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Commons Chamber

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

House of Commons

Thursday 29 November 2012

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Cities Fit for Cycling

The coalition Government is working hard to promote cycling and make it even safer. Yesterday I announced a further £20 million of funding for cycling projects. This is on top of the £30 million of funding announced earlier this year to tackle dangerous junctions. We have also made it simpler for councils to put in place 20 mph zones and limits and install Trixi mirrors to improve the visibility of cyclists at junctions, by reducing bureaucracy.

I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. I recently met representatives of the Leicester cycling campaign, who made it clear that they felt that, if I may say so, the Government need to put more emphasis on and more support into cycling. Given that, will the Government commit to implement all the proposals of the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign and invest in dedicated separate cycling infrastructure?

That, if I may say so, is a churlish interpretation of what the Government has done, which is to put enormous effort into improving cycling and progressing all the recommendations of The Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, which I very much welcome. It is perhaps worth noting that there was a huge backlog of important cycling interventions that we inherited when we took office and we are progressing well to deal with those.

The Minister may know of the all-party group that I started in the early 1980s called PACTS—the parliamentary advisory council for transport safety—which organised the seatbelt legislation. We had the annual Westminster lecture, the 23rd, last night at which Jeanne Breen vigorously said that we are not going to get cycling deaths down and there will be a rising level of road accidents because this Government have given up targets.

I do not think that is entirely fair. We have seen great action on road safety from the Secretary of State and from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who has just launched a campaign on cycle safety. Targets are an easy substitute for action. What we saw under the previous Government was legislation which caused delays, and targets which were a substitute for action. We like to get things done, not to set arbitrary targets.

Road Congestion

This Government are committed to accelerating the delivery of roads infrastructure. Spending on the major roads programme to October 2012 was just over £1.9 billion. A £217 million programme of pinch point schemes is being progressed, as is a £3.5 billion programme of 20 major road schemes.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Dartford crossing causes motorists in my constituency a lot of grief, and although it is part of the national road infrastructure the congestion impact is very much local. Will he give me an undertaking that he will do everything he can to tackle the congestion at the Dartford crossing and at junction 31 with the A13 and the M25 so that the jobs and economic growth that can be generated in south Essex will materialise?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As she knows, we are already progressing free flow through the Dartford tunnel. We are in discussions with the Highways Agency about the junction that she refers to.

I thank my hon. Friend for his recent announcement about the investment of £1.8 million in the Manadon roundabout, which is on the border of my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency. Following last week’s flooding in the south-west, train passengers’ journeys to and from London have been very disrupted. Can my hon. Friend make an economic assessment of the impact of that on the Plymouth economy?

Along with many other members of the Government, I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have been affected by the recent flooding. I recognise that it has been extremely disruptive, both for residents and for businesses, but it is too early to undertake an economic assessment. The Government’s main priority at present is restoring services to all those affected by flooding.

I thank my hon. Friend for meeting me to discuss the Woodford lane A5 junction, the scene of many serious accidents which not only add to congestion on the A5 but have resulted in many serious injuries and the loss of a young life in the past year. Does he agree that we need to look seriously at trying to find a solution to make this treacherous junction safer?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. He will know that as a result of that meeting I have asked the Highways Agency to conduct a review of the junction’s safety record over the past few years and keep an eye on it over the next six months, and I have agreed to meet him to discuss the matter in the second half of next year.

One way in which congestion could be greatly reduced would be by having a dedicated police service for the highways? Does the Minister agree?

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is already a police service that tackles that—the traffic police—and there are also Highways Agency officers who help with accidents.

England-Scotland Transport Links

On rail, we are providing for improved links between Scotland and England through the High Speed 2 project, and the inter-city express programme will allow us to provide better services along the east coast main line. On roads, we announced on 23 May that the A1 north of Newcastle to the Scottish border has now been classified as a route of strategic national importance.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that better rail links between Scotland and England are vital to the Scottish economy and, indeed, that of the UK. What immediate steps has he taken to improve links between, for example, Aberdeen and Dundee on the east coast and London?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that one of this Government’s priorities is to improve rail links throughout England, Wales and Scotland through electrification. On his specific question about improving services in Scotland, that is a matter for Arriva and the Scottish Government—[Interruption.] Sorry, not Arriva. It is a matter for the provider of train services in Scotland and the Scottish Government. We will work with them, as we have done in the past and will continue to do, to ensure that the improvements that Scotland needs are made.

The Government committed themselves to the inter-city express programme train contract in July. Will the Minister explain how that will improve services between Scotland and England, particularly journey times?

It will make a significant improvement because it means enhanced rolling stock along the whole east coast main line from London to Edinburgh, which I believe will make journey times from Edinburgh to England about 15 minutes quicker overall. However, we should also take into account the improved quality of the service and the improvements to the track on the east coast main line.

The resolution of the west coast main line franchise issues will be important in enabling improvements to services in those areas. When did the Minister decide to postpone the publication of the Laidlaw report on the franchise fiasco?

I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that there is no question of postponing publication of the report; we hope to publish it shortly.

The existing plans for high-speed rail will reduce journey times from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London by almost an hour, but the ultimate aim must be high-speed rail all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Scottish Government on extending the lines north from Leeds and Manchester all the way to Glasgow and Edinburgh?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in early October, we will be looking at the feasibility of extending HS2 to Scotland via Leeds and Manchester, and we will certainly be holding discussions with the Scottish Government in due course to move forward analysis on the proposal.

Commission on Aviation

5. For what reasons summer 2015 has been set as the time by which the independent commission on aviation chaired by Sir Howard Davies must publish its final report. (130585)

It is vital that the commission has sufficient time to carry out a thorough investigation of the options and build a consensus on its long-term recommendations. The timetable has been set to allow that to take place.

This looks very much like an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass until after the election. My message to the Secretary of State is that uncertainty for three years, and probably another three years for planning, is not only bad politics but bad for the economy. I urge him please to ensure that next year’s interim report provides real clarity on the Government’s preferred solution so that communities, businesses and, of course, voters can plan accordingly.

I am not going to predict at this stage what will be in the interim report of a commission that has only just been set up. They will not be the Government’s recommendations; they will be those of the commission. I hope that the commission has been drawn widely enough to attract cross-party support.

After half a century of inquiries and investigations into runway capacity in the south-east of England, there are almost no new facts to be learned. Is this not just a fig leaf before the Government do a U-turn and provide a third runway at Heathrow?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that is the case, but it is not. In fact, we are trying to build a consensus across the parties on large infrastructure projects such as this, and to a degree that consensus has been achieved. The HS2 route that we have adopted is the route that the previous Government published.

In the meantime, noting the results announced by the owners of Gatwick airport yesterday, does my right hon. Friend believe that competition is an important element in trying to ease the capacity problems in the London airport system?

The truth of the matter is that a number of airports are now owned by different companies as a result of the changes that have been made, and they are coming forward with their own proposals, which will add to the approach taken by the Davies commission. It will certainly not be short of representations of various sorts, including, I imagine, from my right hon. Friend.

The Prime Minister came back from his summer holiday saying that he was

“more determined than ever to cut through the dither that holds this country back.”

Having dithered for a year before finally accepting our suggestion of an independent commission on aviation, the Government have now cynically set a time scale that pushes decisions beyond the next election. Will the Secretary of State finally listen to all those, including the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, who want the national interest to be put before party management, accelerate the time scale, and ask Sir Howard Davies to produce his final report by the end of next year?

In all honesty, the Labour party has also changed its position on what should happen at Heathrow. I would have hoped that the composition of the commission attracted widespread support. Indeed, one of its members is an adviser to the Leader of the Opposition on infrastructure projects. It is right that we get the right answer and build consensus on what we are trying to do.

Business will be bitterly disappointed by that answer. It is no wonder the Mayor of London has described his own Government’s approach to aviation as

“a policy of utter inertia”,

“glacial” and a “fudgerama”. HS2, Thameslink, franchising, investment promised in the autumn statement a year ago: all are running late. The Secretary of State is now presiding over the department for dither and delay. When is he going to get a grip?

The hon. Lady was smiling at the end of her question, and that betrays the fact that it was a very good line written for her but not quite believed by her when she delivered it. We are doing a huge amount in delivering for UK infrastructure. I look forward to seeing the recommendations that she wants to put to the Davies commission, which will tell us what Labour wants to do.

Lincolnshire (Transport Infrastructure)

This Government is investing in transport infrastructure that will bring real benefits to Lincolnshire. We are bringing forward improvements to the A160/A180 by 18 months, which together with our funding for the A18/A180 will improve access to the port of Immingham. We are also providing some £50 million to support the Lincoln eastern bypass scheme. The line upgrade between Peterborough to Doncaster via Spalding and Lincoln will improve rail capacity in the area.

May I take my hon. Friend on a journey from the hills of Sussex to the broad plains of Lincolnshire along the old Roman way, the A15? If he goes along that route, he will find it narrow, congested and dangerous. Will he persuade his colleagues to reject the hideous wind farms that are going to disfigure it, and instead make it a dual carriageway, a noble highway taking people safely and speedily from Lincoln to Scunthorpe—the Via Norman Baker?

I am always interested in winding journeys from Sussex to elsewhere in the country, so I look forward to being in Lincolnshire again. Wind farms are not a matter for the Department for Transport, as my hon. Friend knows, but I am sure that his comments have been noted, as you would put it, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the Minister’s announcement about the A160 and the Immingham bypass. However, many people travelling through Lincolnshire, when they reach the end of the A15, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) wants to be dualled, will be heading for the county’s premier resort of Cleethorpes, and in order to do so they will travel along the A180, with its original concrete surface. Will Ministers do all they can to ensure that that road is improved in the near future?

I agree it is important to have quieter surfaces where it is sensible to introduce them. The Highways Agency has a policy of replacing concrete surfaces with quieter surfaces, as and when infrastructure needs to be replaced. I encourage local councils to follow a similar policy.

DVLA Counter Services Contract

7. What progress he has made on awarding the DVLA counter services contract; and if he will make a statement. (130588)

On 13 November, I announced that the preferred bidder for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s counter services contract was Post Office Ltd. We expect the contract to be awarded before Christmas and it will be operational from April 2013. The contract will achieve savings of between £13 million and £15 million each year. The initial contract will run for seven years.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he agree that this decision will provide a great boost for many village post offices, such as those in Hambleton, Monk Fryston and Cawood in my constituency, and will help to preserve their long-term viability?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who was one of the leading campaigners trying to ensure that the contract was awarded to the Post Office. I am pleased that it managed to win the contract. It won it in an open competition, which shows that it is able to win contracts from the Government to provide services. The decision is vital for places, including those in my constituency, that rely to a huge extent on their rural post offices.

My right hon. Friend may recall that for a very brief time I was the shadow Department of Trade and Industry spokesman on post offices. The key thing has always been the need for footfall, because without it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) said, there is no viability. What increase in footfall does my right hon. Friend estimate will result from this innovative move?

I do remember my hon. Friend’s time as our party’s spokesman on post offices. Indeed, I was the Minister with responsibility for the Post Office at one point in history, so I well appreciate how important post offices are to our rural communities. It is important that they win business, but they have to compete for that business. They have done so very successfully in this case.

Road Deaths and Injuries

8. If he will make it his policy to reinstate national targets to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the roads. (130589)

13. If he will make it his policy to reinstate national targets to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the roads. (130595)

The Government have no plans to reinstate national targets. The strategic framework for road safety sets out measures that we intend to take to continue to reduce casualties. Those include making forecasts of the casualty numbers that we might expect to see through to 2030 if our measures, and the actions of local authorities, are successful.

With the numbers killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads increasing for the first time in 17 years, will the Secretary of State think again about the decision to axe national targets on reducing deaths and serious injuries, which helped to focus efforts across Government, local government and the agencies?

I will never take safety lightly; it must always be uppermost in the mind of the Secretary of State for Transport. The United Kingdom has a very good record. In 1979, the number of people killed on the roads was 6,352. In 2011, the number was 1,901. That is still far too many, but the country has been heading in the right direction.

Campaigners will meet in my constituency this weekend to discuss how we can improve local road safety. There is growing support for 20 mph speed limits in residential areas. Why does the Department advise that safety has to be balanced against economic considerations and traffic flow, when there is no evidence of longer journey times in 20 mph areas?

I am always willing to look at the hon. Lady’s representations. It is important that we take a range of measures to improve safety. We have taken a range of measures, as have the companies that produce cars. There is no doubt that cars are much more responsive in their braking power than they were 30 years ago. We have made movements in the right direction. In some areas, 20 mph speed limits are right.

At a time of budget constraints, agencies understandably concentrate scarce resources on the performance targets against which they are measured. That is clearly having an impact on road safety budgets. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this decision because quite apart from the personal tragedy that is involved in all fatalities, it is a false economy, because every fatality costs a lot of money.

Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right: a fatality not only causes huge damage and a dramatic situation for the family involved in that tragedy, but there is also cost to the health service and other services. There has been no diminution in the desire of the Department for Transport to improve road safety, and there will not be while I am Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State may be aware that road traffic deaths in the east midlands are double those in the north east per capita. As I learned from the Transport Committee inquiry into road safety, national targets allow underperforming local authorities to shelter behind the excellent performance of other local authorities, Blackpool included. Does the Secretary of State agree that national targets actually lead to more traffic deaths in some parts of the country because we are not targeting underperformance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he makes an interesting point. Whenever serious or fatal accidents take place I want a proper investigation to be conducted, the results of which can be carried across to provide experience to other local authorities throughout the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State’s decision will be bitterly regretted by campaign groups across the country. Targets introduced by the Thatcher Administration 30 years ago had cross-party support and have successfully brought down casualty rates across the country. His use of the word “forecasts” indicates that he is trying to claw something back from his predecessor’s bad decision to abolish targets. Will the Secretary of State think again? Targets are not the whole solution but a component; they are part of the way to reduce serious injuries and deaths on British roads.

I know the hon. Gentleman takes this issue incredibly seriously, and although he talks about deaths I think we should look at the seriously injured as well. In the year ending June 2012, there were 1,790 deaths on British roads—a 6% drop on the year before.

The Secretary of State is well aware that those most at risk on our roads are young drivers. I was pleased to see his recent positive comments about placing restrictions on young drivers—for example, on the number of passengers they may carry or the times of day they may drive. Will he indicate to the House how those proposals might be taken forward?

A number of representations on young drivers have been made to the Department for Transport and, as I said in that interview, they are all worth considering and investigating properly to see whether we can reduce the terrible toll that is sometimes caused by young drivers. However, that is not so of all young drivers. We read about the horrendous cases, but not about the many cases where young drivers behave and act responsibly on the road, as do other road users.

A1 (Dualling)

The Department has no current plans to dual the A1 north of Newcastle. In recognition of its importance for freight and other strategic traffic, the A1 north of Newcastle was designated as a route of strategic national importance in May 2010.

Will the Minister explain the logic of that answer to the House, and say how the Government can designate the route as of strategic national importance but not continue to dual it north of Newcastle?

As was made clear at the time, reclassification does not guarantee any extra funding, and any proposed upgrade would need to be subject to the usual decision-making process.

Road Capacity (North-West)

The Department has not undertaken any recent assessment of road capacity in north-west England. Since 2010, however, the Highways Agency has completed two annual assessments of the operation of all its strategic routes in the north of England in terms of delay, journey reliability, capacity, accidents and some environmental measures. The next assessment is due in spring next year.

The Minister’s colleagues are aware that the roads in the Longdendale area of my constituency suffer from severe congestion—one Minister courteously took the time to visit, and the Secretary of State represents a seat not too far away. Since that last ministerial visit, the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) and I have worked with local authorities in Tameside, High Peak, Derbyshire and Barnsley to try to work out a solution that will cover the whole corridor between Greater Manchester and south Yorkshire. There has been a lot of interest in the study and we have published an interim report. Will the Minister grant us a meeting to take that work further?

As the hon. Gentleman rightly recognises, the scheme in the national programme was withdrawn in 2009 by the Labour Government. A considerable amount of work has been done since at a local level. Because I have considerable sympathy for areas where there is significant road congestion, and although there must now be a local approach to finding a solution, I or one of my ministerial colleagues would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) if they would like to discuss the matter further.

Not only do the residents of Tintwistle in my constituency feel the ground shaking beneath their feet as wagons thunder by inches from their front doors, but the economic growth of the whole of Glossopdale is, in my view, being hampered by traffic congestion. Given that economic growth is a vital part of the future of the country, does the Minister agree that problems such as the Mottram, Tintwistle and Longdendale bypass assume even greater importance for local communities in towns such as Glossop?

My hon. Friend raises a valid point, as did the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) in his question. The fact is that the scheme came out of the national programme in 2009. Therefore, the approach must be to find a viable local alternative to reduce congestion for the hon. Gentleman’s and my hon. Friend’s constituents, and to help to increase economic growth. I am sure my hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman and local communities and stakeholders will contribute to that. However, as I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman, if he and my hon. Friend would like to come and see me or one or my ministerial colleagues to discuss the matter further, we will be more than happy to meet them.

The motorway network forms the backbone of the north-west’s road network. Has the Minister considered improvements to the M6 and M56 in Cheshire to improve capacity on them?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, that is the responsibility of the Highways Agency. However, I can give him an assurance from the national Government that we are determined to investigate all parts of the road network and rail network to identify pinch points, and problems that stifle economic development and create congestion, to ensure that Britain moves faster, swifter and more effectively.

Rail Fare Increases

14. What recent progress his Department has made on mitigating the effect on rail passengers of rail fare increases. (130598)

We announced in October that the Government will again cap the increase in regulated fares at RPI plus 1% for rail fares and Transport for London in January 2013 and 2014. This will benefit over quarter of a million annual season ticket holders. Many more holders of weekly and monthly season tickets will also see lower fares and some commuters will be over £200 better off over the two years.

People in my constituency are concerned about the cost of rail fares, but those who use Thameslink are also concerned about its speedy progression. What reassurance can the Minister give them that the tendering process for the project was conducted in the right and proper manner, and that the project remains on schedule?

Detailed evidence regarding the tendering process for the Thameslink rolling stock was given by the Transport Committee in September 2011. That confirmed that the requirements of EU procurement law had been met. The rolling stock procurement process is working towards commercial close in December and financial close early in the new year. Good progress has been made already on the infrastructure programme. Blackfriars and Farringdon stations are both operational, and enabling work at London Bridge is ongoing.

Rail Electrification

This Government have funded Network Rail to electrify almost 850 route miles, compared with about 10 route miles delivered by the previous Government in 13 years. The programme is on schedule. Passengers between Manchester and Scotland will be the first to benefit from electric trains by the end of 2013 and passengers on other routes will benefit soon after.

I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. He recently wisely decided to review a further 80 miles of electrification west of Newbury down to Westbury, which would bring enormous timetable and speed benefits to my constituents, as well as to neighbouring constituencies. Can he confirm that freight will be included in that review and indicate when it will be complete?

Mr Speaker, as you can imagine I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that kind and generous question. May I reassure her that we place great importance on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the rail network? I can confirm that freight is included in the review that I have asked for on the Newbury to Westbury line. I do not want to hang around on this matter, because it will get bogged down in bureaucracy. [Interruption.] I hope that officials and Network Rail will report to me by February 2013, despite the sedentary comments from the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle).

A few months ago, the Government made the welcome announcement of the intention to electrify the midland main line to Sheffield, which the Secretary of State knows very well, by 2019. There is now a concern that the timetable may be slipping, and that only part of the route may be done by 2019. May we have an unambiguous statement from the Minister that the intention still is to electrify the whole of the line to Sheffield by 2019?

May I try to reassure the hon. Gentleman and say that the intention certainly is to meet it by 2019? We have no information or knowledge to suggest that there is any problem. However, to provide further reassurance, if he were to make available to me any fears or evidence that suggests there might be slippage—even if it is erroneous information—I, as a matter of urgency, will look into it. I would not like a story to be established as fact that there is a delay, because we certainly do not believe that there is.

Topical Questions

I thank all the people who are working to get our roads and railways back up and running following widespread flooding. It has caused significant damage to our infrastructure, but I know that every effort is being made to return the service and reopen all routes as soon as possible. I will be seeing those efforts myself near Bristol later today. I can also update the House on our preparations for winter. We now have almost 2 million tonnes of salt, nearly double the amount two years ago, on stand-by to keep our motorways and main roads ice-free. We have also invested heavily in equipment to help clear the railway tracks of snow, and to stop rail and points freezing. I hope to be able to publish the Sam Laidlaw report into the inter-city west coast franchising competition and update the House next week.

I thank the Secretary of State for all the work he has done with flooding, especially in my constituency through Tiverton into Exeter. The M5 also flooded, which shows that it is necessary to have a second arterial route dualled. The A30 needs to be dualled from Honiton upwards, because the Stonehenge end has always been the problem. We should work northwards from my constituency—there is no bias there whatever, Secretary of State—and have a second route.

My hon. Friend is a great campaigner for his area. In my job as Secretary of State for Transport, I am learning a lot more about roads I have never travelled on. I will certainly look at his request—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I was misled by my opposite number. I was trying to listen to the hon. Lady as well as answer my hon. Friend. I assure him that I will certainly look into his representations.

With regard to bus cuts, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) suggested to this House that

“there have not been the cuts that the Opposition are so keen to talk up.”——[Official Report, 19 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 485.]

However, in July, Passenger Focus found that

“the majority of passenger impacts were below the water line,”—

and we now know that supported bus miles fell by 9.3% last year. Will the Minister therefore finally accept that the reduction in central Government funding has resulted in substantial cuts to socially valuable bus services?

No. The hon. Lady quoted a particular figure for mileage, but not the figure for mileage elsewhere in the country, which has been pretty stable, or the numbers of passenger journeys undertaken in non-metropolitan areas, which have held up well. Overall, there has been a marginal increase in the number of passenger journeys, according to the last figures.

T3. Junction 15 of the M4, in my constituency, is of vital regional and local importance to the economy, but is experiencing increased congestion. Will my right hon. Friend, or one of his ministerial colleagues, meet me and local representatives to discuss how we can alleviate this growing problem? (130605)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the congestion on this junction, and I would be delighted to meet him and a delegation of his constituents to discuss it.

T2. I was interested to hear the Minister’s reply to Government Members about projects in the south, but I hope that he is aware of the huge disparity in public transport infrastructure investment: £5 per head in the north-east compared with £2,700 in London. Will he confirm, therefore, how many carriages will be built under the intercity express programme contract and how many carriages my constituents on the east coast main line can expect to see operating? (130602)

It is not fair to talk about the disparity as the hon. Gentleman describes it. He might be relying on the Institute for Public Policy Research North report, but that report is incomplete—for example, it did not take into account the December 2011 local majors announcement. Of the local major schemes announced in the 2011 autumn statement, 62% by value were in the north and midlands and 35% were in the north alone, while 40% of projects in the 2010 spending review were in the north alone. It is a misrepresentation, therefore, to describe the investment as he has done. On the railway matters, I will ensure that he receives a written reply.

T4. If you will indulge me for one moment, Mr Speaker, I would like to say what an honour it is to ask a Transport question after serving with honour in the Department for two years. With that in mind, will the Minister tell the House what his Department is doing to ensure that all train stations, such as Garforth station in my constituency, have good disabled access? (130607)

As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed to improving access to the rail network. The Access for All programme will deliver accessible routes to more than 150 stations by 2015 and more minor access improvements to more than 1,000 stations, and we recently announced a further £100 million to extend the programme until 2019. I have looked at his station, and the footfall is equivalent to more than 500,000 people. I am not making any promises, but that certainly puts it in contention for the next round of Access for All funding.

T6. Despite the challenge of our famous hills, Sheffield has embraced cycling, and many of my constituents have backed The Times’ Cities Fit for Cycling manifesto. Will the Government commit to implementing the manifesto in full, as Labour has, and does the Minister recognise that only investment in a dedicated cycling infrastructure will encourage road safety and a switch to bikes? (130609)

The amount of money the Government has invested in cycling—through the local sustainable transport fund and the £20 million I announced only yesterday to the House—dwarfs what the last Government invested over 13 years. We are making good progress on all the points identified by The Times’ campaign, which we very much welcome, and on catching up with the legacy that I am afraid we inherited from the last Government.

T5. A letter from the Transport Minister to the Welsh Select Committee highlighted the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government have made no case for investment in the north Wales main line. As a result, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has set up a taskforce to make the business case for that investment. Will the Minister assure me that the Department for Transport will work closely with that working group in order to make the case for that crucial transport link in north Wales? (130608)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because, as he will probably be aware, the Welsh Government were particularly anxious for electrification of the valley railways and the extension of electrification from Cardiff to Swansea, which is now happening. They will be looking at and pressing the case for electrification in the next tranche from 2019 to 2024 for north Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales strongly supports that, and we will work with the Wales Office and Welsh Government to put together a proper case for consideration.

I wrote to one of the previous Ministers about enforcement of advanced stop lines, but did not get a very positive response. Will the Government now look at ensuring that advanced stop lines at traffic lights are complied with much more effectively?

We are always open to suggestions to improve road safety and traffic management. We are undertaking a review of traffic signs, which has been completed, and a further review of traffic management processes. If the hon. Gentleman gives me specific details of his concern, I will ensure that it is fed into the process and given proper consideration.

The Government recently awarded the core Crossrail signalling contract to the proven talent of Chippenham’s Invensys Rail, working in partnership with Siemens. What provisions in that contract will secure a British-based work force for the project, in light of today’s announcement of the intended sale of Invensys Rail to Siemens?

I need proper notice of that question, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend with the answer.

Toll increases on the Severn bridge were announced last week. Businesses and commuters in my constituency feel that they are paying the highest tolls in the UK. What they would like to hear from the Government is that they will do what they can to help now, and that when the concession ends the tolls will be substantially reduced for local people, not considered a useful revenue stream for the Government. Will the Minister make that commitment?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she and other members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs heard, the tolling arrangements will continue beyond the concession because of the debts that are still repayable to the UK Government. We are in discussions and have had letters from the Welsh Government about arrangements post 2018, and I will look at them most seriously.

In 2007 funds were awarded under capital expenditure grants—the Bellwin formula—to Hull and Gloucestershire. Will similar moneys be awarded to repair bridges and roads that were severely damaged in the September floods in north Yorkshire?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a statement dealing with the Bellwin formula and some of the flooding. I will look at the suggestion my hon. Friend has made.

Will the Secretary of State revisit the issue of electrifying the Barking to Gospel Oak section of the North London line? Electrification would make freight transport much more efficient and cheaper and enable much greater integrated working of the whole London overground system with the same trains, rather than having to switch to diesel on one section. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) should not be chuntering from a sedentary position about who came into the Chamber when. I know perfectly well what I am doing. The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has been here for some time. He has been legitimately called and that is all there is to it. It is very straightforward. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire should keep schtum; he might learn something.

I hear the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made about the line. Strong cases have been made. The line did not make the cut for electrification last time. We have announced huge electrification across the network, and I will certainly look at the case he has made.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


1. What the recycling rate has been for recyclable materials on the Commons part of the estate in each of the last five years. (130611)

The percentage figures for the amount of general waste recycled or recovered by weight from the parliamentary estate in the last five financial years are as follows: 2007-08, 44%; 2008-09, 47%; 2009-10, 50%; 2010-11, 52%; and 2011-12, 53%. These figures are for the parliamentary estate as a whole, as we are not able to break down the figures by House or building. The percentages exclude batteries that are recycled but for which no weight figures are currently provided and builders’ waste. The figures include food waste, a proportion of which is being sent to an anaerobic digestion facility.

It certainly seems encouraging that the recycling rate is going in the right direction. Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the progress being made? Perhaps lessons should be learned from some of the local authorities that have far higher recycling rates than we currently do in this House.

I do not believe that we should ever be content with where we have got to on recycling. The Commission and the Management Board are doing everything in their power to increase the recycling rate. As new recycling waste streams are developed, the House works closely with its waste contractor to maximise the opportunities to increase the rate, and the House will certainly be happy to look at any other authority that is an exemplar to see what it can learn.

Will the Member representing the House of Commons Commission also look into the question of the non-recyclable items that are produced and used by the House, such as plastic wrappings and envelopes, with a view to ensuring that paper, which can be recycled more easily and cheaply, is used wherever possible?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful suggestion, and we will certainly do that. I can tell him that a new collection process for office waste has recently been agreed, which will allow recyclables such as cans, plastic, paper and cardboard to be collected in one bin, with the segregation of materials taking place in a municipal recycling facility once the waste has left the estate. Clearly, development of that stream would lead us to the objective that he is seeking.

Central Procurement

2. What plans the Commission has to make it easier for hon. Members to procure administrative equipment centrally for the purpose of creating economies of scale. (130612)

The Commission appreciates the economies of scale that are achievable through central purchasing. In order to make such benefits available to individual Members, the House service and PICT have competitively tendered contracts for administrative equipment and consumables. PICT holds a number of contracts for ICT equipment and services, and it has recently let a contract with QC Supplies for printer cartridges and toner. The contract offers substantial discounts on original cartridges and on remanufactured cartridges with a full guarantee. Parliament has also recently let a contract with Banner Business Services for stationery and other office supplies. I have asked the managers responsible for those contracts to contact the hon. Lady to ensure that she is fully aware of what is available.

Does my hon. Friend agree that many Members are unaware of the opportunities to secure supplies centrally? What can the Commission do to increase awareness in that regard?

I have asked the House service and PICT to take further steps to provide Members and their staff with information on the contracts for toner and stationery. It is proposed to include articles on what is available and how to use the contracts in future issues of Commons Monthly and The Commons View. I suggest that all Members might like to take up readership of those two excellent publications. In the next few months, we will invite suppliers to mount exhibitions in the atrium of Portcullis House. The offers are also mentioned in the documentation from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and e-mails have been sent out. We will continue to do everything possible to popularise them.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

House Business Committee

I continue to consider this matter and I look forward to further constructive discussions on the issue with the Procedure Committee and others.

I am concerned about the timetable. Yesterday, the Prime Minister expressed regret, in an answer to the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), that he did not have control of the House of Commons agenda, but actually he does have control of most of the House agenda. A decision of the House was made in 2010 and the proposal was in the coalition agreement. When are we actually going to see the House business committee?

As I said, it is my responsibility as Leader of the House to ensure that we make progress in enabling the House to conduct its business effectively and efficiently. It is incumbent on me to ensure that any development in this area takes into account the progress that we have already made since May 2010. For example, just last week the Procedure Committee published its review of the operation of the Backbench Business Committee. That gives us important information about that progress, which has been very positive. It also enables us to consider the question of a House business committee constructively.

The Leader of the House could make a real name for himself. I would like to see him as the chairman of this new parliamentary timetabling committee, but should he not be elected by the whole House rather than being appointed by the Executive? I am sure that he would get a lot of support from Members on both sides of the House.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his solicitude for my future. When I was talking about constructive discussions, I was including the discussions that I have had with him, and with many others across the House, to ensure that we add value to the way in which the House manages its business. That is what I am looking to do.

We know that there is no greater champion of the House business committee than the Government Chief Whip, who said two years ago that

“we must not lose sight of the progress that we want to see made in the third year of this Parliament on a House business committee”.—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 782.]

Given that we are halfway through that third year, when will the Leader of the House sit down with me to discuss how he intends to turn the Chief Whip’s vision into reality?

I share with the shadow Leader of the House admiration for what the former Leader of the House, now the Patronage Secretary, has achieved. In the context of the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee and the clear progress consequent upon it, I want to make sure that we follow up constructively on the progress already made.

Following on from that, will the Leader of the House confirm that whenever the House business committee is established, there will still be a valuable role for the Backbench Business Committee to play and that that role will continue?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who illustrates precisely the point that I hope I was making, which is that we want to build on the progress that has been made and that we want to do it in a constructive way. The progress made regarding the Backbench Business Committee, as illustrated in the Procedure Committee’s report last week, provides a very good basis on which to continue those discussions.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Lords/Commons Service Provision

4. What recent discussions the Commission has had with the Lords House Committee on greater sharing of service provision. (130614)

The Commission has had no recent discussions with the Lords House Committee on greater sharing of service provision, but the House administration remains very open to opportunities for areas where joint working with the House of Lords will provide benefits, while bearing it in mind that, on occasion, the priorities of the two Houses will diverge.

I am grateful for that answer. We Scots know that Aberdonians have a particular reputation for knowing the value of tuppence. Given that Lord Sewel is now the Chairman of the Lords House Committee, does the hon. Gentleman think that there is a real opportunity in 2013 to make significant progress with the Commons Administration Committee’s recommendations on how to cut costs, cut bureaucracy and save the taxpayer money?

I believe there are significant opportunities. I had the opportunity to work with the noble Lord Sewel on the Scotland Bill in the other place, and I had a felicitous meeting with him at Aberdeen airport two weeks ago when we discussed this very subject. I look forward to making progress in the future.

Networking Infrastructure

5. What progress has been made on work to update networking infrastructure on the estate to ensure that hon. Members’ offices can receive live local and regional television and radio programming and use internet radio devices in their offices. (130615)

Access to internet television and radio services in Members’ offices may be limited by the capacity of the parliamentary network. Planning for a major upgrade has started, but this is likely to be a long-term project. The annunciator system provides alternative access to television and radio services in Members’ offices. Following recent testing, it is hoped shortly to make proposals to enhance this service, including the provision of up to 100 additional channels. Wi-fi is already in place in 95 locations across the estate, including the Chamber, Committee Rooms and public spaces. It should be available in Members’ offices by March 2013.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Although I welcome having channels such as al-Jazeera to keep up to date with international affairs and having access to Sky Sports in my office, I would certainly like to have access to my local BBC regional news, BBC Humberside. I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that keeping up to date with what is happening in a Member’s local area is just as important, if not more so, than having access to al-Jazeera and other channels.

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. I miss BBC Radio Highland and Moray Firth Radio when I am down here in the south, and would greatly value the opportunity to receive them. There are significant technological difficulties, one of which relates to how the parliamentary estate is configured. I can assure her, however, that her point was well made and well taken. We will continue to see what can be done.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to move as fast as we possibly can with full digitalisation, which not only provides the benefits that have been described but enables information about facilities in this House to be better known to all our colleagues?

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend, whose Administration Committee is doing a great deal of work in this area. One opportunity will come when, in the next two or three years, we move towards the whole concept of cloud computing. That will offer a whole range of possibilities that currently are not technologically possible. We need to keep our eye on this ball and move it forward.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Named-day Written Questions

6. What steps he is taking to ensure that written questions for named-day answer receive a substantive answer on the day named. (130617)

My office collates information on departmental performance in relation to ordinary and named-day parliamentary questions, which is then submitted sessionally to the Procedure Committee. I intend to continue to work with the Committee and with Departments both to report on and to improve performance.

My named-day question to the Home Office about the cost of the police commissioner in Wales after the mess-up over the ballot papers appeared not on the day named but more than 20 days late, conveniently after the election was over. I should not have been surprised, however, as the Home Office replies to only 37% of named-day questions on time. What more can be done to make Departments respect this process?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Procedure Committee is following the matter up and that I am in contact with Departments about it, and she will be encouraged to know that the Home Office has improved its performance recently. I think that what we need to do is lead by example. In the last Session, the largest number of named-day questions—2,260—were submitted to the Department of Health, which achieved a 99.6% positive response rate.

8. I assume that you are calling me to ask a supplementary and not a main question, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) mentioned the Home Office. I pointed out recently that questions from my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State had still not been answered by the Secretary of State. Will the Leader of the House look into the matter? It appears to be something of a problem in the Home Office. How can the Opposition be expected to work properly if they cannot hold the Government to account? It is very difficult for us to do that if the Government do not give us answers. (130619)

I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. As I said to the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), it is perfectly possible for Departments to achieve a positive response rate of virtually 100%, but not all Departments do so. The Procedure Committee is following that up, and I shall be working with Departments to try to improve their performance. I might point out that in the last Session a 100% positive response rate was achieved by the Office of the Leader of the House, and, as I said earlier, the Department of Health achieved a 99.6% rate.

European Scrutiny

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Minister for Europe on future scrutiny of European affairs in the House. (130618)

The Minister for Europe is engaged in discussions with the relevant Committees in both Houses on arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of European issues. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has had discussions with the Minister on the subject in recent weeks.

I am grateful for that reply, and also for the work of the previous Leader of the House, who is present.

Would there be any merit in allowing Select Committees such as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to scrutinise some of the more technical statutory instruments implementing environmental or agricultural regulations from Brussels?

I agree that Select Committees could play an important role in scrutinising many more of the matters that come out of Europe. I am pleased that the Minister for Europe has been consulting widely, and I am sure that he will present some very sensible proposals for the enhancement of our European scrutiny.

Lobbyists (Standing Orders)

9. Whether the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists will require any changes to the Standing Orders of the House.


Will the Deputy Leader of the House explain why progress in establishing a statutory register seems to have been so slow?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is a complex issue on which the Government have been consulting. We are committed to building a system that provides transparency without hindering legitimate lobbying by those with an interest in Government policy. We will publish revised proposals later in the Session.

Business of the House

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 3 December—General debate on the Leveson inquiry.

Tuesday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Public Service Pensions Bill, followed by motion relating to the appointment of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority board members.

Wednesday 5 December—The Chancellor of the Exchequer will present his autumn statement, followed by consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill.

Thursday 6 December—A debate on a motion relating to the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, followed by general debate on defence personnel.

The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 10 December will include:

Monday 10 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Financial Services Bill.

Tuesday 11 December—General debate on public expenditure.

Wednesday 12 December—Opposition day (12th allotted day, first part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Thursday 13 December—Motions relating to standards and privileges, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

The flooding across England and Wales this week has caused widespread chaos and, sadly, a number of deaths. I would like to add my tribute on the work of the emergency services and all those involved in providing assistance to those affected.

The increasing frequency of serious weather affecting the UK underlines the importance of robust flood defences, yet spending on flood defences has been cut by a quarter, delaying much-needed schemes. Even the Government’s own advisory Committee on Climate Change warned in July that Ministers are not doing enough, and now hundreds of thousands of people risk being unable to obtain insurance because the Government have not reached an agreement with the industry. We welcome the statement earlier in the week from the Environment Secretary, but will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on measures to protect people across the UK from flooding, especially in light of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report published today?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for arranging a statement by the Foreign Secretary on Palestinian statehood —something I asked for last week. At business questions last week I also raised the matter of the Liberal Democrat party member who masqueraded as an independent in the police and crime commissioner elections. I asked for an urgent statement, but unfortunately the Leader of the House has not been able to find time for one. I wonder whether he will reconsider, however, because I have managed to get hold of a letter put out by the Liberal Democrat candidate standing in today’s Middlesbrough by-election. In it he says,

“things seem to be getting worse, not better.”

I have read the letter very carefully, but, by some strange omission, nowhere does it mention that the Liberal Democrats have been in government for the last two and a half years, so will the Leader of the House now find time for a statement on cynical electoral subterfuge?

We are all looking forward to the publication of the Leveson report later today. During business questions on 28 June, I asked:

“Will the Leader of the House arrange in future business for Liberal Democrat and Conservative Ministers to share the speaking time to give both parties ample opportunity to differentiate themselves?”—[Official Report, 28 June 2012; Vol. 547, c. 448.]

I must confess that I meant that suggestion to be parody, but yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister made a request to have a separate statement from the Prime Minister on the Leveson report and I see today that that has been granted. What on earth is happening to collective responsibility? I notice that the play “Yes, Prime Minister” is leaving the Trafalgar theatre to go on a UK tour, but with this Government in office there will at least still be one farce running in Whitehall.

The Government have been struggling to get their legislation through the House of Lords. This Government’s peers easily outnumber Opposition peers, yet for the entire duration of the Labour Government our peers never made up more than 29% of the total. May I say to the Leader of the House that the problem the Government have is not with the quantity of their peers, it is with the quality of their legislation?

There have been reports in the media that the Prime Minister is planning to create 100 additional peers, despite the fact that the House of Lords is already the second biggest legislature in the world—after the equally democratic Chinese National People’s Congress. Filling the House of Lords might be the only successful job creation scheme this Government have come up with, but will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent statement on the seemingly inexorable expansion of the second Chamber?

Word reaches me that this week’s Cabinet meeting was even more fractious than usual. Apparently, the Chancellor blamed the Culture Secretary for failing to deliver on the Government’s promise to roll out superfast broadband and the Culture Secretary blamed her predecessor, with her aides saying that she had done more in two months than the current Health Secretary had managed in two years. Astonishingly, the welfare Minister, Lord Freud, blamed the Chancellor for the abject failure of the Work programme and the Prime Minister blamed the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for the failure of enterprise zones. While Cabinet members bicker, we have a broadband network that is not connected, a job scheme that is not working and enterprise zones where there is no enterprise, while the only growth strategy they have is for the House of Lords.

The Prime Minister called himself the “heir to Blair”, but is he not just the natural successor to Jim Hacker?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks about the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Palestine. I join her in paying tribute to the emergency services and the work of Environment Agency staff in supporting communities that have been so heavily damaged by flooding. I have personal knowledge of the area around Exeter and of St Asaph in north Wales; these are dreadful events for people to have to live through.

It is terrifically important that we protect people wherever we can. That is why the Government are allocating £2.17 billion over four years. The hon. Lady will have heard the Prime Minister say yesterday, in response to questions, that we hope to leverage additional support for flood defences. She will also know from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that we continue to be in discussions with the Association of British Insurers about securing protection for householders through insurance as well. I will, of course, continue to keep closely in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about how the House can be kept informed on these matters.

I am trying to think of anything else that the hon. Lady asked for that could be considered business of the House, but there was not much. She commented on press reports about what happened at Cabinet, but today of all days she might recognise that we should not believe everything we read in the newspapers.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Prime Minister being an “heir to Blair”, and she talked about the appointment of peers in another place, but my recollection is that Tony Blair made 374 peers. By that standard, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been notably reticent.

We in the House, including Opposition Members who have been in government, know that “Yes Minister”, when it was broadcast by the BBC and even today, is, in fact, a documentary programme and not a work of fiction. I am somewhat unusual in this place in having been not only my own version of Jim Hacker, but Bernard in a former life. The one thing I am not expecting to be is a Sir Humphrey at any stage. If at any point we can illustrate “Yes Minister”, I am sure we will set out to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for talking about growth and welfare. Yesterday we had a debate about those issues. I looked at reports of past business questions for a request for an Opposition day debate on employment. Yesterday, the Opposition did talk about jobs but not about how to create them. They did not have a policy for that—it was a policy-free zone from the Labour party yesterday. What a missed opportunity. The Labour party had an opportunity to use its time to celebrate the 70-year anniversary of the Beveridge report. We could have celebrated the sense of how work is a route out of poverty and want, and how social solidarity through welfare provision is properly a way in which we can build a stronger society, as the Government are setting out to do. We could also have celebrated the contribution made by a Liberal as part of a coalition Government under a Conservative Prime Minister for the long-term benefit of this country.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on people who have emigrated outside the European Union yet still claim benefits such as winter fuel payments and child benefit?

I pay tribute to the great deal of work my hon. Friend has done on this issue. As we head towards winter, it is terrifically important that we look after communities. That is one reason why I was so pleased in the past week to see the announcement of some 149 successful projects that are being supported by the Department of Health’s warm homes healthy people fund this winter, following the successful work last winter. This is in partnership with local authorities, Age UK and other charities, and I know that my hon. Friend and others across the House have been active proponents of that kind of community-based support for people at risk.

In her excellent report last week, the Children’s Commissioner identified missing episodes, visits to sexual health clinics and use of mental health services as strong indicators that a child may be being sexually abused. However, current Department of Health guidelines on sharing such health data with other agencies are creating a postcode lottery because of different interpretations at both the local and national level about what data can be shared. The situation is very concerning because some children are not being identified as being at risk, and are therefore continuing to be abused. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the Children’s Commissioner’s excellent report and the data-sharing issues it raises?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that. I read the report, as I know many hon. Members will have done. They will have been alarmed by some of the things that the deputy Children’s Commissioner had to say and will feel it is very important that we follow up on it. The House recently had an opportunity to debate child sexual exploitation, but that is not to say that there is not a case for further such opportunities. The subject she discusses is an area where the further progress we are making on the role of local safeguarding children boards in local authorities should enable us to have, among other things, better sharing of information to protect children.

In the case of the Bedford free school, the Planning Inspectorate recommended a full award of costs against Bedford borough council because of its

“unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary expense”.

May we have a debate about how councils in charge of education departments can use taxpayers’ money for school books, computers, gym equipment and improved facilities, rather than wasting it on trying to stop excellent, committed teachers from doing their job?

My hon. Friend makes an important point very well. I know that people in Bedford feel strongly about the benefits that the Bedford free school can bring in extending choice to parents and in promoting improvements in educational standards. If he catches your eye, Mr Speaker, he may have an opportunity to raise this issue in Education questions on Monday.

The Leader of the House will not need me to tell him that all of us are very concerned about vulnerable young people in this country. The protection of childhood is something that most of us hold dear, as do the children’s charities. May we have a debate about what we would lose if childhood was shrunk by giving children—16-year-olds—the vote? I am not against that or for it; what I want is a serious discussion in this House before we take away protections from children up to 18 and push adulthood down to 16.

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that this issue is being considered by the Backbench Business Committee, on the basis of representations made to it by a number of hon. Members. Clearly I am happy for the Committee to consider whether time should be made available for such a debate.

May we have a debate on the success of our free schools policy? In my constituency, the I-Foundation has opened the first state-sponsored Hindu primary school and a secondary school. They are both so over-subscribed that capacity is having to be doubled in just two years. The I-Foundation is now launching a campaign to have five further Hindu free schools across the country, with a further five to follow. This demonstrates parental choice, both for a religious type of education and for the type of education that new organisations are providing.

My hon. Friend sets out a good argument both for free schools and for our taking the opportunity to celebrate the successes coming from them. That is happening around the country and often in this place we do not take enough opportunities to recognise what the successes in policies mean in practice for the populations we serve. It is not easy, as time is short in this House, but we will continue to look for where such opportunities might arise.

May we have a statement as soon as possible on progress on the implementation of Sir John Holmes’s report on the governance principles for the award of military medals in this country, and particularly on the issue of those who served in the Arctic convoys, on which we continue to receive many representations, and the need to recognise those heroes properly through the award of a medal?

The right hon. Gentleman will have noted when I announced the forthcoming business that the Backbench Business Committee has allocated time next Thursday for a debate on defence personnel. I completely understand that the breadth of issues that will need to be encompassed in that debate is very wide, but he might recognise that there is an opportunity there, not least to recognise past service.

Later today we will have what I think is a unique event. The Deputy Prime Minister, whose main responsibility is to support the Prime Minister, will make a statement opposing the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House make an urgent statement so that the Deputy Prime Minister knows from which Dispatch Box he is to speak?

My hon. Friend will recognise, I know, that Ministers make statements to this House on Government policy. As “Erskine May” makes clear, the reason they make statements is to explain to the House how they propose to pursue public business. As for this afternoon’s statements, it is perfectly reasonable to give an immediate response to an inquiry as wide-ranging as the Leveson inquiry in order to convey as fully as possible to the House a sense of how the coalition Government—a unique event for us—are pursuing the process of considering and responding to the report. The House will be better informed by two statements than it would have been by one alone and both are ministerial statements on Government policy.

Yesterday, Lloyds Banking Group announced the closure of the call centre in Motherwell that employs 200 people. That call centre has now been moved to Glasgow city centre and, as everyone knows, it will not be convenient for many of those workers to move across west central Scotland. Will the Leader of the House give time for a statement to discuss how the banking groups treat not only their customers but their employees?

I completely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituents about the consequences of commercial decisions made by companies. He will know, not least from the points made by a number of Members during business questions, that the relationship between banking groups and their communities, as well as the service they offer to local communities, are issues of importance to Members that continue to arise. It is not just a matter for the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Perhaps he and others might like to consider whether there is a case for a debate in Back-Bench time to raise those issues on behalf of their constituents.

I welcome what the Leader of the House said about the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report and I also welcome the coalition’s commitment to fairness and to ensuring that work always pays. With that in mind, may I ask for a debate on the performance of the retail banks that are failing to support small businesses in my constituency, which are eager to invest in jobs but are denied working capital?

There is a synchronicity between the previous question and this one as regards the relationship between banks and our local communities. I sometimes share with my hon. Friend a sense of frustration about the extent to which the conventional banking system now supports small and medium-sized businesses. That is why our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, together with the Treasury, is so actively pursuing those issues, not least through the recent announcement of the operational start of the new business banking support and the support that that gives to new challenger banks to supply new innovative routes of lending to small businesses.

May we have a debate on the apparent abuse of the electrical equipment recycling market? Four multinationals—Sylvania, GE, Osman and Philips—appear to be seeking to subvert the effect of the forthcoming recast waste electrical and electronic equipment directive by operating a cartel in relation to the recycling of waste electrical equipment, which is putting the viability of independent recycling companies and local jobs, including in my constituency, at risk.

I am interested in what the hon. Lady says, but I am sure she will understand that I am not in a position to comment on it without any direct knowledge of those issues. From her description, she should bear in mind not only the question of whether that is a suitable topic for debate in the House, but the fact that, as I know from having served on the Standing Committees of the Competition Bill and the Enterprise Bill in previous Parliaments, legislation is in place that allows her and others who have evidence to go to the Office of Fair Trading for investigation of those practices.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport secured appropriate terms for all mobile operators in the forthcoming auction, and significant investment has been made in fixed-line broadband throughout the whole of the UK. May we have a debate on the progress of broadband roll-out to learn about the best practice in some of the areas that have operated faster than others and to ensure that the scale and terms of those contracts are suitable to deliver competition?

My hon. Friend is right. He refers to the digital switchover, which was a major programme delivered on time and under budget with few complaints about it—a very good example of collaboration. We will now have the benefit of the spectrum auction that is coming up. Through that and other routes, the broadband roll-out across the country can be a major contributor to growth. I hope it will be achieved rapidly and on time, and in a way that is stimulated by competition.

Jo Darling is a full-time carer in my constituency, while also studying for a PhD. However, she is unable to access carer’s allowance because she is a full-time student, and she is unable to work because of her caring responsibilities. She has only a £6,000 a year scholarship to live off and is deeply worried that she will have to give up her studies because she is struggling to get by. May we have a statement on what steps the Government will take to provide proper support to wonderful carers such as Jo, who are both full-time students and full-time carers?

If the hon. Lady wishes me to do so, I will be glad to ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions to comment on the specifics of the individual case. Carer’s allowance is intended to be an allowance in relation to the loss of potential for earnings. If somebody is in full-time education, by definition one cannot justify carer’s allowance to that extent. On support for carers generally, the House has just agreed the establishment of a Joint Committee to consider the draft Care and Support Bill, which includes the most important legislative measures ever presented to give a basis of support for carers.

The hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) has wandered almost like a nomad, albeit all at one end of the Chamber, across three Benches, but I hope he is now comfortably perched and ready to give the House the benefit of his thoughts.

I thank you for that kind introduction, Mr Speaker. Following the publication of yesterday’s Ofsted report on the performance of local education authorities, may we have a debate in Government time about why some LEAs, such as Reading, are so much worse at providing, for example, primary school education than either surrounding authorities or demographically comparable local education authorities?

My hon. Friend is right. We might examine that. He might like to raise the matter at Education questions on Monday, but in any case it is an illustration of the benefits that come from the transparency of the publication of data. In a number of fields, including education, that enables us and the public to examine unwarranted variation between different parts of the country, and to try to drive out poor performance and drive up good performance.

May I raise again the issue of a signal-controlled crossing on Darlaston road in my constituency? A four-year-old child was knocked over and suffered serious head injuries, and a woman suffered a fractured pelvis—all this on the crossing. Three hundred local people have signed a petition, yet the council refuses to upgrade the crossing to a signal-controlled crossing. I have written to everybody—the Department for Transport, the council—and still they refuse. Can the Leader of the House use his good offices to point me in the right direction, perhaps with an urgent debate, or tell me where to go next before there is a death on the crossing?

I am sorry to hear that about the hon. Lady’s constituents, with whom I am sure we all sympathise. I will of course take the opportunity to talk with colleagues, not least in the Department for Transport, because I know from experience in my constituency that the lead for that comes best through the Department to Network Rail. I will be happy to correspond with the Department on that.

May I ask my right hon. Friend again for a debate on the conduct of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and its handling of allegations of child abuse in north Wales? A report issued last weekend by the bureau’s trustees sought to whitewash their responsibility for the widely discredited “Newsnight” report on the matter. The licence fee payer now faces a bill of £185,000 in damages, but many would argue that the main responsibility lies with the shoddy journalism of the bureau’s chief reporter, Angus Stickler. I believe that the bureau bears equal responsibility; surely it should share the BBC’s costs.

My hon. Friend will not expect me to comment on the allocation of those costs. Technically, these are matters not for the Government but for the BBC and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. He will share my desire for the BBC to make rapid progress with the Pollard review and publish it in full so that the public can see what was done in relation to the “Newsnight” report.

Continuing the “Yes Minister” theme, more than a month ago I personally delivered 300 letters from constituents about flooding insurance to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I raised the issue with the Leader of the House a few weeks ago, because I had received no acknowledgement or response. Yesterday, I had a telephone call from the Secretary of State’s private office to tell me that they could not find the 300 letters. Will the Leader of the House advise me on what I should do next?

I will be happy to continue to talk with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Lady will be aware from my right hon. Friend’s recent statement, and indeed from Prime Minister’s questions, that we have been in active negotiations with the Association of British Insurers and are determined to bring the matter to a successful conclusion.

May we please have a debate on the operation of free markets so that I and others who oppose the Government’s plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol and regard it as yet another unnecessary extension of the nanny state can put our views on the record?

I have never found my hon. Friend backwards in coming forward to make his views known, and I am sure that opportunities for him to do so will present themselves. With regard to the minimum unit price for alcohol, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published on behalf of the Government a consultative document yesterday. The Government are clear that a minimum unit price will contribute to tackling the deep-seated issues related to binge drinking and alcohol abuse. A report published by the chief medical officer only the week before last shows that this country has such a high relative level of death from liver disease, and the level is rising while in other countries it is falling. That tells us that we have to do something.

When will we have a debate or a statement on the ombudsman’s report on the use of bailiffs by the courts and local authorities?

I have no knowledge of an immediate opportunity for such a debate, but I will of course look at whether there is any opportunity for an oral or written statement in due course.

Experiencing the death of a loved one is sadly inevitable for us all, but dealing with the funeral costs can come as a very unwelcome shock for many. The social fund payment has substantially devalued over the years and many families find themselves deep in debt despite being eligible for a payment. May we have a debate on how we can help families provide a dignified funeral for a loved one without adding further financial stress at a difficult time?

My hon. Friend makes an important point that she may wish to raise on Monday week in Department for Work and Pensions questions. I know from my former ministerial responsibilities that we are continuing to consider how the cost of death certification, which is a significant part of the overall costs, is to be met in future, in order if possible not to add to the burdens that people face when they are bereaved. In addition, I will ask my hon. Friends in the Department to correspond with her about how they are considering those issues.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the role of employment agencies in local labour markets? That is of huge concern in Corby and east Northamptonshire, where too many people find that they are on zero-hours contracts with no guarantees of work, even though they may have travelled some distance or at some cost to get to their place of work, and are often on low wages. There is also a big concern about employment agencies often recruiting from overseas rather than making sure that local people can get into work.

It is a pleasure to welcome the hon. Gentleman to business questions. I noted that he had a very successful maiden speech in last week’s debate on manufacturing industry—an important debate in which we welcomed him to our deliberations.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question, he might like to consider raising that issue at Work and Pensions questions. The agency workers directive will have some effect, and I will be happy to find out a little more about its impact on his local labour market and to correspond with him.

The West Yorkshire fire and rescue integrated management action plan proposes the closure of Marsden fire station. In recent years there have been widespread fires up on Marsden moors and a major fire at a chemical factory just up the valley in Linthwaite. Does my right hon. Friend agree that West Yorkshire fire authority and the management plan need to take into account all these local factors when making these tough decisions?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is the responsibility of fire and rescue authorities to make such decisions. As he knows, they are required to have in place fire and rescue service integrated risk management plans to identify local needs and to tackle existing and potential risks to communities. That should create a more transparent approach to how they use their resources to evaluate and respond to risk, and it is the context in which my hon. Friend can hold them to account in doing so.

I am pleased that the Leader of the House has found time to reschedule the debate on the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, which many of my constituents will follow with great interest.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on investment in the east midlands regional economy? Recent figures show that we are apparently bottom of the list for regional growth fund allocations, while other figures show that we not doing as well as we perhaps should as regards other types of Government investment. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would appreciate the opportunity to lobby Ministers in such a debate.

I am coming to that. The Backbench Business Committee should take credit for allocating time initially and finding additional time next week for the debate on the anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, and I am glad about that.

A number of Members in different regions have sought Adjournment debates to discuss their regional economies. The House will welcome that, as will the Government, because such debates provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate how the regional growth fund and our industrial strategy are leading to increases in employment across the country and a rebalancing of our economy, as was discussed in last week’s debate on manufacturing.

The extraordinary levels of rainfall over the past week have caused the banks of the River Avon to burst. Local residents, National Farmers Union members and farmers in Britford have been warning that that would be likely as a result of stopping weed cutting in the river. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how local expertise can be listened to in order to avoid changes in regulations that allow these risks to become much higher, as we have seen this week?

My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of his constituents. What happened will have been very concerning for them. It is important that the Environment Agency and local authorities take a proactive approach. After the flooding in my constituency in October 2001, the local authorities and parishes, the Environment Agency, I as the Member of Parliament and others met to establish a programme to deal with precisely the risks that he mentions. I would have far preferred it if we had done that proactively, rather than waiting until the flooding had demonstrated where the risks were greatest.

When the Government opted into the EU directive on human trafficking they claimed that the role of an independent rapporteur could be fulfilled by the interdepartmental ministerial group. Some of us queried that. The group produced its first report on 18 October. As yet, there is no sign of this House having an opportunity to debate it. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to debate the report on human trafficking?

I will, of course, look at whether there is an opportunity for such a debate. The hon. Lady may also wish to discuss the possibility with the Backbench Business Committee. I will gladly consider with my colleagues whether we can create such an opportunity.

Pendle’s young entrepreneur of the year, 26-year-old Simon Mellin, has established a bistro and farm shop with his younger brother. Roaming Roosters opened just a few months ago, but is already employing 30 members of staff. With the help of Pendle borough council and Nelson and Colne college, Roaming Roosters ran the “Can you hack it?” programme, which saw 10 young people compete for two butchery apprenticeships in the firm. Simon is now helping the other eight youngsters to find work with local businesses. May we have a debate about apprenticeships so that all MPs across the House can cite innovative examples from their constituencies and discuss the Government’s progress in this area?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Today, not least, it is good to have a different reference to hacking—in this case in relation to butchery. That example shows how apprenticeships are being made available in small and medium-sized businesses, and is a signal of how we can create jobs in the future. In the past, jobs have come overwhelmingly from small and medium-sized businesses and from growing businesses. If apprentices are able to find such places, they will be able to secure the jobs of the future. That is why it is encouraging that 950,000 apprenticeships have started in the past two years with 100,000 employers in 160,000 locations. I hope that what my hon. Friend describes is just one of many such schemes that we will be able to support.