House of Commons
Wednesday 1 July 2015
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
National Citizen Service
1. What progress he is making on increasing the number of places on the National Citizen Service. (900655)
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I first congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on the birth of her son in May? I am sure that it is the reason for her absence today, as she normally shadows me.
More than 135,000 young people have benefited from the National Citizen Service in recent years. In 2015, more young people than ever will have the opportunity to take part. I have written to all Northern Irish and English MPs encouraging them to visit an NCS programme near them this summer.
I have seen at first hand how the NCS programme can give young people greater confidence, help them work in their community and build long-lasting relationships. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government will continue to back the NCS into the future, so that we can give increasing numbers of young people the skills they need to get on in life?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his assessment, which is why I am delighted that more than 1,100 people took part in his constituency and the surrounding area last year and why I am committed to continuing the rapid expansion of the programme. He will be pleased to hear that 92% of participants say that the NCS helped them to develop useful skills for the future and 76% feel more confident about getting a job in the future.
I welcome the Minister’s answer. I am a tremendous supporter of the NCS programme, having seen the work done in north-east Lincolnshire, where the programme is delivered by Grimsby Town Sports and Education Trust. Does he agree that encouraging football clubs and similar organisations in this area encourages our young people to get even more involved in the programme?
I join my hon. Friend in thanking Grimsby Town for the part it played in supporting nearly 200 young people taking part in the NCS in his constituency and the surrounding area in 2014. In particular, I pay tribute to Graham Rodger and Lee Stephens for leading an excellent team. I understand from my hon. Friend that it contains a former Grimsby Town goalkeeper, so it could be said that the NCS is in safe hands.
In my area, 831 young people participated in the NCS last year. Does the Minister agree that the NCS reflects this Government’s one-nation values by bringing together young people from all backgrounds so that they develop greater self-awareness and responsibility?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that. That view is supported by consecutive independent evaluations, which have demonstrated the effectiveness of the programme for people from a range of backgrounds. For instance, in 2013, 16% of NCS participants were in receipt of free school meals, which compares with a figure of about 8% of 16 to 17-year-olds in the general population. Despite this great success, I still want to go further in reaching out to more young people who face big challenges in life.
One of the Minister’s predecessors, the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), said that he was “obsessively” monitoring the backgrounds of people taking part in the NCS. Can this Minister reassure the House that he is monitoring with equal enthusiasm? Are people from deprived backgrounds taking part in the programme to the same degree as others?
I think I just answered that question, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he had listened to my previous answer. As he is aware, we have a manifesto commitment on guaranteeing a place on the NCS for all young people. That requires commitment from across government. I am working with Ministers across government to ensure that the NCS benefits as many young people as possible, no matter where they live, what school they went to or what their circumstances in life have been.
The Minister will be pleased to hear that I will be visiting an NCS scheme in my constituency over the summer recess. Given that youth services in England have experienced cuts almost three times greater than overall cuts to local authorities, what is he doing to make sure that young people have valuable activities all year round, not just through the NCS?
The NCS is complementary to, not a replacement for, local government services. The NCS consistently demonstrates its positive impact on participants and value for money. I find it very disappointing that local councils are making the choice to cut youth services, but we in the Cabinet Office are supporting local authorities through programmes such as the Centre for Youth Impact and Delivering Differently for Young People.
May I begin by wishing the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, many happy returns on his birthday?
In answer to the question, as well as giving more than £50 million to enable local authorities to carry forward the individual electoral registration system, we have also given more than £10 million to enable them to take proactive steps to increase voter registration.
I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that the Minister for constitutional reform—my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose)—is proactively stepping in to try to ensure that those local authorities do take further action. The Electoral Commission has also reported on this, and we are keen to see that every local authority ensures right away that it no longer has large groups of people who are unregistered and that it cleans its register.
Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I am glad to say that we see a pattern of local authorities in many parts of the country doing what she describes and working with civil society partners to reach those people who might not otherwise be reached by more formal means to persuade them to register.
I think that we can all agree that electoral registration is desirable and that one factor that will affect that is the degree of faith and confidence that people have in our electoral system. One measure that could enhance that is the ability of people to recall their Member of Parliament in between elections. When will the Minister bring into force the remaining provisions of the Recall of MPs Act 2015?
I am delighted to answer that question. The Recall of MPs Act, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, was passed just at the end of the previous Parliament. Two things now need to be done: one is to issue the commencement order, which is relatively straightforward; and the second is to issue the regulations that govern the conduct of the petition, which is more complicated. All of us in this House have a considerable interest in ensuring that that is done right. However, we are doing it at pace. I intend to bring the provisions before the House in September, when we return from recess.
Two weeks ago, the Electoral Commission published a report on the transition to full individual electoral registration. It expressed concern about the numbers that could fall off the electoral register if the Government brought forward the date of full IER to December 2015. Will the Government follow the advice of the Electoral Commission?
The shadow Minister is absolutely right that the Electoral Commission has made observations about that matter. We are now considering them very carefully, and we will think through the Government’s response before we inform the House what it is. In response to earlier questions, I should say that the Electoral Commission report has also indicated that we now have an increase in the total number of people registered compared with the situation before individual electoral registration was introduced.
Civil Service Pensions
4. What steps he is taking to improve the administration of civil service pensions. (900658)
We have reformed the delivery of civil service pensions by setting up MyCSP, which is part-owned by employees who administer the scheme. That will reduce costs and ultimately deliver a better service.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. I know from corresponding with him on numerous occasions that he is aware of certain problems with MyCSP, but I am still receiving letters from constituents who feel that they are being let down. Will he assure the House that every effort is being made to ensure that MyCSP offers a good service to those who rely on it for the administration of their pensions?
Yes, I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for bringing the matter to the House’s attention. Work is under way to improve the performance of MyCSP. There has been a year-on-year productivity improvement of it since it started in 2012, but there is much work to do to ensure that we get everybody’s pension administered in exactly the right way.
The problem is that these problems have been going on for a long time. I have written to Ministers over the past 12 months about problems with my constituents and only last week I had a constituent who was given a pension estimate that proved to be completely inaccurate. They had based their future plans on that estimate. May I ask the Minister again to try harder to ensure that we get this sorted out? It has been going on for far too long.
Yes, I agree that this needs to be sorted out. When we brought the delivery of civil service pensions from an external provider in 2010, there was a larger backlog than anticipated. That means that there is an awful lot of work to do, but we are pushing it through.
Senior Civil Servants (Social Background)
Background should be no barrier to success and we are committed to ensuring that the most senior ranks of the civil service can be reached by all.
Although 10% of the civil service are from a black and minority ethnic community, only 4% are in senior positions. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that each and every one of them can achieve their true potential without their background being a hindrance?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. This is true not just about ethnicity in the senior civil service but about gender and people with disabilities. We need to ensure that the senior civil service represents the country that it serves. Steps are under way to ensure that that happens and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to reach that conclusion.
We welcome the Minister to his place and the Opposition support genuine efforts to increase the diversity of the civil service. He will be aware that 58% of permanent secretaries were privately educated, as were 53% of senior diplomats and 45% of public body chairs. Would he therefore support targets to increase the numbers from state education at the top of our civil service?
I certainly strongly agree that it is important that as well as considering gender, ethnicity and other characteristics we ensure that people from all backgrounds—whichever school they went to and whichever part of the country they come from—can get to senior levels in the civil service. We have a programme under way to ensure that that happens.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment as Minister for the civil service and assure him that the now Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee will look forward to working with him on civil service reform, as we did with his predecessor, who did so much during his term of office. May I also give my fullest support to his objective of achieving diversity? That is a vital part of having an agile civil service and requires the challenging of attitudes and habits of behaviour as much as setting targets.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his re-election—unopposed—to the Chair of the Select Committee. I very much look forward to working with him, although I say that with some trepidation, knowing his depth of understanding of these issues. I entirely agree that this is about culture and agility in the civil service as much as it is about tick-box targets.
One of the biggest barriers to accessing some senior civil service jobs is where they are located. What more can be done to ensure that jobs are located outside the south of England? Why not start by moving the Department for Transport to the north, which might bring some of the money it spends down here up there, as well?
As my hon. Friend knows, we are investing a huge amount in transport systems across the nation, not least in the north of England and in his area. It is crucial that we proceed in an efficient and cost-effective way. There are civil servants who work across the land, and we should not forget that, and we must ensure that they represent the whole country, too.
Franchise for London Elections
EU citizens resident in London are eligible to register and vote in local government elections and elections for the GLA and Mayor. I am sure that both I and the hon. Gentleman would encourage them to do just that. So far I have made no assessment of the effect on voter engagement, but if the hon. Gentleman has thoughts or insights he would like to share, I am very happy to hear them now.
The Mayor of London, now also the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), once claimed that London was the sixth biggest French city in the world. Why does the Minister believe that it is right that all those French citizens who have made London their home should be allowed to vote for the Mayor’s successor, but not for whether this country should stay in the European Union?
The vote for staying in or leaving the EU will be based on the parliamentary constituency franchise, which is based on people who are eligible to vote for this place. British nationals living in EU countries elsewhere in the EU are not allowed to vote in equivalent referendums elsewhere—for example, in the Dutch referendum in 2005.
Does my hon. Friend share my fear that, with an air traffic control strike and transport workers on strike in France at the moment and massive unemployment in France owing to its socialist republic and with all these people coming over here, we could end up with a French-speaking Mayor?
Anecdotally, quite a lot of people are commenting on the fact that many of the French who choose to come to live in London do so because they prefer it here; they think that it is a more advantageous business environment and a better place to live and work. Therefore, perhaps they have imbibed and imbued themselves with some of the local colour and flexibility, rather than with the attitudes that my hon. Friend describes.
As we have heard, the Electoral Commission recently published an analysis, and I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that it shows that parliamentary registers have over 400,000 more entries than a year ago. The last full assessment of the completeness and accuracy of electoral registers was published in July, and it showed that the decline in registration between 2000 and 2010 had stabilised since 2011. The next full assessment will be undertaken when the transition to individual electoral registration is complete.
I thank the Minister for that response, but the number of eligible voters who are missing from registers is a concern. I draw his attention to two specific groups: private rented tenants and the rising 18s. In my constituency, the rising 18s are down 50%. What action is he taking to try to address that issue?
As we heard earlier, almost £10 million has been spent on registration activities and drives since the start of this year, and we have made it a great deal more convenient and easier to register through individual electoral registration. We are looking at the report and recommendations produced by the Electoral Commission. In due course, when we respond to them, I am sure that we will have more to say.
One of the benefits of individual electoral registration is that it has a built-in check for validity, which dramatically improves the quality of registers as a result. As more and more of the roll is completed using individual electoral registration, we expect it to have a beneficial effect in weeding out people who are incorrectly registered in the way that my hon. Friend describes.
10. Since March 2014, there has been a reduction in young people about to turn 18 registering to vote. Will the Minister not commit the Government to rolling out the Northern Ireland schools initiative, so that schools and colleges can work with local authorities to make sure that those people register to vote? (900664)
A number of interesting initiatives are under way to persuade and allow students to vote. Some interesting examples are going on in Sheffield. So there are a range of possibilities, many of which are very promising. We want to ensure that we have analysed them all properly, so that we can choose the best and most cost-effective.
The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency and reform, transparency, civil society, digital technology, cyber-security, constitutional matters and the delivery of the Government’s agenda.
I and many others are concerned about the Union. A convention or congress has been ruled out quite emphatically. With Scotland wanting more and more and Wales and Northern Ireland excluded from the process and, indeed, England threatened by it, too, what mechanism is the Minister’s office putting in place to properly preserve and plan the future of the Union?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s passionate support for the Union, which we on this side of the House wholeheartedly share. Like him, we seek a lasting settlement that strengthens the United Kingdom, and I look forward to further eloquent contributions from him to that debate and to working with him to make it happen.
As we try to bring the books back into balance and reach surplus, making the Government more efficient is crucial in ensuring that as much money as possible gets to front-line services where it is needed. We have a widespread efficiency and reform plan, which we are driving through as part of the spending review to ensure that every taxpayer pound is spent as wisely as possible.
May I welcome the new ministerial team to their places? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is being a little sheepish and, if he does not mind me saying so, a bit disingenuous about the numbers on the electoral register. We all know that the last election was the high-water mark with people automatically put on the register, but with the Electoral Commission saying that nearly 2 million people will fall off that register, will he say today whether he will accept its recommendations on the early bringing forward of the IER scheme? Does he really want this Government to go down in history as the first to reduce the franchise in this country?
As I have already told the House, we will look at the Electoral Commission’s recommendations seriously and come back to the House when we have made our decision on them, but there is a clear distinction between those people who are on the electoral register who should not be on it because they are not resident in the place that they are registered for—that is what the cleaning is about—and what I take it is our joint endeavour to get all those people, estimated by the Electoral Commission at 7 million, who should be on the register but are not, on to the register. That is why we are spending money and helping local authorities to attract those people on to the register.
T6. A new cyber-security institute in Nelson in my constituency, sponsored by Training 2000, is due to be launched in the autumn. What support is the Cabinet Office offering to education providers to ensure that Britain is equipped with the cyber-security skills we need for the future? (900690)
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. To defend Britain from cyber-attack, we need to ensure that we have the cyber-skills in the future. That involves not only university-level skills, which we are putting money into expanding, but cyber-apprenticeships and entry-level schemes to ensure that, at all levels and from all parts of our country, we can recruit people to work in that important defence of our nation.
T2. The importance of students’ electoral registration was recognised by the Cabinet Office in allocating welcome if belated funds to the National Union of Students to get people on the register in the run-up to the general election. Will the Minister commit to providing similar funds to boost student electoral registration at the start of the new academic year to ensure that they are represented properly on the register on which the parliamentary boundary review will be based? (900686)
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious question about student registration. As he will know, we now have a system of individual registration, which people can do in about three minutes on an iPhone. We are going to make that even easier, and we will work with the NUS and others to try to encourage students to do exactly as he suggests.
T7. With the help of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), on St George’s day this year I launched a petition calling for English votes for English laws. I am therefore delighted to see a firm commitment by the Government to right this historic inequality once and for all. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when we can expect the Government to introduce that important constitutional change? (900691)
T3. A report published today by Children’s Rights Alliance for England points to a dismal failure by the Government when considering the best interests of children and young people in their decision making. Bearing that in mind, does the Minister agree that giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the EU referendum would be a first, positive step towards greater inclusion of young people in the democratic process? (900687)
We have improved the life chances of millions of children by introducing 2 million apprenticeships in the previous Parliament, by having 2 million more jobs and by turning our country around. The consideration of whether voting should start at 16 or 18 is a balanced one. We think 18 is the right age, but, frankly, the best thing we can do for the future of the children of this country is improve and strengthen our economy.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating the England women’s football team on reaching the semi-finals of the world cup in Canada and wishing them well for their match against Japan this evening.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Prime Minister’s plans for English votes for English laws will reduce my rights and the rights of other Scottish MPs in the House of Commons, but the real issue is my ability to protect the interests of my constituents. Will the Prime Minister guarantee today that, under his plans, a Bill that has a direct or indirect effect on Scotland’s budget will not be certifiable as England-only?
First, let me welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We will publish our proposals shortly and Parliament will have plenty of time to consider and vote on them, but let me be very clear: we are not creating a system of two tiers for MPs. All MPs will still vote on all Bills, but what we are saying is that laws which apply only in England should pass only if they are supported by a majority of English MPs. That seems to me—in a devolved system where Members of the Scottish Parliament can determine their own future on health, housing and an increasing number of subjects—to provide fairness across our United Kingdom.
Q15. Yesterday the National Audit Office called for the introduction of a fairer schools funding formula so that it is “related more closely to their”—that is, pupils’—“needs and less affected by where they live.” Can the Prime Minister confirm from the Dispatch Box that the additional and very welcome £390 million awarded last year as a first step towards a fairer funding system will be incorporated into the baseline for future years? (900684)
I can say that we will implement the pledges in our manifesto on this issue because we need to make funding fairer across the country. If we look at the figures today, it is clearly unfair that a school in one part of the country can receive over 50% more funding than an identical school in another part of the country. We have already made some progress on this, but I want us to go further.
I join the Prime Minister in his congratulations to England’s women’s football team. With only a fraction of the resources that the men get, they are showing the men how it is done.
Sadly, we now know that 22 British citizens have been confirmed dead in the Tunisia attack. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and injured, and the help they and their families will need. The bereaved and those who have experienced life-changing injuries and trauma will need long-term practical and emotional support. The experience after 7/7 was that to really help those affected families, there needs to be co-ordination across Departments and agencies, so will the Prime Minister establish a dedicated taskforce reporting to a Minister to support those who have suffered in that terrible attack?
Yes, I can give the right hon. and learned Lady that assurance. Let me update the House, because I am sad to say that the confirmed number of British citizens killed in this appalling attack is now 27 and, as we have said, we expect it to rise still further. Today we are repatriating eight bodies from Tunisia on an RAF C-17 plane. The plane is now in the air and will land at RAF Brize Norton this afternoon. Every family of a victim now has a dedicated Foreign Office liaison officer, but—I can confirm what she asked—I have asked the Cabinet Secretary for advice on creating a ministerial committee to ensure that work is properly co-ordinated right across Government to provide all the support that the victims of this appalling attack deserve and to ensure that, as a nation, we mark and commemorate this event appropriately.
That is a really important step that the Prime Minister has taken. We fully support it and thank those who will be working in that respect. Reports over the past few days have suggested that it was not just a lone gunman who perpetrated the attack, but an organised cell. Following the Home Secretary’s visit to Tunisia and the deployment of 50 police officers, will he update the House on the progress being made to help identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice?
On that specific issue, there is still a lot of work to be done to identify all the circumstances of this appalling attack and the support that the gunman received. As we get that information and confirm it, I will ensure that the House is regularly updated. I can confirm that the discussions between my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Tunisians went ahead and were successful. As I have said previously, that is looking at everything, from the protective security in hotels and resorts to intelligence co-operation at the highest levels between Britain and Tunisia, so that we can help with its capacity to combat such appalling events. It will need a lot of long-term work between our two countries, but the French, the Germans and the Americans are also willing to help, and we need to co-ordinate between ourselves how best to support that country on its road to democracy.
The Prime Minister has rightly said that this was an attack on our values and everything we stand for, and there is radicalisation in this country, too. Last November the Intelligence and Security Committee said that the Prevent programme had not been given sufficient priority and that counter-radicalisation programmes are not working. Today a new statutory duty to challenge radicalisation comes into effect. Will there be sufficient training and support for those covered by the duty, and will he look again at the concern that the Prevent programme has not focused sufficiently on engaging with the communities?
The right hon. and learned Lady raises very important issues. Let me answer them as directly as I can. First, we have now put more money and resources into the Prevent programme. Secondly, on her point about the statutory duty on public sector bodies, I think that is very important, because we are saying to schools, universities, local authorities and others that they have a duty to deal with radicalisation and to confront extremism, because this effort is not just for the police and security services, or indeed just for the Government; it is an effort for us all. On her specific question, which goes back to whether it was right to split the Prevent work into work that is done to deal with extremism under the aegis of the Home Office and the programmes to encourage integration, which should be done by the Department for Communities and Local Government, I maintain that that was the right decision. It followed a review in 2011 by Alex Carlile, who found that
“there have been cases where groups whom we would now consider to support an extremist ideology have received funding.”
As we discussing in the House on Monday, it is very important that that does not happen. Yes we should work with community groups, but not those that encourage an extremist narrative.
It is important that the Prime Minister does not just defend the decisions he has made, but continues to reflect on this and really tries to make absolutely sure that he gets it right. If he does that and gets the right outcomes, we will strongly support him on that.
Let me turn to another issue. With all-party support, the Prime Minister commissioned the Davies report to look at the question of airport capacity. Now that the commission has recommended a third runway at Heathrow, does he agree with us that, subject to key environmental tests being met, there should be no further delay and that it should go ahead? Will he now take that forward?
First, let us all thank Howard Davies and the team for the very thorough piece of work they have done. I think that there is a lot of common ground across almost all parts of the House that there is the need for additional airport capacity in the south-east of England, not least to maintain this country’s competitiveness, but it is important that we now study this very detailed report. I am very clear about the legal position; if we say anything now before studying the report, we could actually endanger whatever decision is made. The guarantee that I can give the right hon. and learned Lady is that a decision will be made by the end of the year.
The Prime Minister says there is common ground, and there is common ground across the House; the worry is the lack of common ground on his side of the House. He gives the impression that there is going to be a proper process, but something very is different coming out of No. 10, because it is briefing that it is not going to happen. It looks like the Prime Minister has been overruled by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); he should tell him that he is not the leader of the Tory party yet. Will the Prime Minister stand up for Britain’s interests or will he just be bullied by Boris?
I would have thought that with all her years of experience, the right hon. and learned Lady would know not to believe everything that she reads in her morning newspapers. It would probably be good for her blood pressure, as well as for mine, if she did not. Let me give the mildest warnings about jumping to a conclusion before seeing the results, because we had a classic example of that last week when the shadow Health Secretary warned the Government that the poverty figures would make us all hang our heads in shame. That was of course before the poverty figures were published, showing that relative poverty was at its lowest level since the 1980s.
The Prime Minister seems to be keen to get off the issue of airports. It seems like he is in a holding pattern above Heathrow and Boris will not let him land. Our economic infrastructure is essential for future jobs, for growth, and for our productivity, but this week the Government have pulled the plug on electrification of the railways and seriously undermined the renewable energy sector, and now they are backing off over airports and risking losing the opportunity for Britain to be at the heart of the global economy. If the Prime Minister makes a swift decision on the Davies report, we will support him and there will be a majority in the House, so will he put Britain’s national interest first?
It is an interesting day when the leader of the Conservative party wants to talk about child poverty and the Leader of the Opposition wants to talk about an airport report that none of us has yet had time to read. I seem to remember that the last leader of the Labour party—although we have been churning through a few recently—had a totally different position on airports to the one that the right hon. and learned Lady is now putting forward. What I can say to her is that we will all read this report and a decision will be made by the end of the year.
My constituents in rural North Dorset look increasingly to superfast broadband to help in education, agriculture and business. Will the Prime Minister commit the Government to do all that they can, with sufficient energy and resources, to ensure that the 5% black hole is filled as quickly as possible?
First, let me welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Before coming here, he was a very successful district councillor in an area I am familiar with, where he helped to achieve the second lowest council tax in the country. I am sure that he will bring that sense of good housekeeping to this place. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of superfast broadband and how we fill in the last 5% to 10% of homes, particularly in rural areas. We are providing extra funding and we are looking at all the different sorts of technology that can help to deliver this.
I associate myself and the Scottish National party with all the tributes and condolences to the families and friends of everybody caught up in the tragedy in Tunisia.
Because of the way the United Kingdom is structured, decisions on health, education and much English legislation have an impact on the Scottish budget. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he plans to exclude Scottish MPs from parts of the democratic process at Westminster that will have an impact on Scotland?
The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that English MPs are entirely excluded from any discussion of Scottish health, Scottish housing or Scottish education. What we are proposing is actually a very measured and sensible step which says that when there is a Bill that only affects, for instance, England, the Committee stage should be composed of English MPs, but then the whole House will vote on Report and, indeed, on Third Reading. What this will introduce, as it were, is a system for making sure that the wishes of English MPs cannot be overruled. That, I think, is only fair in a system where the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and, indeed, the Northern Irish Parliament have increased powers.
On overruling MPs, it is very interesting that 58 of 59 Scottish MPs have voted for the Scottish Bill to be strengthened, but they have been outvoted by English MPs. Not content with outvoting Scottish MPs elected on a mandate to strengthen the Scotland Bill, the Prime Minister is now going to introduce second-class status for MPs elected from Scotland on issues that can have an impact on the Scottish budget. He is even planning to make the membership of the Scottish Affairs Committee a minority pursuit for Scottish MPs. Is that what the Prime Minister means when he says he has a respect agenda?
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what I mean by a respect agenda: every single thing Lord Smith represented in terms of welfare has gone into the Bill. Is it not interesting that the hon. Gentleman objects to a vote in the UK Parliament on a UK issue, which is what has happened? Let me tell him again: instead of endlessly talking about the process, is it not time that the SNP started to talk about how they are going to use these powers? Why do they not tell us? Which welfare benefits do they want to put up? Which taxes do they want to increase? Why do they not start to tell us? I have been following the debate very closely and have noticed that none of Scotland’s 59 MPs is arguing that the state pension should be devolved. In other words, the principle of pooling and sharing our resources and risks across the United Kingdom, which I believe in as leader of the United Kingdom, is apparently shared by the Scottish National party.
My constituent Paul Short from Wooler showed great courage during the Tunisian massacre last week by helping to save the life of an injured victim with first aid skills he had learned as a member of the Territorial Army. Will the Prime Minister set out how the new measures in the extremism Bill will tackle extremists and stand up for our values of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities?
First of all, let me take this opportunity to praise my hon. Friend’s constituent and the skills that were used on that dreadful day in Tunisia. The Bill will reinforce the work we have already done to increase funding for counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism policing; make sure there is a duty on public authorities to combat radicalisation; and go after the fact that there are groups and individuals who are very clever at endorsing extremism but then stopping one step short of actually condoning terrorism. That is what the new banning orders we are looking at aim to achieve, because we are clear that people who support the extremist narrative have no place in our public debate.
Q2. Given regional wage profiles, many families in the north of Ireland will identify with the concerns raised today by the four children’s commissioners about tax credits. Further to heeding those wider warnings, will the Prime Minister have the Chancellor take particular care to ensure that no supposedly more targeted changes to child benefit or tax credits will end up being misdirected against natural, everyday, cross-border working families in my constituency and its hinterland? (900671)
When we talk about cross-border working families, it is still the case that welfare arrangements in the United Kingdom are far more generous than what is available in the Republic of Ireland. Our view is clear: the right answer is to create jobs, cut taxes, raise living standards and reduce welfare. I want an economy that has high pay, low taxes and low welfare, instead of low pay, high taxes and high welfare.
Let me share with the House one important statistic. Under the last Labour Government—[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not want to talk about the last Labour Government. [Interruption.] Well, under the last Government, inequality and child poverty fell. Now for the history lesson: let us go back to the last Labour Government. Under Labour, the number of working-age people in in-work poverty rose by about 20%. That was at the same time as welfare spending on people in work went up from £6 billion to £28 billion. What that shows is that the Labour model of taking money off people in tax and recycling it back to them in tax credits has not worked. It is time for a new approach of creating jobs, cutting taxes and having businesses that are creating the livelihoods we need.
Q3. Having led a campaign and authored a letter signed by over 120 Members of Parliament from across the House to the Prime Minister and to the BBC against calling the so-called Islamic State “ISIL” or “ISIS”, I thank the Prime Minister for not calling it “Islamic State”, but an issue remains with calling it “ISIL”. Will the Prime Minister lead the way by officially calling it “Daesh”, as do France, Turkey and other countries in the middle east, which is acceptable to Muslims in this country and around the world? (900672)
My hon. Friend, who has spoken about this a lot, makes a very strong point. The argument I would make is that “Islamic State” is inappropriate, because it is neither Islamic in the true meaning of the word nor, indeed, is it a state; it is a bunch of terrorist thugs. I am happy for people to use “Daesh”. I think ISIL is an alternative because it does not confer such authority. I am pleased that the BBC seems to have moved its position, because until yesterday it was calling it “Islamic State”. It looks like it is going to change its approach, and I really welcome that.
Given the vital importance of Parliament and Members from both sides of the House and from all parts of the United Kingdom being able to hold the Government of the day to account properly and effectively, will the Prime Minister confirm whether he intends to try to reduce the size of the next House of Commons to 600 Members?
Q4. Owing to ongoing issues with the Post Office’s Horizon software accounting system, I believe that many honest, decent, hard-working sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses have lost their reputations, their livelihoods, their savings and, in the worst cases, their liberty. This is a national disgrace. Will my right hon. Friend consider the requests from Members across the House for a judicial inquiry into this matter and bring it to a conclusion? (900673)
My hon. Friend has done a real service in campaigning tirelessly on this issue, and I know that he has led a debate in the House on it as well. The Post Office’s answer is to say that it set up an independent inquiry which has not found evidence of wrongdoing, but, clearly, that has not satisfied many Members on both sides of the House who have seen individual constituency cases and want better answers.
What I think needs to happen next is for the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), to convene a meeting involving Members of the House, the Post Office and representatives of sub-postmasters to discuss their concerns and see what should happen next. I would hope that it would not be necessary to have a full independent judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of this issue, but get to the bottom of it we must.
Prime Minister’s Question Time
I regularly reflect on Prime Minister’s questions with Cabinet colleagues and others. For all its faults, and there are many, I would say that it has two important points: it puts the Prime Minister on the spot to the public, but it also puts the Government on the spot to the Prime Minister—needing to know issues right across every Department before coming to the House at 12 o’clock on a Wednesday is an important mechanism of accountability.
Given that Parliament may be moving out of this place in 2020, will the Prime Minister take that opportunity to share the joys of Prime Minister’s questions, which he has just outlined, and this federal Parliament by convening it in each of the nations of the United Kingdom and thereby symbolise his Government’s and this Parliament’s commitment both to the Union and to devolution?
As I said in an earlier answer, I am committed to trying to cut the cost of politics, and I am not sure that that would help. It is important that we take our politics and issues to all the different regions of the country, and that is something the Government are very committed to do, not least with our regional economic plans for every region of our country. As for the future of this House of Commons and where we stand and where we debate, that is a matter for the House of Commons, but I have to say that I have a slight emotional attachment to this place—the place at this Dispatch Box specifically.
The brass fittings on that Dispatch Box are worn paper thin by the sweat from the palms of Prime Ministers and Ministers down the ages. That is a visual example of parliamentary accountability. Although our constituents rightly feel that, at times, this session is a little absurd, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a great pity if senior members of the Executive were not held to account in that way?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I remember taking some constituents on a tour when I first became a Member of Parliament and hearing for the first time something I had not known—namely, that after this Chamber was bombed some of Winston Churchill’s most important speeches and parliamentary occasions took place in the other place rather than here. I do not want to start a complete fight between both Houses, so I think I will leave it at that.
Q6. The Prime Minister has been asked repeatedly about his plans to exclude Scottish MPs from decisions that will directly and indirectly impact on Scotland’s budget and my constituents in Airdrie and Shotts. Will he finally tell the House and the people of Scotland whether it is right to create a second-class status for Scottish MPs through the back door, or is he content to press ahead with plans that will bring about the break-up of Britain? (900675)
I am quite baffled. I thought the whole point of the SNP is that SNP Members want to exclude themselves from the UK Parliament forever. I thought that was the whole point. What we are putting in place is a fair and balanced system that is fair to all parts of our United Kingdom. Long may it stay together.
Q7. Over the past five years, increasing numbers of people in the east midlands and the UK have decided to take the courageous and important step to set up their own businesses and become self-employed. What steps will the Prime Minister and the Government take in future further to support those entrepreneurs in my constituency and beyond who represent and personify aspiration and hard work? (900676)
Let me welcome my hon. Friend to his place. I agree with him that people taking that step to become self-employed and start their own business has been a very big part of the jobs and enterprise revolution in our country over the past five years. Things such as start-up loans have made a real difference, which is why we are increasing them in this Parliament, but when we look at helping self-employed people, it is important to look at all the aspects of being self-employed—how people interact with pensions, benefits, maternity leave, public authorities and social housing rules. That is why I am asking Julie Deane, the founder of the fantastic Cambridge Satchel Company and a model for how self-employed people can achieve great things, to lead a review for the Government. Let us look at all the ways in which we can help self-employed people to get going.
Those decisions must be made by local authorities in the proper way, under the planning regime we have. Personally, I hope that, over time, unconventional gas sites will go ahead, whether in Lancashire or elsewhere, because I want our country to exploit all the natural resources we have. I want us to keep energy bills down and I want us to be part of that revolution, which can create thousands of jobs. I also want to ensure that we can exploit our own gas reserves rather than ship gas from the other side of the world, which has a higher carbon footprint. We should do that, but if the Labour party wants to paint itself into a background of not wanting any unconventional gas at all, it should say so.
Q9. Labour-controlled Reading Borough Council recently received a damning report from Ofsted for not doing enough to help struggling schools under its control. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the Government intend to do to ensure that systemically failing local education authorities such as Reading do not continue to ruin the life chances of our young people? (900678)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. Frankly, one extra term in a failing school is too long for our children. In the past, Governments and LEAs have been too tolerant in allowing schools to continue to fail year after year, so this Government have set a very testing regime for failing schools and for those that are inadequate. As my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary set out this week, we will do similar things to schools that we would define as coasting and that could be doing better. We can now see the model of academy chains taking over a failing school, changing some of the leadership and putting in place the things that are necessary. We can see radical increases in the results, which is what we want. We will today talk about how we tackle poverty in the long term. Tackling sink schools and educational underachievement is vital to the life chances of our children.
Q10. After four opportunities, the Prime Minister still has not answered the question regarding the impact of English votes for English laws. May I strongly urge him to finally reassure the people of my constituency that their elected MP will not be given minority status in matters affecting the Scottish budget and, consequently, the lives of the citizens of Dundee? Moreover, last night 58 out of 59 Scottish MPs— (900679)
The hon. Gentleman has had a very clear answer. It may be that the Scottish National party does not like the answer, but the proposals we discussed at great length in the last Parliament for solving this issue will now be introduced. The absolutely key point is that if, in some future Parliament, there is disagreement between English MPs who want one thing and the House of Commons as a whole which wants another, there would have to be a way of resolving the deadlock. This is effectively a block for English MPs. It is not the ability to legislate willy-nilly. He would know that if he read the manifesto.
Does the Prime Minister feel comfortable with the fact that the Conservative Government have implemented a spending target for foreign aid, but will not commit to a target of a minimum of 2% of GDP for defence? Does he realise that this is damaging the relationship with our key strategic ally, the United States, and risking our credibility with our NATO allies?
What I would say to my hon. Friend, who I know cares deeply about this issue and has in his constituency some of the most important defence manufacturers in our country, is that we have in every year met that 2% target. Many countries in the European Union do not even meet 1% for defence investment. The commitment we have made already is to invest £160 billion across 10 years into our equipment programme, with real-terms increases every year. That is why we can say the aircraft carriers, the C-17s and the new aeroplanes will all be coming forward. We will obviously make final spending decisions in the spending review this autumn.
Q11. For a man who seemingly is never away from Europe, why is it that he has never taken the opportunity, when he has been there, to put in a claim for state aid to save British miners’ jobs? He is the man who, during the election campaign, masqueraded as the workers’ champion but he has not got the guts to help those miners. He took £700 million out of the mineworkers’ pension scheme and he has not given a penny back. No wonder they call him “dodgy Dave”. The man that went to Eton: educated beyond his intelligence. [Interruption.] (900680)
It is very good to see the Labour party in full voice cheering on Jurassic Park. I would stick to the movie.
There is a serious point here. The Government have offered £20 million to the owners of Hatfield colliery to keep it going. We have been prepared to put forward money. Unlike the previous Government, we have been prepared to make ministerial directions, because we have some courage when it comes to these things.
There is a very strong sense that the Airports Commission began life three years or so ago with a conclusion and then spent £20 million backing up that conclusion. The Prime Minister is going to have to make a decision on the back of those recommendations shortly, but what assurances can he give the million or so Londoners who stand to be affected by Heathrow expansion that he will engage with the real arguments in a way that Sir Howard Davies has not?
Let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend for how strongly he campaigns on this issue. I know how strongly he cares about it and how strongly his constituents feel about it. The promise I can give him is that this very thorough report, which landed on my desk yesterday afternoon, will be studied properly. This really does matter. If you make some precipitate decision or rule out one particular option, you will actually make the decision you would like to make impossible to achieve because of judicial review. We may not like that in this House, but those are the facts and those are the ones we need to operate on.
Q12. Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Mental Health Trust, which serves my constituency, is refusing to publish the so-called Alexander report on its operation. The report, which I have seen, raises serious questions about patient safety and care owing to cuts to services. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the duty of candour should apply to NHS management as it does to NHS front-line staff? If so, will he join me in the call for the report’s publication? (900681)
First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I make no apology for the Care Quality Commission’s rigorous inspection regime, which is identifying areas that need improvement. I would argue that the two things we need here are to uncover bad practice and turn it round, and then to back it up with the resources the NHS needs, including those recommended by the Stevens plan. As things stand, only this party is backing the extra £8 billion into the NHS—and not the Labour party.
Davies Commission Report
With permission, I would like to make a statement about the Airports Commission’s final report, published earlier today. I received a copy yesterday evening, and I have had copies put in the Library of the House and the Vote Office. First, I will review the commission’s process to date; secondly, I will describe the next steps.
In September 2012, the Government appointed Sir Howard Davies to lead a Commission to consider how the UK could maintain its status as an international aviation hub and, in particular, provide capacity in the south-east. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Howard for his leadership. I thank, too, his fellow commissioners—Sir John Armitt, Ricky Burdett, Vivienne Cox and Dame Julia King—for their hard work over a long period. I acknowledge hon. Members from all sides of the House who have campaigned vigorously on behalf of their constituents, and I am sure they will continue to do so.
There are strong opinions on this issue. It is not easy to resolve. For the Government, the task is to balance local interests against the wider, longer-term benefits for the United Kingdom. This report is part of that process. Over 50 different propositions were considered. In December 2013, the commission shortlisted three schemes for further consideration: two at Heathrow, and one at Gatwick. It also made recommendations for improving our existing airport infrastructure, including upgrading transport connections. We are acting on those interim recommendations. We are working with Gatwick airport to upgrade the station there; Network Rail is leading a study to improve the rail link between London and Stansted; and Crossrail will soon provide a new direct route to Heathrow.
The Commission has also sought views from across the country because the UK’s other airports, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow, play a big role in our aviation success story. Connectivity to all parts of the UK is something that the commission has rightly considered.
The UK has the third largest aviation network in the world after the United States and China, but it is congested and a lack of capacity holds our country back. Since 1990, 12 UK airports have lost their direct links to Heathrow. As Sir Howard Davies says in his foreword to the report:
“Good aviation connectivity is vital for the UK economy. It promotes trade and inward investment.”
The report states:
“About half of the British population has travelled by air within the last twelve months.”
It also states:
“While London remains a well-connected city its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain.”
Meanwhile, hub airports such as Dubai and Istanbul are growing fast.
The commission found that all three shortlisted schemes were credible options for expansion, but that the Heathrow airport north-west runway scheme offered the strongest solution. According to the report,
“Heathrow offers a stronger solution to the UK’s aviation capacity and connectivity needs than a second runway at Gatwick.”
The report recommends action to address the impact of any expansion on the local environment and community. The recommended action includes a limit on night flights, greater compensation, controls on air quality, and a guarantee that there will be no fourth runway.
Let me turn to the Government’s response. There are a number of things that we must do now in order to make progress. First, we must study the substantial and innovative evidence base that the commission has produced. Secondly, we must decide on the best way of achieving planning consents quickly and fairly if expansion is to go ahead. Thirdly, we will come back to Parliament in the autumn to provide a clear direction on the Government’s plans.
This is a vital moment for the future of our aviation industry. Our aviation sector has been at the heart of our economic success and quality of life. All those with an interest in this important question are expecting us to act decisively. This is a clear and reasoned report which is based on evidence, and it deserves respect and consideration, and we must act. I commend my statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his fairly brief statement, and I join him in thanking Sir Howard Davies and his team for the vital work that they have done since 2012 in producing what is a very important report. I also pay tribute to both Heathrow and Gatwick for the impressive campaigns that they have run.
The report constitutes a substantial piece of evidence-led work. Sir Howard Davies has proceeded in a calm, open and assured manner throughout, and we welcome the fact that he has now produced a clear recommendation. The report states:
“A new Northwest Runway at Heathrow delivers more substantial economic and strategic benefits than any of the other shortlisted options, strengthening connectivity for passengers and freight users and boosting the productivity of the UK economy.”
It also states that the recommendation is
“a fundamentally different proposition from previous proposals to expand at Heathrow.”
Sir Howard Davies added this morning:
“The proposal in place then was a deficient proposal; it did not offer the economic advantages of this proposal.”
As the Secretary of State has said, aviation plays a massive role in our economy, and has the potential to play an even greater role in the future. The sector employs hundreds of thousands of people, contributes more than £50 billion to our GDP, and pays the Exchequer more than £8 billion in tax every year. However, as we know, the ongoing growth of our aviation sector is now at risk. Heathrow has been full for 10 years, and Gatwick is set to reach capacity within the next five.
A decision on aviation expansion should have been made many years ago. That was a failure on the part of all previous Governments, but failing to act this time is not an option. Just a few weeks ago, a report by the Independent Transport Commission revealed that if a decision was put off yet again, we would face a significant loss in productivity and inward investment, with the UK economy potentially losing up to £214 billion over the next 60 years. The evidence is clear: more airport capacity is vital to our economic success, and we need action if we are to maintain our status as Europe’s most important aviation hub.
As I have said, the report is a significant and substantial piece of work, and, like the Government, we will take an appropriate period of time to analyse and scrutinise its findings carefully; but will the Secretary of State assure me that, if the report and Heathrow can demonstrate that the main recommendation meets a number of key tests, the Government will make a swift decision to proceed? Those tests include, first, that there is robust and convincing evidence that the increased aviation capacity that is required will be delivered by Sir Howard’s recommendation; secondly, that the recommended expansion in capacity can go hand in hand with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation and allow us to meet our legal climate change obligations, which is absolutely crucial; thirdly, that local noise and environmental impacts have been adequately considered and will be managed and minimised; and fourthly, that the benefits of expansion will be felt in every corner of the country, including any infrastructure, employment and supply-chain benefits, and that regional airports will be supported, too.
The public and businesses across the UK have been clear that they do not want any further dither or delay. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that, no matter how tempted the Government might be, he will not kick this into the long grass? The short-term interests of the Conservative party must not take priority over what is in the best long-term interests of the country.
This is the biggest decision for UK plc this decade. The message from the Labour Benches is clear: we will study the report carefully and, if our key tests are met, we will back the report and a decision that is in the long-term interests of the country. I know there are profoundly difficult issues within the Conservative party on this issue. The Secretary of State has my deepest sympathies, as always, but there is a majority in the House of Commons willing to do the right thing by the country. The Government will have our support, but they must make the right decision—and they must make it quickly.
I do not think I will have to wait that long.
The hon. Gentleman says that there are difficulties on the Conservative Benches, with colleagues having strong views, but I beg that he looks just behind him, because certain of his colleagues oppose an expansion of airports, not least one of the leading contenders for the nomination of Labour candidate for London Mayor, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who said this morning:
“This is a bad decision. All Londoners should know if I’m elected mayor I will do everything in my power to stop this health and environmental catastrophe blighting London.”
Rather than trying to make it seem as though there is opposition just on the Conservative Benches, the hon. Gentleman and other Members should recognise the very big concerns that a number of people have and will have on any expansion of major infrastructure. That is something that I have been always careful to do as Secretary of State for Transport, whether in dealing with this subject or other subjects that cause local people a lot of inconvenience. Sometimes a scheme is basically unacceptable to them. I assure him that we will study the Davies report in great detail. It is a very good, well researched report. I will come back and inform the House further later this year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. As I said earlier, Sir Howard has come forward with the report. We have to consider all the implications of that. It is up to the promoters of these schemes to speak to the local residents who are most directly affected to see whether they can achieve consensus on what they want and what they will accept.
I thank the Secretary of State for the early sight of the Airports Commission report and confirm that there are no problems on the Scottish National party Benches with this. I thank Sir Howard and his team for their work.
The report, while continuing to keep Gatwick as a “viable option”, provides a clear direction. All those involved would expect clarity from the Secretary of State on his position as soon as possible. People should not have to wait until the autumn for the Government’s view. Indeed, the Prime Minister suggested today that the wait could be even longer. There is a huge amount at stake for everyone who may be affected.
For too long, in common with other parts of the UK, Scotland has not had its needs addressed in relation to the provision of fair pricing, sustainable landing slots and the power to reduce or remove air passenger duty. We hope the decisions taken will finally provide a fairer deal for Scotland’s people and one that will provide a significant boost to our economy.
In line with the report’s recommendations, will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be substantially more support on connectivity for long-haul to and from Scotland? Further, will he confirm that such connections will be put on a statutory basis? Will he also guarantee that internal route connections to Scotland will be given permanence through public service orders, to remove the “Here today, gone tomorrow” service so often suffered by the Scottish public?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his points. I take it that there is no division whatever in the SNP on Sir Howard’s proposals, although I may wait a little and see how the debate develops. The hon. Gentleman is right about regional connectivity and the slots needed by Scottish airports and other airports that have lost them, and I hope we can address that. I want to reflect on that point while considering the whole report.
It is disappointing to hear the Opposition dismiss the concerns as being about the internal problems of a political party. Heathrow is already the biggest noise polluter in Europe, and increasing that by 50% will only make the problem worse.
The Airports Commission raises air quality as an issue. My view is that there is not a single air quality expert or organisation anywhere in this country or Europe, or indeed the world, who believes we can reconcile Heathrow expansion with any air quality targets. If that is the case, I presume that the Government’s decision is very, very easy?
I am not entirely sure that I agree with my hon. Friend that the decision is very easy, but he has been very open in the points he makes, the way in which he has campaigned and his own position on Heathrow expansion. He will be able to make those representations in the same way that other Members may make other representations.
I welcome the Davies commission’s recommendation for Heathrow, which follows the findings of the Select Committee on Transport in its detailed report published two years ago. Does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time for a swift decision, with the key national decision to be based on the importance of connectivity both to international markets and the regions of the UK?
I accept that my right hon. Friend’s duty, both in law and following good governance, is to study the report carefully and to consider respectfully every one of the representations that will come from every quarter, particularly from those who represent home counties constituencies. Does he agree, however, that the Government were elected to deliver a modern, competitive economy for future generations, and that in the end decisions on major infrastructure projects—fracking or whatever else—should be taken on a clear judgment of the national interest of the country as a whole? As he is a fellow representative of what the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), calls the midlands machine, I hope he will confirm that that will be his guiding principle in reaching his conclusion.
In all my time in the House of Commons, I have always found it much easier to agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on such issues. He makes a number of points that we must bear in mind, and it is in a way a pity that progress has not been made on some of these subjects sooner.
The Secretary of State started his statement by outlining the history, beginning with the Davies commission. There was a stage before that, however, when the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron)—now the Prime Minister—said to my constituents, “No ifs, no buts, there will be no third runway.” Now, 10,000 of them are at risk of losing their homes, their local community centres, their schools and their places of worship. Today the air pollution levels were double the EU legal limits. If the runway goes ahead, the noise will extend to 1.5 million people. Does the Secretary of State think the onus is now on the Prime Minister to come to my constituency and meet my constituents whose homes and whole community are now at risk?
What the Prime Minister was talking about initially was a proposal put forward by his own party, which was basically not a proper proposal and would not have answered the capacity question. The Prime Minister certainly ruled out that option, and set up the commission so that we could make a reasoned and proper judgment, which is exactly what we will do.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Sir Howard Davies has produced a serious and extremely important piece of work and that he deserves the credit of the whole House? Does he also agree that what Sir Howard has done is go overseas to check best practice and make sure his proposal is fortified by such calculations? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that what matters is that this decision is taken solely in the national interest, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said?
A new runway at Heathrow would blight the lives of thousands as well as increasing climate emissions, yet new research shows that a small number of very wealthy people flying very regularly—not families taking an annual holiday—is driving demand. Will the Secretary of State agree to look seriously at a new proposal for a frequent flyer levy as a way of tackling the health and environmental impacts of growing aviation?
In fact, Sir Howard suggests in his report that there should be an extra levy particularly to compensate people who are affected by noise, so those who fly more frequently would pay more towards that levy. It is also worth pointing out to the hon. Lady that, as I said in my statement, half the population used a plane last year.
Any courageous and difficult decision that the Government make will take time to implement. My right hon. Friend has already indicated that the UK is losing business to overseas airports. Does he agree that it is desirable and possible for airports such as Manston in Kent to be used immediately to relieve the pressure on Heathrow and other airports while the long-term decisions are being taken?
The Secretary of State referred in his statement to surface transport improvements to our airports, but did not refer to western rail access to Heathrow. Is he still committed to that, and does he agree with the Davies commission, which says:
“Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected open trading economy in the twenty first century”?
I think the right hon. Lady has managed to read the first part of the report, but it goes into a lot more detail on some of the proposals—I fully accept that she has not yet had time to consider all of that, and neither have I. I will say, however, that the connectivity and the connections up to Crossrail will make a huge difference to Heathrow, and the western rail access will be one thing that Sir Peter Hendy, in his new role of chairman of Network Rail, will be looking at.
Will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention to the contradiction at the heart of Sir Howard’s recommendation: that London’s ostensibly hub airport should have a third runway but not a fourth? Does that not add emphasis to the need, as part of the northern powerhouse, for a major airport development there?
I realise that my right hon. Friend has not had time to read the whole report—as I have said, I have not managed to read it all yet either—but I draw his attention to page 34, where it says:
“If new capacity was found to be necessary and feasible, a wide range of options should be considered. This could include airports previously assessed as part of the Commission process, for example Stansted and Gatwick, and airports outside London and the South East, such as at Birmingham or Manchester.”
I have been very keen to ensure that airports outside London such as Birmingham and Manchester play a full role in the aviation availability for the country.
When the right hon. Gentleman was appointed, it was taken as a signal that the Government—certainly the Conservative part of the coalition—were having a fresh look at aviation capacity, because his predecessor, who does a great job as International Development Secretary, had campaigned against any capacity increase. Will he assure the House that as Transport Secretary he will act as an advocate for the Davies recommendations within Government?
When the Secretary of State is looking at this report over the summer, will he pay particular attention to pages 289 and 290, and think about my constituents? There is talk of mitigation and compensation, but there is already too much noise pollution and, as has been said, the air pollution this morning is twice what it should be. Will he acknowledge that that there is no alleviation possible for Twickenham residents? Page 290 refers to the issue, but I do not want all our schools having fancy little pods in the playground because the noise pollution is too much for the children.
I know that my hon. Friend will want to make those points to me. She will want to look at the whole report in detail, although she has done a fairly good job by getting up to page 289 already, and I will want to look carefully at the points she makes. As I say, in part of the recommendations there is talk of a new levy on passengers so that some noise insulation and better noise insulation could be provided, as well as mitigation, particularly for some schools. I know that this issue is a particular problem in her constituency.
The Transport Secretary will be aware that the commission recommends but the Government decide. The Government will be aware that London’s air quality has been getting worse and worse. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the quality of air in London was unlawful. The impact of noise is felt during the day as well as during the night, making the lives of thousands of people in London a misery. The local infrastructure cannot cope at the moment, let alone in the future. We all want jobs and growth, so will he seriously look at plans to expand Gatwick to create additional capacity and have a high-speed link between Heathrow and Gatwick, so that we could have jobs and growth without causing the misery that the third runway would cause?
My right hon. Friend is handling this matter with great wisdom and has rightly praised the excellent report that Sir Howard Davies has completed, with its compelling and well-written argument. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the taxpayer has invested £20 million in this report, which is absolutely critical to our future economic well-being. To govern is to choose, so will he make the right decision as quickly as possible and bring it back to this House as soon as he can?
The Secretary of State referred to the role that other UK airports play in our aviation success story, and I am sure he would want to add Belfast City and Belfast International to the list. For us, regional connectivity is key; the air links between London and Belfast are vital to grow our economy. The prospect of 5,000 new jobs in Northern Ireland alone as a result of this proposal is very welcome, but will he look carefully at the issue of guaranteed slots at Heathrow for Northern Ireland, because it is essential for our economy that those slots are maintained and indeed increased?
That follows on, in a way, from the points made by the Scottish National party earlier about the importance of slots available to airports, not just in Scotland, but in Northern Ireland. When I appeared before the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs in the previous Parliament that was one of the important issues its members wished to raise with me, and obviously we will want to consider it.
Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the Howard Davies proposals? If there is to be expansion at Heathrow, one key issue is that there must be environmental benefits for the surrounding area, which has been adversely affected by the operation of Heathrow for decades. I suspect that my constituents would have mixed views on the expansion of Heathrow, but one key issue for those who live closest to it is the extent to which their quality of life deteriorates because of heavy goods vehicle movements, congested roads, car parks and grubby and ill-controlled activities, which are probably far more deleterious to their standard of living than the noise from the aircraft themselves? [Laughter.]
That might need to be a private conversation with my right hon. and learned Friend outside the Chamber. However, I well appreciate the point he makes and I would want to see those sorts of issues addressed. As he rightly points out, local residents have had to put up with them for a considerable time.
This is perhaps the classic conundrum of sustainable development, with the Government and the country caught between an economic rock and an environmental hard place. The Environmental Audit Committee will want to examine it in detail when considering the report. What are the Secretary of State’s initial thoughts on the report’s conclusion in paragraph 9.120 that Gatwick performs “best” on minimising carbon emissions, and on paragraphs 9.92 and 9.93, which make clear
“the Commission’s objective to improve air quality consistent with EU standards and local planning policy requirements”
and that the scheme
“could, without mitigation, exceed the Air Quality Directive limit values and delay compliance with the EU limit value for the Greater London agglomeration”?
I do not envy the Secretary of State’s decision and the country’s decision, but we need to get this right in terms of those stringent warnings.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being elected Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee; he has probably just shown us why. I am sure that that Committee, along with the Transport Committee and other Committees of the House, will want to look at these issues and cross-question both me and other people on their implications.
My right hon. Friend will not be too surprised to hear that I am fully supportive of Sir Howard’s position, particularly as I recognise the huge economic benefits of Heathrow over the somewhat weak plan for Gatwick. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on his points about speeding up the process? He was one of the Ministers responsible on HS1 and is now watching HS2 creep down the railway tracks. Once he has made his decision, which we hope will be the sensible decision for Heathrow, will he speed up the rest of the procedure, even if we have to remove, with a forklift truck, our friend who is currently Mayor of London?
My constituents are very divided on this issue, not least because thousands of households depend on Heathrow for employment but are also very affected by noise and by air pollution. One area where there is unity is on the need for the future of Heathrow to be secured. Will the Secretary of State rule out today any future proposal by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) that we should close Heathrow and that there should be a Thames estuary island, or any other similar measure?
I welcome the clear recognition that Britain needs a hub airport at the end of this process. This debate has raged for more than 50 years. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that he is the Secretary of State who brings it to a conclusion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has already mentioned the 2009 “no ifs, no buts” statement, which I am beginning to think was made with an eye more on marginal seats on the flight path, such as my own, than on anything else. However, what I really want to ask the Minister is this: how many Cabinet resignations does he predict if the Davies recommendations are enacted?
As the Secretary of State said in his statement, the commission has taken views from right across the United Kingdom. Sir Howard said this morning that those views, including those from Scotland and Northern Ireland, were firmly and overwhelmingly in favour of Heathrow. I assume that that will be taken into account in his consideration of the report.
Today, on what promises to be the hottest day of the year, many of my constituents will be enjoying their gardens. Will the Secretary of State confirm, no ifs, no buts, that they will be able to continue to enjoy that amenity in years to come and that their lives will not be blighted by increased noise and reduced air quality as a result of any decisions that he will make later on this year?
Let me gently chide the right hon. Gentleman. The no ifs, no buts matter was something that he signed up to when the previous Government commissioned Sir Howard to compile this report, because the decision commanded the support of the whole Government at the time. Certainly, we must address the whole issue of noise pollution and other pollution in this report. That is one of the things that Sir Howard Davies has done. It is one of the reasons why the commission was broadly based, and actually had a member of the Committee on Climate Change as one of the commissioners.
I welcome the publication of the Airports Commission report. It reached the best conclusion, independently arrived at, for both economic growth nationally—for this great trading nation—and this great global city of London. I also welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to come to a swift decision this calendar year on the future and final option. May I also seek assurances that the ministerial code will apply in this decision?
In looking at the report over the coming months, will the Secretary of State consider the livelihoods of many in the UK— the 190,000 potential jobs, the 76,000 livelihoods of those currently working at Heathrow and the 10,000 apprenticeships—and not just the livelihoods of the hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)?
The right hon. Gentleman had a good question there, but spoiled it at the end. As I have already said, there are other mayoral candidates from the Labour party who have a similar position to that of my hon. Friend, the present Mayor of London. That is an issue that we shall consider and take forward.
May I add my congratulations on the recommendations in the Davies report and the clear indication that a third runway is required at Heathrow? As a north-west MP, may I seek assurances from the Secretary of State that north-west connectivity will only continue to improve as a result of this decision?
The increase in carbon emissions from any airport expansion will have to be contained within the overall carbon budget set by the Committee on Climate Change. What discussions is the Secretary of State having in Cabinet about offsetting from other areas of his portfolio to ensure that those emissions caps are not breached; and what discussions is he having at European level to ensure that a European emissions cap is put in place, as this country has unsuccessfully argued for previously?
We regard our obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008 very seriously indeed, and we tried to reflect that when we set up the Airports Commission and made Dame Julia King a member. That is certainly something that the commission has addressed in its work.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. As a long-term public supporter of Heathrow expansion, I have already welcomed the Davies commission findings. Will he consider, as soon as possible, giving the National Air Traffic Services a statutory responsibility to mitigate noise? NATS currently does not have that responsibility, the consequence of which is that holding patterns, approach and take-off from Heathrow are unnecessarily noisy. Will he also consider allowing Heathrow airport to fine airlines if they use old planes that are particularly noisy, and if their pilots are unnecessarily noisy when they fly planes in and out of Heathrow?
I will certainly consider those points. One recommendation is to have an independent noise commission, which would partly address my hon. Friend’s points. He is right to point out the great advances that have been made by the aircraft manufacturers in reducing noise levels from planes. I know that a lot of work continues to be done in that area.
Implementing these proposals quickly is clearly in the national interest, and I support the proposals. It has never been in the national interest that such a disproportionate amount of public money has gone into capital expenditure on transport in the south-east of England. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the necessary capital works—paid from the public purse—to support a third runway at Heathrow will not disadvantage the north of England and the other regions of this country?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the proposals should be implemented quickly, but they should be implemented quickly and properly and with the proper procedures. The whole process would be slowed down dramatically if we were to be challenged in the courts, and to lose, but he makes a good point about investment in transport infrastructure across the United Kingdom. I am proud of the Government’s record and of our plans for investment right across the country, including the northern powerhouse.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that now we have these recommendations, the people of my constituency, particularly on the Isle of Grain, can be assured that there will no longer be an airport proposal for the Hoo peninsula and that it is finally off the table?
I think that I said to my hon. Friend when I was in her constituency a few months ago that that was one of the 50 proposals that was considered by the commission, but it has now been ruled out. What we have today are the three proposals that the commission has endorsed.
The Secretary of State quite rightly mentioned Newcastle airport in his list of regional airports in his statement. As he is probably aware, there is another regional airport in the north-east of England, which is Durham Tees Valley airport. Part of the runway runs through the constituency of the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), the Minister with responsibility for the northern powerhouse. It is imperative that we have connectivity to Heathrow. We have it with Schiphol, but there are not so many destinations from there as there are from Heathrow. We really need a quick and positive decision on this matter to ensure that the economy in the north-east grows in the future.
It would have been wrong of me to try to read out every single airport in the country that would want such connectivity, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not mentioning his airport. I have tried not to call these airports regional airports: they are airports that serve their local communities incredibly well.
My right hon. Friend rightly referenced the growth of airports such as Dubai and Istanbul. Does he agree that that demonstrates the challenge we face in maintaining our status as a global aviation hub? Does he further agree that we should make a decision sooner rather than later in the interests of our international competitiveness?
The Secretary of State and Sir Howard can go on all they like about mitigating the effects of a third runway at Heathrow, but for hundreds of thousands of Londoners it just means more noise, pollution and congestion. What is the Secretary of State’s message for them, and will he answer, as he has not so far, the question about what the Prime Minister meant when he said that a third runway at Heathrow was not going ahead, no ifs, no buts?
Perhaps he was not a Member, but his party supported that proposal in government. We asked Sir Howard to consider and address some of these issues, which is what he has done. Some of the changes that he would make as far as the noise and the levy on passengers are concerned are very important. As I say, the report has three options and we are considering all three.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor the Exchequer has made clear this Government’s commitment to regional economic development through his announcement of the northern powerhouse. Although I note the comments on page 34 of the report about Birmingham and other airports, does my right hon. Friend not agree that this is potentially a wasted opportunity to promote not only regional economic growth but sectoral economic growth, such as the great manufacturing sector of the midlands?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend so easily dismisses page 34, which I would have thought gives him and the people who run Birmingham airport, which he has spoken about in the House on occasion, some encouragement. Those airports—Birmingham, Manchester, and Tees, just to ensure I get them all right and do not upset anybody—are all incredibly important for people around those areas and we want more flights from them.
I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) says, but Birmingham international stands ready for expansion with international flights to JFK in New York and Beijing that are cheaper than from Heathrow. Will the Secretary of State seriously take into account the fact that Birmingham has a strategic position in the UK and its connectivity to HS2?
Yes, I will certainly take that seriously. The hon. Lady will know that the recent runway expansion at Birmingham has been very important in trying to attract more business and offer more opportunities to fly to other destinations. She is absolutely right about how important HS2 will be for that airport.
Has not the commission made an unequivocal recommendation, finding that Gatwick would deliver fewer benefits—half the economic benefits of Heathrow—has poorer transport links, especially to the north, and, crucially, would not deliver the hub solution that this country needs? In taking a decision swiftly, will the Secretary of State be mindful of the fact that it might be inconsistent to talk about a long-term economic plan and the national economic interest while going for a suboptimal solution that has not been recommended by the commission?
I think my right hon. Friend is trying to prejudge the decisions we will take. I shall not get caught in that trap. We will consider all parts of the report and I assure him that we are committed to seeing the United Kingdom and its long-term economic plan grow and succeed.
The Davies commission report will clearly repay close study. The economic benefits of the third runway at Heathrow are understood, but does the Secretary of State appreciate that for millions of people, including millions of Londoners, the economic benefits are outweighed by the clear environmental disbenefits, such as carbon emissions, noise, and, above all, air pollution?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right and she mentions some of the considerations that we must seriously take on board. There is no easy answer, which is slightly different from what was said from the Opposition Dispatch Box at the start of the statement.