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Westminster Hall

Volume 538: debated on Wednesday 18 January 2012

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 18 January 2012

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

Port of Southampton

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mike Penning.)

I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this debate quickly, which, as will become clear, is appropriate. There are pressing issues facing the future of the port of Southampton that have to be resolved literally in the next few months if the full future of the port is to be secured. I am grateful for the strong and cross-party support here today from hon. Members from across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

May I say briefly that there is another issue about the future of the port of Southampton, which relates to investment in the cruise terminal and an application by Liverpool for a cruise terminal? That is not the subject of my remarks today. The arguments are well rehearsed, we believe in fair competition and the Minister is due to make an announcement on this in the fairly near future.

I want to concentrate on a different issue that is of equal importance to the future of Southampton and, in this case, critical to the future of the container terminal there. The debate has huge local, but also national, significance. Frankly, it presents a rare opportunity in the current economic climate, because a private sector company, Associated British Ports, is offering—indeed, is desperate—to invest £150 million of purely private money in infrastructure in the coming year. That investment is not just important for Southampton; it is vital for the infrastructure of UK plc. A study for Marine South East estimated that the contribution of the port of Southampton to the UK’s economy was £1.75 billion a year. Southampton is the fourth largest port in the UK, and the container terminal, operated by DP World, employs approximately 1,000 people. It is estimated that four jobs in the wider local economy are dependent on each of those jobs in the terminal.

Currently, most investment in UK infrastructure depends on public money for pump-priming, partnership and initial investment. However, ABP’s planned investment in Southampton is entirely private—it does not depend at all on matching investment. That is such good news that one might wonder why we need to have a debate in Westminster Hall. The problem is that over several years the project has suffered from entirely avoidable delay—mainly, it has to be said, at the hands of Government agencies, and partly due to the action of rival port operators who have exploited mistakes made by the Government machine to mount a legal challenge that is not in the public interest, but is purely to pursue their own commercial, competitive advantage.

Hon. Members from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have come together today to urge the Minister to do everything he can, with his colleagues across Government, to ensure that there are no further delays. I am grateful for the briefing I have received from ABP, DP World and Unite, the union. All have exactly the same position on what needs to be done. Even in the days since requesting the debate, there has been some progress, but the project is so time-critical that any further slips, delays or mishaps—anyone taking their eye off the ball—could do immense damage.

Let me set the scene and the history. As I have said, the port is immensely successful. Productivity is high and Southampton is in the right geographical location for China and other south and east Asian trade, but the container business is changing. Some 13 years ago, the typical vessel was 4,000 TEUs—twenty-foot equivalent unit, which is the standard measure. Recently commissioned ships already in service are typically 9,000 to 10,000 TEUs, but in the next two years, ships as large as 16,000 TEUs will come into service. This is happening right across the industry with all the major carriers, and it certainly applies to Southampton’s major customers: the CMA CGM organisation and the G6, an alliance of Hapag Lloyd, OOCL, NYK, APL, MOL and Hyundai Merchant Marine. They have come together precisely to optimise the deployment of new and larger vessels.

Southampton can accommodate the larger, super-sized container ships if—but only if—it can reconstruct its existing container berths, known as 201 and 202, and carry out more extensive dredging both nearer the berth and the wider channel. That is what gives rise to the £150 million investment at the heart of the debate. Those ships are coming into service now and in the next two years, so the investment is time-critical. The risk is obvious—if there is any further delay and Southampton cannot offer its customers the capacity they want, business will be lost.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, which is as important to my constituents as it is to his and to those of other hon. Members here today. He rightly says that any further delay could be fatal. Will he confirm that the September 2012 to March 2013 “piling window”, as it is known, is the critical date window that we are tied to here? Any further delay would result in an additional 12-month delay in doing the work that is needed out in the channel.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will explain the reason why that September to March period is so critical. For entirely legitimate environmental reasons, that activity cannot take place all year round, so we could miss that deadline. As I will say in a moment, contracts need to be let ahead of September if work is going to be started in September—that is critical. If it is not done by next year, the port clearly will be unable to offer the capacity it would like to for the latter part of 2012 and, in particular, 2013.

This debate should not be necessary. The need for investment was identified in a scoping study submitted by ABP to the Marine and Fisheries Agency, the predecessor of today’s Marine Management Organisation, in 2007—in what most people regard as perfectly good time to get the necessary approvals and to get the work under way. In January 2008, following consultation with various bodies, the MMO issued a formal scoping opinion that advised ABP of the scope and content of the required environmental impact assessment. That point is crucial, because not for the last time in this process, ABP was advised and directed to take a particular course of action, and it complied fully. ABP submitted its application on 15 December 2008. The applications were advertised using a form of words directed by the MMO. In February 2009, issues were raised in consultation by Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and, I understand, successfully resolved. However, in December 2009, nearly two years after the MMO’s original scoping opinion, the MMO then decided that the public notice it had supplied was incorrectly worded. ABP was asked to place further public notices, using replacement wording supplied by the MMO. That mistake delayed the process by a full 10 months. It is worth noting that Hutchison Ports, the operators of Felixstowe, did not raise any objections during the original consultation. However, following the re-advertisement and during the second consultation, it then did, arguing that the original environmental impact assessment, which was drawn up to the MMO’s specification, had not considered operational impact issues.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why Network Rail and the Highways Agency were not included in the original consultation?

The point about this procedure is twofold. Throughout this process, ABP took guidance from the MMO as to what requirements it needed to fulfil. It was reasonable for ABP to do that. It is because it was not well advised—indeed, it was advised to do other things—that we have ended up in this position.

In April 2010, following the re-advertisement and the intervention from Hutchison, which has no local interest at all in this matter—it is purely a commercial rival issue—and having raised those issues, the chief executive of the MMO wrote to ABP, stating:

“Please be assured that the MMO is working pro-actively with ABP to resolve these cases swiftly.”

However, it was not until February 2011, more than three years after the original application, that the MMO finally issued consent, in good time to get this work under way.

Obviously, hon. Members from Merseyside oppose the proposed blocking of the cruise terminal at Liverpool. However, on this issue we fully support my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that this scheme demonstrates how out of date our planning process is? Is not the economy suffering because we cannot make quick decisions? I hope the Minister will consider speeding the whole process up, so that we can get such schemes introduced much more quickly.

I want to concentrate on getting this scheme approved. However, when the dust has settled it will be clear that the scope for getting things wrong and for commercial challenges by people who have no interest in environmental issues in the Southampton area is so great that it can lead to huge delays. If our collective attempts to get investment in the UK infrastructure are bogged down in legal challenges between rival commercial companies, enormous damage will be done to the chances of getting infrastructure investment under way and rebuilding the economy. There has to be a point where every major company is prepared to consider what is in the UK national interest, not a narrow view of what is in their own local commercial interest.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the reasonable way he has dealt with the conflict between Southampton and Liverpool? He is aware, though, that there are still problems between Liverpool city council and the local authority in Southampton. Liverpool city council has asked for talks with Southampton to see whether common ground can be found. That is a good idea. Does he agree that those local authorities should get together and find common ground, so that it is not either/or, but possibly both?

We are perfectly clear that Liverpool is utterly entitled to have a cruise terminal. The question is whether, given that the one operating successfully in Southampton has been developed entirely with private sector finance, the one in Liverpool should not operate according to the same principles of fair competition. We are more than happy to have that discussion, but I do not want to spend my time this morning getting too far into that issue, because we are in the last critical weeks that will determine whether this investment in Southampton takes place in the autumn. I want to focus on that.

I declare an interest. As deputy general secretary of Unite, I worked with ABP, the local authority and the work force, who are members of Unite, in seeking to drive this project forward. The common ground is the need to rebalance and grow our economy, although we may disagree on how to do that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that infrastructure is key if we are to grow the economy? This development is in the national interest and the interests of growing the economy. Any further delay will damage not only the interests of Southampton but the prospects of economic recovery.

My hon. Friend is right. The involvement of Felixstowe’s owners in this matter gives a UK angle to the competition, but the blunt truth is that there is no reason to believe that the container work lost from Southampton will end up anywhere in the UK. If the effect is that ships go to Rotterdam and their cargo is broken down for trans-shipment, there is a huge loss to the entire UK economy. That is why a view of what is in the interests of the whole UK is crucial. We can have local fights, but we will look pretty ridiculous if we end up damaging the whole UK economy and sending the business elsewhere.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate. I support the burden of his remarks. The planning system has become obstructive, although it is understandable that Hutchison Ports, for example, should insist that rules that are being made to apply to it and stifling its investment programme should be applied evenly throughout the industry. That was the burden of its complaint.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree—and support the Government on this point—that we need to renegotiate the habitats directive, because that is being used, as much as anything, to stymie and bog down important infrastructure projects for bogus, spurious technical and legal reasons, rather than genuine environmental reasons?

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s final point. If the objections were coming from Natural England, the Environment Agency, the RSPB and local environment organisations in Hampshire—even if they were using the habitats directive—I would understand their legitimacy. What people in Southampton cannot understand is that, essentially, technical and legal mistakes are being exploited to damage investment.

The hon. Gentleman properly represents his part of the country and his constituents. I hope that he will take back the message that Hutchinson’s may feel that it has made its point, but to continue to pursue this matter now would do enormous damage to the UK economy and to the port of Southampton.

Planning rules may be a problem, but they do not always necessarily need to be exploited to damage an investment.

In 2011, three years after the original application, the MMO issued consent. Two months later, Hutchison commenced judicial review proceedings in the High Court, alleging that the environmental impact assessment was defective. In June 2011, without discussion with ABP, the MMO, having listened to that objection, withdrew its consent. The critical issue is, as I understand it, that the judicial review application by Hutchison did not raise any issues that had not previously been raised in 2010 and that the MMO had every opportunity to consider. What actually happened is that the MMO had the chance to consider those objections and decided not to act on them, or decided that they did not have a substantial basis in fact, and issued the consent, but then, faced with a High Court challenge, changed its mind. It is another case where the MMO’s handing of the matter has badly let down everybody involved in the port of Southampton.

Since then, there has been further delay. ABP responded to further requests for analysis that it said it would deliver by 30 September 2011. Just three days before that date, the MMO asked ABP to produce additional information, which caused a further delay. Then—without going through all the twists and turns—there was a further lengthy delay before the MMO finally commenced the consultation on 11 January 2012.

I have gone over the history not to rake up old issues but to stress, for the benefit of the Minister with responsibility for shipping and ports, that the port of Southampton has been on the receiving end of particularly poor treatment by Government agencies, not just under this Government, but in the past. As a result, this major investment has yet to start. I will not hold the Minister or his predecessor, who will be contributing from the Opposition Front Bench, personally responsible for these errors. We know that these things happen deep in the depths of agencies far away, in normal circumstances, from ministerial decisions, but there are times when Ministers need to act.

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about this matter in August and again in September. I have to say that, although I am sure that the letters that I received were legally correct, there was no sense of urgency coming from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on how the MMO would handle this matter. I was told that, since June, the MMO had maintained a single point of contact with ABP in Southampton and that, in July, it assigned a case team to the application. However, as I have said, that did not prevent further and later requests from the MMO to ABP for additional analysis and information that further delayed the project.

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 24 November. I hope that I am not unduly pompous as an ex-Minister, but there was a time when former Secretaries of State and Privy Counsellors who wrote to Prime Ministers would get a reply a from the Prime Minister or a Secretary of State. I am afraid that it took two months for the Prime Minister to get a junior Minister in DEFRA to send me back pretty much the same letter that I had got from the Secretary of State. There is no sense that the Downing street machine has grasped that it could play a role in making sure that this happens.

We are now at a critical point. The consultation is under way again—that is important—but the consultation period is six weeks. Objections must then be properly considered, because that is the legal process. The MMO must therefore consider objectively any issue raised so that, should it give approval, its decision cannot be challenged. The potential for delay is significant, and it is essential for the MMO to have sufficient resources and access to sufficient expertise to give the decision proper consideration. That is what I am asking the Minister to take away today and to take to his colleagues in DEFRA. We cannot have a situation in which either the MMO does not have the resources or expertise to consider the consultation responses properly or mistakes are made, thus laying the process open to further legal challenge.

I ask the Minister to consider one other factor. It is not for him or the House to constrain the courts, but in truth the move for judicial review came not from a statutory or voluntary environmental organisation, nor from any group that might be affected by the environmental impact of the port, but from a commercial operator, and it seems pretty clear that the motives were to inflict commercial damage on a rival. That raises a massive challenge to the Government’s plans to encourage infrastructure investment in the UK.

Before my right hon. Friend concludes, I absolutely support the aim expressed in his earlier comments that we should work in the greater interest of the whole UK economy. Will he therefore agree to broker a meeting between the Southampton and Liverpool authorities, so that we can put to bed the animosity between the two and move forward on what is in the interest of both Liverpool and the UK, to grow the economy in Merseyside?

Our two great port cities have a lot in common, in history and in the future, and I hope that Southampton and Liverpool will work together in the future. The Minister’s decision on the issue is imminent, and we will all want to consider it carefully. We are very consistent in Southampton: we are not saying that Liverpool should not have a cruise terminal; we are merely saying that competition should be fair and on the same basis of cruise terminal capacity development. We are not out to say, “You have no right to have cruise ships. You have no right to have this industry,” but the competition must be fair, so if meetings will improve understanding, they would be helpful.

The vast majority of ports in this country are privately operated, but they all depend on either the actions of Government agencies or, sometimes, public investment. The Government’s infrastructure plan, for example, included proposals to improve roads that would help, among other things, to support the port of Felixstowe. We will get into a terrible position, however, if urgent investment in the UK economy routinely becomes the matter of legal challenge by different commercial companies picking up technicalities and details of arguments rather than pursuing the UK national interest. I do not expect the Minister to say much or, probably, if he is prudent, anything at all on that point—I am sure that he will be measured—but Ministers need to have that serious discussion with major companies in this country, to ensure that the interests of UK plc always come first, particularly in such difficult times.

Many islanders from my constituency take great pride in being physically separate from the mainland UK, but most recognise the value of its proximity. An acknowledgement of that fact is that so many of my constituents, especially in the north of the island, rely on the mainland for work and it explains why I am taking an interest in the debate.

I offer my support to the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) to get the Southampton port project moving. As already explained, the aggressive legal action by another port authority has slowed the port expansion proposal to a halt, instead requiring a further review of environmental issues, and that is simply not acceptable. How can a project that requires no public funding, while providing growth, education in the form of apprenticeships, and employment, be held up? That is exactly the sort of behaviour that the Government abhor, yet it is happening.

The sustainable growth of the port of Southampton is incredibly important for the city of Southampton and its hinterland, and the Isle of Wight falls within that remit. Indeed, the success of Southampton is due in no small part to the fact that the island is where it is, protecting the Solent. The island also provides a 360° catchment area, whereas most ports normally have a 180° area because of the very fact of being on the coast. Also, on the island, we rely heavily on the connection to Southampton, which I am told is the third largest port in the country, while East Cowes is the seventh busiest port in the UK. Given the proximity of one port to the other, with the ferry link provided by Red Funnel, East Cowes’s success is very much reliant on that of Southampton.

Tourism is also crucial to the success of the whole region. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have such a fabulous coastline that it draws huge numbers of people every year. The proposed redevelopment of Mayflower park would play a key role in improving the attraction for tourism. The importance of tourism is reflected by Southampton being the leading destination in the UK for cruise ships, and that business is critical to the local and indeed the wider economy. As the home of famous British shipping companies such as P&O, Cunard and Carnival, Southampton is also part of the heritage of our seafaring nation.

The financial argument for the development proceeding, however, is the most important one. With our country in the doldrums economically for the moment, infrastructure improvements such as the Southampton one have gained increasing importance. What makes it even more surprising that the plan has not moved forward is that no public money is involved in the expansion. The Government have been keen on such infrastructure developments, and we only have to cite High Speed 2 to see that, the difference being that one will cost public money and Southampton port will cost nothing.

What of the island? More than 2,000 people commute from Cowes to Southampton every day of the week, so it is perfectly clear that jobs in Southampton lead to more jobs for islanders. In that respect, as I said at the start, I am fully behind the proposals, and I find it incredible that the process has taken so long to date. Once completed, the development will provide employment to countless families, improve the regional economy, reaffirm Southampton as a world-class port with facilities for the largest ships on the ocean and take the port and city of Southampton further into this century with the capacity that they need. I ask the Government to do everything that they can to ensure that the process is expedited with the appropriate permissions as soon as possible. The delay has been too long.

It is appropriate that we are discussing Southampton port this morning, one day before the House discusses the national ports infrastructure planning document. That document looks, among other things, at the whole question of the strategic role of ports in the UK and at the requirements for ensuring that our ports continue to play such a strategic role in the best way that we can arrange. That is vital.

UK ports provide 95% of our capacity for importing and exporting goods; 95% of imports and exports go through UK ports. So the best possible deployment of UK ports is essential. Historically, Southampton, with Felixstowe and many other UK ports, has always played a major role in providing that national infrastructure, which, as hon. Members have said, is being maintained and improved predominantly on the basis of investment by the companies that run the ports.

Southampton and Felixstowe are particularly important in terms of national strategic planning inasmuch as they are two of the country’s leading container ports with a large throughput of containers. They are either side of London, in close proximity to major international shipping routes, and are vitally placed for receipt of containers, which then go to the rest of the UK. Indeed, the Government have recognised the importance of those strategic ports in terms of what has happened with assistance not to the ports, but to the infrastructure in the recent upgrade of the rail line from Southampton to the midlands, and the proposed upgrade in road access to Felixstowe port.

The Government have recognised the infrastructure considerations for the same reason that ports recognise what they need to do to maintain their competitiveness, not with one another, but as part of the national ports infrastructure. The Southampton rail upgrade is a good example. The international standard now is high-box containers with a height of 9 feet. They cannot be transported efficiently on traditional rail-based container transport, not least because they tend to collide with bridges. To upgrade to international standards and to maintain competitiveness, it is necessary to prevent containers from colliding with bridges on the way north, which is an upgrade to stay in the same place.

It is interesting to reflect on a debate that I obtained 11 or 12 years ago on the future of Southampton port. I speculated about the level of container traffic that would be required in future for UK ports, and the size of container vessels that would come to the port. I talked then about the prospect of vessels of perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 containers coming into the port, and the necessity of considering how we would deal with larger vessels coming in. Now, Southampton’s main customers are talking about shortly bringing in not 8,000-container vessels, not 4,000-container vessels, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) mentioned and which was the standard a few years ago, but 13,000-container vessels. If our ports in general cannot take those vessels, that will be detrimental to Britain’s national strategic port planning, not just to Southampton or any other specific port.

As my right hon. Friend said, the issue is not just that container-vessel traffic is distributed around the UK; ports across the channel are able and waiting to take traffic that comes up through the channel to container ports. If those vessels turn right because they cannot turn left to the UK because of their size, containers will be trans-shipped from the continent to the UK at a cost of £100 per container over and above what happens at present when they arrive in the UK. Yes, we would receive our containers, and yes, business might proceed as usual, but at a considerable cost to the UK economy and considerable detriment to our strategic port planning.

It is essential that ports such as Southampton address the issues, and Southampton has done precisely that in its proposed £150 million investment in its container terminal, not a new container terminal, but an upgraded one. Ships already come into the port, and the £150 million is for dredging and upgrading the facilities to ensure that new, larger vessels can come into Southampton and be dealt with.

As my right hon. Friend said, not only has Southampton addressed the issue, but it thought that it had introduced its proposals in good time a few years ago. It is a sad record that the Marine Management Organisation has been less than fully adequate in dealing with the challenge of that proposal. It had to re-issue the consultation; it apparently retreated in the face of judicial review when permission had been given; and more recently it has cast around to see whether it has the power to resist further judicial review and challenge of its inherited powers from the Board of Trade in terms of permissions. Southampton made its proposals not just in good time, but in very good time. However, it is faced with the prospect that, if matters do not now go absolutely right—among other things, the salmon run up the River Test is an issue—it will lose its very last window to put that vital upgrade in place to cope with future business at the port.

Why has that judicial review come forward, and why has the Marine Management Organisation, apparently petrified about the possibility of further judicial review, reviewed its powers accordingly? Is it because local amenity groups in Southampton are up in arms? Is it because the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is worried about the effect on birds? Is it because English Heritage is worried about the effect on the Solent? Is it because Natural England is worried about the natural environment around Southampton? No. None of those organisations has ever objected to the proposal, and none has ever tried to stop it. All agree that the arrangements are satisfactory. Indeed, I understand that no one in the Southampton area has ever objected to the proposal. Nor should they, because the proposal is to upgrade an existing container terminal to bring it up to date with what is required for the port. That is all.

It is astonishing to hear that an organisation from its vantage point 200 miles away has introduced judicial review of the upgrade’s details into the proceedings. It might be said that that organisation wants a level playing field. That appears to be more of a cover than an up-front argument, and it does not require an enormous amount of brainpower to consider what might happen if the port of Southampton were made to go backwards rather than forwards. That is what happens with port management; ports either lose trade or they gain it.

UK trade can be obtained for everyone; it is not a zero-sum game. It is not, however, difficult to conclude that Hutchison Ports believes that delaying or scuppering Southampton’s plans to upgrade its facilities, thereby making it unable to accept larger ships, would directly benefit Felixstowe. A judicial review is a fairly small investment—perhaps £100,000—for what is potentially a large gain. I caution, however, that such a move does not necessarily mean that more traffic will go to Felixstowe. It may not end up in the UK at all, and even if some of it did, in terms of UK plc it is equivalent to one car manufacturer seeking to sabotage another’s production line in the hope that the public will buy its cars, even if some members of the public then buy imported cars. That is the sort of action we are contemplating, and if that is the motivation behind the judicial review, I deplore the fact that it has been requested.

I have reflected on the importance of the port of Southampton to UK plc, and feel that any attempt to obtain such a review should be resisted. We need the ports of Southampton, Felixstowe, Liverpool, Hull, Portishead, Thamesport and others because, as we will discuss tomorrow, they will play a vital role in planning the UK’s future port capacity. The development of the port of Southampton is not only about Southampton but about UK plc making its way and dealing with imports and exports from and to the world. If Southampton fails to get its upgrade as a result of backstairs dealing and, quite frankly, poor service by the body that is required to decide on such applications, that will be of detriment not only to Southampton but to the UK as a whole.

The hon. Gentleman makes the case proudly for Southampton port, as did his right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham). It is a bit of a shame, however, to start impugning commercial decisions. We as parliamentarians want companies to be treated consistently by Government agencies, and in the example we are discussing consistency was not applied. The MMO has ended up paying the costs of the judicial review because it failed to apply the law as it should have done.

There is some force in what hon. Lady says. It is a shame, however, that we have to think about the possible motivations behind those who apply for a judicial review. From my vantage point, the conclusion that the prime motivation behind this judicial review did not involve a concern for level playing fields is almost inescapable. Level playing fields should exist for everybody, but someone feeling that they were not applied in their particular circumstances does not warrant an attempt to upset the playing fields for everybody in the country. I hope that we will hear no more about the judicial review, and that mature consideration of what is best for all, including the ports of Felixstowe, Southampton and the others that I mentioned, will prevail.

I hope that this debate, and the efforts made by many of my colleagues from across the south to assist Southampton’s progress with its application, will mean that at this final stage, the MMO ensures that the process proceeds as quickly as possible, and that those involved with UK ports consider what is best for all our ports, rather than individual interests. If that is a result of today’s debate, which I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen on obtaining, it will have been a prize worth fighting for.

Order. I intend to call the first Front-Bench speaker at 10.40 am. According to my amateur arithmetic, that leaves about five minutes per speaker. Perhaps as a courtesy to one another, hon. Members will try and curtail their remarks as much as possible.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) on securing this debate at such a critical juncture. The strong attendance by MPs from across political parties and the south of England is testimony to the urgency with which we must address the future of Southampton port. It is an issue of great consequence, not only to Southampton, but to the economic future of the region and the success of UK plc.

I do not intend to repeat the difficulties that have plagued attempts by the port of Southampton to develop container capacity since 2007—the right hon. Gentleman has already eloquently outlined the tortuous tale of mishaps and deliberate obstructions. I wish only to underline the immense frustration that it has taken more than four years to reach this unsatisfactory juncture. After more than four years of mistakes by the relevant authorities and meddling by a commercial rival, Associated British Ports still does not have permission to develop capacity at the port. It is right to look to the future, but we must be mindful of past delays that must seem utterly baffling to most people. ABP’s commitment to developing the port of Southampton should be a shining example of private investment fuelling economic growth, trade and jobs.

The port of Southampton is one of the region’s economic powerhouses, and as the MP for Gosport, which is just down the road, I know how vital it is for my constituents not only because of the employment that it provides, but because one job at the port generates four or five further jobs. The proposed development of capacity for container ships should by now have cemented the port’s position in European-Asian trade, secured jobs and bolstered the economic might of the UK. It is vital to stress that all those things can be achieved by private investment of well over £100 million, and there is no need for Government support.

If the MMO fails to act decisively, or if commercial rival Hutchison Ports again seeks legal obstructions, there is a real possibility that the international success of Southampton port will be undermined and up to 2,000 jobs put at risk. I have spoken in the Chamber previously about the pockets of deprivation that are found on the south coast, and we cannot afford to put those jobs at risk.

As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) pointed out, a new generation of container ships is on the horizon. If Southampton is not allowed to act within the coming months, those ships might well pass it by. I therefore wish to reiterate calls for the MMO to act with speed and precision at the end of the consultation and for Minsters to ensure that it has the resources and expertise to do so. The Government are committed to securing growth and jobs through private investment and we must not—I hate to use this pun—miss the boat in Southampton.

I congratulate my neighbour, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham), on securing this important debate, and on his determination to make this a cross-party initiative to highlight the issues currently faced by the port of Southampton. As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), the port is a significant driver of economic prosperity in the wider region and the country and provides employment both directly and indirectly. The port of Southampton is the main access and departure point in the UK for a wide variety of products. To give one example from my constituency, Ford makes the much-loved Transit vans at Swaythling, 50% of which leave the country via Southampton port. In addition, given that Southampton is the fourth largest port for the import of cars, it is no surprise that many of the Fords that we see on the roads today have accessed the country via that city.

I welcome the “National Policy Statement for Ports”, which has a clear focus on integrated transport networks. We have heard about the importance of altering the rail network, so that larger containers can get through the tunnel underneath Southampton. The rail lines have been lowered and the height of the tunnel raised. However, that £60 million investment might not reach its full potential if those containers cannot access the port of Southampton and end up being transported from the continent. Work is ongoing in my constituency to ensure that the diversionary line is also improved—to raise the road bridges—so that the port can achieve its aim of getting 40% of the freight from the port travelling by rail, which is a far more environmentally sustainable route.

The investment might not achieve its maximum potential, however, if the port of Southampton is not allowed to develop and thrive in a very competitive climate. It is the second busiest deep-water port in the UK and cannot afford to stand still if it is to retain that position, yet as we have heard time and again, it has been forced to tread water because of the inefficiency of the Marine Management Organisation, what I regard as unacceptable objections from rival commercial operators and a delayed process that has seen the likely timetable pushed back and back.

I will not rehearse all the reasons behind the delay, but, as the Member for Romsey and Southampton North, I should like to focus on something that is of particular interest and concern in my constituency. I am also a member of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit. People might therefore expect me to be conscious of the potential environmental impact of the port’s proposal to deepen berths and introduce a new piled quay. Concerns have been raised, including about the migratory salmon that pass through Southampton water. However, the environmental impact assessments have been done and redone. They have been enhanced and more information provided. Despite that, there has been stunningly little progress, and there is a very limited time window for the piling of the new quay. Given the potential impact on migratory salmon, that can be done only between mid-September and March, so a scheme first mooted back in 2008 has missed that window time and again. If it does not get the go-ahead very soon, the next window, between September 2012 and March 2013, will also be missed.

I do not dismiss the importance of the salmon—far from it. Two of the pre-eminent chalk rivers in the country—indeed, the world—run through my constituency at various points. There is, I concede, a very small stretch of the River Itchen, but much of the River Test runs the length of my constituency. One of my constituents proudly boasts of having caught a salmon on the Test every year for the past 50 years. Those salmon are few and far between, and I am most anxious that their migration should not be disturbed, but there is no reason why the development should be held up by them. It is notable that the environmental objections have come not from the fishermen on the River Test, but from a rival port operator.

As I said, I will not rehearse all the reasons for the delay. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen took us through a comprehensive timetable. Suffice it to say that the hold-up is putting expansion plans at risk and, in so doing, threatening local jobs, regional economic prosperity and, importantly, private investment in a vital facility. I will not dwell on private investment and the questions about the Liverpool cruise terminal, but it is worth mentioning that in the dealings with the MMO and waiting for permission to be granted, as with the Liverpool cruise terminal, all that Southampton is asking for is a level playing field—I could not work out whether there was an analogy involving water, but I do not think so.

This is a very difficult week for the cruise industry, and our thoughts should be with the victims of the dreadful accident off the coast of Italy. It is important that we get behind that industry. We sincerely hope that it recovers, because it is very important to the port of Southampton. Above all else, we urge the Minister to ensure that, at a time when the cruise industry needs some help and support, we have some clear answers on the question whether public money should be used to subsidise the industry.

This is the first time I have had the pleasure of participating in a Westminster Hall debate under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate you on that, just as I congratulate the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) on securing this important debate.

So far, we have seen an interesting division of labour. The right hon. Gentleman concentrated in great detail, as he had to do, on the process of the application. My hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) concentrated to a considerable extent on the importance of the port of Southampton to the wider region. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) emphasised the magnitude of the task of accommodating container ships that can carry as many as 13,000 units and of transporting those units, when offloaded, to the hinterland within our country.

My role, therefore, towards the end of the debate is to try to show why this issue—or, not to overstate the case, this dispute—is different from other disputes that have taken place in the past and particularly the dispute over the plans that Associated British Ports had for many years, and has not entirely abandoned, to build a huge container port at Dibden bay in my constituency, on the opposite side of Southampton water to the existing container terminal. Hon. Members from that part of the country will be well aware that there was a six-year campaign to resist the Dibden bay port development, culminating in a year-long planning inquiry, which finally decided to recommend—the Government of the day, to their credit, accepted this—that that development should not go ahead.

There is a complete difference between the situation in which we were fighting against the Dibden bay development, and the obstructiveness that has confronted ABP over the current development, which entirely conforms to what we said at the time. That is that the container terminal in Southampton, run by ABP, had the potential to be expanded, to have its capacity increased and to grow as the size and volume of container traffic continues to grow.

At the time of the earlier dispute, ranged against ABP were not just the MP for New Forest East, which is entirely to be expected, given an MP’s responsibility to his constituents, but all sorts of national, environmentally concerned bodies: Natural England or whatever it was called at the time, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds—you name it; they were against it. Where is that cacophony of objection to the development of berths 101 and 102? Is it being suggested that great harm will be done to the natural environment or the habitat? As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North emphasised, the main concern is about migratory salmon. That is not to do with the development having a destructive effect: it is simply a question of timing the development so that the salmon can migrate in the normal way, and the piling and the preparation of the quay wall can go ahead.

There is nothing like the same level, quality, type or scale of objection on environmental grounds to what is proposed. On the contrary, the port is doing what the port, with the greatest respect—I say that to the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen—should have done at the time when the extremely destructive proposal to build at Dibden bay was originally made. The port proposes to take its existing footprint, to modernise it, to do a modest dredge and to enable the larger generation of ships to dock there safely and securely. That is precisely the way in which an important port should be able to increase its capacity—without doing any harm whatever to the natural environment and without causing much concern, if any, to the people who live in the area.

The difference is, therefore, fuelled not by environmental objections but by commercial ones. ABP could similarly be accused of applying double standards regarding its commercial objections to cruises being allowed to start and end at the cruise terminal in Liverpool. However, there is no real comparison, because the objections from the city of Southampton and ABP to the proposals for Liverpool—to their credit, Liverpool MPs have been present in force today to defend the interests of their city—have been based on the fact not that there would be competition between Liverpool and Southampton for the cruise liner trade, but that Liverpool received £20 million of public money to develop a cruise terminal as a port of call, not a port at which cruises should start and end. That money was given specifically on the condition that the cruise terminal would be restricted to that purpose, and within a year of the cruise terminal’s being finished, the request was being made to tear up the condition without repaying all the money. I will not dwell on that, because we know that the argument is about to be settled one way or another, although we do not know which way.

Was there not a great deal of public investment in Southampton before denationalisation? The port has enjoyed a lot of public investment over many years, so is it not a bit ironic that Members are complaining about public investment when Southampton has had so much?

That is a neat argument, but it would have a little more force if the port of Liverpool were not owned privately by Peel Ports. One should not compare what happened to Southampton before it was privately owned with what is happening to Liverpool when it is privately owned. It was a nice try, however, and I give the hon. Gentleman full credit for it.

In the spirit of consensus we have in the debate, I must acknowledge—I think ABP acknowledges this as well—that Hutchison Ports has had a bad deal. More than one local Member has ably made the point that Hutchison Ports feels that it was treated unfairly in comparison with other ports, so it has been making a point of saying that if it does not get fair treatment, it will put a spanner in the works so that other people do not get fair treatment either. I had some friendly and helpful interactions with Hutchison Ports at the time of the Dibden bay dispute, and I say to the company that it has made its point effectively, but it would be carrying things too far to try to make it again.

Time is of the essence, not only in this debate but in terms of the need to make a decision. I conclude by saying that if the debate has focused Ministers’ attention—and, through Ministers, the attention of the Marine Management Organisation—on the need to conclude this over-long process as soon as possible, it will have achieved its objective.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), whom I know represents the port of Felixstowe, I remind her that the debate is about the future of the port of Southampton, to which she must confine her remarks.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I intend to refer to many of the comments that have been made about the actions of Hutchison Ports, rather than to proselytise about the benefits of Felixstowe, which are already well known in the House.

Associated British Ports is an investor in the Suffolk ports of Ipswich and Lowestoft, as well as in Southampton. I want to reinforce the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) made about consistency and a level playing field. I commend the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) on his advocacy of the port of Southampton. As I mentioned in my intervention, companies that we represent are entitled to expect that Government agencies act within the law, and when they do not, it is reasonable to challenge them. The MMO suffers from the sins of its predecessor, but that happens with Governments, agencies and companies, which have to deal with the hand they are given. The MMO fell down initially in accepting the decision and subsequently admitted that it had acted unlawfully, so the order was granted.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) pointed out some of the challenges of onshore distribution using the rail and road networks, which have received a lot of investment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) alluded to. The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen was not able to answer for the fact that ABP did not consult organisations such as Network Rail, the Department for Transport rail department or the Highways Agency when considering the land-side environmental impact assessment of its application. I am sympathetic to ABP’s point that it relied on the advice of the Marine and Fisheries Agency at the time, and hindsight is a great teacher. I am surprised that ABP relied on a fisheries agency to provide full planning advice and did not use its own advice to ensure that it had covered every aspect of the planning application, because it is experienced in doing such things.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) mentioned meddling by a commercial rival. Let me provide a parallel example of what might happen if the law on regulation was not applied consistently. If the Football League brought in transfer conditions that Southampton football club had to apply, but Portsmouth was allowed not to follow the regulations, I can imagine the rows between Southampton and Portsmouth supporters. Members of Parliament would be equally frustrated about the lack of even-handedness. Although I appreciate that the emotions involved in football do not stretch to the technicalities of a planning application, the same issues are involved. Commercially, we want a consistent response from Government agencies.

I am in favour of any positive discrimination that involves Portsmouth football club. We are talking about the economic benefit to the whole of the UK. Leaving aside any commercial rivalries or geographical disputes, we have to look at jobs, economic prosperity and income, which are important for the future of UK plc.

I understand that perspective entirely, and I will address it briefly.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has been inconsistent in his argument. He was very generous to Hutchison, especially regarding its advice on Dibden bay, which I remember well because I lived in Hampshire at the time. Again, the argument is about consistency, and ABP and Hutchison are united in saying that nobody objects to Liverpool’s having a cruise terminal, but it should be on equal terms. Both port operators share that position. I do not, therefore, accept that we are talking about different things, although the joy of being a politician is that our greatest competence has to be dealing with paradox.

I realise that time is short, but the point about the legal challenge is that no one is suggesting that Hutchison has suffered massive commercial damage because the MMO got its procedures wrong. If the port of Felixstowe faced closure because of bungling by the MMO, I would understand the hon. Lady’s point. However, she is justifying doing enormous commercial damage to the port of Southampton and the United Kingdom because something has been found not to have been done properly, and the action is totally out of proportion to any damage that Felixstowe has suffered. That is really the objection of Members from Hampshire on both sides of the Chamber.

I understand that perspective entirely. I am not suggesting that I would encourage Hutchison to continue to apply for judicial review after judicial review.

I have no objection to Southampton being able to accommodate the largest boats, just as Felixstowe can now, but it is critical to encourage the MMO to act swiftly and properly. At the end of the day, it is about ensuring that our civil service agencies can tackle things, and as was said earlier there is the question of making sure that there are resources. It is about focusing on what matters for the UK economy. If the agency had pulled its finger out and made sure that ABP had done its assessment properly in the first place, we might not be in this mess. I would encourage the agency to devote its resources to the issue in question, rather than devoting any further resources to marine conservation zones; that would have an impact on ports around the country, including Southampton and Felixstowe. It should make sure it is business-friendly, pull its finger out and ensure that the law is applied consistently.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Mr Gray. I am delighted to be here for the debate, and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) on securing it, ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and colleagues on the other side of the House. Both my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend are former distinguished Ministers—indeed my right hon. Friend was a Secretary of State—and they both have considerable experience in the matters under debate. The speeches of the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) supported the case being put to the Minister, and the only dissenting voice—and even then, only slightly dissenting—was that of the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who used a football analogy to outline her slight difficulty. As a West Ham supporter, in a debate on Southampton, I was not sure how I would get into the debate the fact that those teams are joint top of the championship, but the hon. Lady has provided me with the opportunity.

The role of a shadow Minister is sometimes puzzling, especially for someone who has been a Minister—not making the decisions and not having the intensity of programme or the diary pressures that the Minister experiences. As Her Majesty’s Opposition, our job is to challenge, which does not, of course, always mean opposing, especially when some of the things that the Government will eventually decide to do were left to them by us. I know that the Minister will refer to that fact in due course. I think that he was ably assisted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, who put me somewhat in the frame for this situation. In debates such as this, the local knowledge of my right hon. Friend and other colleagues is so comprehensive that there is little for me to add. I will therefore be brief, and I am sure that the Minister will use the time to respond to specific points that have been raised in this important debate.

I am sure that we will all agree on one point: shipping and the ports industry are great assets to our country, doing sterling work efficiently, well and almost invisibly. It is only when there is a tragedy, such as the one this week in Italy, that shipping ever makes the national headlines. However, we know how important shipping is to the UK economy in all its aspects, and many hon. Members have made the case for that view this morning.

I should be grateful if the Minister reassured us about the general working of the MMO overall, about issues of implementation, and, in passing, about the impact on other ports besides Southampton—especially London. However, we are here to deal with specific questions raised by right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen raised with us serious questions about the procedures adopted by the MMO—the errors, failures and delays, compounded by legal challenges from commercial competitors. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) raised the broader question of the planning process for major developments, and in passing I would say that it was a mistake by the Government that the coalition decided to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was specifically designed to deal with the problems of unnecessary delays to national infrastructure projects.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen outlined in some detail why time is so critical in the present instance, and what he said was reinforced by hon. Members across the Chamber. Time will tell whether it will be possible for private sector finance to be invested, as many hon. Members discussed. We have heard that the issue is about ABP versus Hutchison and Southampton versus Felixtowe; we have also heard that it is about Southampton versus Liverpool. My right hon. Friend said that Southampton wants a level playing field on the cruise terminal question, and the Opposition support that view. I know from my hon. Friends that Liverpool is offering to pay back grant that it received. We welcome that. That issue is secondary to today’s debate, but none the less it is with the Minister and perhaps he will tell us when and how it will be resolved.

As an aside, I will mention that, like many other colleagues, I have used the port of Southampton on several occasions. Most recently I was on the Cunard liner the Queen Mary 2, coming back from New York, and I will be sailing with Fred Olson from Southampton to Liverpool and Belfast on a Titanic mini-cruise in April.

As has been mentioned, the conclusion of the important ports policy statement debate will be tomorrow, in the Chamber. The Minister is held in high regard by the shipping industry and he knows that the Government need to get behind British shipping rather than in its way, and to try to remove obstacles placed in its way by others. I know that he wants to be helpful, so I look forward to his response, in the hope that he will offer clear reassurance to hon. Members and to the port of Southampton, about bringing the issue of timing and the MMO to a speedy conclusion.

I am honoured to be serving under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Gray. It has been an interesting debate, but perhaps I may seek your indulgence, as this is the first opportunity that I have had to address the House following the disaster in Italy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones or been injured over the weekend. I asked Sir Alan Massey, the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, to contact his counterparts in Italy and offer any assistance that they would need with the rescue, investigation or contamination. Perhaps they may need some skimmers from us. I have also written to my counterpart in Italy with similar remarks. On that point, I shall be on a cruise liner as soon as I can—not crossing the Atlantic, like the shadow Minister, but to stand steadfastly by the cruise industry and show that the disaster, although significant, should not reflect on the industry as a whole. I expect that nearly 2 million British people will go on a cruise by 2014-15, and I hope that that figure will be exceeded. I wish every success to all ports involved in the cruise industry.

Interesting comments have been made about the link between the position of Southampton and that of Liverpool. I am the decision-making Minister and will be considering the matter carefully and making a decision soon. If Liverpool had offered to pay back all the grant, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, we would not be discussing anything here today. The decision would have been made by the previous Administration, and that would have been enough. Liverpool has not made the offer that the hon. Gentleman described, but it has made an offer, which I am considering. However, even if I make a decision, there is an issue to do with the funding that came from Europe, and state aid clearance will be required by the European Commission. However, I will look at the matter. I want a level playing field and growth in the cruise liner industry. I want Liverpool to be a success. I have been to Liverpool—twice now—and have worked with the city council and with Peel Ports. One of the most exciting things that Peel has done is to start to use the capacity of the Manchester ship canal in a way that has not happened for nearly 100 years. There is a desperate need for that, and I congratulate Peel.

The port that I have visited more than any other in the 18 months when I have had the honour and privilege to be the shipping and ports Minister is Southampton. There are many reasons for that, but not the least of those is its significance within the ports industry. That cannot be looked at in isolation. The issue has to do with a commitment of £150 million of private funding for increased capacity of 201 and 202 berths. Anyone who has heard me speak as shipping Minister in the past 18 months will have heard me go on and on about the importance of ports to an island nation. Frankly, successive Governments have not taken ports seriously enough. With the dramatic change that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) alluded to in the size of bulk ships, which we could not have envisaged a few years ago, we need to make sure that our nation is not left behind, and that we have the necessary capacity in the UK. The investment by Hutchison at Felixtowe, which as hon. Members can imagine I have also visited, was significant in that context. I pay tribute also to DP World for sticking with it and going ahead with a £1.5 billion investment—36,000 jobs—in London Gateway. That will create competition for Felixstowe, which is good because competition within the ports industry is important. As I have said many times before, it is about not just those very big ports, but the provision of myriad services through the ports.

What is proposed in Southampton is not the largest deepwater port. Some of the bigger ships that are now being built will not be able to get in there. We are talking about a 16-metre depth when a 17-metre-plus at Gateway is under discussion and Felixstowe already has 17 metres. None the less, what this will do is allow the capacity to be spread around the country. Anyone listening to me will probably think that I am not supportive of Southampton having this port facility; well, categorically, I am. I want others to have it as well. Planning permission for deepwater ports already exists in Tees, Bristol and Liverpool. They will not be the largest ports, but they will take deepwater capacity ships—certainly to the size of 13,000 or 14,000 20-foot equivalent units.

As we look at this matter, we must ensure that the environment is protected. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who is no longer in his seat, referred to the habitats directive. That directive has become a real issue; it was designed to do one thing and has become a hindrance in other areas. A review is currently under way, which will report in March. It will try to address the balance between protecting the environment and allowing this country to grow and businesses, especially ports, to carry out their work.

Members will hear the frustration in my voice when I say that much has been said about the MMO. The shadow Minister will not like what I am going to say, but the MMO was a creation of the previous Government. It did not come into force until April 2010. All the earlier action was carried out by the Marine and Fisheries Agency. Let me say—I will not beat about the bush here—there was a big cock-up, which is why the judicial review said that maladministration had taken place and that the agency had not done what it should have done.

Can I criticise Southampton for looking at what was given to it as a requirement and saying, “The legal body is telling us to do this, this and this”, and then doing it? I have always been involved in small businesses, and issues relating to the highways and to rail would have been addressed within their own business plans. If they had been asked to do something, I am sure that it would have happened. There is no doubt about that. In this case though, that did not apply. One of the things that Hutchison is concerned about is that it was certainly asked to do such things when it was expanding the port at Felixstowe which I visited at the start of my tenure as Minister. One of the delays to do with Gateway’s decision was with DP World. It was asked to do significant things relating to rail and road infrastructure. Negotiations, particularly over junction 30, went on right up to the last minute. Something that Hutchison has raised with me is whether the subsidies are there or not.

As we go forward, we can look at what the problems have been over the past few months. As I have said before with a degree of frustration in my voice, I do not have control over the MMO. I have control over the national ports policy, which we will debate tomorrow. Members will hear me talk about the renaissance in coastal shipping and in ports, both small and large. I can take so much freight off our roads. So many road miles can be taken away if we utilised our ports.

I understand the political banter and why the Minister has talked about things happening on the previous Government’s watch and not his own. I think that that is a valid point. What action has been taken to deal with the officials who made that “cock-up”? This is what I find all the time. When one Government leaves office, the other one blames them. On this occasion, the problem is down to civil servants and individuals. Are they still working? Has action been taken to ensure that they do not make the same mistakes again?

I do not know how Hansard is going to get the word “cock-up” in, but there it is again.

The MMO is a quango with almost no ministerial control whatever. Many of the civil servants in the previous incarnation did not transfer to the new organisation because it was reincarnated in Newcastle. Much of the personal knowledge about this particular case was not transferred. Once we have got through this—I must ensure that I do not interfere with any judicial process—we will be looking very closely at the matter. Remember this is a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Department for Transport issue. Do not get me wrong, the Minister would never have seen this; it would never have got to him. This was below the radar level. None the less, it is quite simple to say, “You looked at these ports and you asked for this, this and this. When you came to this port, you didn’t ask for something that you have asked for at nearly every other port that I have looked at.” We will address this matter.

I want to look at how the MMO works. As the Minister standing before the Chamber, listening to colleagues and going on visits, it is enormously frustrating having very little control over things such as the harbour revision order. Even if the whole local community and the MP is against that order, all I can do is advise the MMO; I cannot actually instruct it.

I am sure that there are many bigger issues to do with the MMO that need to be dealt with; the Minister is right. None the less, in five weeks’ time, the consultation will end. The MMO has to deal properly with that consultation so that it is free of legal challenge, but it must do it in an extremely timely manner. One of the reasons for having the debate with this Minister and this Department is that it is this Department that understands how important the issue is. I am not convinced that DEFRA Ministers do, and I am not sure that the MMO does. What we are asking the Minister today is for him and his Secretary of State to say to DEFRA, “In five weeks’ time, if you don’t have the right people in place with the right expertise, you will not be able to handle this in a satisfactory and timely manner.”

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and he has probably taken the first point that I was going to make. I can do three things today. First, I can speak to my counterparts in DEFRA and tell them how seriously we consider this matter. If the MMO does not have the expertise, capacity and confidence to make a watertight decision, we will offer it the officials to help it to do that. It is independent of the Department for Transport, but I am sure that we can provide secondments if we need to.

The second thing we can do, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), is to say to Hutchison, “You have made your point.” There is no benefit in delaying this matter with a further challenge. As long as Associated British Ports does what it is asked to do with regards to the MMO and it supports the MMO decision, then that should be it. I cannot make it do that, but I am a constructive friend. I am sure that there are people who will be listening carefully to what the Minister has said about this delay. I am a friend of all the ports. I want competition, but this is not looking particularly good any more with regard to Hutchison. I fully understand its position. The law was not adhered to and maladministration took place, which is why the judicial review was minded to go down such an avenue. For lots of reasons, not least those relating to UK plc, jobs, infrastructure and the people of the Southampton area, we need to move on. Capacity ports need to be available. When outside investment considers UK plc, they may say, “We would like to invest there”. However, their Google alert or some other agency may then say, “Hold up a second, if you try to get consent down there, these are the sorts of problems you will get.”

I want Bristol to go ahead with its decisions. I want Liverpool, separate from the cruise business, to be able to go ahead with the deepwater port. I want Tees to go ahead as well. The Tyne is another one that should go ahead despite the issues relating to contamination. I was there only the other day. If all those ports go ahead, it will create the capacity that we need to get freight off the roads. As our economy grows, and it will grow, we need to ensure that we can be in the marketplace. We need to be a hub for these huge containers. Let us not underestimate the sheer size of the task that we are talking about. I stood at Felixstowe on the deck of one of the larger Maersk ships and looked down on the cranes that were trying to load her. Those cranes have now been replaced by even larger ones, which the Secretary of State must have seen when she was there the other day.

We need to be in-step with a market that is world led. We have been world leaders in this field for years and years. We stepped back when previous Governments did not take ports and shipping seriously. I do take them seriously and I hope that this plan goes ahead for Southampton.


I am delighted to be here and to see the Sports Minister, who will respond. I am pleased to have secured the debate and to welcome my hon. Friends—we are all friends when it comes to tennis. I am secretary of the all-party group on tennis, or as it is more commonly known, the Lords and Commons tennis club. The most enjoyable part of holding that position is getting to play.

Tennis is a sport open to all. It is played by children, as soon as they can hold the racket, through to the older generation to maintain agility, balance, flexibility and strength. It can be enjoyed by two people competing for victory or by groups and families for leisure. It is flexible and fun. Unfortunately, despite all those positive attributes, the country suffers from low participation. Sport England’s Active People survey shows that tennis participation has fallen to 402,000 regular players—way short of the 550,000 target for September 2011. Shockingly, the number of tennis courts has declined in the past 10 years from 33,000 to only 10,000.

Research shows that the public are keen to play more tennis. According to a ComRes survey carried out on behalf of Tennis for Free in September 2011, nearly half the people surveyed would be more likely to play tennis if facilities were free to use. It also found that 69% of people think that local facilities should be free and a massive 84% believe that they need to be more accessible. The serious lack of interest in the grass-roots level is a missed opportunity. Getting more Britons inspired by and involved in sports was a pledge that helped London to secure the 2012 Olympic games, but that cannot happen unless we invest in small organisations that promote grass-roots sports.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Is she aware that Leamington Spa is home to the first lawn tennis club, established in 1872, which was three years before Wimbledon? In the Olympic year, could we not make an effort to ensure that we improve young people’s understanding of the history of tennis, so that the legacy is not concentrated only in London?

As an MP representing a constituency even further away from London than the hon. Gentleman’s, I am obviously keen for the legacy of the games to be felt throughout the country. I have spent time in Leamington Spa, but I was unaware of its history, so I am delighted to have been educated. Let us get kids out playing and then teach them the history, but I welcome his intervention.

In 1997, when the Labour Government came to power, school sports were poorly funded and communities relied on badly funded local authority provision and voluntary clubs. The Labour Government set out to create a proper structure to encourage greater participation, which included the Youth Sport Trust, for schools and youth clubs; Sport England, for community support through national governing bodies; and UK Sport, for elite sport throughout England.

In December 2008, Sport England announced a £480 million investment to provide grass-roots sporting opportunities and a lasting Olympic legacy of 1 million people playing more sport. It awarded sports funding based on their expected ability to increase the number of people playing sport and to ensure that young, talented players could be identified and supported to develop their skills.

Through the four-year whole sport plan, tennis received a block grant of nearly £27 million for 2009-13—the fourth largest grant given to any sport—from Sport England. That money is channelled through the sport’s national governing body, the Lawn Tennis Association. It was originally built on a club structure, but there has been a shift to include more local authority-run parks and school sites. Almost 200 park sites, which offer affordable tennis, are accredited as beacons and the LTA also invested £200,000 in revenue funding last year to support free and affordable activities. Sport England targets tennis funding at three areas, for which it uses the terms: grow, sustain and excel. For those of us who do not like such short descriptions, they mean increasing the number of people playing tennis, sustaining their number through measuring existing participants’ satisfaction and helping young, talented players to progress and excel.

At Glenburn sports college in Skelmersdale, the LTA has invested in developing high-quality tennis courts. It is a new town that has existed for only 50 years, so it does not have the great history that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) mentioned and had no tennis provision in a town of 40,000 people. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to ensure that the opportunity to get involved in tennis should be widely accessible, especially in communities such as Skelmersdale that did not have a tennis court? You never know, we may discover stars.

I am delighted to predict that a future Wimbledon champion will no doubt come from my hon. Friend’s constituency. She makes the point extremely well—that is exactly what needs to happen.

The LTA has undertaken significant work in the past 18 months to accelerate growth in participation in park tennis sites, schools and through its “allplay” campaign, launched in summer 2011 to help more people play tennis. The campaign includes a free website to help people to find someone to play against, a local place to play tennis, of which there are about 20,000, and coaching to help people to improve. For future projects, the LTA has invested or committed £19.9 million in total to 159 projects or facilities since 2008. Over £11 million of that comes from Sport England’s whole sport plan funding, with the LTA funding the remainder directly. That will result in 32 new indoor courts, 109 new outdoor courts, nearly 300 resurfaced or reconstructed courts and 294 courts floodlit across England. The LTA investment rightly reaches beyond traditional clubs— £7.9 million has gone into community facilities, such as parks and education sites, and no doubt that includes my hon. Friend’s constituency.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in commending the LTA for investing in one of the most deprived wards in my constituency with a fantastic indoor tennis court at Churchill community college—a very visible site that has been well used by the community. It was done in partnership with the council and is a fantastic example of an investment that will make a difference to the lives of young people in North Tyneside.

I welcome that; such work is important, but it still has not achieved the participation that it should. The barriers to more people playing tennis must be addressed.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Sport is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and although we are talking about England, I want to add to the debate an example of what has been done there. The Ulster branch of Tennis Ireland’s initiative over a weekend last summer introduced 508 people to tennis with the support of councils, tennis clubs and private enterprise—Asda’s sporting chance programme sponsored it. That is an example of how, with promotion and encouragement, we can get more people involved and other people to help.

It is good to hear about that, because we must address the barriers to more people playing tennis.

I am sceptical that the LTA can achieve the surge in participation that we are all talking about and all want. In my experience, lasting involvement is often achieved by local people coming together and deciding to do something, by people getting involved for not just two weeks, during Wimbledon or when something is first there, and doing something that continues and enables people to take up a sport, which, as I said earlier, they can keep on playing well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. For instance, a group of parents might want to do something for their children, or a group of women might want to get together and get active, while having fun. What prevents people from seeing tennis as the way to do that is the lack of courts and equipment, and probably most difficult to overcome is the sense that tennis is a sport for better-off people, with too many children and adults seeing it as elitist and not for them.

An organisation that has set out to change things is Tennis for Free, which starts from a simple point of view. If children want to play football, they get their ball, find a patch of grass, put down a couple of jumpers and start playing. It costs them nothing. Charging to use tennis courts has helped the decline in participation, by making tennis too expensive for many people to play, and councils need someone collect the money. The result across the country has been poor-quality tennis courts that become underused and fall into disrepair.

Tennis for Free works with schools, tennis clubs and local authorities. It uses public park court facilities to create tennis communities. It provides free equipment and a free two-year coaching programme, run by qualified coaches and available to young people and adults of all ages, standards and abilities.

I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the all-party group on tennis. I am, however, a very poor player, unlike the hon. Lady, whose skills are renowned throughout the Palace of Westminster.

Indeed. I should like to put on record my thanks to Mr Speaker for his active support of tennis and of Tennis for Free in particular. Given the huge amount of money going into tennis generally, from the Exchequer and the lottery, does the hon. Lady accept that a future Wimbledon champion—junior or senior, male or female—is as likely to come from the Tennis for Free courts as from private courts or those where an entry fee is charged?

As the hon. Gentleman is probably aware, my view is that talent is certainly likely to be spread equally across the whole population. However, it is not just about getting the person who is going to do well and represent the country, but about getting everyone else involved, too.

With Tennis for Free, we are seeing a way of opening tennis to even more people, by providing free equipment and a free two-year coaching programme and, at the end of the two years, a friends community group is created to provide a free coaching programme with the same inclusive and welcoming ethos. Such community-based techniques have been shown to work. Tennis for Free’s approach offers value for money and is, importantly, sustainable. It has had more than 16,000 attendees at its coaching events over the past year and is now embarking on a programme of renewing and renovating courts. It has also targeted low-income groups, thus ensuring that the schemes are promoted to families in areas of high deprivation, to spread greater provision to where there have traditionally been no tennis courts. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) described the importance of that.

A vital part of Tennis for Free’s activity is persuading local councils to make access to tennis courts free of charge. That improves value for money, because the maintenance budget is helped by the fact that well-used courts are less likely to become overgrown and vandalised. There are now more than 2,600 free park courts in the UK, up from just 700 in 2005—a real achievement for a small organisation. The approach matches public need. The ComRes survey found that a third of people would be more likely to play tennis if courts were open for longer, were in better condition and offered free coaching. The great thing about the approach is that it is relatively cheap to set up; provided that it is done in partnership, a two-year coaching programme costs about £15,000. Tennis for Free’s success shows us that there is potential in grass-roots activity.

Investment in tennis is crucial. The coalition Government have announced a new youth sport strategy, to invest £1 billion of lottery and Exchequer funding in partnership with Sport England to ensure that more young people regularly play sport and will continue to do so into adult life. The funding is dependent on a performance management regime, whereby national governing bodies must demonstrate local impact to avoid the funds being withdrawn. So far, public funding for tennis has not produced the growth in participation that could have been achieved, but this is our opportunity to get it right, and the 2013-2017 plans for each national governing body are being developed over the next few months.

A vision for developing grass-roots tennis has been set out in the charter for tennis. It includes enabling wider participation, so resources spent on tennis must be focused on grass-roots development. Sport England funding from 2013 should be channelled to organisations dedicated to grass-roots development and allocated on the principles of transparency, accountability and value for money. By concentrating on grass-roots tennis and getting more people playing, we increase the number of people who find it an enjoyable and worthwhile activity in its own right. Will the Minister therefore consider guaranteeing that a proportion of tennis’s future funding goes directly to grass-roots organisations such as Tennis for Free, rather than being channelled through only the national governing body?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) on securing this debate, and I thank Members for their many contributions during her speech. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: tennis is a game enjoyed by many millions of people in this country. Absolutely central to our plans for the Olympics, and beyond, is to get people to focus on tennis for not just two weeks at the end of June and the beginning of July.

We want to ensure that tennis is played by as many people as possible, for as much of the year as possible, and I was very encouraged to see in a recent survey that tennis was highlighted as a sport that many more people wanted to play. Interestingly enough, although everyone concentrates on those at school and in their early 20s, tennis was seen in the survey as an incredibly popular sport among those who want to play it later in life; so although people are rightly enthusiastic about getting more young people playing, it is also important to remember that fact.

I thought I would first quickly give the hon. Lady a bit of background, talk about the opportunity, which she rightly highlighted, offered through the new sport strategy, and then address the issues she raised about Tennis for Free. She is absolutely right that by 2013, Sport England will have invested more than £26 million of public money in the Lawn Tennis Association, much of which is driven by lottery receipts. The hon. Lady mentioned that when she talked about increased investment in sport. Sport now gets 20% of the lottery take, up from 13.7%, and lottery receipts are rising, so more lottery money is available for sport than ever before.

The hon. Lady made her points very fairly and did not line the LTA up directly in the shooting gallery; nor should she—the contributions of many other Members have shown what the organisation has achieved. It is important for a Government, and indeed for Sport England, to have just one point of contact in any sport. When I took over the role of shadow Minister for Sport, someone told me that golf has 19 representative bodies in this country. It is important to have one body in overall charge, and clearly that should be the sport’s national governing body. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this argument, the LTA has, as Members have pointed out, worked hard to bring more tennis into schools through the AEGON partnership and the new allplay scheme it has just launched, and wheelchair tennis is one of the fastest-growing disabled sports in the country. The LTA deserves enormous credit for all that.

The hon. Lady mentioned the youth sport strategy. She is absolutely right—there is nothing party political about it—that lottery funding has injected a considerable amount of cash into sport for the best part of 15 years, which has transformed funding for both Olympic and community sports. To be honest, it is deeply shaming that over those 15 years, the number of people playing sport—the problem is not confined to tennis—has flatlined or gone down. There are a number of reasons for that. First, the target of 1 million was, to say it in the nicest possible way, what a target of 1 million sounds like: plucked off the wall as a nice round number. It was not gained by burrowing deep into sports, finding out what they could deliver and coming to a target.

The second problem is that the measurement is now generally regarded as faulty. Active People uses the measurement of three separate sessions of half an hour’s exercise a week, a direct lift from the old health model. The perfectly sensible idea was to streamline all this, but it is extremely difficult for most people to manage three separate sessions of half an hour’s sport. The problem was brought home to me by England Hockey, which produced the example of a young hockey player, playing in the top levels of the southern leagues, who trained on a Tuesday night and played league hockey on a Saturday, but who failed the Sport England measure because they were not doing three separate sessions of sport.

That problem was compounded by the fact that the survey is collected solely through fixed telephone lines. As hon. Members will know, hardly any young person in this country operates on a fixed telephone line any more; everybody uses mobile communications, social media and the rest. As the Minister, I have suffered the ridiculous situation of calling in sport governing bodies such as the LTA to explain why their figures are falling and being told, “Actually, our figures show that the number of people playing is rising, but the survey is not picking them up.” In my 18 months as Minister, I have found that the single most frustrating thing. Using a survey that measures more accurately what is happening is key.

The third issue involves how sport governing bodies—the LTA is not exempt from this criticism—went into the whole sport plan process. It was a good idea of James Purnell, as Secretary of State, to empower governing bodies to drive up participation, but some saw it as a means to drive the commercial model. They would get more people interested in a sport, and then those people would pay money to watch the pros play. That is different from influencing consumer behaviour and driving the societal change we need if we are to get more people to playing sport.

I appreciate what the Minister says about the difficulty of counting how many people are playing, but one thing we can count is the number of courts. From my constituency and others, we know that some areas have no courts and that many courts are in disrepair. That is important and must be addressed.

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct, as she has been in much of what she has said. Having given her a bit of background, I will move to the youth sport strategy.

The strategy was announced a week ago. Instead of continuing with the old strategy and its flatlining figures, we will encourage sport governing bodies to concentrate much more effectively and in a more focused way on the 14 to 25 age group, in the hope that if we can get people out of school and into community clubs playing much more sport, there is a much better chance, because sport has been established as part of their daily lives, that they will keep playing later. We will not demand that all sports focus exclusively on that age group, but we definitely want a renewed focus on it.

As part of that, voluntary groups and sports clubs will have the chance to access a £50 million pot to help ensure that the widest range of sporting opportunities are available to that age group. That is exactly the sort of pot that such schemes ought to pitch into. Alongside that sits the 2012 legacy scheme Places People Play, which will provide £135 million in funding, the majority of which will be targeted at small facility improvement through grants of less than £50,000. It strikes me that a great many tennis facilities would benefit from precisely that sort of funding.

I am glad to say that the scheme has proved far more popular than we ever thought. The first round was dramatically oversubscribed. The funding extends right across the piece, from fixing boilers and doing up changing rooms to repairing holes in roofs. Those are the sorts of thing for which small clubs find it difficult to raise money, but they are essential to increasing the number of people playing sport. Sport England will do a series of subsequent rounds of the programme. I encourage everyone here to get their local tennis facilities to apply for the fund. There are two streams. One, at the top, is Iconic Facilities. If Members have a big sports club in their constituency to which a lot needs doing—many of them will have tennis facilities—it can apply for funding. The other stream is Inspired Facilities: a sub-£50,000 pot to cover exactly this issue.

On Tennis for Free, I must be a bit careful. It is absolutely my job as Minister to set the overall strategy and then hold sport governing bodies, in particular, to account for how they spend their money. Over the past year, participation figures for a number of sport governing bodies—I will not name and shame them publicly—have tailed off. In some instances, we have removed funding from bodies that have failed. The new youth sport strategy will give payment by results. If we find that some sports are doing well, they will get more money. Those sports that just continue in the same old way and do not increase numbers will have their funding taken away.

However, it would be going further than a Minister should to delve into a sport and instruct the sport governing body exactly how to allocate its funds. I hold governing bodies to account for what they are doing across the piece, but I do not tell them to fund individual organisations. There is also a secondary point. The part of the whole sport plan into which I suspect Tennis for Free will fall is lottery funding, not Exchequer funding, so it is illegal under additionality rules for me to tell the LTA how to spend its funds. That said, I am keen for the LTA to work much more closely with Tennis for Free, which is an interesting and innovative scheme. I hope, as does the hon. Lady, that it will succeed. Clearly, it must prove that it can, but I suspect it will have an important part to play in the mix for achieving her aims.

The most constructive thing that I can do as a result of this debate is to give the hon. Lady an undertaking that I will write personally to the chief executive of the LTA asking him to meet Tennis for Free to bottom out exactly what can be done and what issues remain, and to write back to me. I will then copy that reply to her, so we can be sure that something will come of this debate.

Can I press the Minister slightly? I accept entirely what he said about his overall strategic role, but can he also give direction to governing bodies across the piece on ensuring work and partnership with grass-roots organisations?

Absolutely. That is part of the whole sport plan process. My instinct is that that principle is probably there already. The whole sport plan, as it works at the moment, has not changed at all since the last Government were in office. A better way of answering that might simply be to say that sport governing bodies have a fair degree of autonomy to drive up participation in any way they see fit, as long as they get more people playing.

Clearly, it is a new idea. If we are investing public money, either through the lottery fund or the Exchequer, we need to ensure that it gives value for money and works. I encourage Tennis for Free and the LTA to work together more closely. I will broker that meeting and monitor what happens.

Finally, such relationships are important. In some sports, they work well; in others, they work less well, and tennis might be one of them. The important thing is that both sides take an open and constructive approach. I leave the hon. Lady with this thought. It does not help if organisations trying to get funding from sport governing bodies are permanently hammering them in the press. That produces a siege mentality that I suggest might be part of the problem.

Sitting suspended.

Northern Rail Hub

[Mr Jim Hood in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. As one of the vice-chairmen of the all-party group on rail in the north, I am delighted to have secured this debate on an issue that is well and truly at the top of our agenda. It is great to see present so many colleagues from the all-party group and from the north of the country who are passionate about rail investment in their constituencies and across the north.

My Colne Valley constituency has two rail lines running through it. The Leeds to Manchester trans-Pennine route has stations in Lockwood, Slaithwaite and Marsden, while the Huddersfield, Penistone and Sheffield line has stations in Honley, where I live, and Brockholes. Frequent, reliable, clean and affordable rail services are needed in my constituency and across the north as a clear alternative to the clogged motorways of the M1 and M62.

What exactly is the northern hub? The aim of the project is to allow the towns and cities of the north to work better together and drive growth by increasing capacity and reducing journey times on the rail network in the north. There is a bottleneck on the rail network in the north—largely in Manchester—and a lack of investment in transport infrastructure will act as a restraint to economic growth across the north. The northern hub is a £560 million project of targeted infrastructure investment to help the north continue to thrive that includes a series of proposed rail network improvements across the north that will stimulate economic growth.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that all parts of the northern hub project are properly funded? If only one aspect is funded, that will cause difficulties in the rest of the area.

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. When I sum up, I will re-emphasise that we will only get the total benefit from all the economic benefits if the whole hub project is fully funded. I hope that that will be one of the main conclusions from this 90-minute debate.

The improvements and economic benefits of the project will go as far as Newcastle in the north, Sheffield in the south, Hull in the east, and Chester and Liverpool in the west. It really will benefit the whole of the north. The northern hub will be a catalyst to drive economic growth in the north. Network Rail has calculated that between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs will be created, that there will be an extra 700 trains a day and that it could be worth up to £4 billion to the northern economy. Network Rail submitted the northern hub proposals to the Government last September, as part of the initial industry plan, and we expect a final decision this summer.

Where are we up to with the project? To give some history, the northern hub report was launched by Network Rail in early 2010. It evolved from a Northern Way report about what was needed to drive economic growth in the north. It defined a set of outputs and the hub was designed to meet them.

I commend my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He is right about the economic growth that the project will provide and the job creation that we need, especially in the north. Is it not true that the project will also help bridge the north-south divide that has grown over the past 10 years?

My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point, which was also made after the statement on High Speed 2. As well as investing in HS2, it is important that we invest in local rail infrastructure, which is exactly what the northern hub can do.

In March 2011, the Chancellor announced that £85 million of Government funding was available for developing the Ordsall chord, which is a new link between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly stations that will provide a new route enabling passengers to get across the city. Importantly, there will be no need to change trains in Manchester. Network Rail is working to gain necessary planning consents to build the new link.

Last autumn, the Chancellor announced funding for electrification on the north trans-Pennine route between Manchester and York via Leeds. That was not originally part of the hub plans, but it brings huge benefits, such as increased reliability and more room on trains. It is better for the environment and helps reduce the cost of running the railway. In fact, yesterday evening, our all-party group received a briefing on electrification in the north-west, during which we heard all about the benefits. Electrification of the trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester will allow six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester—there are just four at present—and journey times could be reduced by up to 10 minutes. However, the plan has implications, which I will address in a moment.

Some aspects of the northern rail hub project still have to be funded. As has been mentioned, we will only get all the hub’s economic benefits if all of it is funded. Two new platforms are needed at Manchester Piccadilly to allow more trains to run through rather than terminate in Manchester. That would provide more direct train services across the north. Moreover and crucially, new tracks are needed on the lines between Leeds and Liverpool and between Sheffield and Manchester, to allow fast trains between the major towns and cities of the north to overtake slower trains.

This is a live issue in my Colne Valley constituency, and many of my constituents have legitimate worries about it. In fact, I received an e-mail in the past hour from SMART—Slaithwaite and Marsden Action on Rail Transport—which is, as am I, very concerned about the effect that the proposals for faster services will have on local stopping services. Fast trains are great, but they must not exist at the expense of local stopping services. We have to ensure that there is an integrated transport system in the northern corridor, not just the fast services between Leeds and Manchester. I will keep a very close eye on that and campaign fully to keep all the localised stopping services, because it is important that major funding projects keep an integrated local transport system.

Contrary to reports, no decision has been made on which is the optimum pattern for Marsden, Slaithwaite and Lockwood on my patch. The decision will be made through the franchising process and involve consultation with local representatives through the passenger transport executives. Network Rail is in regular discussions with representatives from the Department for Transport, Metro, Transport for Greater Manchester and Northern Rail. They will all work together to establish which pattern best suits residents in the area, mindful of infrastructure capability, commercial demand and improved connectivity. That is why we need the northern hub investment—this really is an important part of it—to provide more tracks and more overtaking opportunities.

I am sure that hon. Members would like to know who supports the hub. Network Rail welcomes recognition by my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has responsibility for rail, that the hub has a case and that the Government have funded both the Ordsall chord and the electrification of the trans-Pennine route. The northern hub is supported by a wide range of stakeholders, local authorities and passenger transport executives, such as Metro in West Yorkshire and Transport for Greater Manchester. Business in the north supports it, and it enjoys cross-party, pan-northern political support, as the number of Members present clearly demonstrates.

The Transport Committee endorsed the hub in a report on transport and the economy in March 2011. I welcome that support. We must remember that the project has the potential to create 20,000 to 30,000 extra jobs for the north, which will help the Government reduce the welfare bill. We would all support that.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Transport Committee’s recent report on high-speed rail makes specific reference to the northern hub? It is supported by the cross-party Select Committee.

I thank the hon. Lady for mentioning that issue, which we were talking about at the all-party group meeting last night. She brings much expertise and knowledge on the Select Committee area. I am sure that the matter that she raises will be examined and explored during the debate.

I note that many other issues surround rail travel, not just in the north but across the rest of the country. I hope that concerns such as connectivity with HS2, rail fares, cross-boundary fares and the non-collection of fares—the conductor’s ticket machine keeps breaking down on some of my train services, so halfway through the service, he stops issuing tickets—capacity, Northern Rail carriage demands and many more matters will be the subject of future debates. However, this debate is on the northern hub.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about not being able to collect fares, does he have the same problem on his services as I have on mine, where the conductor cannot collect the fares because he cannot make his way through the people on board who are packed in like sardines?

Yes. The chairman of the all-party group on rail in the north makes a fantastic point. I was travelling on the train from Honley, where I live, to Stocksmoor on a Saturday afternoon and lots of people were heading towards Sheffield to do their shopping at Meadowhall. Halfway through the journey, the batteries in the conductor’s machine ran out because he was issuing so many tickets. Apparently, that happens all the time and the machine cannot produce tickets then. At a time when we want to get investment in the railways and recover the costs, I find that absolutely ridiculous. There are many issues like that. I hope that we can continue to explore the matter with the all-party group; that would be excellent.

As I said, many other issues surround rail travel but this debate is primarily about the northern hub, which I know my hon. Friend will mention.

My hon. Friend is making a splendid case, as always, and is speaking up for his constituents. Does he agree that it is fine to increase capacity, but that we must make the process of allowing new operators to access the service much easier and quicker?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In our part of West Yorkshire, Grand Central has increased its range of services and is stopping in Mirfield just outside Huddersfield. Direct rail services, particularly to London and the south, are an important part of breaking down the north-south divide, and I certainly welcome those developments.

I thank the Minister for being here today. I should like to note a few things that I welcome in her speech to the Northern Rail conference in Leeds in October last year. In that speech, she recognised the role that the railway has to play in bringing prosperity to the north, with which all of us in this Chamber would agree. I also welcome her acknowledgement that the Chancellor has prioritised investment in rail by announcing in the spending review £18 billion of funding for rail. I agree with her comments that rail can deliver not only growth, but a more balanced sustainable economic growth and that it can help to tackle the prosperity gap between the north and south. Crucially, the Minister stated that the Government recognised the benefits that the remainder of the northern hub programme could offer and confirmed that they would be looking “very seriously” at the whole proposal in the run up to this July’s high-level output specification 2 statement. Again, I welcome that.

I should like to put the Minister on the spot, however, and ask her three specific questions. First, will she commit to ensuring that the northern hub project is fully funded, so that the north can enjoy the economic benefits that that would deliver: 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs and £4.2 billion of wider economic benefits? Secondly, given that the Government have rightly funded HS2, which enjoys a benefit-cost ratio of 1.6:1 and that the northern hub enjoys a business case of more than 4:1, does she agree that it makes economic sense to fund the hub fully?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I very much enjoyed his use of the phrase “pan-northern,” of which we should have more in Parliament. I support entirely his position on funding the hub holistically as one scheme to get the maximum benefit from it, but what information does he have about the cost ratio changing if we only fund it piecemeal? Surely, if we fund the hub individually in sections, it would result in the costs increasing and the benefit ratio reducing.

The hon. Gentleman represents Stalybridge, which is just over the Pennines. Obviously, I have been through his constituency when travelling on train services through the tunnels to the other side. He makes a very good point. Certainly, the benefit-cost ratio diminishes rapidly if the project is not fully funded. I hope that we are getting that point across.

I have asked the Minister two specific questions. My third question is: does she agree that, following the HS2 announcement, the northern hub is even more important to the delivery of wider economic benefits and to ensuring that an integrated transport infrastructure can spread across the north of England? Those are the three specific requests that I should like responses to.

As I start to wind up to allow colleagues to have their say, I must mention HS2. One of the repeated claims made against the HS2 announcement last week is that it will come at the expense of more localised services and that we should spend the cash on improving existing services. Well, the northern hub project clearly shows that both can go hand in hand: huge investment in the existing network and the added capacity and speed of HS2. In summary, the northern hub comes in at £560 million. There are £4 billion-worth of benefits and potentially 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs that would drive the northern economy forward, all for the same cost as the refurbishment of King’s Cross station.

Order. I inform right hon. and hon. Members that I have eight Members on my speakers’ list, plus the two Front Benchers, so I encourage a bit of brevity while making clear arguments. I intend to call the first Front Bencher at 3.40 pm.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing the debate. It is apt that I should follow his contribution because my constituency follows on from his, and the line he referred to goes on into my constituency. The only time I will willingly share a platform with the hon. Gentleman is the day when we get improved capacity on the Penistone line. I look forward to that day very much indeed.

For the north of England, the northern hub project is as important as the Crossrail project is to London. In many ways, it is helpful to see the project in those terms. Between the cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool, 14 million people live and work and travel. Much of the rail traffic has to go through an antiquated interchange of rail routes through Manchester and the surrounding area, and very few people—if any—in this room can have any doubt whatsoever that the northern hub project is absolutely crucial to the future of the economy in the north of England.

There is no doubt that, in the past 10 years, there has been a transformation in rail across the north of England, with more and more passengers choosing to travel by train. That modal shift, if we can describe it as such, has supported significant economic growth in the north, as people are able feasibly to commute further to work or to execute their business. However, that growth is now threatened, not only because of the reckless risks being taken with our economy by the coalition, but because of the need to modernise our infrastructure in the north of England so that we do not constrict growth and discourage investment.

Some people might ask, “Why is Manchester’s railway network so crucial to the north or the country as a whole?” I would refer back to the comments made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley to make that case. In the early days, the project was sponsored by the Northern Way—an organisation, incidentally, formed by the three regional development agencies abolished by the Government—and was called the Manchester hub, not the northern hub. Politically, the decision was taken at an early stage to rename the developing project the northern hub, because it was quickly recognised that the benefits realised were not just for Manchester but for the whole of the north of England. It was felt that if we were ever to get the project off the ground and funded by the Treasury, it had to be seen as something that benefited the whole of the north. That is why I make reference to Crossrail. As I said earlier, in a sense, the northern hub project unknots the problems with cross-country trains in a way that will impact on a population of 14 million people.

As somebody who formerly lived in the south, I am very happy about the funding for Crossrail. Is it right, though, that the benefit-cost ratio of Crossrail is 1:7, as opposed to 4:1 for the northern hub? Clearly, there is much more benefit to the northern hub than to Crossrail.

I agree entirely with that point. The northern hub would do a great deal to help tackle the economic disparities between the south-east of England and the north.

What is the northern hub project that we have heard so much about? The hon. Member for Colne Valley illustrated it well: it is a series of works, new track and increased platform capacity in Manchester that will remove track conflicts and relieve traffic congestion. The works will allow up to 700 more trains a day, with space for 44 million more passenger journeys a year. Completion of the works will allow two new fast trains an hour to run between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool, with, as the hon. Gentleman said, six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester, as opposed to four now.

Just as important for someone who represents a south Yorkshire constituency, journey times between Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester—what I have referred to in the past as the “golden triangle” of the north— will be reduced significantly. Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester are equidistant, economically important and interdependent, and we have to maximise the potential of those three great cities. I have argued previously that the present situation whereby it takes up to an hour and often longer to travel the 30 miles between Sheffield and Manchester is unacceptable. That represents a journey time not a great deal different from that experienced by our Victorian forebears—that is how little the north of England has moved forward in rail journey time and capacity in the past century. A completed northern hub would cut the journey time between Sheffield and Manchester and, importantly, would allow two more trains to run throughout the day. That will help to cut the daily overcrowding, which has already been mentioned, on cross-country routes.

The estimated cost of those improvements, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley said, is £260 million—a large sum, but not great when placed alongside the £16 billion budget for Crossrail. It is estimated that for every £1 invested, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said a moment ago, there would be a return of £4 in economic benefits. Crucially, we need the whole of the package to deliver that economic benefit. I see the current congestion and problems in the network as a knot. To deal with the problems created by a knot, one does not half untie it. The whole knot has to be loosened and dealt with to get the benefit, and that is the important point. We have to unknot the network and deal with all the problems created by congestion around Manchester. There is no point in untying part of the knot; we have to deal with the whole problem to get the benefit.

The Chancellor’s recent autumn statement announced the Government’s intention to fast-track some elements of the northern hub project. That commitment is welcome but it goes nowhere near far enough. Work on the Ordsall chord will enable trains from Manchester airport, and Liverpool to Leeds, to use the modernised Manchester Victoria station, but that only partially answers the question of congestion in and around Manchester. The announcement to electrify the north Pennine route and the electrification of other routes around the north-west is welcome, but while that will allow lighter, more efficient trains to use those routes, it will not relieve all congestion and will not help passengers from Sheffield, and those further east on the Hope Valley line, to enjoy faster, more frequent trains. That has a massive impact on the east coast and the Humber bank. The Hope Valley line is critical to all train journeys from Cleethorpes and Grimsby through to Manchester airport, as well as Sheffield.

If the north of England is to close the economic gap with London and the south-east, it is my firm belief that this project has to be given the green light in its entirety for the next control period. The full range of benefits envisaged by the project, benefits that we know are desperately needed to help the north to grow, will not be realised unless we deliver every element of the project.

We have called for this debate today because we have been receiving worrying signals from the Minister. I pay tribute to her, which may seem unusual for an Opposition politician, for the way she has handled the High Speed 2 debate. She has shown a firm grasp of the detail and has been staunch in her commitment to the project, and I would like to see the same for the northern hub. The point made earlier, that the northern hub is critical to complementing HS2, is the important point.

On capacity in the north of England, if it is cheaper to tunnel than to dig steep embankments in the Chilterns, surely we can consider reopening the Woodhead line. It has been said to me that the tunnelling that would be required on the Woodhead line if we were to reopen it is far too expensive for the Department for Transport to consider. Let us therefore have that one back on the table while we are at it.

For many years, the north has lagged behind the south-east in rail investment. Now is the time to change that. It is time to acknowledge that transport spending for the north has lagged significantly behind that made available for London and the south-east, and that action needs to be taken to correct this unfairness in funding allocations by the Department for Transport. This is the best opportunity we have had for years to correct that situation by giving the go-ahead to this project in its entirety.

I pointed out at the start of my contribution that a completed northern hub helps not only Manchester but the rest of the north of England. I call on the Government to prioritise this work. It makes sense for the north and it makes sense for rebalancing the economy, so it makes sense for the UK as a whole.

I will try to be a little briefer and more directly to the point. I make the fundamental point that I support the assertions in favour of the northern hub, and briefly reflect on the fact that we now have a situation where the Secretary of State is from Rotherham. Is that not a good thing, as a northerner? The Minister has been repeatedly up to Newcastle, both before and after the general election, and we have a Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who is from Harrogate and is a former vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary rail in the north group. It is a positive step to have Ministers and parliamentarians who are genuinely interested in transport in the north, and particularly in railways.

I endorse all that has been said on HS2. That does not mean to say that we do not have to monitor the contracts, support it in the right way and monitor it so it goes well, but fundamentally it is a great thing that we have HS2 investment and the degree of investment we have had in the northern hub, with the Ordsall chord and the electrification that has taken place, which will produce extra capacity. I regularly take the train from King’s Cross to Newcastle and, on the last two occasions, far from being happy-go-lucky in first class, I have sat all the way to York outside the toilets, because that was the only place where there was any space on the floor.

Some would say, “Quite right, too.” I do not think that everybody else is doing that, but the point is this: all of us see, commuting as we do to the north, the degree to which there is a lack of capacity on the trains at peak times. I support wholeheartedly the work that is being done by the North East chamber of commerce, which is very supportive of the northern hub, and by the Tyne Valley community rail partnership.

I want to raise one follow-on point from the northern hub and how Northern Rail in particular is conducting itself in the north-east and in Northumberland. If colleagues will indulge me for two minutes, I will explain. “Torchgate” is not a matter that I expect the Minister to solve, but it is important that she understands the great difficulties that Northern Rail has produced. There have been a number of new carriages applied to the Northumberland lines, but a failure—the key point—to actually light the areas such that for three days we had an extra carriage on the crucial 7.42 from Hexham to Newcastle and then the union decided that it was not safe for its drivers to walk in an unlit area to change it all around. Consequently, torchgate means that, in the absence of a torch and the ability to navigate from one end of the train to the other, the train has been cancelled to the great detriment of my local residents.

Hilariously, these trains are Leyland buses on wheels. They are the original 1985 Leyland national bus, which has been turned into a train, and upgrades are welcomed greatly, but the idea that in the north of the north we are being supported by Northern Rail and that the northern hub goes that way, is genuinely not being felt by local commuters and people who utilise this service.

I am acutely conscious that other colleagues wish to get in. I urge Northern Rail to change its approach, resolve the torchgate problem, increase the capacity on the Hexham line and, generally, address the manifest failure to be flexible. I suggest that the Minister can address this. All the rail companies that we have to deal with as we develop and move forward are not looking at what the customer wants: they are working out what they want to do, not what the customer wants to do. Let me give an isolated, easy example.

A plethora of fans want to support Newcastle United or Sunderland on a match day, including Saturday. People might think that it would be obvious for a rail company to lay on extra trains or carriages to entitle people to do that and travel in the right way, but that is not happening. I urge the Minister to speak to Northern Rail about the extent to which it can become more flexible, so that we can have a better, more functional rail system.

I will, like the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), curtail what I was going to say. I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing the debate and agree with everything that he said. I will not attempt to repeat it, particularly when so many hon. Members want to speak.

It is worth having some context in our debate. There was roughly an 80-year decline in rail services between 1920 and 2000 and, unexpectedly, over the past 10 or 12 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of passengers using the railways. I am not sure that the Department for Transport has completely caught up with a system that is expanding, although I accept that it has done so in respect of HS2—I am talking about the rest of the system. The basic way to determine investment decisions during that long decline was to follow congestion, which meant simply putting money into the south-east of England.

When one justification for the huge investment that goes into rail is to close the north-south divide, one can no longer justify, if one ever could, spending 90%-odd of rail investment in London and the south-east. One way to change that is to ensure that the northern hub is completed in one go. I understand that the Treasury is assessing it over the next six to eight weeks. I should like to make the solid case for the whole northern hub going forward, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and other hon. Members have stated. Detailed points need to be made about why the hub will not be as effective if it does not all go together as one.

I welcomed the previous Secretary of State’s statement to go ahead with the Ordsall chord, which is part of the northern hub. But if the whole system does not go together, there will be a reduction in services to Huddersfield, because unless an extra line is put in at Diggle to take the trains past it—I am sure that northern Ministers in the Department will be familiar with the railway lines there—the extra trains on the Ordsall curve will mean a reduction in trains on that route. If such details, including whether the chord will be there if the size of station platforms is not increased, are not dealt with, we will not get the benefit from the investment in the Ordsall chord.

Both in detail and in general terms, now is the time for the Government to say, as they have said, “We are going to try and do something about the north-south divide”, and that means investing in the rail system. Half a billion pounds is never a trivial amount, but compared to the amount going into Crossrail it may seem to be. I disagree slightly with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, because this is not the equivalent of Crossrail. We do not have such an equivalent. This is more the equivalent of Thameslink, which frees up capacity in the south-east, and even there it is still only 10% of the cost of Thameslink.

With a benefit-cost ratio of 4:1, the Government should be grabbing at the scheme. There are potentially 44 million passenger places on 700 trains. There will be enormous economic benefit to the whole of the north of England. I hope that the Minister assures us that she and her colleagues will press the Treasury and ensure that, in the next high level output specifications period, we get the full northern hub scheme.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this important debate.

We have talked about a number of transport issues in this Chamber in the past two years. It is becoming a regular occurrence that I enjoy immensely. Credit to the Government, because there has, in fairness, been some real investment in infrastructure projects in the north of England, which was sadly lacking for many years. For example, two new rail stations in my constituency have been announced; there is M62 investment; and the south access to Leeds railway station means that there is an opportunity to expand economic development in the south of the city.

HS2 is a real vote of confidence for the north. The Y route was one of the best decisions made, particularly for those of us in Yorkshire. We must not miss that opportunity. We have to plan for its arrival now. Throughout the HS2 debate, many of those opposing it were saying, “Once it comes, it will suck life out of the region.” It is important that we get this right and solve that problem before it occurs. I do not want them to be proved right.

We have talked lots about travelling from the north to the south, but we do not seem to talk enough about getting from east to west. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) established the all-party group on east-west rail and three days later got funding for it, which is a phenomenal achievement. If we could do the same in the north, we would be grateful.

The economy of the north has changed enormously.

Talk about east-west travel is often about going from Leeds to Manchester, but there is Yorkshire and the Humber beyond—further east. I remind my hon. Friend of connectivity into Hull and, on the south bank, through to Cleethorpes. People in that area are in the golden square of Goole, Cleethorpes, Scunthorpe and Hull. The fact that Network Rail is considering electrification through to Hull is welcome and I hope that the Minister will work hard to achieve it, too.

My hon. Friend never ceases to remind us that Yorkshire goes further east than Leeds. I support his comments.

It has nothing to do with me; it is up to the Minister.

Thinking about the economy, my constituency comprises old mill towns. The mills have now gone and people now travel much further to go to work. We have excellent, vibrant cities and towns in the north of England. We have a horrible reputation of wearing cloth caps and so on, but some vibrant work is going on.

I am proud that Leeds, Harrogate, York, Wakefield and Bradford are working together in the Leeds city region, ensuring that they are making the best of what we have. The chamber of commerce has now linked together with Leeds and north Yorkshire. But we need to work even more widely, so that Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, York, Sheffield and Hull can take up the opportunities that are there. However, there is an obstacle: the current network is struggling. There are more passengers on our railways, more cars on our roads and more freight on the motorways. We need to make it easier to get around.

My mother visited me recently and wanted to get over to Chester to see the rest of her family. Trying to plan her journey from Leeds to Chester was ridiculous, because she would have had to make a number of changes and spend a long time on platforms waiting for connecting trains.

Not so long ago, when I went on a Select Committee visit to Wrexham, I thought I would be good and get the train back to Leeds. It took me four and a half hours on five different trains, by which time all the officials from the Select Committee had got back to London. It is ridiculous that I cannot make a journey that would take an hour and a half by car in a similar time on the train.

My hon. Friend touches on an important point, because if we are serious about wanting to achieve a modal shift from car to rail, we have to look at the whole journey time. If I visit him, I can get quickly from Milton Keynes to Manchester by train, but it takes as long again to get from Manchester to Leeds, so it is actually quicker for me to drive up. If we want to achieve that modal shift, we have to look at the whole journey time.

That is exactly why the northern hub is so crucial. It represents a recognition that we have to fuel and drive the economy to help us to rebalance it from public to private. We have already heard about all the benefits from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, so I will not list them, but it is important to acknowledge that businesses back the proposal. They say that it is essential to their growth and increased prosperity, because they will be able to access bigger markets and attract a wider pool of talent.

We have already said that we do not want to choose between HS2 and the northern hub—we need both. The case for the northern hub is now greater because of the commitment on HS2. Frankly, the north deserves both, and it is an essential part of HS2. The Minister has listened in the past, and we have had new stations, new access and electrification, so I hope that she will listen again. She should be proud of the fact that this issue has united Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the people of the north, in their submission for funding.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing the debate, which comes at an important time. Network Rail is looking in detail at the northern hub proposals. The Government have asked Network Rail to revisit the proposals before any final decisions are taken to ensure that the scheme will bring value for money. It is extremely important that we are able not only to talk about the importance of the northern hub, but to show the degree of cross-party support and the spread of geographical support for this major scheme.

I emphasise the importance of the northern hub as a strategic investment in the north. The proposals came from big, strategic thinking. The three northern regional development agencies came together and thought about how the regional economies could be improved, which led to the setting up of the Northern Way and the development of the schemes for the northern hub. Today we are looking at the detail and reaching the final stages of approval.

The northern hub is about individual projects and individual areas. It is about additional platforms and tracks, and it is hopefully about new trains. It will affect a wide variety of places—Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull, to name but a few—and it will improve access to Manchester airport. In my constituency, people will be able to get from Liverpool to Manchester in half an hour, and trains to Leeds will take 80 minutes. In addition, there will be more of them. Those are great improvements, which will be of great assistance in developing Liverpool’s potential.

The northern hub is about more than simply individual areas, however, important though it is for each area named. It involves investment of half a billion pounds, which will lead to a £4 billion boost for the northern economies, with the potential for the creation of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs. That massive investment of half a billion pounds will have a significant outcome. As hon. Members have mentioned, it lies beside the £14.8 billion investment in Crossrail, just under £5 billion of which comes directly from the Government. A recent study of the regional pattern of investment in transport showed that about three times as much was invested on a per-head basis in transport in the south and south-east as in the north.

On the point about the difference in spend between the north and the south, the hon. Lady may have seen in the Transport Committee the report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, which evaluates the projects that the Government brought forward in the spending review in the autumn. Infrastructure spending amounted to £30 billion, and the spend per head was £2,700 in London, £134 in the north-west, £200 in Leeds and Humberside, and £5 in the north-east.

I have seen that report. It is significant that we register such great disparities, but it is even more important that we try to do something about them, and the northern hub represents a major opportunity to do that. The Transport Committee has taken a particular interest in the northern hub, which we refer to as an important proposal in our report on transport and the economy and our report on high-speed rail.

The Committee supports high-speed rail, but we registered a number of concerns, including about the importance of ensuring that investment in necessary high-speed rail did not take place at the expense of investment in the existing, classic line. We cited the importance of investing in the northern hub and invited the Government to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the existing line by investing in both the northern hub and high-speed rail. Perhaps they will soon be asked to show their position on the matter and to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the existing line.

The hon. Lady makes a powerful case for HS2, and if we are to make high-speed rail a success, we need investment in the northern hub. If we are to bring passengers up to the north more quickly, do we not also have to ensure that we invest in connectivity so that the system that high-speed rail passengers continue their journey on is not antiquated? Otherwise, the system will not work.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We want modern, new rail, not only on the new High Speed 2 line but on existing lines and connections, and investing in the northern hub as a separate project is one way to achieve that.

At the moment, Network Rail is assessing the detail of the northern hub proposals and looking at value for money. That needs to be done, but it is absolutely essential to recognise the strategic importance of this investment in rail in the north. The Government’s commitment to rail electrification in the north is much appreciated, but it is not an alternative to proceeding with the northern hub. I await with interest their final decision on the northern hub, and I ask the Minister to assure us that she recognises the strategic importance of investing in the north and to commit to the investment in the northern hub.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

Order. I will be calling the Opposition spokesman no later than 5 minutes to 4 pm The debate will now finish at 4.15 pm, as opposed to 4 o’clock.

Thank you, Mr Hood.

I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance today that she recognises the importance of the northern hub as a strategic transport investment to improve connectivity and economy. I hope that she can give us an additional assurance that, after due consideration, the scheme will be approved.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on stimulating this important debate, and I pay tribute to other contributors, in particular the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who has fought a long and relentless battle to get the northern hub on the political agenda. I think it can be accepted that to get Merseyside MPs such as myself and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) to advocate serious investment in Manchester takes something special, and it is due to a recognition that the Manchester network is a bottleneck for the whole north, affecting Leeds, Sheffield, Chester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Yorkshire and various golden triangles, squares and rectangles as yet unenumerated. The effect on the north is widespread, and my constituents in Southport are affected too; their journeys to Manchester are a nightmare, they suffer overcrowding not only on the train but at the platform in Manchester and they suffer the most appalling stock and the most appalling service.

On 20 October, at the northern rail conference, the Minister said, rather encouragingly, that we were going to get rid of the Pacers. We have heard that refrain before, and people have mentioned cascading stock down and so on, but in reality new trains are found first, foremost and almost exclusively for the south-east. The feeling in the north sometimes is that it is jam tomorrow, and I regard High Speed 2 as jam tomorrow or some way in the distance. Collectively, as northern MPs, however, we all want serious incremental change now. We want the better links with London, which would certainly be a good thing, but currently we desperately need better inter-regional connectivity.

I praise the Government and the Minister for having made a good start. To my great astonishment, we have seen the introduction of new rail in the north-west with the Todmorden curve, and £300 million has been found for electrification and £85 million for the Ordsall chord. The total Government commitment for rail is, however, actually £18 billion, and the whole northern hub project has been costed at £560 million, as Members have said, which puts things in perspective. Hon. Members have pointed out that the benefit-cost ratio exceeds comfortably the figures presented for Crossrail, which is costing about £6 billion. I speak with real bitterness because I was sentenced to two years, for crimes unknown, to serve on the hybrid Crossrail Bill. I was surprised at the many substantial objections to the scheme, which, had it been in the north, would certainly have postponed it, if not altogether eliminated it.

The Secretary of State for Transport has, however, said some encouraging things. She has spoken about investing in 2,700 new carriages throughout the network, but as I pointed out, that will only lead to a weary shrug from the man trapped on the Pacer. I went through some of my e-mails on the subject recently, and I want to refer briefly to two of them. A chap wrote to me in 2008 and said:

“Regularly there are only two carriages laid on and it is standing room before we have left the station. Breakdowns …particularly in winter are a feature attraction of the service however given the age of the trains this is unsurprising. When will there be some newer trains on this line?”

Four years later, another e-mail begins wearily:

“Yet again my journey on a Monday morning has been delayed by over an hour by the poor quality rolling stock used on the Southport to Manchester line…This is on top of the regular short formation of units, which appears to be a Northern Rail buzz phrase”—

a synonym for serious overcrowding.

I therefore welcome the progress that might be made on the northern hub, and we would all like to see more progress. I like the sound of a united or pan-northern approach, which is important, because it has not always been there in previous Parliaments and it is refreshing. Often, the objection to serious infrastructure is the lack of collective political will in an area, but cross-party, substantial and solid political will is clearly present. We do not need a Napoleonic regional mayor to step in and tell us what needs doing. Collectively, as politicians, we have come to the conclusion that this needs doing, and we would just like the Minister to get on with it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this debate, and on his commitment in campaigning for the northern hub. It is wonderful to see so many hon. Members from across the north in the Chamber, and one or two additional supporters who are more than welcome in our fight. As chair of the all-party group on rail in the north, I am pleased to see so many members of the group here. Hon. Members across parties are united on the issue of the northern hub. We are divided only by the Pennines, which are another reason why the whole hub must be united—so that we do not have the perpetual Pennine divide.

The Minister can judge how important the issue is for all of us, and how crucial it is that the whole hub be funded. We will not have the full economic benefit across the whole north if there is a piecemeal approach. I was worried recently when the Secretary of State talked about the welcome electrification of the Manchester-York line as part of the northern hub. I do not want to split hairs, but electrification was always seen as an addition to the hub, and not as the hub itself. It is essential not to lose part of the hub to that electrification, welcome though it is. It is the hub that will hold us all together.

The hub is not glamorous like High Speed 2, but it is essential if we are to tackle overcrowding, increase line speed, reduce journey times and increase services. It is an integral part of High Speed 2. I speak from bitter experience. When Virgin high-frequency trains were introduced with three trains an hour from Manchester to London, services to my constituency diminished. The trains terminated at Manchester Victoria, and we lost services to the airport and elsewhere because inter-city trains took the paths that our trains had previously taken. The only way to prevent that in future is to ensure that the engineering works proposed for the hub are carried out.

We will have more trains through and to Manchester, and more trains will connect to the west coast main line. Eventually, trains will connect to High Speed 2. That unglamorous engineering work will provide passing places so that we continue to have slow, stopping services with fast services. It will improve signalling, the Ordsall chord route across Manchester city, and Manchester Victoria station. Any hon. Members who have spent time at that station will know that it is not the nicest in the world, and I as a woman do not feel particularly safe there. There will be improvements at the station, and two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly.

Such improvements are as important to the north as the shiny new 250 mph train, and will be to the whole economy. Services will not then stop completely at Manchester Piccadilly when the Huddersfield train leaves, because it crosses every train path coming into the station, with the result that nothing else can come in and out. Constituents in Bolton will have a better, faster service, and people at my home station, Atherton, will not have to play sardines on the train, or have long waits at another gruesome station, Salford Crescent. They will be able to join the inter-city lines.

The project will bring £4 of benefit for every pound spent, and will do something to redress the imbalance between spending in the north and south. I do not understand why Londoners should have three times as much taxpayers’ money spent on their public transport as our constituents in the north.

During the debate I have done some arithmetic, which I believe is right, and which my hon. Friend may be interested in. Three months’ expenditure on Crossrail would pay for the whole northern hub. Is that not extraordinary?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which is interesting. It has been interesting during the High Speed 2 debate that people have frowned about putting so much money into the north, and people in the south-west have rightly asked why they are not receiving expenditure. There never seems to be an outcry about expenditure in London. I spend part of my life in London and before becoming an MP, I wanted to come to our capital city. Investment is needed in London, but it is also needed in the regions.

I am sure that hon. Members here have no problem with investment in rail projects throughout the country. HS2 has come in at £500 million more expensive than originally projected. The northern hub itself would cost that sort of money. Does my hon. Friend agree that it should not be too difficult to find funding for the northern hub?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Of course, it is not easy to find money, and I agree that it is good that the Government have protected some of the investment in rail. We all welcome that, but the issue is not an either/or. It is not all right to say that we can have part of the hub. If the whole north—the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the north-east—is to benefit, the whole hub must be developed. I am worried that the approach will be piecemeal.

As hon. Members have said, we need connectivity between our great cities, and the ability to travel across the country. We must consider the cost of having so much road traffic because rail travel is not adequate. As some of us have been saying for some time, it is quicker to drive from Manchester to Leeds than to take the train. It is quicker to drive from Milton Keynes to Leeds than to take the train. That is ludicrous, and we need the project to alter that. Like every hon. Member in the Chamber, I plead with the Minister to fund the northern hub in full, so that we will have rail connectivity between our great cities and receive the investment the north so badly needs.

It is a pleasure, Mr Hood, to have the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this important debate. It is even more important following the recent announcement to give the go-ahead to High Speed 2. That announcement is a signal of just how important investment in high-speed, efficient rail services is for the future growth of our national and regional economies. I absolutely support the northern hub as an important strategic investment and opportunity.

In that context, I want to be slightly more parochial and to plead that places and communities such as West Lancashire should not be forgotten when planning and investing in our railways. The danger for West Lancashire is that we lose out because of the dominance of the city regions and core cities that act almost as capitals. The effectiveness of such schemes lies in connectivity and the quality of the entire rail network. West Lancashire is virtually at the crossroads of the north-west. If big circles are drawn around Preston, Liverpool and Manchester, West Lancashire is the bit in the middle. My plea in this debate and the wider debate on transport infrastructure investment is not to forget West Lancashire.

Since being elected in 2005, I have campaigned constantly for improved rail infrastructure across all areas of my constituency. My great concern is that places such as West Lancashire are in real danger of falling behind with rail infrastructure. I shall give a couple of brief examples. Skelmersdale is the most populated town in my constituency, but it has no rail service at all. A major redevelopment of the town centre is about to start and is the biggest investment since it was established 50 years ago. We have a brand new state-of-the-art college, and the town has an exciting new future with many opportunities, if people can get there.

The really good news for the north-west is the Lancashire triangle rail electrification, which will be transformational for the north-west. West Lancashire has three lines serving the area, and I ask the Minister to remember that our biggest town, Skelmersdale, has no rail service at all. Delivery of the Lancashire triangle rail electrification will leave West Lancashire in a strange position, because diesel trains will still run in a small area unless more investment is put into the electrification.

If nothing is done, there will be implications on rail development in West Lancashire. For example, the Manchester line carries an increasing number of passengers, with alternate trains going to Victoria and Manchester airport. Transport for Greater Manchester appears to be suggesting that the airport service may be sacrificed in favour of running trains from West Yorkshire and east Manchester to the airport. The Kirkby to Wigan line passes through Up Holland, which would form the basis of a rail station at Skelmersdale. That line was proposed for electrification in the early 1980s, and there is clearly a need to extend the existing Merseyrail service from Liverpool to Kirkby to serve Skelmersdale. That would provide an opportunity to consider a service between Skelmersdale, Wigan and Manchester, and that should be done because it is likely that many of the employment opportunities for those who live in West Lancashire will be found in Liverpool and Manchester.

My third example is the route between Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston. Ormskirk has a superb service to Liverpool; the line from Ormskirk to Preston has recently received an improved timetable, and Network Rail is examining the business case for an hourly service. There is, however, strong demand to extend the existing Merseyrail service beyond Ormskirk to Burscough and the famous Burscough curves. That would enable an hourly service to Preston to be delivered at low cost.

Does the hon. Lady recognise that the Government are taking a huge step in restoring the Todmorden curve? It shows that they are ready to look at such projects and provides some hope that the Burscough curves will receive serious consideration.

I did not quite hear all of that, but I am hopeful that a service on the Burscough curves will eventually be established. My point is that all three routes that I have mentioned will be operating in an area that is dominated by electric services. Electric trains run only where the line is electrified, so unless the trains have an additional power source that will enable them to continue for some distance, West Lancashire runs the risk of becoming isolated.

As well as the new electric trains on the newly electrified Lancashire triangle—well, not new exactly, but second-hand from the London area—the superb Merseyrail electric network also uses third-rail electrification. If lines in my area are not electrified and with the investment to improve the national and regional rail network infrastructure, my fear is that places such as West Lancashire will be left behind, which we cannot afford for a plethora of social and economic reasons. Such a move would begin to create greater disconnection and disintegration of the rail network. The challenge for me, West Lancashire and, I hope, the Minister is to ensure that West Lancashire does not become ever more isolated as a small island of diesel trains that are not included in the great opportunities and investment that is taking place.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this important debate. How strongly Members from across the north feel about this issue has been highlighted by the strength and number of contributions that we have heard today. It is important that voices from both sides of the Pennines and from otherwise rival areas of Yorkshire and the north-west are heard speaking as one on this issue. Although many of the physical works of the northern hub programme fall to the west of the Pennines, the benefits of the hub would be felt across the whole of the north. I can contribute to that discussion because I am a Sheffield lad whose north-west constituency, although in Cumbria, still harks back to its routes in Lancashire in the old days.

As Members have pointed out, the rail network could play a significant role in securing economic growth in the north of England. As has been highlighted, however, that potential is currently limited by pinch points and other capacity restraints across the network that limit the frequency of trains, raise journey times and reduce reliability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said so well, the northern rail network reflects the needs of its 19th-century creators and the rivalries of Victorian railway companies. It is not fit for purpose in the different economic reality of the early 21st century.

Members from all parties have pointed out the benefits that the northern hub could provide, which include 700 extra trains per day running across the north, improved connectivity between major regional economic hubs, which would give those areas a chance to grow still further and provide vital regeneration, and the creation of up to 30,000 jobs.

Improving links between northern cities and the capital is important, which is why the previous Labour Government delivered the upgrade to the west coast main line and why we want a greater commitment to a new high-speed line serving Manchester and Leeds than the Government have given so far. If we are serious about rebalancing the UK economy and driving the growth that will return the country to long-term prosperity, we must not focus simply on travel between regions. Travel within regions, including northern regions, is also important, and that is seen in the strength of feeling and unity that has been displayed during this debate.

There are some positive things. We welcome the electrification and high-speed rail initiatives in which the new Administration are sticking to the commitments made by the previous one. Question marks and concerns remain in certain areas, but perhaps they are for another debate—I would be delighted if such a discussion could be scheduled for the near future.

The Ordsall chord is a useful piece of infrastructure, but as the hon. Member for Colne Valley highlighted, as long as Manchester Piccadilly has just two through platforms—as most hon. Members will be aware, those two platforms are unpleasantly cramped and overcrowded, and frequently cause delays to trains—the ability to use that station to deliver additional journey opportunities will be severely limited.

Announcing the electrification of the route from York to Manchester via Leeds is a positive move, but without the extra lines and loops to allow express trains to overtake stopping services and freight trains, as proposed in the northern hub, it will be hard to deliver extra services or significantly faster journeys. Ministers are obviously right to examine carefully the scope and scale of projects such as the northern hub before approving them, and it is essential to achieve best value for money. It is also, however, essential that the issues faced by the rail network in the north are addressed strategically and not in a piecemeal fashion.

Now is the time to commit to this scheme. The sooner that it is achieved, the sooner the boost to growth can be felt where it is urgently needed. In their spending priorities, the Government chose to back-load the cuts to rail investment, in contrast to other areas of spending. The bulk of the proposed cuts fall in the final two years of the spending review period, the second of which represents the first year of Network Rail’s control period 5, during which the bulk of the northern hub schemes would be delivered.

The Government are committed to finding almost £1.3 billion of efficiency savings and cuts from the Network Rail and passenger rail budgets over the period of the comprehensive spending review, although the National Audit Office has warned, understandably and rightly, that great uncertainty over where the axe will fall still remains. That is why the continued silence on this project is deeply concerning: as we can see, the lean period for rail investment is fast approaching.

Ministers have consistently said that the case for the northern hub is strong. They are well aware of the business case showing a return of £4 for every £1 invested in the scheme. Today’s debate has shown that hon. Members of all parties from across the north recognise the necessity of the extra capacity, new links and faster journeys that the northern hub will provide. I therefore hope that the Minister will make it clear that she recognises that, if we deal with the scheme in parts and do not implement the full package, the overall cost-benefit ratio will be significantly diminished. Will she make it clear whether she will commit to the full package of improvements provided by the northern hub project appearing in the high-level output specification for control period 5 when it is published this summer?

It is, of course, also important that the northern hub plans reflect the changing environment on the railways and are delivered on in the most efficient way possible, so can the Minister confirm that the Government are examining whether the package of measures can be revised to deliver equal benefit at potentially lower cost in the light of recent announcements on trans-Pennine electrification?

Confidence that the region’s transport infrastructure will be able to cope with the demands placed on it is an essential part of producing the confidence needed to secure investment, jobs and economic growth across the north. The northern hub would help to provide that. That is why we are urging Ministers today to give it their full support.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. This has been a great debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing it. This issue is clearly of great importance to the big turnout of hon. Members who are here today and to their constituents. Throughout my time with the transport brief, both in opposition and in government, I have been impressed by the determination of the MPs and the stakeholders behind the northern hub project. Indeed, one of my first regional visits as Minister was to meet a group of them in Manchester soon after the coalition was formed.

As we have heard today, there is much support for the northern hub project. We heard the gracious support of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), representing the views of her Committee. We also heard support expressed across party lines. There was even trans-Pennine solidarity, which is not something that we get on every issue. I am told that this issue even unites east, west, south and north Yorkshire. Again, not many issues do that. Last but not least, the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) commented on how dramatic it was that the issue had united Liverpool and Manchester in support.

I commend the evidence-based approach that those behind the northern hub project have taken in pressing the case for the hub and for improvements in rail and other forms of transport in the north generally. Many hon. Members emphasised the importance of finding ways to bridge the prosperity gap between north and south, and I completely agree that improving our transport infrastructure is an important way to achieve that goal. The Government fully appreciate the economic benefits that improving our transport system can generate. That point was emphasised by many hon. Members: my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), to name but a few. We recognise the economic benefits that can be generated by investing in the north specifically as well.

That is why we have placed a priority on improving the rail network even when budgets are severely limited by the pressing need to deal with the deficit. Therefore, as well as going ahead with the high-speed rail network, we have embarked on what is probably the biggest programme of rail improvements since the Victorian era. Those ambitious plans include a number of major projects in the north of England. Many have been mentioned and welcomed today, not least the new stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge, highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew).

Our programme also includes important elements of the northern hub project. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and others, the Ordsall chord is going ahead. That new stretch of railway linking Victoria and Piccadilly—two of Manchester’s busiest stations—has been talked about since the 1960s, I am told, and will deliver benefits to the whole of the north of England by substantially reducing journey times between Liverpool and Leeds.

The electrification of the North TransPennine route between Manchester and Leeds through to York and the east coast line will also deliver important benefits. Strictly speaking, that was not part of the original northern hub scheme, but it was prioritised by the rail industry in its initial plan, which it drew up recently. The combined effect of North TransPennine electrification, the Ordsall chord and line-speed improvements that are already part of the CP4 programme will see journey times between Liverpool and Newcastle cut by as much as 45 minutes.

These programmes are already starting to provide the improved connectivity within the region, between the cities of the north of England, that many hon. Members have rightly highlighted as crucial if the economy in the north is to flourish. The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) emphasised that point. The improvements will also promote the modal shift that a number of hon. Members highlighted as important.

Virtually every hon. Member who spoke emphasised the importance to the northern economy of implementing the package in full during the 2014-2019 railway control period. Those hon. Members included the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who is the chairman of the all-party group on rail in the north, my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton.

As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the Chairman of the Select Committee, acknowledged, Network Rail is as we speak considering in detail all the remaining elements of the hub that have yet to be funded. The Government have asked it to do that to assist us in the decisions that we will make in the summer. There are about nine individual packages. Network Rail is considering, at a more detailed level, the business case for the whole project, as well as for all those nine individual elements. This is, therefore, a timely debate—a good opportunity for the House to contribute to the Government’s thinking on this matter.

I am slightly puzzled. The argument is that the whole of the hub gives the 4:1 benefit ratio. There is a possibility, of course, that one little place may give less benefit than another bit, but all together the benefit ratio is 4:1. Given what the Minister is saying, is there a risk that a part that has a lower cost-value ratio but still a value will be overlooked?

As I said, we have asked Network Rail to consider in greater detail the value-for-money case for the whole project—all elements of it—because we believe that it is very important to consider very thoroughly all the elements of the northern hub. That view is confirmed by the strong support expressed by hon. Members today.

With input from train operators and the passenger transport executives, Network Rail needs to establish the impact that North TransPennine electrification will have on the original hub proposals. It may be that the eventual package put forward by Network Rail, the industry and the PTEs to achieve the goals of the northern hub is somewhat different from the original 2009 proposals. We will obviously have to consider carefully the input that we get from the industry groups and from the PTEs in the relevant areas before we make final decisions on the matter. I fully appreciate how much support there is for going ahead with the whole package and I fully appreciate the benefits that it could deliver. I can assure the House that the Government will consider the northern hub package as a whole as well as its individual elements when we make our decisions on HLOS2 and the CP5 period this summer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley wanted me to pre-empt that process and make the decision today. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him, but I can assure him that we will consider the matter with great care in the run-up to our announcement on HLOS2 and the CP5 period in the summer. Whether we can fund the whole programme in CP5 depends on what is affordable within available budgets. We will also need to assess the case for improvements elsewhere in the country to determine which projects can be given priority. Of course we want to fund as many projects that promote economic growth as possible, but we also need to ensure that the Government’s overall finances are not overstretched in these difficult times. Given the competing demands on limited taxpayer funding, it is vital that the overall cost of running the railways and the cost of such upgrades come down. If we can achieve the kind of savings that Sir Ray McNulty said were possible in his report last year, it will become much easier to deliver the improvements that passengers want.

We will be publishing a Command Paper on the reform that we need to see costs come down on the railways, thus improving value for money for both passengers and taxpayers. The more inefficiency that we can take out of the railways, the greater the scope for delivering infrastructure upgrades and additional services.

Naturally, today’s debate has focused primarily on improvements to the conventional rail network in the north. The projects that we have given the go-ahead to in the north will complement our proposals on high-speed rail. I welcome the support that has been expressed today by a number of hon. Members for the Government’s high-speed rail proposals. The Secretary of State for Transport was very clear that her decision was to go ahead with the whole Y network to Manchester and Leeds and not just the London to Birmingham leg. HS2 can potentially complement the improvement of local and regional services. For example, Centro produced an analysis that said that the benefits of HS2 to Birmingham could be significantly increased, with improvements to the local and regional transport network in the west midlands. It is quite important to consider whether the commitment to the Y network to the north of England might further strengthen the case for the northern hub package because of its potential to spread the benefits of high-speed rail more quickly and more widely around the north of England.

In the last few minutes available to me, I want to pick up on some of the more specific questions raised in the debate today. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley expressed concern about the future of services to Mossley, Greenfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite. Before the announcement on the electrification of the North TransPennine route, some suggestions were made on the future of those services and whether some stations between Stalybridge and Huddersfield might end up with fewer stops. The electrification announcement means that Network Rail will need to review this matter and the capacity on the route. My hon. Friend made it clear that no decision on this has been made as yet. It will not be made for some time and it will be made only after an appropriate public consultation.

The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge has again called for the reopening of the Woodhead route. I have to say that that was not one that was prioritised as part of the northern hub because of the capacity that is still available on the Hope Valley line.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and the hon. Members for Southport and for Blackley and Broughton all expressed concern about crowding in the north of England and the balance of spending between north and south. I remind the House of the importance of the additional capacity that the Government are introducing through the HLOS programme.

The northern hub has achieved a significant amount of support. I commend the evidence that has been produced by the supporters of the project. It will be useful to the Government when they make their decision. We will be listening with care to the views of all those in the north of England who are promoting this project when we make our decisions on what rail upgrade we can take forward in the next railway control period.


It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood, and I am grateful to Mr Speaker for selecting this important topic for debate. According to the British Journal of Cancer, the incidence of the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, is expected to rise by 52% in both men and women by 2030. One of the many tragic aspects of advanced melanoma is that, compared with other cancers, it disproportionally affects younger people. Indeed, more than a third of all cases of melanoma affect people who are under the age of 55. With such a high incidence, combined with the aggressive nature of melanoma, treatment options are very important.

I want to draw attention to the new and innovative drug, ipilimumab, also known under the trade name of Yervoy. Ipilimumab works in a new and unique way through a form of immunotherapy. It encourages the immune system to produce more cancer-killing cells. The drug is significant, and it has not been available to patients before.

In July last year, ipilimumab was launched in the UK with a licence approved by the European Medicines Agency. This is the first major advance for treatment of this cancer in 30 years. However, to the disappointment of patients and stakeholders, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence announced on 14 October that it would not be recommending ipilimumab for the treatment of advanced melanoma on the NHS. I was profoundly disappointed to discover that the chief executive of NICE, Andrew Dillon, had deemed that this treatment was not

“a cost effective use of NHS resources.”

In response to that news, I held a stakeholder investigation in the Houses of Parliament and invited patients, carers, clinicians, charities—they included the patient support group, Factor 50, and the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer charity, also known as Skcin—and parliamentarians to come together and discuss their personal concerns about the negative preliminary guidance that was given by NICE.

My hon. Friend mentioned that this disease affects younger people to a greater extent. One of my constituents, who is young and has young children, needs the drug Yervoy, which is expensive. Does she agree that we need to do everything that we can to ensure that those young children can see their mother for a longer period and that her last days are not lost days?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come on to some cases in a moment. It is a very important point.

As well as coming together to share our concerns, the meeting was held to create a report that was submitted to NICE in response to the appraisal consultation document, in anticipation that it would be considered ahead of the NICE technology appraisal meeting, which took place on 16 November. We have had no response so far.

When holding the meeting on advanced melanoma, I was given the opportunity to hear first hand from melanoma patients, who are desperate to receive the drug. Melanoma often strikes at the younger end of the population. More than a third of all cases of melanoma occur in people below the age of 55, and it is the second most common form of cancer in the UK for those aged between 15 and 34. What those statistics on advanced melanoma in the younger population do not show is that many people in that age group will have children and so will face a very aggressive cancer, alongside the knowledge that they face leaving behind their children and family.

The patients whom I met at the meeting all echoed a simple and profound point: they are desperate to stay alive, so that they can be with their children, husbands, wives, partners and families. Given that treatment options for the disease have not advanced for three decades, how can it be fair not to release the drug for use by those patients who could have more time with their families? One young patient—a lady aged only 30—said at the meeting:

“I need to live. I have to live for my children. I just want a few more years so that my boys will remember me.”

Richard Clifford, the founder and trustee of the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer charity—Skcin—said at the meeting that

“median overall survival time after diagnosis is six to nine months. This is tragic because people have little time to prepare themselves and their loved ones for what is inevitably going to occur.”

I could not agree more with his sentiments. There is clearly an unmet need in the treatments available, and I believe that ipilimumab has a place in today’s treatment options, which are already scarce for cases of malignant melanoma. An experienced oncologist from Leeds who has used ipilimumab echoed that view at the meeting:

“It is the first drug that can help people live longer or make them more likely to be active for a meaningful period of time.”

I add a personal plea for help: my brother died from a malignant melanoma 11 years ago this month at the age of 54, one week after his birthday, leaving his wife and two teenage children. I know how debilitating this form of cancer is and how quickly it can spread. Apart from radical surgery, he had very few options in terms of the drugs on offer. As a result of Michael’s illness and death, I see my GP regularly, and I have had several pre-cancerous areas removed before they had the chance to progress to malignancy.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this important issue. As someone with very fair skin, I have had to have skin removed and examined, so I understand the potential consequences and the worry that people go through. Does she agree that we need more education about the consequences for fair-skinned people and, indeed, everyone of too much exposure to the sun and the overuse of sunbeds?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that up. Sunbeds are still a problem, particularly among young women who think that having a tan makes them look healthier.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter before the House. Skin cancer is the deadliest cancer in Northern Ireland, and that is very worrying. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) mentioned sunbeds. People under the age of 35 who use sunbeds increase their possibility of getting skin cancer. What does the hon. Lady think can be done? Does she think that councils need to do more? Councils have control of sunbeds, so perhaps they need to say, “No more.”

Yes, I would like that to happen. Looking tanned does not mean that someone is healthy. In fact, tanning increases the risk of malignant melanomas, which are rapid killers, and I would like councils to have the strength to say, “No.”

It may be expensive to prescribe the drug, but it is the first advance in treatment for a long time, and if used, may offer the opportunity of more trials to refine it, which could lead to its becoming even more effective. For young people with melanomas, it is a lifeline, even if they only survive for a relatively short time. Let us not forget the possibility that agencies, such as social services, and welfare benefits can cost the country huge sums if the remaining parent has to give up their career to look after a young family. Patients with this aggressive disease are expected to have a median overall survival time of six to nine months, but in trials, 46% of patients taking ipilimumab were still alive after a year, and in some cases, patients can live even longer.

At the stakeholder’s meeting on 8 November, we heard from a patient called Ian. He seemed well, spoke eloquently and raised many important points on access to treatment, which I urge hon. Members to read in the report that we submitted to NICE—I am happy to provide a copy. Sadly, before 21 December 2011, Ian became very unwell and was ultimately bedridden. The short time between Ian attending the meeting in November and his death a week ago demonstrates the aggressive nature of advanced melanomas.

Lack of access to the drug is still a major concern to all melanoma patients and, of course, to their families and friends. It is very distressing for them to know that there is a drug on the market that has been proven to prolong the lives of sufferers, if even for only a few months or years, yet they cannot access it through the normal channels. I acknowledge that ipilimumab is available in some parts of England through the cancer drugs fund, but it is not available in all areas, and the fund does not even exist in Wales—yet another example of inequality from the cancer drugs fund and another illustration of a postcode lottery.

On my hon. Friend’s point about a postcode lottery and regional variation, I think that she will be interested in figures that I recently obtained through a parliamentary question. They break down the number of registrations of newly diagnosed cases of melanoma—skin cancer—by local authority and region. I would happily give her a copy. In my region of Avon, Somerset and Wiltshire, there has been an explosion of newly diagnosed cases of skin cancer, from 254 in 1999 to 455 in 2008—an increase of 79%. The huge variation across the country shows that this is not just about the future, but that we have a problem now that we must urgently tackle.

Yes, I agree. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, because although we are talking about a big increase by 2030, he is right that melanomas are affecting more and more people, particularly the young, and they are usually a death sentence.

What will happen to those patients in areas covered by the cancer drugs fund who can access ipilimumab through the fund when funding ends in 2014? That further illustrates why it is imperative that NICE recommends ipilimumab, so that it is available across England and Wales to all patients who could benefit from it. The Minister knows that my concerns about access to treatments for other cancers—for example, Avastin as second-line treatment for bowel cancer via the cancer drugs fund—are well versed through parliamentary questions and speeches in the Chamber. I remain equally determined to ensure the availability to cancer patients of other life-prolonging drugs, such as ipilimumab.

Alongside Factor 50 and Skcin, I urge in the strongest possible terms that the Department of Health, the manufacturers and NICE work together, so that ipilimumab is available to appropriate patients across England and Wales. There are huge concerns that, without a positive decision on ipilimumab, patients will lose out on a lifeline to have those extra months or even years with their loved ones.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on securing the debate and bringing this important issue to the attention of the House today, and on the way she set out the issue and spoke of her experiences and of those whom she represents. She powerfully made the case for the drug and, more generally, for the need to raise awareness in order to educate people and to ensure they take the right steps better to protect themselves from melanomas.

I want to make it clear that the Government’s commitment to improving outcomes for cancer patients, including people with malignant melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer, as my hon. Friend said—remains unwavering. Our cancer outcomes strategy, which we published just a year ago, sets out our aims for delivering health care outcomes as good as those anywhere in the world. Our ambition is to reduce significantly the number of deaths from preventable and avoidable cancers. The strategy sets out actions to tackle preventable cancer incidence, improve the quality and efficiency of cancer treatment and services, improve patients’ experience of care, and improve the quality of life for cancer survivors.

I will start with prevention, to which some reference has already been made, because it is the really important aspect of this issue. Cancer Research UK has been running the SunSmart campaign on behalf of the Department of Health for a number of years. It is a national campaign that provides information and advice about skin cancer and sun protection, and it has a particular focus on young people aged 16 to 24, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend rightly mentioned. Its major activity in 2011 was a bespoke marketing partnership with T4 on the Beach, which is a popular music festival, I am told. At the event, about 3,225 people in the target audience were directly engaged by the campaign, and the evaluation showed that those who saw the T4 SunSmart campaign were more likely to report that they would wear sunscreen in the future—72%, compared with 52%. Clearly, there are lessons to learn from that for future campaigns in this area.

In reference to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about sunbeds, and I draw her attention to the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010, which came into force last April, making it an offence for sunbed businesses in England and Wales to permit people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds on their commercial premises. To reinforce that, we have been working with Cancer Research UK through the Department-funded “R UV Ugly?” campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of sunbeds and the benefits of skin checks. The campaign is being run in partnership with the company sk:n, which is providing free ultraviolet scans in its clinics across the UK.

That brings me on to early diagnosis, which is the next step in the process.

I intervened earlier on the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), regarding councils sometimes needing to be more aware of what they can do. Has the Minister any intention of asking councils to be more proactive in preventing sunbed use? That is perhaps a key question.

In England, one of the opportunities coming up as a result of the Health and Social Care Bill is the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities. Alongside the authorities’ other responsibilities for environmental health and trading standards, that brings both enforcement and education opportunities, which will be very important in making the existing regulations even more effective.

Earlier diagnosis is central to the strategy the Government have laid out, because if we catch more cancers earlier they will become more treatable. The SunSmart campaign has a website that provides information about how to spot the symptoms of the disease, and during 2011 it received more than 11,000 visits per month on average, peaking in June, surprisingly, with more than 21,000 visits. With a programme grant from the Department of Health, Cancer Research UK and the British Association of Dermatologists are working together on a toolkit to provide practical online support and training to help GPs with pattern recognition for skin lesions. The toolkit will be piloted early this year, before a planned national roll-out, building on the evidence base.

That leads me on to treatment. Once skin cancer is diagnosed, access to appropriate treatment, delivered to a high standard, is critical. Increasing access to cancer treatments is a goal that all Members who have contributed, or are listening, to the debate share. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire for her campaigning work on behalf of a number of her constituents and other people, and I would like to set out the current situation in relation to ipilimumab. I am struggling with the pronunciation of that word, and I apologise; I do not in any way wish to denigrate the issue. It is really important to explain where we are, because the drug is being appraised by NICE for use in the treatment of stage 3 and stage 4 malignant melanoma. NICE has a rather difficult job, and my hon. Friend has fairly described the challenge it faces in coming to its judgments. NICE’s role is to provide the NHS with robust, evidence-based guidance on whether a drug should be available, on clinical and cost-effectiveness grounds. I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that NICE recognises that its work has genuine consequences and has an impact on individuals’ lives. It makes a great effort to ensure that clinicians, patients, and anyone with an interest is involved in its work. I will forward my hon. Friend’s speech to NICE and ensure that it sees it.

NICE published its draft guidance on both the clinical and cost-effectiveness of ipilimumab last October. My hon. Friend has explained that the document does not recommend the use of the drug by the NHS, and she has described, in no uncertain terms, the dismay and disappointment that she and others feel on behalf of the families and the sufferers. However, NICE has not yet finalised its guidance to the NHS, and I am sure that Members will appreciate that, because NICE is an independent body, it would not be appropriate for me to dictate to or direct it. What I can tell Members—I hope this will be at least a glimmer of light—is that Bristol-Myers Squibb, the manufacturer of the drug, has proposed a patient access scheme, and the Department has agreed that NICE can consider it. I understand that NICE will now ask its appraisal committee to consider the scheme as part of its reconsideration of the drug.

Until NICE publishes its final guidance, PCTs are responsible for making funds available on the basis of individual needs in their local populations. There is no excuse at this point for PCTs not to do that, and patients have a right under the NHS constitution to expect local decisions about the funding of medicines and treatments to be made rationally, following proper consideration of all the evidence. In addition, where a treatment is not normally funded, PCTs are required to have processes in place to consider exceptional funding requests if a doctor feels that a particular patient’s exceptional clinical circumstances would warrant such funding. To help PCTs make these difficult decisions, the Department has issued a set of core principles that should govern them.

That is the current regime, and when this Government came into office they decided to go further, as part of their coalition programme. We are delivering on a promise in our programme for Government to create a cancer drugs fund. In the first year of the fund we have provided £50 million, and from 2010 through to the end of the fund there will be £600 million. I will say a bit more later about what happens after the fund ends.

It is great to hear the Minister saying that we are looking to ensure that people can get new drugs, such as Yervoy. Does he agree that we must also ensure that PCTs, local authorities and the voluntary sector provide excellent palliative care to the terminally ill?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will know that we received the recommendations of the palliative care review last year, and we are looking forward to making announcements on it in the near future.

The cancer drugs fund means that clinicians in England are now able to prescribe cancer drugs from which they feel patients would benefit, without restrictions simply on cost grounds. That goes back to the absolutely correct point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) about adding years, months and days to a person’s life, and ensuring that those days are not lost.

Up until last November, 10,000 cancer patients had benefited from the cancer drugs fund and clinical recommendations, with a number of them receiving ipilimumab through the fund. Strategic health authority regional clinical panels are using their clinical judgment. I understand the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire about variation, but we are assured that there is consistency between areas, and if there is any evidence to the contrary, I urge her to share it with the Department so that we can pursue that.

On the cancer drugs fund in Wales, the devolved Administration have to make their own judgment about how to prioritise NHS spending, and in contrast to the UK Administration they have decided to reduce spending on the NHS.

My hon. Friend also asked about the future arrangements when the cancer drugs fund finishes. We want to find a way for patients who benefit from drugs provided through the fund to continue to do so, at a cost that represents value to the NHS and to our wider society. We are considering whether it would be sensible, after the fund comes to an end in 2014, to assess some of the drugs, including the one we are debating, under the new value-based pricing arrangements. A final decision has not yet been made on that, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend as we get to a conclusion.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the potential wider costs of cancers such as melanoma. As we develop our value-based pricing system, it is important that we ensure that those wider costs are taken into account. We want a more systematic and transparent way of working, so that interested parties, including pharmaceutical companies, charities, Members of Parliament and the general public, are clear in advance about what factors can be taken into account and what supporting evidence will be needed.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I hope that a glimmer of hope is provided by a new scheme that could allow NICE to re-appraise the drug and come to a different conclusion. We will now wait to see how NICE proceeds. It is absolutely right to use parliamentary opportunities such as this to raise awareness. It is by raising awareness that we will save lives, which is the bottom line.

Female Employment (Scotland)

As you will be aware, Mr Hood, Scotland has been much in the news during the past couple of weeks, but I will focus on the real world experienced by its citizens and the new challenges that are emerging, rather than fixate on a process story that fascinates only a small minority of our population but looks set to continue for many days, weeks and months to come.

One major feature of the post-war era has been women’s increasing economic power and growing participation in the workplace. Women are better educated than ever, and girls outperform boys at school and their male colleagues at university. They now populate the ranks of middle management. More than 45% of solicitors in the UK now are women, and it is predicted that by 2017, there will be more female doctors than male. Even during the economic downturns of the 1980s and 1990s, female employment levels were not substantially dented, possibly because women dominated many low-paid and part-time jobs, as they still do today.

However, the current economic downturn has created a serious and potentially permanent shift in the jobs market. Not only has it halted women’s progress in the workplace and our economy more generally, but it risks putting it into reverse. We urgently need greater analysis and a determined political will to ensure that women, who make up the majority of our population, do not find their opportunities for advancement crushed.

The problem exists on either side of the border, but regrettably, in some cases, the position in Scotland is worse than overall UK average, as I will highlight. I have been concerned about it for many months. That is why, along with women from business, academia and the trade union movement, I called last year on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and committees at Holyrood to carry out specific investigations so that we can examine the issue in further detail.

Although there is an understandable focus on the worryingly high youth unemployment—today’s figures showed the extent of the problem—the number of women claiming unemployment benefits in Scotland increased by more than 15% between November 2010 and the end of 2011, rising from 36,300 to 42,100. By contrast, the male claimant count rose by only 1% during the same period. Our female unemployment rate is now at its highest in more than 23 years. When the Scottish Government were asked in December to comment on those figures, their response was that the rate of female unemployment remained lower than the UK average. Funnily enough, that was their response at the start of last year to the general unemployment rate: that is, until the comparison started to go in the opposite direction, when they stopped mentioning it at all.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. I only regret that it is such a short opportunity to discuss this extremely important issue. Does she accept that, although there is no complacency in Scotland about any sort of unemployment, the fact that female employment in Scotland has been consistently higher than the UK average must also be taken into consideration? That must be included in the context of understanding why our female unemployment is at the level it is.

With respect to the hon. Lady, to a woman in a low-paid job who has just been made redundant, comparative unemployment levels south and north of the border are immaterial; the problem is that she has lost her income. That is complacency and political gamesmanship. People who face job loss require a much better answer.

I am sorry, but I wish to make progress and give the Minister an opportunity to respond.

The result of this lack of action is now showing in our economy. A TUC report last month showed that long-term unemployment is rising faster in Scotland than in any other nation or region of the UK, and that Scotland has eight of the 10 local authority areas showing the largest percentage increases in long-term unemployment over the past year. Last year, more than 26,000 Scots spent their second Christmas in a row on the dole.

Sadly, it is likely that the rate of female unemployment in Scotland will increase. Women hold about two thirds of jobs in the public sector, and job reductions north of the border are occurring somewhat later than in England. Unfortunately, 2012 looks likely to be a bleak year for everyone, regardless of where in the United Kingdom they live. There are still substantial job cuts to come in the public sector, where women dominate. TUC analysis shows that an estimated 70,225 public sector jobs in Scotland will be cut between now and 2017.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and conscious of her time. Will she at least acknowledge that, given the concentration of women in low-paid jobs in Scotland, and the dominance of women in the public sector, the single best thing that has happened has been the introduction of a living wage in those parts of Scotland’s public sector for which the Scottish Government are responsible? That living wage, and a guaranteed pay increase for people on low wages in Scotland, will benefit women disproportionately.

I certainly agree that the living wage is an excellent way to address issues of low pay. That is why I am delighted that Glasgow city council led the way on that matter. I note that qualification, but it is regrettable that the Scottish Government have not insisted that all employees of local authorities and public agencies in Scotland—not just civil servants, who are by far the minority of public servants in Scotland—also be paid a living wage if they are on low salaries.

There is more evidence that, unlike in previous recessions, men are now more willing to take on part-time work, which again has historically been female-dominated, or work in sectors such as retail and caring. The Scottish Trades Union Congress pointed out the growing problem of under-employment in a comprehensive study in September. It estimates that, in Scotland, more than 17% of the working-age population are either unemployed or under-employed: that is, working part-time but seeking full-time employment. That equates to more than 460,000 Scots who are currently unable to access the quality full-time work opportunities necessary to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. The STUC’s latest analysis for December increased that figure to more than 500,000. More and more Scots must rely for lengthy periods on a string of temporary contracts, agency work and the much-abused zero hours contracts. Such working arrangements form an increasing slice of low-paid work in which, again, women are the clear majority.

Both the UK and Scottish Governments are obliged by the Equality Act 2010, passed by the last Labour Government, to give due consideration to the implications for gender equality of their policies. So far, the lack of rigorous gender impact assessment of the many complex changes made over the last year has pushed many women into substantial economic hardship. The Institute for Fiscal Studies report commissioned by the Fawcett Society last July revealed that, overall, single female households will be significantly harder hit during 2010-2015, in terms of net income loss, than their male equivalents, largely because more than 92% of lone parents in this country are women. Although the female rate of unemployment is still lower than the male rate, the impact of female unemployment can often be more considerable. For example, it has more effect on children living in single-parent households.

An analysis of the June 2010 Budget by the House of Commons Library found that women will pay roughly 72% of the net cost of the changes in taxes, benefits and tax credits set out in the Budget. The subsequent comprehensive spending reviews in 2010 and 2011 ushered in further cuts and welfare reforms that have shifted yet more of the burden on to women and families. Of the £18.3 billion a year raised through net direct tax, pay and pension changes since the 2010 election, £13.2 billion comes from women. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that, as a direct result of the UK Government’s tax and benefit changes, the average family of four will see a deduction in their income of £1,250 per annum by 2015.

Both Governments accept the argument that good-quality and affordable child care is key to allowing many women to fully access the jobs market. It should be a matter for serious concern that Scotland has the highest child care costs in the United Kingdom, and the UK Government have compounded the problem by cutting the proportion of child care costs that are covered for families eligible for working tax credit from 80% to 70%. Research published by Aviva last summer shows that, already, thousands of women have left the workplace to look after families because work is increasingly considered to be uneconomical.

In November, The Scotsman reported that the number of Scottish youngsters attending child care services has fallen after a quarter of registered crèches closed in two years. A number of holiday play schemes, out-of-school clubs, play groups and children and family centres have also shut their doors, as cuts to public services hit harder. In October, the Scottish Government launched a new fund for child care projects, but £1.5 million over three years for the whole country is grossly inadequate if we are serious about our children’s future and the ability of their mothers to work their families out of poverty.

As well as the failure to assess the impact of current policies on women over the next few years, there is also an urgent need to assess where women will be in any new economy.

Does my hon. Friend think that there is a correlation between the increase in female unemployment and the increase in child poverty?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who is an expert in this area, that there is a direct correlation. It is no surprise that there is an increase in child poverty at the same time as that in female unemployment, even though both Governments have a statutory duty to make sure that they reach demanding targets. That is another good reason why this issue needs to be addressed.

We need to assess where women will be in any new economy over the next few years. That economy will apparently be less reliant on the service sector and will involve the engagement of a greater proportion of the work force in science, engineering and technology occupations, both at graduate and, just as importantly, college and craft levels. Although women make up more than 45% of the UK work force, they remain under-represented in those SET occupations. In 2010, only 12% of all SET employees were female, and the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineering professionals in the European Union, at just less than 9%. Gender segregation is especially extreme in SET skilled trades, such as electrical work, with women forming roughly 1% of the work force. It is deeply regrettable that the UK Government have stopped funding the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology. That has been handed over to the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. I have nothing against either of those eminent institutions, but they are not accountable to our electorate or to this Parliament, and their fellowships are both more than 90% male.

Scotland is rightly proud of its scientific and engineering history and its strong academic reputation, but why is there utter silence apparently on the role of women? A look at the Scottish media might point us towards one of the sources of the problem. Not one of our main Scottish print titles has a female editor, and there are very few female journalists in news. The vast majority of columnists and bloggers are male, too. Even the BBC is not without fault. During last year’s Scottish Parliament election campaign, “Newsnight Scotland” ran an entire extended half-hour programme with a panel of eight men and a male presenter. That is not an exception, but too often it is the norm. In too many areas of our public life—the media being just one example—the rate of increase in female representation remains stubbornly low, and without proper focus it can easily fall back.

I am pleased that the Royal Society of Edinburgh, with the involvement of Professor Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser for Scotland, has established a working group to develop a cohesive and comprehensive strategy for Scotland to increase both the proportion of women in the science, technology, engineering and maths work force, and the number who rise to senior positions in universities, institutes and business. The report is due shortly and I hope that both Governments will give it the attention it deserves.

As I mentioned earlier, the picture in non-graduate STEM employment is even grimmer, and I am struck by how few public agencies in Scotland have given this any attention, but, given that we have only three female council leaders out of 32 in Scotland, should we be surprised? I have been impressed by the good example set by the Olympic Delivery Authority in its procurement processes. It introduced a business charter for inclusion, which, as well as pushing contractors to do more, also, crucially, provided them and their employees with support and training. The charter rightly calls for diversity and inclusion to be at the heart of an organisation’s culture, including the way in which it recruits and treats its own staff. The impact of that initiative has been considerable. As of last year, more than 1,000 women were directly involved in the construction work on the site. Can hon. Members imagine if we could reach those sorts of levels with the forthcoming work on the new Forth road bridge? The question we need to ask in Scotland is: why are we so far behind the curve?

This is an example of how Government—national and local—can help to change culture and practice. I believe that even in the toughest of economic times it is not impossible to look at, first, an action plan to combat women’s unemployment, and secondly, a nationwide code of conduct in the public, private and voluntary sectors driven by public procurement to increase diversity. My challenge to both Administrations is to start working together now in 2012 for a fair work arena for women, because we deserve it.

It is a pleasure, Mr Hood, to serve under the chairmanship of a constituent. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this debate about female employment trends in Scotland. It is one of a number of debates relating specifically to Scotland that have been held recently in both Westminster Hall and the main Chamber, and such debates are welcome. Following on from some of the hon. Lady’s remarks, I congratulate Johann Lamont on becoming the leader of the Scottish Labour party, which relates to the hon. Lady’s arguments. Moreover, at the end of last year, my colleague Ruth Davidson became the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, so the political process in Scotland has some female leadership. I am sure that both ladies will bring significant influence to bear in the months ahead.

The fight against unemployment is a priority for the UK Government. We are committed to getting Scots off benefits and into the workplace. Work remains the best and most sustainable route out of poverty. The UK Government have measures in place to support all claimants to find work. These measures are not gender specific. We want women and men to get the job opportunities that they need.

Nevertheless, this challenge must be set against the context of the UK recovering from the biggest financial crisis for generations and the deepest recession of almost all major economies. The uncertainty and instability in the eurozone area, where unemployment is higher than in the UK, continue to have a chilling effect on our economy.

Despite the difficult environment, we are still trying to help women. Many of the 90,000 Scots who have been lifted out of tax at the lowest end are women. The measures that we are taking on additional child care are helping women south of the border, with Barnett consequentials for Scotland. At the same time, our reforms of public service sector pensions will mean that lower-paid public sector employees, including many women, will get better pensions. On top of this, the UK Government have announced new support for women’s enterprise, with funding to provide 5,000 mentors for new and existing female entrepreneurs. Similarly, the establishment of the Women’s Business Council is geared towards helping the Government to maximise women’s contribution to future UK economic growth.

I recognise that there are concerns that women are being disproportionately affected by unemployment. Fears have been raised because of the predominance of women in the retail sector, in local government employment, in the NHS and in part-time work. However, as John Philpott, the chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said last month, it has been tough for both sexes in the 2011 jobs market. He commented:

“What we do know is that the relative position of women has not so far worsened as much as commonly perceived or as widely anticipated given the high concentration of women workers in the public sector and in part-time jobs more generally.”

Labour market analysis published last month by the Scottish Government shows the trend in Scotland over the past year is for women moving out of unemployment and inactivity into employment. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), said today,

“The latest figures reflect the current challenging economic climate but also show more women entering the workforce.”

That was backed up by the Prime Minister, who told the House earlier this afternoon that 59,000 more women are now in the workplace than at the time of the 2010 general election.

Female unemployment in Scotland has increased by 25% in the last quarter, so would the right hon. Gentleman not acknowledge, given the statistics that he has just quoted, that there needs to be a much more thorough analysis, so that we can get to the root of the reason why there has been such a rapid increase, whether that is likely to be a permanent shift in the job market and what sectors will be particularly affected?

I agree with the hon. Lady that analysis is important to getting to a full understanding of what the situation is. I assure her that the Government are not complacent in that regard.

The Government also have an ambitious agenda to reform the benefit system and to support those who are able to go back into work. The increase in female jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Scotland can be partially attributed to the change in the rules for lone parents. Most lone parents with a youngest child aged seven or over are no longer entitled to income support purely on the grounds of being a lone parent. They must now claim jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance or find work. There are plans to apply that rule to lone parents with a youngest child aged five or over from this year. Our policies for lone parents strike a balance between the right to benefit to support the family and wider responsibilities to support themselves and lift their children out of poverty when that is feasible.

We also understand the importance of flexible working. It is the Government’s intention that the law will better support families juggling work and life, and the businesses that employ them. We are currently developing our proposals for extending flexible working legislation and will be consulting with stakeholders on how best to implement them.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that more lone parents are coming into the job market because of changes to regulations. Will he tell us what dialogue he has had with the Scottish Government about the fact that, in Scotland, child care costs are so high? Proper, affordable child care is absolutely vital if people, particularly those on lower incomes, are to get back into employment.

The Secretary of State and I have had ongoing discussions with the Scottish Government on employment and wider economic issues and on how we can dovetail our policies to ensure that they work in the best way for people in Scotland. The hon. Lady clearly highlights a significant issue, which I will take up again with the Scottish Government the next time I have the opportunity to do so. I appreciate the importance of the issue that she is raising.

The UK Government recognise the issue of child care and are implementing measures geared to helping more women into work. The hon. Lady will be aware that, following the autumn statement, the Scottish Government will receive more than £500 million in addition to the sums that they had anticipated they would receive. In relation to that funding, the Scottish Government will have the opportunity to invest more in child care and skills development.

Looking forward, the integration of child care into universal credit when it is introduced in 2013 will protect work initiatives and ensure that support is focused on low-earning families. As I have said, we know how important child care is in helping mothers into work. Child care costs will be supported through an additional element in the universal credit. Support for the costs of child care within the universal credit will be made available to all lone parents and couples, where both members are at work, regardless of the number of hours they work. On average, families with children are more likely to have a higher than a lower entitlement under the universal credit.

More broadly, the Department for Work and Pensions is taking a number of measures to assist all claimants into work. The advisory support in job centres across Scotland is tailored and personalised to the individual’s needs. Claimants of both genders have access to a range of “Get Britain Working” initiatives, including work clubs, enterprise clubs, the work together scheme, work experience, new enterprise allowance and sector-based work academies. Similarly, work trials allow employers and employees the chance to try out employment opportunities.

The Work programme is a key part of our reforms and, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North knows, it went live in June. We are also helping to break down the barriers to employment through the flexible support fund, which can assist with child care expenses, travel costs and clothing costs. It also targets support to particular groups of claimants. The DWP is looking at bids for grant funding from bodies that specifically support lone parents and women with special needs, such as mental health issues.

Across Scotland, there is huge concern about youth unemployment and, obviously, a significant number of the people affected by that are female. Youth unemployment has been rising since 2004.

Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that every young person in Scotland between the age of 16 and 19 has an apprenticeship, college or university place or training opportunity is a good thing and that it is the right direction to be moving in to tackle youth unemployment?

I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that I accept that many things the Scottish Government do are good. What I do not accept is the often presented premise that, if the Scottish Government do something, it is a good thing, and if the UK Government do something, it is a bad thing. We need to work together, particularly on issues such as youth unemployment.

As I said, youth unemployment has been rising since 2004 and is an issue on which we all need to take an interest. That is why I am particularly pleased that John Swinney is going to join the Secretary of State and me at a national convention to consider the issue of youth unemployment, with all other relevant stakeholders from throughout Scotland. In terms of identifying issues and concerns, we have undertaken a number of very successful events in Irvine, Hawick and Falkirk to date, and a national event will take place in Dundee in March.

We have also announced the youth contract, which will bring an extra £1 billion of extra investment into supporting the young unemployed, whether through wage incentives, additional work experience and opportunities or money to the Scottish Government. There will also be the offer of a work experience place for every 18 to 24-year-old who wants one before they enter the Work programme.

The UK Government cannot solve the employment challenges facing Scotland alone. The Scottish Government have many policy levers, with important responsibilities for education, skills, business tax and enterprise, which can be used to improve the employment situation. Scotland’s two Governments must work together to achieve this.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.