seen over the course of my work as your MP and as Minister for Life Science in the Coalition Government, I am a massive believer in the importance of our public sector in a modern British economy.

I am absolutely not one of the old fashioned stereotypical 1980s 'anti-public sector' Tories - indeed I have gone out of my way to highlight and personally champion the need for a new Conservative programme of supporting public sector leadership and innovation. 

It is clear to me that we simply will not be able to tackle the scale of the challenges we face as a society - in health, care, welfare, local government and across the board in public service modernisation - without a highly motivated and supported public sector.

That has seen me marked out by some as a 'Red Tory'.  But I strongly believe that the notion of “private sector success/public sector failure" is both wrong, divisive, dispiriting and hugely damaging.

We need to inspire, motivate and, yes, reward, a new generation of public sector workers and leaders.

As the appalling events of Manchester and London have shown, our public services embody so much of what is best about Britain.  And a few of our business leaders - like Sir Philip Green - have demonstrated the most appalling and callous disregard for their staff.   I applaud that Theresa May has had the courage to call that out.

In terms of the NHS specifically, it’s clear to me that we are now running the service at 'hot' for much of the year, and the people on the frontline (in A+E and on the wards) are under huge pressure. 

They are investing huge personal sacrifices to keep the system working. The truth is that our NHS has not properly been allowed to adapt to our society's  spiralling health and care needs and challenges - meaning huge pressure on an old fashioned “siloed” model and structure of NHS diagnosis and treatment which sees huge amounts spent on wasteful bureaucracy and not enough on frontline care.

Of course there is never enough to pay for everything Government would like to do.  Every pound of Government money has to be raised in tax and we need to ensure we are growing a strong economy to be able to increase health spending (as we have been).

But we also have to make sure that we use the £115bn we spend on health every year to maximum effect.

There are many difficult problems to solve and I am pleased that the Conservative manifesto makes a clear commitment to tackle them.  

You may be interested to see the attached chart which shows the actual facts on public sector spending since 2010.  Of course the rising costs of living (and of imports, post Brexit) create huge challenges for frontline staff.

NHS Graphic

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Publications


George Freeman: New technology can save the NHS

21st September 2015 There is a truth in our society that we can no longer ignore. With a rapidly ageing population, the UK faces a new demographic reality. | ConservativeHome



George Freeman: How technology will transform care and debate about our NHS

18th January 2015 The technological revolutions which have transformed so much of our economy and society are about to transform healthcare. | ConservativeHome


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