House of Commons
Thursday 22 January 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Potholes are a menace to all road users and that is why this Government are taking action. I announced in December 2014 that we are allocating just under £6 billion for councils in England to tackle potholes and improve local road conditions over the next six years. This funding is on top of the £4.7 billion we have provided since 2010.
Unfortunately, I receive lots of complaints about the state of local roads. I do understand that repairing potholes is very expensive, and I commend last week’s national pothole week. Despite the present strains on the economy, I ask my right hon. Friend that sufficient funds be made available so that local roads in Southend are kept in good order.
I pointed out in my announcement that Southend-on-Sea would get £7.3 million over the period I have just referred to. Despite the financial situation we found ourselves in when we entered government, we allocated 27% more for road repairs in this Parliament than the previous Government did in the last Parliament.
North Yorkshire has one of the biggest networks of rural roads in the country, and we are very grateful for the extra cash the Government have provided to help. Rural areas often have a large road network, supported by the small tax base of the rural population. Can the impact of rurality be better reflected in funding for future repairs to our road network?
I certainly understand the point my hon. Friend makes—indeed, I have a large rural constituency that has many similar problems. It is up to the highways authority to look after its entire network fairly. Account is taken of rurality and road usage in the various highways authorities when we allocate this money to them.
15. In Kent, we are grateful for the £142 million we are receiving from the highways maintenance fund. Will the Secretary of State join me in urging not just the highways authority but Kent county council to pay particular attention to rural roads in Kent? They have suffered terribly in recent winters and are in desperate need of this extra support. (907152)
My right hon. Friend rightly points out the allocation that has been made to Kent. As I said, in this Parliament we have increased by 27% what the previous Government spent on road maintenance, and in December I announced another funding increase of more than 20%. I hope that we see a fair sharing of it across the whole of the community—in both urban and rural areas.
The extra £86 million allocated to fix and improve Wiltshire’s roads over the next six years is very welcome. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that this is indeed additional money spent on our roads and that councils do not use it to top up their reserves, or displace money that otherwise would have been spent on roads to meet other spending pressures?
Overall, local authorities do take their highway maintenance projects seriously. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that one cannot argue for localism and then argue all the time for central direction. However, I very much hope that all authorities that have been allocated the money spend it on the roads. Some other funds are available, and we will judge what local authorities have done regarding how those funds are distributed.
It is no secret that the A64 is also important to my constituency of Scarborough and Whitby. The first major investment for 38 years in the A64 east of York was announced as part of our road investment strategy last month. This addressed the notorious Hopgrove roundabout pinch point. As part of the detailed design of the scheme, the case for dualling nearby sections of the A64 will be considered.
Although I am grateful for that answer, there are currently huge numbers of casualties and fatalities in the villages of Ganton, Rillington and Heslerton, which have no speed restrictions on the roads and no protections for the very vulnerable crossing them—children and the elderly. Will my hon. Friend give priority to that section of the A64, in which I know he too has a personal interest, serving as it does his own constituency?
When considering investment in our roads network, two factors are always borne in mind. One is congestion, and in that respect the section between Malton and Hopgrove is the busiest and most congested. The other is safety, and that would include the situation to which my hon. Friend refers.
Network Rail is delivering an unprecedented £38 billion investment programme for the period from 2014 to 2019, which will transform the infrastructure on the busiest parts of Britain’s rail network. Passengers will also see significant improvements in rolling stock, thanks to the Government’s unprecedented investment and the changes to the franchising programme. This will allow passengers across the country to benefit from the enhanced investment.
I am grateful for that answer, but on the question of infrastructure, my constituents in Drayton Bassett are concerned by comments that have been made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) that the HS2 marshalling yard proposed for Washwood Heath might be moved. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government believe that Washwood Heath is the right site for such a marshalling yard and that they do not propose to move it?
I can confirm that Washwood Heath is absolutely the right location for the rolling stock maintenance depot. This was confirmed by the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee’s announcement in December, and it would be a brave and foolhardy politician who suggested for political reasons that anything else might be appropriate.
I met representatives of East Midlands Trains this week to discuss the electrification of the line to Corby. I am concerned that when that happens there might no longer be any services running north from Corby on the Manton line. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what options there are to maintain those northbound services towards Oakham and Melton Mowbray?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. On the question of infrastructure, will my hon. Friend impress on Network Rail the importance of building the loop line north of Witham during control period 6 to ensure and enhance capacity on rail services from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich?
I commend my right hon. Friend for his wakefulness this morning, and for his long-term campaigning on railways. Like me, he believes it is vital that additional investment should be carried forward beyond CP5 and into CP6, particularly to enhance capacity and improve journey times for the parts of East Anglia and Essex that he represents.
Network Rail is now fully in the public sector. Will this improve public accountability and enable passengers to travel on safe, newer trains, and trains that are appropriate for the newly electrified lines?
The hon. Lady shares with me a firm commitment to ensuring that passengers have safe and better journeys. That is the point of this unprecedented level of investment. It is within the grasp of us all to hold Network Rail to account. It is an arm’s length public body, and we have a regulator that regulates its investment programme. Network Rail is also accountable to Members of Parliament just as it is to members of the public. She will be aware that we are holding a series of performance summits with the train operating companies and Network Rail, particularly relating to the routes that have shown the worst performance data over the past few months.
I believe that that is part of the whole aspiration for the Anglian upgrades relating to routes, investment and capacity, which has been nicely packaged in the “Norwich in 90” proposals. A series of consultations are currently taking place, and I will write to my right hon. Friend with specific updates on the point that he has raised.
When it comes to the railways, it is always pie in the sky, or arm’s length, or somebody else’s fault. When is the Minister going to take responsibility for a Government who have done so little to get people in Yorkshire and the rest of the north of England moving around securely, safely and on time?
I have respect for the hon. Gentleman and for many of his campaigns, but I am amazed that he can stand up and represent a party that did so little for the railways over 13 years. He described the predecessors in his seat as a bunch of trainspotters. Instead, he should be congratulating this Government on their investment programme and on the new intercity express programme trains that will benefit his constituency.
I welcome the recent announcements on rolling stock for the network, but looked in vain for news of a replacement for the ancient trains used on the Tees Valley line. Will the Minister look at that matter urgently so that the Tees Valley city region gets the upgraded trains that it needs and deserves?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there are many parts of the country, particularly in the north of England, where the rolling stock is simply not fit for purpose thanks to the franchise specifications let under the previous Government. We are looking at all specifications, including upgrading the inappropriate Pacers, which will be part of the franchising specification process he will see published in the next few weeks.
Two weeks before the Christmas chaos at King’s Cross and Finsbury Park, the Transport Secretary said that he had “absolute confidence” in Network Rail’s ability to deliver the Government’s plans, but up and down the country, projects are delayed, over budget and at risk, while some passengers have been hit by fare rises of more than 30%. Forget Ministers’ confidence in other people, does this shambles not betray a total lack of leadership from this failing Government?
I thought that the hon. Lady was going to celebrate the fact that her own station is receiving a £100 million upgrade. As she should know, there were more than 2,000 engineering sites over the holiday period. Two of them—particularly important ones—ran over time.
I want to address the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) about comments I was alleged to have made in a column. Anyone who read that column over Christmas would have seen that I am far from pleased with railway performance. We must do better for passengers. Only a lowly headline writer at the Sunday People, an idiot or a politician who has no policies of his own would describe my words in such a way. This Government care about the railways. That lot think we are a bunch of trainspotters.
High Speed 2
The Department has not estimated the case for the western leg of the Y-shaped route for High Speed 2 without the connection to the west coast main line north of Manchester. However, preliminary analysis undertaken by HS2 Ltd suggested that this section of the line is likely to provide revenue of about £600 million and wider benefits in the order of £1.2 billion.
The Minister will be aware that the recent HS2 route review stated that the Wigan spur was under review. Subsequently, HS2 leadership has stated that its recommendation is that the Wigan spur be dropped, saving £2 billion with no detrimental impact on the business case. When will there be an announcement that will clear all of this up?
Certainly all those options are under review. Indeed, in Sir David Higgins’s report “HS2 Plus” he talked about the need to speed up phase 2 and get the Crewe section by 2027, not 2033, with that new integrated hub at Crewe. Connections to the east coast main line and west coast main line are important to ensure that people further north of Manchester and Leeds can benefit from HS2. Further announcements will be made in due course.
On cost-benefit analysis of rail infrastructure and the Wigan spur, does the Minister agree that investment in the Tondu loop to deliver a half-hour instead of an hourly interchange at the Maesteg-Llynfi line would be far better in terms of cost? Will he meet me and Network Rail to discuss the Tondu loop, for which we have been waiting five years?
Yet another wonderful scheme on which the previous Government failed to deliver. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that particular scheme.
Road Investment Strategy
I have looked at the prepared answer and it is mind-numbingly turgid, so I will do something of my own. This Government have introduced a road investment strategy with a plan for road investment that is backed up by finance and informed by empiricism, and it is the most ambitious plan since the 1970s. The whole House can look forward to a future considerably brighter than the past that we endured under the last Government.
I ask my right hon. Friend, who is affectionately known locally as the people’s Minister, to look favourably on the proposal to have a tunnel under Morecambe bay as it would add to the northern powerhouse proposals that the Chancellor is looking into and envisaging for the country.
I wondered whether my hon. Friend might ask this question, because he has raised the subject in an Adjournment debate and I know that he is a great champion of his constituents’ interests. I thought, as you must have done, Mr Speaker, of Ezra Pound, who said:
“What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it”.
Any man who advocates tunnelling at this scale certainly holds an idea at very great depth indeed. This is a matter for local councils—for Lancashire and Cumbria—and it is for them to consult their local enterprise partnerships. Nevertheless, I am interested in the scheme and am happy to invite my hon. Friend to the Department to discuss it with officials and see what can be done.
I do not know whether the Minister has a prepared answer for this one, but may I take him back just a few weeks to the launch of a poster showing a road smoothly stretching out into the distance which was discovered to be a German road full of potholes that had been airbrushed out? Is that why he and other Ministers are trying to airbrush out the fact that spending for local road maintenance will be lower in real terms in 2020 than it was in 2010?
Road maintenance is just short of £1 billion a year. This Government are not neglecting road maintenance and we are certainly not neglecting roads—[Interruption.] I know the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am smooth, but I am never airbrushed. This Government’s commitment to roads is unprecedented and I recommend to the Opposition that they recognise that such infrastructure investment is something on which there should be consensus. Unless there is consensus, we will not build the confidence that is necessary to get the investment that is in the national interest.
I share my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and confidence about the future under the strategy, although perhaps I do not express it so eloquently. One of the most exciting elements of the strategy is the introduction of smart motorways. Will he say a little about how the Government’s plans for that are going?
My hon. Friend will know that the way in which people drive, the vehicles they use and the interface between the driver and the road will change. That is already happening with smart motorways. We have been innovative in the work we have done on that and there is more to be done, but what is certain is that the Government need to consider all the technological changes that will inform the alteration in how people use roads in the way that he implies. The smart motorways programme is important, but it is also important that we articulate that message more clearly. I know that the Secretary of State will be saying more about this over the coming weeks and months, and I will be too, because I think it is important that people understand the opportunity that lies ahead of us.
The A14 around Kettering between junctions 7 and 9 is being widened. When complete, that will be very good news for Kettering and the national economy, but understandably, while the roadworks are under way, disruption is being caused. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the works will be completed this April, on time?
We will be setting out in the coming weeks a timetable for the completion of a series of schemes associated with this strategy. We need to set out the detail to maintain confidence that we will carry through our intentions. In that context, I will happily discuss with my hon. Friend the timetable for that scheme.
Public Transport Fares
Mr Speaker, forgive me if this is a slightly long answer, but I am trying to cover both forms of public transport. On trains, fares for children under 16 are half of the adult fare and 16 to 25-year-olds can buy a young persons railcard providing a discount of one third off most adult fares. Bus operators, as the hon. Gentleman will know, set their own fares. The Department estimates that three quarters of under-16s and half of 16 to 19-year-olds in England receive a discount of at least one third, but there are variations across the country as local authorities must specify how they will support 16 to 19-year-olds, which may include specific financial support.
One of the failures of bus deregulation is that it allows bus companies to set their own fares. In my constituency, Arriva is exploiting young people by charging the full adult fare to 14-year-olds, yet only a few miles away that age limit rises to 16. Does the Minister agree that that is totally unjust and unfair, and will she agree to investigate?
I have looked at the numbers, and I know that Arriva has a teencard that provides a 40% discount. I will certainly look at the age specification, but I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a matter for local authorities. In Conservative-controlled Staffordshire, the Your Staffordshire card allows 11 to 19-year-olds to travel on any bus in the county for just £1. I suggest he takes this eloquent pitch to Labour-controlled Northumberland council.
Railway Stations (Disabled Access)
As well as access improvements delivered as part of projects such as Crossrail and the upgrade of Birmingham New Street station, Access for All has now completed 139 step-free routes and smaller scale access improvements at more than 1,100 stations. To build on this success we have allocated an additional £160 million to extend the programme until 2019.
I know that my right hon. Friend is very familiar with Lichfield Trent Valley railway station. I have plodded with him over the footbridge to try to get to the southbound access on the west coast main line while carrying heavy bags. Two platforms at Lichfield Trent Valley are not accessible by disabled people, or people with heavy bags. When will that change?
My hon. Friend may have plodded; I think I sprinted because I was late for the train. The simple fact is that, as he well knows, Network Rail is designing the project and is expected to start on site in the summer of 2016, which will, I hope, address some of the problems for his constituents that he has just outlined.
Physically disabled passengers and mothers with prams, for example, arriving at Amersham station have no real means of exiting the station. Work on the lifts was started and some groundwork was done, but it was taken out. The Secretary of State must know that Amersham station comes under Transport for London, and my constituents have no vote for that London authority, which has just received an extra £75 million additional funding to make the network accessible. What support can he give to me and my constituents, and campaigners such as Chesham and district transport users group, in getting this vital step-free access installed at Amersham station?
Last week, a disabled passenger at Middlesbrough railway station was trapped on platform 2 because of the failure of the lift and had to travel to Saltburn at the end of the line to get to platform 1. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), encourage Network Rail to accelerate its programme of investment in Middlesbrough railway station, which is much overdue, and meet me to discuss the acceleration of the direct service from Middlesbrough to London? I wrote to her many weeks ago and I have not had a response.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be more than willing to meet the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the particular problem that he described today, obviously, when a lift breaks down it creates problems. That can happen occasionally and I very much regret it when it does. I think that Middlesbrough station will benefit from the new franchise that we have let, with more services coming to London.
At Hedge End railway station in my constituency there is the absurd situation whereby someone who is disabled has to travel in the opposite direction in order to cross in a lift and travel back to reach their destination, adding considerable time and inconvenience to the journey. Investment in a lift at that station has been refused on the ridiculous basis that not enough people use the station as a whole. Surely we should give priority to the needs of a disabled person,
I accept that there is a huge job to be done on Access for All. The programme was due to end in 2015 and we have extended that. As I say, 1,100 stations have already been served, but I am always interested to hear of other applications and positions on various stations. We have tried to concentrate on the busy stations.
If, as we have heard, the Government’s progress on rail access for disabled people has been questionable, what is their record on disabled access on buses? Twice last year Ministers ducked questions from me in the Chamber on why they are blocking mandatory bus staff training, as the Select Committee and disabled groups have urged. Then in a letter last May they proposed to review the matter again shortly, but eight months later nothing has happened. They are also ducking pressing bus operators to expand audio-visual technology, and instead they have school students competing to design a cheap alternative. Will the Minister confirm that the winning idea is to be announced only three weeks before Parliament dissolves? What message does all this buck-passing send to disabled people using our buses?
I am sorry the hon. Gentleman feels that way about access for disabled people. It is a matter that I take very seriously, and it is right that we do so. There is obviously a big problem in upgrading to allow access for all right across the public services but, as I pointed out, we have invested quite a lot of money. On his more detailed questions about bus access, I will write to him.
On disability, the abolition of the tax disc has been a challenge to local authorities, which want to know who is exempt from parking charges. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency was going to give information to local authorities about who was exempt, but because of complaints about it giving information about people on benefits and with disabilities, it has stopped doing so. Many of my constituents now have to pay or are being fined and have to fight with local authorities to avoid paying a £60 or £100 fine. Can we sort this out, as it is causing undue stress to many disabled people?
Great Western Main Line
9. What assessment he has made of the recent performance of train services on the great western main line. (907143)
In the latest operating period to 3 January, the First Great Western public performance measure was 82.5%. The average for the previous year was 87.7%. Both measures are below the target of 90.3% set by the Office of Rail Regulation for this franchise. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman has heard Network Rail, the regulator and many MPs saying that this is not good enough.
Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed by the RMT, TSSA and other organisations and passenger groups about the future provision of buffet cars and guards on First Great Western services? Was she aware of those concerns before the Department awarded a direct award franchise to an extension to the First Great Western franchise?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman, like me, is delighted that this line is receiving so much investment, in the form of billions of pounds for electrification and the new intercity express programme rolling stock to which he alludes, which will transform the passenger experience. I gently encourage him not to read the scaremongering press releases put out by the RMT. I have visited the IEP mock-ups. I have discussed in great detail what the franchising and catering capabilities will be. It is up to the operators to specify, and I am sure he will have seen the East Coast statements that it intends to offer an enhanced catering service on those trains when they are running. I am happy to discuss this further with the hon. Gentleman, but I suggest he looks at the facts, not the scaremongering.
I am pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that the present service on the First Great Western line is not good enough. As she will know as a south-west MP, one of the biggest issues is capacity. I know that new rolling stock is to be introduced, but will that be enough to address the terrible overcrowding issues, which I am sure her constituents have raised with her, as mine have with me?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that there is crowding. There was a great lack of investment in the line under the Government whom she supported. In addition to the IEPs, one and a half first class carriages are being declassified and standard class seating is being put in. It is happening now—I have sat in the 2,000th seat to be declassified. Although that is not the whole solution, I think we will see reduced overcrowding, particularly when passengers come in from Reading to Paddington, which is where trains can get extremely crowded.
We are delivering £38 billion of investment on our existing rail network. In addition, HS2 will deliver a £42.6 billion programme to build a new railway, linking London to our other great cities. It will reach Birmingham by 2026 and Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
Transport links are crucial to the economy of the black country. Currently, commuters between Wolverhampton and Walsall have to go through a connection at Birmingham New Street, which takes double the time it would take to drive. Will the Minister, with local support, consider a reintroduction of the line between Walsall and Wolverhampton?
David Higgins has described the transport links between Sheffield and Manchester as a matter of national concern. Under his proposals for an HS3 line, it merely goes from Manchester to Leeds, and to get from Manchester centre to Sheffield centre, one will have to go on HS3 to north of Wakefield, down on HS2 to Meadowhall, and then back to Sheffield centre. It will take longer than the current trundle through Hope valley. If improving connectivity is an important issue for the Government, should not this whole project get a complete rethink?
Improving connectivity is a very important issue for this Government. That is why we have not only a long-term economic plan but a long-term infrastructure plan. I have some very good news for the Labour party. Its plans, both economic and on infrastructure, seem to have been drawn up on the back of a fag packet; the good news is that there will be more room on the back from now on.
Though my constituents would be happy to see new rail lines built, they would prefer better services on the existing ones. East Midlands Trains, which operates the Grimsby-Lincoln-Newark service, most of which is provided by a single-car unit, has been telling me for four and a half years that it will improve that by making it two cars. When will the Minister act to do something about that?
It is always important to address such issues when franchises come up. One of the problems we are facing in announcing all these programmes up and down the country is that everybody is now wanting to jump on the bandwagon to catch up and see the investment coming to their area after a 13-year period of drought in real investment in infrastructure.
Last week I introduced an extensive package of compensation and assistance for property owners along the London to Birmingham High Speed 2 route. That will look after the people who live along the HS2 route while balancing this with our responsibility to the taxpayer. People will also be helped by HS2’s new residents charter and the appointment of a residents commissioner.
Thanks to the support I have had from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, I hope that we can move to a position of replacing the Pacers. They have certainly outlived their useful purpose, and I know that many people want them replaced, as do I, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. It is a pity we have had to wait so long and that 13 years were wasted.
T2. Tomorrow I will visit Abbott and Co. of Newark, a fourth-generation local business that has been manufacturing boilers and fittings for British vessels flying the red ensign since HMS Warrior in the 1860s. What more are the Government doing to support the maritime sector given its importance to the economy? (907165)
I have been maritime Minister for a relatively short time in which we have developed a maritime skills strategy and a maritime growth plan. There are those, tinged by the melancholy of what is past, who do not believe that our future can be as bright. I believe, imbued with the spirit of Nelson, that our island nation’s seafaring future can be just as glorious as its past.
Last week the “Buses in crisis” report from the Campaign for Better Transport revealed that since 2010 more than 2,000 bus routes have been cut and bus fares have risen by 25% on average—five times faster than the rise in average wages—while bus companies continue to make big profits and big bonuses for people at the top. Why will not the Government back Labour’s proposals to legislate to give London-style powers to city and county regions in England, which would give passengers the power to control fares, set routes and integrate services? If it is okay for Boris, then why not the same powers for Bristol, Birmingham, Bedford, Brighton, Burnley, Bradford, Burton, Blackpool and Barnsley?
I do not know quite where the hon. Gentleman gets his facts from. Between 1997 and 2010, the annual average increase in English bus fares, in real terms, was 2.25%, whereas between 2010 and 2013 the increase was 1.5%, so there was a lower increase under this Government than during the whole period of the previous Government. The simple fact is that buses play a very important role in offering transport opportunities both to younger people and older people. That is why we have kept, and will keep, concessionary bus fares for older people.
T3. Are Ministers aware that, every time residents complain to me about cyclists recklessly and dangerously riding their bikes on pavements, the police refer me to section 72 of the Highways Act 1835? Do they agree that that legislation is somewhat outdated, because in terms of its effectiveness it is absolutely useless? (907166)
The Highways Act 1835 was drafted in the era of the penny-farthing, but it still applies in the era of carbon fibre and lycra. If a police officer observes reckless riding on the pavement, he has three options: he can warn the person, issue a fixed-penalty fine or report them for prosecution. The legislation is still enforced and it is up to the police and police and crime commissioners to make sure it is used properly.
T6. The Secretary of State backs greater transport powers for Greater Manchester, yet for the past four years his Department has refused to support a similar quality contract scheme for buses across Tyne and Wear. If it is good enough for Greater Manchester, why is it not good enough for us in Tyne and Wear? (907169)
T4. I will meet the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) shortly, but will he heed the representations of Councillor David Salter and ask the Highways Agency to review the new design of the A5 Wall Island, which is still causing accidents, tailbacks and huge chaos for my constituents in Shenstone, Wall and Muckley Corner? (907167)
My hon. Friend has presented me with a diagrammatic representation: his original version was a cross between an egg timer and a peanut, but he has now given me a more detailed one. I am aware of the situation. As he will know, the Highways Agency spent £1.5 million on the scheme. Nevertheless, I know there remain problems and I am happy for him to meet with me and the Highways Agency to see if the problems can be solved.
The Prime Minister has said that the Pacer trains are going, but the Treasury has said it will only encourage bidders, so will the Secretary of State give a guarantee that all Pacers will be replaced and a date for when that will happen?
I am pleased that we are making progress that was not made between 1997 and 2010. We are making huge investments in trains and I am very pleased about that. The invitations to tender will be issued shortly and I hope to be able to say more about it then.
T5. The Department for Transport is consulting on removing the MOT exemption for HGVs based on Bute, Islay, Mull and Tiree, but the exemption is there for a very good reason: there are simply not enough HGVs on those islands to justify the cost of an authorised testing facility and the cost of taking an HGV to the mainland is very high. Will Ministers please stop this burden on island businesses? (907168)
The hon. Gentleman knows that the consultation is being looked at on a Great Britain-wide basis and specific exemptions are indeed made for local service and delivery issues. I encourage him to continue eloquently to make the case for the existing exemption in his neck of the woods.
The rail Minister will know that, due to the rebuild of London Bridge station, overcrowding on Southeastern services into Cannon Street has reached dangerous levels. What was previously a poor service is now utterly abysmal. What immediate action will she take to ensure that every rush hour train into Cannon Street is formed of 12 cars, and can she guarantee that the old Thameslink rolling stock, which will become available towards the end of the year, will be used to increase capacity on those services?
The hon. Lady knows that there are potentially many solutions to solving the many problems caused by the unprecedented rebuild of one of London’s oldest stations. I am glad that, directly after these questions, she will join me at the performance summit, which is being held on a cross-party basis, with the operator, Network Rail and the regulators, where we will be able to hear answers from those specifically in charge of running the railways.
T8. The problems in the channel tunnel have led to the use of Operation Stack on the M20, which, as ever, is causing huge disruption to traffic in my constituency and across Kent. What progress is being made in finding an off-road solution to parking trucks when they cannot get across the channel?
Following the disruption this week, we obviously need to look at and investigate that matter further. I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend and the relevant authorities to discuss what solutions there may be should it happen again in the future.
Local councils and parties up and down the east coast from Aberdeen and Edinburgh to London have come together in the Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities with a plan for comprehensive improvements to infrastructure and trains on the east coast main line. Will the Secretary of State look at those proposals? Does he accept that improvements to the east coast main line are an essential complement to High Speed 2, not an alternative?
I am certainly happy to look at the proposals. We are making huge progress with the IEP trains—we are making a dramatic increase in investment on that line—but I am always willing to look at reasonable proposals to improve services for our constituents.
T9. Since 2005, the number of passengers visiting Wolverhampton station has more than doubled. Recent passenger survey returns show that the service is poor, particularly at peak times. Will the Secretary of State meet me and investors in the station to talk about the specific issues of extended leases and facility charging so that Wolverhampton station can get its new station and we can complete the interchange project? (907172)
When I went back to Wolverhampton station in my early days as Secretary of State, I said that it had not changed much since I used it as a small young person. I said that it was not very good then, and had not improved very much since. I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that problem. I would however say that there are some major station improvements in the west midlands, not least at Birmingham New Street. It is about time that such improvements moved up to Wolverhampton.
I wrote to the Secretary of State before Christmas about the Trafford Park Metrolink extension and ITV’s concerns that noise from trams on the route in front of the set of “Coronation Street” may cause difficulties with filming. While ITV and Transport for Greater Manchester argue, I am sure that he agrees with me that anything that might delay progress in getting the extension built would be very regrettable. What can he do to help to unblock the situation?
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress with connectivity to Leeds Bradford airport? The prospect of a link road is of great concern to many of my constituents. Surely an effective contribution to the northern economic powerhouse would be for one of the largest airports in the north to be connected to the rail network.
Equipped with the information I need, I have that very study here. My hon. Friend is right that it says that a road link is important, but it does not of course rule out a rail link in the way he describes and of which I know he has been a great advocate. In that context, I will take another look at the matter, which of course has to be taken forward locally. He has been a great champion. How proud the people of Pudsey must be to be represented by my hon. Friend.
Last Thursday in Committee, the charming Minister pushed through amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to change the electronic communications code. Last night, he sneaked upstairs to the Public Bill Office to table amendments to delete the very same changes that he made last week. Are these the shortest lived amendments in the history of this House? To be blunt—[Interruption.] I am here all week. To be blunt, is it not time to say that the Government’s whole deal with the mobile phone companies has fallen apart?
My advice to the hon. Gentleman is that it is always better to be sharp than to be blunt, but that option is not available to him most of the time. The truth is that we have listened, because we want to move forward in a spirit of consensus. We know that it is vital to reform the code, and we want to do it properly. The Opposition made the case that we should withdraw it, think again and work with all concerned to make it work, but now when we do so, they criticise us. They cannot have it both ways.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Private Members’ Bills
It is the responsibility of the Member in charge of the Bill to make a request to the Government to table any money or Ways and Means motion that may be required in respect of private Members’ Bills that have had a Second Reading. It is the usual but not invariable practice of the Government to accede to such requests.
On Monday, the House adjourned after barely three hours of Government business, so is it not an outrage that the Leader of the House cannot find time to bring to the House important money resolutions on private Members’ Bills, such as that of the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), which would exempt thousands of disabled people from the terrible effects of the Government’s hated bedroom tax?
On the question of Monday’s business, it is right to allocate a full day of debate on the Floor of the House when all stages of a Bill are being considered. It is up to the House if it does not use the full time, but there would be considerable objections if we did not allocate a full day for all stages of a Bill. As I have explained to the House before, the problem with the money resolutions on the Affordable Homes Bill and the European Union (Referendum) Bill is not one of time; there has been no agreement in the coalition about those money resolutions, and that remains the case.
It is six months since the House voted to back the excellent Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) which would reverse the worst aspects NHS privatisation, yet the Government have failed to bring forward the necessary motion for it to proceed to Committee. Will the Leader of the House listen to the will of the House and the British public, and ensure that it is respected by acting so that the Bill can now proceed to Committee?
There was necessary consideration of whether a money resolution was needed for that Bill. The House authorities have confirmed that no money resolution is needed for the Bill to enter Committee and I have now instructed officials to table the motion that will facilitate the establishment of another Committee so that the Bill can proceed.
As the Leader of the House will be aware, the Procedure Committee recommended, as part of its inquiry into private Members’ Bills procedure, that if a money resolution has not been tabled by a Minister within three weeks of Second Reading, a written ministerial statement should be made setting out the reasons for the delay. Does he think that that would be a sensible change to introduce?
I am certainly aware of that recommendation of the Procedure Committee, and my hon. Friend is right to remind the House of it. There may be a variety of views in the House on it. It is important for Ministers to explain why, in one way or another, when a money resolution is not granted, as I have done for the Bills in question during this Session.
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the answer that he gave the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy)? Even if there had been a need for a money resolution for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), it would have been totally wrong to bring one before the House, because the Bill is based on an utter fallacy and on misinformation, as no privatisation of the health service is planned under this Government.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Were a money resolution required on that or any other Bill, the Government must also have regard, in granting a money resolution, to whether huge expenditure could be involved. It would therefore be irresponsible for any Government to say that they would always grant a money resolution under any circumstances.
Many people will be curious about the answers that the right hon. Gentleman gave to the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and my hon. Friends, because although the Procedure Committee first published its recommendations on private Members’ Bills on 2 September 2013 and published revised proposals on 24 March 2014, the Government still have not allocated time for the House to debate the report. When will the Government provide that time so that we can drag the private Members’ Bills process into the 21st century?
There are quite a lot of outstanding reports from the Procedure Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows well. I have been taking stock of them recently, and I certainly intend that a very large proportion of them will be debated in the House shortly, before Dissolution—I will announce in due course in what order—so that consideration can be given to the many changes that the Procedure Committee has recommended.
Backbench Business Committee
The Leader of the House has not made a recent assessment of the effect of the introduction of the Backbench Business Committee on the work of the House, but the Government response to the Procedure Committee’s review agreed that the Backbench Business Committee has been widely welcomed as a successful and effective innovation.
This Parliament has seen votes on numerous Back-Bench motions completely ignored by the Government, including a vote to end the badger cull, which proceeded, and a vote to make personal, social, health and economic education a statutory requirement. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that it is time to take the will of the House seriously? What is the purpose of Parliament if the Government just pick and choose which votes they want to act on?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will be aware that the outcome of Back-Bench debates is not binding on the Government. However, the Government have taken account of many Back-Bench debates. For instance, policy has changed on the issue of VAT on fuel for air ambulances, and on cheaper petrol and diesel following a motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Of course, there was also the successful campaign on the release of documents relating to Hillsborough.
May I, too, welcome the excellent work of the Backbench Business Committee, which has chosen debates that the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) and I have asked for on a number of reports by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? The strength of the Backbench Business Committee is that its time is for debating purposes, but will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House consider the possibility of a debate either selected by the Backbench Business Committee or in Government time on how the House deals with the scrutiny of European Union matters? When an implementing regulation comes before the House, hon. Members should be allowed to amend as well as just debate it.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Houses of Parliament: Shared Services
There has been no overall assessment of the potential financial savings from increased joint working with the House of Lords. Subject to what is said later today in the debate on the report by the House of Commons Governance Committee, the Commission expects to write to the Lords House Committee shortly to propose an initial joint meeting later this year. I would not be surprised if the issues raised in the Governance Committee’s report about greater bicameral working were on the agenda for that meeting.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, and he will know that there is wide support for that in the Governance Committee. Members would like to see such work go forward as quickly as possible. The trouble with this place and the other place is that things can be dragged out for some time, so will he ensure that we can move down the road a lot quicker than usual?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, both Houses are sovereign, so we must make progress through dialogue and agreement. However, I am much encouraged by how the joint service for procurement was set up last year, and I believe that there is an appetite in both Houses to reach agreement. I will certainly do all I can to assist in that.
I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely interesting question. I would observe that when one is appointed chief executive of an organisation in the private sector, one is in charge, one takes responsibility and one gets on with it. In this place and the other place, we are responsible to the Members, so it is necessary to have a structure that properly reflects that. One therefore tries to take the best bits of governance that one has learned from the private sector but use them in a way that serves the House and its primary purpose of legislation.
The right hon. Gentleman also knows that this is not just about cost saving. Many of us are in favour of serious economies, but we want an effective system across both Houses that delivers good improvements to the quality of our ability to do our job. Many of us want co-operation on security and other things with the House of Lords, but this is not just about cost cutting; it is about getting a better service to Members of this House.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman and that is exactly what has been happening. Let us consider, for example, what is happening with the security services being brought in-house. That is the most effective model and will deliver the best service. The joint procurement service has been put together between the two Houses. The primary reason for that was to increase governance, but it is now also producing savings without any detriment—indeed, there is an improvement—to services. I am at one with the hon. Gentleman on that objective, and I believe we are starting to deliver it.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Private Members’ Bills
No; in July 2012 the House voted against a proposal to consider private Members’ Bills on Tuesday evenings, following a report from the Procedure Committee. In its subsequent report on private Members’ Bills, that Committee assessed the timing for consideration of those Bills but did not recommend a significant increase in the total amount of time available.
In 23 years as a Member of the House I have never been fortunate enough to have my name come up in the ballot for a private Member’s Bill, and I do not think that as a legislator I should have to wait a generation for an active chance to legislate in this House on behalf of my constituents. Will the Leader of the House set up a working party, which includes my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, to consider better ways of giving Back Benchers the opportunity to legislate?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not had that chance in 23 years. I am sure that whatever he introduced would have been brilliant, and the nation has been deprived of that legislation. However, many hon. Members across the House are fortunate enough to be able to do that—22 private Members’ Bill have attained Royal Assent so far in this Parliament, and I am sure there will be others during this Session. These questions are for the Procedure Committee and, as I said, it has reported on private Members’ Bills but did not recommend a significant increase in the time available.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Parliamentary Digital Service
Rob Greig, currently chief technology officer at the Royal Opera House, has been appointed as director of the Parliamentary Digital Service. His main duties will be to develop and implement a digital strategy for Parliament and bring together Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology and the Web and Intranet Service into a unified, digital service. A copy of his job description will be placed in the Library.
I am grateful for that answer—unlike the Carol Mills disaster, this appointment seems to be well made. I understand that Rob Greig will be responsible to the Clerks of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Does the right hon. Gentleman think there will be a conflict of interest, and if there were to be, how might it be resolved?
I preface my answer by saying that our important debate this afternoon will touch on a great many of these matters. Such things are currently being debated and need to be worked out. This is a bicameral appointment which, under the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007, is made by the corporate officers of the two Houses. We will clearly have to work out the best line management going forward, but I believe that with the current flow of good will in both Houses, that should be eminently achievable.
Will this person also talk to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which regulates most of the provision of IT services for Members of Parliament? Neither printer in my constituency office has worked since November, and IPSA will not let me buy a new one. I have literally no means of sending a letter to my constituents—[Interruption.] Or to Government Members. Surely a vital part of a Member’s job is to be able to write to their constituents.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will look into that specific case because I do not have an accurate answer for him. My belief is that a repair service would fall under PICT and should be provided, but I would like to check and give him an accurate answer.
Order. It has been brought to my attention that following the Division yesterday on the ten-minute rule motion in which he acted as a Teller for the Noes, the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) was listed as a supporter of the Bill, then introduced by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams). A Member whose name is to be announced as a supporter of a Bill should not vote or tell against the introduction of that Bill. That is contrary to the well-established principle of this House that a Member’s vote must agree with his voice. In line with previous rulings from this Chair, I must give directions that the hon. Member’s name be removed from the list of supporters of the Bill, and that the Journal be corrected accordingly.
Child Abuse Inquiry
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the child abuse inquiry.
In July last year, I announced the establishment of the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse. The inquiry will consider whether public bodies and other, non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. As I said when I established the inquiry, it must expose the failures of the past and must make recommendations to prevent them from ever happening in the future.
The House is aware that the first two nominees for chairman of the inquiry resigned after it became apparent to them that they did not command the full confidence of survivors. I am clear that the new chairman must be someone who commands that confidence, and who has the necessary skills and experience to carry out this vital work. In my work to find that person, as I told the House I would do, I have undertaken a number of meetings with the survivors of child abuse and their representative bodies. I have been deeply moved by the courage and the candour they have shown in telling me their harrowing stories and the experiences they have been through. I am absolutely committed to finding the right chairman to ensure they get the answers they deserve.
Not only does the inquiry need the right chairman, but it needs the right powers. That means the ability to compel witnesses and full access to all the necessary evidence. In December, I wrote to panel members to set out the three options that could give the inquiry those powers. I confirmed the options in my evidence that month to the Home Affairs Committee. I also confirmed to panel members that I would make my decision on the right model for the inquiry and the chairman by the end of January. It remains my intention to make a statement to the House shortly after I have made that decision, and after the necessary interviews and careful due diligence work have taken place.
It is important that the inquiry can get on with its work, but it is also vital that it has the right chairman, the right structures and the full confidence of the people for whom it has been established. We face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expose the truth, to deliver justice to those who have suffered and to prevent such appalling abuse from ever happening again. That is what survivors of child abuse deserve and that is what I remain determined to deliver.
It is now 200 days since the Home Secretary agreed to set up the inquiry into historic child abuse. On 14 July, the first chair stood down and on 2 November the second chair stood down, both times because the Home Secretary had not done proper checks or consulted survivors. She promised then that the best way forward was for the panel to get started without the chair, and said that it would hold meetings with survivors and start gathering evidence. Yesterday the inquiry website announced that all further listening sessions were cancelled. She said in November she had confidence in the panel, yet over Christmas there were reports that she was writing to panel members asking them to re-apply for their own jobs, and there have been troubling accounts of disagreements and tensions within the panel. She said in November she would consult the Opposition and others on a new chair, but we have heard nothing. She said she would make sure that the inquiry had the powers it needs, yet we are six months from the initial start of the inquiry, and we still have no chair, no clarity on the powers and no clarity on the timetable for something that is so important.
The Home Secretary will know how serious the inquiry is and how much it means to those who endured awful abuse in childhood and were not listened to then but deserve to be listened to and to have the chance of justice now—yet they are being let down.
In November, the Home Secretary made much of apologising to the survivors and she promised personally to sort things out. She said she had a direct message to them:
“I know…you have questioned the legitimacy of this process…I understand that. I am listening.”
Despite the fact that she had already messed up twice, we and many others supported her in November because we were very keen to see an effective inquiry up and running, and we took her commitment in good faith. She is now at risk, however, of making a fool of everyone because the inquiry has stalled again—yet it has become more important than ever.
Since November, the allegations have become more serious. The police are now investigating allegations of child murder, involving senior figures linked to Dolphin square. A Government file has emerged, containing further potential allegations of abuse, clearly not seen by the Wanless review. These need to be investigated by the police—not just by the inquiry—but this makes it even more vital that a serious and credible inquiry is under way with the confidence of the public and survivors.
Given the seriousness of this matter, I say there is now no choice but to start this inquiry again properly, with a new chair and statutory powers and proper consideration given to the scope and purpose, involving the survivors themselves. This should not be beyond the wit of a Home Secretary. Other people have set up effective inquiries—Hillsborough, the Northern Ireland inquiry into child abuse and the Soham inquiry—and we are now six months on, with still no chair, still no powers, still no clarity. It is deeply unfair on survivors of abuse, who need to be listened to and who need justice. When will she sort this out?
The right hon. Lady is trying to make an argument between us about this inquiry where I think none exists—or certainly none should exist. She has indicated in her response that she believes an inquiry should be set up with a new chairman and with statutory powers. That is exactly what I said I would be doing when I last made a statement to this House.
I said in my response to her urgent question today that I set out the timetable to panel inquiry members in the letter I sent them in December and that I would make the decision on the right model for the inquiry and the chairman by the end of January. Three options are available in order to get statutory powers for the inquiry. One is to set up a royal commission, and the others are two variations on setting it up as a statutory inquiry: one to start again and reset it as a statutory inquiry, the other to await the appointment of the chairman and continue the current panel, but with statutory inquiry powers. I made that clear in the letter I sent to panel members, and I set out those three options when I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
The right hon. Lady mentions the very serious issues that have come to light, which are being investigated by the police. It is absolutely right that the police investigate allegations. That is not going to be a job for the panel inquiry: investigation of allegations rests with the police, and will always rest with the police, and it is important that that is what happens.
The right hon. Lady made reference to the file that has come to light. We are checking that today, but I understand that it may be a duplicate of a file that was at the Home Office and was seen by Wanless and Whittam during their review. Of course, we are checking that. Any allegations relating to that file will be passed to the police and those concerned to ensure that they are looked at properly.
The right hon. Lady talked about the role of the panel inquiry. It has been meeting survivors and has had a number of listening meetings with them. It was decided yesterday that from now on their work will focus on issues such as methodology that will assist the new chairman in making decisions. The panel wrote to say that it will not have any more listening meetings with survivors until the new chairman has been announced and the model for the inquiry has been announced. I respect that decision. I understand that it must have been difficult, but it was a decision for the independent inquiry panel members to take.
I am sure that everybody recognises that we want to get this right and that we want to ensure that we have the right chairman and the right powers.We received more than 150 nominations for the post of chairman following the resignation of Fiona Woolf. It is right for us to take our time in considering those nominations, and to apply due diligence to them, so that when I announce the name of the new chairman, everyone—I hope—will feel fully confident that that individual has the capability that is needed to ensure that the inquiry can do the job we all want it to do, which is to get at the truth.
I am sure that we are all grateful for the concern and sincerity that the Home Secretary is bringing to this incredibly difficult and sensitive inquiry. She should rest assured that we all want it to start work as soon as possible. However, she must know that organisations that support victims of child sex abuse are experiencing an increase in demand following the setting up of the inquiry. How can we further help those organisations to meet their funding needs as more and more people come forward requiring help?
My right hon. Friend has made an important point, which has been raised with me by groups who are representing and working with survivors. On 19 December, we announced that an extra £7 million would be available to such groups, and £2 million of that will be available specifically to groups that have received more requests for support as a direct result of the setting up of the inquiry. That is the child abuse inquiry support fund; a further £2.85 million will be available to child and adult victims of sexual abuse. The fund will be launched at the end of this month, and there will then be a very simple bidding process. We hope that that will provide the necessary support for groups that have experienced increased demand.
The Home Secretary has always been eloquent and sincere in her support for the victims of child abuse, but she is in danger of losing control of this process, which has been lamentable. If she reads the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee by members of the panel on Tuesday, she will see that there were allegations of bullying by some of them, and that after the evidence session the inquiry’s counsel called for Sharon Evans, one of only two survivors, to be removed from the panel. Moreover, the Minister for Crime Prevention, the right hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who is sitting next to the Home Secretary and who has responsibility for these issues, said that she had not seen the letter that the Home Secretary had sent to the panel, because she was in Burma.
This is a regrettable situation, and it needs to be brought to a conclusion. The Home Affairs Committee stands ready for confirmation hearings, and this is a big opportunity to draw a line under the past. Will the Home Secretary give a categorical assurance that once she has made her statement, the full package will be put before the House so that we know exactly where the inquiry is going to go?
It is indeed the case that a member of the panel said that she had made a complaint to the Home Office about the conduct of the inquiry’s counsel. The Home Office can confirm that that complaint has been fully investigated, and that no evidence of bullying was found. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s final question, I intend to announce the name of the nominated chairman to the House, together with the details of the form that the inquiry will take thereafter. The Home Affairs Committee will then be able to hold its hearing, which, as we have discussed, is an important part of the process.
I welcome the emphasis that the Home Secretary placed on the fact that the investigation of individual cases remains the task of the police. Justice will not be achieved unless, whenever possible, offenders are brought before the courts, and, if necessary, a police force other than the one in whose area the offence took place is involved.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have been very clear from the start in my statements to this House and more publicly and in what I have been discussing with survivors and their representatives that this panel inquiry will not have the ability to investigate potential criminal acts that have taken place. That is rightly for the police, and we will be ensuring that where people come forward with such allegations, those allegations will be appropriately treated. The national policing lead in relation to these matters is working on ensuring that a proper system is in place so that any allegations are dealt with appropriately by police forces.
I am afraid that this whole inquiry has now become a farce. It is very frustrating that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has had to call the right hon. Lady to come to the House, because we need transparency and clear communication. We also need not just an inquiry but a national taskforce, because this is a national issue and the regional forces do not have the capacity to deal with it.
I commend the hon. Lady once again for the work she has done, particularly on the child sexual exploitation that has taken place in Rotherham, but also for the way in which she is using that experience to inform others to try to ensure that we put in place the necessary support mechanism and that the terrible things that happened in Rotherham do not happen elsewhere.
I made it clear in my statement that I will come to this House once a decision about the chairmanship has been taken, and I was very clear in the letter I wrote to the panel inquiry members in December that that decision would be taken by the end of January. It is fully my intention to come to the House when that decision has been taken, as I indicated to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), to set the whole package before the House and for the House to be able to look at that.
The hon. Lady also raised a point that is not just about the work of the panel inquiry. I am also chairing a group of Secretaries of State who are looking more specifically at the allegations that arose in the Rotherham case, and which have, sadly, been replicated elsewhere, and particularly those from the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who did important work with Greater Manchester Police on what happened in Greater Manchester. We are looking at the issue of support, and work is being done with local authorities to look at the support that is available and how they can identify and make sure these things are not happening.
My right hon. Friend will probably be aware that the Communities and Local Government Committee has conducted an inquiry into what happened in Rotherham, and produced a report. We have now moved on to aspects of the Ofsted regime. My right hon. Friend may be aware from evidence that has now been presented that Ofsted in 2007, and right up until 2009, gave Rotherham a status of “adequate” when clearly it was not adequate at the time. As the same regime operated throughout the country, will my right hon. Friend ensure that when this inquiry takes place, the role of Ofsted, its inspection regime and the potential for failure to have occurred right across the country are adequately looked at?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issues that have been looked at by the Communities and Local Government Committee. Of course, the Secretary of State asked Louise Casey to review Rotherham council, and she has been doing that. The Secretary of State for Education is part of the Secretaries of State group that I mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and that group is looking at all aspects. It is looking not just at the local authorities’ response and the policing response, but at parts of the response under the remit of education and the role of Ofsted is coming into that. Work is therefore already being done, but of course the panel inquiry will be looking across the board at the state and non-state institutions that have a duty to protect children and how they are doing their job, and looking at what can be done to ensure that they are properly protecting children in future.
I have always held the Home Secretary in high regard, but this inquiry has become something of a complete shambles. It is so badly run that it is starting to make Chilcot look punctual and efficient. We now have no chair, no proper panel and no apparent means of finding any files. The Home Secretary mentions the file dealing with unnatural sexual behaviour at the top of Government. Why do the Government not now publish that file so that we can judge its importance, and who is going to be held accountable for the failure of this inquiry so far?
I recognise the significant campaigning the hon. Gentleman has done on this issue, as have other Members. A number of other Members of this House have been prepared to put their heads above the parapet on an issue that has sometimes not been easy to talk about, particularly in relation to some of the individuals who have been involved.
The hon. Gentleman said that there is no panel. There is a panel, which continues to meet and to do work. Since the last chairman resigned, it has continued to hold meetings with survivors and listening events. The panel has indicated that it will now delay any further listening events until the chairman is appointed, and I have said to this House, as I have to the panel members, that it was my intention to take a decision on the chairmanship by the end of January.
My understanding is that the Cabinet Office file to which the hon. Gentleman referred is being looked at to make sure that it can be passed to the National Archives, which would effectively make it public. That may require some redaction to take place, but I think everybody is aware that we want to ensure that the information that needs to be available is available.
I welcome what the Home Secretary said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) about additional support for victim support groups. How does she expect the £2 million fund for organisations experiencing an increase in demand for services will help support the victims of these awful crimes?
There are a number of jobs that need to be done. First, it is important that specific allegations of criminal actions are properly investigated and that, where possible, people are brought to justice as a result. Of course, the panel inquiry then needs to look at whether those state and non-state institutions that had a duty of care were properly exercising it, and, crucially, at what lessons can be learned for the future.
The revelations from Sky News yesterday about the document were significant and illuminating, and there is a clear public interest in knowing whether a former Prime Minister received a briefing by a senior intelligence officer or officers on sexual crimes committed. Regardless of whether the inquiry gets to see the document, can the Home Secretary not commit to publishing the document now, in the public interest, or at least commit to giving it to members of the Home Affairs Committee as part of their inquiry?
I recognise the points made by the hon. Gentleman—another Member of this House who has campaigned long and hard on these issues. As I understand it, and as I said earlier, the file has been passed to the police so that they can look at any issues within that file that they should be properly investigating. I assure the House that the file will be made available—as it is my intention that all files should be made available—to the inquiry panel, so that it can be appropriately looked at and considered in its work.
We have seen in the criminal justice system that delays to investigations matter, not least because of the age, declining health and, ultimately, mortality of the accused, resulting in survivors being robbed of the opportunity to have their evidence heard in court. How does the Home Secretary propose to ensure that the circumstances surrounding such cases do not similarly fall out of the reach of the inquiry?
The hon. Gentleman is right that for those who have specific allegations of abuse, of criminal activity having taken place, it is important that that be properly investigated. It is possible to bring people to justice some years after the events about which allegations were made. I refer the hon. Gentleman, for example, to the work of the National Crime Agency through Operation Pallial in north Wales, where an individual has been prosecuted despite the fact that the allegations concerned incidents that took place some years ago. We are already ensuring that allegations that come forward are properly passed to the police, not waiting for the inquiry to get fully up and running before doing so. Those allegations are being properly looked at.
There have been a lot of casualties in this very sensitive process. Has the Home Secretary, with the great authority the Home Office holds, ever considered that she might be the problem? Has she considered the unthinkable? Has she considered resigning?
I am firmly committed, as are all Members of this House, to ensuring that we get this inquiry up and running fully, with a chairman. I have apologised to the House and to the survivors for the fact that two chairmen have resigned, but I would also say to the hon. Gentleman that it is this Government who agreed to set up this inquiry. Yes, we are now in a position where we have to look for a further chairman, but we have a panel set up and it is our intention to ensure that that inquiry gets fully up and running with a chairman and that we get to the truth. That is what everybody wants.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to proceed with care and caution in the appointment of a new chairman, because it is essential that whoever is chosen should be the right person for the role. Is she confident, however, that once the new chairman is appointed, the inquiry will report in a shorter period of time than the Chilcot inquiry is taking?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The inquiry will be looking into significant issues and it will not be able to come to decisions in a short space of time. However, the panel members I have spoken to are clear—as am I—that they should recognise the need for striking a balance between getting to decisions and ensuring that they are doing the full job. This is not an inquiry that should simply be pushed into the long grass, and we need to have some answers for the survivors within a reasonable period of time. I have said before in the House that the inquiry panel, under the new chairman, will have to look into whether they report to survivors and survivors groups, to this House and more widely on a more ongoing basis than would normally be the case, because of the nature of the issues that they are dealing with.
I do not for one moment doubt the Home Secretary’s commitment to holding a thorough inquiry, but does she acknowledge that if someone had set out to wreck the whole process from the very beginning, that person could not have done a more effective job than this? I hope she recognises that this is a tragedy. It goes beyond Ministers or Back Benchers or anything of the kind. As far as the survivors are concerned, what has occurred is a tragedy—first, when they were abused, and now with what appears, to them at least, to have been a farce since the inquiry was established.
I recognise that survivors will rightly be concerned to ensure that the panel inquiry is established on the basis on which they wish it to be established, with a chairman, and that it gets on with its role. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, when the inquiry was first established, it was based on the model that we had used for the Hillsborough inquiry, which had been very successful. We felt that that was an appropriate model to use in the circumstances. In discussions with survivors and others, however, it became clear—particularly from the survivors—that they felt that statutory powers were needed, which is why I have indicated that when the inquiry continues under a new chairman, it will do so on a statutory basis.
We have brought that list down, and it is now quite a short list. I will not give the House any more details at this stage because I have undertaken that we will discuss this matter with the survivors and their representatives. I believe that that is an important first step.
One consequence of the ongoing delays and confusion surrounding this important inquiry is the continuing lack of a clear understanding of, and provision for, the needs of survivors in terms of support, counselling and mental health treatment, where appropriate. Practices and capabilities are very different around the country. Will the Home Secretary tell us what she is doing financially to support the delivery of better practice in this important area?
Yes, that is an important aspect. It is something that has emerged not only in relation to this inquiry, but post the Rotherham work and the report from Professor Alexis Jay. The whole question of what support is available to victims has been an important issue. A number of things have been happening. As I mentioned earlier, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), a sum of money is being made available to groups that are dealing with the victims and survivors who have come forward. Often it is those groups that are the first port of call for individuals, and it is important that they are giving that support. But we are doing other things as well. We have been working with the Department of Health in looking at the specific support that it can offer. We are also looking at the interaction of the various agencies in a particular area, including local authorities—we have been actively doing that post-Rotherham—and the availability of support for survivors and victims. Not everybody will have the same needs or the same wishes with regard to support. What is important is that a range of support is available, and that people can see where they can access the support that suits them best.
The Home Secretary said earlier that this missing file may turn out to be a duplicate, which would obviously put a different complexion on events. Given the cloud of suspicion, I cannot believe that it can take more than a couple of days to clarify whether it is a duplicate or a withheld file. Will she agree to come back to the House next week and tell us which it is?
Work is being actively done to look at that file to see whether it is a duplicate. I have made it clear to the House that I intend to take a decision on the chairmanship and the nature of the inquiry by the end of January and that shortly after that I intend to report to the House on that matter. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might recognise that the end of January is only about a week away. Shortly after that, I intend to come to the House to make a statement, in which I will include the issue that he has raised.
Having served on an inquiry team that looked into abuse in residential child care in Edinburgh, I have some understanding of the issues and the sensitivities involved. However, I have been horrified at the delay, which is obviously having an impact on survivors. Will the Home Secretary assure us that whatever model she adopts, there will at least be a representative of the survivors organisation on that panel and that the survivors will continue to be fully informed, otherwise this inquiry will have no credibility whatever?
I am happy to give that undertaking. When we set up the initial panel, we ensured that survivors were on it to give their experience. I am very happy to give the undertaking that there should be survivors and/or their representatives on the panel inquiry as it goes forward. Another issue that we have been considering, and that the new chairman will wish to consider, is how to ensure that we have the maximum ability to work with survivors. As membership of the panel will be limited, we may have to do that through groups that are advising the panel and that are additional to it.
The Home Affairs Committee was told that there will be an investigation into allegations that Whips in this House have concealed evidence of paedophilia by Members in order to blackmail them in the Division Lobby. The range of investigations being carried out by this committee is vast, involving tens of thousands of incidents. Is it not right that we look again at the scope of the investigation, because it is unlikely that it can achieve the expectations of the victims within a reasonable time, and should we not look at more forensic investigations that can be attainable with results in a reasonable time?
It is important that the terms of reference do not leave out anything in the work of the inquiry panel. How the chairman, when appointed, will wish to take that forward as regards the specific areas they want to consider will be a matter for them. It has been made very clear by survivors in discussions with me and others that they want to ensure that the inquiry does not inadvertently or deliberately leave out areas that they feel it should cover within the geographical limits that we have set, of England and Wales. On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I have written to party leaders to ask them to ensure that their parties co-operate fully with any requests from the inquiry.
The Home Secretary set up the Macur review into the Waterhouse inquiry in north Wales more than two years ago and it is yet to report. There is growing expectation in north Wales that it will not report until after the general election. Is the Home Secretary aware that that is contributing to a collapse in confidence in the political process that has affected all of our reputations? Will she please pull the inquiry together and hasten the release of the Macur review?
Once inquiries are set up, it is up to those who are conducting them to decide how they wish to conduct them and when they will publish the results. As I have already said, the work in north Wales has resulted not just in the review but in Operation Pallial, which has had an impact and has identified at least one individual who has been prosecuted.
Key to the success of the inquiry will be the stalwart confidence of the survivors and relatives and of the broader public, yet that confidence has drained away day by day, week by week and month by month. I do not doubt the Home Secretary’s sincerity and commitment one jot, but what assurance can she give that she can restore that confidence? Without it, the inquiry is doomed.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the inquiry must have the confidence of the survivors and that is why the two chairmen who had previously been appointed resigned. They felt that they did not have the confidence of survivors. I do not see quite the same picture as him as regards survivors, as in the meetings that I and others have with survivors we have been keeping them informed about matters as they go forward. Of course it is important that survivors have confidence in the inquiry, and that is why it is my intention to involve them in discussions about the appointment of the chairman.
More survivors are coming forward to the police, so could the Home Secretary say something about police practice in dealing with them? In particular, is she encouraging the police to go beyond what I understand to be current guidance, which is to hand victims an agency referral sheet and on an exceptional basis to make an introduction to support services? What is she doing to encourage the police to facilitate access to support for those survivors who seek it?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Obviously, the police have one role to play and, generally, supporting victims requires others to step in. I will look at the guidance she mentions. I have had discussions with the national policing lead on the approach they are taking to allegations and Home Office officials have continued to talk to the police about ensuring that we set out the right route so that people who make allegations are given the right support during the investigation. Work is also being done on the support that will be available for those who come to the inquiry with allegations, which would of course follow a separate track to any information given by the police. We need to ensure that whoever the survivors interact with they are given the information they need and that they can have access to support.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) about the confidence of survivors, in my experience, having talked to some survivors, these people have very little confidence in a system that they feel has failed them. The appearance over the past six months or so is of an establishment stitch-up. I appreciate that that is not necessarily the fault of the right hon. Lady, who has good intentions, but that is how it appears to the public. She says, “I make a decision,” but can it be, “We make a decision,” so that we can be inclusive and so that from the outset survivors have confidence in the chairperson?
I have already said in response to a number of hon. Members that we will be talking to survivors about the future chairmanship of the inquiry. We have already been speaking to survivors about what they want to see from the inquiry, and the sort of person they want to see as chairman of the inquiry, and we will be having discussions with survivors about exactly that. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is important that people have confidence in the inquiry and that they do not believe that there is any attempt to cover anything up or somehow to push the inquiry off. That is absolutely not the case. It is my intention that the inquiry will be fully up and running with a new chairman soon, and I have given the timetable on which I wish to make a statement to the House.
The Home Secretary has repeatedly said that the decision on the new chairman will be made by the end of January, which is next week on Saturday. She has also said that there is quite a short list, that she wants to consult on that shortlist with survivors, and that once the appointment is made due diligence needs to be carried out. Is she confident that all that can be done next week without the risk of yet another farce and another chairman who is not acceptable to the survivors?
I think that the hon. Lady has slightly misunderstood my comments on due diligence. Due diligence has already been done, and further due diligence work is being done, so we will not be starting ab initio from the nomination of an individual. Obviously, in getting to the shortlist, a lot of work has been done in terms of the suitability of individuals to undertake this role. So a lot of the work has already been done.
As the Home Secretary will understand, one of the problems identified in past reviews of child abuse cases is that children’s services and police did not always recognise that the children were being sexually exploited. They were often referred to as making lifestyle choices or as child prostitutes. Does she agree that if a lesson is to be learned it is that language is important, and that this place should take the lead in stripping “child prostitution” from all the existing legislation and substituting “child sexual exploitation”, which is what it is?
I fully understand the point that the hon. Lady makes. The language of “child prostitution” has come up elsewhere, particularly in the Modern Slavery Bill that is going through the House. She is right: language does matter. But what also matters is the attitude that leads to that language. Using the correct term of “child sexual exploitation” is important. The sort of attitudes that were set out so graphically in Professor Alexis Jay’s report, whereby police and others appeared to take the view that this was the sort of thing that would happen to girls like that, is utterly appalling—a point I have made to the House previously. We cannot allow that attitude to continue, and we must ensure that we take every measure to ensure that those attitudes change.
Draft Scotland Clauses
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement to the House about the further devolution process in Scotland and the publication of draft clauses to implement the Smith commission agreement.
The draft clauses published today deliver a substantial package of new powers to the Scottish Parliament. We are publishing ahead of the Burns night deadline, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to honouring the vow made to the people of Scotland during the referendum and meeting the timetable we set out during the referendum to deliver further powers to Scotland.
The referendum on independence on 18 September 2014 saw Scotland vote decisively to remain within our United Kingdom family of nations, retaining the strength, security and stability of being part of the UK. But the Scottish people did not vote for no change. During the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, made a joint commitment to deliver more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
The Smith commission, chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, was the result of that commitment. All five main parties in Scotland came to the table and reached agreement on the proposals for further devolution to Scotland within the United Kingdom. The Government welcomed the fact that this was the first time that all of Scotland’s main parties had taken part in a process to decide the future of devolution. This landmark agreement was signed by all five parties. I am grateful to Lord Smith and the members of the commission for their work.
The commission’s heads of agreement were published on 27 November and the Government committed to bring forward draft clauses to implement the agreement by Burns night, 25 January. This was a challenging timetable, but, by publishing a Command Paper and draft clauses today, I am pleased to say that the Government have delivered on their commitment in advance of that deadline.
The clauses published today will make it possible quickly to translate the Smith commission agreement into law at the beginning of the next Parliament. The draft clauses provide for an already powerful Scottish Parliament to become further empowered and more accountable to those who elect it. As a result, the Scottish Parliament will become one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world.
I will begin with the constitutional measures. The biggest transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Minsters since the start of devolution comes with greater flexibility for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government to manage their own arrangements, with statutory recognition of the enduring place of a Scottish Parliament in the UK’s constitutional arrangements. Our commitment to the process has already been evidenced by the steps the Government have taken to enable the Scottish Parliament to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds in time for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, with an order now laid before both Parliaments.
On the fiscal framework, the package gives greater financial responsibility to the Scottish Parliament with an updated fiscal framework for Scotland, consistent with the overall UK fiscal framework. As the Smith commission agreement set out, the new fiscal framework will be agreed and implemented jointly by the UK Government and the Scottish Government through the Joint Exchequer Committee, with suitable engagement with both the UK and Scottish Parliaments. For the first time, more than 50% of the money spent by the Scottish Parliament will be funded by the Scottish Parliament. This is an important step that builds on the measures brought forward by this Government in the Scotland Act 2012 and further increases the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament to the people of Scotland.
Under the tax clauses, Scotland will receive extensive new tax powers without losing the essential elements of our unified tax system that support the single market and make the UK such an attractive place to do business. The Scottish Parliament will be given the power to set the rates of income tax and the thresholds at which these are paid for the non-savings and non-dividend income of Scottish taxpayers. This is the most significant tax in Scotland and a powerful redistributive tool.
The first 10 percentage points of the standard rate and the first 2.5 percentage points of the reduced rate of value added tax will be assigned to the Scottish Government. This means that the Scottish Government will retain half the VAT revenue generated in Scotland. The clauses also give the Scottish Parliament the power to charge a tax on air passengers departing from Scottish airports and on commercial exploitation of aggregate in Scotland.
The welfare clauses provide for key welfare measures to be designed by and delivered in Scotland. The Scottish Government will be responsible for a number of benefits, including those for disabled people and carers. Issues relating to long-term unemployment will be tackled with specific consideration of local circumstances. As set out by the Smith commission, universal credit will remain reserved, but the Scottish Government will have certain flexibilities, including the power to vary the housing cost element. Scotland will continue to share the benefits and strengths of the UK-wide system for pensions, labour market benefits and Jobcentre Plus.
Additional clauses build on the already significant powers of the Scottish Parliament and Government in a range of other policy areas. To give a few examples, there are new powers for the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction, powers to introduce gender quotas in respect of public bodies in Scotland, and powers to police the railways. Together, these clauses give greater responsibility for more decisions affecting Scotland to be made in the Scottish Parliament and paid for by revenue raised by the Scottish Parliament.
Later today, the Prime Minister and ministerial colleagues will host an event in Edinburgh to present the Command Paper and clauses to representatives of civic Scotland. This will signal the next phase of the work.
The clauses are presented today in draft. They will require further preparation to make them ready for their introduction in a Scotland Bill in the next Queen’s Speech. It has become clear that this legislation will be taken forward by whoever leads a Government after the general election. To get the clauses fully ready, the Government wish to engage with experts from civic Scotland. We are also committed to engaging with the Scottish Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition ahead of finalising the clauses for introduction. Questions of commencement and implementation will need to be answered, and in order to do this we will need to understand what the Scottish Government intend to do with the new powers. It will be necessary for the fiscal framework to be agreed alongside the introduction of the Scotland Bill.
Lord Smith made further observations to which we need to pay heed. In some areas, he recommends further devolution from the Scottish Parliament to local authorities in Scotland. He also recommended better working between the two Governments and the two Parliaments.
The Command Paper and draft clauses provide for a responsible and accountable Scottish Parliament inside a strong United Kingdom. By publishing ahead of time, the Government are demonstrating that they are meeting their guarantee to the people of Scotland. The clauses ensure a set of proposals that do not cause detriment to the UK as a whole or to any of its constituent parts.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom continue to prosper from our single domestic market, our social union, and the strength that comes from the pooling and sharing of risks. People in Scotland made it clear that they want to keep the advantages of a UK pound, UK pensions, UK armed forces, and a strong UK voice in the world. These clauses allow that to happen.
This is the package that Scotland voted for, it is what all parties in the Smith commission process signed up to, and it is what this Government are delivering today. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Today we mark another milestone in the delivery of the vow made to the people of Scotland before the independence referendum in September. The timetable set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) during the referendum campaign has now been exceeded at every stage, with a Command Paper on the process towards further powers just 25 days after the referendum; the conclusion of the Smith commission and agreement by all five of Scotland’s political parties before St Andrew’s day just 10 weeks after the referendum; and today, ahead of schedule, just 18 weeks after the referendum, the draft clauses that will form the basis of the next Scotland Bill.
Before I turn to our response to the draft clauses and the Command Paper laid before the House, I want to provide an absolute guarantee from the Labour Benches. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made clear on a number of occasions, the powers agreed by Smith will be delivered, and the next Labour Government will include a new Scotland Bill in our first Queen’s Speech. Labour created the Scottish Parliament in 1999, we supported more powers for the Parliament in 2012, and we will create a powerhouse Parliament with these new powers when we are in government.
Labour made it clear at the outset of the Smith commission process that we wanted a settlement that, first, respected the outcome of the referendum, namely a strong Scotland inside a UK where we pooled and shared risk; secondly, moved the maximum possible power from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament; and, finally, did not make Scotland worse off.
We are satisfied that the Smith commission delivered that outcome and we can say with confidence that with these clauses we will be delivering home rule—the full powers that Scotland needs. As the Command Paper notes, the powers the clauses will confer on the Scottish Parliament will mean that it will control about 60% of spending in Scotland and retain about 40% of Scottish tax. That will make it the third most powerful devolved Assembly in the OECD.
Before I turn to the detail of the clauses, I wish to press the Minister on two areas that I hope he will address in his reply. The Command Paper makes explicit reference to the Barnett formula and the agreement of all five parties during the Smith commission to its continuation. Can the Minister provide any more clarity about how the adjustment to the block grant will take place and how discussions with the Scottish Government to agree that are progressing?
I also wish to press the Minister on an item on page 40 of the Command Paper, which reproduces the following commitment from Smith:
“MPs representing constituencies across the whole of the UK will continue to decide the UK’s Budget, including Income Tax.”
Given the Chancellor’s comments at the Treasury Committee on Tuesday, can the Minister provide an absolute reassurance that that part of the Smith agreement will be respected, as it is not addressed in the paper?
I now wish to turn to the detail and the precise powers that the clauses will confer specifically over job creation, tax and social security. The clauses confer full power over income tax and a number of other taxes. We welcome the clarity provided by the Command Paper on the areas to be devolved. We welcome the extension of powers over VAT, which go further than the proposals of the Smith commission, but will the Minister explain why that change was made?
On welfare, the clauses will transfer extensive new powers on the Scottish Parliament, including powers worth £2.5 billion for welfare spending and the powers to create new benefits. Will the Minister confirm that the clauses as drafted respect the spirit and the letter of the Smith agreement and allow the Scottish Government to create new benefits? Will he also explain the process that will now be undertaken to examine in more detail the consequential arrangements to adjust the Scottish block grant to reflect what will now be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
On job-creating powers, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) has already raised with the Secretary of State, and at Scottish questions, our desire to see the job-creating powers of the Work programme passed to Scotland at the earliest opportunity. It continues to be our view that that could be achieved by using a section 106 order to transfer responsibility to the Scottish Government immediately. That would reduce any uncertainty about the effect of continuing contracts in Scotland and it would allow others to start to remedy the failure of this Tory Government’s Work programme in Scotland, which sees only one in five people into a job. Will the Minister consider again the introduction of those powers now?
Finally, I would welcome more clarity from the Minister on the devolution of the Crown Estate. Will he clarify the process that will be followed to determine the transfer scheme and how long it might take? Will he also explain how the Government will ensure that the Smith commission’s recommendation that the powers be further devolved to our island communities will be seen through? Many in our rural and island communities will want guarantees about the devolution of the Crown Estate and that the powers will be passed to the islands as both the UK and Scottish Governments promised during the referendum.
This is another milestone in Scotland’s home rule journey. The Smith agreement was the response to the call for change that we heard, and today one thing is clear: Scotland will have a powerhouse Parliament.
I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s commitment, and indeed that of his party both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, to the implementation of the Smith commission proposals. The position could not be clearer: whichever party is in government after the next general election, the proposals will be taken forward in the Queen’s Speech.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats have made it very clear that the Barnett formula is here to stay. The discussions on the creation of the fiscal framework will have to take into account the additional revenue raised by the Scottish Parliament. It is very important for MPs from Scotland to make it clear to our colleagues that the Scottish Parliament’s additional ability to raise funds will not be in addition to the block grant that it receives, because an amount still to be calculated will be deducted from the block grant under the Barnett formula.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of VAT. The Smith commission clearly made a recommendation on the standard rate of VAT, and the Government feel that it is entirely consistent to apply the same recommendation to the lower rate—the 5% rate—of VAT. That will ensure that Scotland receives 50% of the revenue raised.
The hon. Gentleman raised several issues about the welfare proposals. We and the Scottish Government have established a joint welfare working group at ministerial level—I will co-chair it with Alex Neil, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for such matters—which will take forward some of the issues. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Parliament will have full legislative responsibility for the Work programme. As I understand it—I will provide confirmation—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already written to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) to set out why he and the Government do not believe that the section 106 route is the right way to transfer the programme. If the letter has not already been delivered, I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a copy.
Of course we will proceed on the basis of good faith in relation to the Scottish Government and further devolution within Scotland. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Scottish Cabinet is coming to Dumfries on Monday, which will be a good opportunity for the Scottish Government to demonstrate that they are listening to people outwith the central belt of Scotland. I am sure that they will discuss the Crown estate, which is certainly an important issue in my constituency.
If I have not covered all the points made by the hon. Gentleman, I will write to him about those matters.
The coalition Government have moved with commendable speed to meet the aspirations of the Scottish people, and I welcome the statement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should now move with equal speed to meet the aspirations of the English?