House of Commons
Thursday 27 November 2014
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
culture, media and sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What representations he has received from secondary ticketing platforms and those working on their behalf on amendments on secondary ticketing made to the Consumer Rights Bill in the House of Lords. (906268)
I have not had any specific discussions with secondary ticketing platforms on the amendments made to the Consumer Rights Bill in the other place.
May I offer my condolences on the very sad loss this morning of the cricketer Phil Hughes? The thoughts of the whole House will be with him and his family this morning.
The Secretary of State was very keen on our ideas to improve transparency in the secondary ticketing market when I and colleagues met him in July to discuss the report of the all-party group on ticket abuse. He must therefore be delighted, as I am, that their lordships have added a new clause to the Consumer Rights Bill to deliver exactly that, although, sadly, against the Government Whip. Will he lobby his counterpart at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to leave that new clause in the Bill, so that we can finally put fans first?
I was pleased to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the issue, but she knows, because we discussed it then, that the previous Labour Government, this Government and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport have looked at the issue and all have concluded that new legislation is not necessary. Event organisers can seek their own solutions. However, I am of course looking carefully at the new clause that was accepted in the other place and will respond to it fully in due course.
The new clause is similar to a new clause that was defeated in this House when the Bill was going through the Commons. Should not the elected Chamber get its way, rather than the unelected Chamber? Is not this all about allowing event organisers to void or cancel tickets and place people on blacklists, denying them any guaranteed refund, which has nothing to do with transparency or protecting the interests of consumers?
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He and others will know that I have said that I believe that the calls for legislation have been misguided. Criminalising people and preventing them from selling tickets that they have purchased is a heavy-handed approach and is inconsistent with wider consumer rights to buy and sell items that they freely own.
May I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) regarding Phil Hughes and also mention Sean Abbott, the bowler involved in that tragic accident, who must be feeling terrible?
The Secretary of State’s response is just not good enough. The Government have failed to act to protect rugby world cup fans and now the same is happening to cricket fans. Ashes tickets for the Lord’s test are on sale on the secondary ticketing market for £1,500, yet the ballot and the prices will not be available until next month. What is more worrying is that the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union and the Lawn Tennis Association all wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to warn him that unless the Government act they will be forced to put their prices up to secondary ticketing levels, so at least the money that is being made can be invested back into sport. That may be music to the Government’s free market ears but it is a disaster for sports fans on moderate and low incomes. When will the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport get a grip and act? He must do it quickly.
The hon. Gentleman knows all too well that when his party was in office it failed to act on the issue. He will also know that the previous Government looked at the issue in detail, as did the Select Committee at that time, and all concluded that it is for event organisers to take action. With newer technology, and technology improving all the time, there are probably more ways to do so.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that existing secondary market companies already provide safe and secure means for ticket holders to resell unwanted tickets and that they provide a level of consumer protection that will not be available if people are forced to go on to the black market on the streets?
First World War Commemoration
The events my Department hosted on 4 August set a fitting tone and this month my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a memorable and dignified programme of events to commemorate the Gallipoli campaign. We are also offering further programmes that allow local communities to mark the centenary in their own way.
In this year of the 100th anniversary of the first world war, it is of course right that the ambassador of Ireland was asked to lay a wreath for the first time ever at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. As the Secretary of State is responsible for the arrangements for the national service in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday, will he please explain why it is still not possible for representatives of Her Majesty’s territories and dependencies to lay their own wreaths in their own right, and will he undertake to put this right for next year?
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend that it was absolutely right to invite the Government of Ireland to lay a wreath at the national remembrance day service. It was an opportunity to mark our nations’ shared sacrifice. My hon. Friend will also be aware that Her Majesty the Queen lays a wreath on behalf of our country and the Crown dependencies and the Foreign Secretary does so on behalf of British overseas territories. I have to tell my hon. Friend that at this point we have no plans to change these arrangements.
Christmas eve is the 200th anniversary of the ending of the North American war between the United States and the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is also worthy of a fitting tribute, perhaps of celebration and not just commemoration?
Our perceptions of the first world war have been shaped by historians but also by the artists of the time. The team at 14-18 NOW, in particular Jenny Waldman and Vikki Heywood, have helped artists today shape our commemorations of this important event. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London is part of the 14-18 NOW work and I am sure the Secretary of State will want to join me in putting on record the thanks of the entire House to the incredible team of volunteers who have made this happen.
I wholeheartedly join my right hon. Friend in commending them for the work they have done. The poppies at the Tower captured the imagination of the whole nation. I had the privilege of planting a poppy myself, and I was pleased that the Government could act with 14-18 NOW to make sure part of that poppy display will now tour the country over the next four years.
A lot of the questions today have been about national acts of remembrance, but I hope Members will take the opportunity to remember the 100th anniversary in their own constituencies. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Brent Stevenson, a monumental mason from Darwen, who, free of charge, is providing a new world war one memorial in the centre of Darwen?
Yes, I will. I have heard of the work Brent Stevenson is doing and I wholeheartedly commend that. My Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government are helping to provide funding and other ways of support to local communities to commemorate the war in their own way.
The tourism industry was worth an estimated £127 billion gross value added to the UK economy in 2013. Some £58 billion of this is direct contribution. Tourism supports 3.1 million jobs in the UK.
Christmas lights are being turned on across the whole of my High Peak constituency at the moment, with the village of Castleton proving a particular draw to tourists from all around. Does my hon. Friend agree that tourism in this country is a year-round phenomenon, not just for the summer, and consequently provides a huge boost to my constituency and the whole country? Furthermore, will she join me in paying tribute to all the volunteers across High Peak and the country who spend this time of year putting up Christmas trees to create the festive atmosphere that so many people enjoy?
I agree with my hon. Friend: tourism is certainly a year-round industry across the UK. I am also absolutely delighted to pay tribute to all the volunteers and helpers across his beautiful constituency who work so hard to ensure everybody enjoys the festive season.
Coastal towns are an important part of our tourism economy, and I am pleased to say that the Government have recently announced £10 million of funding for tourism in the north of England. I hope that the resort of Fylde will get involved with the fund, which will bring even more tourists to our fantastic northern coastal towns.
We do not have any coastline in Huddersfield, but we do have more—[Interruption.] Hang on, guys! We have more listed buildings than most towns, including York and Cambridge. There are 1,500 in the centre of Huddersfield and another 1,500 in greater Huddersfield. We know the value of tourism, and we know that it depends on the cultural life of our communities. However, that cultural life is being swept away by Government cuts, with a cruel Treasury cutting, cutting, cutting. Many of our great exhibitions and festivals are being cut to the bone. What is the Minister going to do about that?
The great opportunity in the tourism market in the years ahead will be in attracting Chinese tourists. Britain has been improving in its ability to do that, and I know that the Minister and the Secretary of State have taken a personal interest in that area, particularly in relation to visas. We know that Chinese tourists are surprisingly adventurous and want to get out of London and into the regions, and we are seeing more of that in the midlands and Scotland. What more can the Government do to market the regions—particularly the east midlands—to get those wealthy Chinese tourists out of London and the south-east?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. VisitEngland and VisitBritain promote the nations and the regions, and they do a very good job. VB does it through its GREAT and tactical campaigns, and VE does it through its very successful holidays at home campaigns. The local growth fund, the regional growth fund, the coastal community fund and the recently established £10 million fund for the north are all helpful in growing local tourism outside London.
I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that Ofcom reports that 97% of premises in the UK already have access to broadband speeds of at least 2 megabits. The Government are committed to ensuring that the whole country will be able to receive 2 megabits as soon as possible.
Well, I would not want to accuse my hon. Friend—and he is a friend—of being smug, but what about the other 3%? May I just say how utterly frustrating it is to hear about superfast broadband when parts of my constituency such as Tatenhill, and other parts of the United Kingdom, have no broadband at all?
I am very far from being smug. Having read my hon. Friend’s interview in which he waxed lyrical about his “bromance” with the Chief Whip, imagine how I felt after our years of friendship. Nevertheless, I remain resolute in supporting him, and I am pleased to be able to tell him that Staffordshire as a whole has received £9 million to connect to superfast broadband and that his own constituency will see 8,000 homes committed under our programme. That is real “bromance”, Mr Speaker.
Even in the tech hub at the heart of my constituency we have huge challenges with broadband, as the Minister knows. One of the main barriers to having high speeds everywhere is the fact that competitors are unable to put their equipment on buildings without the permission of the landowner. Is it not time for a change in the planning laws? What conversations is he having with his counterparts in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that that is delivered?
I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that I have sat down with representatives of the City of London to talk about broadband in central London. I was also pleased to hear the City of London’s plans to roll out its own broadband network, because competition is very important. She raises an important point, and we will continue to keep that matter under review.
The Abbotsford estate on the edge of Romsey is a brand-new, 800-home development that still suffers from broadband speeds of less than 2 megabits. Does the Minister agree that it will be an enormously long wait until 2017 for those residents to get decent speeds?
There are two answers to that question. The first is that we have sat down with developers and network providers to work on a code of conduct to ensure that new developments get broadband. Secondly, it is worth reminding hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, that this is a difficult engineering project. We cannot deliver broadband with the wave of a wand, but we are ahead of schedule in almost all areas.
9. At a time when the Government are making more and more services digital by default, does the Minister believe it is acceptable for 1.2 million homes across the UK, including 113,000 in Scotland, still to have no access to broadband whatsoever? What are the Government doing putting back their timetable for superfast broadband? Should we not have universal coverage now? (906277)
All homes do have access to broadband; 97% have access to broadband at speeds of 2 megabits; superfast broadband availability has doubled; the average speed of broadband has trebled; one in four people in this country have superfast broadband; and we have the lowest prices of the European Union big five and the United States.
I hate to break up the “bromance” but 28% of farms and rural businesses across Thirsk, Malton and Filey will not have any fast-speed broadband, not even 2 megabits, by 2016, yet the Government are making us all go digital by default. What measures will the Minister take to allow farms and rural businesses to access rural broadband before digital by default goes live?
As I said, we are well ahead of schedule with our roll-out of superfast broadband. On Yorkshire, North Yorkshire was one of the first out of the traps, and more than 60,000 homes have been connected through that programme. We also have a £10 million pilot scheme to connect the most remote parts of the country, and that is going very well.
Many people were pleased to see the Government’s announcement of 1,000 free wi-fi hot spots across the country, but the map on the Department’s website shows that Glasgow, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Bristol, with a combined population of 4 million, have no provision at all. What criteria did the Minister use when choosing locations? How could he possibly miss those great cities?
Well, we worked with the cities, so they came up with up their own proposals. I believe that Newcastle has a cloud computing centre, using its super-connected cities programme, and Bristol, too, has a fast-speed internet hub. So it is up to the cities how they choose to use the money. The criteria have come from the cities and they are the ones that have chosen which public buildings they want to put wi-fi in.
Mobile Networks and Broadband (Northumberland)
As we have heard, mobile communication is critical to the rural economy. We are therefore working with Ofcom to identify gaps in mobile coverage, and I have consulted on potential measures to tackle patchy coverage. In addition, the Government have allocated £9.5 million to increase superfast broadband coverage in Northumberland to almost 90% by 2016.
I accept that we are making progress in Northumberland, but my constituents in many parts, such as Kielder, Dalton, Stamfordham, Stocksfield and Byrness, suffer from very poor mobile and broadband reception, or zero coverage. May I ask the Minister to visit soon, to push BT and the other providers and, frankly, kick ‘em up the arse, and generally to push ahead so that we have a campaign whereby there are no no-go areas and no go-slow areas?
I share my hon. Friend’s frustration, but perhaps not in the same way! My Bromsgrove constituency has areas with similar coverage problems, so I can absolutely see the importance of the issue he is raising and how big the problem is for towns such as Kielder. I look forward to visiting Northumberland soon and I will apply whatever pressure I can to BT and others to end this scourge of not spots and poor, slow broadband speeds.
Innovative small business in my constituency, such as Shepherds Walks in Rothbury, have doubled their business as a result of the availability of superfast broadband under this valuable scheme. The remaining areas have businesses that could do the same if they were given a chance, so can he report any progress on alternative technical solutions for the most difficult-to-reach areas?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the impact that superfast broadband can have on businesses, helping them to grow. As he will know, there is a phase 3 to our broadband plan, which is the so-called “last 5%”, and we are working on that simultaneously—we are not waiting for phases 1 and 2. We are working on that right now, and we recently had a £10 million programme to test the feasibility of various projects. We are looking into the results and seeing what can be done.
I welcome the commitment that music labels and digital service providers have made to pilot the British Board of Film Classification age ratings for online music videos where they are unsuitable for younger children. Since it was launched on 1 October, 49 music videos have been classified by the BBFC under the pilot, and the rating symbols should start appearing on YouTube and Vevo towards the end of the year.
Mobile Phone Coverage (Rural Areas)
Mobile coverage at 2G reaches 99% of premises, but my hon. Friend is well aware of the issues that we have with not spots and partial not spots, which is why we have in place the mobile infrastructure programme and why we are currently consulting on roaming.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Although I welcome the recent consultation on partial not spots, many areas in rural Wiltshire, such as Bishopstone, remain without any coverage at all. Vodafone’s decision to introduce open sure signal technology in Broad Chalke, as it has recently done in Winterslow, will be revolutionary. What more can be done to incentivise companies such as Vodafone systematically to roll out those solutions before the outcome of the consultation?
When Vodafone announced that scheme, I ensured that all the villages in my constituency were aware of it and encouraged them to apply for it. Bishopstone will be covered under our mobile infrastructure programme. I certainly encourage mobile operators to roll out such solutions. I do not understand why they do not offer villages an off-the-shelf service, as many parish councils would look seriously at funding such a scheme.
I commend my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for their efforts to address this problem of partial not spots and not spots. But does my hon. Friend agree that the best solution would be to obtain an agreement with the industry on how to move forward and that it may also require the Government to make some changes to the electronic communications code and possibly the planning rules?
When I said that we are consulting on national roaming, I should have made it clear that we are consulting on a range of options, and a voluntary agreement with the operator remains our preferred solution. Looking at the electronic communications code and the planning laws is also part of the options that we are considering.
It is good that the Government are giving Arqiva £150 million to put up mobile phone masts in not spots, but they are moving extremely slowly, and they cannot tell anybody what their plans are for Argyll and Bute. Will the Minister urge them to get a move on and to be more transparent with their plans?
We are trying to be as transparent as possible. If my hon. Friend wishes to give me his specific concerns, I will ensure that he gets a full response. This is a technically challenging programme, precisely because these masts are going up in areas that are difficult to reach and where there has previously been no coverage.
In this year’s Budget, the Chancellor announced a £20 million fund to allow cathedrals to undertake urgent repair work. As my hon. Friend knows, that included £330,000 for the beautiful Worcester cathedral. In addition, cathedrals have access to the listed places of worship grant scheme, which has a budget of up to £42 million per annum.
I am grateful for that answer. May I add my condolences on the tragic death of Phil Hughes, who is fondly remembered in Worcestershire, where he used to play?
I was pleased recently to welcome the Secretary of State to Worcester cathedral for a magnificent performance of Shakespeare. Will he join me in celebrating the fact that, in the year that Bishop John of Worcester has taken the lead for the Church of England on cathedrals and church buildings, the east window at Worcester cathedral will be being restored with that grant of £330,000?
May I first say to my hon. Friend that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the cathedral with him and seeing “Julius Caesar”. It is an excellent demonstration of how our cathedrals can be open to so many activities in our local communities. In fact, I have seen similar events recently at Rochester and Portsmouth cathedrals. With regard to Bishop John, I was actually just discussing that very matter with His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday, and I join my hon. Friend in warmly congratulating the bishop on his position.
I warmly thank the Secretary of State for the £20 million grant for cathedrals, which has enabled some 41 cathedrals to carry out various works and repairs from fixing leaking roofs, repairing stained-glass windows and spires and carrying out many other important works to enable them to commemorate the centenary celebrations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that cathedrals are powerful symbols of our shared history and are also the envy of the world? They bring in many tourists, so this investment by the state in our cathedrals is great value for taxpayers.
Yes, I agree fully with my right hon. Friend. He will know that of the £20 million we allocated in that grant, £13 million has been used so there is still about £7 million left to go. I urge other cathedrals to take advantage of that and to work to help their local communities.
International Sporting Events
Through UK Sport, we have invested £27 million to bring more than 70 major sporting events to the UK. The Government also made available an extra £10 million to support last year’s excellent Tour de France Grand Départ.
Does the Minister agree that the recent chaos at FIFA demonstrates that it is not fit to govern world football? Will she confirm that the Government would not support a future bid from England to host the World cup while the current leadership team at FIFA remains in place?
The Minister will be aware that in Harrogate and Knaresborough we staged part of the hugely successful Grand Départ of the Tour de France this year. It had a huge impact on our tourism economy and will have a broader impact on the economy over the years ahead. Will the Minister assure the House that she will do everything she can to make it as easy as possible for major sporting events to be held here? By easy, I mean by providing support through measures such as ticketing assistance and an efficient visa system.
Ofcom: Appeals Process
No decision has been made on the appeals process. However, we will make an announcement through the normal channels once we have reached a decision.
I thank the Minister for that extensive answer. May I urge him to consider Ofcom and the deal for mobile companies? For example, only 9% of people will switch companies. We have had the same kind of problems in the energy market and people are now working hand over fist trying to help people switch mobile phone providers. It takes seconds for a company to let somebody switch their phone, so it is time that those companies were brought to book and we need to give teeth to the regulator.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I tried to keep my answer as short as his rather radical haircut, which looks very impressive this morning. We are sympathetic to the concerns that the current framework for appeals against Ofcom’s decisions are costly and lengthy, but we need to strike the right balance between providing a proper right of challenge and allowing the regulator to make timely and effective decisions.
Rugby World Cup Tickets
I meet often with the organisers of the rugby world cup and we continue to discuss ways to ensure that all fans can purchase tickets in a safe and secure way.
As a rugby fan, it appals me to see tickets for the rugby world cup being listed online for thousands of pounds. Will the Government now accept that they were wrong not to protect genuine fans from touts and support the amendment that their lordships have recently passed?
As has already been clearly stated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Government believe that organisers, promoters and ticket agents should do everything they can to find solutions to deal with the secondary market. Successive Governments and Select Committees have ruled, found and concluded that regulation should be a very last resort.
Does the Minister agree that the 2015 world cup will be a fantastic celebration of the game of rugby? There will be plenty of tickets available at large stadia venues around the country, including Brighton, Milton Keynes, Newcastle and Leicester. That means that anyone wishing to watch a game during the rugby world cup will be able to do so.
Children's Access to Creative Arts
Between 2012 and 2015, we are going to invest £15 million in cultural education and we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in music education.
Yet his own Department’s survey shows that a third of secondary boys and a fifth of secondary girls do not access arts activities outside schools. In a recent speech the Secretary of State for Education said that arts were not the basis for a successful career, yet the creative industries provide 6% of our national wealth. What is the Minister doing to increase children’s access to arts beyond school?
The Secretary of State for Education was not saying that. She was simply making the point that a lot of people said that doing a maths or science degree narrowed children’s career opportunities. She was correcting that impression; it was not an either/or. Both channels are good ways to get wonderful career opportunities after leaving school.
We are working with Into Film, providing film education for hundreds of thousands of children. We are working with English Heritage on the new heritage schools initiative, which has massively increased engagement with heritage already. We are funding the Sorrell Saturday clubs, and we are working with the Arts Council on arts awards and the pioneering Artsbox.
The situation that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) describes is not the situation in Kettering, where there are loads of dance, ballet, theatre and other groups, with many dedicated and committed volunteers. Would my hon. Friend the Minister like to take this opportunity to praise all those volunteers and all the mums and dads who put the extra effort in outside school to ensure that their children engage in worthwhile activities?
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is right. The Education Secretary said that choosing arts subjects held back pupils for the rest of their lives. Our arts and creative sector is a key part of what makes this country great, and an economic powerhouse for us, which we saw at this week’s launch of the Creative Industries Federation. Ensuring that pupils get a good creative education is important for the development of each and every one of them, but also necessary to build the audience and the work force for those industries in the future.
Should the Culture Secretary not be making sure that this Education Secretary, unlike the previous one, supports creativity in schools rather than devaluing it, which is exactly what she is doing?
The previous Education Secretary was the one who ring-fenced music education and funded cultural education programmes. This Education Secretary has increased the budget for music education by £18 million. By praising the opportunities that are provided by science and maths education, one does not denigrate cultural education. This Education Secretary takes cultural education extremely seriously, and the Department for Education is a joy to work with in supporting our programmes.
We move on to Topical Questions. Colleagues, led by the Secretary of State, might wish shortly to join me in congratulating Switzerland on winning the Davis cup last weekend for the first time—a great team effort, notable among other things for the inimitable brilliance of Mr Roger Federer.
May I begin by saying how saddened I was to learn this morning that the young Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House in saying that our thoughts are with his team mates, his friends and his family.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Lewis Hamilton on his second Formula 1 world title, to applaud the record crowd that supported England’s women at Wembley this Sunday and to wish a happy 20th birthday to the national lottery.
Today is Lancashire day, when we celebrate all that is great about the red rose county. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating Lancashire, and encourage people to come and visit our tourist attractions such as East Lancashire railway, Healey Dell and Turton Tower, as well as the other tourism jewels in the red rose county?
I will wholeheartedly join my hon. Friend, not least because I was born in Lancashire and it is my home county, so I know more than most, perhaps, about everything that Lancashire has to offer by way of attractions, sites and heritage. Lancashire day is a fantastic day to showcase that.
T2. The Secretary of State knows a lot about social investment tax relief. I worked happily with him on many aspects of crowdfunding, and he knows that crowdfunding provides an amazing opportunity for people to get together to start cultural and artistic events and raise the money for that. Will he have a quiet word with his old boss, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about increasing the cap on social investment tax relief before the autumn statement? (906300)
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait to see what is in the autumn statement, but he raises an important point. I remember the discussions we had about crowdfunding, and he is right about the importance that it has for businesses and for cultural activities. I have discussed that on many occasions with colleagues.
T4. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the town of Rugby is the birthplace of the great game in which England’s men were world cup winners in 2003 and they were awarded the freedom of the borough of Rugby. Will he join me in congratulating England’s women rugby players on winning their world cup earlier this year and on their award of the freedom of the borough of Rugby, which will be made at a ceremony in Rugby next month? (906303)
It is fantastic that the women’s team is visiting Rugby on 10 December. I am very pleased that they are being rightly recognised in the same way as the men were when they won the world cup in 2003. The support that our women’s team has been receiving is brilliant.
T3. I thank the Sports Minister for her diligent work in securing the funding for our GB basketball teams from Sport England, which means that our women’s team can go off to take part in the EuroBasket tournament next year. Does the hon. Lady agree that supporting elite team sports should be the role of UK Sport? Does she therefore share my hope that the consultation currently under way on the future of UK Sport will result on it focusing on delivering social value and support for team sports, as well as medals? (906301)
T5. As a cricketer, I echo the sympathies for the wonderful Phil Hughes, whose loss is tragic. I welcome the announcement that Ponteland middle school will have a new artificial grass football pitch funded by the Premier League, the Football Association and Sport England. May I urge the DCMS to carry out an audit of all my constituency so that other pitches may be installed very soon? (906305)
I am delighted that Ponteland community middle school has been successful in its application. Artificial pitches are amazing and increase participation, community involvement and talent development, which is how we will grow the game. I am happy to look, with my hon. Friend, at what scope there might be for further projects.
T6. Given reports that alcohol advertising in Formula 1 might go the same way as tobacco advertising, and given that this is an area where there has been some concern in the past, can the Minister give an assurance that any discussions that are entered into with Formula 1 teams will be open and accountable, and will seek to preserve our great British motorsport industry as well? (906306)
Does the Secretary of State agree with the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) who said last week that £2.80 or so a week for the BBC
“is tremendous value, but only if you watch it.”
Given that over 96% of people access the BBC every week, does that not show what good value the licence fee is?
Like my hon. Friend, I am very proud of the BBC. It is well respected not just at home, but abroad, and rightly so. However, we have to recognise that there have been serious changes in technology over the past decade, and when the charter review takes place, all issues should be looked at, including those raised by colleagues.
T7. On the 20th anniversary of the national lottery, it is a fact that twice as many households in the north-east play the lottery, compared with London, but the region receives only half the grants that London gets. Does the Minister think that is fair? (906307)
May I add my condolences to those already expressed on the death of Phil Hughes? I declare an interest, as my brother is Sky television’s cricket correspondent.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for meeting me and a delegation from Plymouth earlier this month to talk about Mayflower 2020, the anniversary of the founding of the American colonies. Does he agree that Mayflower 2020 could contribute similar levels of growth in Devon and Cornwall to those we have seen from the “Gathering” in Northern Ireland and Ireland?
Five years ago the previous Labour Government made a commitment on universal broadband access for everyone. The Minister might talk superfast, but the fact is that up and down the country people and businesses are waiting to get decent broadband so that they can carry on their business and that essential part of their lives that is now lived online. What is he going to do about it?
Five years ago the previous Labour Government made an unfunded commitment to deliver 2 megabits broadband. There was no way in which they would be able to see that through. We have doubled the availability of superfast broadband and provided 2 megabits to 97% of the country. One in four now have superfast broadband. We have the best broadband in the EU big five, and the cheapest.
The Newcastle United supporters trust fully supports Labour’s football governance strategy, which will mean that for the first time supporters will be guaranteed a place on the board. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the trust on developing a credit union in the best interests of the supporters and people in the north-east?
Ofcom ran an inquiry into the Telephone Preference Service, which showed that being a member does significantly reduce the number of nuisance calls received. As my hon. Friend must be aware, we have consulted extensively and changed the law in order to reduce the impact of nuisance calls.
We have heard about the success of our tourism section, but the business tourism sector is sometimes overlooked. The conference market is very international and huge in scale. It plays a significant role in my constituency, with the Harrogate International Centre driving much of our local economy. I ask the Minister to focus on that, alongside all her other work to promote our tourism sector.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Under-occupancy Penalty (Disabled People)
The removal of the spare room subsidy is just making sure that the same rules apply in the social housing sector as apply in the private sector, as implemented by the previous Labour Government. To deal with difficult cases, the Government have made available a significant amount of discretionary housing payment to give local authorities the flexibility they need to deal with cases where disabled people need more support.
According to the Government’s own evaluation, 68% of those hit by the bedroom tax are themselves disabled or have someone in their household with a disability. Is the Minister not ashamed of that figure? When will the Government scrap that cruel and unfair tax?
I note that the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with the point that I made. We are treating people in the social housing sector in exactly the same way as the previous Government treated them—[Interruption.] I hear someone heckling on the Labour Benches. Disabled people do not get a spare room subsidy in the private sector. Those rules were implemented by the previous Labour Government. This is a matter of fairness. The £345 million we have made available to local authorities over the past two years for discretionary housing payment gives them the flexibility they need to deal with individual circumstances.
Will the Minister name and shame the five worst local authorities that have the largest number of disabled people who are affected by the spare room subsidy removal but are not using the discretionary funds that the Government have given them?
I was going to ask exactly the same question as the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). Will the Minister name and shame all local authorities that are failing to provide discretionary housing benefit for people who are being penalised as a result of their disability?
We do have records of the amount of money that the Government make available to local authorities. In the interests of transparency, I will put in the Library details of the money made available by the Government and the extent to which local authorities take up that generous allocation of funding.
It is good to see that over the past year the gender pay gap has fallen significantly to 19.1%—its lowest ever level. However, we are determined to build on this, and our aim must be to eliminate the gender pay gap. We are promoting pay transparency through the Think, Act, Report initiative; transforming the workplace to ensure flexible working and shared parental leave; and, through the Your Life campaign, encouraging girls and young women to consider a wide range of careers, including well-paid careers in technology and engineering.
On Monday, the headline in Newcastle’s The Journal was “Women pay high price for the long slump”, highlighting the fact that in the north-east the gender pay gap is rising; in Newcastle, it stands at 16%. Why is the Minister’s Government making women pay for the financial crisis caused by the banks, and what is she going to do about it?
The hon. Lady is rather interesting in her portrayal of the circumstances that led up to the financial crisis, particularly regarding the part that her party’s Government might have had to play in that situation. I have pointed out that this Government are absolutely determined to eliminate the pay gap and to make sure that it continues to fall as it has over the past year. We also have more women in work than ever before. We have created 2 million extra jobs over the course of this Government’s time in office, and unemployment has been falling across the country, including in the north-east of England.
The Minister talks of grand initiatives, but the hourly rate of pay for women working part time is a third less than that for their full-time counterparts. Given that 42% of all working women now work part time, does the Minister think that it is time for big companies to publish the average hourly pay for men and women in their work force to expose this continued pay gap?
The hon. Gentleman raises several issues. It is true that, for men and women, part-time work is often paid at a lower rate. Of course, as he points out, many women are working part time. This is an important issue where we need generally to value much more the contribution made by people working part time. Organisations such as Timewise are doing some wonderful work that tries to remove the stigma around working part time by highlighting people at very senior levels who are doing so. He is right that transparency is a really important tool in making sure that this can be tackled. That is why we have the Think, Act, Report initiative to encourage companies to think about and act on the issue, but also, crucially, to report on it.
My hon. Friend talks about encouraging more women into engineering. In Rossendale and Darwen, we have a high-tech engineering work force. What steps are the Government taking to encourage women to take up these fantastic jobs in engineering, which tend to be some of the highest paid in my constituency?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this as a hugely important issue. Only 7% of engineers are women, and these jobs, as he rightly says, are often very well paid. As the Perkins review set out very clearly, we urgently need more engineers in terms of our overall economy and skills, and we therefore need more women to fill that gap. We have announced a £30 million fund to increase the supply of engineers and encourage more women into the area, £10 million of which is specifically earmarked for our Developing Women Engineers programme. We are working with the Royal Academy of Engineering and with organisations such as the Institute of Physics, because making sure that girls take the subjects that open up an engineering career to them is also really important in making sure that this happens.
We all praise companies such as Friends Life, Genesis Housing and PricewaterhouseCoopers which annually publish their gender pay gap because they want to reduce it, but there are too few examples of that. Can we therefore achieve cross-party consensus and will all the parties back Labour’s proposal—we will bring it to the House next month—to require all big companies to publish annually their pay gap?
The hon. Lady is quite right to say that there is cross-party agreement that this issue needs to be tackled. The 2010 equality strategy set out very clearly that we would pursue the voluntary approach and then assess how it was working and come to a conclusion about what needed to happen next. The hon. Lady will be aware that my party published proposals—I am delighted that her party has subsequently agreed with them—to implement section 78 of the Equality Act 2010. I am sure that the issue will be very much discussed in the approaching election and that all parties will want to set out very clearly how they propose to tackle the pay gap.
Charter for Women
I regularly engage with women’s organisations at one-to-one meetings, round tables and consultation events, and through social media. The Government are currently carrying out an online survey on women’s views of progress on improving women’s lives and on where there is most need for work still to be done. As part of that engagement, I regularly discuss the UN convention on women, which is sometimes known as the international Bill of Rights for women.
The Minister knows that it has been a long, hard struggle to get equal rights for women and we are not there yet. There are significant elements in our communities who do not believe in equal rights for women. I want the Minister to introduce a charter that gives every female child in this country information on what their rights to equality are. I want that to be clear to every little child, wherever in this country they are brought up, whatever their family background and whichever school they attend. Does the Minister agree with that?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that, although we have made great strides towards equality, there is still much more to do. He will know that, as Secretary of State for Education, I have recently spoken of the broad and balanced curriculum, British values—which include, obviously, mutual respect and tolerance—and education on girls’ rights. I have not heard anybody apart from the hon. Gentleman call for a Bill of Rights. To be honest, I prefer to look at what works on the ground and make sure that there are lessons and strong female role models in all communities and all schools right across the country. Of course, however, the idea is interesting.
Women’s rights are incredibly important and we need to ensure that women are at the heart of decision making. My right hon. Friend is the Minister for Women and Equalities, but, unusually, no specific Committee of the House is tasked with holding the Government to account on the work of the Government Equalities Office. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the issue further, as I believe the right thing to do would be to set up a women and equalities Select Committee at the start of the next Session of Parliament?
I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed for that question. The Leader of the House is in his place and I am sure he will have heard her request. I am, of course, very happy to have a meeting. This is a matter for the House, but I look forward to discussing it with my hon. Friend.
If there was such a charter or Bill, would not there be an obligation on television companies, including the BBC, to explain why it is that, while men in their late 70s can carry out their job as lead presenters—and do it very well, no doubt—once women reach their 40s there is almost a ban? Why this discrimination?
Perhaps for the first time, I think I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He might be interested to look at the evidence taken by the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications as part of its inquiry into women in broadcasting and the media, to which I recently gave evidence. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that having positive role models—women of all ages and all backgrounds—represented in the media and national newspapers is incredibly important.
In England, 18-year-old women are a third more likely to apply for a university place than their male counterparts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows how far we have come in terms of girls’ educational attainment, but that there is still further to go?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As we know, women now make up the majority of the numbers in many different subjects right across our universities. In fact, in the university I represent in my constituency of Loughborough, I understand that more women than men are taking engineering degrees. However, we all clearly have a long way to go.
We have increased free early education hours for three and four-year-olds, and in September we extended it to 260,000 two-year-olds. From next autumn, almost 2 million people could benefit from the new tax-free child care scheme, worth up to £2,000 a child. From April, couples will be able to choose how they manage their child care responsibilities, as we have introduced shared parental leave.
When Labour left office, 99% of schools provided access to breakfast and after-school clubs, but since the Government removed the ring fence more than a third of local authorities report that the provision has been scaled back in their area. Does the Minister now agree that that was a mistake, and will she back our plan to legislate to give parents a guarantee?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue. After-school and breakfast clubs can be hugely important in enabling parents to manage their responsibilities. It is also important that schools have the ability to make choices about the services they offer. We have introduced legislation to make it easier and reduce the bureaucracy for schools deciding that that is indeed what they want to do. That should help to ensure there is greater provision of these important services.
I have been to Diandjims nursery at Prudhoe in Northumberland and seen the transformational effect of the free child care provision of 15 hours per week for two-year-olds. The lives of parents are transformed, because they can go back to work or get back into employment following the birth of their child.
My hon. Friend raises an important example of the policy in action and working to deliver for hard-working families in his constituency. There are many such examples up and down the country. The policy is incredibly important for making sure that people do not have to choose not to work for economic reasons, which is why we are committed to taking it further.
Ministers trumpet tax-free child care, but the fact is that it will not have helped even one family that is struggling with child care costs during this entire Parliament. In fact, those who are struggling the most have had their support via child care tax credits cut, so why do Ministers not implement the policy sooner? While they are at it, why do they not adopt Labour’s commitment to providing 25 hours a week of free nursery education for all working families?
The hon. Lady will be aware that support through working tax credit for child care will rise to 85% under universal credit. She is right that we are introducing tax-free child care, which is coming in next autumn. The legislation to make that happen is going through the House, and I am delighted that it is happening. I have outlined the additional early education hours that the Government have delivered, including, crucially, making it available for two-year-olds for the first time. We know that it has significant benefits, and it has helped many working parents.
Retailers’ Purchasing Policies
I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to discuss a range of issues, including supply chain transparency and human rights. I assure my hon. Friend that, following significant work by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), the British Retail Consortium is working with his Department to produce guidelines on this area for their members.
I am grateful to the Minister for her answer. The recent episode of the Mauritian T-shirt illustrates so clearly how very important this issue has become. What steps is she taking to ensure that other companies follow the example of some well-known partnerships that show how well they can source their supplies?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Transparency is key so that investors and indeed customers are able to look at such matters and hold companies to account. We have introduced a requirement for a strategic report, which means that human rights need to be reported on, and further non-financial reporting will be helpful. Of course, the measures in the Modern Slavery Bill will make the UK a world leader in this area.
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has done so much work on this particular issue. I am glad that she welcomes the measures brought forward in the Modern Slavery Bill. We are engaging with business on these issues. Indeed, next week I am going to a United Nations event, where there will be many very senior representatives from different businesses who are looking at these exact issues. As I have said, we are also working specifically with retailers on the British Retail Consortium guidance.
Domestic Violence Support Services
The Government have ring-fenced funding of nearly £40 million until 2015 for specialist domestic and sexual violence services. The Home Office is working closely with the women’s sector on a programme of engagement with local commissioners. Earlier this week, the Government announced an additional £10 million of funding for refuges for victims of domestic abuse.
Despite what the Minister has said, women’s refuge charities report that services are still closing right across the country, with some areas having no refuge provision left at all. We need a comprehensive audit of domestic violence service provision to be carried out urgently. Why have the Government failed to do that and when will they do it?
The Government have been putting the funding in. I have mentioned the £10 million that was announced this week. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has written to all local authorities this week to say that, even though the funding environment is extremely difficult, they must continue to prioritise the provision of refuges for victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence. Rather than talking about audits in Whitehall, we want to get on with giving money to the services on the ground to fund the valuable work that they are doing.
East Coast Main Line
This morning, I announced the intention to award the InterCity east coast franchise to Stagecoach-Virgin, exactly on the schedule that we promised two years ago. That is great for passengers. It will bring more trains, faster trains, newer trains, better services and better value for money. It is good for towns and cities up and down the east coast. It is good for our economy and for jobs. It is proof that the right route forward for our railways is the private sector and the public sector working together. This deal will make the route of the Flying Scotsman a world-beater once again.
We have heard different advice from the Opposition—led, of course, by the unions. They told us to leave the route in the hands of the emergency public sector operator. They do not understand how that would deny the east coast line new ideas and investment. They do not understand that the operator was set up as a short-term measure by the last Labour Secretary of State for Transport. That is why the noble Lord Adonis said at the time:
“I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 232.]
Indeed, the then Minister of State at the Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), said that
“one reason we are able to invest record sums in our railway service is the revenues that the franchises bring in and the premiums that they pay”.—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 430.]
They were right then and they are wrong today.
It is this Government who are powering ahead with better plans for our railways. The new franchise will be good for people who use the line. The deal will strengthen the vital links from London to Scotland, all the way along the route as far as Aberdeen and Inverness. Passengers will benefit from regular, faster, more frequent services to places such as Falkirk, Stirling and Edinburgh. Journeys between London and Edinburgh will regularly be down to just 4 hours by May 2020. Leeds will see regular journey times go down to just 2 hours.
Places such as Leeds, Bradford, Shipley and Harrogate will see more direct services each day. Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Huddersfield and Dewsbury will get new east coast services. There will be the first direct service from Huddersfield to London since the 1960s. Lincoln, which gets just one train a day to London under the current operator, will get one every two hours with the new one. We have protected the service levels to every current main line station as well. By May 2020, all those destinations will be served by the new intercity express trains, which will be built in the heart of the north-east at the new plant in Newton Aycliffe.
I ask the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher): why does he want to deny the north all those benefits? The new operator will provide 50% more capacity across the east coast network, a 40% increase in peak seats to and from King’s Cross, and a refurbishment of the existing fleet. It will cut some of the most expensive fares by 10% from May next year.
The franchise is not just good for the passengers; it is good for the staff. There will be investment in skills, with a graduate programme and new apprenticeships. There will be a national academy for rail professional education based in London, York and Derby. The franchise is good for taxpayers, too. It will run for eight years, with the option to extend it for a further year. In that time, it will return £3.3 billion in premium payments to the taxpayer. These figures are robust and have been subject to rigorous scrutiny, including by independent auditors. The deal will bring more services, more passengers and a growing return.
The Government’s franchising programme is creating the railways that this country needs. Passengers in Essex, London and the south-east already benefit from the improved services that a partnership between the public and private sectors can provide for our railways. This award is further proof that private competition is good for passengers, staff, communities and taxpayers. The quality of the new operator’s plans will benefit the whole country.
If this is such a good deal, why did the Secretary of State not offer to come to the House and make a statement, to share all the good news with us? Are the Government desperate to avoid scrutiny of their shambolic approach to franchising, which has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds?
First we had the west coast fiasco, which wasted £50 million, and then Ministers presided over the loss of hundreds of millions more, with delays to investments and franchise extensions. Now, on the east coast main line, we see Conservative dogma on privatisation put before the interests of the travelling public.
It is absurd in the extreme that our own public operator should be the only rail company in the world that has been barred from challenging to run its own services. It is not too late to halt the process, but given that the Secretary of State is adamant that it will go ahead, that we are only months away from an election and that there is no political consensus for this major decision, will he give a formal written ministerial direction to his permanent secretary to outline that he is still insisting on proceeding with this flawed process?
The Government say that £3.3 billion will be paid to the Exchequer over eight years, but the operator says it will be £2.3 billion. Why the discrepancy? Is the Secretary of State’s announcement already unravelling? Given that Virgin charges some of the highest peak fares in the country on the west coast, will passengers on the east coast main line face more fare rises to pay for this decision? Is it time that the Government legislated to allow a British not-for-profit public sector operator to take on and challenge train operators on a level playing field?
It is clear that the whole franchise process should never have happened. It was rushed through on a rigged political timetable, and by the time this service is privatised it will have paid more than £1 billion to the Exchequer. The entire process is a disgrace. The taxpayer and the travelling public have been sold down the river.
Order. I point out that this urgent question got off to an over-long start because in seeking to be informative, the Secretary of State went way beyond the allotted time for a ministerial response. I want to accommodate colleagues but we have a short period, so pithiness is of the essence.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the hon. Member for Barnsley East to his position. He is no stranger to the Department for Transport because he was special adviser to Stephen Byers when he was Transport Secretary—a time of glorious indecision for our railways. This is the third shadow Secretary of State I have witnessed during my short time at the Department. No doubt if I wait a bit longer, another one will be along shortly.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned dogma, but I think the dogma comes from the party that did not implement any of these measures when it was in a position to do so. When Labour had 13 years to set up a public sector operator, it rejected that. Directly operated railways were always there as a matter of last resort. On the subject of dogma, the hon. Gentleman is speaking for ASLEF and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, repeating what they are saying almost word for word. They have given more than £350,000 and £220,000 respectively to the Labour party, so I will not accept comments about dogma from Labour Members.
I am also interested in what the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) said on franchising:
“One of the purposes of franchising is to ensure that we get better value in respect of the subsidy paid in the particular case, but we also want better services.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 703-4.]
That is exactly what I have announced this morning for the east coast main line: better services to towns and cities that have not been served since the 1960s. The party that represents dogma sits on the Opposition Benches; the party challenging Britain’s railways and companies to come forward with new and better services, serving more communities than ever, sits on the Government Benches. We have seen the railways grow, from providing services for 760 million passengers to providing them for 1.6 billion passengers last year. This is a time of great renaissance for the railways—something that I celebrate, but the Opposition complain about.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As the Secretary of State knows, I have long lobbied for additional railway services on the east coast line to Shipley and Bradford, so I very much welcome his statement today. Will he confirm exactly how many additional services there will be to Shipley and Bradford, when they will come on track and what can be done to try to speed up the process?
I am very happy to write to my hon. Friend with the exact details of how many extra services there will be. There will be a great increase, with six services overall to Shipley—in 2018-19, I think—as a result of the new intercity express programme trains that will serve the line. I am happy to provide my hon. Friend with more information in due course.
Why do the Government think it is better for our country to pass the profitable east coast main line into private hands, with money going to shareholders rather than the people of this country, and throw out TUPE regulations, which will jeopardise the terms and conditions of the work force on the east coast main line?
I am not quite sure why the new old Labour party, led by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), is so concerned about profits. Profits are not a bad thing. They go towards paying pensions and towards rewarding people who invest in companies. A number of people the hon. Lady represents rely on pensions that are generated by profits. That, I would have thought, is a good thing. It is not just about profits. The overall return to the rail franchises is 3%. Investment by the rail companies has resulted in tremendously better services for passengers up and down the country.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that what matters to my constituents is not who owns the operator but whether the trains are on time, clean, reasonably priced, retain good staff and stop at places such as Berwick and Alnmouth?
I hope the Secretary of State will forgive me if I do not share his enthusiasm for today’s announcement. Some of us have been here before, with private sector companies promising the earth to win contracts and then not delivering in practice. Why did the Government not listen to local people and keep the excellent East Coast in place as a public sector comparator? What will he do to ensure the promises that have been made will be delivered?
The people who are serving on East Coast trains now will be the people serving on the new InterCity franchise that I have announced today. I will quote another Labour Member of Parliament; that seems to be a bit of a habit this morning. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said:
“will he be fair to the marvellous train crews of Virgin Trains, who give extraordinarily good service, and tell them that their future is assured? Will he simply award the franchise to Virgin, which has carried it out brilliantly?”—[Official Report, 15 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 53.]
In fairness, he was referring to the west coast main line, but if I go back to that statement I could quote those people time and again.
If my hon. Friend presses me further, I will certainly come back to him in more detail. It is tremendous news that we have increased the number of trains to Lincoln to six a day, but I know that colleagues want services to go elsewhere, which is why the study being done with northern authorities on the northern powerhouse strategy is looking at how to improve connectivity for our market towns and cities in the north.
Does the Secretary of State agree that both times the private sector has run the east coast line it has been a failure, whereas the public sector, which has been running it for some considerable time, has handed over more than £1 billion to the Treasury? Why change a winning formula? Why does he not agree with the 70% of the population—I am one of them—who believe that rail should be brought back into public ownership?
I wish I could say I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s announcement that he is one of those who would like to see the railways re-nationalised. When we had a nationalised railway system, it was dying on its legs. It was providing only 760 million journeys a year, whereas today’s railway provides 1.6 billion and employs more people—more people working on our railways, more people using our railways. I thought he would welcome the fact that instead of a dying, declining industry, today it is a vibrant industry employing more people and improving opportunities for everyone, whatever their background. I celebrate that; he is disappointed by it.
There is no doubt that the east coast rail service has been good over the past five years, but it has lacked new investment, so I welcome today’s announcement. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the thing we hope for and desire—direct rail services to Grimsby, in my case via Scunthorpe—remains a possibility and that he will work with us to see how viable it is?
I shall certainly work with my hon. Friend to see whether we can accommodate what he wants. As I have often pointed out, 25 years ago I was a junior Minister in the Department for Transport, and in those days it was thought that the railways were yesterday’s business. Today, wherever I go, I am lobbied by MPs for more direct services from their constituencies. I celebrate that we are today announcing 75 new destinations for this service.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that most people in Yorkshire think that privatisation has been a disaster for train services across our region? It has been rotten, and it will still be rotten under this new arrangement. We do not believe in pie in the sky. I am not the most radical Member on the Labour Benches, but I have been persuaded that we need to take the rail system back into public ownership. That is what we deserve.
I think the person who has just spoken is the hon. Member for Huddersfield, yet we heard not a single welcome for the new train service to Huddersfield. He would rather talk about dogma than celebrate the first direct link to his area since 1960. That sums up the Labour party 100%: it is the Labour party of Kinnock, rather than Blair or Brown.
More trains; more investment; more money back for taxpayers; a link for Thornaby, in my constituency; a link for Middlesbrough; trains built down the road in Aycliffe—does my right hon. Friend agree that this is good news not just for passengers and taxpayers, but for the economy of Teesside?
I welcome the statement. It is great news that Yorkshire will get so many services from this deal. Could the Secretary of State say a little more about services to Harrogate and Thirsk, which serve my constituency, and more about Skipton? I know that my right hon. Friend was thrown off the station at Settle, but I hope he will fight for a Skipton daily service.
What I am announcing today is extra services right across the line. I hope that the services to my hon. Friend’s constituency will see the benefits of that, as well as of the new intercity express trains, which will be coming on course in just a few years’ time.
The Secretary of State has made much of the potential benefits for employees, but is it not the case that he has ensured that TUPE will not apply, thus jeopardising the terms and conditions of the work force?
When will the better services to which my right hon. Friend refers include the electrification of the east coast main line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen? I ask that not least because it serves four stations in my constituency.
As a regular user of this service, I agree with the Secretary of State that East Coast making a profit is not a bad thing. The difference is that we want that £1 billion profit going back to the people of this country—not lining the pockets of his Tory friends.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement, particularly in respect of the six additional trains per day running between London and Harrogate. I think this is a transformation of our services in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this deal represents a huge boost—not just to our part of the economy, but to that of the whole of the north of England?
I do indeed. My hon. Friend can look forward to those extra services for his constituency, along with the others to which I have referred. We are talking, basically, about an increase of some 33% of services across the board, with 75 new destinations being served as a result of this morning’s announcement.
Unlike the currently successful and profitable publicly owned service on the east coast main line, the previous two private operators failed—a point raised by my hon. Friends. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give that this latest franchise will not be third time unlucky?
Let me simply point out that a number of things have changed. The hon. Gentleman refers to franchises that were left by the last Government. Issues have been changed by this Government, and all the other franchises on the railways are currently running to the budgets that we have required of them. Some of them are subsidy receiving, but most are premium payments.
Thirsk and Malton will welcome a public-private partnership delivered by tried and tested operators. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be increased services from York that will take a shorter time, and will he let us know the balance between first class premium fares and standard class fares?
I might have to write to my hon. Friend on the details of the balance between premium and standard fares, but we have seen a tremendous improvement with the technology surrounding advanced booking, giving people some very good deals when they book their tickets in advance.
I have no objection to foreign companies wanting to invest in this country. I would have thought that the hon. Lady welcomed the fact that Hitachi is building new plants in Newton Aycliffe. She is not decrying Hitachi because it is a foreign company, is she? I have no objection to foreign countries wanting to invest in the United Kingdom. I welcome it.
We shall have 3,000 extra seats during the morning peak time, 65 new state-of-the-art trains, a 10% reduction in long-distance Anytime fares and the first direct service from Huddersfield to London since 1960. Will my right hon. Friend continue to put passengers at the forefront of these new services?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, but I should point out to him that this is not just about passengers. It is also about staff—the staff who deliver a fantastic service on the east coast main line, and who will now be given better training. I think that the national academy—which, as I said earlier, will be based in London, York and Derby—is very good news for the people who work on our railways, as well as the passengers who travel on them.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has announced extra investment in our railways, extra services, extra trains, extra seats, and British-built trains for British passengers? Does he share my dismay at the economic illiteracy of Opposition Members, given tha