House of Commons
Tuesday 29 April 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
Transport for London Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 6 May (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
This Government will freeze fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament. As a result, petrol will cost a full 20p per litre less than if we had stuck with the previous Government’s hated fuel duty escalator. We can afford to do this because we have got a grip on the public finances.
The House will also want to know that today we learned that GDP grew by 0.8% in the first quarter of this year. That is 3.1% over the year and today’s figures show that Britain is coming back. We cannot take that for granted. We have to go on working through our long-term economic plan, but for the first time in a decade all three main sectors of the economy—manufacturing, services and construction—have grown by at least 3% in the past year.
The impact of the great recession is still being felt, but the foundations—
I welcome today’s growth figures, which reflect the hard work of the people of the United Kingdom and mean more jobs and more economic security. Based on the dynamic modelling my right hon. Friend has done, what contribution have his decisions to cut and freeze fuel duty made to that economic growth?
Absolutely, Mr Speaker: having heard all the bad economic news in the previous Parliament, I thought Parliament would want to hear some good economic news. The reduction in fuel duty is one of the number of steps we have taken to support the British economy and families. As my hon. Friend says, we have just published a study that shows that the reduction and freeze in fuel duty has the potential to increase GDP by 0.5%. As Conservatives, we understand that lower taxes mean higher economic growth.
The whole House will welcome the fact that we now have a policy to drive down costs on hard-pressed motorists, who have found it very tough in recent years. Can we take it from the Government that that reflects a wider shift in policy and that they are seeking to bear down on other energy input costs, including those of fossil fuels, in order to help hard-pressed consumers and encourage British competitiveness?
We need to have competitive energy prices while at the same time building a sustainable energy mix. The major £7 billion package in the Budget to help with the cost of energy for manufacturers has been welcomed not just by the big energy-intensive industries, but by many small business and, of course, families.
In September, the Government launched a legal challenge to the bonus cap provisions agreed under EU capital requirements directive 4. We feel that those rules were rushed through without any assessment of their impact and that they will undermine the progress we have made to try to align remuneration with risk by pushing bankers’ fixed pay up rather than down.
The Chancellor has chosen to prevent the Royal Bank of Scotland from paying bonuses to employees that are worth more than double their salary, but he has not done the same with Lloyds. Will the Minister explain why what is good enough for RBS is not good enough for Lloyds?
RBS has made a good start on its return to growth under Ross McEwan. It now has a good strategy to be the best small and medium-sized enterprise bank in Britain, but it still has a very long way to go. Therefore, we felt, and United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltd agreed, that the right thing to do was to not allow RBS to do what other private sector banks have done, which is to go for the maximum of 2:1 in terms of bonus to salary. Lloyds, on the other hand, is much further along the road to recover, so it was fine to allow it, in line with other private banks, to go ahead with that 2:1 plan.
May I say how good it is to see my hon. Friend in her new position? I welcome her answer. Does she agree that the best way to tackle widespread concern about excessive bonuses is through opening the banks up to proper shareholder inspection and answerability, as we are gradually doing?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the priorities of this Government has been to ensure proper scrutiny of directors’ pay and remuneration, so the changes in the Prudential Regulation Authority guidelines introduced last year, strengthening improvements made by the Labour Government, are designed to do just that—to put us at the forefront of scrutiny and transparency in pay for banking.
May I offer my congratulations to the hon. Lady on her much-deserved promotion? The whole House welcomed the Chancellor’s intervention to stop loss-making RBS paying these bonuses to its investment bankers. However, it has now emerged that RBS intends to pay that money as allowances. What is the Government’s intention on this matter?
May I first thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations and say how very much I enjoyed working with him for several years on the Treasury Committee? As with many Opposition Members, there has been a lot of agreement between us on issues of competition and minimising pay. With regard to allowances, the key point to remember is that bonuses at RBS are down 68% overall since 2009. The figure we want to focus on is the restriction in pay and bonuses across that bank.
I, too, genuinely welcome the hon. Lady to her post and the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint her to the Chancellor’s Department. May I ask her to be very clear on this particular point? The Chancellor of the Exchequer is using the EU bank bonus cap legislation in respect of RBS, but at the same time the Government are mounting a legal challenge against that legislation. Will she clear up some of the confusion? She alluded to whether it was a UKFI decision, and it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister apparently waded in to override the Chancellor. Was the Deputy Prime Minister at odds with the Chancellor, or was the Chancellor just at odds with himself?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The key point to remember is that we are challenging the proposal at the European Court of Justice because we believe that it will not suppress remuneration and create proper equivalence between risk and remuneration in the banking sector. We in this country are at the forefront of trying to ensure that risk and reward are properly aligned. We do not think that the bonus cap will do that, so it is perfectly consistent to implement the cap—since it is the law—but to challenge it in the European Court of Justice.
I very much hear what the hon. Lady says, but I am asking a question about how the decision was made. Who was involved: was it UKFI; was it the Chancellor; or was it the Deputy Prime Minister who did it? I might not get a clear answer, so maybe I can move on to the next question: how much has this cost so far? It is a legal challenge to the change that she is herself using. How much has it cost so far, and is it a good use of taxpayers’ money?
The legal challenge is in line with all legal challenges of this sort. To protect the British financial services sector, it is very important to try to challenge the proposal. There has been a House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee report on the cost of similar legal challenges. It is not excessive—it is £25,000 to £35,000, or of that order—but the point is that we in this Government are trying to align risk and reward, which is absolutely crucial for the success of the financial services sector.
This Government believe that people who have worked hard and saved hard through their lives should be trusted with their own pension savings in retirement. That is why, following the Budget, we have already given people much greater access to their pension savings and why, from next April, they will have complete freedom of access to their defined contribution scheme.
This year’s Budget exposed some people’s innate belief that those who have worked hard and saved all their lives could not be trusted with their own money. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor reassure savers in Weaver Vale that he rejects such patronising views, and will he update the House on his plans to let people choose how to spend their own money and to make savings far more flexible?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The fact that the Labour party had nothing to say in response reflects the muddled approach: it did not support the measure, but it did not know what to do with a popular Budget proposal. We are absolutely clear that we reject the patronising view, pursued by the previous Government, that the state knows better than individuals how to spend their money. Trusting people, reducing taxes, supporting savers—that is this Government’s approach.
Does the Chancellor agree that the traditional financial services sector has let down savers and borrowers? Is it not time that he gave more encouragement to the crowdfunding sector, which is flexible and gives a much better deal?
The hon. Gentleman has asked me about that matter at previous Treasury questions and I know that he takes a keen interest in it. He wrote to thank me for the measure in the Budget to include crowdfunding vehicles in individual savings accounts. That is an important step to support this new sector.
As the Government’s long-term economic plan unfolds successfully, will my right hon. Friend consider giving further encouragement to savers through ISAs? Savers have warmly welcomed the greater flexibility that he has introduced with the new ISA regime.
Alongside the flexibility in and access to pension pots, we have increased the limit for both ISAs to £15,000. The new ISA will come in at the beginning of July and there will be complete flexibility in transferring funds from equity ISAs to cash ISAs. Of course, we have also abolished the 10p savings rate. Unlike the shadow Chancellor, when we abolish a 10p rate we get rid of it altogether, rather than doubling it.
The Chancellor said that last month’s Budget was a Budget for savers, so will he tell us why page 106 of the Red Book shows that the saving ratio is falling and that it has been revised down this year, next year, the year after and in every year up to 2018?
What the hon. Lady did not say is that by 2018 the saving ratio will still be double what it was under the Labour Government. That is a rather important piece of information that she failed to tell the House. We are 15 minutes into Treasury questions. When will a Labour MP welcome the GDP numbers?
Bank Lending to Businesses
In May 2010, business lending was contracting sharply in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The Government have introduced various measures aimed at improving bank and non-bank lending to businesses, in particular the business bank and the funding for lending scheme. Since 2010, survey evidence has suggested that the credit conditions for businesses have improved significantly and gross lending flows have increased.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there has been an enormous challenge since the financial crisis. Banks still have a long way to go to work out their balance sheets and to ensure that they are again lending to small businesses. RBS announced recently that it has the single goal of becoming the No. 1 SME bank in the UK. Banks are focused on that issue and it is vital that they are.
Does the Minister agree that Labour’s crash caused a massive problem in our banking system, which hurt the ability of banks to finance businesses, and that with the long-term economic plan it will become easier for banks to find the reserves that they need to get more money to business and to help grow the economy further?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The financial crisis caused a massive problem in our banking sector. The measures that have been brought in by this Government, such as the funding for lending scheme and the improved impetus towards bank competition, are helping to improve the situation for small businesses—the lifeblood of our economy.
Since funding for lending was introduced, funding for small businesses has actually gone down. Businesses in my constituency tell me that one of the biggest problems is the withdrawal of overdraft facilities by many banks. What is the Minister doing to ensure that such short-term cover is available.
Only recently, the national policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said that funding for lending is helping to bring down the cost of credit for small businesses. It is vital that banks focus on rebuilding business lending, and many of them are doing so. As the economy recovers, we expect that to pick up. Indeed, gross lending is 12% higher than in 2012-13.
Companies in my constituency tell me that confidence is at a new high. In many instances, they are able to fund investment through their own resources. Despite that, gross lending is up over the past 12 months. Does my hon. Friend agree that the concerns that funding for lending would be used for residential property purchases were misplaced?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Help to Buy scheme accounts for only 0.5% of total mortgage lending, and real house prices remain 15% below pre-crisis levels. There is no evidence to suggest that the funding for lending scheme has led to a property price bubble.
As you know, Mr Speaker, GDP grew by 0.8% in the last quarter and 3.1% over the year. Growth is broadly balanced, and those who predicted a year ago that our plan would choke off recovery got it spectacularly wrong.
In March last year, with youth unemployment in Worcester at 645, the shadow Chancellor said that
“the economy will get worse”.
Youth unemployment in Worcester is down by a quarter since then and by 40% since it peaked under Labour. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor update the House on how the wider economy has performed during that time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since the shadow Chancellor made his prediction, the economy has grown by more than 3% and almost 1 million jobs have been created. In Worcester the claimant count is down by 20% in the past year, so we have more of these predictions from the shadow Chancellor and the economy just keeps growing.
Does the Chancellor not understand that despite the belated but welcome growth in the economy, the only people who are not worse off than they were four years ago are the super-rich—people such as him and the other multi-millionaires sitting around the Cabinet table? His wilful refusal to accept what every ordinary family in the country know, from their daily experience just goes to show how out of touch he is.
Of course families are feeling the impact of the great recession over which the last Government presided, but the hon. Gentleman talks about who has felt the benefit of growth. What about the people in his constituency who have got a job, where unemployment has fallen by 17% and youth unemployment is down 18%? What about the 1.5 million people who have got jobs as a result of this Government working through their long-term economic plan?
20. I welcome today’s excellent news. With the deficit down, growth up and more people than ever in work, the Government’s long-term economic plan is clearly delivering for my constituents. However, there is always more to do, so will my right hon. Friend tell me what further steps he can take to encourage growth in workplace apprenticeships? In Tamworth, they have grown by more than a third. (903729)
We have provided more than 1 million apprenticeships, and in the most recent Budget we provided more support for apprentices by extending grants to small and medium-sized companies to help them take on apprentices. We also introduced and expanded degree-level and post-degree-level apprenticeships. Apprenticeship schemes are one of this Government’s great successes, and we are going to build on it.
Does the Chancellor accept that the growth he is talking about is fuelled by mortgages pushing up house prices and consumer debt? Lending from banks is now at the 2008 level for mortgages but down 30% to businesses, which is why productivity and real wages are down. When will he deliver sustainable growth rather than a bubble before an election?
Long before the great recession, the region that it is my privilege to represent was getting poorer relative to the rest of the UK, with youth unemployment rising and private sector jobs shrinking. Now, however, things seem to be on the turn. May we have an assurance that, this time, the recovery will be for all, particularly for the north of England, and that we will finally start to bridge the gap that grew under the Labour party?
My hon. Friend is right that the gap between the north and south grew under the last Government, who put all their bets on the City of London, which went spectacularly wrong. In his part of the world, which he represents so ably, we are not only helping manufacturing by reducing energy costs, which is important for steelworks in his area and elsewhere, but helping with the tolls on the Humber bridge. We have also had the great news that Siemens will open its new wind turbine factory in the area. Those are all examples of how we will have a more balanced economy than the one that we inherited.
Back in 2010, the Chancellor promised to balance the books in 2015 and said that living standards would rise “steadily and sustainably”. Following today’s welcome news that the economy is finally growing again, will the Chancellor tell us whether he is now on track to keep either of those two promises?
I am delighted that the shadow Chancellor is still here. He is the man who, quite literally, crashed the car. On that occasion he fled the scene, but when it comes to crashing the British economy he cannot escape scrutiny of his record. Let me be clear: we said we would get the deficit down, and the deficit has come down; we said we would recover the economy, and recovery is taking place. He predicted that 1 million people would lose their jobs, but 1.5 million jobs have been created. He has apologised to the lady whose car he crashed into—why does he not apologise to the British people?
If this Chancellor wants to have a discussion about whiplash we can do that any day of the week—Mr, Mrs or Mistress. However, let us not go back to biographies of the past; let us get back to the serious issue. The fact is that the Chancellor has failed to answer my question. For all his promises, he has broken them, even on the deficit, and living standards are not rising but falling year on year on year. People are £1,600 worse off under the Tories. If the Chancellor really thinks that his economic plan is working, let him answer this one simple question: at the next election, after five years of this Chancellor, will working people be better off than they were in 2010—yes or no?
Of course Britain will be better off because we will not have the mess of an economy on the brink of collapse, a banking system on its knees, and an 11% budget deficit. The only way to help people in this country is to grow the British economy. What the figures reveal today is that Britain is coming back, but we cannot take that for granted. People are still experiencing the impact of the shadow Chancellor’s economic policies, and the only thing he can say to us is “Why are you not clearing up our mess quickly enough?” That is literally what he is saying; it is absolutely pathetic. His car crash was caused by a seven-point turn that he was trying. Why does he not just get up, make a simple U-turn, admit that he got it wrong and that Britain is growing again?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that there have been significant falls in real earnings as a direct but delayed result of the 2008 recession. The actions that the Government are taking are working, including taking 3.2 million people out of income tax by 2015-16, thanks to our policy of increasing the income tax personal allowance, and also because of the strong, sustained and welcome growth that we see in the figures today.
Of course, one of the other things that are growing in our economy is personal debt. We know that 40% of the public struggle to make it to payday, and for a third of those people it is repayments on the debts they built up under this Government that are the problem. What impact does the Minister think that that personal debt mountain will have on his long-term economic plan?
Household debt income ratios have fallen during this Parliament, as the hon. Lady will know, but—this is a good lesson for the Labour party—there is no shortcut for increasing people’s living standards, which is the answer to the question she poses, and no short cut to increased productivity in our economy. That means increasing growth in the economy and sticking to the coalition’s plan, which is being delivered by Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in this Government. That is the important thing to do for the next few years to ensure that we have a stronger and more sustainable economy in this country.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to consider what the impact would be on annual rates of inflation and growth of a potential 1% increase in national insurance contributions, and particularly the impact of that on the NHS budget?
It would have a significant impact on almost every working person in this country. The Government’s direction of travel, led by the Liberal Democrats, has been to reduce the burden of taxation on working people. Some 26 million working people have seen their income tax bill reduced this month by £700 a year, thanks to the decisions that this coalition Government have taken to increase the personal allowance to £10,000.
Perhaps the Chief Secretary can do better at answering this simple question. Next year, the Chancellor will have been in post for five years. Will the Chief Secretary confirm that figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that over that time real wages will have fallen by 5.6%, leaving working families worse off, not better off, after five years of the Chancellor’s stewardship of the economy?
The hon. Lady will know that the OBR forecasts earnings to grow more rapidly than inflation throughout the forecast period—that is the answer to the question. I have to say that the hon. Lady seems to have been listening to the shadow Chancellor rather too closely. I notice his recent quote:
“I had no awareness at all that there had been any damage”.
He was referring to his car rather than to the British economy, but it is about time that the Labour party apologised for the mess that it made of the latter.
The Government are committed to strong and sustainable economic growth that is balanced across the economy. The manufacturing sector, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already said, is a vital part of it. In the recent Budget, the Government announced a package of measures to reduce energy bills for manufacturers and improve their competitiveness, for example, by capping the carbon price floor. Earlier this month, the Government announced a £100 million extension to the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative.
I echo the Chancellor’s welcome to the excellent GDP numbers. Despite the fact that the Labour party continues to wallow in its own failed predictions of doom, manufacturing has actually increased by 1.3%. That is very obvious in my constituency. With the long-term economic plan in mind, what more can we do to promote British manufacturing?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I understand that he established in his constituency the annual festival of manufacturing and engineering, and that the next event will be held in November 2014. As he said, this morning’s GDP figures show the strongest annual performance for manufacturing for three years—up 3.4%. He asked what more the Government can do. In the Budget last month we announced plans to double UK Export Finance’s direct lending programme and further to increase our support for apprenticeships.
First, it is welcome to hear Opposition Members talking about this Government’s long-term economic plan. Long may they continue to do so, but I am not going to take lessons on manufacturing from them. Manufacturing halved as a share of the economy under the previous Labour Government. This Government are on the side of manufacturers and small businesses up and down the country.
Today’s GDP figures are particularly welcome and the contribution by manufacturing is especially impressive. Many manufacturers are investing heavily in skills, but get frustrated that their skilled employees are poached by others who are not making that investment. What measures can the Minister suggest to help to share the burden of investment in skills?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He is absolutely right. Skills is an issue mentioned, I am sure, to all Members from all parts of the House every time they visit their local businesses. We have invested in apprenticeships, so we are growing a skilled work force. In 2012-13, the Government supported 66,000 apprenticeship starts in engineering and manufacturing technologies. He is right that we have to invest in skills all the way through the work force and all the way through their working life, but we are making a great start with apprenticeships.
Through difficult decisions on day-to-day spending, we have prioritised vital capital investment in infrastructure projects. Last year I set out a £100 billion pipeline of specific projects right the way through to the end of the next Parliament, including many projects in the south-west of England. For example, the hon. Lady and I were both present on Friday when we announced funding for Bristol’s successful bid to be the green capital of Europe.
I know this Government are committed to large infrastructure projects, but will the Chief Secretary recognise the value of more modest, branch-line rail infrastructure projects, such as the Henbury loop line in Bristol, which is vital to the community and to jobs? Will he look closely at providing the extra funding needed to reopen the line, not as a dead-end spur, but as a circle line around the city, which would unleash the economic dynamism of Bristol?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It was raised with me in Bristol on Friday and I know she has raised it directly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It has also been put forward by the West of England local enterprise partnership in its strategic economic plan, which is being discussed as part of the growth deals process, so I urge her to encourage people locally to continue to advocate for the project as part of that process.
The cost of reducing the additional rate of income tax to 45% is estimated to be around £110 million a year, as set out in table 2.2 of Budget 2013. We have not broken down the impact by income ranges. That is because there is a significant behavioural response associated with the additional rate of income tax. The behavioural response is estimated in aggregate and reflected in the costing.
Ordinary people are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government. More than 15,000 working people in my constituency alone are paid less than the living wage. Is not the reality that a tax cut for millionaires is totally the wrong priority when so many ordinary people face a cost of living crisis?
It should be pointed out that unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has fallen by nearly 30% in the last 12 months. The challenge with the 50p rate is that it is not very effective at reducing the deficit, but it is effective at driving jobs and growth out of the UK. Maybe that is why Labour supports it.
Is not Her Majesty’s Government right to consider the overall effect on the economy when setting income tax rates and not to use them as a means of squeezing the rich out of Britain? Is it not also sensible to consider the extra revenue that comes from lower rates?
Cutting taxes surely promotes growth and investment and produces the jobs that we see in the north-east, where manufacturing is up and fuel duty is frozen. More specifically, last week I went on to the banks of the Tyne and saw 1,000 people working on shipbuilding for the first time in a very long time.
Cost of Living
The coalition Government have taken decisive action to support families on low incomes. Increasing the personal allowance, for example, will take 3.2 million individuals out of income tax altogether by 2015-16. We have helped to freeze the council tax, frozen fuel duty and reduced energy bills, providing universal free school meals for infant schools and introducing tax-free child care support of up to £2,000, all on top of the most important thing, which is an economic plan that is delivering strong and sustained growth for this country.
This month more than 3 million low-paid people have been taken out of paying income tax altogether since 2010, as a result of delivering the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment of a £10,000 tax threshold. Can my right hon. Friend say how the impact of this policy on low-income workers compares with the previous Government’s policy of abolishing the 10p tax rate?
That is a very good question. My hon. Friend and I are both very proud of reaching the £10,000 tax-free allowance goal that the Liberal Democrats set in our election manifesto. Our increases in the tax-free allowance total more than £3,000, which is considerably more than the width of the former 10p starting rate band and is, of course, a 0% band. In that sense, it is literally twice as good as the previous policy.
For the 17% of wage earners who are already below the income tax threshold, much of what has been said is not of much help. Will the Chief Secretary directly commit to helping low-paid families with child care costs by reinstating the 80% level rather than the 70% level, which he introduced, so that people in that category can begin to gain rather than simply stand still or become worse off?
I am sure that if the hon. Lady had had longer, she would have welcomed today’s growth figures and the jobs and employment opportunities that that has created for people right across the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland. The 3.2 million people that the hon. Lady mentions have already been taken out of tax by the actions of this coalition Government—something that she did not welcome. Of course, the extra opportunities to increase their time in work also helps those individuals. We are increasing our support for child care, with the Government providing free hours, extending support under universal credit and introducing tax-free child care, too. This Government have done far more than any previous Government to help working people with children get back into work.
This Government are protecting vulnerable groups while taking action to tackle the record deficit we inherited. Work remains the best way out of poverty and last month’s Budget took action to support families by making the tax and welfare system fairer and by further increasing the income tax personal allowance to £10,500 next year, which will take 3.2 million people on low incomes out of tax altogether.
I have already said in answer to the question that work remains the best way out of poverty, and I set out the raising of the personal allowance. There is no doubt that children who grow up in workless households are three times more likely to be in poverty. This Government remain committed to eradicating child poverty, but are taking action to tackle the root causes rather than allowing people to continue in welfare dependency.
Is the Minister concerned that the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that an additional 400,000 children will be living in poverty by the end of this Parliament? Workers may have jobs, but their children are not benefiting from them. That is the issue that the hon. Lady and her Government fail to realise.
As I have already said, this Government remain absolutely committed to eradicating child poverty. We have set out our child poverty strategy, which sets out our aims. In October 2011 the IFS predicted a fall of 100,000 in the number of children in relative poverty, but the actual fall was 300,000. Rather than looking at predictions, let us look at what we actually achieve in government.
The Minister is absolutely right that the way out of child poverty is to reduce unemployment, which has gone down 20% in my constituency, and to take the poorest paid out of tax altogether. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this Government’s tax-free child care policies are also important, as they help 2 million families with their child care, which will make a real difference to them—four times better than the previous Government did with their voucher scheme?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for her question. She is absolutely right that child care is one of the biggest barriers to enabling people, particularly women, to work. The Government’s tax-free child care policies as well as the moves under universal credit to help those on low incomes will be instrumental in helping more and more people. We have already seen the recently published employment figures showing that more women are in work than ever before.
Fiscal Steps (Businesses)
The Government are actively supporting the export investment aspirations of British businesses to ensure that companies have access to world-leading export finance. Budget 2014 announced that UK export finance’s direct lending facility will be doubled to £3 billion and the rate of interest cut by a third to the lowest level allowed by international agreements. UK Trade & Investment’s programme budget has been doubled during this Parliament and the organisation is on track to help 50,000 companies export by 2015—double the number supported in 2010. In addition, our corporation tax reforms are helping investment.
I recently hosted a UKTI exporting event at BAE Systems in Warton in my constituency and I was asked about what funding streams could be available for businesses wishing to access foreign export markets. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the funding is available for Fylde small and small and medium-sized enterprises to expand their businesses into export markets?
My hon. Friend has asked a very good question. As I have said, the Budget doubled UK Export Finance’s direct lending programme. Moreover, earlier this month we announced a £100 million extension of the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, and a £1 billion package to support the Aerospace Technology Institute was announced in the 2013 Budget. The Government are working hard to ensure that we secure the growth that is required by small and medium-sized enterprises in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
The coalition Government promised to rebalance the economy on both a geographical and a sectoral basis, but little progress has been made in increasing business investment and exports as a percentage of GDP. Does not the low level of business investment—which is among the worst in the world—indicate that the business community is not entirely convinced by the UK Government’s economic policy?
The reality is that business investment is increasing, by 8% this year and by 9% next year. We have also just seen some very good figures relating to manufacturing growth over the last year. The Government continue to work to secure a balanced recovery, with the support of a number of measures in the Budget, but we are already making very good progress.
Office for Budget Responsibility
The Chancellor regularly receives representations on a wide range of matters, including the role of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.
The hon. Lady can read my mind, Mr Speaker. Excellent!
This matter has been the subject of some debate, and, as the hon. Lady will know, it has been discussed by the Treasury Committee. I feel that, given that the Office for Budget Responsibility was established so recently, this is not the moment to start considering changing its remit. As has been pointed out by the hon. Lady’s party, it is essential for the OBR to be independent and to confer accountability on the Government, rather than becoming embroiled in party politics at such an early stage.
The Minister ought to be aware that it is not only the Opposition who are promoting this change in policy. The chair of the OBR himself has been sympathetic to it, and the Conservative Chair of the Treasury Committee has also been supportive. Even the Chief Secretary, who is sitting near the Minister on the Front Bench, gave us warm words during the last session of Treasury questions. It seems that the Government are isolated on this issue, but there is still time for that to change.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those points. It is true that there are those who favour the change in principle, including Robert Chote himself, but Mr Chote has also made it clear that, for very good reasons, now may not be the time for it to take place. Amending the OBR’s remit would require primary legislation, and would have huge implications for the resources available to it. We need to consider such action after the next general election, when there will be time for it to be reviewed properly in the House.
The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the economy.
My constituents were very worried indeed when the shadow Chancellor told them four years ago that the Chancellor’s attempts to rebalance the economy would result in a 1 million increase in the number of unemployed people. Would the Chancellor be kind enough to inform the House of the actual impact of his long-term economic plan on the Kettering economy, and to explain how my constituents can look forward to a more secure financial future as a result?
Our economic plan is delivering stability, and it is now also delivering the economic growth and jobs that we all want to see. We are coming out of the very deep mess in which the shadow Chancellor and his team left the country, with the result that in Kettering the claimant count is down by 30%, and 1,500 new jobs have been created in the last year. As my hon. Friend well knows—because, as an assiduous Member of Parliament, he has lobbied hard for them—major improvements have been made in the road and rail infrastructure in the Kettering area, to ensure that there is a balanced economic recovery.
T3. The Chancellor spends taxpayers’ money in Brussels on defending big bank bonuses, but he has not lifted a finger in four years to deal with the falling real wages of millions of ordinary working people. Is he not just presiding over recovery by the few, of the few, and for the few? (903765)
Well, I do not think the hon. Gentleman is Abraham Lincoln, but the point I would make is that we can only see an increase in the living standards of the British people if the British economy is growing and jobs are created. That is exactly what our economic plan is delivering.
T2. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), the House will also recall that earlier this year the shadow Chancellor said:“do I think the level of public spending going into the crisis was a problem for Britain? No, I don’t, nor our deficit, nor our national debt”.As the last Government were spending more than they took in as early as 2002, does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows they still cannot be trusted to take the difficult decisions needed to control public spending and get the deficit down? (903764)
I absolutely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is chuntering away, but this is what he said on the radio this morning: “I don’t think I’ve been too pessimistic in the last few years.” He predicted that the economy would be choked off and that jobs would be lost, but the reverse is happening. In Sleaford and North Hykeham, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, the claimant count has come down and 1,700 jobs have been created.
This Government have taken action against tax avoidance that the last Government never dreamed of taking. We have increased the resources for tackling avoidance and evasion. I will tell the House something else: we do not preside over a tax system in which cleaners pay higher tax rates than the people they work for. That was the tax system that the Labour party voted for, and we have got rid of it.
T5. I thank my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for visiting Cornwall last week, when he will have been impressed by the resourcefulness and enterprise in the Cornish economy. Will he make sure that those charged with managing the Cornwall EU structural fund programme are granted the appropriate delegated powers of intermediate body status in future? (903767)
I was indeed impressed, and also convinced by the strong support from the Cornish businesses I met for the policies the Government are putting in place to secure the long-term future of the British economy. Having announced on that visit the Government’s recognition for the Cornish identity, values and culture under the European convention, it would seem odd not to take seriously the request that there should be a degree of autonomy in the management of the European structural funds programme. I urge my hon. Friend to work with the local enterprise partnership to make that case strongly to the Government, as part of the growth deal process.
T6. With average wages down, ordinary working people are increasingly being driven into the arms of payday loan lenders with their usurious rates of interest. What measures are the Government taking to give ordinary working people access to fair credit? (903768)
We are introducing a cap on payday lending, and that will be an important—[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor chuckles. He was the City Minister; he could have taken that decision at any point when he was—[Interruption.]. Why has it taken so long? Labour had 13 years to do these things—13 years when its team were running the Treasury. That is why people will not listen to what they have to say. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is this: by supporting credit unions, capping payday lending and encouraging competition on the high street, we will help his constituents and many others.
T8. As the economy continues to prosper and grow under the excellent stewardship of our Chancellor, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the tube workers who turned up to work today to keep London moving, and in congratulating the workers who went to work this morning despite the antics of the RMT? (903770)
I join my hon. Friend in thanking those who went to work today on our tube system. The strike is totally irresponsible and unnecessary. It impacts on the economy and makes it difficult for people in London to get to work. [Interruption.] Well, perhaps the reason that so few Labour MPs are at Treasury questions is that they are manning the barricades with the RMT.
T7. My constituent Mr Effard works on a zero-hours contract and does not know from week to week whether he will be given enough hours to be able to cover his bills. Mr Effard wants to work, but admits that in many ways jobseeker’s allowance provided him with more stability. Will the Chancellor admit that the normalisation of these contracts under his Government means that for people such as my constituent a job no longer guarantees financial security? (903769)
The last study on the impact of zero-hours contracts was undertaken by the previous Labour Government, who concluded that they wanted to retain the flexibility that such contracts offer to business. However, we are not satisfied that all the work has been done on this, which is why the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is consulting on what changes potentially need to be made to zero-hours contracts. We have received a lot of representations, we are looking through them and of course we will come forward with a response shortly.
T9. Within a few months, Norwich will no longer be the UK’s largest city not to be connected to the dual carriageway network. Can the Chancellor confirm that the excellent progress of the coalition’s A11 dualling scheme in Norfolk is meeting Treasury expectations, and will he keep this in mind when considering destinations for further infrastructure investment? (903771)
I can confirm that the scheme is meeting our expectations. It is a major scheme for the region, with estimated investment of £102 million. The Secretary of State for Transport, who is in his place, confirms that it is on track and scheduled for completion in December 2014. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that a major milestone was delivered yesterday, as the Elveden bypass opened to traffic for the first time.
This country was borrowing £150 billion a year when this Government came to office, and we are on course to reduce the deficit by a half this year. We are taking—[Interruption.] What exactly is the Labour party’s complaint? Is it that we are not doing enough to reduce the deficit? Labour said that we were doing it too quickly and opposed all the things we proposed in recent years. Labour simply has no explanation for why the economic growth it said could not happen has happened.
T10. Does my right hon. Friend agree that politicians would do well to listen to senior business figures who warn that the anti-business policies put forward by the Labour party would put jobs and investment at risk, and would prevent Britain from having a stronger, more competitive economy? (903772)
The Opposition do have an anti-business agenda, but the Government are taking a different approach. We are reducing business taxes; we have introduced an employment allowance this month which will help small companies with their jobs tax; and of course next year we are taking under-21s out of the jobs tax. Labour’s plan is now not only to increase corporation tax; the party is discussing plans to put up the jobs tax, which would be a total disaster.
Since May 2010, long-term unemployment in my constituency has increased by 27%, long-term youth unemployment has increased by 40% and average real weekly wages have decreased by £116.93. Does the Chancellor want to take credit for that?
Will the Chancellor join me in warmly welcoming this morning’s announcement that Dyson is to invest £250 million in expanding its headquarters in Malmesbury in my constituency and intends to employ 3,000 more people, 2,000 of whom will be high-quality engineers, designers and a large number of apprentices? Does he agree that that is hard evidence that that shrewd operator Sir James Dyson has every possible confidence in the Chancellor’s long-term economic plan?
The jobs being created by Dyson at Malmesbury are excellent news. Many people will know Dyson’s products, but its facility at Malmesbury, which I have visited, is fantastic. We went to James Dyson to ask how we could replicate some of that success elsewhere in our economy. He came forward with proposals—which became our innovation and catapult centres—to bring applied science to commercial success. We are building on the success of Dyson, not just for the people my hon. Friend represents, but for the whole country.
How often have the Chancellor and his colleagues referred to the long-term economic plan during this Question Time? Is it because the shorter-term economic plan that he announced in 2010, allegedly to get rid of the deficit and reduce the debt by next year, has failed and he is instead adopting something much closer to the two-term offer that Labour proposed?
I have not been keeping count of how many times the long-term economic plan has been mentioned, but the hon. Lady has just added two more to the total. That long-term economic plan is reducing the deficit, which is due to be down by a half this year, seeing the creation of 1.5 million jobs in our economy and supporting the growing economy, as we have seen in the GDP numbers today.
The elimination of the deficit by the end of the next Parliament still requires reducing general Government consumption to its 1948 level. Will the Chancellor confirm that that is in the national interest and that the Labour party does not have a snowball’s chance in Hades of achieving it?
The Labour Government left us the highest budget deficit in the peacetime history of this country. The numbers to which my hon. Friend refers assume that there are no savings in welfare. I have made it clear that I think we should consider savings in welfare. Of course, other parties, such as the Labour party, have put forward proposals to increase tax.
Given the great success of the Labour Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales scheme, which is on target to help 16,000 young people into sustainable jobs, mostly in the private sector, will the Chancellor now commit to a similar UK-wide scheme funded by a repeat of Labour’s tax on bankers bonuses?
This week, the help to work scheme came into force, which is helping long-term unemployed people, providing them with more support and ensuring that those who need to sign on daily do so, and that those who need work experience and who need to be in work can take community jobs. We are reforming welfare, and that is part of the approach that we are taking to create jobs in this country by ensuring that work always pays.
There is no doubt that low interest rates have played a crucial part in the Chancellor’s long-term economic plan and brought about today’s widely welcomed news, but low rates will not be good news for those people who have worked hard, done the right thing and now wish to see a safe return on their cash. Will he explain to the House and to savers in my constituency what he is doing to promote their interests by supporting saving?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the low interest rates put in place by the independent Bank of England have made life more difficult for savers, although, of course, the growing economy is good news for savers as well as borrowers. My hon. Friend has warmly supported what we have done in the Budget, not only to give people access to their pension pots but to introduce the new ISA. We have also introduced the new savings bond for pensioners, which will come into effect at the end of the year, with higher interest rates to help those in his constituency who have worked hard and saved hard.
Real wages have fallen by £1,600 since the election, so will the Chancellor now answer the question repeatedly asked by Opposition Members: will wages in real terms be higher or lower at the next election than they were at the last election?
Britain is better off because we are rescuing this country from the economic mess in which the Opposition left us. There is a complete fantasy in the Labour party, demonstrated again in the past hour, that one can have an economic policy that destroys the banks, destroys business and destroys the public finances but somehow helps the people of the country in the process. As we learned to our cost under the previous Labour Government, that is not the case. They wrecked the economy and we are recovering it.
Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary saw the world-class robotics engineers of Anthony Best Dynamics in Bradford-on-Avon. What is he doing to create the conditions in which such successful manufacturers can continue to grow right where they are?
I did indeed see the fantastic work at Anthony Best Dynamics, which supplies 20 out of the top 20 automotive companies in the world. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister and I visited the Transport Research Laboratory to announce £500 million of support over the next five years to ensure that the United Kingdom is the best place in the world to develop and manufacture ultra-low emission vehicles.
The statistics for the hon. Lady’s constituency show that unemployment is down 20%, youth unemployment is down 20% and long-term unemployment is down 20%. In the west midlands, during the boom years—the unsustainable boom—private sector employment actually fell. That points to what went wrong with the previous Government—they put all the bets on the City of London, the shadow Chancellor did not regulate it properly, it blew up and we are now retrieving the situation that he created.
In Rossendale and Darwen, the majority of our large employers are in the construction and manufacturing sectors. People want not just new jobs, but security and stability in those jobs. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the latest figures show that those two sectors are growing at their fastest rate for 10 years?
My hon. Friend, who so ably represents his constituency, is absolutely right that in his constituency, manufacturing is doing better. That is because, in the Budget, we introduced a package of measures to support manufacturing and, above all, through the long-term economic plan, we are providing the economic stability that allows for investment in construction. I have every confidence that, when he takes that argument to the British people, he will see off the red princeling who is standing against him.
Safe and Sanctuary Rooms (Exemption from Under-Occupancy Penalty)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to exempt social housing tenants occupying properties with safe and sanctuary rooms from the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Size Criteria) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013; and for connected purposes.
The bedroom tax, spare room subsidy—call it what you will—has had a significant number of serious and unexpected consequences. The Bill would remove the penalty placed on a victim of domestic violence who has in their property a safe or sanctuary room, or whose property has been adapted to make it secure.
One in four women will have been a victim of domestic abuse. It accounts for 17% of all crime, and two women a week are killed by their partner or a former partner. Safe rooms or safe houses can mean the difference between life and death, yet under current legislation, many women, and indeed some men, cannot afford to remain in the home because it is viewed as having a spare room. If they cannot pay their rent, they will be evicted, and so these victims of abuse not only lose their home, with a safe space within it, but become more vulnerable to further abuse. We are not just talking about a room, but about a place of safety for victims and their children.
In Plymouth alone in 2012-13, there were 6,092 abuse incidents; in Cornwall, there were 7,451—and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Ninety per cent. of the victims were female and 90% of the perpetrators were male. The reduction in support for refuges across the country as Government cuts start to bite is further adding to the problem. Without access to a safe room, there may well be nowhere else for the victims to go. Those victims are deemed to be at high risk, for whom the option of a sanctuary scheme can be a lifesaver, quite literally.
The numbers involved are small and so the spending commitment, when set against the cost of hospitalisation, police time and the need to take children into care, has a cost benefit attached to it. In introducing the Bill, I have consulted social housing providers and support groups such as Women’s Aid.
What are we actually talking about? We are talking about properties, which may have a room with reinforced doors, an alarm installed and other safety equipment. Or we could be talking about a situation whereby the property has been upgraded to ensure that the whole site is secure, but that property has an extra bedroom, which causes it to fall foul of current legislation. The family may well have moved into the house many years previously, perhaps with children of different sexes and therefore needing three bedrooms. The scenario is that the relationship degenerates into one where one partner is abusive and violent, and the house is made safe to protect the victims, but when one of the children leaves, the remaining partner—the victim—is technically under-occupying.
Moving that person and her family into another property will, of course, require a new and smaller property to be upgraded to keep her safe. The costs involved here would be significant. Making a new property safe could involve, as I have already suggested, windows being laminated and reinforced, external doors being strengthened, fire retardant letter boxes, smoke detectors, fire alarms, window alarms and so on. While all those changes come at a considerable cost to the taxpayer, that still does not take account of the distress caused to the family and children involved. They live in a home where violence is an issue and periods of calm are needed. Expecting them to move out, possibly find a new school and build new friendships is hugely destabilising. There is therefore a further human cost to the decision to include sanctuary rooms and properties in the legislation. Indeed, Plymouth city council and Cornwall council have tabled motions with cross-party support that seek to press the Government to consider the exemption. I congratulate Councillors Nicky Williams and Hanna Toms on making such a strong case that councillors from all parties, including Government parties, have given them their support.
I should like to provide a case study to support the argument for changing the legislation. Julia is a survivor of domestic violence who suffered rape, physical assault and harassment at the hands of her partner. Julia and her 10-year-old son live in a three-bedroom house that has been specifically adapted to enable them to live there safely in the light of the risk posed by her abuser. A sanctuary system has been installed in their home, which contains all the things that I have described: reinforced doors and windows and alarms, as well as a room to which Julia can go for safety, with a direct hotline to her local police station. Those measures are necessary to enable Julia and her son to live safely in their home. Under the bedroom tax rules, Julia is only entitled to receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom house. She either has to pay the extra rent and go without essentials, or move to a smaller property. If she cannot pay the extra rent she faces eviction, and with very few two-bedroom council houses available, and none with the safety features that she needs, she faces a grave risk from her abuser, who has threatened to kill them both.
We have to protect women such as Julia. The cost of exempting safe rooms in Plymouth is minimal. Only 39 such rooms have been installed in Plymouth in the past three years, and of the new homes built in the city by Plymouth Community Homes, 13 have full sanctuary rooms available. I applaud Plymouth, Cornwall and indeed Swindon councils for taking a stand on this issue, as they have agreed to use discretionary housing payments to support women living in sanctuary scheme properties, but the money that they have is finite.
Why should a victim of violence be treated differently in Plymouth, Peterborough, Poole or Preston? What they face at present is a postcode lottery, which could mean the difference between life and death. The Select Committee on Work and Pensions, in its report, “Support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system”, made it clear that the criteria applied by local authorities to discretionary housing payments varied enormously. It confirmed that
“there was too much variation in decision-making”.
The Women’s Aid Federation has carried out a detailed study and has identified in England about 1,300 households in 2012-13 which were part of a sanctuary scheme. For each of those households to face a different decision-making scheme depending on their local authority is nonsense. In the 80 authorities surveyed, only about 280 properties in total were affected by the bedroom tax, so the Minister can see that the numbers are very small. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), will say that discretionary housing payments are designed to protect these women—and they are mainly, but not solely, women—but this is a time-limited benefit, and the cost of the assessments and delivery of this support would, I suspect, be easily offset by making the premises exempt in the first place.
The Opposition want to see the abolition of this evil piece of legislation. I am sure the Minister will disagree, but I hope that she will at least consider the addition of this small exemption that will better protect victims of abuse. I remember highlighting in Prime Minister’s questions, using a local example, the application of the bedroom tax to families with children serving in the military. The Prime Minister at the time said that he did not think that that was a problem, but an exemption was subsequently introduced. I do not want to have to come back to the House after a death has occurred because a woman had to leave her house, which had a safe space, because she could not afford to remain there.
We have an opportunity to put a safety net in place that will have a positive impact in cost terms but, more importantly, could ensure that a victim remains safe. I urge the House to support the measure.
I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) on raising the important issue of domestic violence and the protection measures that are needed to help people to stay in their home. A sanctuary scheme is a victim-centred initiative. It is an innovative approach to homelessness prevention that is designed to enable victims of domestic violence to remain in their accommodation when it is safe for them to do so, when that is their choice and when the perpetrator no longer lives in the accommodation.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, who may not have done this before—she would be in a large gathering of colleagues in that category—but she needs to make it clear to the House whether she is opposing the Bill. She is not speaking on it in general terms; she is opposing it. Is that right?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I should have clarified that at the start. The reason for my preamble is that I recognise the issue’s importance and the serious matters that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View raises. However, the point that I would like to put across to her is that the Bill is unnecessary. She may shake her head, but I have long believed that solving the problem is more about the actions that individuals can take rather than creating another law.
I will make this a short speech. The hon. Lady referred to individual cases, and a sanctuary room is often principally the main bedroom and not necessarily a spare room. As the hon. Lady mentioned, such rooms can feature additional security, including window locks, strengthened doors and panic alarms. Freedom of information requests to local authorities have shown that some 280 such houses around the country are currently subject to the spare room subsidy penalty. However, as a significant adaptation has been made to the house, any householder with a sanctuary room can automatically apply for the discretionary housing payment. The Government have provided more than £300 million to ensure that local councils can do what they need to do for local residents. I understand that the 13 households in Plymouth have been granted discretionary housing payments, which is right. With less than one sanctuary room per council area, it is appropriate that we do not just create laws, but rather allow local councils to get on and do the right thing with the discretionary housing payment. The hon. Lady also referred to the general policy of the spare room subsidy, and I point out to her that no such discretion was applied to the private rented sector for the local housing allowance.
While I do not seek to divide the House today, I want to put on the record my concern that the Bill is unnecessary and should be opposed at its later stages.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Alison Seabeck, Andrew Gwynne, Andrew George, Barbara Keeley, Mrs Madeleine Moon, Diana Johnson, Caroline Lucas and Ian Lavery present the Bill
Alison Seabeck accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 202).
Business of the House (No. 1)
I beg to move,
That the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Secretary Patrick McLoughlin relating to the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill and (notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 16) the Motion in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 not later than four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; the Questions may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.
This is the second day of debate relating to the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill and has been arranged in response to calls for more time to consider this important Bill. It has meant that we were able to spend all yesterday considering the Bill itself and we now turn to these important motions.
The business of the House motion allows the House to take the four motions together for debate. All of them relate to the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill that was given a Second Reading yesterday, in particular the establishment and working of the Select Committee for the Bill, so it seems entirely sensible to take them all together. Overall, the House will have had more than 10 hours to debate the Second Reading and the motions, compared with fewer than seven hours for the same debates on Crossrail and HS1. I commend the motion to the House.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on securing the Bill’s Second Reading last night, but it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister, who found the time to reassure his Back Benchers on his EU referendum plans, was too busy to back this hugely significant infrastructure, which is of national importance. High Speed 2 is really important for our country. In the spirit of cross-party working, I agree with much of what the Secretary of State has said.
Yesterday we debated the principle of HS2, and today we will debate the detailed process that Parliament will establish to ensure that the Bill receives the scrutiny it deserves. Any Bill of this size and importance will be controversial, and we must debate it properly. Today’s motions will set up a Select Committee to consider petitions on the Bill, instruct the Committee on the removal of the spur from Old Oak Common to the channel tunnel rail link and allow the hybrid Bill to be carried over into the next Session and the next Parliament.
I am pleased that it was Labour’s pressure that led to this second day of discussions on the Bill. I am very glad, as I am sure are many right hon. and hon. Members, that yesterday we did not have to sit through the night to vote these motions through—the public would certainly not have thanked us for that. Also, Parliament has hardly been overburdened with business for the past six months. Labour supports the Bill and will vote in favour of today’s motions to allow it to proceed. The Bill requires proper scrutiny, in broad daylight and in full public view, so I am glad that today it will get that.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s motion. As he appreciates, I was disappointed not to secure two full parliamentary days to debate the main principles of the Bill, as I think the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) knows only too well. It is regrettable that many colleagues were able to speak for only four minutes yesterday. Indeed, I was unable to allow colleagues to intervene, because I had extra time and did not want to eat into the time for others to speak. I welcome the fact that these discussions have been split over two days, which was a good decision. I think that four hours is a good time. We need to be able to ask questions about the detailed arrangements for the Bill, not least because it is a very complex process, even for some people in the House. I welcome the motion and hope that we can proceed in an orderly fashion.
While I echo the thoughts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), I know that you, Mr Speaker, had expressed an interest in going late last night. I did not want us to have to go late, but I think that it was regrettable that Members were unable to speak for longer than five minutes—four minutes in the case of those who spoke towards the end of the debate—particularly given that today’s proceedings might not go the full distance. Having said that, let us get on with the business.
Question put and agreed to.
High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill: Select Committee
We come now to the four motions on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, which it is appropriate to debate together—[Interruption.] I wondered whether guidance was being proffered, but it was merely an expression of interest, in the form of a genuflection, from the Clerk at the Table. The four motions will indeed be debated together. I hope that I have enlightened the Clerk in that regard and satisfied any curiosity on the part of anybody else.
Amendments have been tabled to motions 3, 4 and 5. The selection of amendments is available from the Vote Office and in the Lobbies. I have selected amendments (b) to (j) to motion 3, amendments (a) to (e) to motion 4 and amendments (a) and (b) to motion 5. Members will be invited to move selected amendments formally at the end of the debate as we dispose of each motion in turn. The debate may range across all four motions, so it can be a seamless debate—I am confident that it will be—addressing any amendments that have been selected to any of those motions. To move the first motion, I call the aviation Minister no less, Mr Robert Goodwill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am also the Minister for phase 1 of HS2.
I beg to move motion 3,
1. That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee.
2. That the following Members be appointed as members of the Select Committee: Mr Henry Bellingham, Sir Peter Bottomley, Ian Mearns, Yasmin Qureshi, Mr Robert Syms and Mr Michael Thornton.
3. (1) That there shall stand referred to the Select Committee
(a) any Petition against the Bill presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office between 29 April 2014 and the closing date (inclusive), during the hours specified in a notice published by the Private Bill Office, and
(b) any Petition which has been presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office during such hours and in which the Petitioners complain of any amendment as proposed in the filled-up Bill or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the Select Committee, being a Petition in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves or through Counsel or Agents.
(2) The closing date for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(a) is-
(a) in a case where the Petition is that of a local authority (except a parish council) or a business, 16 May 2014, and
(b) in any other case, 23 May 2014.
4. That, notwithstanding the practice of the House that appearances on Petitions against an opposed Private Bill be required to be entered at the first meeting of the Select Committee on the Bill, in the case of any such Petitions as are mentioned in paragraph 3(1)(a) above on which appearances are not entered at that meeting, the Select Committee shall appoint a later day or days on which it will require appearances on those Petitions to be entered.
5. That any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Select Committee shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of that person’s Petition, be entitled to be heard in person or through Counsel or Agents upon that person’s Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard through Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition.
6. That in applying the Rules of the House in relation to parliamentary agents, any reference to a petitioner in person shall be treated as including a reference to a duly authorised member or officer of an organisation, group or body.
7. That the Select Committee have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place and to report from day to day the Minutes of Evidence taken before it.
8. That three be the Quorum of the Select Committee.
With this, we shall discuss the following:
Amendment (b), at end of paragraph 3(1)(b), insert:
‘(c) any other Petition, which, while initially not conforming to the rules for Petitions, has been resubmitted within seven days of the Petitioner receiving notice and explanation of any defect in their Petition,’.
Amendment (c), leave out paragraph 3(2)(a) and (b) and insert ‘10 June 2014.’.
Amendment (d), at end of paragraph 3(2)(b), insert
‘3A. For the purposes of petitioning on the Bill, electronic deposit of petitions shall be permitted.’.
Amendment (e), at end of paragraph 3(2)(b), insert
‘3B. For the purposes of petitioning on the Bill, the £20 fee shall be waived.’.
Amendment (f), at end of paragraph 3(2)(b), insert
‘3B. For the purposes of petitioning on the Bill, electronic money transfer for payment of petitioning fees shall be facilitated.’.
Amendment (g), in paragraph 5, after ‘in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House’, insert
‘and shall be given six weeks’ notice of the date on which the Committee shall hear their Petition’.
Amendment (h), at end of paragraph 5, insert:
‘5A. That each Petitioner whose Petition has been referred to the Select Committee shall be consulted on whether they wish to be heard at Parliament or in the parliamentary constituency in which they reside, and that the Select Committee shall seek to accommodate all requests to be heard in the relevant parliamentary constituency.’.
Amendment (i), at end of paragraph 5, insert
‘5A. The Committee shall visit each parliamentary constituency on the proposed route to look at the route so proposed.’.
Amendment (j), in paragraph 8, leave out ‘three’ and insert ‘four’.
Motion 4—High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill: Instruction—
That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to which the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill is committed to deal with the Bill as follows—
1. The Committee shall, before concluding its proceedings, amend the Bill by
(a) leaving out provision relating to the spur from Old Oak Common to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and
(b) making such amendments to the Bill as it thinks fit in consequence of the amendments made by virtue of sub-paragraph (a).
2. The Committee shall not hear any Petition to the extent that it relates to whether or not there should be a spur from Old Oak Common to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
3.–(1) The Committee shall treat the principle of the Bill, as determined by the House on the Bill’s Second Reading, as comprising the matters mentioned in sub-paragraph (2); and those matters shall accordingly not be at issue during proceedings of the Committee.
(2) The matters referred to in sub-paragraph (1) are:
(a) the provision of a high speed railway between Euston in London and a junction with the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre in Staffordshire, with a spur from Water Orton in Warwickshire to Curzon Street in Birmingham and intermediate stations at Old Oak Common and Birmingham Interchange, and
(b) in relation to the railway set out on the plans deposited in November 2013 in connection with the Bill in the office of the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Private Bill Office of the House of Commons, its broad route alignment.
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.
Amendment (a), after paragraph 1(b), insert:
‘(c) making such amendments to the Bill as are necessary to provide complete protection to any areas of outstanding natural beauty, classified ancient woodland, sites of special scientific interest and national monuments.’.
Amendment (b), at end of paragraph 1(b), insert
‘1A. The Committee shall consider whether the statutory and non-statutory provisions for compensation available to those who may be injuriously affected by the exercise of the powers conferred by the Bill merit any change.’.
Amendment (e), in paragraph 2, leave out from ‘whether’ to ‘Link’, and insert
‘the spur from Old Oak Common to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link referred to in the Bill; but the Committee is not prevented by this instruction from hearing any Petition relating to the need for the Bill to:
(a) include an alternative to the spur;
(b) facilitate the provision at a later date of the spur; or
(c) facilitate the provision at a later date of an alternative to the spur, by reason only that (a), (b) or (c) shares some of the same characteristics as the spur or would encompass facilitation of the spur referred to in the Bill.’.
Amendment (c), leave out paragraph 3.
Amendment (d), at end of paragraph 3(2)(b), insert:
‘4. The Committee shall comment on and report to the House for its consideration any issue relating to the environmental impact of the railway transport system for which the Bill provides that is raised in a Petition against the Bill, including whether alternative or additional environmental protections and mitigations should in the Committee’s opinion be further examined.’.
[Relevant document: Thirteenth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, on HS2 and the environment, HC 1076.]
Motion 5—High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill: Carry-Over—
That, notwithstanding the practice of the House, the following provisions shall apply to proceedings on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill:
Suspension at end of this Session
1. Further proceedings on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill shall be suspended from the day on which this Session of Parliament ends (“the current Session”) until the next Session of Parliament (“Session 2014-15”).
2. If a Bill is presented in Session 2014-15 in the same terms as those in which the Bill stood when proceedings on it were suspended in the current Session–
(a) the Bill so presented shall be ordered to be printed and shall be deemed to have been read the first and second time;
(b) the Bill shall stand committed to a Select Committee of the same Members as the members of the Committee when proceedings on the Bill were suspended in the current Session;
(c) any Instruction of the House to the Committee in the current Session shall be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill in Session 2014-15;
(d) all Petitions presented in the current Session which stand referred to the Committee and which have not been withdrawn, and any Petition presented between the day on which the current Session ends and the day on which proceedings on the Bill are resumed in Session 2014-15 in accordance with this Order, shall stand referred to the Committee in Session 2014-15;
(e) any Minutes of Evidence taken and any papers laid before the Committee in the current Session shall stand referred to the Committee in Session 2014-15;
(f) only those Petitions mentioned in sub-paragraph (d), and any Petition which may be presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office and in which the Petitioners complain of any proposed additional provision or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the Committee in Session 2014-15, shall stand referred to the Committee;
(g) any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Committee in Session 2014-15 shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of that person’s Petition, be entitled to be heard in person or through Counsel or Agents upon the Petition provided that it is prepared and signed and in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard through Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition;
(h) the Committee shall have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from day to day Minutes of Evidence taken before it;
(i) three shall be the Quorum of the Committee;
(j) any person registered in the current Session as a parliamentary agent entitled to practise as such in opposing Bills only who, at the time when proceedings on the Bill were suspended in the current Session, was employed in opposing the Bill shall be deemed to have been registered as such a parliamentary agent in Session 2014-15;
(k) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or dispensed with in the current Session, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in Session 2014-15.
Suspension at end of this Parliament
3. If proceedings on the Bill are resumed in accordance with paragraph 2 but are not completed before the end of Session 2014-15, further proceedings on the Bill shall be suspended from the day on which that Session ends until the first Session of the next Parliament (“Session 2015-16”).
4. If a Bill is presented in Session 2015-16 in the same terms as those in which the Bill stood when proceedings on it were suspended in Session 2014-15–
(a) the Bill so presented shall be ordered to be printed and shall be deemed to have been read the first and second time;
(b) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with or dispensed with in the current Session or in Session 2014-15, shall be deemed to have been complied with or (as the case may be) dispensed with in Session 2015-16; and
(c) the Bill shall be dealt with in accordance with–
(i) paragraph 5, if proceedings in Select Committee were not completed when proceedings on the Bill were suspended,
(ii) paragraph 6, if proceedings in Public Bill Committee were begun but not completed when proceedings on the Bill were suspended,
(iii) paragraph 7, if the Bill was waiting to be considered when proceedings on it were suspended,
(iv) paragraph 8, if the Bill was waiting for third reading when proceedings on it were suspended, or
(v) paragraph 9, if the Bill has been read the third time and sent to the House of Lords.
5. If this paragraph applies–
(a) the Bill shall stand committed to a Select Committee of such Members as were members of the Committee when proceedings on the Bill were suspended in Session 2014-15;
(b) any Instruction of the House to the Committee in the current Session or in Session 2014-15 shall be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill in Session 2015-16;
(c) all Petitions presented in the current Session or in Session 2014-15 which stand referred to the Committee and which have not been withdrawn, and any Petition presented between the day on which Session 2014-15 ends and the day on which proceedings on the Bill are resumed in Session 2015-16 in accordance with this Order, shall stand referred to the Committee in Session 2015-16;
(d) any Minutes of Evidence taken and any papers laid before the Committee in the current Session or in Session 2014-15 shall stand referred to the Committee in Session 2015-16;
(e) only those Petitions mentioned in sub-paragraph (c), and any Petition which may be presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office and in which the Petitioners complain of any proposed additional provision or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the Committee in Session 2015-16, shall stand referred to the Committee;
(f) any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Committee in the first Session of the new Parliament shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard in person or through Counsel or Agents upon the Petition provided that it is prepared and signed and in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard through Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition;
(g) the Committee shall have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from day to day Minutes of Evidence taken before it;
(h) three shall be the Quorum of the Committee;
(i) any person registered (or deemed by paragraph 2(j) to be registered) in Session 2014-15 as a parliamentary agent entitled to practise as such in opposing Bills only who, at the time when proceedings on the Bill were suspended in Session 2014-15, was employed in opposing the Bill shall be deemed to have been registered as such a parliamentary agent in Session 2015-16.
6. If this paragraph applies, the Bill shall be deemed to have been reported from the Select Committee and to have been re-committed to a Public Bill Committee.
7. If this paragraph applies–
(a) the Bill shall be deemed to have been reported from the Select Committee and from the Public Bill Committee; and
(b) the Bill shall be set down as an order of the day for consideration.
8. If this paragraph applies-
(a) the Bill shall be deemed to have been reported from the Select Committee and from the Public Bill Committee and to have been considered; and
(b) the Bill shall be set down as an order of the day for third reading.
9. If this paragraph applies, the Bill shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages in this House.
10. The references in paragraphs 1 and 3 above to further proceedings do not include proceedings under Standing Order 224A(8) (deposit of supplementary environmental information).
11. That the above Orders be Standing Orders of the House.
Amendment (a), in paragraph 2(i), leave out ‘three’ and insert ‘four’.
Amendment (b), in paragraph 5(h), leave out ‘three’ and insert ‘four’.
Motion 6—Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009
That the Chair of the select committee appointed to consider the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill is specified for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.
Yesterday the House voted comprehensively in favour of the principle of a high-speed railway between London and the west midlands. Today we turn to the practicalities of how the parliamentary process for the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill will work. We have four motions before us this afternoon. The first is a motion to establish a Select Committee to hear petitions against the Bill; the second is an instruction to that Committee to clarify the principle of the Bill for its purposes; the third is a motion to allow the Bill to be carried over into the next Session, and also into the first Session of the next Parliament in 2015-16; and the fourth allows the payment of a salary to the Chair of the Select Committee, in the same way as for any other Select Committee Chair.
The second motion refers the Bill to a Select Committee of six members, as nominated in the motion. The motion also sets the period in which petitions against the Bill need to be submitted to be heard by the Committee. The period starts today and concludes on 16 May 2014 for petitions from local authorities, other than parish councils, and businesses.
If that is the case, I stand corrected. The petition period will then be extended by an additional day. I had not been made aware of that by the House authorities. Of course, the way the petitions are controlled and the way the Committee carries out its work is a matter for the House; it is not one over which Ministers can have any influence.
The period closes on 23 May 2014—or perhaps 24 May—for members of the public, parish councils and other groups or organisations. Such an approach of having different periods for different types of petitioner is standard for hybrid Bills, having been used for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 and the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. That allows 16 days and 23 days respectively for petitions, which is longer than most other hybrid Bills to date.
My hon. Friend and I go back a long way, and I know him to be a true Yorkshireman who will look after money well. On a practical point, where does the £20 fee for petitions go, what is it used for and can it be presented only in cash, or can payments by cheque or credit card be accepted?
That will be a matter for the House authorities, but I am sure that it would be acceptable to pay the £20 in cash. I know that one of the amendments refers to electronic payments and tabling, which we will resist. The money will ultimately go to the taxpayer, as the House is a taxpayer-funded authority. We do not believe that a fee of £20 would be prohibitive for any organisation or individual seeking to petition the Committee.
Can the Minister explain why there is a £20 fee? HS2 Ltd, which is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on consultants, does not have to make any contribution to the cost of running the House, so why should individuals? Certainly, for some of the individuals in my constituency who will see their homes demolished, £20 is a rather large part of their weekly income.
HS2 itself has spent considerable taxpayer funds on trying to mitigate many of the environmental implications of the line, which might well head off petitioners. Indeed, I was speaking with representatives of the Ramblers Association only the other week, when we went on a 10-mile ramble in my constituency. They told me that they were hopeful that, because of the engagement with HS2, they might not have to petition, as their concerns had been answered. HS2 has been engaging with a number of potential petitioners, including local authorities, to try to allay some of their concerns and fears without the need to petition. That money has been well spent in addressing those issues.
We do not believe that the £20 fee is prohibitive. Of course, if some of the amendments were agreed to today, we could have a situation in which e-petitioning was allowed, and at the same time no fee was payable, and we could find the work of that Committee being frustrated by large amounts of electronic petitioning, perhaps done in a vexatious way designed to hinder the progress of the Bill, rather than to improve it, as the petitioning process is designed to do.
I can allay my hon. Friend’s concerns. Yes, a group of people can petition together and only one fee is payable. The people who petition can appear at the Committee, and they can be represented by an agent or by a number of people from that group. I do not feel that the fee is prohibitive. It is set by the House and has not increased since 1988. It is a matter for the House to administer these costs, not a matter for the Government. Members might like to raise the question with Mr Speaker, as it is a House matter.
We have already made it clear that we do not expect the Committee to conclude its work, which must be done thoroughly and in a way that we believe responds adequately to concerns raised in petitions. The Secretary of State indicated that he expects it to continue after the next general election, which is why there is a double carry-over motion before the House. That means that the Committee can continue its work not only into the next Session of this Parliament, but beyond the general election. It is a matter for the Committee how it organises its work and how it considers the petitions. That is not a matter for me as the Minister.
I think the Minister just said that he does not expect the Committee to conclude. In other words, it will go on for ever and ever. That is what the motion allows for, yet later today we will be asked to contribute to the pay of the person who is to chair the Committee. We are going to be paying this person in perpetuity, yet it seems that the Minister has nothing to account for.
Any motions passed in the House today can be amended in future by the House. If, for example, the Committee was not sitting and it was felt that the Chairman therefore did not deserve his fee, that could be revisited by the House. In view of the precedents of previous hybrid Bills, we believe that the period of time needed will take us past the next general election—I hope not far past the next general election, but given the number of petitions that we expect and the work that the Committee will have to carry out, it has the possibility of sitting during the recess to try to improve the speed at which it can carry out that work. This is a reasonable way of going forward and of giving that Committee the resources and the time it needs to do its job thoroughly.
Before the hon. Gentleman intervenes, let me say that I feel sure beyond doubt that the Minister was trying to be helpful to the House, but in a similar vein perhaps I ought to emphasise to colleagues that in respect of the matter of fees or charges, appertaining as they do to a private Bill, such matters would ordinarily be raised by right hon. and hon. Members with the Chairman of Ways and Means, who oversees such matters. A visit even to the Private Bill Office might be beneficial to Members. What I am saying politely to colleagues is that there is no great merit in raising the matter with me, notwithstanding the good intentions of the Minister’s intervention.
I have almost forgotten what I was going to ask after that rather lengthy—but welcome—contribution to the debate. The Minister has already said that the Committee that we are appointing—we are naming the members of the Committee in the motion before the House—will continue after the general election. It is quite clear that this is providing a safe berth for a Conservative Member of the House. When we win the general election next May, will the Committee membership and the chairmanship automatically change party?
The membership of the Committee is a matter for the House. When after the next election we have a majority Conservative Government, if necessary we could revisit that. It is a matter for the House. We are voting on it today and there is nothing written in stone today that cannot be changed in future by a further motion put before the House and voted on.
The motion sets out that anyone who submits a valid petition is entitled to be heard by the Select Committee, either in person, or through a parliamentary agent or counsel. The motion gives some latitude to organisations petitioning to authorise different officers as their representative before the Select Committee, should they need to do so. The motion provides for the Committee to meet during recess should it wish to do so, and also to hold its hearings away from Parliament if it so wishes. I know that one of the amendments tabled refers to its meeting in other parts of the country. It would be for the Committee to decide if it would be useful to do so.
However, our hope is that people will not feel the need to petition. HS2 Ltd has produced a significant number of information papers which are published on its website. These attempt to address the key concerns that people have about the project, such as the impacts of construction and noise. I encourage hon. Members and their constituents to read those papers, as this might stop unnecessary petitions.
It is established practice that the Select Committee cannot hear petitions against the principle of the Bill. That principle was agreed by the whole House on Second Reading yesterday, and it would not be appropriate for a Select Committee to consider changes that might undermine the decision made by the whole House. This instruction, therefore, sets out the principle of the Bill for the Select Committee: the provision of a high-speed railway between Euston and a junction at the west coast main line at Handsacre in Staffordshire, with a spur from Water Orton in Warwickshire to Curzon Street in Birmingham. The principle also includes the intermediate stations at Old Oak Common and Birmingham Interchange located near the airport, and the broad route alignment set out in the plans and sections deposited with the Bill. This principle should give the Committee sufficient scope to address the issues of petitioners without sacrificing the desired capability of the railway to give the benefits expected.
The instruction also addresses the Secretary of State’s decision to remove the HS1 link. The removal of the link was agreed as part of Second Reading yesterday. The instruction, therefore, requires an amendment to be made to remove the link and then treats the Bill as though the link were not included in the principle. Therefore, there is no need for people opposed to the link to petition against the link, as it will be removed. It is also not possible for the Committee to hear petitions in favour of a link, in the same way as it is not possible for the Committee to hear petitions in favour of an extension to Newquay, for example, or anywhere else. That is beyond the principle of the Bill.
I agree that it should not be for the Committee to devise an alternative link, but can the Minister clarify whether the Committee could hear petitions for passive provision, which would future-proof the project if a link were deemed desirable at a future date?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Indeed, there is already passive provision in the first phase to allow the Heathrow spur to be constructed, should it be decided to go forward in that way. From an engineering perspective, it would be very expensive and disruptive to try to join that link. Similarly, in relation to the passive provision for the HS1 link, it is ultimately for the Committee to decide whether or not a petition should be heard. The Committee may choose to hear petitions relating to a future link not being precluded, but the work of the Committee is about the railway before it and it cannot get bogged down considering the merits of links that may or may not happen.
Much as I welcome the dropping of the preposterous HS2-HS1 link, as do all the people whose lives would have been ruined by it, in view of the fact that until about three weeks ago HS2 was saying that there was no possibility of dropping the link, no one in the area believes a word that HS2 says. I warn the Minister of that. The motion says that the Committee shall not hear a petition if it relates to the link. That is fine, because the link has been dropped. Supposing that, after the Committee stage had concluded, the House as a whole decided to reinstate the link; would people then be allowed to petition? If not, they would think they were being swindled by officialdom, as would indeed be the case.
I hope that, following the decision to scrap the link, I have a few more friends in Camden than before. If the Committee were to decide to make changes to the Bill that affected potential petitioners who were not affected before, there would be another opportunity for them to petition, and a similar period would be allowed for that to happen.
Let me underline that for a whole variety of reasons that I will not go into but the right hon. Gentleman will understand, we do not believe that the HS1-HS2 link represents value for money or that it is practical. There are all sorts of logistical problems. From a security perspective, the journey would have to be designated as international because we could not have a situation where some people on the train had gone through passport control and some had not. There might be rather frugally minded Yorkshiremen such as me who decided that, rather than buy a through-train ticket to Paris, they would buy two tickets and make the short stroll between Euston and St Pancras, or get the underground, or even use some other means such as a travelator, which could transport people quickly and easily between those two locations.
I am pleased to hear the Minister refer to a travelator for efficient and easy travel. He said that the HS1-HS2 link would be an international route and everyone would have to go through passport control. Will he consider the possibility of domestic services regarding a future link? Research from Greengauge 21, paid for by Kent and Essex county councils, among others, suggests that demand for those services would be very substantial and potentially much higher than for international travel.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. However, having analysed this carefully and brought in Sir David Higgins, who did the work for us and has a wealth of experience in major projects of this sort, we concur with him that the link does not represent value for money and we have therefore scrapped it; the House voted last night to do so. Although there may be an opportunity for the hybrid Bill Committee to consider passive provision so as not to obviate any potential future link, it is certainly not in our plans at the moment—nor, having heard the comments of Opposition Front Benchers, would Labour wish to press for it, should there be, God forbid, a change of Government at the next election.
About 20 years ago, I chaired the Committee on the hybrid Croydon Tramlink Bill. At that time, we accepted that there could be changes to the Government’s proposals and recommendations could be made. Is the Minister saying that no changes are going to be allowed if people want to introduce a spur or different forms of link?
I am saying that if the hybrid Bill Committee proposed changes that the Government agreed to, there would be a further opportunity for people who are directly affected by those changes to petition. The Bill cannot be changed in a way that affects people without their getting a second bite of the cherry, because they may not have considered petitioning in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman is getting himself back on to my Christmas card list, from which he was rejected last night. Are the Government completely closed to the idea of a different, better HS1-HS2 link than the one we rightly rejected last night?
Any link between HS1 and HS2 is not part of the Bill that was before us last night or the provisions we are considering today, and we as a Government are certainly not planning to look at it in the near future. This project will be in operation for many centuries, we hope, and who knows what might happen in future? At the moment, the Government’s position is absolutely clear: we have abandoned the link—we voted on that in the House last night—and we do not wish to revisit it. We will be looking into making it easier to get across from Euston to St Pancras. Although it is not a long walk and there is an underground train service, there may be better ways of dealing with the situation, and HS2 is looking into that.
I will not pre-empt what I have to say when I move my amendment, but will the Minister clarify what he meant when he talked about passive provision and referred to Heathrow? Is he saying that passive provision is already in existence, or would it have to be made?
The passive provision for the Heathrow spur is included in the first phase. That is because if the spur goes ahead—it is already part of the second phase that is being consulted on—breaking into the line to put in a link would be very expensive and disruptive. The spur—the passive provision for the Heathrow link—is part of the first phase. We are consulting on the second phase, part of which is the Heathrow spur.
I must point out that the first phase of HS2 includes a very good connection to Heathrow airport via Old Oak Common, with up to eight trains an hour and 11 or 12-minute journey times. That is a very good way of getting to Heathrow and to other stations served by Crossrail. Old Oak Common is currently a little-known backwater, but very soon, I promise, it will become as famous as Waterloo, St Pancras or Victoria stations and be an integral part of this country’s and this capital’s transport system.
May I make this clear? The passive provision for Heathrow is already in place, and passive provision to provide for a potential HS1-HS2 link could be put into the legislation as it is now. It would have to be put in because it is not there by virtue of the Heathrow passive provision, and it could not be added by dint of the Committee deciding to do so.
Yes, I think the hon. Lady has got it right. There is an opportunity, should anyone wish to take it, to petition the Committee to put in some passive provision for a future connection. We have commissioned HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to look at options for better connecting the rail network to HS1, but any conclusions that require powers would not be taken forward in this Bill.
On the carry-over motion, hybrid Bills can be carried over Prorogations because Standing Order 80A does not apply. This is a completely standard part of the process for hybrid Bills, as they generally take longer than public Bills.
Is one study taking place or two? There is the question whether we have a travelator-type arrangement to connect Euston and St Pancras for passengers going from HS1 to HS2, but is there a separate question of how we connect HS1 to the broader railway network, which may be a case of a train-in-a-tunnel HS1-HS2 link for the future?
Those are two separate matters that are mutually exclusive. We are looking at whether better provision can be made for the short journey between Euston and St Pancras for those who wish to continue their journey internationally, or indeed to use King’s Cross or St Pancras for domestic journeys. A separate process is going on whereby HS2 Ltd and Network Rail are looking at how we can better improve the connectivity of HS1. That is being done in the light of the decision to abandon the HS1-HS2 connection, which was very popular in places such as Camden.
The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill was carried over two Prorogations. The Crossrail Bill was carried over two Prorogations and a Dissolution for a general election. The House is due to prorogue shortly for the Queen’s Speech—
I haven’t a clue. Even when I was in the Whips Office, we did not get to hear about that.
Because of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, we know with a degree of certainty when Parliament will be dissolved for the next general election. Although we had hoped that the hybrid Bill would secure Royal Assent before the next general election, I am clear that in all likelihood it will not do so.
To be absolutely honest with the hon. Gentleman, many people who volunteered to consider the Crossrail Bill did not realise what a commitment it would be. We have found six Members—some of whom have been volunteered—who are prepared to put in the time and commitment to do this, and I think we will be well served by them. We are very grateful to them for putting their names forward. It would be a big ask to find a large Committee to do this work, given the large amount of time those Members will have to take out of the other parliamentary duties they carry out on their constituents’ behalf. We are very grateful that they are volunteers rather than pressed men.
As I understand it, this is a general debate about all the issues, as encapsulated in the motions and the various amendments. Next week will be my 30th year in Parliament and, having spent a lot of my previous life dealing with hybrid and other Bills, I entirely concur with my hon. Friend on the burdens involved in the privilege of being given the opportunity to take such an active part in the Select Committee stage. Does he accept that there is recognition in one of the Bill’s schedules for property bonds, and does he agree that the Select Committee should take that issue into account when it decides what kind of compensation should be paid?
It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the compensation package at this stage, given that consultation is still taking place, but we recently announced a package that I believe to be generous, particularly in rural areas. It also has to be fair to the taxpayer, who will ultimately pick up the bill, and the compensation is in marked contrast to that which other people around the country might receive if a bypass, new railway spur or goods marshalling yard were to be built in their area.
The carry-over motion reflects the certainty provided by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. It allows the Bill to carry over into the fourth Session of this Parliament and the first Session of the next. That will avoid the need unnecessarily to use up the House’s time with another carry-over motion later in the year when it is clear to everyone when the general election will take place and that this Bill will not have secured Royal Assent by that point.
The motion provides for suspension of the Bill from the end of the Session, but that will not prevent the depositing of petitions after Prorogation should it precede the end of the petitioning period. The motion also provides for the continuity of the membership of the Select Committee and maintains any instructions given to the Committee by this House, the standing of roll B agents and all the elements of whatever progress the Bill has made from each Session into the next. In providing for carry-over into the next Parliament, the motion caters for the fact that the Bill could have reached a range of different stages by that point. In each case, the motion provides that the progress made up to the end of the fourth Session be carried over into the next Parliament.
As the House is aware, the Chairs of departmental Select Committees are paid for the additional responsibilities the role brings, as allowed under section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. The role of the Chair of a hybrid Bill Select Committee is no less demanding —indeed, in some cases it may be more demanding—and the Chair of the Crossrail Select Committee was paid a salary equivalent to that of a departmental Select Committee Chair. The motion allows the Chair of the HS2 Select Committee to be paid an equivalent salary, and I am sure the House will agree that that is appropriate, given the significant responsibility the role carries.
In conclusion, I commend the motions to the House. HS2 is a vital national project and it is important that we make swift progress. However, it is equally important to ensure that those affected by the railway have appropriate opportunity to have their say. I believe that the motions strike the right balance. They establish a Select Committee with the flexibility to hear and deal with the concerns of those directly and specially affected, but they do not import unreasonable delay. Everyone wants certainty—petitioner, promoter and the general public—and I believe that the motions provide that certainty and that they will allow people to have their say, have their issues addressed and get on with their lives. I think that everyone in the House wants to see that, and I hope they will support the motions.
Last night the House gave its clear endorsement to the principle of building a new, high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham. We urgently need that additional track capacity to meet the growth in passenger numbers, to enable new commuter services and to provide the basis for a high-speed network to connect the great cities of the midlands and the north. The case for building a new north-south line was robust when the previous Labour Government launched their Command Paper in 2010, and it remains robust now, especially in the light of the continued growth in demand for rail travel.
Although the principle of the Bill was endorsed by the House last night, it is right that more time has been allocated to debate the various motions before us today. Hybrid Bill procedures put major rail projects through a very intensive process of scrutiny—much more so than in many other European countries—and I know that veterans of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Crossrail Bills would attest to that fact. Those procedures mean that there will be opportunities to put in place additional mitigation measures through the petitioning process. It is vital that, where there are remaining environmental challenges or concerns over the impact of construction work, those petitioners receive a fair hearing.
This House has now voted in favour of the principle of building HS2 from London to Birmingham, but, given the Government’s rather leisurely pace in introducing this Bill, there is now no prospect of it receiving Royal Assent before the election. It therefore makes sense to vote on the carry-over motion now, so that the process can continue into the next Parliament. That will also ensure certainty for people along the route who are getting ready to submit their petitions.
We are also being asked to vote on the Select Committee motion. I want to put on record the gratitude of, undoubtedly, the whole House to the hon. Members for N