House of Commons
Thursday 16 July 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
Transport for London Bill [lords]: Revival Motion
That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Tuesday 10 September.
Review of Possible Miscarriages of Justice
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of a Paper, entitled Review of Possible Miscarriages of Justice: Impact of Undisclosed Undercover Police Activity on the Safety of Convictions, dated 16 July 2015.—(Charlie Elphicke.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I have had regular contact with Alain Vidalies, the French Transport Minister, and his predecessor Frédéric Cuvillier, both in the run up to and during the current dispute.
Operation Stack has been in force on the Kent motorways for 14 of the past 28 days, closing the M20 and causing chaos on Kent’s roads. What consideration is the Minister giving at the moment to emergency measures that can be brought in this summer if there are further delays, to alleviate the pressure on the people of Kent and keep our roads open?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The road situation in Kent has been intolerable for many local people, although it has to be said that because of Operation Stack we have managed to keep the coaches and tourist traffic flowing. A working group led by Kent County Council is looking at all these issues, considering short and long-term mitigation of the problem.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister is in regular dialogue with his French counterparts, but given that the gangs of people traffickers particularly change their tactics constantly, what measures are being discussed to resolve the problem of traffickers simply moving further away from Calais to attack lorry drivers and get into their vehicles, in order to circumvent the steps that have been taken at Calais?
The Home Secretary made a statement on this problem on 14 July, and I know that measures are being put in place, including fencing, at Coquelles to try to improve the situation. I spoke yesterday to my opposite number in the Republic of Ireland, who expressed the very same fears about lorry drivers being put at risk by migrants, who may engage in aggressive tactics.
I thank the Minister for his update on the action to try to avoid the continuation of Operation Stack. As my fellow Kent MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), has said, it is causing untold disruption and misery to local people as well as to lorry drivers. Does the Minister consider it an option to continue Operation Stack during the summer? For my constituents, an alternative solution as soon as possible really is a priority.
We continue to keep all options under review. I know that it has been suggested that Manston airfield may be used to store trucks, although that is 43 miles from Dover. One or two issues that can be addressed more urgently include queue-jumping. Queue-jumpers cause congestion on local roads and they also cause problems when they get to the front of the queue, when there is usually an altercation before they are sent back. We are looking at how we can make Operation Stack work more efficiently, but looking at alternatives too.
Tourists going to France are being inconvenienced by delays. Lorry drivers are accosted by migrants in great numbers. There is clearly a lack of confidence in the cross-channel routes at this moment in time. What can the Minister do to reassure tourists and lorry drivers that they can cross the channel without any bother whatsoever?
Obviously, this is a problem on the other side of the channel, of which the French authorities are all too well aware. We anticipate that it will be a continuing problem, but it is of course made worse by the industrial action in Calais. Although Calais is open, it still is not operating at full capacity. DFDS ferries are not able to use the port, and two of the five berths at Calais are occupied by striking workers.
The Government have an ambitious £15.2 billion plan to triple annual spending on England’s motorways and major A roads by the end of the decade, to improve capacity and condition as set out in the road investment strategy. I recently met Jim O’Sullivan, who was appointed chief executive of Highways England at the beginning of July, and there will of course be further meetings between us and with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones).
I congratulate the Government on that long-term investment strategy, which will inevitably entail roadworks. Will the Secretary of State ask Highways England to review its increasing and annoying tendency to cone off vast stretches of motorway and install average speed cameras, sometimes for years at a time, when work is happening only in a very small area?
Of course, road improvements cannot take place without some disruption to the motorist, but I well understand the frustration that many people who use the M1 feel about the length of roadway that is currently under repair. I have already taken that up with the chief executive.
May I say that this is a superb question. One way to upgrade a motorway such as the M62 would be to improve existing road links between the north-west and Yorkshire. The Minister recently wrote to me and other affected MPs to inform us of the new strategic road study into a possible tunnel under the Peak district. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that would be in addition to the bypass scheme that has been announced for the Mottram in Longdendale area of my constituency, not a replacement for it, and that the Government’s vision is that the two schemes can be complementary?
I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who used to be my Parliamentary Private Secretary, for his superb question, which rightly exposes the huge road investment that the Government are taking forward.
The study that the hon. Gentleman refers to is being done by Colin Matthews. I await his report, and it is in addition to the scheme that has already been announced.
The A1 north of Newcastle has significant importance for freight and other strategic traffic travelling between Newcastle and Edinburgh. In May 2010, in recognition of the importance of connectivity with Edinburgh, the Government announced that it would be designated a route of strategic national importance. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State advise us of what investment has been made in the A1, and will he provide details of any planned future improvements?
Much to the credit of the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), we have announced a number of road improvements to the A1. If the hon. Gentleman were to drive around Newcastle at the moment, he would see the extensive work around the Lobley Hill junction, which is a huge investment that will improve flow around Newcastle. Further works on the A1 are planned.
Yes, as far as I am aware, they are on track. We are delivering the first increase in trans-Pennine motorway capacity since 1971 by upgrading the M62 to a smart motorway. I realise that there is inconvenience for motorists while upgrades take place, but the work is part of the Government’s investment not just in the north but right across this country’s road infrastructure, which was so badly neglected for 13 years.
As I said in my statement, important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme are costing more and taking longer. That is why I have asked Sir Peter Hendy, the new chair of Network Rail, to develop proposals for how the rail upgrade programme will be carried out.
Many of my constituents will now have to put up with slower services because of the Government’s decision to halt the electrification of the midland main line. It was revealed this week that in March, Network Rail agreed that joint decisions with the Department for Transport to defer upgrades would be required. Does that not show that Ministers must have known that the upgrades would be shelved, even though they were promising the public that they would be delivered?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman asking what I think is his first Transport question in the more than two and half years since I became Secretary of State. I am glad that he is taking an interest in the railway that he has not taken before.
The train services in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are operated by Northern, and we will increase overall capacity between Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield by 36% by the end of 2019, providing an extra 200 services each weekday. We will also increase Northern’s fleet size by 10% in 2015, delivering an additional 87 carriages—all good news for his constituents, and I am sorry that he looks on the negative side.
The delay in the electrification of the trans-Pennine line means delay in the release of rolling stock to replace the clapped-out Pacers endured by commuters in my constituency. How long will the pause last, and how long do they have to wait for an improvement in the quality of their journeys?
We have electrified the track between Liverpool and Manchester, replacing the two-car diesel trains with four-car electric trains from April 2015. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome that and, if not, that she would at least welcome the increase in the fleet size of Northern trains by 10% in 2015, delivering an extra 87 carriages. We will double the services between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool, Macclesfield, Chester, Bolton and Stockport by the end of 2017—more has been done to upgrade those sections of rail in the past five years than was achieved in the 13 years her party was in government.
As a former resident of Cannock, my right hon. Friend will be well aware of the importance of the Chase line electrification to residents and businesses in my constituency. Will he work with me to minimise any potential delays to the completion of the project?
My hon. Friend is quite right: I know that line incredibly well. It goes from Rugeley to Hednesford, then to Cannock and on to Walsall and Birmingham. As a member of Cannock Chase District Council, I campaigned for the line to be reopened and I am pleased that that happened in 1989. I am also pleased to confirm that as part of the electrification of that line, the new bridges at Hednesford, Stafford Lane and Cannock are already in place. The investment is £78.2 million and it is on target to be finished in December 2017.
The Secretary of State will know of the great disappointment across the east midlands at the pause in the electrification of the midland main line. While we are waiting for a final decision on that, can he update the House on when we might see the implementation of the other improvements on the line that are still in the plan?
Those improvements are still going on and, as I said at the time of the statement, the most important thing is to achieve some of the line-speed improvements to allow us to operate six trains an hour from St Pancras, as opposed to the five trains per hour at present. That work is going on as we speak.
On 25 June, just seven weeks after the election, the Secretary of State announced that the Government were shelving vital electrification upgrades in the midlands and north— projects that Ministers repeatedly promised to deliver before and during the general election. Will the Secretary of State say categorically when he first became aware that Network Rail thought a decision would have to be made on the future of those upgrades? Was it before or after the election?
It is worth noting that when I made the statement the shadow Secretary of State said that it had been well known that the electrification programme was in some trouble. If so, it is interesting that he never asked a question on it at any Transport Question Time. The first time I was told that a pause was needed was a week before I made the statement to the House.
That is not an answer to my question. The Secretary of State says that he was in the dark, but we know that the Government were warned by the rail regulator in November last year, and by the Transport Committee in January, that costs were escalating and big rail projects such as those were in trouble. The chief executive of Network Rail, Mark Carne said:
“People knew perfectly well there were high levels of uncertainty about this, it was widely flagged at the time, and it would not be fair for people to forget that.”
I wonder who he was referring to. Ministers knew all along that they were going to shelve those projects, but they continued to con the public. It is completely shabby. Should not the Government now live up to their election promises, reinstate the electrification work and not pull the plug on those vital upgrades for the north and midlands?
The last time a major upgrade was done by the Labour party, it set out as a £2 billion scheme and ended as a £12 billion scheme—and then was, I think, scaled back to a £9 billion scheme. It would be wrong of me, therefore, to say exactly what the future course of action will be until I have Sir Peter Hendy’s report—he starts work today. However, I am committed to seeing the electrification as laid out, and to the 850 miles that we will be putting in place over this period of electrification, as opposed to the 10 miles of electrification that the last Labour Government put in place in their full 13 years.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that the pre-electrification line-speed improvements on the midland main line, which will be hugely welcomed and increase the number of trains out of St Pancras from five to six an hour, will have the knock-on effect of reinstating the half-hourly service northwards from Kettering which was taken away by the last Labour Government?
The major question mark over the delivery of rail electrification as promised has rung alarm bells for the northern powerhouse, but what does it mean for One North, the plan worked out by local authorities right across the region to integrate road and rail transport across the Pennines?
I am appearing before the hon. Lady and her Select Committee on Monday afternoon, where I am sure we will go into a much deeper dive on those points.
I did not manage to finish my answer to the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher). It is worth pointing out that I did say in March and in January, when I was before the Transport Committee, that there were some problems with some aspects of the electrification of the northern Pennine line, and that is why, when the new franchise was issued, it mentioned diesel trains—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Speaker, these are very big questions and I am trying to be as open as possible with the House. I realise it is frustrating that these responses are so long.
Tackling congestion and supporting local economic growth are key priorities for this Government, and we have plans for significant investment in Worcestershire’s road infrastructure to deliver those goals. This includes over £100 million of funding to improve local roads, and a number of upgrades to the M5 in Worcestershire.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer and, indeed, for his response to my recent Westminster Hall debate on the Carrington bridge and Worcester southern link. He will be aware that the Department classifies the southern link as a local road, but in fact it has enormous strategic importance, linking Worcestershire to Herefordshire, and upgrades to it have the support of the Worcestershire local enterprise partnership and the Marches local enterprise partnership, as well as of a large number of local authorities. Will he therefore take into account the strategic importance of that road in any decisions about funding?
I do indeed recognise the importance of the A4440 and the Carrington bridge. It is of clear strategic importance to both counties, a point recognised by the county council, by the local enterprise partnership and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has visited it personally. That is why we have confirmed we will work with the county council to determine how further stages of the proposal can be taken forward.
Rail Electrification: Northern Powerhouse
Rail services in the north, including trans-Pennine, will see a massive boost from the new franchises that come into effect in April 2016—including a 36% increase in peak capacity into Leeds and Manchester. We are developing plans for even better trans-Pennine links, including electrification, as part of the northern powerhouse.
The challenge with capacity and the slow pace of the TransPennine—so-called—Express, and of the midland main line, have a real impact on York’s economy. Can the Secretary of State say when the modernisation and electrification work will now begin, and when it is due to be completed, so we can be confident that the work has not hit the buffers?
I am very sorry that the hon. Lady cannot welcome the £2.7 billion of investment in Intercity Express, which will mean 65 trains, in five-carriage and nine-carriage formations, introduced and serving her area from 2018 and a 28% increase in morning peak-time seats into King’s Cross. The new Northern and TransPennine Express franchises will operate fast, high-quality, inter-urban commuter services with more capacity, and improved local services—all with a strong focus on serving their customers well: more achievements, as opposed to the terrible franchise that the Labour Government re-launched in 2004, based on nil growth for the northern area.
In February, the Secretary of State wrote:
“A transformation in transport connectivity between the cities of the north is vital to realising their potential to become a ‘northern powerhouse’ for the UK’s economy.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2015; Vol. 593, c. 33WS.]
Now that the project has been postponed indefinitely, will he tell the House how we can build a northern house when the north has been left powerless?
The people who are talking the north down are those resentful of the improvements we have made. They are resentful and bitter about it. We have already electrified the track between Liverpool and Manchester, replacing two-car diesel trains with four-car electric trains from April 2015. That is just one of the many projects under way to re-energise the northern powerhouse and provide the opportunities I talked about, and we are not backing away from them. It is the Labour party that regrets that it never had the foresight to bring them into operation when it had the opportunity.
My hon. Friends are asking so many questions about the northern powerhouse that it has become more of a northern puzzlehouse. Will the Secretary of State confirm that plans were already in place to shelve the electrification project in the midlands and the north before the election, and does he agree that this amounts to nothing more or less than a cynical betrayal of voters?
My right hon. Friend has made it absolutely clear that electrification of the line will happen in the future. Does he agree that the hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge stations and the southern access at these stations shows that the Government have put their money where their mouth is? Does it not also show that, unlike Labour, which in government took £350 million out of the city of Leeds to spend on Crossrail—under a Labour council and with the support of all eight Labour MPs for the city—this Government are investing in the north and committed to the northern powerhouse?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I visited the site he refers to with him not so long ago. [Interruption.] No, it was after the election actually. I am also pleased to say that our investment in Leeds station to provide a new access will be very important for that station.
While welcoming the huge investment in rail services by this Government over the past five years, may I ask the Secretary of State what implications the pause—I stress the word pause—might have for the York-Harrogate-Leeds line electrification ambition and the important future links with Leeds Bradford airport?
My hon. Friend is right to point out our ambitious programme for the rail industry in this country. Many people have commented that there has never been as much investment in the rail industry as set out by the Government over control period 5. That said, the taxpayer, as well as the travelling public, would want us to get best value for money from our investment, and we will want to consider the points he makes when it comes to CP6.
The trans-Pennine rail route goes through Slaithwaite and Marsden in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State confirm when he expects Sir Peter Hendy to report back about the pause on electrification, and will he take this opportunity to debunk the myth going around that the Pacers will be replaced by refurbished tube trains, which obviously is not true?
I can certainly debunk that. It was made clear that once we got rid of the Pacers, they would be replaced by new trains, and that is what is in the invitation to tender, which is being looked at as far as the returns back to the Department for Transport are concerned. I hope to have more to say about that before the end of the year. This is a pause, and I am very much looking forward to Sir Peter’s report. It is his first day today, and I will be finding out shortly when he intends to give me that report.
Network Rail knew that northern powerhouse projects would be paused in March. Either the Secretary of State was told before the election that decisions would have to be made in June, or he was not, which means that one of two men must be guilty of abject negligence and failing to admit the truth to voters—the chief executive of Network Rail or the Secretary of State. Which one is it?
I told the hon. Lady when I was asked about giving a pause, and that is when I came to the House. Mark Carne has been doing a fantastic job trying to upgrade the railway while at the same time delivering a railway service for the passenger, which is very important. He described it as “open-heart surgery”. I pointed out when I went before the Select Committee back in March that there were problems with trans-Pennine electrification. That is why the ITT for Northern Rail was deliberately worded so that diesel trains would be in service on that particular line, because it was thought that electrification might have to slip.
EU Port Regulations
I represented the UK at Transport Council when this was discussed last October. I have also met the European Parliament rapporteur, the hon. Gentleman’s socialist colleague, Knut Fleckenstein. My most recent discussions were on Wednesday this week at the all-party maritime and ports group chaired by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).
The previous shipping Minister indicated that the Government would be able to use domestic regulation to counter these regulations if they were passed in Europe, but the details of how it would be done remain unclear. Will the Minister reassure us that he has a clear plan of action to protect the UK’s interests and block any regulations that damage port business and threaten workers’ interests in my constituency?
Our position is quite clear: competition between ports is the best way to ensure efficient operation within them. I am pleased that the general approach is better than the Commission’s original proposal. We have the competitive market exemption and more discretion on issues such as pilotage. I would certainly be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss particular issues affecting Port Talbot, which is one of our most important ports.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland and what representations has he had from Northern Ireland ports about these regulations? Can he give an assurance that ports will be prevented from having to disclose the commercial information that these regulations will require so that the commercial operations can remain?
I had unanimous support for our position that this is designed to fix a problem that we do not have in the United Kingdom. However, there are problems in other European ports, and cross-channel business and business across other seaways is important to the UK as an exporting nation. It is important to get a reasonable conclusion to these discussions, which I expect to happen under the Dutch presidency next year.
The latest departmental figures show a slight increase in local bus fares in England, while the provisional number of local bus passenger journeys remains unchanged compared with a year earlier. Final figures will be published in the annual bus statistics released in September. The bus market outside London is deregulated and decisions regarding the provision of individual bus services, including setting the level of fares, is primarily a commercial matter for bus operators.
Figures from the Minister’s own Department show that 121 bus routes in the north-west of England have been cut in the last five years, while fares have risen by an average of 25%. When will the Government give more powers to all communities—whether or not they want an elected mayor—to control fares, set routes and integrate services?
The Government support the bus sector, which is the backbone of our public transport sector, in lots of different ways, including through the bus service operators grant of £250 million in England this year. The proposals in the buses Bill will include opportunities right across the country for more local control, including the development of franchising, which the Manchester combined authorities are taking forward. The Bill will be published later in this Session.
Is it not clear that the Government have lost the plot for bus users outside London? Their own latest statistics show that journeys there were down by 11 million and fares up by 3.6% last year. Two thousand bus routes countrywide have been lost through cuts since 2010. London, with franchise powers to set routes and fares, has rising bus use. Why are this Government blocking them for communities elsewhere in England—unless they have an elected mayor, which many do not want, forced on them? Is this not sham rather than real localism?
Bus fares in Greater London have, in fact, been rising faster than those in non-metropolitan areas. As for the issue of franchising and local mayors, it is all about local control and decision accountability. A range of proposals will be published later in the year with the buses Bill.
As more models come into the market, businesses and consumers are recognising that low-emission vehicles are cheaper, greener, and a great driving experience. Thanks to a strong framework of Government support, more than four times as many ultra low-emission vehicles were registered in the first three months of 2015 as were registered in the first three months of 2014. Last year, one in four electric cars bought in Europe was made in Britain.
The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading producers of low-emission engines. For instance, Perkins Engines, in my constituency, manufactures large engines for power generation, and Jaguar Land Rover, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson), manufactures vehicles. What further measures is my hon. Friend taking to encourage UK motorists to start using low-emission engines?
Never mind “one of the world’s leading producers”. I think that we are the world’s leading producer, given that all the i8 hybrid engines for BMWs are made at BMW’s £500 million Hams Hall plant, Donington Park has been chosen as the global headquarters for Formula E, and Geely is investing £250 million to make plug-in hybrid taxis at the new plant in Coventry, thus creating 1,000 jobs. So we are indeed leading the world. As more manufacturers make these models available, more consumers will be given that option at their local showrooms.
The Minister will know of the report that was submitted to the Economic Sub-Committee of the Cabinet which showed that the cost to our economy of air pollution from diesel and other vehicles was between £9 billion and £20 billion. When considering low emissions, will he take into account particulate matter—the PM 2.5—and nitrogen dioxide?
Internal combustion engines produce pollutants which contribute to air quality problems. That is why we need to ensure that more people opt for green alternatives such as electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and other technologies that are becoming available.
A report published in today’s Financial Times reveals that, in 2010, 9,500 people died prematurely in London alone as a result of pollutants that are commonly found in fumes from diesel trucks, buses and cars. As well as the human cost, such pollutants carry a financial cost of up to £3.7 billion, just in the capital. Will the Government look at that report, and consider commissioning a similar report applying to the whole United Kingdom?
There is a cross-party initiative on air quality. I should add that I came in on my bicycle this morning, so I have not contributed to any of the air quality problems in London.
We need to make further progress in rolling out low-emission vehicles, while ensuring that the electricity they use is produced in a sustainable way.
Figures published this week show the scale of the air quality challenge that faces London, in addition to the carbon dioxide challenge that faces us all, and other towns and cities have similar challenges ahead. Why, in the Budget, did the Chancellor impose a financial penalty on hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, putting them in the same band as cars with far higher emissions? Is it not time that the Chancellor talked to the Transport Secretary, and that both of them listened to what the industry is telling them?
When consumers are deciding which vehicle to buy, they will consider not only the level of vehicle excise duty that they will pay—which, incidentally, will be zero in the case of the very cleanest cars—but the total life cost of the fuel that they will use. It is pretty much a no-brainer to buy the most fuel-efficient car possible, and to opt for a plug-in vehicle if that suits the consumer’s lifestyle.
The bus market outside London is deregulated, and it is for individual commercial bus operators to determine how best to invest in their businesses. The biggest operators have invested £1.3 billion in new vehicles outside London over the past five years.
Local authority funding for local bus services in Fareham and Gosport has been reduced by £1.5 million, leaving areas in my constituency such as Whiteley, Locks Heath and Warsash with virtually no bus service. I am concerned that private investment is not filling the gaps. What are central Government going to do to assist?
I note my hon. Friend’s concern, but I believe that decisions about funding to support local bus services are best made at local level. I would say, however, that the Government are continuing to make substantial funding available to bus operators and local authorities through the £250 million bus service operators grant. Additionally, I understand that FirstGroup has made significant investment in local buses in south Hampshire. All the buses in that area are fitted with free wi-fi, and most are fitted with next-stop displays and audio announcements. This is being delivered in partnership with Solent Transport and with Department for Transport funding, and therefore involves a mixture of public and private funding. I share with my hon. Friend a desire to see a strong bus sector.
I do not want to criticise the Minister, but I will. When my constituents go around the country, they, like me, see buses belching filthy black smoke from their out-of-date diesel engines. Cummins in my constituency makes the most advanced turbo-chargers in the world. Why are we not investing in a new generation of buses and getting rid of those that are belching out fumes, killing and shortening the lives of our constituents?
Just as the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) came into work on his bicycle this morning, I came in on a bus. It was a clean bus, and the Government are investing heavily in clean bus technology all over the country. I am not quite sure when the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was last on a bus, but if he looks around the country he will see an enormous range of clean buses right across the UK.
I regularly meet the senior management of Southeastern to discuss their rail services, and I want to assure my hon. Friend that the recovery of reliability on that route is of the utmost importance to Southeastern, to Network Rail, to my Department and to Transport Focus. I now chair the weekly meeting of a taskforce comprising all those bodies and Southern Railway that is dedicated to improving the reliability and performance of the railway for customers travelling on those vital routes.
I am grateful to the Minister for the steps she has taken, of which I have had experience, but the fact remains that the performance of Southeastern trains is wholly unacceptable. I am getting emails from my constituents saying that their train is five minutes late more than 60% of the time, which tells me that the message is still not getting through. Should we not be urgently considering the introduction of financial penalties? Should we perhaps consider, even in advance of the franchise renewal in 2018, bringing in an operator such as London Overground, which operates its services infinitely more efficiently?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that performance is recovering, from a pretty low point last autumn, and that right-time performance is about 62%. That is still not good enough, in my view, but performance is on the mend. We face a massive challenge, in that we are doing some of the biggest engineering works in the UK around the critical stations that serve that part of the network, but that is not an excuse. We have to get performance better during these times of disruption, and that is what the quadrant taskforce is dedicated to doing.
17. One of the main frustrations of my constituents who use Southeastern trains is the number of occasions on which shorter trains than expected arrive at stations, resulting in acute overcrowding. Will the Minister commit to redeploying some of the Thameslink class 319 carriages to the Southeastern network to ease that problem? (901059)
I commend the hon. Lady, who, unlike some of her colleagues, is an assiduous campaigner on the railways in her constituency. It is nice to see someone who really cares about the railways, rather than someone who simply reads out the Whips’ questions. [Interruption.] She is a Whip, as she points out, and this is her own question. She is right to focus on the issue of rolling stock, and she will be pleased to know that we have received a proposal for improving the rolling stock on that route, which we are now considering. I will take her suggestion into account.
Another person who cares about his local railways. I am hoping the hon. Gentleman will join us at London Bridge on Monday, where we are having a really deep dive into what is going on there and the recovery plans for his route. He will know that the Chancellor has committed further funding to the feasibility study, which will help inform us as to the overall benefits. Of course the hon. Gentleman knows that this line, although very welcome to many, has to be effective in terms of cost and affordability—that is what we will be looking to see.
Over this Parliament the Government are investing £15.2 billion on upgrading our strategic road network, contributing £6 billion to the local growth fund for local enterprise partnership priorities, including local roads, and just under £6 billion in maintaining our local highways. It is a comprehensive package that will improve the condition of our road network.
The growth around Cambridge is encouraging and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend is encouraged by the fact that the Cambridgeshire schemes in the road investment strategy have a budget of more than £2 billion. The A10 is certainly an important north-south link providing access across Cambridgeshire, but it is for the local highways authority, the county council and the LEP to best decide what upgrades are needed. My hon. and learned Friend is a tenacious campaigner and I am sure they would be extremely wise to listen to her.
When the Minister next meets the chief executive of Highways England to discuss the condition of the strategic road network, will he also have a word about the litter on that network, because some of the filthiest roads in my constituency, the M60 and the M67, are under the ownership of Highways England and it is clear that its maintenance arrangements are not adequate?
18. During the election campaign the then roads Minister came to my constituency to consider a new Boston distributor road and the opportunities it might present. It has been on the drawing board for the past 60 years, so will this Minister commit to continue the good work of his predecessor and come to look at that site again to see when we can finally get some shovels in the ground? (901060)
Today, Sir Peter Hendy takes over as the new chairman of Network Rail—he is someone with huge experience who helped keep London moving during the Olympics—to develop the proposals by the autumn on how to improve our vital rail upgrades. That programme will be carried out and will report to me by the autumn. I can also confirm today that Lord Adonis has agreed to become a new non-executive director at HS2 Ltd, bringing his wealth of experience and vision to the project and clearly demonstrating its truly cross-party support.
T3. Will the Minister update the House on the schedule for the much-needed improvements agreed for the A303? When will he meet Amesbury Town Council and other local interested parties to discuss the route and when this work will happen? (901033)
As my hon. Friend knows, this Government are focused on delivering a £2 billion package of road improvements to the A303/A30/A358 corridor, and that includes dualling the A303 from Amesbury to Berwick Down, as was announced in the road investment strategy. Highways England will continue to engage with a wide range of stakeholders as it investigates what it is going to be doing in detail. It expects to start a wider public consultation in 2017. I will be delighted to meet Amesbury Town Council to discuss the scheme and to meet other local stakeholders, including local councils in his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), the rail Minister.
Over the past few years, many incidents have raised serious concerns over maritime safety in the coastal waters of the highlands and islands. Those concerns have not yet been addressed. Will the Minister agree to meet MPs from the constituencies representing the west coast of Scotland to discuss those concerns and the provision of emergency towing vessels in the area?
I am happy to do so. I have already had briefings on the issue of emergency tugs in the area. I am pleased that we have recently rolled out our new search and rescue helicopters, which are providing a far better service to people in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world.
T5. Junction 10 on the M27 has been identified for vital upgrading to an all-moves junction. Such work is vital to support the strategic development area of Welborne, bringing 6,000 new homes. Can my hon. Friend confirm that those works will be taking place in the first half of this Parliament, and that the funding shortfall of £30 million will come from central Government? (901035)
The upgrade to junction 10 on the M27 has been profiled to start its preliminary work this year. The Government have contributed £14.9 million through the Solent local enterprise partnership growth deal to make up the shortfall of the scheme. In March, they also contributed £3.4 million in the second growth deal to support the local connections into the junction, and those works will start in 2015.
T2. The Davies commission predicted that 40 million passengers would use Gatwick by 2024, yet Gatwick says that it will reach that number this year. Who does the Secretary of State think is right on that point, and is he concerned that the Davies commission may have underestimated the economic impact of expanding Gatwick? (901032)
T8. In my constituency, work is under way on building the M6 link road to Heysham port. As phase 2 of the extension, it would be wise to consider carrying out a feasibility study on a tunnel under Morcambe Bay, as the tunnel would link in with the powerhouse and open up the whole of the Furness peninsula. Will my hon. Friend make a statement on that issue? (901039)
I understand that my hon. Friend is aware that it is for the two local transport authorities of Lancashire and Cumbria County Councils, in consultation with their respective LEPs, to assess whether to take forward the development of that ambitious scheme, which would include any feasibility study. I understand that he has had meetings with both authorities and urge him to continue those discussions and keep me informed of progress.
T4. Some 85% of internal and cross-channel freight goes by lorry. A substantial modal shift of freight from road to rail cannot happen unless and until full-size lorry trailers can be carried on trains, which is impossible on the existing network. When will the Government look seriously at investing in new large gauge rail capacity to accommodate lorry trailers on trains and linking the regions and nations of Britain both to each other and to the channel tunnel? (901034)
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his long-term promotion of this large rail project, the G8 freight project. He will know that I was delighted to renew the modal shift grant. We are very focused on getting freight off the roads and on to trains. One freight train saves 72 HGV journeys. I am happy to meet him on this. I understand that the proposal has been looked at several times and was declined about 10 years ago. If he has new information, I would be delighted to see it.
Potholes in my constituency cause inconvenience, expense and even danger. Does my right hon. Friend agree that technology is a key weapon in the battle against this menace and that councils should look to use the latest pothole resistant coatings during road resurfacing?
We have allocated a substantial increase to local authorities for mending potholes—it is something like a 50% increase over what was provided in 1997. My hon. Friend is right that potholes are a substantial nuisance and menace, and that looking at new ways of repairing them is also very important. Those ways will mean that potholes are repaired and do not deteriorate so quickly.
T6. Fifty-six cyclists have been killed on our roads this year. Following the meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday, will the Minister seek to expand the cycling cities initiative to more cities to help develop the safe cycling infrastructure? (901036)
I had an informal meeting with the Prime Minister immediately after the meeting the hon. Lady mentions, and we discussed what measures can be put in place to try and improve the safety of cyclists, such as looking at how junctions can be redesigned. We are proud of our record so far on investment in cycling, and we would like to see more cities taking up the option of becoming a cycling city and reaching the £10 per head funding which the existing cycle cities have achieved.
The Secretary of State has just said that potholes are a nuisance and a menace, but they are incredibly dangerous as well, particularly for cyclists. Can he encourage local authorities to use the money that has now been provided to act urgently to repair potholes?
T7. A recent report published by the Papworth trust found that one in five stations in England is accessible to disabled people and that two thirds of disabled passengers need to book assistance in advance to travel. Will the Minister commit to making accessibility a condition of future rail franchises? (901037)
I am sure the hon. Lady, like me, welcomes the fact that under the previous Government we spent and now continue to spend an unprecedented amount of money on accessibility. She is right to focus on the fact that the rail industry voluntarily provides an amazing free service for disabled passengers who need to make shift changes. I think we have made good progress. I am happy to look at individual station applications, but it is right that the railway network is accessible for all.
The Sheffield-Gainsborough-Cleethorpes line has many dilapidated stations and a Saturdays-only service. This is a ludicrous state of affairs. People want to visit Cleethorpes seven days a week. Will the rail Minister agree to a meeting with me and the other Members affected?
Like me, my hon. Friend is an assiduous reader of Rail Magazine. That was a cover story two weeks ago. He is right. The problem we have is a system that has pushed money out of the top, rather than pulled money through the bottom, so even where there are services and new trains, the station infrastructure does not always keep up. I would be delighted to meet him and to come to Cleethorpes once again.
T9. Some 68% of over-70s households have a car and older drivers are more experienced and generally safer road users who make fewer insurance claims, yet often face higher premiums than those of us in our 40s. What, if anything, will the Secretary of State do to encourage insurance companies to adopt a health-based rather than an age-based approach to insurance premiums? (901040)
In a sort of Rossendale remake of “Groundhog Day”, Bacup road in my constituency is being dug up for the third time in the past 18 months. Will my right hon. Friend write to Lancashire County Council about the success of London’s lane rental scheme in reducing delays?
I am aware that the Mayor of London enthuses about the success of the lane rental scheme in London and the positive impact it has had in minimising disruption from roadworks. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government believe these decisions are best taken locally, but I will be happy to look closely at what he says and take it up with the county council.
A key driver of economic growth in the north of England is Manchester airport, which is in my constituency. It relies on public sector transport for its market penetration. Does the Secretary of State understand that the cancellation of midland main line and the electrification of trans-Pennine routes damages Manchester’s economy and our potential growth?
There has been no cancellation. The hon. Gentleman should look to the fact that, as I pointed out just a few moments ago, we have electrified the line from Liverpool to Manchester and further upgrades are taking place in relation to the whole of the northern powerhouse. It is something to which we continue to be committed.
I recently travelled from Frodsham station to Liverpool John Lennon airport along the Halton curve. It took 15 minutes. This is a game-changer for commuters in the area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £10.4 million investment and reinstatement of the Halton curve is a strong commitment of this Government to Weaver Vale, Cheshire and the northern powerhouse?
Considering the success of the new lower Scottish drink-driving limit, when will England and Wales follow Scotland, and the rest of Europe, in saving more lives on the roads by lowering the blood alcohol limit to 50 mg per 100 ml?
As my right hon. Friend will know—he set out his priorities the other week—electrification of the Great Western main line will open up job opportunities and growth for my constituency. Will he confirm that the Government are committed to the largest investment in the railways since the Victorians?
When the Secretary of State or his Ministers are next having conversations with their Treasury colleagues, will they urge them to look at the shameful disparity between wholesale and retail prices for petrol and diesel? A review is needed to look into why motorists are being ripped off.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 20 July—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Tuesday 21 July—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
The business for the week commencing 7 September will be:
Monday 7 September—Remaining stages of the European Union Referendum Bill.
Tuesday 8 September—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 9 September—Opposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 10 September—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 September—Private Members’ Bills.
I want to inform the House of two other matters. First, it might be helpful to right hon. and hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), to know that you, Mr Speaker, have authorised a trial during the September sittings in which the alphabetical groupings in the Division Lobbies will be changed. We will not be consigning the Mc’s to the outer darkness, but the letter G will move to the A to F desk. That is to try to address the issue, raised by several Members, of long queues at the current G to M desk. The trial will run for two weeks to establish whether the new arrangements improve the situation.
Finally, as is customary, I want to thank all the staff of the House for their hard work, particularly in supporting Members at the start of this Parliament following the general election. I hope that they enjoy a well-deserved break. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will also have a well-deserved break as well as spending a lot of time on constituency work—it is not all holidays, of course—before the House returns in September.
Let me begin by seconding the Leader of the House’s thanks to all the staff and employees of the House for the support they have given us since the general election. As he is trialling the moving of the letter G from one desk in the Division Lobbies to another, perhaps he will explain why we cannot trial his plans for English votes for English laws, because they seem more important.
Yesterday’s general debate on the Government’s rushed and partisan proposals to introduce an English veto into our Standing Orders demonstrated that there is no support for it outside the Government. The Leader of the House has not announced when in September he intends to force votes to introduce his reckless plan. Will he tell us now on what date he is thinking of bringing the matter back to the House? Will he confirm that, despite the huge doubts expressed yesterday, he intends to force it through with no further concessions?
This week we learned that the Government’s plan to pack the House of Lords with 100 extra, mainly Tory, peers has been blocked by the Cabinet Secretary—at least for now. Does the Leader of the House agree that the upper House is already bursting at the seams and that, even without these extra peers, it now has the dubious distinction of being the second largest legislature in the world, beaten only by the Chinese People’s Congress? Given that every peer costs £117,000 a year, can we have a debate about how on earth these plans fulfil the Prime Minister’s pledge to cut the cost of politics? Why does this Prime Minister think it is acceptable to slash the number of elected Members in this House while allowing the unelected House to expand seemingly indefinitely in his own party’s interests?
The summer recess is nearly upon us, and I bet nobody will be more relieved than the Leader of the House. He is just two months into his new job and the Government’s business has already descended into chaos. We have had the Prime Minister’s doomed attempt to enforce collective Cabinet responsibility over his own EU referendum, which he hurriedly abandoned at the first whiff of grapeshot. In the last week we have learned of the Government’s new “dodgems” strategy to pilot their business through the House. Their headlong rush to impose a shoddy and partisan “English votes for English laws” fix was replaced with yesterday’s general debate without a vote to manage unease on their own Back Benches. Then we had the absolute farce of their botched attempt to wreck the Hunting Act 2004. The first vote was meant to be today, then it was moved to yesterday to be rushed through in 90 minutes, and then, as most of us learned on Twitter well before the Leader of the House came to the House to announce the change using a point of order, the Government pulled the vote because they knew they would lose. Will the Leader of the House tell us what other chaos he is planning for September?
This week the Government’s farcical attempt to reincarnate themselves as some kind of workers’ party has been exposed as a sham. Before the election, the Tories had vowed to “transform policy and practice” to help more disabled people into work. After the election, they scrapped the independent living fund, and we now hear that the Prime Minister is considering forcing workers to save up for their own sick pay. The Chancellor’s so-called national living wage has been exposed as just a rebrand of the minimum wage, and with his huge cuts to tax credits, millions will be thousands of pounds a year worse off. The Mayor of London has let the cat out of the bag, acknowledging that these changes will not deliver “enough to live on”.
Yesterday the Government revealed their real nature with the most vindictive attack on trade unions for 30 years. Despite the Government’s spin, this is an attack on the basic freedom to organise in the workplace that any Latin American dictator would have been proud of. If they really were the workers’ party, they would be supporting trade unions, not attacking them.
Today we will hear the result of the Liberal Democrats’ leadership election. I would like to send my commiserations to whichever candidate is unfortunate enough to win. Since the Prime Minister’s pre-resignation, there have been interesting developments in the Conservative party leadership election. Yesterday the Home Secretary poured cold water on the Mayor of London’s plans for water cannon. He has sprayed around public money, buying second-hand German cannons that it transpires he cannot even use. The Home Secretary rejected his business case because it was not watertight. I just hope he bought them on a sale-or-return basis. The Chancellor has also been on manoeuvres. The Treasury sent out an email to lobby journalists that mysteriously read, “Blah, blah, blah.” That is the most sensible thing the Chancellor has said in five years.
We have all been entranced this week by the news that a NASA space probe has made it to Pluto: a cold, desolate, lifeless place, light years away from civilisation. It sounds just like the Tory Back Benches. No doubt we are about to discover that it is a plutocracy run by old Plutonians—a bit like this place.
I have a high regard for the hon. Lady as a parliamentarian, but as a stand-up comedian, I would not go there. [Interruption.] I think hon. Members laughed in exasperation at how bad, not how good, the jokes were.
The hon. Lady asked about English votes for English laws and, indeed, the trial of the new Division Lobby arrangements. I assure her that the English votes for English laws procedure will last longer than two weeks when we put it into place. It is not customary to announce business further in advance than is normal in the business statement. When we return in September, I will as normal set out the business for the coming weeks.
The hon. Lady made a point about the House of Lords. May I once again suggest that it really is not a good idea to believe everything she reads in the papers? That story was simply not true, and it has rightly been described by Downing Street as “nonsense”. [Interruption.] I take it that the Labour party will therefore not nominate any peers in future. I take it that the hon. Lady is giving a self-denying ordinance that there will be no more Labour nominations to the House of Lords.
The hon. Lady talked about reducing the size of this House. I simply remind her, as I keep doing on English votes for English laws, that we believe in keeping to our manifesto commitments.
There was, however, one point on which we agreed—offering our good wishes to the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, who will be announced this afternoon. As the hon. Lady rightly says, he faces a very big and uphill task. We now have a collection of fine Members of Parliament on the Government Benches who will be excellent representatives of their constituencies and will I am afraid freeze out the Liberal Democrats for the foreseeable future.
The hon. Lady talked about chaos. Let me give a simple explanation of chaos. Chaos is a party that claims to represent working people, but votes against a national living wage. Chaos is a party that claims to represent working people and not support benefit-dependency, but increasingly opposes our reform of welfare, as we see in Labour Members’ mounting rebellion at their leadership’s attempt to claim that they support our reforms. Chaos is a party that claims to support an extra voice for the English, but says it will vote against a sensible package of reforms that will do the right thing for the English. Chaos is a party that ends up with its leadership candidates fighting over whether it is good idea for a party leader to be a parent. Chaos is a party that cannot even condemn the strikes that left millions of people unable to make their normal journeys to work last week.
The hon. Lady talks about supporting trade unions. May I ask her, as one of two preferred deputy leadership candidates backed by a militant boss who says it is okay to break the law, whether that is really what she means by supporting the trade unions? She talks about places that are light years away from civilisation. There is one place close to here where that is definitely the case—in the Labour party.
We are very clear that British taxpayers’ money will not be put on the line as part of the support for Greece. We have huge sympathy with the plight faced by the Greek Government and their people. It is right and proper that action is taken within the eurozone to try to support them, but the reality is that this is a problem for the eurozone and within the eurozone. Britain is not part of the eurozone and we do not want to be part of the eurozone. It is for the taxpayers of the eurozone, not the taxpayers of this country, to put their money on the line to support this bail-out.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I sincerely hope that it lasts a bit longer than last week’s business and that it will not be hastily rearranged on the back of a point of order, as happened this week.
It seems as though the Scottish National party now has almost a magical omnipotent power. As soon as we announce our intention to exercise our democratic rights in the House and vote on a measure announced in the business statement, it miraculously disappears. Such is this omnipotence that we are seemingly credited for the election result in England, the near-death of the Liberal Democrats and the crisis in Labour, and now we are the saviours of the English foxes.
I am going to try my arm and see whether I can test that omnipotence a little further. I announce to the Leader of the House that the Scottish National party fully intends to vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Let us see whether we can get that miraculously to disappear and whether we can do the job of protecting the poor, the most marginal and the vulnerable in society from the callous Bill that the Tories intend to introduce. We cannot leave that to the Labour party. I have no idea what Labour Members will do on Monday, but I hope that they join us in the Lobby and vote against this callous Bill. When I look round at my honourable colleagues in the Labour party I have my doubts, but I hope they do the right thing.
The Leader of the House does not like me referring constantly to the Scotland Bill, but he will have to indulge me a little more. This week the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that he is in a mood to accept some amendments, which is good news for my hon. Friends given that we have had four days of debate on the Bill and nothing has been accepted. I appeal to the Leader of the House for sufficient time to discuss the remaining stages of the Bill, so that amendments are debated by elected Members of this House and none are taken to the unelected, bloated Chamber up there, where there are no representatives of the Scottish National party. The amendments must be discussed under the full glare of the elected representatives of the Scottish people. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that we will get sufficient time to debate those issues properly?
Finally, as is customary as we head towards the recess, may I wish you, Mr Speaker, an enjoyable summer recess? I also wish the staff of the House an enjoyable recess, and on behalf of all new SNP Members—this is practically a new parliamentary group—let me say that the kindness and good grace shown by the staff of the House in assisting all our new Members has been recognised by us all. I also wish the Leader of the House an enjoyable summer recess. He has been kind and courteous to us in our new enhanced position here, and I wish him all the best for the recess. I hope he comes back, drops his EVEL plans, and I am sure we will get on just famously.
Let me reciprocate and say that although we will have lively debates across the Floor of the House, I have found initial relations between myself, my colleagues and the new SNP Members at Westminster to be pleasant and congenial. I return the hon. Gentleman’s wishes and I hope that all SNP Members—indeed, all Members of the House—have a pleasant recess. Having gone through an election period when everybody works immensely hard, although lots of us have constituency work during the summer, I think that everybody deserves a short break as well. I wish everybody the best for the summer recess.
Perhaps over the summer, as the hon. Gentleman relaxes on the beach or wherever he is, he might consider whether he really wants to pursue the policy of reversing what he rightly said when he gave evidence to the McKay commission about the need for the Scottish National party to stay outside matters that do not affect it. That has been a policy of principle for the SNP over many years, and it is a shame that he has walked away from that. If anybody is U-turning at the moment, it is him. He is a man of principle, and I am sure that he will reflect again and perhaps take a different approach in the future.
I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman about the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, because I suspect that the Scottish National party’s view on that will not change many opinions on the Government Benches. This is a Bill on behalf of working people, and I am certain that it commands support among working people in Scotland who—like everyone else in the country—want a welfare system that is fair, and also fair to those who pay for it. That is what the Bill will do.
On the Scotland Bill, I say simply that there will be a further day of debate in the House and the conclusion of proceedings. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to table amendments and debate them with the Scottish Secretary, he will of course have the chance to do so as normal.
With the news this week that the promise that the European Union made to our Prime Minister has been reneged on, may we have an early debate on how we can hold the European Union to account so that it complies with its word? For example, can we bring forward a breach of promise action against the European Union?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point and I have every sympathy with what he says. We have been clear that we in this country will not allow taxpayers’ money to be put on the line for a bail-out. We are also clear that the political agreement reached between member states must be adhered to. That is a matter for the eurozone and for its members to resolve. We cannot be in a position where countries outside the eurozone have their taxpayers’ money put at risk in circumstances such as this. We are clear about that, and sympathetic to, my hon. Friend’s point, and there will be a number of opportunities next week for him to raise a point about which he is absolutely correct.
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is currently finishing its progress through the other place and will come here shortly. Will the Leader of the House tell us when that will be? Will he also ensure that this English devolution Bill takes as much time on the Floor of the House as we have rightly spent discussing the Scotland Bill, which is a devolution Bill for Scotland? Will he ensure that the 85% of the UK population that is English can see that this House fulfils its obligations by considering the Bill on the Floor of the House and not in Committee?
I will take a careful look at the timetable for the Bill. We have a lot of business to get through in the autumn, but we will endeavour to make sure there is as much time available for key measures as possible. I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s view on the importance of this measure. It is a part of a devolution package designed to provide additional powers across the United Kingdom. It is right and proper that cities such as Manchester have additional powers. My hope and expectation is that the Bill will pass and deliver those powers.
Ladder for Staffordshire is a new campaign to promote apprenticeships across Cannock Chase and the wider area. It created 50 new apprenticeships on the first day alone. May we have a debate on the role that such campaigns can play in helping to create apprenticeships?
Local work done to promote our overall national goals on apprenticeships is absolutely vital. I praise all those in my hon. Friend’s constituency who have been involved in that work, and her for the work she is doing. Engaging employers in providing apprenticeships is vital, something she will no doubt wish to discuss during the passage of the Finance Bill or when Treasury Ministers are here next week. We need to keep getting across to employers the role they can play.
I note on the Order Paper today that nominations for membership of the Backbench Business Committee have been forthcoming. We are not yet completely open for business, but I hope that by Monday we will be and that on Tuesday we can have our first meeting. Under normal circumstances, we would be looking for submissions to the Committee by the previous Friday, which would be today. I have contacted colleagues and people are agreeable for submissions to be made by mid-afternoon on Monday, with the first meeting of the Committee hopefully at lunchtime on Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House please recommend to right hon. and hon. Members that they make applications for debates to the Backbench Business Committee on subjects of their choosing?
I am very happy to do that. I see the hon. Gentleman is making a number of appearances on the Order Paper today, since he is one of those who appears to be not entirely in line with his party’s acting leadership on other matters. I absolutely support his request. Given that we are setting out Committees late before the summer recess, it is right and proper that a little flexibility is shown. I am sure everyone in this House would accept that that should be the case.
Following the point made my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) about the breach of promise by the EU, as I understand it, we are now required, as the United Kingdom, to put £1 billion towards the bail-out of Greece. I think people will find that unacceptable, so may we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week on that subject?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be here on Tuesday and will certainly be explaining where we have got to on this matter. He is clear, and I am clear, that British taxpayers’ money cannot be put on the line to bail out Greece. That would not be acceptable to the people of this country. We have a debate to come in this country on our relationship with the European Union. I think people would look very hard if we were put into a position where our taxpayers’ money was on the line for a bail-out in the eurozone when we are not a part of the eurozone.
Great progress has been made in recent years in tackling cancer and increasing survival rates, but there remain great discrepancies between the various regions and countries of the UK in terms of early diagnosis and treatment. May we have a debate at some point early in the next session on how we can ensure that all our constituents get equal access to early diagnosis and treatment?
We would obviously want the best possible treatment for every citizen of the United Kingdom. We have arrangements where the health services in the four parts of the UK are managed separately. These are devolved matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is important that we share best practice from the NHS in England to the NHS in the other three countries in attempting to make sure that the best possible treatment is available, but that is of course a matter for the devolved Administrations to decide.
I thank the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for your quick response in recognising and responding to Members’ concerns about the arrangements in the Division Lobbies.
Allegedly, Kettering is the most average town in England. It is, however, very special to those of us who live there, and its special status has been confirmed by the award of a purple flag for it having a thriving, safe and vibrant night-time economy. That is similar to green flags for parks or blue flags for beaches. May we therefore have a debate in Government time about the importance of provincial town centres, and how best practice from places like Kettering might be rolled out to the rest of the country?
I am sure that my hon. Friend did not intend to inadvertently mislead the House, but I have to say that no constituency represented by him could possibly be an average town. [Hon. Members: “Hear, Hear.”] I congratulate everyone in Kettering who has worked towards that award. I know Kettering; it is a fine town. It is a great community, and it is a tribute to the strength of its community that it has been marked in this way.
Yesterday, I and other colleagues attended the opening of the new parliamentary education centre. I commend you, Mr Speaker, and the other Officers of the House, and Westminster City Council, for ensuring that it was up and running so quickly. Given the importance of the regions to the development of Parliament, would it be possible to look at setting up sub-offices of the parliamentary education centre in those towns and cities that are associated with the development of parliamentary rights? We obviously do not have a purple flag like Kettering, but we do have Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester. May we have a debate on that very important subject?
As long as the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we might relocate Parliament to Leicester, I would be very happy to table that as a thought for the Commission. I was very sorry to miss the launch of the education centre yesterday; the shadow Leader of the House and I were obviously in this Chamber for the debate on English votes. I congratulate everybody who has been involved in it. I am looking forward to visiting the centre to see the work that has been done, and I see no reason why we should not explore ways of ensuring that people around the country have an opportunity to learn more about Parliament.
May we have a debate about local democracy and local accountability? In particular, may we explore the practice of electing people to local councils by thirds, which not only is a spectacular waste of money compared with all-out elections every four years, but undermines local accountability? When the local people want to get rid of a corrupt or poorly performing local authority—such as we have seen in the past with Doncaster and Rotherham—they cannot do so when it is elected by thirds, when one party has a massive majority. All-in and all-out elections surely bring about much more local democracy. May we have a debate on them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have both in my constituency—part of the constituency is all-out, part is by thirds. It is certainly the case that thirds creates a constant programme of elections, which cost the taxpayer. I cannot comment specifically on the circumstances that he refers to, but of course these decisions are taken locally, can be taken locally, and with a proper debate locally things can be changed.
Prior to the general election, the Chancellor advised that my constituency of Dewsbury would be designated an enterprise zone within 100 days. Will the Leader of the House agree to ask the Minister to meet me to discuss the implementation process?
Of course, the Chancellor will be here for Treasury questions next week and I would simply suggest to the hon. Lady that she puts that question to him. The enterprise zone programme is part of our plan to shift the focus in this country—in our deprived areas and our challenged areas and in towns that need support and development and economic growth—away from excessive welfare dependency and on to a focus on better conditions for people in the workplace through the national living wage and better support for business. It is a shame that the hon. Lady appears to oppose the measures that we shall bring before the House on Monday, because they would help her town and others like it.
Corby is under threat from plans for a gasification plant. Local people are united in opposing the plans, and I am standing shoulder to shoulder with them in fighting against them—Corby really does say no. May we have a statement from a Minister setting out the protections that are in place for communities that are under the threat of gasification plants being built?
August 6th will mark the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and a few days later will be the anniversary of Nagasaki. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time to reflect on the legacy of that event and the horrors of nuclear war, and will he perhaps tell us when we can expect a statement from the Defence Secretary about the timetable for the maingate decision on Trident?
No one could look back on the bombings at the end of the second world war without a sense that we must never allow that to happen again. The reality is that for 70 years the world has managed to keep a nuclear peace, and long may that continue. The Defence Secretary will be in the House again after the summer recess, will continue to be available for questions and will set out our plans in due course.
Yesterday the Auditor General for Wales published a damning report on the Labour Welsh Government’s handling of the regeneration investment fund for Wales and the underselling of a large amount of publicly owned property. May we have a statement on the issue from the Secretary of State for Wales as soon as practicable?
My hon. Friend gives me an example that I missed out when I talked about the chaos in the Labour party. It is chaotic in opposition, chaotic in government, letting down Wales and failing to deliver the services and environment that Wales needs. It would be great to see Wales have a Conservative Government, not the current Labour Administration who have let it down year after year.
Today the Home Secretary has published the terms of reference of the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing. To be frank, I expected an oral statement, not a written statement, given its significance. The purpose is to investigate to what
“extent and effect undercover police operations have targeted political and social justice campaigners.”
Some months ago, we revealed in the House the extent of undercover police surveillance of trade unionists, but there is no explicit mention of trade unionists in the terms of reference, which we expected there to be. Will the Leader of the House seek clarification from the Home Secretary that trade unionists who have been under surveillance will be included in the inquiry’s terms of reference?
Last Friday I was delighted to look at three brownfield housing sites in my constituency, at Valley Road and Hope Mill in Barnoldswick and at Knotts Lane in Colne, where the Together Housing Group is delivering 95 new affordable homes this financial year. May we have a debate on brownfield generation and on what more can be done to ensure that we prioritise brownfield land over greenfield land?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. When the Chancellor announced our reforms to the planning process last week, he was clear that there should be a strong, and in many cases automatic, presumption of development on brownfield sites, and that we should protect our green belt. We as a party feel strongly about that. Yes, we face housing pressures and need to build new houses, but that must not happen at the expense of the character of our country. I believe that we have a portfolio of policies that will secure that.
As the Leader of the House will fully appreciate, the Secretary of State for Transport’s recent announcement that the electrification of the trans-Pennine route will no longer go ahead as planned has been met with widespread concern throughout the Chamber. Given the importance of the matter, does the Leader of the House agree that time should be allocated to debate the future of that major project?
Of course, the Transport Secretary has just been in the House answering questions on that very issue. We have not cancelled the programme; we have simply had to delay it. We will go ahead with the electrification. I remind the hon. Lady that when Labour was in government, it electrified 10 miles of railway line. We have a major programme of electrification that could have started when Labour was in government, but it did not.
The one more disgraceful thing I have seen in recent days than a trade union leader saying that it is okay for his members to operate outside the law has been the Labour party’s deafening silence in condemning such an irresponsible statement. I waited for the acting leader of the Labour party or any of the four candidates for the leadership to stand up and say, “That is wrong. Trade unionists should not break the law”. But silence followed. I heard nothing—no condemnation. That is because they are so in hock to the trade union movement that they do not even dare to tell them that breaking the law is wrong.
Following recent reports that the Ministry of Defence has spent almost £120 million in one year on car rental, may we have a statement or a debate in Government time on whether that kind of practice can possibly represent value for money in MOD procurement?
We can safely assume that the Ministry of Defence, under the high-quality leadership of the current Secretary of State, looks to make sure that it maximises the value of its budget. I am pleased that we will maintain our 2% commitment to NATO, but that does not mean that the Secretary of State will not look to drive out extra efficiencies to ensure that we put as much resource as possible into the front line.
BCG is an important ingredient in drugs to tackle bladder cancer, but there is a shortage and only one manufacturer of it—MSD, which to its credit is producing as much as it can. Several other manufacturers have left that particular business. May we have a debate on ensuring the security of the supply of those most vital drugs?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he has done in this important area. He is a great champion for the health service in his constituency and for his constituents who need healthcare. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health is aware of the concerns my hon. Friend raises, and gives him a response before we come back in September.
In Transport questions, on a question on parallel tracks, the Secretary of State moved into a parallel universe when he refused to answer a question about the Brighton main line 2 rail upgrade programme and a feasibility study mentioned on page 69 of the Budget Red Book, which clearly states that the feasibility study exists. The rail Minister could not give the answer because the study does not exist, as revealed in a parliamentary answer I received this week. May we have a statement to bring clarity to the situation? Either the Department for Transport or the Chancellor is in danger of misleading the House.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to put the question directly to the Chancellor, he will be here on Tuesday for Treasury questions. The hon. Gentleman could also request an Adjournment debate in which he could put his questions directly, over a longer period of time, to the Minister concerned.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the great work being done by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which allocates some £375 million to projects across the UK every year? An event last week, hosted by my predecessor, Sir Peter Luff, showcased many works connected with the centenary of the first world war.
The House’s loss is the Heritage Lottery Fund’s gain. Sir Peter was a distinguished public servant in this House for many years. He was well regarded and will be much missed in his constituency, even though he has a great successor. I pay tribute to the Heritage Lottery Fund and to all the organisations that have been involved in commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. The Woodland Trust in my constituency has begun to create a new area of woodland to mark the occasion, as it is doing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Several other organisations have been involved, and it has been an example of this nation at its best.
This issue has rightly caused enormous concern across the House. Many of our constituents have been touched by it, and the hon. Lady is not alone in having tragic circumstances in her constituency. I know that the matter is very much on the minds of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. It is our intention to respond in the timetable that was committed to.
This summer I am very much looking forward to my annual week of volunteering, when I will join the volunteers of the National Trust, the Holme Valley mountain rescue team, the Pack Horse trail, Huddersfield Canal Society and The Cuckoo’s Nest in Marsden. May we have a debate about the wonderful service that volunteers provide in our communities day in, day out?
By the sounds of it my hon. Friend is not going to be getting much sleep that week! I hope he finds that that experience is helpful to him and enables him to do what we as Members of Parliament should all do, which is to pay tribute to the work that volunteers do in our society. Our society is a better and stronger place because of their work, and every one of us will have examples in our constituencies of people who go more than the extra mile to do good work for the areas where they live. We should praise every single one of them and be grateful to them for what they do.
The access to, and availability of, cancer drugs throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an issue that concerns directly more than 50% of our population. The current cancer drugs strategy runs out in March 2016. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate about this vital health matter in the autumn?
It is of course important that we deliver the best possible support for cancer victims. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence makes a real effort to try to identify the right products to make available through the national health service, and individual local responsibility for decision making lies with the devolved Assemblies, but there will be opportunities after the summer recess to raise the issue with Health Ministers —in questions, in an Adjournment debate and now that the Backbench Business Committee is up and running. The Health Secretary is also in the House regularly to take questions from Members.
Yesterday I went to the Diabetes UK lobby, where I met a brave triple amputee, along with two of my constituents who live with diabetes. One of them gave me the Daily Mirror, which reports that 135 amputations are taking place every week. We have found ourselves in an appalling situation, and it is only going to get worse with the obesity time bomb that is about to hit us. Is it possible to have a statement as early as possible from a Health Minister on exactly what the Government intend to do to tackle this appalling tragedy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that very real health challenge which this country faces, and the very real issue that many of our constituents face. I am pleased that we are the first Government, I think, in one of very few countries—if there are any others—to have a national strategy to address the issue. The Health Secretary takes the issue very seriously, and I will make sure that he is aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns so that when my right hon. Friend is next in the House he can provide an update about the work he is doing in that important area.
It was an act of cowardice by the Government to deny this House a democratic vote on fox hunting, just because the nasty, blood sports party has become too nasty even for many of its own MPs. When can we express the settled view of the country and of MPs that the tormenting and killing of defenceless animals for fun is not acceptable?
The hon. Gentleman represents a Welsh constituency, and it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Labour party lost seats in Wales at the general election, because it does not appear to be very much in touch with the concerns of Welsh business or, in this particular case, of Welsh farmers. I suggest that he talks to them about their concerns.
In January I turned 40—[Interruption.] I know, I know. The reason why that is relevant is that the year before I was born is the last time we had wholesale reform of local government. Following on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I think the time has come for a debate about how we run local government and whether it is fit for purpose. Mr Speaker, I know you are keen on brevity, so may we have a long debate about local government reform, one which needs to start specifically with the democratic accountability of one member per ward?
One challenge that many smaller councils face is that they have three-member wards, and several have decided they cannot afford to have so many councillors and have reduced those numbers. It is a live issue, but one that can be and is decided by local authorities themselves. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will make strong representations in his own area on their moving to a more efficient system.
Given the shambles of the debate around EVEL, the Government’s intransigence over the Scotland Bill and their all-out attack on the renewables sector in Scotland, may we have a debate in Government time about their one nation approach, because it would be very enlightening to know which nation they are referring to?
It still baffles me why the Scottish National party appears to believe that covering the Scottish mountains in endless wind farms is the best way to preserve Scotland’s character. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues talk about English constituents raising concerns with them, thereby giving them the right to vote and express a view, but plenty of English people have expressed profound concern about wind farms in Scotland and the damage they do to the Scottish environment. We are listening to them.
In the early hours of this morning, two young men were admitted to hospital with stab wounds following a major gang fight in my constituency. I understand that several individuals are under arrest as a result. I also believe that statistics have been published this morning showing that knife crime is on the increase for the first time in four years. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate an early statement from the Home Secretary on what we can do to remove the scourge of knife crime from our streets once and for all?