House of Commons
Thursday 27 June 2013
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Department works closely with many organisations to promote safety around our coast.
Last year we saw an increase in accidents around this time of year, and while I want to encourage everyone to enjoy our beautiful coast this summer, I want them to stay safe and to follow the advice of organisations such as the coastguard, the RNLI, the National Water Safety Forum and the Royal Yachting Association so that they enjoy their time around the coastline.
Over the summer months, millions of tourists will flock to tourist resorts such as Lytham St. Annes and the Fylde coast. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that all will be done to keep our inshore waters as safe as possible to encourage more people to holiday here in the UK?
My hon. Friend is right that many constituents will flock to the coast, including the coastline in his constituency and many others around the UK. Our coastline is fantastic, attractive and beautiful, but it is also dangerous and people should not take risks or underestimate it.
Amphibious vessels such as the Duckmarine that recently sank in Liverpool appear to have at least three regulators: VOSA and the traffic commissioners; the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; and the Driving Standards Agency. Will the Secretary of State ask the accident investigators to consider whether this split regulation and split responsibility is the best way to guarantee public safety?
Of course we are all very concerned about the incident that happened in Liverpool and I will talk to the inspectorate about it. A report is being prepared by the marine accident investigation branch. I will want to see what it says, and I shall take the point made by the hon. Lady as Chair of the Select Committee.
Q2. What his policy is on quality contracts for bus services. (161765)
The regulatory framework around quality contract schemes is the one we inherited from the previous Administration and there are no plans to change it. The decision to pursue a quality contract scheme remains for the local transport authority to take, if it can satisfy itself that the scheme is in the public interest.
The Minister will know that up until now most provincial passenger transport authorities have preferred the partnership route and, to my knowledge, at least two—Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire—are exploring whether to go the quality contract route instead, not least because of all the financial pressures that are now upon them. What advice does he have for the two authorities?
15. Some 45 per cent. of those travelling on the excellent bus services in North Yorkshire take advantage of concessionary fares. Will the Minister look kindly on allowing bus companies similar commercial freedom to that enjoyed by the railway companies that provide concessionary passes? (161779)
The arrangements for train and for bus are slightly different in the sense that the railway arrangements for the discount card were set in place at privatisation and are funded by the train operating companies, whereas the bus arrangements are of course funded from the public purse. If the hon. Lady has particular concerns about the operation of the travel concessionary scheme in her area, I will be very happy to meet her and talk about them.
When the Minister sat on the Bill Committee for the Local Transport Act 2008, he was not satisfied with what the Government were then proposing because he knew, as do other hon. Members, that the current deregulated system allows bus companies to game the public purse to the detriment of the travelling public. Can he not persuade his hard-hearted Tory colleagues to help authorities that want to re-regulate the system to the benefit of the travelling public?
As far as the landscape is concerned, following the recommendations of the Competition Commission, we have of course taken steps to improve it. The options available under the Local Transport Act—the hon. Gentleman and I sat on the Public Bill Committee—are still available. I encourage local authorities to explore the best possible options. What we are seeing across the country in places such as Brighton, for example, is a good arrangement between local authorities and bus companies, which is driving up passenger numbers.
The Minister will well remember the grilling that he and I got before the inaugural meeting of the Youth Select Committee about a year ago on the whole anomaly of young people often qualifying for full adult fares at the age of 16 and of a postcode lottery in certain parts of the country. A year on, with the Youth Select Committee moving on to a new study next week, will the Minister update us on what progress has been made on getting fairer fares for young people?
I do remember that particular Select Committee engagement, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend is no longer in his post to carry on the work he was doing. Since then, we have talked to the bus companies at the Department for Transport and they have produced this new website, which is useful for identifying offers and the availability of transport for young people. In addition, I have had discussions with the Minister for Schools about the situation for young people, and we are considering what further action, if any, we can take.
Lancashire county council is considering quality bus contracts. Will the Minister and his Department be as supportive as possible towards those authorities that wish to move towards quality bus contracts, providing support where necessary?
The quality of bus travel between Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle has suffered terribly due to the mismanagement of Arriva. Specifically, many of my constituents encounter great problems with the service being perpetually late or even buses running out of fuel. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that the next time he meets Arriva, he will urge it to improve the quality of this service?
I am always keen to improve the quality of bus services for passengers. The satisfaction level of bus travel as measured by the independent Passenger Focus is 84%, and in Tyne and Wear, for example, it is 87%. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about particular issues in his local area, I would be happy to pursue them with him and the relevant bus company.
In theory, quality contracts and quality partnerships should make integrated ticketing—and, therefore, smartcard ticketing—easier to manage. We are still not seeing enough smartcard use outside London—specifically in Merseyside, where the project is long overdue. Will the Minister say specifically what he and his Department have done to empower integrated transport authorities to get smartcards available for passengers?
As a matter of fact, we have provided significant sums of money to ITAs to take forward smart ticketing. We are also taking forward multi-operator ticketing guidance, in accordance with the Competition Commission’s recommendations, and I have made it plain to bus companies that we want to see progress on that matter. Only this week, I held a two-hour meeting with key operators in the bus and train world to talk about smart ticketing and to make sure we are making progress, which indeed we are, in both modes of transport.
We are taking forward the measures set out in the strategic framework for road safety. In 2012, a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving came into force. We are also creating a new drug-driving offence and will consult on the limits shortly. We have also consulted on changes to make the enforcement of drink-driving laws more effective. Additionally, we intend to publish a Green Paper on young drivers later this year.
My hon. Friend will be aware that in certain areas of our country there are drivers who have never taken a driving test. Has his Department investigated the potential benefits of requiring drivers to take a test every five or 10 years in order to reduce such incidents and make our roads safer by removing those who drive illegally?
The Department has not investigated the potential benefits of that. We do not regard it as a priority, partly because if those people are driving illegally, they are unlikely to take the test. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend that we take illegal driving very seriously, and that the automatic number plate recognition system is helping us to crack down on illegal drivers.
When the Government announced trials of 80 mph limits on our motorways, there was dismay at the prospect of higher emissions, higher costs for drivers and collisions at higher speeds. The Minister announced in a recent speech that the trials were still on track, whereas the Secretary of State suggested in a press interview last Sunday that they were off the table. If there is one thing we need in road safety, it is clarity. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government are still pressing ahead with such a dangerous policy?
The Government made an initial assessment of the possibility of introducing trials of 80 mph limits, but it is not a priority. What is a priority for this Government is the transformational investment that is delivering growth and road safety. Yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor will give us the means to deliver that transformational change.
In the past two years, more than £238 million has been spent on schemes benefiting more than 100 stations nationally, including major investment at Birmingham New Street, London King’s Cross and Reading stations. Work includes improved access, better parking, retail outlets and ticket offices.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Lowestoft station is Britain’s most easterly station, and while welcome work is currently taking place to improve bus interchange facilities the station itself remains shabby in appearance. Will the Minister confirm that as part of the negotiations for the extension of Greater Anglia’s franchise, the Government will do all they can to ensure that the station and its surrounds are smartened up and brought back into full use?
Although there will be no changes in the requirements for the direct award up until 2016, my hon. Friend will be reassured to know that Abellio will be required to undertake normal repair and maintenance activities and to invest in areas where there is a positive business case. I fully understand what my hon. Friend says about the condition of Lowestoft station and the overall impression it gives, and I will certainly draw both his comments and mine to the attention of Abellio.
Given that on a recent visit to Wolverhampton the Transport Secretary described our train station as “awful”, and given that the Department for Transport contributes to the regional growth fund, will the Minister commit himself to supporting the bid to the regional growth fund by Wolverhampton city council and a consortium to rebuild the station and regenerate the surrounding area?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary did visit the station, and he had a very jolly visit. I can also reassure her that a considerable amount of investment is being made in the area, but the specific bid proposals she mentions will be fully considered and decisions will flow from that in due course.
When the Minister discusses the refurbishment of stations, will he look closely at accessibility for passengers with poor mobility, especially wheelchair users? Will he also take that a step further and speak with some of the train operating companies about the dismal access for some wheelchair users when trying to get on trains?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is crucial that access for those with restricted mobility is improved. That is why, as he will be aware, there is the Access for All scheme, with investment of more than £300 million for the whole programme, and with an additional £100 million to be made available for the next control period. We are as anxious as he is to ensure that there are improvements for such people.
Roads are vital to people and to the economy, but they have suffered from a lack of investment, and we expect traffic to increase in the years to come. Yesterday, the Chancellor announced the largest programme of investment on our roads for half a century to tackle congestion and support growth. As my hon. Friend will know, since we came to power we have been working hard to minimise costs for hard-pressed families by keeping fuel duty down.
My hon. Friend will recall that I visited him in Harlow a few years ago and saw the scheme for myself. I know that there will be consultation on it over the summer, and that it is a priority for Essex county council. I do not think that I should prejudge the consultation, but, as he knows, I should be happy to meet him and his constituents to discuss the matter.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Driver First Assist? It has provided great support for motorists, piloting work with the emergency services and the road haulage industry to promote crash-scene first aid and crash management skills among drivers. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State keep an eye out for an invitation to the national roll-out launch, which I believe is winging its way to their inboxes?
I am delighted to support that initiative, and I look forward to the invitation. Let me also congratulate the road haulage industry on the work it has been doing to make its drivers aware of the danger posed to cyclists by vehicles, and on its excellent work in upgrading the technology in a number of vehicles.
East Coast Main Line
This Government’s programme for rail franchising was announced on 26 March. The comprehensive schedule included the intention to return the inter-city east coast franchise to the private sector by February 2015, and that remains our policy.
The east coast main line will have returned £800 million to the Exchequer by the end of this financial year. Are not the Government taking us from a position in which the line subsidises taxpayers to one in which taxpayers, through their fares, will subsidise shareholders?
I am guided by the words of the last Labour Transport Secretary, who said:
“I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely…because of our recent experience of rail franchising”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 232.]
He said that when he held the job that I hold now, and I think he was right.
The east coast main line has benefited from major improvements over the last 20 years. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will not neglect the need for future investment in that important route, notwithstanding the huge amounts of money that are being sucked into the doomed HS2 project?
Huge investments are being made in the east coast and, indeed, a number of other railway lines. Our package of rail investments between 2014 and 2019 will lead to the largest-ever electrification on our railways. The Chancellor confirmed that and further investment in the railways yesterday.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I support the HS2 project, but because that network will not extend to the north-east of England, there will still be a need for investment in the east coast main line. One option, under the intercity express programme, is the building of a further 270 carriages at the Hitachi factory in Newton Aycliffe. Will the Secretary of State agree to that? It would constitute an investment in sustainable jobs, and an investment in the long and proud tradition of train building in the United Kingdom.
I welcome Hitachi’s investment at the Newton Aycliffe site, following a £4.9 billion contract that it has already won for refurbishment of IEP trains. The Department is currently considering other proposals. Huge investment is being made in all our railways, partly as a result of the huge increase in the number of people who use them.
Q12. During a debate in the House last Thursday, the Minister of State acknowledged that investment in infrastructure and rolling stock for East Coast would be financed by the taxpayer, but that there would also be some private investment. Perhaps— (161775)
At the previous Transport questions the Minister of State said on East Coast that
“the involvement of the private sector means that we can increase, over and above the taxpayers’ money, the money that can be invested”.—[Official Report, 25 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 995.]
Yet he has now admitted to me in a letter that the investment
“comes from an increase in the value of Network Rail’s regulatory asset base”,
and he says
“it is through private sector operation that we can best realise the benefits of the planned investment.”
Why does the Secretary of State not now just admit to the House that his Minister was wrong?
The fact is that the Secretary of State’s policy does not bring in any additional investment and is costing taxpayers, with millions of pounds paid to train companies to extend contracts so we can focus on East Coast. He claimed West Coast is paying more money back to the taxpayer than East Coast: it is not. He said Lord Adonis backs his plans: he does not. He says they are vital to bring in investment: they are not. Is it not the case that, one by one, his arguments for this costly and unnecessary privatisation have fallen away?
It is wrong to draw direct comparisons between one company and another. East Coast uses older rolling stock, which is cheaper to rent than the Pendolinos used by West Coast, so I do not acknowledge what the hon. Lady says. What I do acknowledge is that there has been huge growth in the railway industry since privatisation. That has been brought about in the main by competition between the different rail-operating companies—something that the last Government endorsed throughout the entire 13 years when they had the power to change any of these things.
Local Pinch Point Fund
From the local pinch point fund, I have announced 72 schemes across the country that will benefit from £190 million of Government funding. Together with third-party contributions, including from the private sector, over £300 million will be invested as a result of that fund.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, and for the welcome infrastructure investment, particularly in commuter routes. Despite the fact that in Bradford people are either travelling up a hill or are just about to do so, cycling is very popular. Every day tens of thousands of people travel from Bradford to Leeds and from Leeds to Bradford. Can the Secretary of State give me any information about the “highway to hell”, the proposed scheme for the cycling superhighway between Leeds and Bradford?
I am always keen to look at schemes that help cyclists, including by increasing their safety. A number of schemes are currently before the Department, and I hear what my hon. Friend says in support of that bid, but I have to say there are bids from a number of colleagues for these schemes.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the approval given for the improvements under the fund to the A421 in my constituency. May I ask what his hopes are for the future scope of that fund, so we may, perhaps, bid for further schemes on the A421, including at the western edge of my seat leading into your constituency, Mr Speaker?
Well, Mr Speaker, I do not think I want to prejudge any future schemes that may or may not be developed. What I would like to point out is that we announced the local pinch point fund last year, and it has been incredibly successful. We had more bids than we had money available for it. Although I am mindful of that, I will see what else can be done. However, as a result of the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday and the statement shortly to be made by the Chief Secretary, there will be huge investment in our roads, which is much needed.
Local Growth Fund
The single local growth fund will incorporate devolved major transport scheme funding along with other funding streams from across Government. The contribution the fund can make to improving transport will ultimately be determined by local decision takers. The Chief Secretary will make a statement on the matter in 31 minutes.
I will try to get in before him. The Burscough curves, the Ormskirk bypass and a railway station for Skelmersdale are much-needed transport projects in West Lancashire that would benefit from local growth fund money. Following the Chancellor’s statement yesterday that local enterprise partnerships are to bid for single growth fund moneys, it is unclear to me who is responsible for making decisions on local transport priorities. Is it LEPs or the local transport authorities? Whose door do I knock on to get that much-needed money?
I certainly agree that it is important to consider all aspects of the geography when considering bids. It is not simply a matter of building huge new roads from A to B. Often, the local pinch point investments referred to by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a moment ago can be very effective indeed, so we should be prepared to be open-minded about the schemes that are appropriate for funding.
Get Britain Cycling Campaign
I welcome the work that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) have undertaken through the all-party cycling group inquiry. We are looking at the recommendations carefully and will respond in the near future. The coalition Government takes cycling very seriously and is committed to leading the country into getting more people cycling, more safely and more often.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that comment. We look forward eagerly to the response and hope that it will be very positive. One suggestion that came up repeatedly was that safety for both cyclists and pedestrians would be driven by 20 mph speed zones as the standard on most residential side streets, but one problem is that the police do not seem to be enforcing them properly. Will the Minister have words with the police to get them to enforce the law?
I entirely agree that 20 mph zones and limits can be useful in particular locations. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has already taken up the matter of police enforcement with the Association of Chief Police Officers. Of course, operational matters are for the police to decide, but in my view if a local democratically elected body decides that a 20 mph limit should apply, the police should enforce it.
The Minister says that he takes cycling seriously, so when will the Government implement the relevant part of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to enable local authorities to enforce measures against law-breaking motorists who drive in cycle lanes and sit in advanced stop boxes for cyclists?
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responded to that exact question on part 6 of the Traffic Management Act a moment ago. We have had representations about that; I am considering the matter seriously; we are in discussions with other Government Departments; and I hope to make a statement shortly.
With roads congested, high petrol prices and obesity increasing, investing in cycling generates huge benefits and savings elsewhere. What confidence can the Minister give us that yesterday’s 9% cut in the Department for Transport’s budget will not see the paltry amount of money that Britain spends on cycling reduced still further?
I do not accept that we spend a paltry amount of money. The local sustainable transport fund is £600 million—more than £1 billion with match funding—94 out of the 96 schemes have cycling elements; we have spent £107 million more on a range of cycling schemes in recent months; and there will be a further announcement on cycling spending shortly. I can assure the hon. Gentleman absolutely that spending on cycling will continue.
London Transport Network
In his spending round statement yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the Government will give the Mayor almost £9 billion of capital spending and additional financing power to the end of this decade. We will also consider the case for Crossrail 2. In return, we expect the Mayor to bear down on the running costs of Transport for London. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will make a statement in a moment about investment in infrastructure, including investment in transport for London.
The Piccadilly line is vital for thousands of my constituents travelling to work at the airport or to London and is a key route for Heathrow’s passengers. It is increasingly overcrowded and in need of upgrading. Will the Minister reassure me that where cuts are being made to Transport for London’s budget, made necessary by the Government’s failure to deliver growth, that will not put at risk this vital investment?
Yesterday, when summing up the debate on HS2, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, failed to give comfort or even mention the Stratford solution to the congestion at Euston. Will the Government give a commitment to take seriously the cost-effective proposals for HS2 at Stratford to help the east of London, the City, Essex and Kent?
Since I last addressed the House, I have been able to announce the full programme of local pinch point schemes, benefiting from £190 million of capital funding from the Government. Recognising the crucial role that such capital investment plays in unlocking growth, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday announced a 5.5% real-terms increase in the Department’s capital budget.
The Government have also this morning published the complete road casualty statistics for 2012. I can tell the House that in 2012 the number of reported deaths on our roads fell by 8% to their lowest level since records began in 1926. This is welcome news. However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The number of cyclist fatalities increased by 10% within the year, underlining the importance of our continued work in making cycling safer.
Norwich is one of the country’s leading cycling cities, with one in five adults cycling at least once a week. The city has ambitions to double this figure in the next 10 years, and Norwich’s bid for city cycling ambition funding would go a long way to achieving that aim. May I urge the Secretary of State to back the bid and inform me when he intends to make an announcement?
I welcome Norwich’s ambitious plan to double the number of adults cycling over the next 10 years. An announcement on the successful cycling ambition grant bidders will be made as soon as possible, but as I said in my opening statement we cannot be complacent about cycling safety. I look to the increasing interest in the House in this subject and I will consider what else the Department can do.
I will certainly consider what the hon. Lady says about level crossings. I have had conversations with Network Rail about what we should do about them. I will look at whether legislation is the right way to go or whether we already have the powers to get things put right.
T5. My constituents face some of the highest car insurance premiums in the country. I am aware that many Departments have to be involved in this, but will the Minister reassure me that dealing with this terrible issue remains a top priority? (161787)
I can indeed reassure the hon. Gentleman about that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hosted a follow-up summit on 25 March to discuss with the industry ways to bring down premiums. The Ministry of Justice has already banned referral fees and is consulting on steps to reduce the number of fraudulent whiplash claims. We are also taking steps to ensure that drivers are better prepared, the driving test is safer and there will be more responsible drivers on the road, which again will help to drive down premiums.
T2. In the past few years, rail fares have been rising almost three time as fast as wages, and are among the most expensive anywhere in Europe. What will the cap be on regulated rail fares by franchised rail operators in the 2015-16 financial year? (161784)
T6. This week, a private developer announced plans to invest £400 million in private housing in Worcestershire; it is also going to help with the dualling of the southern link road. Will the Department commit to working with my county council to ensure that we use the opportunity to unlock further investment in Worcester Parkway station and a new bridge across the River Severn to the heart of cyber valley in Malvern? (161788)
I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we will of course be pleased to work with the county council, as we already do. I was delighted that we were able to approve the Worcester integrated transport scheme last year, and my door is always open should she wish to make the case for her constituents.
T3. Last Friday, many hon. Members from across the north-east went to their local East Coast rail station to highlight the planned privatisation. At Newcastle Central station and elsewhere, the support for East Coast’s remaining in the public sector was overwhelming, and that has since been emphasised by many letters and e-mails. So why is the Secretary of State ignoring the views of those who use East Coast rail and pressing ahead with a costly, wasteful, unnecessary and ideological privatisation? (161785)
As I have said many times, if it is ideological, it must have been the ideology of the previous Government, because that is what the former Transport Secretary and the former Chancellor said should happen. It is not ideological; it is about getting the best service and making sure we get long-term planning on the east coast main line. I believe that we will get a better service because that planning for the future will take place.
I was down in the west country—the Cornwall and Devon area—just a few weeks ago. I fully recognise the importance of mobile services for the travelling passenger and I am keen to see improvements made. We are discussing with First Great Western how to deliver better services to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
T4. Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) about fares, in a recent poll by Passenger Focus only 42% of passengers were satisfied with the service they were receiving. Exactly what is the Minister going to do to improve that? Might it not be time for us to freeze fares until people are satisfied with the service? (161786)
The Opposition have to decide whether they want investment to continue at the levels that we are putting in to the railways. If they do, it has to be paid for. I believe the cost has to be shared between taxpayers and those who use the services. I make no apology for the amount of investment that this Government are putting in to Britain’s railways. It is desperately needed and the right thing to do, but it has to be paid for.
T9. I am pleased that in recent years the volume of freight being carried on our railways has increased, and it is important that that welcome trend continues. What plans do the Government have to encourage as much freight as possible to transfer from road to rail? (161791)
The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. He will be as pleased as I am that since privatisation, freight transport has increased by 60%. We are helping the rail industry to develop a strategic freight network, which will make rail freight increasingly competitive, so that we can get even more freight off our congested roads and on to our railways.
T8. Will the Minister look into the scandal of Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency checks on the practices of private parking companies? Schedule 4 to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 is supposed to protect motorists from rogue car parking companies, such as the operator of Eastgate car park in Accrington, but the answer to a freedom of information request on 18 June revealed that, in breach of the 2012 Act, the DVLA is not checking either notices or correspondence between car parking companies and motorists. (161790)
I visited the DVLA only a couple of weeks ago to look at the various departments there, and I know that the agency is alert to the problems of fraudulent car park operators. If the hon. Gentleman brings this particular case to me, I will make sure that we look into it.
Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accept that the transformation of the passenger experience at Stansted airport needs to be matched by a transformation in the time it takes to get to Stansted airport, specifically an improvement on the 51-minute journey, which I understand he undertook a week ago?
My right hon. Friend is right. As he knows, I was at Stansted last week and saw at first hand the subject of his representation and his call for greater investment in Stansted airport. I would like to discuss that with him and think about it with Network Rail.
T10. Stafford road and Stanhope way in my constituency are in a state of chaos owing to unco-ordinated bus services using narrow residential roads. What plans does the Minister have to look at the strategic co-ordination of bus services outside London? (161792)
We think that these decisions are best made locally. It is therefore a matter for the relevant local authorities to engage with the main bus operators to drive that forward. We have incentivised partnership working through the creation of Better Bus Areas. That is putting £70 million more into the bus network, so there is a financial incentive for local authorities and bus companies to work together. If they are not doing so, I suggest the hon. Lady contact both of them in her area.
I hope my hon. Friend will have noticed in the statement yesterday that we have fully protected the funding for bus services in order to recognise their importance to rural areas, including his. In addition to that, we are continuing to fund new bus initiatives—Better Bus Areas, the green bus fund and so on—to make sure that buses are properly funded in this country.
Earlier this week statistics were released suggesting that in London, transport spending per head of population is 520 times more than in the north-east region—£2,700 in London, compared with a measly £5 in the north-east. What is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure a fairer distribution of transport finances to the north-east region?
It is right that there has been large capital investment in London. Building Crossrail was the right thing to do. It was long overdue and it is now being built. It is currently the largest construction project anywhere in Europe. But I also think we must get the balance of transport spend right, and that is partly why HS2 is an important means of spreading those benefits. I very much bear in mind the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. As I pointed out to one of his hon. Friends, we are spending £4.9 billion on the intercity express programme for new trains for the north-west and the south-west.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
European Union: Scrutiny
This coalition Government have significantly increased scrutiny of European Union-level decision making through the provisions of the European Union Act 2011. Three Bills were taken forward in the last Session to signal the approval of Parliament under the Act. In addition to that, the Prime Minister has made 16 statements to this House on business at the European Council. The House will be aware that the European Scrutiny Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the European scrutiny system in the House and we await its findings with interest.
The Deputy Leader of the House and I visited the European institutions during the Whit recess. It was clear to us that there is more that we can do in this House to improve our engagement with and impact on European legislative proposals, especially through the work of the Select Committees of this House. In my view, which I think is widely shared, this House is the prime source of democratic legitimacy and accountability for law making. We should therefore be taking every opportunity to develop our influence, including in EU law making.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Library/Table Office: Opening Hours
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), I have been asked to reply.
Members expect that both the Table Office and the Members Library will remain open at least until the rise of the House on sitting days. In the case of the Table Office, the Adjournment of the House at the end of sitting is the point at which no further procedural business can be transacted. Some adjustment has been made recently to opening hours of the Table Office and the Library to reflect the earlier sitting of the House on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the use made of services by Members.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. I recognise the importance of the Table Office staying open until business has finished, for example so that amendments can be laid, but I suggest, as we are trying to save money, that we look again at the Library service’s opening times so that when we have a late moment of interruption on, say, a Monday, we do not have Library staff here until 1 o’clock in the morning, as frankly that is unnecessary and more office hours would be appropriate?
I think that Library staff who are on duty are working on other matters, because Members phone in with questions and all the rest of it. The present arrangements were agreed by the Administration Committee after a study of last year’s changes to the House’s sitting hours. If the hon. Lady wants to take the matter to the Committee to look at again, I am sure that its Chair, who is sitting next to her, will be happy to listen.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
All-party Parliamentary Groups
Rules relating to APPGs are a matter for the House. The hon. Lady might be aware that the Standards Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into APPGs. Its terms of reference include the transparency of the House’s regulatory system.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will take no steps in this matter until he has heard the evidence and read the report from the Standards Committee, to which the Administration Committee has submitted its own evidence?
Yes, I would like to assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is the case, and we await the Committee’s report with great interest. Incidentally, Members still have an opportunity to contribute to that process. I am sure that we will then want to allow the House the opportunity to consider the matter in great detail.
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking you, Mr Speaker, for the leadership you have shown in recent weeks in helping to restore public confidence in Parliament after the public’s concerns about lobbyists and APPGs. The Administration Committee, which is so ably chaired by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), has recommended, as part of a range of measures, the scrapping of APPG passes. Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that the Government will not oppose those recommendations? On the broader concern about the transparency of APPGs and lobbyists, does he not now accept that all lobbyists must be covered by a register and a code of conduct?
The Administration Committee makes sensible proposals, and I look forward to the House being able to come to a decision on them in due course. On lobbyists, the hon. Gentleman will have heard the debate that took place just a couple of days ago. The Government have made our position very clear: we will come forward with a third-party register of lobbyists.
Does the Deputy Leader of the House not agree that the real problem with APPGs is that there are simply far too many of them and that the House would benefit from the imposition of a moratorium on the creation of any new ones and a programme of amalgamation and mergers across the whole system?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We all have our different views on whether there are too many APPGs. The Standards Committee might want to consider that proposal. If it comes forward with proposals to limit numbers, that is a matter that I am sure the House would want to consider.
The introduction of the coalition Government’s e-petitions system has been a successful improvement for public engagement with Parliament. However, it is clear that the public expect to be able to petition their Parliament and seek action from their Government. I want to work with the Procedure Committee, the Backbench Business Committee and interested Members from across the House to develop the current system into something that more fully meets that expectation.
I agree that reforms of this House should not have an adverse effect on the successful work of the Backbench Business Committee, which this coalition Government established. It may be possible, none the less, that there is a role for a Select Committee or Committees in examining petitions, taking evidence on petitions, seeking information from Government, and even recommending debates in Parliament. However, I envisage that it would remain for the Backbench Business Committee to consider and schedule debates.
Under the current system, the MP of a signatory to an e-petition is not made aware that a constituent’s signature has been added. Can reforms to the e-petition system take account of the importance of promoting direct engagement between the signatory and their elected representative?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Improving engagement with Parliament and politics must be the focus of any improved system. I am grateful to him for his suggestion on how we can achieve that. However, I alert him to the fact that more than 11 million signatures have been added to petitions in the two years or so since the Government’s e-petitions system was established. I am not sure that hon. Members would welcome an e-mail for each of those signatures, but I do agree that there are ways in which we can open up the data overall to help Members and their constituents to identify and work together on popular petitions.
My hon. Friend may not know this, but I have this week written to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), to set out the Government’s response to the Committee’s sixth report of the previous Session, which related to debates on Government e-petitions in Westminster Hall. I hope that we will shortly be able to bring forward a motion to extend the practice of opening up Westminster Hall for e-petitions until the end of this Parliament while we consider longer-term proposals for the petition system in this House.
The hon. Lady is right. I referred to the petition system advisedly—that is, not just the e-petition system. At the moment the e-petition system is working well and is a significant improvement on what happened in the past. The paper petition system in this House is somewhat anachronistic. What we need—I want to work with colleagues to make this happen—is a petition system that enables our constituents to petition their Parliament but also engages with Government to get a response from Government. The signal improvement, I hope, will be for this House to be able to use the petition system as a basis for demonstrating further improvements in the engagement of the House with the issues that matter to our constituents.
Government Expenditure: Scrutiny
The coalition Government are keen to build on the success of the alignment project in simplifying Government financial reporting. We intend to do this by working with Select Committees to support better scrutiny of Government expenditure and to promote greater efficiency and improved value for money in all Departments.
The three estimates day debates each Session present a valuable opportunity for Select Committees to hold Departments to account, but too often the debates are focused on specific Committee reports rather than departmental expenditure as such. We are keen to explore with Select Committees any ways in which we can enable these debates to focus on a wider range of financial and performance-related documentation. I am sure, for instance, that as part of that process the Transport Committee would want to pick up on the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised in relation to HS2.
The public believe that Parliament scrutinises Government expenditure. When I talk to people they are surprised that in fact we have a few debates about very specific items on estimates days and do not even look at the entirety of one Department’s expenditure. Will my right hon. Friend look urgently at options to reassure the public that Parliament does look at expenditure in these areas, whether through debates in this place, Westminster Hall or Select Committees? We have to hold the Government to account.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Some Select Committees do provide the level of scrutiny that he wants. For instance, the Health Committee and the Transport Committee look at the estimates carefully. I am pleased to say that at least one of the estimates day debates, on 3 July, is a broad one that will look at public expenditure on health and care services.
As we drive forward the necessarily tough reforms and efficiency savings in the public sector, I urge the Government to keep their foot on the pedal in driving that revolution through the internal mechanics of Government. What steps can this House take better to scrutinise Government expenditure and, indeed, expenditure in the House, so that we can show the public that we are putting our own house in order?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As I have stated, more effective use could be made of estimates day debates. We have a range of Select Committees that look at financial matters. I think most people would agree that they are effective in doing that.
Investing in Britain’s Future
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing more time than is usual for a statement, given the range of announcements to be made today.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out the difficult decisions that the Government have taken to continue the process of restoring our country’s finances. I pay tribute to his work to see the country through these most difficult of times.
Today, I will set out how the British economy can succeed in the global race by creating balanced growth and delivering lasting prosperity. Most past Governments of every colour have prioritised short-term convenience over the long-term national interest. Today, we change that. We are shifting the Government’s policy horizon to match the modern economy’s horizon, because the coalition Government want to make the right long-term choices for Britain.
I therefore announce the most comprehensive, ambitious and long-lasting capital investment plans this country has ever known. We are putting long-term priorities before short-term political pressures. I tell the House in all candour that these are not easy choices. There is no easy way to create jobs and prosperity. It is a difficult path, but the right one.
Today, it is clear that the British economy is moving from rescue to recovery. We inherited an economy in dire straits. Official statistics published this morning show that the recession in 2009 was even deeper than we first thought. We have made painful choices to get our economy back on the right track. We are making good progress—the deficit is down, jobs are up—but as we move from repair to renewal, we need to invest in the fabric of our nation. I can do that because we have chosen to find savings from day-to-day budgets, allowing us to recycle billions into long-term capital spending. That is not the easy choice, but the right one.
We can guarantee £300 billion of capital spending by the end of the decade. Today, I can set out our plans for more than £100 billion of that for the infrastructure of our country: the biggest public housing programme for more than 20 years, the largest programme of rail investment since Victorian times, the greatest investment in our roads since the 1970s, fast online access for the whole country and the unlocking of massive investments in cleaner energy to power our economy forwards, all at a price that we can afford to pay, without adding a single pound to our borrowing forecasts. Investing in stronger communities, in better infrastructure, in new sources of energy—that is how we will build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.
At every stage of the process, we have sought to cut waste and inefficiency first, focusing on the back room, not the front line. We should not pretend that that is painless. Back-office efficiencies mean thousands of job losses. Contract renegotiation means rightly asking more for less from our suppliers. But that is the right way to make savings, while improving the quality of our public services.
Across government, we are using our capital budgets to help our public sector become smaller, more efficient and more effective. In 2015-16, we will invest £25 million in the best digital equipment for our police and £100 million in a new prison in north Wales—a scheme that will eventually save £20 million every year. More than £200 million is being invested over three years to increase the digitisation of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ customer services, a move that will save more than £50 million every year in administrative costs.
I pay tribute to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and his team for their expertise and insight in unlocking these savings. I am the first Chief Secretary ever to have had this pool of commercial expertise at my disposal during a spending round. They tell me that we can do more to save money for the taxpayer. So, working closely with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, I will conduct a further rolling efficiency review of all Departments to unlock savings to support our economic priorities. I will strengthen the financial management capability in Government, too. We will take action to sell off £15 billion-worth of public assets by 2020. Some £10 billion of that money will come from corporate and financial assets, such as the student loan book, and the other £5 billion will come from land and property.
The Government are the custodians of taxpayers’ assets. When we no longer need them we should sell them back at a fair price and not act like a compulsive hoarder. Too often, local and national Government sit on an area of land that could be put to good use for the economy, housing or schools. Today, we say this to businesses and communities, “If there are any publicly owned sites out there that you can make economic use of, then tell us.” Unless Ministers can be convinced that the site is needed, we will sell that land at a fair price and we will use the proceeds to pay down our debt and invest in our economy.
Let us not forget that the plans we inherited from the previous Government included significant cuts to capital spending in this Parliament. We have added to those plans year-on-year with more money for investment in this Parliament. Some people say that we are not delivering, but since we came to office more than 30 transport schemes have been completed, 150 railway stations have been upgraded and we have built 84,000 affordable homes. However, we need to work more smartly to improve delivery. No single Government infrastructure project in recent memory has been quite as triumphant as the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, so we appointed Lord Deighton, the man who oversaw that success, to improve infrastructure delivery across government. He is working his way through Whitehall Department by Department, helping to develop clear delivery plans. Today, the Government are accepting his central recommendation that we take crucial infrastructure delivery out of the hands of civil servants and into the hands of commercial experts.
Our innovative UK guarantee scheme is enabling privately funded projects to go forward, too. It has already provided certainty to investors in the Drax power station and the Northern line extension. I can announce that UK guarantees will be available for two more years to December 2016. I can announce today that we will offer a guarantee of up to £500 million to support investment in the Mersey Gateway bridge and a multi-million pound guarantee to advance the new nuclear power station at Hinkley point, a guarantee that could provide growth in Liverpool and a guarantee that could provide power to 8% of the UK’s homes. These deals are not yet done, but they are a major step forward for our country’s future.
Let me turn to how we will invest in stronger communities. The Government have made a very strong commitment to education. We have protected the schools budget, including the pupil premium. We know what parents want: a good school nearby in a good state of repair, and this is how we will give it to them. First, some buildings simply are not good enough, so we are rebuilding 261 of the worst schools as part of the Priority School Building programme. With the moneys I have committed today, we will complete this by 2017—two years early. There are many other schools in need of repair and investment. The previous Government stopped even checking just how many schools were in need of repair. We have started again. We will put £10 billion behind this, which will be enough to clear the urgent backlog. We are investing, too, to create 1 million new places in a decade across the country, including in Lancashire, Leeds and London—better buildings and a place for every child are the best investment in our future generation.
We will continue to invest in the health of the nation, too. The health budget will rise in 2015, including on capital. That means we can begin redeveloping the Royal Liverpool hospital next year, and I can also announce a further £150 million for health research infrastructure, including facilities for our world-leading work on dementia.
Our new approach to housing is truly transformative. Our Help to Buy scheme is already getting people on to the ladder. But, put simply, this country does not have enough homes that people can afford. The previous Government allowed the number of affordable homes to fall by a shocking 420,000. A good home should not be a luxury for the few, but an achievable aspiration for the many. We are already ensuring that the affordable housing supply increases every year, not decreases, as it did in every year but one under the previous Government. But our housing associations have told me that they can do more. To do that, they need certainty on rents, alongside public investment. So today I can provide both those things: I can guarantee that social rents will be set at the consumer prices index plus 1% out to 2025—the longest period of certainty ever; and I can provide £3 billion more capital over three years from 2015 to deliver 165,000 new affordable homes. On average, that is more each year than in any of the past 20 years; it is more in three years than the previous Government managed in seven. And we can do all that because our approach gets twice as many houses as they did for every pound we put in, getting more for the taxpayer and more for this country. This spending round also funds over 2,500 more new homes specifically designed for older and disabled people, and £160 million for decent homes, mainly in London. I know that issue is important to many MPs, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). This is the most ambitious and significant investment in affordable housing for a generation.
Too many Members of this House, on both sides, have in recent years seen the devastation that flooding can cause in their constituencies. We need to work with the private sector to protect families from the threat of flooding, so we will provide £370 million in 2015 and increase that in real terms every year to 2020. More than 400,000 households will be protected over this decade. Insurance also has a vital role to play in helping households deal with the consequences when flooding does occur. I am pleased to tell the House that we have now reached an initial agreement with the Association of British Insurers on the future of flood insurance. The industry wants to do the right thing and so do we. We have always said that we wanted to find a solution that works for households at risk of flooding, wider bill payers and the taxpayer. The industry’s proposed scheme, known as Flood Re, promises to do that by effectively limiting insurance prices for high-risk households. Up to 500,000 households would be helped, with support targeted towards those on lower incomes. Support would be funded by a levy on insurers, something the ABI has promised us will not increase customer bills in general. Importantly, there will be no cost to taxpayers.
There remain many details to work through, so we propose also to take powers to allow us to regulate for affordable flood insurance should that prove necessary. We are seeking these powers in the Water Bill, which we are today introducing to Parliament. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is today launching a public consultation on our proposed approach, and we welcome views on it. He will introduce our final proposals to Parliament as a Government amendment in the autumn.
Local businesses, local communities and local authorities know best how to make the decisions to support growth in their area. For decades we have not given them enough chance to do so, but now we are. Yesterday, the Chancellor confirmed that we are establishing a single local growth fund to transfer funding streams to local enterprise partnerships, as recommended by Lord Heseltine, with £2 billion in 2015 and at least that in every year for the rest of the decade. In total, at least £20 billion will be under the control of LEPs to 2020. The details of how that will work are set out in the document published today.
We have also reached agreement with Greater Manchester on its innovative “earn back” scheme, which will allow it to invest in its priorities, such as the Trafford Metrolink and the A6 to Manchester airport relief road. I know that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), have been campaigning on that for many years—as indeed has the Chancellor, for that matter.
The regional growth fund has also been a fantastic success, thanks to the drive of people up and down the country, led by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. The £2.4 billion in this Parliament is safeguarding half a million jobs, spread across every English region. Furthermore, we are today investing an extra £600 million so that we can do even more to strengthen our communities.
For our economy to grow, however, we need those communities to be better connected. In the last two decades, rail passenger numbers have doubled, and that figure is set to rise by nearly 15% over the next five years. More people are using our railways than at any time since 1927, so we have set out a clear, long-term plan to cope with that demand. Last year, we announced that Network Rail had been funded to deliver the largest programme of rail investment since the Victorian era, and today I reaffirm that commitment. This investment will bring new life to our rail networks, upgrading stations such as King’s Cross, Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street, improving links from Liverpool to Newcastle through the northern hub and opening up a new line from Bedford to Oxford. We are also electrifying 850 miles of railway. By comparison, the previous Government managed nine miles in 13 years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) will be pleased to hear that Network Rail is conducting a feasibility study into electrifying the Lakes line between Oxenholme and Windermere. We are going one better in London, and from 2015, we will fund Network Rail to begin work on electrifying the line connecting Gospel Oak and Barking. Nowhere is fast commuter transport more important for our economy than in London, and our investment in Crossrail will support more than 120,000 additional peak-time commuters every day. The Government are committing £2 million to support a funding and financing study into Crossrail 2. The challenge for the Mayor of London now is to determine how at least half of the cost of the scheme can be met through private sources, ensuring that it will be affordable to the UK taxpayer.
Keeping London connected is crucial, but it must not be done at the expense of our other great cities. It is not good enough that the UK has just 68 miles of high-speed rail, compared with 1,000 in Germany and more than 2,000 in France. We want a high-speed line that connects eight of the UK’s 10-biggest cities, making daily commuting between them possible for the first time. Today, therefore, we provide long-term financial certainty for High Speed 2, setting a funding envelope of £42.6 billion for construction costs and £7.5 billion for rolling stock, and we are setting a clear budget for the scheme of £16 billion for the next Parliament.
Yes, that is a higher overall budget than previously put forward. We are learning from our Olympic experience and setting a long-term, realistic financial plan with the right contingencies. This is the longest and largest transport budget the Treasury has ever set aside, and the people running the project will have to deliver within it.This project will change the economic geography of our country, and I urge hon. Members to support it. It is not being built at the expense of a single other rail project. Taken together, we are supporting more than £30 billion of investment in rail, making this coalition the most pro-rail Government in history.
We also need to think of the remote parts of the UK that HS2 will not reach. Air connections are crucial to those regional economies, so to help maintain those connections, I can announce today that we will provide £10 million a year for a new regional air connectivity fund. I look forward to Howard Davies’s report into that and other aviation issues.
Millions of people rely on our road network. We have worked hard over the past three years to protect road users, cancelling fuel duty increases and saving 13p on a litre of petrol, but our road system has been decaying for decades, and without further significant investment now, by 2040, nearly a quarter of motorists’ travel time could be spent stuck in traffic. I can therefore announce today the biggest programme of investment in our roads in 40 years. The Government will invest more than £28 billion over the six years from 2014 in the enhancement and maintenance of national and local schemes. First, we will take action to fix the backlog of maintenance that has left road surfaces crumbling in communities up and down the country. We are committing £10 billion of investment in road repairs between 2015-16 and 2020-21. More than £4 billion of that money will be spent on national road maintenance—enough to resurface more than 21,000 miles of road, which is the equivalent of London to Beijing and back—while the other £6 billion will be spent locally, allowing local authorities to fill the equivalent of 19 million potholes a year.
Secondly, we will deliver all the major projects in the Highways Agency’s pipeline. We will add two lanes to the busiest motorways, bringing another 221 lane miles to our road network, and we will tackle some of the most congested parts of our network, through projects such as the £1.5 billion A14 scheme between Huntingdon and Cambridge. This scheme is of strategic national importance and will unlock jobs, housing and growth in the region, as well as providing key relief for a major freight route. I am delighted to announce that we will be bringing forward the start of construction by almost two years, to 2016.
I can confirm today that there is more: the A19 between Newcastle and South Shields, the A63 in Hull, the M6 junctions between Birmingham and Manchester, the M5 junctions from Bromsgrove to Worcester, the A38 Derby junctions, the M1 junction near Long Eaton and south of Rugby, the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury, junctions on the M4, the M23 Gatwick junctions and the A27 Chichester bypass.
This money will pay for us to identify and deliver solutions for the most notorious problem spots across the country. Any hon. Member from the Prime Minister down who lives in Cornwall or who has driven there for their holidays will want to see a better A303. Any hon. Member planning a trip to Scotland—Scotland as part of a strong United Kingdom—will want to see a better A1 north of Newcastle. We will also look at the A27 corridor, the trans-Pennine route and connectivity to Leeds airport.
We will ensure that these investments are delivered, because I can also announce that we are transforming the Highways Agency into a publicly owned corporation, an organisation that will have the long-term funding certainty and flexibility to deliver the best possible road network for the UK’s motorists. We are legislating to ensure that these reforms and this investment are guaranteed.
Where our predecessors left the road network on the hard shoulder, we are bringing it into the fast lane. We are not only building the roads of the future but developing the cars of the future. This Government remain committed—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
This Government remain committed to ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of decarbonising road transport and investing in electric vehicles. In the 21st century, good communications are not just about faster roads and high-speed railways, however; they are also about high-speed internet access. The Government have already committed £1.2 billion of public investment to fixed superfast broadband. I saw at first hand the impact that that investment is having on smaller communities when I visited Rothbury in Northumberland. It is crucial, if we want to rebalance our economy, that it is not just the biggest cities that have access to the fastest broadband.
The UK already has better broadband coverage, usage and choice than Germany, Italy, France and Spain, but we want to go further. I can announce today that we are providing a further £250 million to ensure that fixed superfast broadband reaches 95% of the population by 2017. We will work closely with industry to ensure that at least 99% of the UK population have access to superfast broadband—whether fixed, wireless or 4G— by 2018.
Let me now turn to how we support the private sector to deliver our energy needs. Some Members will know that I was privileged to spend my early years on the Hebridean island of Colonsay. Then, the island had no mains electricity. Unreliable diesel generators powered the island, and regularly broke down. Until mains electricity arrived, we never quite knew when the lights would go out. We do not want any community in our country to face that problem in the future. Our existing power stations are closing, as they are too old or too dirty to continue. They must be replaced and added to as our need for electricity grows. Thanks to the hard work of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change—
He is the best ever.
Thanks to my right hon. Friend’s hard work, we are ready to unleash the energy revolution that our country needs. Today’s news from the British Geological Survey of 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas—double the previous estimate—confirms its huge potential for the UK. That is almost as much hot air as the shadow Chancellor produces in a year—[Interruption.] And if they would stop fracking around on the Opposition Front Bench, they might learn something. The plans that we are setting out today provide the framework to kick-start this industry in a way that protects the environment and supports local communities.
As well as revolutionising the way in which we get our energy, we are transforming how we generate and supply it. As we face the challenge of climate change, we need to bring forward investment in low-carbon technologies. This country has massive potential in wind, wave and tidal. We need to harness it. We are putting in place a comprehensive energy policy through the Energy Bill that is in front of this House. This is an approach that we know will work for consumers and investors alike. Last year we made the unprecedented decision to set out funding plans for low-carbon generation all the way to 2020, providing up to £7.6 billion in real terms.
Now we can set out what this means for investors. We do this through setting strike prices. If future prices are below this level, we will guarantee a price to the generator, giving them the confidence to invest now. But if they rise above it, we will claw back money for consumers. We were planning to set strike prices next month, but we have been able to make faster progress so, today, I can announce that we are publishing the prices for renewable generation ahead of schedule. Prices have been set for key renewable technologies, including onshore and offshore wind, tidal, wave biomass and solar. The prices are broadly similar to those we would have to pay under the renewables obligation. We will set the price at the level we need to bring forward sufficient investment, but not a penny higher. As these technologies develop, costs will fall, so we will reduce the price too. For instance, next year we will guarantee generators £155 per megawatt hour of offshore wind. By 2018 this will fall to £135. We expect our reforms to bring forward 8GW to 16 GW of offshore wind capacity. Industry asked for certainty; we have given it. Now industry needs to get on with it.
Yes, this approach has costs now but, in the long term for consumers, they will be more stable than they would otherwise have been. In fact, when this investment goes alongside our plans for energy efficiency, overall our policies could save an average of £166 per household by 2020. We are taking the right decisions now for the good of our country.
In addition, we need to guarantee that capacity will be available at short notice to meet spikes in demand, for instance through gas-fired stations. Today we can provide details on a new regime that will achieve this. The first auction for this new capacity market will run next year to provide certainty for the winter of 2018. But there is financial risk for construction, too. That is why we have set up a Green Investment Bank to back green energy projects. It has committed over £600 million already; for instance, it has invested in the Walney wind farms off the north-west coast of England, which are expected to provide energy to the equivalent to 300,000 households. We have already pledged to provide £3 billion for the bank and, today, I can announce that we will provide an additional £800 million so that it can expand further. Crucially this will include, for the first time, the power to borrow half a billion pounds in 2015-16 from Government. This is a real milestone in green investment, delivering a key promise we made in our election manifesto, unlocking over £100 billion of private investment into our energy networks, and supporting jobs, growth and prosperity for years to come. Our energy policy is a win for consumers, a win for investment and jobs and a win for our climate; the greenest Government ever.
In the last three years we have re-secured for this country a very precious commodity: credibility. No one doubts that the coalition is serious about sorting out the economic mess that we have inherited. People have the right to know that we will continue to work hard to repair the economy, that interest rates will stay low and that we will get our country back on an even keel. But repair is not all we do, because people also have the right to expect that Britain stays one step ahead in the world, that we ease congestion on our roads and deliver faster broadband to make sure businesses in every corner of this country can serve their customers—[Interruption.]
I am certainly nearing the end of this statement.
People expect us to ease congestion on our roads and deliver faster broadband to ensure that businesses in every corner of this country can serve their customers, and that we make sure all parts of Britain keep going. They expect that we will invest in a modern railway so that commuters get to work on time and home in the evening to see their kids. People have the right to expect that we keep spending serious money on the schools and hospitals on which all families rely, and that we make sure that the lights stay on in our homes, even when the demand on energy is surging.
The plans I have set out today deliver all that and more. This is an ambitious plan to build an infrastructure of which Britain can be proud and, in doing so, to help build a stronger economy in a fairer society where everyone can get on in life.
I commend this statement to the House.
What a lot of hot air from the Chief Secretary. Haven’t we heard it all before? Plenty of empty promises. But I must ask: when will the Government pull their finger out and actually start to build some of these things?
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been sent out with this long-winded statement to talk and talk and talk about infrastructure investment, but all the evidence shows that the Government are failing to deliver. As John Cridland, the director general of the CBI said yesterday:
“While the Government talks a good game on infrastructure”—
and I think even that is a bit doubtful—
“we’ve seen too little delivery on the ground so far.”
It is no wonder that the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce has described the Government’s plans for infrastructure as
“hot air, a complete fiction”.
Should not the Chief Secretary be listening to his leader—not the Prime Minister, but the Deputy Prime Minister, who said this week:
“The gap between intention, announcement and delivery is quite significant”?
A little more action and a little less Tory from him would not go amiss. Why is the Chief Secretary neglecting the health of our flatlining economy, and why was there nothing—I repeat, nothing—in yesterday’s spending review to kick-start a strong and sustainable recovery?
Will the Chief Secretary confirm that this Tory-led Government have spent £5.6 billion less in capital investment over the last three years when compared with the plans they inherited from Labour? No wonder that their plans for construction and growth have been such a total flop. Is he not just a little embarrassed that the infrastructure activity in the British economy collapsed by a staggering 50%—it has halved—in the first three months of this year? Does he not realise that three years of economic stagnation means that this is the slowest recovery for over a century, with just 1% growth compared to the 6% that the Chancellor promised when he started his cuts programme?
The Treasury’s performance on capital infrastructure is lamentable. Just one project has been supported by the Government’s supposed emergency guarantees legislation, which should have underwritten up to £40 billion of infrastructure. Two years ago, the Chancellor told us—I do not know whether he remembers this—that a further £20 billion would be leveraged in from pension funds, yet in March he let slip that only £1 billion had been committed and that no investments had yet been made. Of the 576 projects in the Government’s existing infrastructure pipeline, just seven have been completed and 80% of them have not even started. All the while, the construction sector has lost 84,000 jobs since this Government came to power.
When the Prime Minister said, over 18 months ago, that he would go on
“an all-out mission to unblock the system and get projects underway”,
what happened? All that chillaxing has been at the expense of the recovery that should have been well under way years ago.
Let me ask the Chief Secretary about the detail of his statement. Will he confirm that the Government’s plans for housing construction are stagnant and that no Government have presided over such a low peacetime level of new housing completions since the 1920s? Will he confirm, too, that the local government capital budget, which includes housing, is being cut by over a third—35%—in yesterday’s spending round announcements for 2015. Will he confirm that particular figure? It looks, from the Chancellor’s face, that that is in fact the case. What action is he taking to tackle the lengthening time for both major and minor planning applications to be decided, despite his promise two years ago that they would improve on the 13-week time scale? What happened to that?
On transport, will the Chief Secretary now tell us when he is going to publish the three long-awaited national policy statements on ports, transport networks and aviation? I hope that somebody is keeping an eye on the High Speed 2 budget, which seems to have leapt overnight by £8 billion. It was good that he gave the go-ahead to the Mersey Gateway bridge—again. In fact, he also re-announced the A14 funding, which I think the Chancellor announced two years ago in the November 2011 autumn statement—and in exactly the same words.
On energy and carbon reduction, is not the Renewable Energy Association right to describe the decision to undermine the feed-in tariff rates as “a horrendous strategic mistake”? On shale gas, would it not be sensible to be led by the evidence rather than by political antipathy to renewables? If the Chief Secretary really wants to encourage new investment in our energy infrastructure, should he not have a decarbonisation target to clean up our power supply by 2013?
On flooding, it was noticeable that the Chief Secretary said that the devil was in the detail and there is still a lot to be worked out, but will he stand up and confirm that these changes might need primary legislation? If so, when is that going to happen?
On schools, does the right hon. Gentleman not now regret scrapping Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme? On “Newsnight” last night, the Education Secretary did not seem to realise that his capital budget was being cut in real terms, perhaps because his so-called Priority School Building programme announced three years ago has so far seen construction start on only one school building.
Does the Chief Secretary not understand how dangerous it is to ignore the warnings from the International Monetary Fund, which says that Britain should bring forward capital infrastructure projects because we need a significant near-term stimulus now, in 2013, not several years away? Why does he not listen to the advice of the IMF? Why does he not come clean and admit that he is cutting the capital investment budget overall, in real terms, by 1.7% for 2015-16, as it says at the bottom of page 11, table 2 of yesterday’s spending review, should anyone care to look at the detail? Is it not the truth that there is no new money for infrastructure? He is spinning a line, rolling multiple years together to make the figure sound big, reheating old announcements in his microwave statement, which should have turned into action long ago.
The House can at least agree that the Government have been negligent with the health of our economy and that the deficit is not falling as a result. The scandal is that they are still ignoring the urgent need to kick-start growth when they should bring forward projects without delay. We are seeing no delivery for three years, no infrastructure brought forward and, for all the hype, real terms cuts to long-term infrastructure in 2015. Something has got to be done about this lot, because so far they are not capable of delivering the goods.
What a pathetic response to a very serious long-term and detailed plan for this country’s infrastructure. We heard no admission of Labour’s 13 woeful years of delivery of infrastructure. Given some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, he obviously had not listened to my statement.
On borrowing, our deficit is falling as a share of GDP, which is the proper measure, but only the Labour party could claim that new figures showing that we borrowed less in previous years are bad news for the country—the Labour party is addicted to borrowing— and that is on the day when we learned that the hole that Labour left in our economy was even deeper than previously said. Today’s figures show that the 2008 recession shrunk our economy by 7.2%, not the 6.3% of previous estimates. As the first shadow Minister to respond since the new figures came out, the hon. Gentleman made no apology for the mess the Labour party made of the economy. We are clearing up its mess, and he ought to have shown a little humility on that point.
On delivery, let me give the hon. Gentleman the facts about this Government’s record. Since 2010, 30 major road schemes have been completed. Of the 24 major projects announced since 2010, eight are under construction, and eight more start this year. Of the 56 local road schemes announced, 28 have been completed or are under construction, and 15 more start this year. Some 150 stations have been upgraded across England and Wales, including Blackfriars and King’s Cross. Some 190,000 school places have been completed for the next school year, and 81 free schools have been built. Some 84,000 houses have been completed, and 59,000 houses have been protected from flooding. Crossrail is employing 8,000 workers with six boring machines—more than the Opposition Front Bench.
On investment, we have added £20 billion of investment at every fiscal event since the 2010 spending—
The length of the Chief Secretary’s answer is improper, regardless of its content. The way in which a Minister replies to questioning is a matter for him, and he is at liberty to refer to material, but he must not dilate in his answer. If it were to become effectively a second statement, he might have some difficulty retaining the attention of the House.
Thank you for that advice, Mr. Speaker. I was merely attempting to respond to the inaccurate account of our investment given by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie). In fact, investment as a share of GDP will be higher during the current decade than it was during the 13 years for which Labour was in office. We are spending more and underspending less than Labour did. Ours is a record of delivery and a record of action, and today I have given the House our promise of more.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the private sector. We have been listening to the private sector, which is why we are setting out the long-term plans that it wants. He asked about the planning system. We have reformed the planning system, and he voted against that reform. He also asked about flooding. As I said in my statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be announcing amendments to the Water Bill. The hon. Gentleman will know from the spending round document which was published yesterday that the forecast for local government self-financed expenditure is up, not down. I am sorry to hear that he opposes investment in shale gas. His Building Schools for the Future programme was expensive and inefficient, which is why we have introduced the Priority School Building programme.
I should very much have liked to hear from the hon. Gentleman that he supported our detailed and ambitious plans, and so would the country. I am sorry that we did not hear that from him, and I hope that he will reflect on it in the days to come.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I thank him for his announcement about flood defences, which will pave the way for a flood insurance agreement, but will he please give careful consideration to maintenance spending as well? The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence from the Association of British Insurers about the subsidy issue. There is a fear that a subsidy will be paid by all households that take out insurance, which would have implications for their spending. We want insurance to be available, yet affordable.
I know that the hon. Lady has taken a great interest in this subject. Maintenance spending constitutes a major part of the DEFRA resource budget that was announced yesterday. DEFRA has made considerable efficiencies in flood resource spending, and will continue to have a significant budget. I have been assured by the Association of British Insurers that the proposed levy will not add to people’s bills overall.
I am afraid that the Chief Secretary’s statement was an insult to the intelligence of the British people. We have established, have we not, that in 2015 we as a nation will be spending £10 billion less on infrastructure than we spent in 2010. How can the Chief Secretary allow infrastructure and structural investment funds from Europe to be protected in Scotland and Wales while they are being cut by two thirds in England, at a time when English local government is being asked to cut its day-to-day spending on essential services by a third, allegedly to allow funds to be invested in infrastructure?
The Prime Minister secured an extremely good deal on structural funding for the United Kingdom at the recent European summit. There will be a fair allocation of the small reductions in funds between the four constituent nations of the UK, and I think that is the right and proper approach.
I congratulate the Chief Secretary on his excellent statement, but perhaps he will forgive me if I do not share his enthusiasm for HS2. I am delighted to learn that there is to be a new prison in north Wales, because I have been asking for one for eight or nine years, but I am sorry that the statement made no reference to Wylfa.
More important is the question of airport capacity in the south-east. We cannot duck that Howard Davies report for much longer. We must have it well before the general election, otherwise we shall be building HS2 in completely the wrong place.
I was pleased to hear that the Government intend to upgrade the A63 at Castle street in my constituency, in accordance with the last Government’s 10-year highways plan. However, the road currently cuts the city off from the waterfront. Will the Chief Secretary agree to work with the Secretary of State for Transport and the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the cities Minister, to ensure that the Castle street project includes an iconic land bridge that will enable us to fulfil our economic potential by connecting the city with the waterfront?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and of course I will do that. That is why we have funded the local growth deal under the Heseltine recommendations, and this road investment will also help to unlock port facilities for greater use, for renewables among other things.
My right hon. Friend has made a sweeping series of announcements that will be felt in every community around the country, in particular the investment in rail infrastructure. As well as that renewal of Victorian infrastructure, however, does he agree that his announcements on science, superfast broadband and low-carbon energy are paving the way for the hi-tech, low-carbon future?
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. The commitment on broadband in particular, with fixed broadband in 95% of the population and superfast broadband—mobile, 4G and so on—to 99% or more of the population, will be welcomed in every corner of the UK, no matter how remote.
The biggest problem facing the north-east of England is the need to strengthen the region’s private sector employment base. How will today’s statement help to do that?
I would refer to two things. First, the single local growth fund, which we have worked on with the North East local enterprise partnership in particular, will be very welcome news in the north-east. I also hope the commitment to the A1 north of Newcastle will promote significant investment in the north-east economy.
I particularly welcome the money earmarked to tackle flooding, as there was a fatality in my constituency earlier this year. Can my right hon. Friend confirm this should help people in places like Looe, which is still suffering from road closures due to the horrendous situation we had earlier this year?
The precise details of where the money will be spent will be for the Environment Agency to develop, but the purpose of announcing this funding now is precisely to help communities such as my hon. Friend’s to ensure they are not in danger of flooding in future.
My constituents in Exeter saw under the last Government five new high schools, several new primary schools and a new medical school, but so far, in more than three years, they have seen absolutely nothing of what this Government have promised on infrastructure. Why should they believe anything the right hon. Gentleman has said today, given his appalling record at delivering what he has already promised?
I welcome the capital for the A27 Chichester bypass, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) and I have been pressing for a number of years. I also welcome the initial agreement the Government have reached with the insurance industry based on the Flood Re proposals, and the new powers they are contemplating, which may help to tackle the refusal by a minority of insurance companies to insure houses that have suffered flooding, such as the company that has just written to one of my constituents withdrawing cover because the boundary of his property suffered flooding in June last year, despite neighbouring properties being insured by other companies. Will my right hon. Friend look into the practices of companies that are refusing to abide by the current statement of principles?
Some of my constituents cannot sell their homes because when they, or the new buyer, seek flood insurance, it is completely unaffordable; one person was told the excess would be 20% of the value of the home. When will this initial agreement become a substantive agreement, so as to allow these people to get on with their lives?
I particularly welcome the announcement about the A38 in my constituency, as there is a huge problem there for both local and long-distance traffic, because it is the one place where drivers have to stop at two roundabouts. I therefore know everybody locally will welcome that. May I also welcome the house building measures? We do need that to get the economy going locally; we need more houses, and we certainly need more affordable homes.
I agree with both my hon. Friend’s points. We need to invest in the road networks to support growth and the economy and this is the biggest plan for road investment since the 1970s. Affordable house building by housing associations accounts for 40% of all new housing starts this year. It is very important we maintain that record and build on it in the years to come.
Yesterday we learned that of the £530 million the broadband delivery unit had been allocated, only £3 million had reached local authorities. Today, the Chief Secretary said that beyond 2015 he was allocating £250 million to broadband roll-out, but previously we were told that the BBC licence fee would be top-sliced to the tune of £300 million. What has the Chief Secretary done with that £50 million? Has he cut it or has he lost it?
The investment of £1.5 billion in the A14 and the bringing forward of the project will be welcomed by my constituents and many people and businesses throughout the east of the country. Will the Chief Secretary say a little more about how the requirement for money will be split between central Government, the region and local businesses?
The Department for Transport will make an announcement on that in due course. The point I am making today is that we have set aside the funding for delivering the project as planned, bringing the start date forward by two years to 2016. The road is one of the most important and clogged up economic arteries in our country and we need to invest in it to ensure we get our economy moving.
Publication of the strike price for renewables today is very welcome, but as yet we have had no mention of the strike price for nuclear. Indeed, the only mention of nuclear in the statement was a multi-billion pound guarantee to build Hinkley Point. How does that stand with the promise for no public subsidy for new nuclear?
It stands completely alongside that promise. First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s positive remarks about strike prices and he will see in the document we published today strike prices for all the other forms of renewable energy. Of course, in the case of nuclear, there is a detailed and ongoing commercial negotiation. I am sure that he would think it right for us to drive a hard bargain in those negotiations, because of course these prices will have to be paid by consumers for 50 years to come.
I very much welcome the shift from entitlements and consumption to capital investment that will create jobs now and underpin our future prosperity. It represents a crucial part of the Chancellor’s rebalancing of the economy strategy. Will my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary comment on the benefit of the plans to regions outside London and the south-east, such as my own area of the west midlands? Will we see more projects like the excellent new transport interchange opened in my constituency of Stourbridge last year?
I welcome that project, which is another example of projects being delivered by this Government during this Parliament. Of course, the plans I have set out today on roads, on energy and on rail will directly benefit every part of this country, including the west midlands. The hon. Lady is right that even at a time of austerity we are squeezing spending wherever we can to realise more resources for investment in the long-term infrastructure needs of this country. That is the right strategy and it is a shame the Opposition seem to oppose it.
I welcome investment in transport, but can the Chief Secretary tell us how much extra he has announced today in addition to ongoing programmes and projects that have already been announced? That includes the Mersey Gateway, which has already had its go-ahead.
Today I have announced the guarantee for the Mersey Gateway bridge, which is necessary to enable that project to go forward because of the private funding. That is a new announcement of a guarantee. We are setting out tens of billions of pounds of new investment in roads until 2020. I know that the hon. Lady in particular has argued in the past for longer-term certainty on funding for road projects to allow us to get better value for money for those investments. That is precisely what we will do.
This must be the most substantial and, dare I say, lengthy commitment to a stronger economy made by a Liberal in government from that Dispatch Box since Lloyd George. How much less could we have afforded to invest in our future had the Government not taken the decisions necessary to ensure that the interest rates at which we borrow are kept low?
My goodness! I am not sure quite how to respond to that one—I am blushing slightly, but I am grateful for the positive remarks from my hon. Friend. He makes a very important point. If we had not entered into the process of clearing up the economic mess left by the Labour party, we would not be able to invest any of this money at all.
The Chief Secretary has confirmed what the Chancellor told us on 20 October 2010, at column 963 of Hansard, that financial support would be available for the Mersey Gateway in my constituency. However, the devil is in the detail. Will the Chief Secretary meet me to hear the concerns of my constituents? The funding package given to Halton borough council restricts its ability to give discounts or free travel across the currently free Widnes to Runcorn bridge when the Mersey Gateway opens.
Constituents in the Calder Valley who cannot get flood insurance for their homes and businesses after the three devastating floods that we experienced last summer have contacted my office. Can my right hon. Friend tell the people of Calder Valley, after the announcements today, how long they will have to wait before the initial proposals become actual proposals, and when all of them will be able to get flood insurance and at an affordable price?
The existing statement of principles, which was due to expire this month, will be continued for the next year or so until this arrangement is fully in place. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome the long-term commitment to capital investment in flood defence, which of course will be of benefit to his constituents, along with those of many other hon. Members.
Not one mention was made of local councils in the statement or of the role they can play in helping to rebuild our infrastructure. Why does the Chief Secretary continue with the ridiculous mortgage guarantee scheme, which the Treasury Committee, the International Monetary Fund and the Governor of the Bank of England have all said is more likely to add to housing demand than increase housing supply? Why does he not use the billions of pounds available to allow local councils to build homes that people can afford to rent and put thousands of constructions workers back in work?
Local authorities were mentioned in my statement, particularly in relation to the single local growth fund. The money goes to local enterprise partnerships, which as the hon. Gentleman knows bring private sector businesses and local authorities together to spend the money. Part of the money going into the single local growth fund comes from the new homes bonus, so it will enable LEPs to invest in housing if that is what they choose as part of their local economic priorities. As for the mortgage guarantee scheme, it is important that, when it is hard for young people to put together the deposit they need to buy a house, we support them. That demand will also bring forward additional supply. That is the view of the Home Builders Federation, and I agree with it.
I, too, am delighted that the Chief Secretary has named the A27 as part of the road works, but he mentioned only the Chichester by-pass. Will he confirm that the study will include a holistic study of both the bottlenecks at Worthing and Arundel? Otherwise he will just create two bottlenecks further down the A27, which is the longest car park in West Sussex.
I can confirm that we are getting on with the Chichester by-pass, one of the Highways Agency schemes that is already worked up. We will be conducting further work across the corridor, including Worthing and Arundel, to invest across the corridor between now and 2020.
The housing investment that the Government have announced must be set against the halving of the affordable housing programme inherited from the previous Government, which led to a halving of social house completions last year. Is it not true that the right hon. Gentleman’s affordable rent model is based on higher rents, that higher rents mean higher housing benefit, and that housing benefit will cost his Government £13 billion more in this spending period than it did under the previous Government, and can he explain how that makes sense?
I think the hon. Lady was giving a back-handed welcome to the commitment that we made to affordable housing today. On rents, the policy that we have set out of CPI plus 1 for 10 years for uprating of rents saves the Government a growing amount of money in housing benefit payments for the simple reason that tenants rents will increase less fast than previously. That is good news for those individuals, and will save the Government money, as was announced in the costings document yesterday.
I am delighted by the broadband announcement, but Scottish Government money is also required. In the current round, the Scottish National party Government reduced this Government’s target of 90% to only 75% in Argyll and Bute. Can the Chief Secretary please persuade the Scottish Government to put in their fair share of money so that the new targets can be met in Argyll and Bute?
I will certainly do my best. I should say that the additional £250 million will need local matching, including in Scotland from the Scottish Government, to get to 95% of my hon. Friend’s constituents and, I hope, to 99% in due course. I remind the House that this is one of the areas in which we are better together as one united kingdom.