House of Commons
Thursday 19 May 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business of the House
Mr Speaker, you will notice a degree of commonality in the business for next week:
Monday 23 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on defending public services.
Tuesday 24 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Europe, human rights and keeping people safe at home and abroad.
Wednesday 25 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on education, skills and training.
Thursday 26 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on economy and work.
Friday 27 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 6 June will include:
Monday 6 June—Remaining stages of a Bill. It will be one of the two main carry-over Bills, and we will confirm which one early next week.
I should also inform the House that the statement on Syria, which we unfortunately had to move at the last moment, just before Prorogation, will take place alongside the foreign affairs debate next Tuesday.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6 June will be:
Monday 6 June—Debate on an e-petition relating to restricting the use of fireworks.
Mr Speaker, if only the rules allowed me to take some interventions.
I am sure the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of those on EgyptAir flight 804, which has disappeared over the Mediterranean. People will want to know what has happened, so I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to tell us and to ensure that the House is updated on any developments, not least because, as I understand it, there is at least one Briton on the flight.
I am delighted that the Leader of the House made a sort of apology for not giving us the statement on Syria which he went out of his way to promise the last time we were here. I note that he says that it will be alongside the foreign affairs debate, but will it be separate?
The Leader of the House has nodded, so we can move on.
Can we also have a statement—another statement—from the Foreign Secretary explaining why he wanted to have General Sir Richard Shirreff court-martialled? Leaving aside the Foreign Secretary’s incompetence for not realising that Shirreff reported to NATO and not to him, surely the general should have been congratulated, not threatened, for stating that slashing troop numbers was a “hell of a gamble”.
I love a bit of dressing up just as much as any other defrocked vicar—almost as much as you, in fact, Mr Speaker—but I did think that yesterday was a case of all fur coat and knickerbockers. There were so many ironies. Her Majesty announced that the Government will legislate for driverless cars and space ports—and arrived in a horse-drawn carriage. She announced that the Government intend to tackle poverty—to a room full of barons and countesses dressed in ermine and tiaras. Even the door handles on the royal coach were decorated with 24 diamonds and 130 sapphires.
The Government also announced that they will put the National Citizen Service, which operates just six weeks a year, on a statutory footing, while the nation’s youth service, which works all year round, has been slashed, losing more than 2,000 youth workers, closing 350 youth centres and cutting 41,000 youth service places between 2012 and 2014 alone. Why not put the youth service on a statutory footing too?
That really is what is so truly awful about yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. It was pretending to be a one nation speech; it was all dressed up as such. It was a candy-floss speech if ever there was one—all air and sugar, whipped up with just a hint of pink in an attempt to make us all believe that compassionate conservatism is still alive. But the truth is that the Chancellor puts a stake through the heart of compassionate conservatism every time he stands at the Dispatch Box.
Yes, let us reform the Prison Service, but we should not dare to pretend that the horrendous state of our prisons—with the rate of suicide, murder and other non-natural deaths at a record high; with daily acts of violence; and with drugs freely available throughout our prisons—has nothing to do with this Government’s assault on the Prison Service budget and the loss of 7,000 prison officers since 2010, largely on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch. Yes, let us improve adoption, but we should not pretend that social services budgets in the poorest local authorities in the land are not now so stretched that children are being put at further risk every single day of the week.
The Government can say until they are blue in the face that they want to tackle some of the deepest social problems in society, but when they have pared public services to the bone, inflicted the toughest cuts on the poorest communities and systematically undermined the very concept of public service, all their blandishments are nothing but a sugar coating for a cyanide pill.
I do not know what time you got up yesterday morning, Mr Speaker, so I am not sure whether you were up early enough to catch the Leader of the House on the “Today” programme, when he tried to defend the former Mayor of London. I particularly loved the assertion, repeated four times, that Boris is a historian and he was making a historian’s comment, as though that somehow meant that he could get away with saying anything he wanted. Where on earth do I start? The former Mayor has a habit of making up so-called historical facts. My favourite was his assertion that King Edward II enjoyed a reign of dissolution with his catamite, Piers Gaveston, at Edward’s recently discovered 14th century palace. I do not doubt that Gaveston liked a bit of royal rumpy-pumpy, but since he was beheaded fully 12 years before the palace was built, it is pretty unlikely that he did so there. My only explanation for that so-called fact from the former Mayor of London is that he was a member of the Piers Gaveston society at Oxford with the Prime Minister, where they got used to porkies.
Order. The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that if the Leader of the House was doing his business on the “Today” programme between 6 and 7 am, I was almost certainly in the swimming pool at the time. Talking of beheading, the hon. Gentleman is in some danger of beheading himself, because he has already had five minutes. I think he is in his last sentence.
I am certainly in my last paragraph, Mr Speaker.
Finally, I gather that the Leader of the House is off to the United States of America next week. He is such a close friend and ally of Mr Trump that I am sure Trump tower is preparing the ticker-tape reception for him now. They have a habit in the United States of America of playing appropriate music when important politicians and international statesmen, such as the Leader of the House, appear on stage. The President always gets “Hail to the Chief”. I have had a word with the American ambassador, and I gather that they have got Yakety Sax from “The Benny Hill Show” ready for the Leader of the House.
First of all, on a very serious point, all our good wishes and sympathies go to the families of the passengers on the EgyptAir plane, who must be beside themselves with worry about what has happened. It is a deeply worrying situation. Clearly, if it turns out to be something more than an accident, we will want to discuss the matter in the House, but it is important that we await the outcome of the initial investigations and the search for the plane. All our hearts go out to everyone involved.
On the Syria statement, I reiterate that it will be a separate statement, but we have put it alongside the foreign affairs debate to ensure that those who are most concerned about the issue are likely to be present.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is such an old misery. Yesterday was Britain at its finest: strong institutions, great tradition—things that make this great city one of the finest, if not the finest, in the world—a monarch we should be proud of and a programme for government that fulfils the commitments we made to the electorate at last year’s election which, I remind Labour Members, they lost and we won. We set out 21 new Government Bills. The programme for government completes most of the manifesto on which we won the election. It helps us to achieve our financial targets to balance our nation’s books and complete the sorting out of the mess that we inherited from Labour. It includes measures on children in care and on prisons. It helps to boost our digital economy. It helps to strengthen our ability to combat terrorism.
The hon. Gentleman talks about compassionate conservatism. Let me remind him of three things. First, in the past 12 months we have introduced the national living wage. Secondly, in the past 12 months claimant count unemployment has been at its lowest level since the 1970s. Thirdly, there has been a fall of more than 750,000 in the number of workless households—a change that will make a transformational difference to many of our most deprived communities. Those achievements were made under a Conservative Government, sorting out the mess that we inherited.
The hon. Gentleman started by talking about taking interventions, and here I have some sympathy with him. He did better this morning than the leader of the Labour party did yesterday. I noticed that the shadow Leader of the House yesterday spent 41 minutes trying to look at the shoes of Conservative Members rather than looking at the leader of his party making such an awful speech.
I am not sure whether the shadow Leader of the House raised any other questions. I was grappling with trying to understand what on earth he was going on about in the middle of his contribution. Let me be clear that we are at the start of a Session in which we will deliver before the House measures that will make a transformational difference to this country; measures that will make a difference to our most deprived communities; and measures that will make this country more secure economically and more secure against the national threats that we face.
In the week that the YMCA has named its latest building the Chris Bryant centre—after the famous Chris Bryant, not this one—we should pause for a moment to praise the shadow Leader of the House. He is a great champion of equalities in this place, and he and I share the ambition of wanting more women to be elected to office. I am delighted to see that his constituency has done its bit by electing a woman to represent it in Cardiff, and who knows whether we will see a further step in that direction in this House in 2020. While we are on the subject of the shadow Leader of the House, may I congratulate him on stepping in to save the local calendar competition in Rhondda following the defeat of its founder, Leighton Andrews, in the Welsh elections? Who knows, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have his very own calendar girl for the month of May 2020 in the Rhondda—Leanne Wood.
The controversial HS2 project has again been in the media, with talk of further cost overruns and potential cuts to the scope of the project. The announcement of the finalised route for phase 2 will not be made until at least this September—a year late—exacerbating the blight on my constituents. May we have a statement to update the House on the progress of HS2 so that we can know exactly how big the white elephant has grown?
I do understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. His constituency is one of those that faces challenges from HS2, but also in my view benefits from it in the way it will open up parts of our economy, improve infrastructure and make a difference to jobs and business prospects. I understand the concerns he has raised. We have a debate on transport today, but I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Transport is aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We, too, pass on our best wishes to all those caught up in the Egyptian airline event. Let us hope that there can be some sort of positive resolution to it all.
What a few weeks we are going to have. We will have to spend most of our time discussing the anaemic, tortured stuff in the Queen’s Speech, when all Government Members want to do is knock lumps out of each other over the EU referendum. The debate in the Tory party is hardly reaching Churchillian standards of discourse. According to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on the radio this morning, it is apparently all about insults, personal attacks and tabloid smears.
My hon. Friends are already considering our amendments to the driverless cars Bill. Most of them involve locking this Tory Government into the said vehicle and heading it towards the nearest cliff edge. The Scotland bit in the Queen’s Speech yesterday got 22 words, which is actually quite good given what we usually get when we are included in all this. It may be a one nation Queen’s Speech, but one of those nations certainly is not Scotland.
We still have not secured from this Government a statement on all the now quite explosive evidence in the Conservative party submission to the Electoral Commission about the conflict between national and local spending during the last election campaign. Fourteen police forces are now investigating this alleged electoral fraud, yet we have not heard one peep from the Government. They know what they were up to, because a book has been serialised in The Daily Telegraph called, “Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election”, which says:
“The buses were critical to moving party troops from where they lived to where the swing voters could be found. The central party paid for all the buses and trains, as well as hotels and hostels.”
We must now have an urgent statement from the Government on what they will actually do about this.
Lastly, may we have a debate on world war two? It would allow senior Labour and Conservative Members to indulge their new passion of talking about Hitler. We could hear about all the dodgy histories and spurious examples, and it might take minds off the raging civil wars within the Labour party and within the Conservative party, which we are immensely enjoying.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the EgyptAir plane. We are all waiting with hope, but also with trepidation, to hear what has happened.
I am really not sure that this is the week for Scottish National party Members to talk about stories in the tabloids. I have read the news, and I have to say that there must be something in the water in Scotland. As you will remember, Mr Speaker, I told the House a few months ago that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) had written to me about recess dates because he wanted to put the ram in with the ewes. At that time, I thought he was talking about sheep.
The Queen’s Speech was a powerful package for this country. It will deliver change for Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom. It included important measures for our economy and our security. The SNP cannot have it both ways. It cannot, on the one hand, demand and secure far greater powers for the Government in Edinburgh and the nation of Scotland, and then turn around and complain that it has not got a huge range of measures in the Queen’s Speech. We will look at how the SNP uses those powers. Yesterday, its leader in Westminster said yet again that the SNP wanted more powers for Scotland. Perhaps it might like to use the powers it has in the first place.
On the subject of the Scottish Parliament and Administration, I congratulate the First Minister on her re-election. I also congratulate Ruth Davidson, our Scottish leader, on depriving the Scottish National party of its majority in the Scottish Parliament. We will be an effective Unionist opposition to the SNP, and we will hold it to account to use the powers it has been given wisely in the interests of Scotland. If it does not do so, we will then defeat it.
The hon. Gentleman raised election issues. Those are matters for the appropriate authorities: they are not matters for the Government.
May we have a debate on the BBC and its relationship with the European Union, especially in relation to its coverage of the EU? It was revealed in Heat Street magazine this week that the BBC received £2.1 million from the European Union between April 2013 and September 2015. That is on top of at least £141 million in soft loans from the European Investment Bank. On the bank’s website, it says:
“The EIB is the European Union’s bank. We work closely with other EU institutions to implement EU policy.”
That is the only basis on which to get one of those loans. Surely those matters should be declared by the BBC whenever it covers the EU referendum. May we have a debate on that and perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us whether he agrees that the BBC should have to declare that interest during its EU referendum coverage?
My hon. Friend makes his point with his customary effectiveness. I have no doubt that the BBC will be listening carefully to his comments and, if nothing else, the view he has put forward will ensure that it goes even further out of its way to try to make sure that it is impartial in the referendum campaign.
Can the Leader of the House explain the difference—perhaps we could have a statement—between the 1975 referendum, during which Ministers disagreed without bitterness, important arguments were made and personal attacks were not made, and the present campaign, in which Cabinet and other members of the Government and their supporters have such bitterness, strife and rancour between them over the question of remain or leave? It is not very civilised and totally unlike 1975.
Ironically, I wrote a short piece for City A.M. this morning about social reform, alongside my deputy from a different side of the argument. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are still best friends, unlike most people in the Labour party, who appear to be preparing to knife their leader in the back.
May we have a debate on the important report on antimicrobial resistance that came out this morning? It was initiated by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and it is vital. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) have spoken eloquently on the subject, but we need an opportunity to discuss the terrifying prospect of increasing antimicrobial resistance as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point indeed. We spar on political matters, but this issue affects all of us and should be of great concern to our country and to the world as whole. It is a serious issue. Of course, we will have a debate on Monday on public services and that might be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to discuss the matter in the House with the Secretary of State. If not, it is an issue that we should certainly look to return to.
In the past month, there have been 11 serious stabbings involving young people in my borough. There have been 114 incidents of serious youth violence in Lambeth and more than 2,300 across London. This is a crisis situation and it is nationwide. It has been occurring for several months now, yet it did not merit a single mention by the Prime Minister in his remarks in this House yesterday on the forthcoming agenda of this Government. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on whether the Government will agree to what I and many Members of this House, on both sides, have been calling for—a proper, independent, cross-party commission on this issue—because right now, to many of my constituents, it does not look like this Government care about what is happening on our streets?
First, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the issue. I disagree with him that we have not taken it seriously. We have sought both to tighten the law—I did some of that when I was Justice Secretary—and to engage young people. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech included our plans to extend and solidify the National Citizen Service, which we believe will help to engage young people who might otherwise find themselves in the wrong place in our society. I pay tribute to the work done by the voluntary sector; some fantastic projects in London seek to engage young people and take them away from this. We will come back to this issue, and I will make sure the Home Secretary is aware of the request the hon. Gentleman has made. I can assure him that we take it very seriously indeed.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I am the chairman of the all-party group on south west rail. Earlier this month, the Peninsula Rail Task Force published its initial proposals, which are open for public consultation until 27 May. After that, may we have a debate so that south-west Members of Parliament can make sure that the Department for Transport understands exactly what we want in the south-west?
Obviously, I am well aware of the challenge we face with rail in the south-west. We had the difficult experience a couple of years ago of the line being washed away and having an extended period when it was closed. I know that the Department for Transport takes this enormously seriously, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing to make sure it is kept firmly on the desks of Ministers. I remind him that after this morning’s statement there will be an opportunity for him to raise the issue in the debate on transport, and I advise him to do just that.
Last Thursday, after Parliament had been prorogued, the Government published the peer review reports on the deaths of 49 social security claimants who had died between 2012 and 2014—this was after Ministers had denied that they had any records on people whose deaths had been linked to the social security system. Given the gravity of this matter and given that this is the second time data have been released on the deaths of social security claimants while Parliament has been in recess, when will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to this House on what action has been taken to address the recommendations in these reports?
I was pleased to see a higher education Bill announced in yesterday’s Gracious Speech. It will enable more universities to be built, increase the participation of those from deprived families, and increase diversity reporting. Can my right hon. Friend update the House as to when the technical consultation on the teaching excellence framework will be announced, particularly for the universities sector? What will be the timescales for the debate, aside from on Wednesday of next week?
I do not know the dates of the technical consultation, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the higher education Bill will be brought before this House very shortly. It will be one of the earliest Bills to be debated in this Session, and I have no doubt that he will want to make his points in that discussion.
May we have a statement from the Home Secretary next week on the plight of the Brain family from Dingwall, who are ably represented in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and who are threatened with deportation? This young family came to Scotland five years ago under the fresh talent initiative. They have contributed massively, of their money and their efforts, to the community. They are self-supporting and contribute to community efforts—I include in that their young, seven-year-old son Lachlan, who has known no other home but Dingwall and whose first language is Scots Gaelic. Does the Leader of the House feel no shame at all that his party’s narrow obsession with immigration statistics could result in a huge injustice being perpetrated against this young family and a huge disservice being committed against the people of Scotland?
First, I do not know the circumstance of the case, but I will draw the right hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of the Home Secretary this morning, after the end of this session. However, it is important to remember that, if people come here for a temporary period, it does not automatically mean that they will have the right to stay here at the end of that period. That is important to remember when we are dealing with these cases.
I wish urgently to raise the case of Gloria Calib, a 38-year-old student from Lahore, who proposes to leave her family to do her viva and complete her PhD at the London School of Theology. Her visa has been turned down despite the backing of a former bishop in this country. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement on visa processes for genuine academic candidates, so that these issues can be resolved? There seems to be a pattern of middle east Christians being put into bad circumstances and not evaluated very well.
Again, I cannot comment on the individual case because I do not know the circumstance. What I can say is that we do not have Home Office questions for a little while yet, because we had them relatively recently, so the best thing for me to do is to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to the case that my hon. Friend has raised and ask the Home Office to deal with him directly on it.
The Leader of the House has said that the Government’s intention is to make the UK more economically secure. In the light of that, can we have a debate in this House on farm-gate prices, particularly in relation to the regional differentials between farm-gate prices in Northern Ireland and those in Britain, because farmers in Northern Ireland are being placed at a severe financial disadvantage?
On the frontline of the security of this nation are our armed police officers, who are often put in very dangerous circumstances and have to make a decision in a split second. If they are forced to make that decision, they then face months of scrutiny over whether that decision, taken in a split second, was right or wrong. Can we have a debate on the process of analysing those decisions and the scrutiny under which those officers are put?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are in the process of recruiting more than 1,000 new armed officers as an essential part of the strategy that we now have to combat the risk of terrorism in this country. If an incident does take place involving an armed officer, it is important to ensure that, for the protection of that officer as much as anything else, it is properly checked and investigated. We must not get ourselves into a position where people do not want to be armed officers and are not willing to act because they are concerned about the consequences for themselves.
The Department of Health is due to publish soon the NHS health action plan on hearing loss. Does the Leader of the House know whether there is a date for when that might happen, and whether it will be in the form of a written or an oral statement? A number of us will be bidding for Adjournment debate time to discuss the matter. It is a good news story for the 3 million hard of hearing and deaf people in the UK. A lot of great work is being done in the Department and by the NHS, and it would be really good to see the Government leading from the front on this.
I know that the Government are working on that. I do not have an exact date yet, but I am sure that they will want to update the House fully. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that there will be an oral statement, but I suspect that, when it happens, there will be a desire by the Department of Health to inform the House as widely as possible. I am sure that it is the kind of issue that may well end up being debated either in an Adjournment debate or in a Backbench Business Committee debate once the new Chair is elected. Let me pass on my commiserations to the former—and potentially future—Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for the events of the past couple of weeks. Who knows, he might bounce back quickly.
The humanitarian crisis in north-east Syria is becoming worse, with international aid unable to reach the region. Food prices have increased severalfold. A kilo of tomatoes is 800 Syrian pounds and a kilo of sugar is 1,000 Syrian pounds. The average wage is a 10th of what is needed to buy food for a family of five people. Although ISIS, or Daesh, is on the back foot, it still controls the only road access to the region. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on this vital issue?
Order. Before the Leader of the House responds, may I say to the former Chair of the Backbench Business Committee that I was cheering for Newcastle on Sunday, and how magnificent it was to see them beat Tottenham 5-1, therefore ensuring that Arsenal finished above Tottenham on the last day of the season.
Mr Speaker, I think you have just made yourself enormously popular with a large part of north London and enormously unpopular with another part of north London, but I suspect you knew that anyway.
We will have a statement on the situation in Syria on Tuesday. If in the eyes of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) certain issues have not been covered satisfactorily, he will be able to raise them in the foreign affairs debate that follows. There will be an opportunity for him to raise these immensely serious issues. They are often difficult for us to address from here, but I remind him that we are the second largest international donor to the different groups that are trying to provide humanitarian and other support to those who have been affected by the Syrian war.
As football seems to be the theme, I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to congratulate Partick Thistle on its 140th anniversary, as noted in early-day motion 001 of this Session.
[That this House congratulates Partick Thistle Football Club on its 140th anniversary; notes that the team’s first recorded match was played at Overnewton Park, Partick, on 19 February 1876, and that since 1909 the club has been based at Firhill Stadium in the Maryhill area of Glasgow; welcomes the economic, social and cultural contribution the club has made to the city throughout its history; further notes, in particular, its commitment to promoting a family-friendly atmosphere at its games and its outreach work to develop new generations of players and fans; commends the team for securing a fourth successive year in the top flight of Scottish football; notes the popularity of the team's distinctive mascot Kingsley, designed by Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley; recognises that 2016 also marks 95 years since the team won the Scottish Cup in 1921, and 45 years since the club's famous League Cup victory in 1971; and is nevertheless confident that the mighty Jags will not keep its supporters waiting too much longer for more silverware.]
When will the Government publish their response to the Procedure Committee’s report on private Members’ Bills, and when will we have a debate and a vote on the recommendations in that report?
I am happy to congratulate Partick Thistle on their anniversary. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is looking forward to a successful season next season, and will probably be in the stands on many Saturdays.
We will respond to the Procedure Committee’s report on private Members’ Bills in the appropriate timeframe, which I think is by 12 June.
According to the Samaritans, 4,722 people took their life in England in 2015. While this trend is in a 30-year decline, in recent years it has worryingly been rising again to the highest level since 2004. May we have a debate on the implementation of the Government’s suicide prevention strategy for England and how the Government might assist further the prevention of suicides?
This is, of course, a serious issue. We have seen an upward trend in recent times, particularly among young men. Suicide prevention is a focus for the Government. It is one reason why we are trying to put more resource into providing proper mental health support. Mental health is a crucial area of our health service, and something that we must do as well as we can. The Health Secretary will be here on Monday for the public services debate, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to bring up the subject of mental health then so that it remains very much in the sights of the Department of Health.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can we find time for a debate about garden waste collection? In the borough of Harrow, the council has decided to charge residents £40 for six months of collections, and the collections are not even being made. I am receiving complaints on a daily basis about this, and it is time that we raised the issue in the House so that hon. Members on both sides can comment on the calamity of some of the rubbish collections across this country.
I can well understand how frustrating it is for my hon. Friend and his constituents, but with his experience as deputy Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, he is better placed than almost anyone to introduce such a debate, and I am sure that he will do so.
British soldiers are concerned about the safety of the new Virtus body armour they have been issued with. If they fall to the ground, they cannot get up, and they cannot get their armour on in the dark. This is incredibly dangerous. The Ministry of Defence says that it is working with the supplier to make improvements, but why issue kit in the first place that puts soldiers’ safety in jeopardy? May we have a statement on how MOD systems have failed and, more important, how the procurement systems can be changed to stop this happening again?
I find myself in the curious position of echoing the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but I assure the House that it is entirely coincidental. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate in Government time on the BBC White Paper? The urgent question and the statement took place before publication last week and there remains considerable public disquiet about the Government’s ideological motives, as well as the Government’s ability to pack the unitary board with friends and placemen who could have a direct influence on the editorial policy of the BBC.
Let us be clear: the proposed unitary board of the BBC is not responsible for editorial policy; the director-general remains responsible for editorial policy. The influence of the board is after broadcast, not before it, which is the way it has been in the past with the BBC Trust and the way it should continue. The elements of the White Paper that require legislation will be debated in this House and there will be plenty of opportunities to question the Secretary of State before we get anywhere near the formal charter renewal.
My local authority, Cheshire West and Chester Council, with Warrington Borough Council and Cheshire East Council, is locked in talks with the Department for Communities and Local Government about a devolution deal for the area. I welcome devolution in principle, but there seems to be a strange insistence on elected mayors. The area I am talking about is so broad and large, bordered by north Wales on one side and Greater Manchester on the other, that I question the suitability of an elected mayor. May we have a debate on the necessity of elected mayors in areas outside city regions?
The whole point of the devolution package is that we are offering additional powers to local communities, but we need them to come to use with a credible governance structure for managing those additional powers. A variety of deals are being done across the country. Not all are identical and not all involve the same structures for local government; the one thing they have in common is that to go ahead, we have to have confidence that they can deliver what is necessary. I am sure that is no different in Cheshire.
I have a constituent, Elaine, who has an hereditary muscle-wasting paraplegia condition. Despite being on disability living allowance since she was five years old, Elaine, now in her early 20s, did not qualify for a personal independence payment. That in itself is outrageous, but on looking into the wider issue we find that half of all PIP awards are for three years or less, meaning that people with degenerative muscle diseases undergo continual reassessments, which is not only cruel but a waste of money. Can we have a proper debate on the impact of PIP and the medical assessments in the roll-out of the system?
The High Court oral judgment represents a significant threat to one of the Government’s most important achievements in education in the past six years: improving school attendance. For this reason, the Government will do everything in their power to ensure that headteachers are able to keep children in school.
There is abundant academic evidence showing that time spent in school is one of the single strongest determinants of a pupil’s academic success. At secondary school, even a week off can have a significant impact on a pupil’s GCSE grades. This is unfair to children and potentially damaging to their life chances. That is why we have unashamedly pursued a zero-tolerance policy on unauthorised absence. We have increased the fines issued to parents of pupils with persistent unauthorised absence, placed greater emphasis on school attendance levels in inspection outcomes and, crucially, we have clamped down on the practice of taking term-time holidays. Those measures have been strikingly successful: the number of persistent absentees in this country’s schools has dropped by over 40%, from 433,000 in 2010 to 246,000 in 2015, and some 4 million fewer days are lost due to unauthorised absence compared with 2012-2013. Overall absence rates have followed a significant downward trend from 6.5% in the academic year ending in 2007 to 4.6% in the academic year ending in 2015.
These are not just statistics. They mean that pupils are spending many more hours in school, being taught the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. It is for this reason that we amended the 2006 attendance regulations in 2013. Previously headteachers were permitted to grant a family holiday during term time for “special circumstances” of up to 10 days per school year. Of course, the need to take time off school in exceptional circumstances is important, but there are no special circumstances where a 10-day family holiday to Disney World should be allowed to trump the importance of school. The rules must apply to everyone as a matter of social justice. When parents with the income available to take their children out of school go to Florida, it sends a message to everyone that school attendance is not important.
The measure has been welcomed by teachers and schools. Unauthorised absences do not affect just the child who is absent; they damage everyone’s education as teachers find themselves having to play catch-up. Because learning is cumulative, pupils cannot understand the division of fractions if they have not first understood their multiplication. Pupils cannot understand why world war one ended if they do not know why it started, and they cannot enjoy the second half of a novel if they have not read the first half. If a vital block of prerequisite knowledge is missed in April, a pupil’s understanding of the subject will be harmed in May.
The Government understand, however, that many school holidays being taken at roughly the same time leads to a hike in prices. That is precisely the reason that we have given academies the power to set their own term dates in a way that works for their parents and their local communities. Already schools such as Hatcham College in London and the David Young Community Academy in Leeds are doing just that. In areas of the country such as the south-west, where a large number of the local population are employed in the tourist industry, there is nothing to stop schools clubbing together and collectively changing or extending the dates of their summer holidays or doing so as part of a multi-academy trust. In fact, this Government would encourage them to do so.
I am about to conclude, Mr Speaker.
We are awaiting the written judgment from the High Court and will outline our next steps in due course. The House should be assured that we will seek to take whatever measures are necessary to give schools and local authorities the power and clarity to ensure that children attend school when they should.
I thank the Minister for his answer. However, there is another aspect to the policy which, sadly, has been ignored up till now—the economic impact of the policy on tourist areas, particularly in Cornwall. In 2014 a published report indicated that the tourist industry in Cornwall had lost £50 million as a result.
With respect to the Minister, there is no prospect of social mobility for a family if the parents lose their job or have their hours cut because of the downturn in the tourism industry and the way that that affects their jobs. Is it not the case that only 8% of school absenteeism is a result of family holidays? There is no drop-off in the attainment of those children. Family holidays are good for children. They widen their knowledge of the world and expose them to new experiences, and children whose family take them on a holiday often perform better as a direct result.
Will the Minister please look at the matter again? If he is going to bring forward measures to tighten the rules or strengthen them, can he assure the House that there will be a full debate in this Chamber, that the changes to the rules will not be made through secondary legislation, that this time a full impact assessment will be carried out that includes the economic impact on tourism-related industries, that the family test will be applied to the measures, and that a full public consultation will take place that considers the impact on all stakeholders—not just education, but the wider society and families especially?
Before 2013 authorised family holidays made up between 5% and 6% of pupil absences. That figure dropped to 2.3% in 2013-14 and to 1.2% in 2014-15. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, I do not believe that we should be returning to the Dickensian world where the needs of industry and commerce take precedence over the education of children. His constituency of St Austell and Newquay, in the beautiful county of Cornwall, has a hugely successful and thriving tourism industry that generates about £2 billion of income for the UK economy. I doubt that the Cornish tourism industry will be best pleased by his assertion that tourism in Cornwall is dependent on truanting children for its survival.
Another week, another crisis for the Department for Education: Ministers really do need to get a grip. Their obsession with school structures means that they focus on the wrong issues and fail to deal with the bread-and-butter issues that matter to parents.
All the evidence shows that regular attendance at school is crucial to ensuring that children fulfil their potential, and 100% attendance records should be the ambition of all children in all schools. However, this problem is of the Government’s own making. When changing the guidance to headteachers back in 2013, they should have carried out a full impact assessment much earlier and acted to address concerns. Back in the autumn, the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) led a Westminster Hall debate on the 50,000-strong petition on this subject. The Government said then that they would look at the concerns raised, so they have known that this ruling was coming for a long time—they could have clarified the law and they have not.
This ruling is the worst of both worlds. It puts parents and headteachers in a very difficult position and is not in the best interests of children. By and large, the system up to 2012, with heads having a small amount of discretion, was working well. Parents and headteachers had a clear signal that children should be in school. It is right that headteachers who know their parents and school community well, and are accountable for their children and school, should have appropriate discretion. Will the Minister pledge to work with all interested parties across this House and outside this House to clarify the law in the interests of pupils, schools and parents? We pledge to work with him on that.
The reality is that Ministers have been asleep at the wheel, focusing on the wrong issues when we have teacher shortages and problems in primary assessment. It is time for them to take their head out of the sand and deal with these fundamental issues rather than fixating on school types at the expense of raising school standards. Will the Minister do that now?
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but I do feel that he is not on the same side as us with regard to raising school standards. Improving school attendance is absolutely key to raising academic standards. Under the previous Labour Government, it became accepted wisdom that parents could take their children out of school for term-time holidays for up to 10 days a year. Those numbers were causing an issue for us. We had to address the problem that we inherited from the previous Labour Government—[Interruption.]
Order. The Minister of State is going about his duty in the conscientious way that we have come to expect. A significant number of young children are observing our proceedings this morning, and I rather doubt they will be greatly impressed by the Front-Bench deputies on each side of the House conducting a kind of verbal tug of war from which each of them should desist, partly in consideration of the children and partly out of respect for the Minister of State, from whom we should hear.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker.
Under the previous Labour Government it had become accepted wisdom that parents could take their children out of school for term-time holidays for up to 10 days a year. We had to address that popular perception, and that is why the regulations were changed in 2013. In 2012, 32.7 million pupil days were lost owing to authorised absences. That figure has fallen to 28.6 million in 2014-15—that is, some 4 million fewer pupil school days lost as a consequence of the changes to the 2013 regulations. That is a huge success, and I wish that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) would support the change.
Does the Minister agree that taking children out of school to come to the mother of all Parliaments to learn about our democracy is one thing, but taking them to Orlando, Florida is another? I welcome the rigour that he has brought to the subject of education, moving away from the “playways” type of Labour approach. Does he agree that if this country is going to succeed, it needs to take education seriously?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. This is about social justice. When parents with income take their children out of school to go to Florida, that sends a message to everyone that school attendance is not important. There is no circumstance in which a trip to Disney World can be regarded as educational.
I am very fond of the Minister and have always thought that he has a touch of the Dickens novel about him. Is it not a very serious and fundamental problem that we still squeeze the summer holidays into a six-week period, during which British Airways charges the earth to go anywhere and Center Parcs trebles its rates? We need to tackle that very serious problem, for everyone’s benefit. I have constituents who face great pressure from the Muslim community, especially from Pakistan, to take their children out, and they are the very children who have been suffering. I am on the side of being tough, but let us look at the issue in a more fundamental way.
The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have huge admiration for his work as the former chair of the Education Committee, is right. We need to look at these issues in a more fundamental way. That is why we have given academies the freedom to set their term dates. I say to the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) that they should be helping to co-ordinate schools so that they set different term dates that help their own tourism industries.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is ample evidence that even taking a few days off school can have a serious effect on a child’s education, particularly in those secondary school years leading up to GCSE, but also in primary education, where the pattern of attendance is set. Charlie Taylor, our behavioural expert in the last Parliament, took the view that it is more important to set the precedent in primary school, so that when children enter secondary school they are already in the habit of attending school every day.
The Government underline the importance of giving heads autonomy, which I support in almost all cases, perhaps with the exception of the unacceptable opt-outs in relation to sex education. On term-time absences, does the Minister agree that some holidays or attendance at, for instance, family funerals abroad can be informative, educational or necessary, and that heads should have the autonomy and discretion to decide whether, in those exceptional circumstances, children should be allowed term-time absences? Should not the law reflect that?
The right hon. Gentleman accurately reflects the law as it stands: headteachers do have the discretion to grant term-time absence in exceptional circumstances, including funerals, which he cited. However, a term-time holiday to take advantage of lower prices would not be regarded as an exceptional circumstance.
Following on the same theme, the Government have been consistent in saying that they believe that schools should have more freedom from the state in making decisions. Does the Minister believe that schools should not have such freedoms in this particular case, or have the schools asked him to relieve them of them? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the particular issue, it is clearly inconsistent with the Government’s belief in giving school’s greater freedoms.
The schools themselves will have increased freedoms if they adopt academy status, including over term dates and the curriculum, but there are rules that apply to individuals. There is no freedom for an individual not to educate their children: they either have to attend school or obtain education otherwise. That is the law. This is about the law that applies to parents. We want a society where education is compulsory for all children in our country.
But the Minister must acknowledge the limbo that schools now find themselves in. Headteachers know precisely what the regulations say, but they also know what the High Court ruling was. Will he clarify for the benefit of the headteachers who might be listening what he thinks should take precedent—the High Court judgment or the regulations as they stand? If it is the High Court judgment, how quickly will the Government come back to the House to assert what they want to happen?
It is irrefutable that good school attendance is essential for both progress and achievement. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the High Court judgment used a 90% attendance threshold, whereas Ofsted criticises and penalises schools with attendance below 95%?
We have heard a lot from the Minister about tackling the symptoms of the problem, but I do not believe enough is being done to tackle the cause, which is companies getting away with charging astronomical prices in holiday time and ordinary prices in term time. When will the Government do something to tackle the rip-off culture that pervades our society?
That issue was examined some years ago, and it was determined that it is not a case of the holiday companies ripping off their consumers. Hotels around the world and in this country simply charge higher rates during the summer months and the peak seasons than they do out of peak, which is a matter of market economics.
Mr Platt is a resident of my island, and it is Isle of Wight Council’s unfathomable decision to take him to court that has brought about the current situation. It seems to me that the legislation is quite clear: it is for the headteacher to decide what constitutes exceptional circumstances. The head is undoubtedly in the best position to take account of the full picture of any request for absence. It is hard to envisage legislation, or even guidance, devised here or in Whitehall, that could properly take account of all possible exceptional circumstances. Do the Government intend to take the decision away from the person who is ultimately responsible for the performance of their school?
The situation obviously lacks clarity after this judgment, and I was concerned that there was a lack of clarity even before the judgment, which I hoped the Minister might turn his attention to. I had a constituency case in which children were denied the opportunity to go to Spain for the funeral of their Spanish grandmother. Will he consider providing headteachers with greater clarity to ensure that such travel is considered an exceptional circumstance?
I think the situation before the High Court judgment was clear—the headteacher has discretion on whether to grant authorised absence, and can do so only in exceptional circumstances. The National Association of Head Teachers has helpfully produced a two-page guidance note setting out what it believes its members should consider when determining whether an absence should be authorised. It makes it clear that funerals should be regarded as an exceptional circumstance.
People in land-based employment feel frustrated by term times and holidays based in an agrarian past. Does my hon. Friend agree that communities in rural locations often have small village schools that stand to suffer disproportionately in the event of disruption in the classroom due to absences such as he has described?
My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. This is about not just pupils’ education but the challenge presented to teachers as they seek to deliver catch-up lessons for pupils who have been absent. In a small school with small class sizes, that is doubly difficult for teachers.
What assistance and education can the Minister give parents who are deciding whether to take their children out of school? It seems that a minority of parents are making the wrong decision, so can he supply them with any more information on the impact of removing those children from school at the time they choose?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we must emphasise evidence that suggests that even small absences from school will have a long-term impact on a child’s education. As I set out in my opening remarks, a lot of education is linear, and children must learn one thing before they learn another. If a teacher is not able to provide a catch-up lesson for that child, they will permanently miss out on a crucial part of their education.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have taken positive steps to reduce the cost of family holidays, and therefore the financial incentive to take term-time absence? By reducing air passenger duty for children’s tickets to zero, last year 4.5 million children under 12 flew tax free, and this year more than 7.5 million of those under 16 will fly tax free.
Although I agree with the thrust of the Government’s response and their determination to raise standards, I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). When a number of schools have a high concentration of parents who work in the tourism industry and on relatively low pay, and when there has not been a significant enough change in the cost of holidays and there is no momentum around changes to term times, a number of factors come together. I urge the Minister to enter into more constructive dialogue about what can be done for regional economies where this issue will have a significant effect.
I am happy to enter into a constructive dialogue with my hon. Friend, and with my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). We have given academies discretion to set their own term dates, and I urge all hon. Members who represent areas with high levels of tourism to work with their schools, the local authority, and other local authorities, to find a way to set term dates that reflect the needs of their local communities.
My hon. Friend will know that when children are absent from school, it is disruptive to the child who misses school but also to the class when they try to catch up. One experiment currently being tried is to extend the school day by 30 minutes, and extend half term from one week to two weeks in certain areas, to allow parents to take their children on holiday for two weeks. What does the Minister think of that idea?
Junior Doctors Contract
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the junior doctors contract.
For the last three years there have been repeated attempts to reform the junior doctors contract to support better patient care seven days a week, culminating in a damaging industrial relations dispute that lasted for more than 10 months. I am pleased to inform the House that after 10 days of intensive discussion under the auspices of ACAS, the dispute was resolved yesterday with a historic agreement between the Government, NHS Employers—acting on behalf of the employers of junior doctors—and the British Medical Association that will modernise the contract by making it better for both doctors and patients. The new contract meets all the Government’s red lines for delivering a seven-day NHS, and remains within the existing pay envelope. We will publish an equalities analysis of the new terms alongside a revised contract at the end of the month, and it will be put to a ballot of the BMA membership next month, with the support of its leader, the chair of the junior doctors committee of the BMA, Johann Malawana.
I express my thanks to the BMA for the leadership it has shown in returning to talks, negotiating in good faith, and making an agreement possible. I also put on record my thanks to Sir Brendan Barber, the chair of ACAS, for his excellent stewardship of the process, and to Sir David Dalton for his wisdom and insight in conducting discussions on behalf of employers and the Government, both this time and earlier in the year. The agreement will facilitate the biggest changes to the junior doctors contract since 1999. It will allow the Government to deliver a seven-day NHS, improve patient safety and support much needed productivity improvements, as well as strengthening the morale and quality of life of junior doctors with a modern contract fit for a modern health service.
The contract inherited by the Government had a number of features badly in need of reform, including low levels of basic pay as a proportion of total income, which made doctors rely too heavily on unpredictable unsocial hours supplements to boost their income; automatic annual pay rises even when people took prolonged periods of leave from the NHS; an unfair banding system that triggered payment of premium rates to every team member even if only one person had worked extra hours; high premium rates payable for weekend work that made it difficult to roster staff in line with patient need; and risks to patient safety, with doctors sometimes required to work seven full days or seven full nights in a row without proper rest periods.
The Government have always been determined that our NHS should offer the safest, highest quality of care possible, which means a consistent standard of care for patients admitted across all seven days of the week. The new contract agreed yesterday makes the biggest set of changes to the junior doctors contract for 17 years, including by establishing the principle that any doctor who works less than an average of one weekend day a month—Saturday or Sunday—should receive no additional premium pay, compensated for by an increase in basic pay of between 10% and 11%; by reducing the marginal cost of employing additional doctors at the weekend by about a third; by supporting all hospitals to meet the four clinical standards most important for reducing mortality rates for weekend admissions by establishing a new role for experienced junior doctors as senior clinical decision makers able to make expert assessments of vulnerable patients admitted to or staying in hospital over weekends; and by removing the disincentive to roster enough doctors at weekends by replacing an inflexible banding system with a fairer system that values weekend work by paying people for actual unsocial hours worked, with more pay for those who work the most.
The Government also recognise that safer care for patients is more likely to be provided by well-motivated doctors who have sufficient rest between shifts and work in a family-friendly system. The new contract and ACAS agreement will improve the wellbeing of our critical junior doctor workforce by reducing the maximum hours a doctor can be asked to work in any one week from 91 to 72; reducing the number of nights a doctor can be asked to work consecutively to four, and the number of long days a doctor can be asked to work to five; introducing a new post, a guardian of safe working, in every trust to guard against doctors being asked to work excessive hours; introducing a new catch-up programme for doctors who take maternity leave or time off for other caring responsibilities; establishing a review by Health Education England to consider how best to allow couples to apply to train in the same area and to offer training placements for those with caring responsibilities close to their home; giving pay protection to doctors who switch specialties because of caring responsibilities; and establishing a review to inform a new requirement for trusts to consider caring and other family responsibilities when designing rotas.
Taken together, these changes show both the Government’s commitment to safe care for patients and the value we attach to the role of junior doctors. While they do not remove every bugbear or frustration, they will significantly improve flexibility and work-life balance for doctors, leading, we hope, to improved retention rates, higher morale and better care for patients.
Whatever the progress made with today’s landmark changes, however, it will always be a matter of great regret that it was necessary to go through such disruptive industrial action to get there. We may welcome the destination, but no one could have wanted the journey, so today I say to all junior doctors, whatever our disagreements about the contract may have been, that the Government have heard and understood the wider frustrations they feel about the way they are valued and treated in the NHS. Our priority will always be the safety of patients, but we also recognise that to deliver high-quality care we need a well-motivated and happy junior doctor workforce. Putting a new modern contract in place is not the end of the story. We will continue to engage constructively to try to resolve outstanding issues, as we proceed on our journey to tackle head on the challenges the NHS faces, and make it the safest, highest-quality healthcare system anywhere in the world. Today’s agreement shows we can make common cause on that journey with a contract that is better for patients, better for doctors and better for the NHS. I commend my statement to the House.
I start by putting on record our thanks to Sir Brendan Barber and ACAS for the role they have played in finding agreement between the two sides in this dispute. I also pay tribute to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which proposed these further talks and encouraged both the Government and the BMA to pause and think about patients.
I have not been shy in telling the Health Secretary what I think about his handling of this dispute, but today is not the day to repeat those criticisms. I am pleased and relieved that an agreement has been reached, but I am sad that it took an all-out strike of junior doctors to get the Government back to the table. What is now clear, if it was not already, is that a negotiated agreement was possible all along. I have to ask the Health Secretary why this deal could not have been struck in February. Why did he allow his pride back then to come before sensible compromise and constructive talks?
When he stands up to reply, he may try to blame the BMA for the breakdown in the negotiations, but he failed to say what options he was prepared to consider in order to ensure that the junior doctors who work the most unsociable hours are fairly rewarded. It was a “computer says no” attitude, and that is no way to run the NHS.
Why did the Health Secretary ignore my letter to him of 7 February, in which I asked him to make an explicit and public commitment to further concessions on the issue of unsociable hours? I was clear that if he had done that then, I would have encouraged the BMA to return to talks. Why did he insist instead on trying to bulldoze an imposed contract through, when virtually everyone told him not to, and the consequences of doing so were obvious for all to see—protracted industrial action, destroyed morale and a complete breakdown in trust?
On the detail of the new contract, will the Health Secretary say a little more about the agreed changes that will undo the discriminatory effect on women of the last contract he published? Does he now accept that the previous contract discriminated against women? Will he be clear for the record that he now understands this was never “just about pay”? Can he confirm that concessions have been made not only in respect of the mechanism for enforcing hours worked and breaks taken, but in ensuring that the specialties with the biggest recruitment problems have decent incentives built into the contract?
Moving on to what happens next, can the Health Secretary tell us what he will do if junior doctors vote against this offer? Will he still impose a contract, and which version of the contract will he impose—his preferred version or this compromised one? Can he say whether the possibility of losing a case in the High Court about his power to impose a contract had anything to do with his recently discovered eagerness to return to talks? We all know that the High Court told him he had acted above the law when he tried to take the axe to my local hospital, so I can understand why he does not want that embarrassment again.
Finally, let me caution the Health Secretary on his use of language both in this Chamber and in the media. His loose words and implied criticism of junior doctors is partly the reason why this has ended up being such an almighty mess. May I suggest that a degree of humility on the part of the Secretary of State would not go amiss? May I recommend a period of radio silence from him to allow junior doctors to consider the new contract with clear minds, and without his spin echoing in their ears? I remind him that he still needs to persuade a majority of junior doctors to vote in favour of the contract for the dispute to be finally over.
I hope with all my heart that yesterday’s agreement may offer a way forward. Junior doctors will want to consider it; trust needs to be repaired, and that will take time. I hope for the sake of everyone, patients and doctors, that we may now see an end to this very sorry episode in NHS history.
The hon. Lady is wrong today, as she has been wrong throughout this dispute. In the last 10 months, she has spent a great deal of time criticising the way in which the Government have sought to change the contract. What she has not dwelt on, however, is the reason it needed to be changed in the first place, namely the flawed contract for junior doctors that was introduced in 1999.
We have many disagreements with the BMA, but we agree on one thing: Labour’s contract was not fit for purpose. Criticising the Government for trying to put that contract right is like criticising a mechanic for mending the car that you just crashed. It is time that the hon. Lady acknowledged that those contract changes 17 years ago have led to a number of the five-day care problems that we are now trying to sort out.
The hon. Lady was wrong to say that an all-out strike was necessary to resolve the dispute. The meaningful talks that we have had have worked in the last 10 days because the BMA bravely changed its position, and agreed to negotiate on weekend pay. The hon. Lady told the House four times before that change of heart that we should not impose a new contract. What would have happened if we had followed her advice? Quite simply, we would not have seen the biggest single step towards a seven-day NHS for a generation, the biggest reforms of unsocial hours for 17 years, and the extra cost of employing a doctor at weekends going down by a third. We would not have seen the reductions in maximum working hours. We would not have seen many, many other changes that have improved the safety of patients and the quality of life of doctors.
The hon. Lady was also wrong to say that the previous contract discriminated against women. In fact, it removed discrimination. Does that mean that there are not more things that we can do to support women who work as junior doctors? No, it does not. The new deal that was announced yesterday provides for an important new catch-up clause for women who take maternity leave, which means that they can return to the position in which they would have been if they had not had to take time off to have children.
The hon. Lady asked what would happen if the ballot went the wrong way. What she failed to say was whether she was encouraging junior doctors to vote for the deal. Let me remind her that on 28 October, she told the House that she supported the principle of seven-day services. As Tony Blair once said, however, one cannot will the end without willing the means. The hon. Lady has refused to say whether she supported the withdrawal of emergency care, she has refused to say whether she supports contentious changes to reform premium pay, and now she will not even say whether doctors should vote for the new agreement.
Leadership means facing up to difficult decisions, not ducking them. I say to the hon. Lady that this Government are prepared to make difficult decisions and fight battles that improve the quality and safety of care in the NHS. If she is not willing to fight those battles, that is fine, but she should not stand at the Dispatch Box and claim that Labour stands up for NHS patients. If she does not want to listen to me, perhaps she should listen to former Labour Minister Tom Harris, who said:
“Strategically Labour should be on the side of the patients and we aren’t.”
Well, if Labour is not, the Conservatives are.
I congratulate both sides on returning to constructive negotiations and on reaching an agreement. I pay particular tribute to Professor Sue Bailey and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges for their role in bringing both sides together. I welcome the particular focus, alongside the negotiations around weekend pay, on all the other aspects that are blighting the lives of junior doctors. I welcome the recognition that we need to focus on those specialties that it is hard to recruit to and on those junior doctors who are working the longest hours, as well as the focus on patient safety.
However, we are not out of the woods yet. We need junior doctors across the country to vote for this agreement in a referendum. May I add my voice to that of the Opposition spokesman on health to say that what is needed now is a period of calm reflection? We need to build relationships with junior doctors into the future. Will the Secretary of State comment on his plans for building those relationships with our core workforce?
First, I very much agree with my hon. Friend in her thanks to Professor Dame Sue Bailey for the leadership that the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has shown in the initiative that, in the end, made these talks and this agreement possible. I know it has been a very difficult and challenging time for the royal colleges, but Professor Bailey has shown real leadership in her initiative.
I also very much agree with my hon. Friend about the need to sort out some of the issues that have been frustrations for junior doctors—not just in the last few years, but going back decades—in terms of the way their training works and the flexibility of the system of six-month rotations that they work in. This is an opportunity to look at those wider issues. We started to look at some of them yesterday. I think there is more that we can do.
It is important that this is seen not as one side winning and the other side losing, but as a win-win. What the last 10 days show is that if we sit round the table, we can make real progress, with a better deal for patients and a better deal for doctors. That is the spirit that we want to go forward in.
I absolutely welcome this agreement, and I pay tribute to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges for bringing it about. I do wish there had been some response to the letter that I and other Members sent before the all-out strike, because it was a genuine attempt to create a space that both sides could step into. However, I am glad that we have got to that stage now.
I welcome the recognition of the equality issues, which, to us and to many junior doctors, appeared to have been dismissed in the impact assessment. On the idea of flexible training champions in each trust, I myself was a flexible training senior surgeon—indeed, the first one in Scotland—and the idea of accelerated training is important. However, one concern I have is about childcare. If women junior doctors are going to be working longer, more antisocial shifts—I remember what I had to fork out for childcare—I would like to know whether the NHS will respond to that. Will that be in the form of crèche hours or support?
I welcome the fact that the hours guardian will be linked to the director of medical education and that there will be an elected junior doctors forum. One concern of junior doctors was that they would have no voice in relation to the guardian.
I also welcome the idea of using modern technology in rota-ing. At the moment, rotas are sheets of paper, and often no one looks at the shoulder from one rota to the next, so people can end up with the very long periods on call. However, one concern that remains is rota gaps. We do not have enough junior doctors, and we do not have enough junior doctors in the most acute specialties. How is the Secretary of State planning to re-establish a relationship? How is he going to recruit people to fill that gap? That was the core fear of junior doctors: a lack of doctors, with doctors simply being spread further. How are we going to recruit and retain doctors after the painful clash that has been going on for the last year?
I welcome the tone of the hon. Lady’s comments; we might have wished for a similar tone from the shadow Health Secretary. Let me address the comments of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) as constructively as she made them to me. She is right about flexible training. We have to recognise that the junior doctor workforce is now majority female, and that a number of family and caring pressures need to be taken account of. We need to do that for the NHS not only because it is the right thing to do, but because we will lose people if we do not. Those people will simply leave medicine, even though they have been through very extensive and expensive training.
We have to look particularly at the responsibilities of doctors with young children. One of the things that we announced yesterday was an obligation on trusts to take account of caring responsibilities. If, for example, a doctor wanted to work fewer hours in school holidays and more hours in term time, we cannot guarantee that a hospital would always be able meet those needs—the needs of patients always have to come first—but they could at least be taken account of, in the same way as they are in many other industries that operate 24/7. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that modern technology is key to that. An air steward or a pilot who works for British Airways can go on to an electronic system and choose the shifts and hours that they want to work. Because we have failed to modernise the NHS, we have seen a huge growth in agency and locum work, which is partly driven by the fact that it offers precisely the flexibilities that people need. These are important changes, and we intend to take them forward.
My right hon. Friend’s actions and those of the Department and the BMA in reaching an agreement will be warmly welcomed and met with a sigh of relief. Does he accept that the fact that the BMA was prepared to think again on crucial issues, such as overtime at weekends, should be seen as a sign not of weakness but of maturity, in working with the Government to ensure that we have a seven-day NHS that is for the benefit of patients and patient safety?
I absolutely agree with that wise comment, and it befits someone who is experienced in working in the Department of Health. We always get further if we sit around the table and talk about such issues. The Government are determined to improve the quality and safety of care for patients, and it is important to recognise that if the Government are successful, it will be better for the morale of doctors. The happiest, most motivated doctors work in the hospitals that are giving the best care to patients. That is why it is a win-win.
I say to Labour Members that it was the refusal of the BMA for many years to talk about the issue that my right hon. Friend referred to that meant we reached a deadlock. The fact that the Government were willing to proceed with important reforms on our own if we had to meant that, in the end, everyone came together and had a sensible negotiation. We got to the right place. I am sure everyone wishes that we had not had to go on the journey we went on to get there, but now that we have got there, I think it is the time for being constructive on all sides.
I also thank the Minister and the BMA for coming to an agreement. The Minister said that it was a win-win for everyone, and so it is. It is always good to talk, and dialogue brings results. That happened in Northern Ireland, and it has happened with the conclusion of this process as well. A good deal has been reached, and some 45,000 junior doctor BMA members will now be asked to vote on it.
We have had eight days of strikes since January, and some 40,000 planned non-urgent operations and 100,000 out-patient appointments have been cancelled. May I ask the Minister what will be done to catch those up, and what discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Assembly about the agreement?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are in constant touch with the devolved regions and countries to make sure that they know the changes that we are making, and to share any learning that we have from the processes that we have been through, so we will certainly do that. Across the country, we are doing everything we can to catch up with the backlog of operations, procedures and out-patient appointments—all the things that have been affected by the industrial relations dispute. Trusts will always prioritise the areas where clinical need is the greatest, but I know that that work is ongoing across the country.
I very much welcome the agreement that has been reached. We know that the Secretary of State recognises the importance of having a happy and well-motivated workforce, and this contract addresses many of the causes of unhappiness for junior doctors. It is particularly good to hear the points made today about addressing the problems of couples who are both junior doctors. However, there is clearly more to do, as has been acknowledged, especially on the reasons why junior doctors feel unsupported and often not valued by their employers. My right hon. Friend commissioned Professor Sue Bailey to carry out a review of the underlying problems experienced by junior doctors during training. Will he advise us whether the review will now proceed?
The request from the BMA was to find a new way of proceeding with that very important work, and that is what we will do. We will do so with the input of Professor Bailey, because she has a very important contribution to make. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, as well as more flexible working for people with family commitments, the big issue for many junior doctors is the way in which the training process happens. In particular, the issue is about the way that continuity of training has been undermined by the new shift system—we need that system for reasons of patient safety—and that often means that someone is given advice by a different consultant on different aspects of care from one day to the next, which is frustrating. We will look at all those issues with Professor Bailey, Health Education England and the BMA to see whether we can find a better way forward.
Is the Secretary of State aware that even my constituents struggling with the possible closure of their A&E at the hospital in Huddersfield nevertheless welcome this announcement and thank anyone and everyone who has brought it about? That includes, I must say, leaders from the Opposition parties—our health spokespeople—who have done so much to help maintain a positive spirit. Will the Secretary of State just not gloat about this, but keep a period of silence? This is part of the phenomenon of people’s deep unhappiness about the NHS. Problems will arise again because so many people working in the NHS know it is being privatised by the back door and know that the clinical commissioning system is not working. Those problems will come back again and again unless he confronts that issue.
That would have been a constructive contribution to this morning’s discussion if the hon. Gentleman had not descended into totally false slurs about this Government’s commitment to our NHS. I would just say to him that if people support and are passionate about the NHS, as this Government are, then they put in the money—we are putting in £5.5 billion more than his party promised at the last election—and make the difficult reforms necessary to ensure that NHS care is as good as or better than anything that can be provided in the private sector. That is what this Government are doing: we believe in our NHS, and we are backing it to provide the best care available anywhere in the world.
I strongly welcome this important statement and the Secretary of State’s leadership, and I congratulate all those involved in the discussions. On Tuesday, I spoke at my advice surgery in Eastleigh to a constituent, a new mum who is a junior doctor and is married to a senior nurse. She is unable to fast-track into working as a GP, and part of her concerns about the negotiations involve the future childcare arrangements for her four-month-old baby. Such concerns weigh heavily on her family, particularly in relation to on-call working. May I ask that agile working and family first issues are truly taken into account for nurses and doctors who are trying to bring up families together?
My hon. Friend gives one example, but there are thousands of such examples. Such people are totally committed to the NHS, have a bright future in it and can make a huge contribution to its success by doing a good job in looking after patients, but they also have home responsibilities that are difficult to fulfil when there are very inflexible rostering systems. One of the big wins from yesterday’s agreement is that we will be able to look at the way the rostering system works to try to bring in such flexibility. If we do not do so, more and more doctors will want to be locums or to work for an agency and we will lose the continuity of care for patients, which is one of the best things about our GP system. That is why there is an urgent need—from the perspective of patients, as well as from that of doctors—to address that issue.
I am interested in the Secretary of State’s thoughts about the serious impact on morale that the dispute has had. I was talking to a junior doctor in Sheffield the other day who said that before the dispute he had never looked at his contract, he had simply got on and done what was needed, whenever it was needed. Does the Secretary of State realise that even if the dispute is now settled, as we hope, it has had a serious impact on good will in the health service, which could affect service delivery in the future?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the latest NHS staff survey, it shows higher staff motivation, better communication and more staff recommending their organisation as a place to work or be treated. But I accept that when big changes are made to a contract such as the junior doctors contract, they can be contentious and have a short-term impact on morale. In the long run, morale goes up when doctors are able to give better care to patients, and that is what this agreement will allow.
The Secretary of State has done a good job of explaining today, but let us look at this in the cold light of day. The BMA caused a problem that should have been resolved a long time ago. It decided it would make a political point. That is fair enough, and I know we want reflection. The Opposition should have been big enough to say, “We want to cause political trouble on this.” A lot of this has been caused by political shenanigans that should not have been allowed to get to this stage, and the failure means that the junior doctors have lost prestige throughout the United Kingdom because they have been used as political pawns by two organisations. Does the Secretary of State agree?
It is a great tragedy that the dispute unfolded in the way that it did, and I am sure that people with different agendas have not played constructive roles at various points. Given that we now have an agreement, I want to move forward positively and say that the lesson of the last 10 days is that when people sit down and negotiate about all the outstanding issues with a Government who are trying to make care safer and better for patients, we get a result that is good for everyone.
It is not the time to claim victory: this negotiated agreement now has to be put to the members of the British Medical Association. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that his own refusal to negotiate exacerbated this crisis? Will he cease referring to the British Medical Association as a militant trade union, and will he heed the call from my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for a period of silence in order to avoid antagonising the junior doctors still further?
Let us be absolutely clear: there was never a refusal to negotiate on the Government’s side. We have now developed a lot of trust between the Government and the BMA leadership, but until that point it balloted for industrial action without even sitting down and talking to the Government, and it refused to discuss the issue of weekend pay premiums, which was the crucial change we needed for a seven-day NHS. It was when the BMA changed its position in those areas that we were able to have constructive talks, and that is why it deserves great credit for coming to the table and negotiating—something it had not wanted to do previously—and that led to the solution.
I thank the Secretary of State for working so hard to bring about this resolution and for always putting users of the NHS at the heart of everything he does. Will he join me in urging junior doctors to consider the new contract with an open mind when voting, and to strip out some of the politics that we have heard? Let us consider what is best for patients, what is best for the NHS and then what is best for junior doctors.
My hon. Friend speaks wisely. I understand that in a contentious industrial relations dispute junior doctors will not necessarily look to me for advice on which way they should vote, but it was not just me doing the agreement. It was a negotiated agreement and the leader of the junior doctors committee says that it is a good agreement. He will encourage people to support it in the ballot and he thinks it is a good way forward for doctors as well as for patients. The people who have been closest to the detail of the negotiations think that it is the right step forward for junior doctors, and that is something that they will want to take account of.
I do not wish to invite the Secretary of State to provoke or pre-empt by presumption, but if the agreement changes the shape of services, it will have implications for other health professionals. Is he prepared to have the further conversations that will need to be had, and the wider conversations that will be needed with his ministerial counterparts across these islands on workforce planning, professional education and training?
We are, of course, willing to have those discussions with colleagues in other parts of the UK. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that having a seven-day service does not just involve junior doctors; it involves widespread changes across the service. I should say that nurses, healthcare assistants, porters, cleaners—other people who work in hospitals—already operate on 24/7 shifts, so the changes necessary to those contracts are much less profound than they are to some of the doctors contracts, which is why it is important that we change not just the junior doctors contract, but the consultants contract. The fact that we have been able to reach a negotiated agreement with the junior doctors bodes well for the consultants contract, which is the next step.
I congratulate both my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) on their hard work in dealing with this protracted dispute with the BMA. Patients up and down the country, including those in my constituency, were somewhat concerned about the cancellation of operations, and I am delighted that the Department is going to try to ensure that we catch up on that. One thing that came out of this dispute was that some senior consultants ended up getting on to the front line for the first time in a long time. What can be done to try to make sure that that happens on a regular basis, so that they are getting experience on the front line, too?
If I answer that question directly, I will dig myself into rather a deep hole. I echo my hon. Friend’s thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, who has done an outstanding job by my side at every stage throughout this difficult period. I can certainly say that we would not have had yesterday’s agreement without his strong help and support at every stage. It is true that there are A&E departments across the country that, in having to plan for the two-day withdrawal of emergency care, found that having consultants more visible to patients had some positive impacts. I know that studies are going on to see what lessons can be learned from that going forward.
I, too, welcome the opportunity for a negotiated settlement, but let us take just a moment to reflect on one of the fundamental principles of our NHS—providing high-quality patient care. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity today to offer a heartfelt and sincere apology for the significant and severe distress caused to patients as a result of this prolonged dispute?
With the greatest of respect to the hon. Lady, it was not my decision to take industrial action—to ballot for industrial action without even being prepared to sit around the table and talk to the Government. We are seeing dramatic improvements in patient safety under this Government, as we face up to the many problems in care that we inherited, not just at Mid Staffs, but at many other places. I know that she cares about patient safety, so she should welcome the difficult changes we have made, one of which is to have a seven-day NHS.
Like many colleagues in the House, I wrote to the Secretary of State on numerous occasions over the past six months to express the concerns of local junior doctors. May I therefore congratulate him and the BMA on reaching this deal? I hope that junior doctors in Wimbledon will wholeheartedly support it. He spoke in his statement about the role of the guardian and the ability to ensure safe working hours, on behalf of both patients and doctors. Will he give a few more details about how he expects that to work?
Yes, I am happy to do that, and I thank my hon. Friend for a lot of his correspondence. The principle here is that junior doctors want to know that there is someone independent they can appeal to if they think they are being asked to work hours that are unsafe and which mean that they cannot look after patients in the way that they would want to because they are physically or mentally too exhausted. We would all want to make that possible, but it means that they need to have someone who is not their line manager. They will go to their line manager in the first instance, but they need to have someone independent and separate. One area where we have made the most progress during the past few months, even before the past 10 days of talks, is on establishing how these guardians can work in a way that has the trust of both the hospitals and the doctors working in them.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right that we can always get further if we get round the table, so why, in response to the cross-party initiative back in February to get everybody around the table, did he not do exactly that and save us all this trouble, rather than trying to impose the contract?
The cross-party initiative was not to have a new contract, but to abandon plans for a new contract and to have pilots in a few limited places. If we had followed that advice, we would not now have agreed with the BMA the biggest changes in the junior doctors contract for 17 years. Our goal was to get the agreement that we secured yesterday—safer care for the NHS and a better deal for doctors. That was what we achieved, and we would not have got there if we had listened to that advice.
May I join the welcome for the agreement and the persistence and patience that eventually paid off? In previous statements, I have raised with the Secretary of State the problem involving married couples who are both doctors. There are difficulties with training when they are sent to different areas and with rosters that clash. Will he say a word about the progress that has been made in this important area of making work a bit more family-friendly?
I am happy to do that for my hon. and learned Friend. It is not an easy problem to solve, because junior doctor training placements operate on six-month rotations, and they are a competitive process. We get many more applicants for a number of posts than there are posts available. We must find a way of balancing the need to respect family responsibilities, which is something that we all want to do, with the need to have a fair process for the most competitive positions. We do not have the balance right yet, so we have said that Health Education England, which decides where people are to go on rotations, will now have a duty to consider family responsibilities when it makes decisions about those rotations.
I welcome the potential resolution of this dispute and thank the Government for negotiating it. We should also thank junior doctors for having the courage to go on strike, which no one does lightly, to get a better deal for the NHS. I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on this breakthrough, to take further steps to build on his difficult relationship with NHS staff and, crucially, to stop presenting NHS policy as a false dichotomy between the interests of patients and the interests of NHS staff.
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to some of the things that I have said, he would have heard me say repeatedly that I do not think that that dichotomy exists. As he says, it is a false dichotomy because, in the end, what is right for patients is also right for doctors. The thing that demoralises doctors, nurses and everyone working in our hospitals in different parts of the NHS is when they are not able to give the care that they want or that they think is appropriate to the patients in front of them. That is why hospitals that have moved closest towards seven-day services are also some of the hospitals with the highest levels of morale in the NHS. He is right that it is a false dichotomy and that we need to do both together.
As the Secretary of State knows, my brother and his wife were junior doctors when they made the decision to move to New Zealand a long while ago because of the long-standing cultural problems within the NHS. They will be very pleased indeed about the announcement yesterday about couples potentially being able to work together in hospitals. I have a question for the Secretary of State from my mother. She wants to know what he can do now to encourage my brother, his wife and their friends back into the NHS.
Let me say to my hon. Friend’s mother that I hope that the message of this new agreement will go right the way around the world. Any doctors who have moved to New Zealand and Australia are always welcome to come back. The thing that must unite this Government and the good doctors who work, or have worked, in the NHS is our commitment to make NHS care the safest and the best in the world. We had a terrible shock with what happened at Mid Staffs, but we are using that as a moment of decisive change in the NHS, and we are well on our way to higher standards of care than are available in many other countries.
I congratulate the Government and everyone involved on getting this deal in place. It will have a knock-on effect in my constituency in Northern Ireland. When I went around Antrim Area hospital, the concern was to do with the number of doctors, which we have heard about from other Members, and how to get seven-days-a-week cover from everything else that needs to go into the health service. Will the Secretary of State comment on how we will deal with that, and how we will work with the devolved Parliaments?
I agree. We need more doctors and we need more nurses. By the end of this Parliament, we will have over a million more over-70s in England alone, and I know that the demographic effects in Northern Ireland will be equivalent. We have a global shortage of about 7 million doctors, so we need to train more. We are training an extra 11,420 doctors over this Parliament as part of the spending review. The training is done on a UK-wide basis, so we will need to work closely with all the devolved regions on it.
I warmly welcome this draft agreement, which will be met with some relief in Cheltenham. Whatever our deeply held concerns about the behaviour of the BMA in the past, does the Secretary of State agree that it should be our ambition that the agreement will mark the beginning of a more constructive future? Will he join me in congratulating BMA negotiators, including Dr Malawana, for being prepared to address constructively issues such as Saturday pay?
I am happy to do that. I recognise that this was not easy for those people, because it involved changing a position that they had held for more than three years. When we looked at the details, the result that we got to was not difficult for them to sign up to because they could see that it really was better for their members, as well as better for patients. The lesson here is that the NHS faces huge challenges, and it can only be right to deal with them by sitting round the table and negotiating constructively.
I, too, warmly welcome the news of the agreement, and I hope that it leads to a settlement. If it is the Secretary of State’s intention to create a seven-day NHS, that will require the participation of more than the junior doctors, so does he intend to bring forward a new contract for consultants, hospital lab workers, ambulance workers, nurses or indeed ancillary workers and catering staff?
The hon. Gentleman is right. A seven-day NHS is not just, or not even mainly, about junior doctors, although they are a very important part of the equation. We will need a new contract for consultants and we are having constructive negotiations with them. Many other people working in the NHS are already on seven-day contracts, so there will not necessarily be a contractual change, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we will need, for example, diagnostic services operating across seven days so that the junior doctor who works at the weekend will be able to get the result of a test back at the weekend. Those are all part of the changes that we will introduce to make the NHS safer for patients.
I warmly congratulate both sides on reaching this agreement. Our NHS is different at weekends, and my right hon. Friend is right to inculcate Sir Bruce Keogh’s four key clinical standards on a Sunday and a Saturday. Does he agree that it is important not simply to rely on mortality data, which are often difficult to interpret, to underpin the case for a seven-day NHS? Will he look closely at other metrics based on clinical standards for things like routine lists for upper gastrointestinal endoscopy on a Saturday and Sunday? Will he also look at palliative care, which of course does not feature in any hospital mortality data?
My hon. Friend speaks, as ever, very wisely on medical matters. I particularly agree when he talks about palliative care; it has got better, but there is a long way to go. We have recent evidence that it is particularly in need of improvement where we are not able to offer seven-day palliative support.
I welcome this settlement and thank everyone involved for securing it. However, many junior doctors remain concerned that, as the hours worked at the weekend increase, cover is inevitably reduced during the week, unless more junior doctors are employed to bridge that gap. With many rotas already left unfilled around the country during the week, how can the Secretary of State guarantee that we will not make the situation worse during the week, thereby impacting on patient safety?
I understand the concern. The short answer is that we need to increase the NHS workforce, which we are doing. We will see more doctors going into training during this Parliament, as indeed we did during the previous Parliament. More doctors in the workforce will be an important part of the solution.
It appears that at the start of the recent negotiations the payment for Saturday working was the main sticking point for the BMA, but now the issue of weekend pay has been resolved. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, now, the doctors who work extended hours over the weekend can get extra pay, and patients can get the seven-days-a-week NHS we all want?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not just a safer deal for patients, but a system that is much fairer for doctors than the current one. We are giving a pay rise of between 10% and 11%, for which we say that people are expected to work one weekend day a month, but doctors who work more than that get more, and it goes up, so more weekends worked means more extra pay. I think that is one of the reasons why the BMA was prepared to sign up to the agreement: it values the people who give up the most weekends.
I was contacted by a constituent who told me how his four-year-old daughter fell through a pane of glass, severely cutting her face. Unfortunately, the accident happened on a Friday evening, and because insufficient doctors were working over the weekend, she could not have an operation to remove any remaining glass from the wound until Monday, by which time the wound had started to heal and was misaligned. That four-year-old girl will suffer severe facial scarring for the rest of her life. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is why we need a seven-day NHS?
I must confess to being rather puzzled. The BMA said all along that the strike and dispute had nothing to do with weekend pay and terms, yet after negotiations limited simply to weekend pay and terms, the BMA has come to a deal and advised against strike action. Can we take it that, despite much huffing and puffing from the BMA that this was about the future of the NHS and all the rest of it, at the end of the day it was all about weekend pay and terms?
I think my hon. Friend is right that that was the big sticking point. It was the BMA’s willingness to be flexible and negotiate on that that ultimately made an agreement possible, but it is also fair to say that the Government recognise that there are many other non-contractual issues in the way that junior doctors are trained and treated by the NHS, and we want to use this opportunity to put them right.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on putting patients first, but does he recognise that there are still people out there whose operations were cancelled due to industrial action? Will he look to the future and consider whether front-line medical staff should have the right to strike and so put people’s health on the backburner or postpone their medical care?
I know that that is a view that some colleagues share. Doctors have obligations even now under the Medical Act 1983 not to take action that would harm patients, and under their responsibilities to the General Medical Council; they have to be aware of those. What I hope is that that question simply does not arise again. We are now having constructive discussions with the BMA; I think that is the way forward and I hope that neither I nor any future Health Secretary has to go through what has happened in the past 10 months.
I applaud the tone and content of the Secretary of State’s remarks. I think this agreement will go down as a breakthrough in the NHS. It has been very uncomfortable to engage in dialogue with constituents who are junior doctors, who have felt aggrieved, so I particularly welcome the way my right hon. Friend has been able to look at non-contractual issues. I urge him to give serious consideration to the outcome of the Bailey review so that progress can be made on morale and the wider issues that have been raised.
I finish by saying that I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It has been a very sad dispute for all of us, because we all recognise that junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS; they work extremely hard and they often work the most weekends already. That we now have an agreement is a brilliant step forward. We all have constituents who work hard for the NHS. They are people we value, so dialogue, negotiation and constructive discussion must always be the way forward.
In accordance with Standing Order No. 122D, I must announce the arrangements for the election of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for the new Session. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will be held in Committee Room 16 from 11 am to 1.30 pm on Wednesday 25 May. Nominations must be submitted in the Table Office between 10 am and 5 pm on the day before the ballot, Tuesday 24 May. In accordance with the Standing Order, only Members who do not belong to a party represented in Her Majesty’s Government may be candidates in this election. A briefing note with more details about the election will be made available to Members and published on the intranet.
Higher Education and Research Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Sajid Javid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Nicky Morgan, Secretary Greg Clark, Matthew Hancock and Joseph Johnson, presented a Bill to make provision about higher education and research; and to make provision about alternative payments to students in higher or further education.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 4) with explanatory notes (Bill 4-EN).
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80B)
Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Sajid Javid, Secretary Nicky Morgan, Secretary Greg Clark, Greg Hands, Mr David Gauke, Damian Hinds and Harriett Baldwin, presented a Bill to grant certain duties, to alter other duties, and to amend the law relating to the National Debt and the Public Revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put, and stood committed to a Committee of the whole House in respect of clauses 7 to 18, 41 to 44, 65 to 81, 129, 132 to 136 and 144 to 154 and schedules 2, 3, 11 to 14 and 18 to 22, and to a Public Bill Committee in respect of the remainder (Standing Order No. 80B and Order, 11 April); to be printed (Bill 1) with explanatory notes (Bill 1-EN).
Investigatory Powers Bill
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)
Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Philip Hammond, Secretary Michael Fallon, Secretary David Mundell, Secretary Theresa Villiers, the Attorney General, Robert Buckland and Mr John Hayes, presented a Bill to make provision about the interception of communications, equipment interference and the acquisition and retention of communications data, bulk personal datasets and other information; to make provision about the treatment of material held as a result of such interception, equipment interference or acquisition or retention; to establish the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and other Judicial Commissioners and make provision about them and other oversight arrangements; to make further provision about investigatory powers and national security; to amend sections 3 and 5 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 15 March); to be considered tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 2) with explanatory notes (Bill 2-EN).
Policing and Crime Bill
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)
Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Secretary Greg Clark, the Attorney General and Mike Penning, presented a Bill to make provision for collaboration between the emergency services; to make provision about the handling of police complaints and other matters relating to police conduct and to make further provision about the Independent Police Complaints Commission; to make provision for super-complaints about policing; to make provision for the investigation of concerns about policing raised by whistle-blowers; to make provision about police discipline; to make provision about police inspection; to make provision about the powers of police civilian staff and police volunteers; to remove the powers of the police to appoint traffic wardens; to enable provision to be made to alter police ranks; to make provision about the Police Federation; to make provision in connection with the replacement of the Association of Chief Police Officers with the National Police Chiefs’ Council; to make provision about the system for bail after arrest but before charge; to make provision to enable greater use of modern technology at police stations; to make other amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; to amend the powers of the police under the Mental Health Act 1983; to extend the powers of the police in relation to maritime enforcement; to make provision about deputy police and crime commissioners; to make provision to enable changes to the names of police areas; to make provision about the regulation of firearms; to make provision about the licensing of alcohol; to make provision about the implementation and enforcement of financial sanctions; to amend the Police Act 1996 to make further provision about police collaboration; to make provision about the powers of the National Crime Agency; to make provision for requiring arrested persons to provide details of nationality; to make provision for requiring defendants in criminal proceedings to provide details of nationality and other information; to make provision to combat the sexual exploitation of children; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 7 March); to be further considered tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 18 May).
Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Transport and Local Infrastructure
With permission, before I introduce the debate I would like to make a brief statement about the loss of EgyptAir flight MS804. The aircraft, an Airbus 320, carrying 56 passengers and 10 members of crew between Paris and Cairo, disappeared from radar at approximately 1.30 am UK time, over the waters of the eastern Mediterranean. We understand that one of the passengers on board is a UK national and that consular staff are in contact with the family and are providing support. I know that the House will want to join me in saying that our thoughts are with the family and friends of all those on board. The Government are in touch with the Egyptian and French authorities and have offered full assistance. The air accidents investigation branch has offered to assist with the investigation in any way it can.
As chairman of the all-party Egypt group, I thank my right hon. Friend for the measures that he is seeking to take and associate myself and the group with the condolences that he has expressed. Will the Government seek to discuss with the French authorities in particular whether they are satisfied that the measures that they are taking to screen passengers and luggage at Paris meet the requirements that we in the United Kingdom feel are necessary, bearing in mind that, I believe, a number of people airside in Paris have had their authorisation revoked because of their association with Islamic extremism?
It is far too early to make any assumptions about what has happened, but of course we will want to look at all the issues and discuss them with the French authorities and others. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will take that further forward.
It is a pleasure to open this debate on Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. I very much welcome the opportunity to talk about our plans for transport and infrastructure. Yesterday’s speech was all about building a stronger, more resilient, more modern economy that provides security for all people and opportunity at every stage of life—a country fit for the future, no matter the challenges it faces. If we have learned anything from the past decade, it is that we need to be better prepared and more responsible during the times of plenty so that we can weather the more difficult times.
In the previous Parliament, we had to take some tough economic decisions, but they were the right economic decisions. We earned a hard-fought recovery from recession and the financial crisis. In 2014, Britain was the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world. In 2015, we were the second fastest growing after the United States. In 2016, the employment rate has hit yet another record high. More families are benefiting from the security of regular wages, and unemployment has fallen once again. The deficit is down by two thirds as a share of GDP on 2010, and the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that it will be eliminated by 2019-20. That recovery is still going on today, and with the global economy slowing, it is even more vital that we stick to our long-term economic plan.
However, we do not just need a responsible fiscal strategy; we also need to invest for Britain’s future to create the capacity and space we need to grow. For decades, we have been slipping down the global infrastructure league tables. To take an example from recent history, let me pluck two years out of thin air—say, between 1997 and 2010. In those 13 years that I take at random, Britain slipped from seventh to 33rd in the world infrastructure league tables. As a result, we watched our roads grow increasingly congested, our railways become overcrowded, and our town centres choke with traffic. If we cannot move people or goods efficiently from one place to another, how can we expect businesses to invest in Britain? Building the infrastructure that Britain needs to compete is one of the defining political challenges of the age, so we have spent the past six years in government turning things around.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Does he recognise that one of the barriers to gaining employment is sometimes the infrastructure needed to get from where one lives to where one wants to work? In that vein, does he recall standing on the platform at the former Edwinstowe railway station, and will he bring forward plans to fund the extension of the Robin Hood line in the very near future?
I well remember visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency with him just over 12 months ago, although I cannot remember what was happening at the time. I also well remember the fantastic result that he had at the subsequent general election and the way in which he has always pushed for more infrastructure in his area. I want us to work with him, the local authority and the local enterprise partnership to see what other systems of transport we can provide. I have to say that Nottingham has not done too badly in relation to infrastructure investment. We have seen a huge amount of investment in the new station and the dualling of the A457—[Interruption]—and I am very grateful that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) was able to join me for its opening. [Interruption.] She says, “Thanks to a Labour county council.” Actually, those plans were progressed by a Conservative county council when it was in office and had not been progressed before at all, as she well knows.
I suspect that the Secretary of State knows exactly what I am going to raise with him. He picked the years of 1997 to 2010 at random, and I will go along the same vein. In ’97, my predecessor said that the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass would definitely get built; in 2010, there was still no spade in the ground. We promised before the last election that we would build the Mottram relief road and the Glossop spur, and we are looking at extending that to deal with the Mottram and Tintwistle problem. Can he confirm to me and my residents that we are still determined to press on with that as fast as possible? We talk about growing the economy and growing jobs, and that project is vital for Glossop and the surrounding area.
My hon. Friend is my parliamentary neighbour: our constituencies share a border. He has made his case and I am pleased to confirm our road investment strategy, which reflects the points he has made. In fact, we want to go further. We have commissioned a report by Colin Matthews on better connectivity between Manchester and Sheffield, which would have a huge beneficial effect for my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on the woeful transport situation in Salford in my constituency. There are no plans to improve our key road network and the three motorways in my constituency, or for any substantial upgrades to our rail services through Eccles, Walkden and Patricroft. Our bus services are completely woeful. Traffic in Salford has increased by 3.6%—three times the Greater Manchester average. On Monday I will meet the Royal Horticultural Society to discuss the building of its fifth garden, which will bring 1 million visitors to Salford every year. How are they going to be brought in?
May I also pick two years out of thin air, namely 2010 to 2020, which will mark a decade of absolutely zero investment in the M56 in Chester? The Government are refusing not only to upgrade it to a smart motorway, but to install police and Highways Agency cameras so that we may know what the problems are. What can my constituents look forward to in respect of the M56 upgrade?
I join the hon. Gentleman in saying that we need to spend more money on infrastructure, but we also have to make sure that we spend it properly and in a planned manner. As well as the extra investment—I will talk more about that—we will also look at those areas that we have not been able to cover, provided that we get the other sides of the economy in good order.
In the past six years, we have turned things around as far as infrastructure is concerned. We have climbed up the global infrastructure investment league table and are now in the top 10, ahead of France, Japan and Germany. Action is under way, with new wider roads, new faster trains and better urban transport. In the south-west there is the widening of the A30 and the A303, and there are brand new trains on order. In the north-west, Manchester Victoria station has been transformed, there are electric trains on the northern hub and motorways have been widened. In East Anglia, the A11 has opened and the Norwich northern distributor road is under construction. We are finally taking action on the A47, which is of great interest to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who will wind up the debate, and on the A14. In the midlands, there has been a transformation at Birmingham New Street station, and the M1 has been partly converted to four-lane running. I could go on and mention Crossrail in London and other action right around the country, but time will not allow me to continue reciting my list of improvements.
I thank my right hon. Friend for mentioning the south-west. The key issues for us are ensuring that we have an alternative railway line to that down to Dawlish and getting the dualling of the A303 so that we can have better transport and therefore deliver productivity, which is lamentable at present.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Labour party manifesto said that it would cancel some of our road programmes in the south-west. It mentioned them specifically and we will remind Labour of that time and again.
A Treasury report last year revealed that more than £400 billion-worth of infrastructure work is planned across the country. The biggest slice of that is for transport. Overall, transport infrastructure spending will rise by 50% during this Parliament. That means that we can invest £15 billion to maintain and improve our roads—the largest figure for a generation. There will be £6 billion for local highways maintenance, which is double the spending of the last Labour Government. We are also giving local authorities a multi-year funding settlement for the first time ever, with an additional £250 million to address local potholes.
We can contrast that with the last Labour Government’s record. Between 2001 and 2010, just 574 lane miles were added to our motorways; we are adding more than 1,300 miles. Labour electrified only 10 miles of rails of railway track; we have already electrified five times that amount, and anybody who goes on the Great Western line can see that there are many more to come very soon.
We are delivering the most ambitious rail modernisation programme since the Victorian era—a £40 billion investment. We have Crossrail, Thameslink, electrification and the intercity express programme. Hitachi—a company that has now moved its global headquarters to Britain—is building new carriages in new factories in the north-east, opened by the Prime Minister. Of course, there is High Speed 2, for which construction will start next year. This is a new start for infrastructure that will make Britain one of the leading transport investors.
The Gracious Speech also includes legislation to back the National Infrastructure Commission, whose influence is already being felt. Following its recommendations, we have invested an extra £300 million to improve northern transport connectivity, on top of the record £13 billion already committed across the north. We have given the green light to High Speed 3 between Leeds and Manchester and allocated an extra £80 million to help fund the development of Crossrail 2.
I am pleased to say that by the end of this Parliament, Crossrail 1—or, as we can now call it, the Elizabeth line—will be operating. It is the most significant investment in transport in London for many a generation, and it will make a welcome addition to the capital’s infrastructure.
I am a bit worried about Sheffield’s position in that list of schemes. The Secretary of State referred to HS3 as going from Manchester to Leeds, not connecting to Sheffield. Has that connection disappeared off the Government’s radar? Will he confirm that there is no truth in the stories that consideration is being given to abandoning the HS2 station in Sheffield, and that wherever that station might be, there will be one? Are we going to get HS3 as well?
I am coming on to HS2, and if the hon. Gentleman does not feel that I have answered his question after that, I will give way to him a little later. I hope he will be reassured by what I am about to say.
What I have described adds up to an ambitious pipeline of schemes that will not only free up capacity, boost freight and improve travel but help us to attract jobs, rebalance the economy and make us a more prosperous country. Of course, there will be disruption and inconvenience while some of that is happening, but when the work is done we will get the benefits, as at Reading station, the new Wakefield station or Nottingham station—infrastructure that will prepare Britain for the future.
That is what is behind the modern transport Bill, which will pave the way for the technologies and transport of tomorrow. We are already developing the charging infrastructure for electric and hybrid vehicles. Driverless cars and commercial space flights may seem like science fiction to some, but the economic potential of those new technologies is vast, and we are determined that Britain will benefit by helping to lead their development. Driverless cars will come under new legislation so that they can be insured under ordinary policies. The new laws will help autonomous and driverless vehicles become a real option for private buyers and fleets. The UK is already established as one of the best places in the world to research and develop those vehicles, just as we are leading the way on real-world testing to ensure that cars meet emissions standards, to clean up the air quality in our cities. Through the Bill we will strengthen our position as a leader in the intelligent mobility sector, which is growing by an estimated 16% a year and which some experts have said could be worth up to £900 billion worldwide by 2020.
Despite the initial gloom that descended on me when I heard my right hon. Friend mention HS2, may I say how delighted I am to hear about the growth in autonomous drive technology? I congratulate him and the Government on promoting it, because there is no question but that the United Kingdom leads the way in that area, working alongside Japan. Autonomous drive will potentially increase the density of traffic on our motorways fourfold, so let us stick with it. I will resist the temptation to say that we would not need HS2 if we had autonomous drive cars—that would be the wrong thing to say, I think.
Whenever my hon. Friend intervenes I am never sure whether I regard it as helpful or not— I think on that one the jury is still out.
The Bill will also allow for the construction of the first commercial spaceport. A full range of viable options have been put forward, and we support those bids. The Bill will create the right framework for the market to select what the best location will be. We will legislate to encourage British entrepreneurs to make the most of the commercial opportunities of space. That will form part of the Government’s wider support for the UK space sector, and is aimed at raising revenues from almost £12 billion to £40 billion by 2030—around 10% of the global space economy.
We are also preparing for HS2, which is the biggest infrastructure scheme that this country has seen for a generation. The transformation of rail travel across Britain will free up capacity on the rest of the network, and rebalance our economy and economic geography. Before a single track has been laid, the HS2 factor is already having an impact. Blue-chip companies such as Burberry have chosen to move to Leeds, and HSBC has relocated its retail banking headquarters from London to Birmingham, citing HS2 as a significant factor in that decision. We have seen ambitious regeneration plans around places such as Curzon Street in Birmingham and Old Oak Common. Cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Crewe and Sheffield are preparing for phase 2.
My right hon. Friend mentioned Curzon Street, and given that I fear there will be HS2, may I put down a marker? He will know that there is a cross-city line from Lichfield Trent Valley to Redditch. If HS2 eventually links up directly with the continent and does not go via St Pancras, it would be hugely advantageous if there were a halt at Curzon Street on the cross-city line, because that rail line runs immediately adjacent to the HS2 terminus.
Although my hon. Friend was against HS2, I am pleased that he is already thinking about how it can benefit his area and region. I join him in his partial conversion, and I will take that as a helpful intervention.
HS2 means that businesses will be able to access new markets, drawing their employees from much wider catchment areas, and perhaps for the first time they will consider moving offices away from London. When HS2 construction begins next year, we will be building something much bigger than a new railway; we will be investing in the economic prosperity of the next half century or more, training a new generation of engineers, developing new skills for a new generation of apprentices, and rebalancing growth that for far too long has been concentrated in London and the south-east.
I am glad to say that I have made a lot more progress than was made in 13 years of the last Labour Government. To get to Swansea we must first get to Cardiff. We will get to Cardiff, and then we will get to Swansea, as has been promised—that work is on the way. The hon. Lady will travel on the Great Western line, and she will have seen all the work that has been going on. She will be a regular traveller through Reading, and she will have seen where £800 million has been spent on that scheme. We are doing a fair job in ensuring that her constituents, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies), who has often made the case for electrification to Swansea, will benefit from that.
The hon. Lady says that electrification was set out in 2009. It might have been. [Hon. Members: “It was!”] One has to wonder why the Labour Government waited 12 years, until they knew they were about to lose office—in 2010—before coming out with plans. We are the ones who have carried them though. Yes, the costs have gone up—I very much regret that—but overall it is still a worthwhile project. Had it been started 15 or 20 years ago, it would not be costing what it is today. Anybody can lay out plans. In fact, Labour is sometimes very good at it, but it always fails on delivery and leaves it to us.
As I said, we will be firing up the north and the midlands to take advantage of this transformational project. After overwhelming support in the House, the Bill has now moved to another place, and I look forward to the Lords Select Committee. I am a strong supporter of remaining in the EU, but I am glad that I will no longer be able to get a high-speed train only from London to Paris or Brussels but that soon they will run to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield. No matter how big the scheme, it is now vital for Britain’s national infrastructure. We will always remember that the vast majority of journeys are local, which means that local transport and infrastructure are no less crucial to preparing Britain for the future. In that regard, we back safer routes for more cycling and better buses.
We are devolving power to our cities and regions to give communities a much bigger stake in local planning. Transport is just one aspect of that. As we heard yesterday, the neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill will give communities a much stronger voice and make the local planning process clearer, easier and quicker so as to deliver local infrastructure and support our ambition to build 1 million new homes, while protecting the areas we value the most, such as the green belt. Our reforms have already resulted in councils granting planning applications for more than 250,000 homes in the past year.
But our plans go much further. We want to become a country where everybody who works hard can have their own home, so the Gracious Speech also featured the local jobs and growth Bill, which will allow local authorities to retain 100% of local taxes to spend on local services by the end of the Parliament. That will be worth an extra £13 billion from business rates. Councils have called for more fiscal autonomy; now they are getting it—a real commitment from central Government, real devolution and real self-sufficiency for regions across England. It is arguably the biggest change to local government finance for a generation. The Bill will give authorities the power to cut business rates, boost enterprise and grow their local economies. As announced in the Budget, we will pilot the new system in Greater Manchester and Liverpool and increase the share retained in London.
It is little wonder that Labour Members are giving up on opposition and seeking new roles in life. I offer the shadow Home Secretary my best wishes for his mayoral nomination bid. He obviously does not think he is going to be Home Secretary after the next general election, and nor do I.
I am proud of this Conservative majority Government for looking at whole issues when it comes to serving our local communities, such as on infrastructure and business rates retention. Where we have no local plans, the Government are giving communities an opportunity to intervene and draw more up. Almost 50% of commuting in my area is out of Eastleigh, and standing traffic and air pollution are a big problem.
I know how important transport infrastructure and connectivity are in my hon. Friend’s constituency—we have discussed them many times—and I hope that our transport policies, such as those I have set out today, will help bring about some of the changes she wants.
Yesterday illustrated just how we are devolving power for local transport services. The bus services Bill will provide new powers for local authorities to improve bus services and increase passenger numbers. It will deliver for passengers, local authorities and bus companies, all working in partnership together to improve services. We will replace the disastrous quality contract scheme pioneered when Labour was in office—a failed theory that has never been successfully applied over the past 16 years.
Stronger partnerships will allow local authorities to agree a new set of standards for bus services, including branding, ticketing and how often buses run. Passengers want to know when their next bus is going to turn up and how much it is going to cost, so the Bill will mandate the release of fares, punctuality, routes and real-time bus location information. This will help the development of more transport apps, as it has already done in London, right across the country. There will be new journey planners and other innovative products to help passengers get the most out of their buses. This is about delivering for customers and empowering local communities.
My right hon. Friend is incredibly generous in giving way. Will he confirm that the buses Bill will enable communities in devolved areas such as mine in the west of England to integrate smartcard ticketing, which will end up encouraging more people to use buses for less?
I certainly want to see more use of smart ticketing, and I think the bus companies are now addressing the issue. There will be criteria on whether local authorities can apply for the franchising. We will need to see whether my hon. Friend’s area lives up to those priorities.
In one direction only! I would also quite like to have a train service that goes into Manchester, but my question is about smart ticketing. Will the right hon. Gentleman knock some common sense into the transport planners who are trying to reinvent the wheel? We have had a bit of a farce in Greater Manchester, where many millions of pounds have been spent on trying to develop the technology of the “get me there” card, when we all already have some technology for that in our own pockets. It is called a contactless card. Why do we have to reinvent the wheel? Why can we not just use the technology that exists?
The hon. Gentleman talks about the contactless card, and I agree with him that there are such new technologies. That is a fairly new technology, and people in London see it used regularly nowadays. These are the areas on which we should be moving further forward, and I hope we will be able to make that happen.
This is all about delivering for customers and empowering local communities. New powers to franchise services will be available to combined authorities with directly elected mayors, just as they are in London, and private operators will be able to compete through the franchising system. Together, these measures demonstrate the Government’s ambition to deliver transport that helps the public to get around and get about.
The coalition Government and this one nation Conservative Government have a record to be proud of: investment up; projects under way; journeys getting easier; backing growth, jobs and new technology; helping local people get the homes and the infrastructure they need; striking a fairer deal for local government; giving devolution to local regions; and making Britain a leader. A stronger economy is at the heart of the Gracious Speech, and transport infrastructure is playing its part.
I echo the sentiments of the Transport Secretary on the loss of air flight MS804 to Egypt. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the passengers and crew while we await the outcome of the investigations that are now under way.
Although we are not debating the Queen’s Speech that I would have wanted, it is fitting to start these debates on transport. The challenges facing this country’s transport networks are profound, and there are some important cross-party points of agreement for meeting them. I welcome the Transport Secretary to his place, but I must point out that his speech was a timely reminder of the need for Ministers to mind the gap between their rhetoric and reality.
The Secretary of State said that the Government were delivering investment, but let us look at the real Conservative record. We see bus and rail fares up by a quarter, billions cancelled from road investment schemes, new projects under threat, the hard shoulder stripped from the motorways, the wheels falling off the “cycling revolution”, a £12 billion maintenance backlog on our local roads, and rail punctuality at its worst for a decade—and, of course, the Government promised a northern powerhouse but inflicted a northern power cut instead.
That said, we welcome the Government’s stated intention to introduce new local transport powers, extending to the entire country the ability to introduce the successful models employed in the capital. I am sure that the whole House will want to extend its congratulations to Sadiq Khan, the former Member of Parliament for Tooting, who is now the Labour Mayor of London. It is, perhaps, a little-known fact that the new Mayor is the son of a bus driver. The proposal in the bus services Bill to extend London-style bus powers to the rest of the country is long overdue, and it is possibly no coincidence that the Transport Secretary did not even mention buses until 27 minutes into his speech. These plans could, of course, have been made in the last Parliament, but Ministers consistently opposed any proposals for the tendering of bus services to reverse the disastrous consequences of the Transport Act 1985.
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating Sadiq Khan on his election. May I ask whether she agrees with what he said in 2009, when he was a Transport Minister? He said then:
“one reason we are able to invest record sums in our railway service is the revenues that the franchises bring in and the premiums that they pay”.—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 430.]
I was very pleased that there was record investment in our railways under the last Labour Government. There are so many things that the Transport Secretary forgets to talk about. Every week I travel up to the midlands on the midland main line via St Pancras railway station; it has been transformed, and was transformed under a Labour Government, but he never mentions that.
I welcome the Transport Secretary’s damascene conversion to the cause of bus regulation, which might be described as a screeching U-turn. However, as always with this Government, the devil will be in the detail. We have yet to see the text of the bus services Bill, and it is a shame that it was not published in time for today’s debate. I remind Conservative Members that last year’s Queen’s Speech also promised a buses Bill. Madam Deputy Speaker, you wait five years for a Conservative Queen’s Speech that mentions buses, and then two come along at once—even if they are running late. We will subject the Bill to close scrutiny. It is vital for it to provide a legal framework that protects local authorities from eye-watering compensation claims, and to safeguard working conditions.