House of Commons
Monday 28 January 2013
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The social sector size criteria, which will be introduced from April, will align housing benefit rules for those living in social sector accommodation with those already applied to claimants living in the private rented sector. We estimate that around 80,000 households in Scotland could be affected.
The vast majority of tenants affected by this policy have no realistic prospect of finding a smaller, cheaper house. It also has many implications for devolved policy areas. Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State to show his respect for the Scottish Parliament by appearing in person before its Welfare Reform Committee?
Obviously, the impact of housing benefit policy, which is a matter for the UK Parliament, will be different in different parts of the country. I have been to the Scottish Parliament and talked to the Deputy First Minister about welfare reform and we keep a dialogue open with our colleagues in Scotland.
My hon. Friend is right to bring forward the voice of those in overcrowded accommodation, which is all too often not heard in this debate. At the same time as we are paying housing benefit for approaching a million spare bedrooms, a quarter of a million households in overcrowded accommodation would love the opportunity to live in a larger house.
At the weekend, I spoke to one of my constituents in Scotland who has been a foster parent for 23 years and currently has four foster children, two of whom are in long-term placements. She fosters for one local authority and lives just over the border in another, which means that there is now considerable confusion about the discretionary payments. Would it not be much better if foster parents were exempted altogether?
We recognise the special position of foster carers, which is why we allocated £5 million of discretionary housing payments so that local authorities can respond on a case-by-case basis to the needs of foster carers. We believe that that is a more flexible approach than a blanket exemption.
At the same time as millionaires are getting a tax cut, hundreds of thousands of Britain’s poorest families, people with disabled children, the terminally ill and the bereaved will be made poorer or forced to move. That risks increasing the benefits bill, as most will go into the private rented sector where rents are higher. However, I want to ask for a clear assurance about the brave men and women serving in the forces. Will the Minister assure the House that they and their families will have their rent covered 100%, that they will not lose a penny while they are away from home and that they will not be affected at all? Yes or no?
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about millionaires, I gather they are hankering after the halcyon days when they used to pay only 40% income tax and 18% capital gains tax. On his point about service personnel, let me make it absolutely clear that in the case of a couple with a young adult who is going off to serve with the forces, when that young person leaves the home to serve on the front-line we cease to assume that they are making a rent contribution. When that person goes off to serve, the housing benefit will, in general, go up.
Business Start-ups (Government Support)
We believe that for many people self-employment is the best route out of unemployment. That is why we have introduced the new enterprise allowance and enterprise clubs, which have proved effective in helping people back into work.
Tourism is obviously a key industry in Bournemouth, but the digital economy is now the fastest-growing sector thanks to the work of Bournemouth university—so much so that Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole are now getting the nickname of the silicon beach of England. What more can be done to harness that interest and expertise through incubator units and start-ups?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should be capitalising on the skills of graduates of Bournemouth university to ensure that the digital economy spreads throughout the UK, including to silicon beach. I urge him to talk to his local council and to others to see what opportunities there are to bring forward premises that could be used for self-employment.
Unemployment in Lichfield was running at 2.6 % in December, but that is still not good enough. What are the Government doing to provide an enterprise culture in practice, and how many people has my hon. Friend managed to get starting new businesses?
My hon. Friend will be aware that in Lichfield, 30 claimants have started with a business mentor. That has led to 20 businesses starting already. Some 8,000 new businesses have been started as a consequence of the new enterprise allowance, and I am pleased to announce that we are going to extend the availability of the new enterprise allowance to lone parents on income support and to some employment and support allowance claimants, because they are the sort of people who would be able to benefit from the new enterprise allowance and combine their existing responsibilities with starting a business for themselves.
May I push the Minister on what is happening to people who want to start their own business if they pitch up at Jobcentre Plus? Is it not a scandal, the way that Jobcentre Plus recycles people? Giving them a job for one day removes the onus of finding them anything, such as starting their own business, or referring them to the Work programme. There is a tension between what is happening in Jobcentre Plus and what is happening in the Work programmes that does nobody any good.
To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question about enterprise, when someone first makes a claim for jobseeker’s allowance, advisers talk to them and ask them whether they have an idea for a new business. Where they have a credible plan, they can be referred to a mentor, who will work with them to develop that business plan which, if successful, can lead to the new enterprise allowance. We see the importance of small businesses and of getting new start-ups going. Both the Work programme and Jobcentre Plus are focused on how they can help people set up a business themselves and start to recruit others.
Unfortunately, unemployment in the Rhondda is still growing. The figures for last November are higher than they were for the November before. One of the difficulties is that many of the people who have enough get up and go to set up a company get up and go elsewhere. How can we make sure that geographically isolated communities such as the Rhondda have a strong enough local economy for local entrepreneurs to prosper?
That is why measures such as the Work programme and the new enterprise allowance help lay those foundations. We need to see businesses moving to places such as the Rhondda and south Wales. I went to Swansea before Christmas to see the work that Amazon is doing there to boost employment in the local community—[Interruption.] Opposition Members may mock, but that created job opportunities that people would not otherwise have had.
The benefit cap will be implemented from 15 April 2013 in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey local authority areas. This will be a phased roll-out, with the remaining local authorities implementing the cap by the summer. This is in keeping with the way that the culture has changed in DWP. All the programmes that we are implementing are being rolled out on a staged basis. That includes changes to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, universal credit, personal independence payment and universal job match.
Clearly, the cap and the principles behind the cap are supported by Government Members—that is, that people who are on benefits should not be earning more than those, for example, on average earnings. Those who are exempted are those who are entitled to working tax credit—because this is about getting people back to work, not stopping them doing that—war widows, widowers, those in receipt of disability living allowance/personal independence payment, attendance allowance, industrial injuries benefits, those on war disablement pension and compensation scheme and the support component of employment support allowance. There is also a 39-week grace period for those who fall unemployed so that they can get back to work without having to change their arrangements.
Despite what the Secretary of State has just said, it is clear that he sees the need now to delay an implementation that was previously seen as so important. What about those households where there is an adult receiving DLA and where there are parents who act as the carers? They are two separate units for benefit purposes. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that those households are not penalised?
First, I must say to the hon. Lady that she is talking complete nonsense. I would much rather implement a programme learning the lessons as we implement it, than follow the practice of the previous Government, who had a period of collapsing programmes because they rushed them. This is the right way to do it and it is a shift in culture. On the second part of her question, under the Government that she supported—and it is still the case today—when someone becomes an adult, they effectively form their own household. We have discussed and are discussing those matters continuously, but households are formed when someone becomes an adult, and the previous Government never saw any reason to change that in all the years that they were in power.
As the Secretary of State confirmed, Croydon will be one of the first places where this policy is rolled out. May I thank Lord Freud, who is the Minister responsible for welfare reform, and the housing Minister for meeting me to discuss this? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will work closely with my local authority to ensure that this important policy is implemented smoothly?
I say to my hon. Friend and to all hon. Members and hon. Friends whose areas are affected by the roll-out that we are in deep discussions with all those councils. Jobcentre Plus will be working hugely with each of them, advising, helping and supporting them—in many senses, giving them more support than is necessarily likely to be the case when the national roll-out follows the pilot programmes.
But as the roll-out happens, some of the areas that will be most affected are not the pilot areas—the first areas—but places such as my constituency, where people are already being moved out of London housing into Slough because there is relatively cheap housing there. Will the Secretary of State undertake that during the period when, as he said, he is taking time to introduce this, he will make revisions and talk to those authorities that are not the pilot authorities and are affected, as mine will be?
I am glad to see that the hon. Lady realises the point of this whole process—to learn the lessons and to understand how best to implement the pilot programmes properly. Of course we will be talking to all local authorities, particularly those that are directly affected, and all other local authorities will listen to what they say. Despite the massive protestations of collapse and doom and gloom that we heard when we announced these proposals—we should remember that all local authorities have known about them for over a year—we now see statistics showing that there has not been the mass migration that was predicted. As for access to housing, housing benefit caseloads in London have risen by 5%, not fallen.
4. How many people currently claiming a state pension will benefit from the new higher rate state pension under his proposals for a single tier scheme. (139387)
People who reach state pension age before single-tier implementation will receive a state pension in line with existing rules. Existing pensioners already receive the triple lock designed to ensure that the pension rises by at least 2.5% each year. The single-tier reforms are designed to respond to the challenges facing working people today.
To be clear, today’s pensioners have benefited hugely from our decision to reverse 30 years of falling value of the state pension for those 12 million pensioners, to whom we are now paying a pension that is a bigger share of national average earnings than at any time in the past 20 years.
It has been a busy few weeks in pensions world. The Minister will be aware that the Office of Fair Trading has recently announced that it is to undertake an inquiry into the private pensions market. This follows a Labour campaign for just such an inquiry. The Minister’s response to our campaign was to accuse the Labour party of scaremongering on pension charges. Now that the OFT has decided to undertake this inquiry, may I encourage the Minister to heed another Labour campaign call and lift the restrictions on NEST as soon as possible so that it can provide low-cost, high-quality pensions to everyone who wishes to save with it?
Thank you Mr Speaker. It will be a house- hold name soon, I hope.
We worked very closely with the OFT in the run-up to its inquiry, which will look at whether there are problems in this area. It is very welcome, and we will be working very closely with the OFT as it carries it out. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Labour introduced constraints on NEST—the National Employment Savings Trust—and we are consulting on whether to lift them.
11. When my hon. Friend presented these proposals last week, it was indicated that there would be a net cost to public sector workers in relation to the higher-rate state pension. Is he able to put a figure on that additional cost? (139394)
Yes. Those who work in the public sector will pay the full rate of national insurance, which is an extra 1.4%, but they will build up state pension at the full rate. Crudely speaking, they will pay about a tenth extra in national insurance but build up, potentially, up to a third extra in state pension, which will be a very good deal.
Disability Living Allowance
About 280,000 disability living allowance claims have been reassessed over the past six months. Reassessments are comprised of super-sessions, where someone reports changes in their circumstances; renewals of fixed-term awards, which are by far the biggest; and reconsiderations.
A constituent of mine had to wait two years to have his DLA appeal reassessed, causing him immense hardship. They found in his favour. He is not alone. Newcastle citizens advice bureau and the Newcastle welfare rights service each see two or three new cases of DLA delays every single week. How will the Minister ensure that the roll-out of the personal independence payment will not lead to the same vulnerable groups being subjected to more delays?
I have the figures from 2007-08 and they are exactly the same as those for DLA this year, whether that applies to appeals or to people wanting to make new claims. That was the main reason for introducing PIP. It is about clarity and certainty for both the claimant and the assessors, so that we can reduce any delays in reassessments and appeals.
The Minister will be aware that the opportunity to have one’s DLA reconsidered at the end of a fixed-term award is, actually, not an opportunity to cut the DLA. Will she join me in welcoming the fact that more than 12,000 people in the past year have had their DLA award increased at the end of a fixed term? Is that not something that the Opposition ought to bear in mind when they criticise us for cutting DLA?
On 13 December 2012, the Minister announced that there would be
“a significantly slower reassessment timetable”—[Official Report, 13 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 464.]
for the PIP process—the replacement for DLA—which I welcomed. However, did that significantly slower reassessment timetable impact on the contracts that were signed in August 2012 with Capita and Atos on a different timetable? Will there be any significant financial reassessments as a result of the new timetable? Did she consider whether the changes were significant enough to necessitate re-tendering the contract?
We did indeed slow down the roll-out of the reassessments, having listened to the consultation and what various organisations and charities said, but we did not consider that to be significant change to the contract, so we are working closely with both Atos and Capita to ensure the smooth running of the roll-out.
7. What assessment he has made of the preparations for the introduction of universal credit; and if he will make a statement. (139390)
Early roll-out of universal credit begins with a pathfinder in April 2013 in the Greater Manchester and Cheshire region, including the jobcentre in Ashton-under-Lyne. I am aware that a number of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will be involved as a result, as will other Members’ constituents, and my Department will write to all of them to invite them to discuss the roll-out.
The Secretary of State is right to say that my local authority of Tameside is one of the pathfinder areas. Conversations that I have had with officers from that authority and the wider public infrastructure show that there is a lot of concern about the lack of detail and support from the Department of Work and Pensions with regard to the implementation. Given that this is just a few months away and is a cause of serious concern, will the Secretary of State reassure me and people in my local area that the Government are on top of this and that implementation will take place as planned?
It will—I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. We are discussing this at every level with the local authorities concerned. The process will start at a jobcentre in each of the areas I have mentioned on 29 April, and that will start bringing in childless couples to claim universal credit, rather than jobseeker’s allowance. Over that period, once people are captured into the universal credit system, they will not go back on to jobseeker’s allowance, so a lot of tax-credit people who fall unemployed will move on to universal credit. We are in deep discussions with the regions.[Official Report, 31 January 2013, Vol. 557, c. 6MC.]
The previous Government’s record in commissioning and managing large IT projects was a catalogue of failure. Have my right hon. Friend and his colleagues been able to learn anything from that in how they have designed universal credit?
All such programmes under Governments of any hue have always carried risk, because they are about change. The DWP benefits systems, including tax credits, are very complicated and often contradictory. Of course what we are doing involves risk, but we are trying to manage that risk. The best way to do so is to ensure that we introduce it stage by stage, so that we can recognise where we need to learn lessons, correct what is difficult or going wrong and ensure that we roll out the system properly.
On Friday, I visited a housing association in my constituency that is greatly concerned about the introduction of universal credit, as well as the bedroom tax and the benefits cap. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact on the finances of housing associations from the possible increases in rent arrears as a result of his Government’s policies?
I do not believe that there will be an impact. [Interruption.] The Opposition should look to their own record and the housing benefit mess that they left us. They left a rising bill that had doubled in nearly 10 years, so it would be better to have a little less from them. We are trying to ensure that those who are paying this money are not allowed to slip into debt for any great length of time. That matter is being discussed with housing associations and we are making good progress on it. I believe that this approach will help people who are trying to get back into work enormously, rather than their being treated as though they are children who have to have all their bills paid for them.
A constituent of mine who did a few extra hours at Tesco before Christmas faces losing her income support and carer’s allowance for a whole month and will be much worse off. Does the Secretary of State agree that that shows the injustice of the system left by the previous Government, and that universal credit is desperately needed?
That is exactly the point. My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. The mess of all the chaotic benefits left by the last Government, many of which contradicted each other, meant that people were not incentivised to go to work for anything more than 16 hours in some cases. Many people who could have got themselves out of poverty by working did not do so because they were penalised by the system. That is the shame of what the last Government left behind.
Will the Secretary of State say what resources are being allocated to in-work conditionality for part-time workers under universal credit, given that the Department has acknowledged that there is no evidence nationally or internationally of what works to sustain people in employment and enable them to progress?
The Department is looking closely at how we can assist people to take more work while on universal credit. We do not have the final results of that, but I am happy to sit down with the hon. Lady at any time and discuss her concerns. She is right about one thing: rather than parking people on a specific number of hours, universal credit will allow people to work more hours and get more money, rather than losing it, thereby getting themselves and their children, if they have any, out of poverty.
The Government have undertaken major reforms to limit Britain’s welfare spending, which over successive years ran out of control. Under the last Government, welfare bills had increased by 60% by 2010, costing every household in Britain an extra £3,000 a year. Last week, the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill was passed by this House. It will save £1.9 billion, restoring fairness for taxpayers in the process.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that he has made in controlling welfare expenditure, particularly given that under the previous Government, the costs rose by no less than 60%. However, there is always more to do. Will he outline what we are doing to clamp down on welfare fraud?
My hon. Friend is right about the situation that we were left. We are already bearing down on the problem. The figures show that we are making inroads into welfare fraud. Universal credit will have a much better record in this area, because we will be able to use real-time information to check up on who is in work and what they are earning on a monthly basis, rather than having to wait until the end of somebody’s time on tax credits at the end of a year and reconcile the figures over a long period. Under the current tax credits system, £5 billion has been written off as a result of fraud and error, and it looks like another £5 billion will also be written off.[Official Report, 1 February 2013, Vol. 557, c. 8MC.]
As the Secretary of State has said, the previous Government increased welfare spending by 60%. There was not, however, a 60% increase in people getting jobs, or a 60% reduction in child poverty. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should not measure the success of our welfare system by how much we are spending on it?
I agree with my hon. Friend: we should measure our welfare system by how soon it provides support to those who need it and how it supports those who can be moved into a more productive form of life. The previous system trapped people into dependency on welfare with rising bills and, ultimately, a very poor record on child poverty.
I strongly welcome the welfare reforms that the Government are introducing, and I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the control he is bringing to expenditure. Does he agree, however, that the provision of some of the benefits, and the terms under which they will be received, may need to be reviewed? If the parent of a young child with a complicated medical condition needs to stay in hospital for longer than 84 days, they may fall foul of the carer’s allowance. Will the Secretary of State agree to look at that?
I understand fully what my hon. Friend is saying and, of course, the parent who is caring for a child in hospital has 84 days in which that child may be in hospital. I also recognise what he is saying about broken-up periods in hospital should someone have a condition that takes them back to hospital again. I would be happy to sit down with him, and anybody else, to look at the issue and discuss whether there are ways to rectify it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the reforms he is bringing in. Social mobility and poverty were manifestly not improved by 60% during the previous Government’s regime, although the bill went up by 60%. However, people such as my constituent, Mr Martin Wilsher, who is visually impaired, still have concerns about some of the reforms being introduced. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend provide to Mr Wilsher?
First, as my hon. Friend knows, this is about the disability living allowance and the personal independence payment, and the reality is that DLA will not be included in the changes. More than that, it is important to note that through discussions over the introduction of PIP, a good and warm welcome has finally come from the Royal National Institute of Blind People. After recent discussions it said that the PIP criteria include a number of
“significant improvements for blind and partially sighted people.”
The changes we are making to PIP, after guidance from that organisation and others, will help people such as my hon. Friend’s constituent.
Last week in Westminster Hall Ministers made great play of the savings that the Government might expect from the bedroom tax. In Wales there is a chronic shortage of smaller houses, so why will the Secretary of State not admit that those who are hit by this cruel policy in Wales will have to go into the insecure private sector where rents will be higher and local housing allowance rates will cost more?
What the hon. Lady and her party presided over when they were in power was a complete mess in housing—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Opposition Members to shout like a bunch of discombobulated monkeys bouncing up and down on the Benches; the reality is that their housing benefit record left many thousands of families unable to find housing because they were in a queue, while others occupied housing that had far too many rooms. We have to put that right, and that is what we are doing. The Labour party never did that when it was in government.
Although I am not a vindictive person—at least, I hope I am not—I would like to see the Secretary of State and his colleagues, plus the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, try to live, just for six months, on the income of those who have been adversely affected as a result of the cuts carried out by the Government over the past two years. Try and live on that sort of income; see what it is like not having any recourse to private income.
I have known the hon. Gentleman for a long time, and the reality is that none of these decisions is taken lightly by this Government—indeed, any Government. I remind him, however, about all those people who, because of the mess in which the previous Government left the finances, have found themselves out of work or with incomes falling. When he talks about vulnerable people, it is this Government who have increased the pension and made it better for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Under the current rules, citizens from some eastern European countries are entitled to housing benefit and working tax credit, but not to income-related jobseeker’s allowance. Will the Secretary of State set out for the House what the position of these people will be once universal credit, which will wrap all the benefits up together, has been introduced?
It is our intention to try to ensure that under universal credit the loose access to benefits that has been enjoyed by far too many people coming into this country who have no right to them will actually be limited. I will be able to brief the House much better on that as and when we complete the rules on it.
Obviously the Secretary of State has made mention of the benefits uprating being capped at a 1% increase. Has he had any discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what that will do to growth or about the impact that it will have on the economy over the next three years?
I have lots of discussions with the Chancellor on a regular basis, all very amicable. Of course we have to discuss this in a wider context, but the hon. Gentleman and his party look at this in a very narrow context. They say, “Well, you withdraw this money from people on benefits and that immediately has an effect on the high street.” If that were all that we were doing, I would agree with him, but it is not. There is a major programme for investment in industry and a huge capital spending programme, not least as will be announced in a statement later today. These will have an even bigger effect, in a positive way, on spending in the high street.
Jobseeker’s Allowance (Easington)
About 3,400 people in Easington are currently claiming jobseeker’s allowance, which is up 340 on the year, but last week we saw a fall in the number of people in the north-east claiming JSA. Since the general election, there has been an increase of 35,000 in the number of people in work in the north-east.
The Government have stopped publishing the number of unemployed people in each constituency chasing each vacancy. As I have impressed on Ministers before, and I will say it again, the issue for us in Easington, unlike in Lichfield, is joblessness—a lack of jobs. Will the Minister give consideration to publishing those data, which would be useful to potential employers and inward investors?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I was born and brought up in his constituency, so I well understand the challenges that Easington faces. We do want to encourage more people to invest in the area, and that is why I am keen to commend the work that has been done with the East Durham area partnership to encourage more people into work in Easington. We will look at how we can recommence publication of vacancy statistics shortly.
Ministers often say that they have stopped people on Government schemes appearing in the labour market statistics as “in employment”. But recent analysis shows that of the claimed 500,000 increase in employment over the past 12 months, 214,000 people are in fact on Government schemes and mostly still claiming JSA. What is going on?
What is happening—and it happened under the previous Government—is that these figures are drawn up in line with international rules. I agree with him that it is inappropriate, and that is why I wrote several months ago to the Office for National Statistics to ask it to change that. Only one in 20 of the additional jobs created since the general election are down to Government schemes, and the right hon. Gentleman should be commending the number of private sector jobs being created that have helped people get back into work. That is why we have record numbers of people in work.
Our impact assessment shows that of the 3.4 million social sector tenants receiving housing benefit, up to 660,000 could potentially be affected by this measure.
Do this Government ever get fed up with hammering the poor of this country? Punishing the poor seems to be the mandate that is running this Government. In my constituency, 2,000 households will lose anything up to 25% because of this bedroom tax. Will the Minister change this callous measure now, or will he wait until it becomes this Government’s poll tax and comes back to haunt them?
If we leave aside the issue of people in his constituency who are living in over-crowded accommodation, who would very much like the opportunity to live in one of these houses, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that for many years under Labour, people who rented in the private rented sector were not allowed a spare bedroom. Why is it fair not to allow private renters a spare bedroom, but to allow social tenants a spare bedroom?
Does the Minister agree that downsizing when people can no longer afford accommodation or when accommodation becomes too big is something that many people have had to do for many years? Would it not be perverse if the only people protected from what is a fact of life for many were those dependent on the state for their housing?
My hon. Friend is right that ensuring that we make the best use of the scarce resource that is the social housing stock does involve people moving to smaller accommodation later on in life—although not pensioners, who we have exempted. Many of the best housing associations and councils are managing their housing stock better in response to this change.
The bedroom tax will have an impact on thousands of people in Telford. Many might want to move to smaller accommodation, but it is not available and the Government know it is not available. The policy is designed to penalise people—it is nothing to do with the housing market.
There is a danger that this is viewed in a very static way. Many of the best housing associations are looking at groups of constituents, some of whom are over-occupying and are overcrowded, and are moving people around to create space. In the longer term, we need a housing stock that better meets the needs of people on the waiting list, and it is time that successive Governments addressed that.
Because of the shameful under-investment in social housing by the previous Government, there are simply not enough properties for people to downsize to. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the number of families who will end up moving to smaller, more expensive accommodation and end up receiving more in housing benefit?
My hon. Friend is right: successive Governments have failed to build enough affordable housing. It is worth stressing that moving is one option, but only one option, for those in work. Just two or three extra hours on the minimum wage would cover this deduction. There are a range of options—going into work, taking in a lodger or sub-letting—and good housing associations are working with their tenants to achieve best outcomes.
No one loses carer’s allowance as a result of the benefit cap for, as the hon. Lady may know, the cap is applied to overall household income.
What advice would the Minister give to the 5,000 carers who, as the Government’s impact assessment states, will lose an average of £105 a week through the operation of the benefit cap? Is she suggesting that they give up caring, look for work and ask social services to find a care placement for the person they care for? Why have the Government not thought of exempting carers, who do a wonderful job, from the benefit cap in recognition of their unpaid caring work?
I would not seek to tell anybody what they should do. We seek to work closely with people to enable and support them as best we can. We are doing that by trebling the discretionary payment to help people into work, because if they are on working tax credits, they will be exempt from the benefit cap.
I can tell the House that
“carers caring for an adult disabled child or other adult relative could see their benefits capped, because the DLA of the people they care for is not considered to be in the same benefit package or ‘household’ as the carers’–even if they are living together.”
This is a direct quote from Carers UK. Does the Minister agree with Carers UK that it is confusing, complicated and simply unfair to protect some carers and not others?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the definition of “household” has been in place for some time, so what has happened has always been in place. As the Secretary of State said, there are many exemptions from the cap. Working with the discretionary payment, we can work together to get this right.
There are a range of measures in place to tackle long-term unemployment, including the Work programme. Last week’s unemployment figures show a fall of 5,000 in the number of people who have been unemployed for more than a year, and a fall of 10,000 in the number of people who have been unemployed for more than two years.
When the hon. Lady’s party was in government, the number of people in long-term unemployment doubled, but this month we have seen a reduction in the numbers of people unemployed for more than one year and for more than two years. I would have thought she would be welcome that. It demonstrates that ours are the right actions to tackle the problems of long-term unemployment.
Employment in the west midlands has increased by 4.3% in the past 12 months and the average time spent on jobseeker’s allowance is just three months. What can my hon. Friend do to bring all Work programme providers up to the standard of the best providers, such as EOS in the black country?
I, too, have seen the excellent work that EOS does to improve people’s chances of getting into work—it has some innovative programmes—and I am relentless in pushing Work programme providers to improve their performance so that we get people into work. Last month’s unemployment figures are testament to the benefits of our actions.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (139409)
Today, I welcome the millionth jobseeker signed up to the universal jobmatch service, launched before Christmas, which is revolutionising how claimants look for work—with online job searching and matching through DWP on a scale never seen before. The system works 24/7 to find jobs that fit with people’s skills, location and working patterns, which means that their CV works for them even while they sleep. The service harnesses new technology to improve their prospects, and was launched on time and on budget.
It would appear that about 430,000 women born between 6 April 1952 and 6 July 1953 will not qualify for the new pension, while men of the same age will. What does the Minister have to say to the 1,700 women in Newcastle potentially affected by this unfair situation?
Those women will, of course, receive a state pension up to two years before a man born on the same day and have the option of being treated in the same way as a man—for example, they could defer their pension for two years and get an extra 20% for deferral. That is an option. We cannot bring the measure forward, however, because the occupational pension sector needs time. The only way we could treat men and women identically would be to delay until 2019, but if we did that many more women would be excluded.
My hon. Friend makes an important point: poor literacy and numeracy are big barriers to employment. For that reason, personal advisers in jobcentres are trained to identify signs and to signpost people to appropriate course providers. Fareham college in the constituency adjacent to hers is one such provider, but I am sure there are other local providers.
The Minister will have read about the cases of Becky Bell raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and of Angel Hooper, the disabled child whose parents have been told that they will lose £20 a week because her specially adapted room will not be shared with another family member. They are two of the 660,000 families being told they will have to fork out extra or move under the bedroom tax. Will he confirm how many one-bedroom properties will be needed for people to downsize to as the bedroom tax kicks in?
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that discretionary housing payments are being made available with a specific focus on the needs of severely disabled people—for example, where a house has been adjusted to reflect the needs of a disabled person. We have allocated money to local authorities precisely to cater for those whom it would be inappropriate to expect to move.
The Minister knows that 600,000 people will now need a one-bedroom flat, yet the Department’s own assessment states that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to accommodation of an appropriate size, even if they want to move. From the beginning of April, therefore, people in social housing will face a £14 a week extra bill, when those on £1 million a year face a £2,000 a week tax cut. How can the Minister justify this to hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who said that benefit cuts at a time of tax cuts of this order would send the clearest signal that
“Conservatives were looking after vested interests: not so much a dog whistle—more a full blown trumpet.”?
Given that the right hon. Gentleman mentions taxation, I will risk straying on to it, but quite why today’s millionaires would rather have our 45p rate than his 40p rate, or our 28% capital gains tax, rather than his 18% rate is beyond me.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s specific point, households will respond in a range of ways to the measure on under-occupation: moving is simply one of them; taking in a lodger or boarder, sub-letting, working or working more hours are others, and there are discretionary payments for those in most need.
T7. Is the Minister aware that the Conservatives in Wales have introduced the post of shadow Minister for older people? In the light of that, will he update the House on the work of the UK advisory forum on ageing in getting a co-ordinated approach to older people’s issues across Whitehall? (139415)
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for flagging up the work of the UK advisory forum, which I jointly chair with the Minister for care services at the Department of Health. It enables us to bring Departments beyond those two together with older people’s organisations, and we are looking to expand the role of that group.
T4. More than 2.3 million people with disabilities currently live in poverty. Given that fewer than half of all disabled people are in work, that we have a contracting economy and that at least £6.7 billion is being cut from disability benefits, how many more disabled people do the Government estimate will be living in poverty at the end of this Parliament? (139412)
Let me say straight away that I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s figures at all. What I can tell her is that £50 billion is spent every year on support and benefits, and that will continue. We are spending £13 billion a year on disability living allowance, and we will continue spending that when people are moved on to the personal independence payment. We are doing a lot and we are protecting the most vulnerable, as acknowledged around the world.
The winter fuel allowance is a non-contributory benefit, yet every year we spend tens of millions of pounds on winter fuel allowance for pensioners who live abroad in far pleasanter climates than our own. Is there nothing that the Government can do within the terms of the EU directive to ensure that such payments cease and that pensioners in this country benefit from that money?
This is a matter that we are looking into. As my hon. Friend knows very well, it is caught under European law; however, the recent judgment that came out said that we had to make these payments. There might be other ways we may be able to limit that exposure, and I will be able to let my hon. Friend know later in the day.
T5. Teacher Dawn Lewis in my constituency is one of 600 women who will lose out because of the perverse pension rule that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) drew attention to earlier. Is the Minister at all worried that this looks like yet another coalition attack on working women? (139413)
Just to be clear, we are talking about women who draw a pension significantly earlier than men born on the same day. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head; that is a statement of fact. It is the case that present pensioners do not fall under the new system. I have explained why we cannot bring it forward, but I am delighted that the Opposition’s principal criticism is that we are not introducing our reform quickly enough.
On the Government’s benefit changes for housing, foster carers have expressed their concern to me that they might be inhibited from doing their good work by the extra penalty for having a spare room. Can the Secretary of State or a Minister give me some reassurance that the amount of fostering that we currently have—and need—can continue without financial disadvantage?
We are of course working closely with the Minister responsible at the Department for Education—the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson)—whose record on this is unimpeachable, as my right hon. Friend knows. He also should recognise that we have laid aside £5 million specifically to help with foster carers in the situation he described. However, we are in discussions with local authorities, county councils and the Department for Education about how best the money can be used to ensure that it specifically helps foster carers in this area, so that they suffer no hardship whatever, but can continue, and we can encourage more people to become foster carers.
T6. Further to the questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), I still do not understand why the Government are, in effect, targeting and discriminating against nearly 500,000 women, 500 of whom are in my constituency—one of them is my mother—or why they think this is fair, given that men of exactly the same age will get a higher pension. It is not fair, but is it legal and will the Government reconsider their proposals? (139414)
Just to be clear, when the hon. Lady says that a man born on the same day will get a higher pension, that is simply not necessarily the case. People are wrongly comparing the £144 flat rate with the £107 basic pension, plus a variable SERPS—state earnings-related pension scheme—pension, so the figure might be higher, but it might be lower. The new system is not more generous overall than the one it replaces. All I would say, through the hon. Lady to her mother, is that a man born on the same day as her mother will draw his pension significantly later, so she will have the benefit of that pension for perhaps up to two years more than a man born on the same day.
Last Friday, I visited the A4e offices in Bracknell, and it was encouraging to hear the staff there giving support to my constituents who were seeking to set up their own business. In addition to providing that support, what are the Government doing to extend the availability of new enterprise allowances so that more people in my constituency can start their own business?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has seen for himself the work that A4e is doing in Bracknell. We need more people to have the opportunity to set up their own business, particularly lone parents and those with health conditions. That is why I am pleased to announce that we are extending the availability of the new enterprise allowance to lone parents who receive income support and to some employment and support allowance claimants.
T8. As several of my hon. Friends have already said, almost 500,000 women aged between 59 and 60 will not qualify for the new state pension while men of the same age will do so. How does the Minister justify penalising 700 such women in my constituency in that way? (139416)
Just to be clear, the women the hon. Gentleman is talking about will get exactly the pension that they thought they were going to get before we made our announcement, and they will get it on the day on which they thought they were going to get it. We have changed nothing at all. However, under the present system, if those women want to defer a pension for two years, they will get that on the current rules plus 20%, which is a generous rate of deferral.
T9. Given the inability of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to write to all parents affected by the recent child benefit changes, I have serious concerns about the real-time information that will need to be delivered if universal credit is going to work and succeed. In September, the Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, said that 99.8% of the data sent by employers had been matched, yet a parliamentary answer from the Exchequer Secretary on 17 December revealed data from the same month showing that only 71% had been matched. Which Minister has got it right? (139417)
The hon. Lady is confusing two answers. The answer that she received from the Treasury—from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—was to do with checking against the references of the accredited companies. That was a process that was looking for 80%, and it was achieving just over 75%. What my hon. Friend the Minister was saying was that the number of companies being brought on to the pilot was exactly in line with the number that is there. I can promise the hon. Lady that, if she really wants me to, I will give her a written answer to that question as well.
Is the Secretary of State looking favourably on the idea that workers coming here from Europe to earn a living should have to establish a contribution record over a reasonable period of time before becoming eligible to receive benefits?
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) and others are engaged on this matter with our European partners. We do not think it right that somebody who has made no contribution to this country should be able to walk in here on day one and take benefits, as is being proposed. I promise my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) that I will not allow that to happen.
T10. The Minister has failed to justify to the 430,000 women in the rest of the country, or to the 500 women in my constituency, born between 5 April 1952 and 6 July 1953 why they will receive a state pension of up to £1,900 a year less than a man born on the same day as they were. (139418)
To risk repetition, I say to the hon. Gentleman not only that those women will receive potentially up to two years more but that, on average, the new system is costing no more than the one it is replacing. So it is simply not the case that we are taking new pensioners and spending more money on them than we were in the system that we are replacing.
As the Minister knows, concern has been expressed recently following the conversion from disability living allowance to the personal independence payment. It relates to mobility-impaired people and the change from 50 metres to 20 metres. Will she confirm that she has listened carefully to the points raised about converting the guidelines to ensure that the words “reliably, safely, repeatedly and in a timely manner” will appear in the regulation, so that the people who are anxious about this can be reassured?
My hon. Friend is correct to suggest that we have been in discussions about this. At the moment, the words “reliably, safely, repeatedly and in a timely manner” are in the contracts and in the guidance, and we are looking to see whether they can be put into the regulation, but that will happen only if that achieves what it is intended to achieve.
DWP research suggests that over 42% of people affected by the bedroom tax will not be able to pay the difference and will go into arrears instead. Given that DWP research, how many people does the Minister or the Secretary of State expect to lose their homes as a result of these crazy policies?
We do not expect anybody to lose their homes as a result, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that his Government sat for a large number of years without building any houses, watching housing benefit rise and people sitting on waiting lists to get houses, so crocodile tears from them now they are in opposition are a waste of time. We will sort the problem out, and I hope they will not be in government for a long time to come.
Most EU migration has been of real benefit to Britain, but may I ask the Secretary of State what plans he is putting in place to stop Bulgarian and Romanian migrants claiming welfare benefits from 1 January 2014, thus driving up the welfare bill for UK taxpayers?
We inherited a situation in which there were rules guarding against that happening to those who come in. To put the record straight, habitual residence tests and other rules require that those who come into this country are involved in some form of work. My hon. Friend also knows that European legislation is before us at the moment that tries to allow those coming in to claim benefits on day one. We are utterly opposed to that: we are fighting it, and it is not my intention to see it happen in any way.
High Speed Rail
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about our railways.
Investing in transport infrastructure is not a choice. To create jobs and to rebalance our economy we need better roads, better airports and better trains—and High Speed 2 is a central part of that investment. It will be an engine for growth throughout the country, which is why I am today announcing our initial preferred route north from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester.
These new services will reach eight out of 10 of our largest cities: Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, as well as Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In all, 18 cities and many more towns, too, will be served by HS2 services. It will be completely integrated with the existing rail network; it will bring people and businesses together; it will create an estimated 100,000 jobs; and it has the backing of businesses and cities across Britain. We will introduce legislation for the first phase in this Parliament and legislate for the second in the next one. Construction is set to begin in 2017 and the first trains will run in 2026. The second phase will be open fully by 2033.
I would like to make three further points. The first is about the need for the line. HS2 will be the first main line to be built north of London for almost 120 years. Some say we do not need another, but the truth is that we are already good at squeezing the most out of our present Victorian railway network—and yes, we will get even more out of it in the coming years with the massive investment we have already announced. We are electrifying 800 miles of track, and building Crossrail and the northern hub upgrade. These will help to keep us going for the next decade or two, but what then?
Rail passenger numbers have doubled over the last 15 years, and demand will keep growing. The west coast main line is filling up. There is not enough space for all the commuters, freight trains and inter-city trains that need to use it. That is why, after very careful consideration, I am publishing my initial preferences for phase 2 of HS2. The case for going ahead rests on the capacity it will provide and on the new connections it will create. It is not just about faster trains to London, but about changing the way in which our great cities work and work with each other, providing easy links on journeys that are difficult today, giving muscle to the economies of the cities beyond London and producing an estimated £2 in economic benefit for every £1 spent.
Frequently, colleagues in this House call for better services to their local stations—they are right to ask for them—and High Speed 2 is part of the solution. Creating free space on existing routes will allow better services to places such as Milton Keynes, and more trains for commuters in areas such as Staffordshire, Leeds and Manchester. I am determined to ensure that the benefits of HS2 run much wider than the places directly served by the new line.
Let me turn to my second point. The detail of the route I am announcing today follows the Government’s announcements last year about phase 1 between London and Birmingham. On the western leg from Birmingham to Manchester, I propose two new high-speed stations. The first will be in the heart of Manchester, alongside the existing station at Manchester Piccadilly, allowing easy connections to places such as Salford, Stockport and Bolton and a journey time to London of just one hour eight minutes, down from over two hours today. The second station will be at Manchester airport, giving direct access to the wider Cheshire area.
HS2 will also serve Crewe via a dedicated link, and high-speed trains will continue on the existing railway to Liverpool, Warrington and Runcorn, which will also benefit greatly from reduced journey times. Further north, near Wigan, HS2 will connect with the west coast main line. High-speed trains can then continue at regular speeds to places such as Preston, Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I am working with counterparts in Scotland on their aspirations for high-speed rail. I have already set out a long-term ambition to get journeys to Scotland below three hours.
Turning to the eastern leg, we will construct three new stations to bring people and businesses in the east midlands and Yorkshire closer to Birmingham, the north-east and London. The east midlands station will be located between Nottingham and Derby at Toton, and links will be upgraded to provide fast access to both. The second station will be at Sheffield Meadowhall, which already has good connections that can be improved further, allowing it to serve all of Sheffield and south Yorkshire.
The third station will be located in the centre of Leeds alongside the South Bank area. As with the western leg, there will be a connection from HS2 on to the existing rail network. A connection to the east coast main line, just nine miles from York, will allow the north-east to benefit, too, with London to York taking just one hour 23 minutes and London to Newcastle just two hours 18 minutes.
Finally, a decision on how best to serve Heathrow will be taken after the outcome of the Airports Commission has been considered by the Government. From day one, however, HS2 will provide far faster journeys than now via a major new interchange at Old Oak Common, linking to the Great Western main line, Crossrail and the Heathrow express.
The third point I want to make today is about design and help for those most affected. Many hon. Members want the Government to take that extremely seriously, and we do. Although the line will benefit the country as a whole, it will also create great anxiety among those close to the proposed route. We will therefore consult properly, design carefully and compensate fairly. Let me stress that today I am announcing an initial preferred route: this is the start of the process, not the end. We are ready to listen, and ready to improve. I want this line to create jobs and prosperity, not harm them. Where businesses may be affected, we will work with them to find a solution. We will now begin a period of informal consultation on phase 2 that will inform the official public consultation, which was originally planned for 2014 but which, I can announce, will be brought forward to this year. The aim is to reach a firm decision on the route of phase 2 in 2014.
I understand how such proposals can affect property markets. Compensation will therefore be as generous as on the first phase, and more generous than when we built the motorways. Today I am launching a public consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme for those who must sell but cannot do so because of HS2. Under this scheme we will pay the full price, valued as if there were no HS2. That will be followed by the next stage of our property compensation scheme once the final route is confirmed.
There are not many issues on which political parties in the House agree, but this is one of them. Regardless of the nature of the Government when the first trains run in 13 years’ time, what matters are the jobs, the rebalancing of the economy, and our country’s future prosperity. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for providing a copy of his statement in advance.
As the Secretary of State was generous enough to say in his foreword to the Government’s Command Paper, which was published today, HS2 is a project that was started by the last Government. Having successfully built HS1, Britain’s first new railway line for more than 100 years, we were determined that the rest of the country, not just the south-east, should benefit from vital investment to increase capacity and reduce journey times on our railway.
I assure the Secretary of State and the House that we are 100% behind this project. We want to see the line built, and we will continue to offer cross-party support, which will include helping to ensure that the necessary legislation reaches the statute book. I know that the Secretary of State faces considerable challenges in securing the support of colleagues on his side of the House. I have spent much of today defending the project in interviews opposite Conservative Members. I hope and assume that the right hon. Gentleman’s lengthy experience as Chief Whip will come in handy when it comes to quelling the rebellions.
The reason why we need to build this new high-speed railway line is clear: capacity. Our existing three main routes between north and south are congested, and in the case of the west coast line, nearly full. If we do not act now, we will face even worse overcrowding. Doing nothing is not an option. Continuing to patch and mend our existing lines is no longer good enough, and will not bring us the major reductions in journey times that HS2 will deliver.
Given the importance of the scheme, I wonder whether the Secretary of State appreciates the level of frustration at the slow progress made so far in the current Parliament. The consultation on the first phase has been botched, not by him, but in his Department. Submissions have been lost, and the Government now face defeat in the courts, which has the potential to take us back to square one on the consultation. The draft route for the second phase was finally set out only today, two and a half years after the election. No legislation has been published. Today’s Command Paper suggests that Royal Assent to the Secretary of State’s first hybrid Bill will not be achieved until some point in 2015, not by the time of the next election as was previously intended. This scheme is too important to be subject either to further delays or to incompetence in the Department for Transport. I hope that the Secretary of State will now do all that he can both to speed up progress and to avoid any further errors.
On the judicial review, will the Secretary of State update the House on when he expects to receive a judgment, and on the impact that a ruling against his Department would have on the plans that he has set out today?
Let me now turn to the specific details of the route announced by the Secretary of State. First, will the right hon. Gentleman think again about his decision to commit himself only to introducing legislation covering the first phase of the line from London to Birmingham in the current Parliament? Of course it is true that a single Bill would need to await completion of the consultation on the second phase of the route, but by introducing the Bill later in this Parliament and carrying it over to the next—as we did with the legislation for the building of Crossrail—we would secure Parliament’s approval for the whole route earlier than we would under the Government’s plans. That would open up the possibility of beginning construction in the north as well as the south, which is something that the Transport Committee has urged the Government to consider.
Secondly, will the Secretary of State look again at the issue of connectivity between HS1 and HS2, which many, including his own party’s Mayor of London and also Transport for London, believe to be totally inadequate? The proposal to make use of an existing part of the North London line looks like a back-of-an-envelope fix that is not focused on the long-term potential for international rail travel. Surely we need to build a dedicated, purpose-built link between HS1 and HS2. I urge him to look at this again.
Thirdly, will the Secretary of State listen carefully to the concerns that he will have heard today about the decision not to connect HS2 with our major city centres in some instances? I appreciate the difficulty, not least in terms of engineering and cost, of taking a new rail line into an existing major rail station and enabling through services, yet the consequences of not doing so are potentially economically to disadvantage city centres and encourage out-of-town development; and passengers losing much of the journey time savings achieved by using the new line as they transfer to get to their city centre destination. I know that there are differing views on this from city to city, and there is no single right answer, but the Secretary of State’s proposals today make it clear that the recommendations are just “initial” recommendations and I hope that that indicates a willingness to continue a dialogue on these issues, not least with the cities themselves.
Finally, will the Secretary of State accept that today’s decision to kick into the long grass how HS2 will connect to Heathrow is a major error? As he knows, our preference, as a result of our policy review, is to take the line direct via Heathrow. That was the Conservative party’s position before the last election and I am sorry that it no longer supports it. However, the Government’s compromise of a spur was at least a recognition of the need to provide a direct link to Heathrow from HS2. Abandoning that today sets back the potential for HS2 to deliver transfer traffic to our hub airport via high-speed rail rather than short-haul flights, an approach that has the potential to free up valuable slots that could be used for new long-haul flights to serve emerging markets.
The Secretary of State says that that decision has been taken because the Davies commission on aviation will not report back before 2015. Surely the answer is not to delay decisions on HS2 but to speed them up on aviation. Will the Government finally accept that 2015 is far too late to have an answer to our longer-term aviation capacity needs? Will he agree to our call for the commission to produce its final report way in advance of 2015, enabling cross-party talks on a way forward that can be put to people at the next election? That would deliver the certainty needed not just for aviation, but on the route for HS2.
I hope that the Secretary of State will consider those four issues in the spirit in which they are raised. We seek to improve the Government’s proposals, because it is vital that we get this right if all the benefits we all seek are to be realised.
May I start by thanking the hon. Lady for the support that she gives, in principle, to the project? I fully accept that HS1 was finished by the previous Government, but if we needed to get into a debating argument, I could say that it was started by the previous Conservative Government, who had the foresight to say how important it would be. Anyone who uses St Pancras station will have seen what a vast difference has been made to that station since HS1. It used to be a station that nobody wanted to go to, but now it is a destination in itself. I wanted to make that particular point first.
The hon. Lady raised a number of points. She said that I will have certain strong voices against me on this side of the House, but I dare say—I know this from some of the letters I have received from Labour Members—there will be some vocal opponents on her side of the House too. We will see how the debate goes, but that is the case. She also asked me to speculate on what might happen in the judicial review. I may have been in the Whips Office for 17 years, but I am not prepared to start speculating from the Dispatch Box on what the courts may or may not say. We will wait to hear what is said, because a judicial review has taken place. I believe that the Government have acted properly in the way this has gone forward, but we will wait to see what happens on that.
The hon. Lady talked about how some cities are disappointed not to have stations directly in the city centre. As I said in my statement, this is the start of the process and not the end of it, but I say to her that HS2 is not just about serving cities; it is about serving the regions, and so this goes a lot wider than just the cities. Some cities will have a station in them, because of the way in which things have been constructed and the way in which we can engineer into them. In certain other areas the engineering is much more difficult and a lot more expensive, but as I have said, we will of course listen. I have engaged with the city leaders—I know that some of them will be disappointed that I have not been able to say to those cities exactly where the route has gone until today—and so that process is there.
The hon. Lady talks about having a greater link between HS1 and HS2, and I am certainly prepared—I have received representations from the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who is sitting directly behind her—to look at how that can be done. However, it is true to say that, even as presently announced, HS2 will be able to serve areas of the continent direct if there is a demand and need for that.
The hon. Lady made the point about Heathrow. The Government have set up a commission to try to get a consensus. We have a welcome consensus on HS2—cross-party consensus on big infrastructure projects is a tremendous advantage because of the time that such projects naturally take. However, it is right to see what the Davies commission says.
The hon. Lady’s final point was to ask whether we could hold the project off and bring the measures together in one Bill. That would lead to a tremendous delay. There would not just be a delay while we consulted, but a delay while the environmental assessment was conducted and consulted on. Far from making the process quicker, it would be delayed; I estimate that it would mean we probably could not have a Bill ready until 2018. I want a Bill to begin its progress in this Parliament. Of course, how the Bill progresses is up to Parliament.
Today, Mr Speaker, thousands of people will be faced with the blight and uncertainty that you and I are familiar with, because our constituents across Buckinghamshire have suffered it for nearly four years. If the Government are determined to have HS2 and to force it through, and as the Secretary of State has stressed that the economic need is greater in the north, why not really reconsider and start HS2 in the north so that the benefits are more immediate and the connectivity to the south-east and on to global markets through the as yet undecided hub airport can be better guaranteed and integrated? Would not that make more common sense?
I know how my right hon. Friend feels on this subject, and I appreciate how Members whose constituencies have the line going through them have strong representations to make in the House. However, starting the route in the north, on which, up until today, work had not been done, would not be a better way of getting greater connectivity and connections. We should bear in mind that the routes I have said are overcrowded are even more overcrowded when they come into London, which is where we need the extra capacity in the first instance.
The Secretary of State has said that he will ensure that people are compensated fairly. In December 2010, his predecessor said exactly the same thing about the people in my constituency who are affected by the first phase. However, at a meeting on Thursday in my constituency, officials from HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport made it crystal clear to many people living near Euston station, including some of those who had exercised their right to buy their council flats, that they would not be fully compensated, and that others, including people whose businesses will be totally destroyed, will not be compensated at all. Can we rely on the Secretary of State to ensure that, when he says one thing in the House of Commons, his officials do not set it aside in the country?
I believe the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), gave the right hon. Gentleman an assurance on that point last Friday. I am certainly prepared to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss these matters and to try and clear up what confusion there seems to be.
In view of the continued drift from north to south, which has been a characteristic of this country for many decades, and which places enormous pressure on services and facilities in constituencies such as mine, should not HS2 be hailed as the most dramatic attempt yet to correct that national imbalance to the advantage of the country as a whole?
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is great concern in Warrington because it will not get an HS2 station? Warrington has developed its economy based on its good transport links, but we are unsure whether trains running on the existing line from Crewe will be sufficient. There is also concern that the line that will join the west coast main line at Wigan goes through parts of my constituency along a linear park, so we get the disruption without the benefits. Will he undertake to work with Warrington borough council and other interested parties to consider alternatives so that Warrington can benefit from HS2?
Of course, I am prepared to do that and I am sure that Warrington council will want to take part in the consultation I announced today. Warrington will be served in the same way as Liverpool and other areas, such as Wigan, but of course I will consider the hon. Lady’s representations. I want to make it clear that today is the start of the process, not the end. It is, however, the start of a very important and beneficial process for the United Kingdom.
Liberal Democrats very much welcome the announcement today that journey times to Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh will be reduced by almost an hour. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s aspiration to reduce the journey time to Scotland to three hours. How are his discussions with the Scottish Government about that aspiration going?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I announced my proposals for Scotland last October, but I have been concentrating on the proposals I have set out today for the moment. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke to members of the Scottish Government about the scheme and they are keen to be involved.
I welcome today’s statement, which represents important investment for the future, but will the Secretary of State confirm that that will be part of investment in an integrated national rail system so that areas that are not on the high-speed line will benefit, too?
Indeed I can. I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, who I know will probably want to carry out a detailed inquiry into this matter. Although it is true that some areas are not covered by high-speed rail at the moment, it will go up to Birmingham in the first instance and then to Manchester, and journeys will be able to carry on from there, as they do in Kent on the line that goes down to Ashford.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; your calling me was timely. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having the courage and conviction to seek to drive through investment in this country’s infrastructure future. The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) sought to take the credit for High Speed 1, but the problem with that is that it is not finished at all. Will my right hon. Friend, while he is doing all this, ensure that HS1 runs through from Ashford to Thanet?
My hon. Friend sees the advantage of high-speed rail down to certain parts of Kent and wants to extend it. I am sure that he will carry on making that case, but at the moment I hope he will forgive me for saying that I want to try to concentrate on the plans I have announced today, although we are always looking to improve services across the country.
The Secretary of State is right: what matters are the jobs. An independent study conducted for South Yorkshire passenger transport executive and Sheffield city council shows that a station in the city centre would bring up to £5 billion more into the local economy than a station at Meadowhall and would create 6,500 more jobs. Will the Secretary of State commit to keeping an open mind on that option?
I said at the beginning of my statement that I would keep an open mind. I accept the points about Sheffield and I know that there will be disappointment that HS2 is not going directly into the city centre. We have tried to ensure that we serve the whole of the region through the Meadowhall station, but as I have said, today is the start of the process and we will enter into discussions, as I have told the leader of Sheffield city council, with all the prominent leaders in the area.
I warmly endorse the proposed station at Manchester airport, but may I also stress the importance of the point that compensation for those living close to the route should be not only generous but creative in ensuring that we can move as quickly as possible towards realising the new high-speed rail route?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We are consulting on compensation, and at the moment we are part of the way through that consultation. He makes an extremely important point, and I am glad that he welcomes the fact that we will serve Manchester airport as well as Manchester.
Would it not make a lot more sense for the Secretary of State to tell the Chancellor that he ought to be spending £33 billion straight away on capital projects—housing and all the rest? As for Derbyshire, why is it that the preferred route seems to travel to the heavily populated eastern side of Derbyshire? I do not think it touches Derbyshire Dales at all. How many homes will be blighted as a result?
Many things can change—people in the Whips Office can become Ministers—but one thing is certain: the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) will come out with the same arguments against any proposals. [Interruption.] He wants us to spend money now. We are spending money now. We have had massive investment in the railways and we have announced massive investment in the railways. He points out that the route does not go through my constituency. I am well aware of that, but I can assure him that I took very careful advice and followed the recommendations. The sustainability summary goes into great detail about why that particular part of the route was chosen. There are many people who would have liked it to go to Derby.
I declare an interest. Plans unveiled this morning suggest that the preferred route of HS2 will pass within 100 feet of my family’s home in North West Leicestershire. Can my right hon. Friend confirm the level of consultation already undertaken by those planning the HS2 route? East Midlands airport in my constituency was unaware until this morning’s announcement that a tunnel was planned under its site, and a developer of an area north of the airport looking to produce a rail freight interface was equally not consulted. The route puts in jeopardy a potential £450 million private sector investment now in my constituency, and the creation of up to 7,000 new jobs.
There is always a dilemma for us as to who we talk to and consult. It would have been wrong of me to start telling people where the route was going before I had laid the documents before Parliament this morning. We will start that consultation. If my hon. Friend has had a chance to look at the sustainability summary that goes with the document I published today, he will have seen on page 70 that the area he is talking about is marked for tunnelling under East Midlands airport, and the east midlands gateway rail freight interchange development site is clearly marked. We will obviously work with developers to minimise the impact wherever we can.
The decision to delay the recommendations on the Heathrow spur until the Howard Davies commission has reported means that my constituents face at least another two years of uncertainty. Is not one solution to bring forward the Davies report, as my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) suggested? Even if the Davies commission’s interim report this year dealt with the matter, we would have more certainty about the connection with Heathrow.
Although I accept the need for an additional line to relieve capacity on the rail network, this route plunges through rural Britain, and rural Staffordshire, and should use existing transport corridors. It blights the environment, homes and lives. Does my right hon. Friend understand that what my constituents and all our constituents need is certainty, so that they understand the impact the line will have, what vibrations it will produce and what the visual impact will be? Most important of all, they need certainty about what compensation they will receive.
Part of the reason for bringing forward the consultation period from next year to this year is to help my hon. Friend’s constituents, but I fully accept that where the line is going is inconvenient to some people. We cannot build a brand-new railway line and not upset anybody. We believe that it is very much in the national interest and in the interests of the United Kingdom.
It was a great pleasure to see the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister on platform 6 at Leeds station this morning. He knows the benefits of HS2 to areas such as Leeds and Bradford. This is a long-term project and there are two projects in the short term that will help both Leeds and Bradford—the links to the airport so that it can expand and the Wortley curve between Leeds and Bradford. Will he look at those projects as well?
It was a pleasure also to see the hon. Gentleman this morning. I hope that as a result of having announced in this way where the route will go, improvements can be achieved in the interim period in some of these areas. I have talked to Leeds city council about the site that we have earmarked, and it is, as I understand it, content with it.
The consultation on compensation for phase 1 ends this week. First, I urge my right hon. Friend not to take the word of his departmental officials but to look himself at the impact of the exceptional hardship scheme on many constituents whose lives have been utterly destroyed by incompetent and completely inconsistent panels. Secondly, I urge him to reconsider a property bond. Although officials have said there is no evidence that that works, it would be the one way to ensure that the blight that extends for miles in my constituency is removed. Finally, I urge him to look at the fairness of compensation between phase 1 and phase 2.
As my hon. Friend correctly said, the consultation period on the compensation scheme ends at the end of this week. I know that she has put her own representations into that consultation, and of course I will consider them among many of the other representations we have received.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of an HS2 station in Sheffield. There is an argument for having it in the city centre, but I understand why he has chosen Meadowhall on grounds of cost and time. In particular, it should be a station for the whole city region. Will he therefore give an assurance that his Department will work closely with local councils and South Yorkshire passenger transport executive to make sure that there is real connectivity in the whole Sheffield city region so that everyone can get to the station at Meadowhall easily?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is a former leader of Sheffield city council and therefore speaks with authority on this matter, as he does in his role as Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, so I will obviously look at those matters. He is right that there is a balance to be struck. He will see that in the document we address why we have arrived at the conclusions and recommendations that we have, but I am of course prepared to listen to any further representations.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement, particularly the decision to have an additional station at Manchester airport. However, there will be some anxiety among people in south Manchester about the proposal to have a deep tunnel under homes there. What assurances can he give that they will not face years of disruption?
When carrying out these big projects, there will always be the problem of inconvenience caused during the period of construction, and I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We will work with local communities to try to ensure that we minimise the impact. I am glad that the area he mentions is to be tunnelled; a lot of colleagues would wish that more of the route was tunnelled.
I support this announcement, but it is estimated that it could take up to 20 years to build the line to Manchester. Will the Secretary of State assure me that in the meantime priority is given to making sure that the west coast main line gets the investment needed to improve the current line from London to Manchester, including upgrading Stockport station?
The hon. Lady is consistent, if nothing else can be said about the points that she makes; I had already anticipated the question before she had finished asking it. Yes, money is continuing to be spent on the west coast main line. I will look into the position with her local station, as I promised to last time she asked me a question. I failed to write to her then, and I will certainly do so this time.
I commend the Secretary of State and the Government on this courageous and very significant announcement on HS2. It is particularly of interest to the cities with new stations, but what does he think the effect will be on my constituents in a place that will not be directly affected but is suffering from very poor capacity and a very poor service from London Midland?
My hon. Friend hits on one of the fundamental reasons why we need to build HS2. It is not just a matter of journey times but capacity. Freeing up capacity will allow us to have more services from areas such as my hon. Friend’s, as is so desperately needed.
I welcome the statement, thank the Secretary of State for advanced notice of it and recognise the Government’s ambitions for reduced journey times to Scotland. However, reducing journey times to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and further along the east coast to Dundee and Aberdeen, would require HS2 to go beyond Manchester and Leeds. I know that the Secretary of State is doing this in a phased way, but when will he be in a position to tell the House the time scale for the completion of HS2, so that every major city on the island will be able to benefit from it?
I face a dilemma because some people want us to go a lot faster while others among my colleagues do not want us to go at all. We will have to bear that in mind, but I hope that we will have fuller plans before any decision is made about independence. That depends, however, on whether the hon. Gentleman can let me know the date of the referendum.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly how it has highlighted the benefits of the network to my constituents in Milton Keynes. On the issue of city centre against parkway stations, may I draw his attention to the evidence from the continent that both can work and that the critical point is having good connectivity across the region? May I also urge him to continue to work with local authorities and local businesses to make sure that this delivers?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support and, indeed, for his work on the Transport Committee. I agree entirely with his point. Setting out our plans now and confirming them, I hope, by early next year will enable us to look at connectivity between stations in the period between our plans being outlined and the actual development.
There is tremendous support for this project in Manchester and the north of England, but, having heard from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) that, surprisingly, she supports building HS2 from the north of England, will the Secretary of State reconsider what he said earlier and put both phases of HS2 into one hybrid Bill and consider building them from the north of England? In doing so, he would unite the House in an even bigger way than it is united at present.
The hon. Gentleman says that that would unite the House in a more cohesive way, but it is fairly united for such a controversial subject, as has been clear from the exchanges so far. As I have said, the proposals to go from north to south would mean further delay, and I point out that the first part of the route was actually published by the previous Government, who also thought that the right way to go was from London to Birmingham in the first instance.
I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement. It is vital that the best possible mitigation, including some realignment, is offered to those of my constituents who will be affected by the route. If HS2 is to bring jobs and prosperity, as he desires, to the wider west midlands region, a stop on the route is required in Staffordshire. May I ask him to take that fully into account?
On behalf of Manchester, I strongly welcome the proposals that the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament today, not, as others have said, as a panacea to stop the north-south divide, but to build on 15 years of urban renaissance started by the Labour council and Labour Government. The redevelopment opportunities presented in my constituency in and around Manchester Piccadilly station are also exciting. May I echo the comments of other colleagues and ask the Secretary of State to consider introducing a hybrid Bill, so that we can maximise those opportunities here and now, not several years in the future?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House and to the Transport Committee, where she will no doubt want to return to this topic on many occasions. I was slightly chastised earlier by the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) on what the courts may or may not say about HS2. If I followed the route suggested by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), I know that I would find myself on the wrong side of judicial reviews.
I welcome the announcement on the developments on HS2 and the substantial investment in our rail network. However, will the Secretary of State confirm that the existing west coast line will continue to receive the investment that it requires? In particular, will signalling upgrades be more than just like-for-like and bring capacity improvements?
I can assure my hon. Friend of that. Over the new year, I saw the upgrading work at Shugborough tunnel. That is the sort of investment that no one normally sees. Until that work was done, trains could go through the tunnel at only 50 mph. They can now go through it at 125 mph. I fully accept the need for continued investment. My hon. Friend’s constituents will benefit from High Speed 2 up to Manchester and will be able to pick up the normal lines beyond that.
May I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for South Northampton- shire (Andrea Leadsom) said about property bonds? The Secretary of State is speaking about phase 2, but he has mentioned Old Oak Common. Although I am extremely grateful to the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) for his engagement with the local community, fear still stalks the streets of Greenford, Northolt and Perivale. Will the Secretary of State say whether it is his preference for that section of the line to be tunnelled? If so, it will be a great relief to many long-suffering constituents of mine.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statement. Does he agree that this investment should be seen alongside the other major rail announcements for the north that have been made recently, such as those on the northern hub and the TransPennine Express electrification project? Together, those projects will transform the experience of rail in the north.
Will the Secretary of State say how major cities such as Coventry will benefit from this project, bearing in mind the representations that I made to him some weeks ago on that matter? Secondly, and more importantly, there will inevitably be people who fall outside the compensation formula. What does he intend to do about that, because I know of cases in Coventry and Warwickshire?
I am willing to listen to any representations, but a line has to be drawn somewhere on such developments. I think that Coventry will be served by the large station at the Birmingham International exchange before the line goes into Birmingham Curzon Street. It is up to Coventry to work with the Department to work out the best possible routes to link in with the line so that people in Coventry have the advantage of HS2.
I warmly welcome the announcement and especially the fact that the route will miss my constituency off to the east. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be good links not only to Nottingham and Derby, but to smaller local stations, such as the three in my constituency?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour. As I have said, capacity is one of the key reasons for building the new route. It will be the first railway line to be built north of London in 120 years. We need extra capacity. By freeing up capacity, the line will enable there to be better services elsewhere.
I, too, welcome the proposed station at Manchester airport, which will help to sustain many new jobs across the city region and particularly within airport city and other parts of the Manchester enterprise zone in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those who are responsible for HS2 continue to work closely with the local authorities and the airport so that these different initiatives are properly linked together and bring the maximum possible benefit to local communities?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and for his attendance at last week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on high speed rail. I can give him that assurance. As I said earlier, this is the start of the process, not the end. We want to get the maximum possible value out of the investment.
Without any three-lane motorway north of north Yorkshire, and with a dual carriageway that ends just north of Newcastle, the north-east has the worst road system in the country. We are now being told that we will also have a second-rate railway system. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best we are going to get in the north-east is HS1.5?
May I lodge with the Secretary of State some very real concerns from the far south-west in Devon and Cornwall? The area already suffers from the slowest rail speeds and most expensive fares, yet billions of pounds are being invested elsewhere. What message can he give the people of Devon and Cornwall that they will benefit directly from that investment?