House of Commons
Thursday 30 June 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Battle of the Somme
The House observed a minute’s silence.
Colleagues, thank you for that display of respect.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Public Transport: Affordability
1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the cost of public transport on the affordability of those services. 
Rail fares rose by 0.7% last year thanks to this Government’s fares cap, meaning that rail fares rose by less than earnings for the first time since 2003. Outside London, deregulated bus fares rose by 1.8% last year, with the Government continuing to spend more than £1.2 billion a year through the bus service operators grant and concessionary fares to help keep fares affordable.
With a quarter of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds finding that the cost of a bus fare is a barrier to getting a job, what steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure that young people have access to work and training?
There are already concessionary fares targeted exactly at that group. On the rail network too, there are now specific discount fares for jobseekers. Often this is a matter for local authorities to work on with their bus operators. The Bus Services Bill currently in Committee gives local authorities additional powers through a franchising mechanism, should they choose to use it.
After many years of Conservative deregulation and privatisation, we find that many of our bus and rail operators are now owned by European companies, and some by European Governments indeed. Given that we are not exactly flavour of the month in Europe, and that we already know that British passengers are subsidising other countries, what can the Minister say reassure us that we will not see our fares going up as a consequence?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman—it is a pleasure to see him on the Front Bench this morning. Those operators may have ownership structures involving foreign entities, as do many British companies, but any operator in the UK is a UK-based company, employing UK staff and headquartered in the UK, continuing to invest in a very successful rail and bus programme right across the country.
I am not sure the House will be entirely reassured by that. We have talked already about the Bus Services Bill. Will the Minister take this opportunity to withdraw the punitive clause 21, which will stop local councils creating successful municipal bus companies? What have the Secretary of State and others on the Government Front Bench got against British success stories such as Reading and Nottingham, which do so well?
We believe in parliamentary democracy in this country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill is in Committee in the Lords, and we will all have an opportunity to debate those points when it comes to our Chamber shortly.
Emergency Towing Vessels: Scotland
2. What recent discussions he has had on the future of emergency towing vessels in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. 
I discussed emergency towing capability in Scotland with the right hon. Gentleman on 9 June, and we had an informal chat this week on that subject. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has consulted all interested parties about options for future provision beyond September 2016. I expect to make an announcement very soon.
We look forward to hearing the Minister’s announcement. The last stakeholders’ group meeting convened by the MCA received a risk assessment —a proper, substantial piece of work commissioned from the private sector—that made it clear that removing the tug would pose an unacceptable risk for the coastal and island communities of Scotland. When the Minister makes his decision, will he make sure that that risk assessment is on his desk and at the heart of his considerations?
I absolutely reassure the House that I understand the importance of maritime safety in those northern waters, from the point of view not only of pollution—we all know how difficult a major oil pollution incident can be—but of our seafarers at risk on the waters.
Workplace Parking Levy: Nottingham
3. What discussions he has had with Nottingham City Council on the use of income from the workplace parking levy for transport projects in Nottingham; and if he will make a statement. 
Ministers have had no discussions with representatives of Nottingham City Council on the use of the income from its workplace parking levy scheme, but officials from the Department have been in contact with officials from Nottingham City Council.
Devolving power to the city of Nottingham by enabling it to have a workplace parking levy has led to Nottingham having the biggest fleet of electric buses in Europe, to the redevelopment of the Nottingham rail station and to tramlines being introduced in Nottingham, and those have now been extended. Will the Minister come to Nottingham to see these developments and to discuss with the city council how a shortfall in EU funding will be made good so that these things can continue?
I agree that this is a very buoyant time—a positive time—for public transport in Nottingham. The workplace parking levy raises between £8 million and £9 million a year, and it does indeed contribute to the tram system. However, the coalition Government agreed to provide £371 million towards it, so many of the enhancements we see come from central Government. I would be delighted to go to Nottingham—they are doing a very good job there—and would happily discuss the funding arrangements.
4. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the amount of railway rolling stock. 
I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the introduction of an additional 9,000 peak-time seats on the Essex Thameside route by January next year. By 2024, capacity will increase by a further 16,000 seats.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, there has been some criticism from constituents about c2c train services and services on the Greater Anglia line. Will he share with the House when he expects further new rolling stock to be provided by c2c and when he expects the decision on the Greater Anglia franchise to be announced?
A number of improvements are coming to the c2c line. In the past, my hon. Friend has been incredibly critical, but he has welcomed many of the changes that have been brought in by the new franchise. Obviously, those take a bit of time to bed in, but I know he very much welcomes the extra availability and the new seats, and I hope to see those in operation as soon as possible.
The Secretary of State will know that the rolling stock serving the south-west of England dates from the 1970s, and we are eagerly updating our new, updated trains. What assessment have he and his Department made of the impact of Brexit and the economic shock from Brexit on his overall investment plans for our transport system?
I am pleased to be travelling on one of the new intercity express programme trains later today to mark the 150 years of the part of the railways that serves his town and his constituency.
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. The investment we have seen on his line, and the investment we are seeing in the new IEP trains and the new AT300s, which will serve places further into the south-west, are very welcome, and I am pleased that he welcomes that investment.
Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), will the Secretary of State assure me that the East Anglia rail franchise announcement is imminent, as we expect, so that we in the east can move out of the sidings?
I well know the desire of all my colleagues in East Anglia to hear about the new franchise. I hope not to have to keep them waiting too long.
The other day, an employee of Virgin Trains East Coast described the refurb of some of the old trains as “like giving granny a new dress”. Is the Secretary of State not aware of the state of the rolling stock on the east coast? When is it going to get better, and how can we justify that sort of rolling stock when we are wasting so much money on HS2?
What the hon. Gentleman should be welcoming, as he always fails to do, is the vast investment that we are seeing on that railway line. He is now complaining about the upgrading of stock in the interim before the new IEP trains come in. I would have thought he would welcome that new service and also welcome the new service into London that will eventually serve Huddersfield.
The Secretary of State and I use the midland main line operated by East Midlands Trains to get to and from our constituencies. The high-speed 125 trains on that line are rapidly approaching the end of their operating life. Will he ensure that, with the new franchise, they are replaced with new rolling stock and not recycled second-hand rolling stock from other lines?
When we come to look at the franchise for the east midlands line, I am sure that is one of the many issues we will take into account. It is worth pointing out that since 2010 we have seen almost 5,000 new carriages for use in the UK’s railway network. That is one of the biggest ever upgrades of our railway stock. Like my hon. Friend, as a regular user of the east midlands line I also hope it will get new rolling stock in due course.
The Cumbrian Coast railway line serves my constituency, and I get regular complaints about the rolling stock. A lot of the busy trains often have only a single carriage, and some of the carriages date from the 1970s. What work are the Government doing with the new franchise holder to improve the situation?
We are doing a number of things with regard to the Transpennine route and the Northern route—not least, under this Government, the phasing out of the Pacer train. That was always promised and alluded to, but we are actually going to deliver on it, and I am very pleased about that. If the hon. Lady is saying that more needs to be done, I accept that, but the very fact that since 2010 , as I say, almost 5,000 new carriages will have been ordered and put into use on the railway network is a very commendable record.
With over 900 houses currently under construction in Woodford, residents in Cheadle, Gatley, Cheadle Hulme and Bramhall are facing daily gridlock at the junction of the A34 and the A560. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss ways to alleviate this problem?
I am sure I can organise a meeting for my hon. Friend to discuss this problem. We had a bit of a look at it some time ago when I was last in her constituency, but I am more than happy to discuss any transport problems that she has.
Order. I think that, as I have just been advised, the rolling stock has rather left the line. I err on the side of generosity, but the hon. Lady’s supplementary was at best tangentially related to the question on the Order Paper. We will let her off on this occasion.
5. Whether he plans to review the effectiveness of the public service obligation for regional airports. 
The Government will soon update their aviation policy framework. As part of this update, the Government will consider the role that public service obligations can play in serving regional airports, which are a vital economic and social lifeline for all parts of the United Kingdom.
For Aberdeen, as an international oil and gas hub, the access that we enjoy to Heathrow as a gateway to the rest of the world is as important, if not perhaps more important, than its access to this fine city of London. Aberdeen has looked at the prospect of a PSO, which would provide access only to a London airport, whereas we need point-to-point access. Will the Secretary of State ensure that that is considered in the review?
I will certainly consider the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made to see whether that is compatible with the overall rules that we want to introduce in public service obligations.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the sustainability and development of regional airports could be much enhanced by the increase in connectivity inherent in the additional capacity plans for the south-east? Given that such connectivity will deliver economic growth throughout the UK, what assessment has he made of the efficacy of any engagement with the regional airports in ensuring that once a decision is made, the proposals in the recommended option of Heathrow will deliver the desired development of our regional airports?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I have been in this post for four years, and he is the fifth shadow Secretary of State I have seen and, I think, the 10th person to hold the Labour transport brief in nine years. I congratulate him on that. I also thank the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for the way in which she conducted herself while she was doing the job. Although at the moment she is sitting on the Back Benches, I am sure that that is only a temporary measure while certain things are sorted out.
If I may now come to the question—I have almost forgotten what it was—I think we all agree that regional airports play a vital role in connectivity. One of the issues about regional airports—this was alluded to in a previous question—is their accessibility to the London airport system. We have to consider such issues and some later questions may address them.
The Davies commission report came out almost a year ago—I think a year ago tomorrow, in fact—and it recommended that the Government take a different view of point-to-point PSOs. Regional connectivity for Scotland could be enhanced by PSOs for many airports, including London City, yet London City’s plans for development are still on hold. Will the Cabinet Secretary commit to releasing that development now, so that it can partake in PSO development?
That is one of the issues for which the Mayor of London has responsibility first, and I think he has already taken a view on it. When a decision comes to me, obviously it will have to go through the proper process. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the opportunities for people to get to London airports.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Davies commission report also recommended that we urgently consider expansion and that other airports, such as Heathrow and Gatwick, might benefit from PSO connectivity. Can we finally get a decision on airport expansion in the south-east, or will we yet again see more and more fudging of this subject?
I fear that the hon. Gentleman has come in a bit too early. I intend to address the points he has just made in response to question 8 on the Order Paper.
6. When he expects a decision to be made on post-concession arrangements for the Severn bridges. 
The UK Government are committed to the continued successful operation of these vital crossings. The Government plan to consult this autumn on the proposed halving of tolls—which would represent a massive saving for users—as well as other options, including free-flow tolling.
I thank the Minister for attending the recent meeting in this place with the Freight Transport Association to discuss the future of the Severn bridges. I know that there is to be a consultation, but there is real concern about the issue, especially now that the bridges will continue to be seen as a cash cow for the Government. May I reiterate that we want the bridge tolls to come down further and an assurance that when they return to public ownership they stay that way?
I very much enjoyed that meeting and hearing the views of businesses in Wales and of Welsh Members. The concession will finish when £1.029 billion is returned from tolls to the public purse. We expect that to happen sometime in early 2018. We are working on the plans that will follow that transition. We will consult more broadly, but I entirely agree that keeping the tolls low will help businesses in the area.
I have a large number of haulage and private contract hire companies in my constituency, many of which trade across the whole of the UK. They are very concerned that the consultation is not just a paper exercise and that the Minister is listening. Once the tolls have paid off the cost of the bridge, will he consider handing it over to the Welsh Assembly to manage?
The bridges are primarily in England, so that is an interesting Welsh land grab. As regards listening to the voice of businesses, if I was not listening to the voice of business, I would not have attended the meeting that was arranged by the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) with the Freight Transport Association.
7. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on border controls at air and maritime ports. 
The Secretary of State regularly meets the Home Secretary to discuss a range of subjects, including border security. The most recent of these discussions took place on 26 April this year.
I understand that incoming international passengers at Edinburgh airport are experiencing lengthening delays as a result of cuts to the number of Border Force officers available. Given the increasing passenger numbers there and the likely increased need for passport checks after Brexit, will the Minister take urgent action to increase Border Force official numbers at the airport?
I, for one, am pleased that we do not have border checks at Berwick-upon-Tweed when I travel north. The hon. Lady should more reasonably put that question to the Home Office, which deals with such matters. As the Minister with responsibility for aviation, I am aware of the whole airport experience, and long queues at immigration are not good for the experience of people who come to our country.
8. What plans he has to expand airport capacity. 
10. When he plans to make a decision on the construction of an additional runway in south-east England. 
I had hoped that we would be able to announce a decision on airport capacity this summer. Clearly, any announcement on airport capacity would have to be made when the House was in session. Being realistic, given recent events, I cannot now foresee that there will be an announcement until at least October. We aim to publish the further analysis on air quality soon. Separately, promoters have announced undertakings that would increase the compensation available for residents living near the airports and the connectivity between other UK airports. The Government are fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects that they have set out, including the delivery of runway capacity on the timetable set out by the Davies report.
It is another boring day at Westminster, and I was rather hoping that the Secretary of State might inject some excitement into it for me. Nobody can accuse him of rushing this decision. Post-Brexit, with a number of countries banging on the door of the UK to do trade deals, does he agree that increasing airport capacity at London City, London Heathrow and London Gatwick will be vital to British businesses throughout the UK?
I would have liked to be in the position of asking the House to make a decision, and endorsing a decision. We are not going to be in that position, and we have to be realistic. My hon. Friend may regard it as a boring day in the House of Commons, but it is certainly not a boring day in Westminster.
The Secretary of State will know that I am going to make the case for Birmingham airport. Is there still time, whenever the report comes out, for Birmingham airport to make the case for the 250,000 jobs that could flow from a second runway there?
Looking at the hon. Lady’s question, I did not realise that she was going to mention Birmingham, because her question specifically talks about south-east England. To the best of my knowledge, Birmingham has not moved since I knew it as a boy, 20 miles away from where I lived. Birmingham airport is a fantastic airport, which serves an important role as far as Birmingham and the midlands are concerned, and it has just had a runway extension.
We are greatly reassured by the Secretary of State’s geographical knowledge.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that even if he had been able to make an announcement on this subject today, the earliest that extra runway capacity could be provided would be 2023, and at worst probably 2030? Does that not point up the need to improve connectivity to Stansted, which is the only airport in the London area with the capacity to deal with the strain of extra demand?
That is one of those questions that one cannot really disagree with, and my right hon. Friend has a habit of asking such questions in Transport questions. Although I agree with the point he makes, the delivery of what he is asking for is somewhat more difficult than he suggests.
Yet more dithering on the decision whether to expand hub capacity at Heathrow will harm the regions of this country and the United Kingdom. What recommendation will the Secretary of State make to the next Prime Minister?
Well, one step at a time. If the hon. Lady does not mind my saying so, she is assuming a number of events, which I am not going to do. In all seriousness, I would say to the hon. Lady, who is Chair of the Transport Committee, that this is a very important and big decision for the United Kingdom and it is not an easy one. The simple fact is that whichever option we choose will impact on people’s lives. It is therefore right to make sure we do all the preparatory work on air quality and the other issues. However, I very much hope that a decision can be made later this year.
It is inconceivable that either the Home Secretary or the former Mayor of London would at this time put their constituency interests ahead of the national interest. I know that had the Secretary of State sought an assurance from the former Mayor of London that he would support this decision if the Government went ahead with it, he would have received it. Did he seek such an assurance, and if not, why not? This is not in the national interest, and it is not in the interests of people around Gatwick who will have to live with further uncertainty.
I am very sorry that my hon. Friend is disappointed by my announcement this morning. As I have said, however, given the parliamentary timetable and when the House will rise, I do not see how it would be possible to come to the House for a statement with a recommendation and possibly a vote before the summer recess.
I thank the Secretary of State for his earlier comments, but his answer is exacerbating the profound uncertainty about the future of essential transport projects, including HS2 and a new runway at Heathrow. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships are in the balance. Does he not understand that delaying these plans will add to the wider economic shock that was triggered last week, and that public and private investment in our transport networks must be delivered?
We are now back on familiar ground and I do not need to repeat what I said earlier. The simple fact is that I am very proud of the investment that this Government are putting into infrastructure. Infrastructure investment is 50% higher than it was during the last Parliament, and it is much larger than the amount put in by the previous Labour Government, so this Government are very committed to infrastructure investment. The hon. Lady talks about airport capacity, but there were airport capacity issues during the 13 years her party was in government, when it did nothing.
With the political and economic uncertainty following last week’s referendum vote, infrastructure projects have become more, not less, important for the future of this country. That is particularly true of our airports, which will have renewed importance in ensuring that the UK is a global, outward-looking trading nation. The comments made by the Prime Minister and, indeed, by the Secretary of State today have cast doubt on that. Does the Secretary of State not accept that kicking this decision into the long grass yet again is simply utterly unacceptable?
We are accused of kicking something into the long grass, but I have said that I hope to see a decision by the end of the year, and Opposition Members have not yet expounded which option they actually support.
Tourists: Rail Travel
9. What steps he has taken to increase the number of tourists travelling by rail. 
14. What steps he has taken to increase the number of tourists travelling by rail. 
15. What steps he has taken to increase the number of tourists travelling by rail. 
Millions of tourists use our railways, and we have products such as the BritRail pass to encourage this, but we want to do more. In March, the Prime Minister launched a £1 million competition to boost tourism specifically in relation to heritage and community railways, and it has been wildly successful. We had a fabulous array of bids, and we have made 17 grants to wonderful projects from Cornwall to Caledonia and from Welshpool to Warwick.
Will the Minister confirm whether her Department has conducted any work into the potential economic boost from trade and tourism for Corsham, Wiltshire and the wider area of reopening Corsham railway station, and if not, will it do so?
Even before my hon. Friend took her seat she had for a long time been a doughty campaigner for reopening the station. I thoroughly enjoyed going to see the site with her, and I know that we will have a meeting next month to continue the discussions. I understand that a feasibility study is currently being undertaken in Corsham, which I hope will reference the uplift for tourism and, indeed, some of the educational opportunities in this area. I am looking forward to seeing such references when the report is presented.
Will the Minister provide an update on potential improvements to the north Cotswold line, which could provide a significant increase in tourist traffic beyond Oxford to Worcestershire and Herefordshire?
My hon. Friend knows that the Department is working with Network Rail, Great Western Railway and other stakeholders to look at the whole business case and funding opportunities to really improve the London-Oxford-Worcester train services. The Department will publish its next rail investment strategy in summer 2017, which will set out the investment plans for 2019 to 2024.
It will come as no great surprise to the Minister that I would like to raise the Okehampton link, which is part of the south-west Peninsula Rail Task Force agenda. Does she believe, as I do, that there should be an economic assessment of the tourism benefits that use of that particular route could provide to businesses in north Cornwall?
Before answering my hon. Friend’s question, I will point out to him that two of those wonderful projects I mentioned were in Cornwall, so there was a really good effort by the peninsula. The Peninsula Rail Task Force will be working on a report to look at all sorts of options for enhancing that rail network. I look forward to receiving and studying that report later this year.
A new metro system in south Wales would really help rail tourism there, but the planned metro is heavily dependent on EU support. What measures will the Minister take to ensure that the south Wales valleys metro system can be delivered?
Investment in rail services in Wales is now devolved to the Welsh Administration, so that funding is a matter for them. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that three of the winners of the competitions I mentioned were based in Wales, including the wonderful velorail bike visitor attraction, which involves cycling along disused railways on enormous great bicycles. There will be some tourism uplift from investments like those.
It sounds very exciting.
What assessment has the rail Minister made of the impact of the appalling Southern and Thameslink services and Network Rail’s infrastructure failures on the ability of tourists to get to key tourist destinations such as Beddington Park and Honeywood Museum in Carshalton?
The right hon. Gentleman, like all right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies are served by the line he refers to, knows that—largely due to the major investments in the region—the current performance has not been acceptable. The Government, operators and Network Rail have been working incredibly hard to solve those problems. It was great to see that by April of this year performance had climbed back up to a public performance measure of about 84%—not good enough, but getting better. Unfortunately, since then industrial action and high levels of conductor sickness have seen a deterioration in that measure. We have to get the unions and operators to settle their differences as soon as possible, for the sake both of tourists and of the right hon. Gentleman’s commuting constituents.
Road Investment Strategy
12. What steps his Department is taking to implement the road investment strategy. 
The Government have launched the first ever road investment strategy, committing a record £15 billion up to 2020. Work is already under way on 20 of the schemes named in the road investment strategy, with five schemes already open to traffic in 2015-16. I can confirm that work on the A14—one of the biggest projects in our RIS, at £1.5 billion—is on track to start construction later this year.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the momentous events of last week, and the opportunities they provide, mean that our transport infrastructure and schemes such as the road investment strategy are now more important than ever?
It is very important that we press on with both road and rail infrastructure projects. They are often controversial when we start them, but by the time they are completed people have usually asked why we did not start them some time ago.
Back in 2015, when the Government announced the road investment strategy, £6 billion was promised to resurface 80% of our strategic road network. We now understand that Highways England is saying that that promise will not be met. Where has the money gone, and what projects are being cancelled?
This is coming from the party that actually stopped investment in road spending almost completely. We are creating record investment while having to clear up some of the mess made by years of under-investment while the Labour party was in office. I do not recognise the points the hon. Gentleman has made.
South-east England: Runways
17. What steps he is taking to ensure that a decision is made as soon as possible on the new airport runway in south-east England. 
The Government are fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects they have set out. The hon. Gentleman heard what the Secretary of State had to say about the decision on runway capacity in the south-east.
I thank the Minister for coming over and visiting us, and discussing with all of us the future of runways and connectivity, but I am incredibly disappointed by today’s decision. He knows that Dublin airport is due to have its new runway by 2023. We need a decision. May we have a promise that we will have a decision by Christmas 2016?
I think the Secretary of State was very clear. There are some other interesting developments, for example Stobart Air is looking at connections between Carlisle and Belfast, Carlisle and Dublin, and Carlisle and Southend, which will increase connectivity and improve the prospects for tourism so that people in the north of England can visit the wonderful Ulster that he represents.
The third runway for Heathrow would unlock some £16 billion of private investment at a time when the economy needs it most. The chief executive of George Best Belfast City airport has said that the
“Heathrow hub is vital in making Northern Ireland accessible to business and leisure passengers from all corners of the globe”.
It is really important for Belfast city; it is important for Northern Ireland. Make the decision now.
The Davies report made very clear the importance of connectivity in the south-east to the regions, the north of England, Ulster, Scotland and elsewhere. We are very mindful of the issues that have been raised by colleagues from around the country.
18. What recent assessment he has made of the condition of local roads. 
The Department published its latest assessment in March 2016. This assessment shows that local classified roads are improving, with fewer local classified roads that should be considered for maintenance. But there is still much to do, which is why the Government have committed record levels of investment, over £6 billion, to highways maintenance up to 2021, as well has having a pothole action fund totalling £250 million in this Parliament.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware of the significant difficulties my constituents face travelling east from Romford due to the congestion caused by the roundabout and flyover at Gallows Corner? At peak times, this roundabout can cause complete gridlock in parts of my constituency. Will he raise this matter with the Greater London Authority and work with the Mayor of London to organise a new road layout? That would be a great relief to the local constituents in Romford and throughout the London Borough of Havering.
This is a matter for Transport for London, because it is part of the local network. TfL consulted on proposals earlier this year in respect of road safety improvements at Gallows Corner, but my hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I would be very happy to take this up with the Mayor and TfL. I suggest that the most helpful way forward would be for both of us to continue to do just that.
Departmental Funding: Shipley
19. What proportion of the funding allocated by his Department to the West Yorkshire combined authority has been spent in Shipley constituency. 
My Department has allocated over £41 million of local transport funding this year to the West Yorkshire combined authority and nearly £233 million over the life of the Parliament to improve local roads and deliver integrated transport schemes across west Yorkshire. It is for local authorities to decide how funding is allocated to schemes.
I am very grateful for the answer, but the Minister failed to say how much of that had been spent in the Shipley constituency, which was the driving force behind my question. I think we can take it from that response that the answer is very little, if we are being generous. What is his Department doing to ensure that Labour west Yorkshire authorities are not just spending money in the Labour heartlands, but that the whole of west Yorkshire benefits from Government investment?
My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. Maybe those in charge in west Yorkshire should look at some of our national projects. We are determined to invest where investment is needed, in many cases in areas in the north of England not run by our own party, to stimulate jobs and to contribute to the northern powerhouse, something to which I hope the council and those in control in west Yorkshire will pay attention.
New Railway Stations
20. What assessment he has made of the viability of new railway stations funded through (a) the new stations fund and (b) alternative funding arrangements. 
We know that rail investment and new stations provide a real boost for a local economy. I am very pleased that, since January 2014, 10 new stations have opened or reopened in England and Wales, funded by the new stations fund, local growth deals and by local partnerships. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last year that another £20 million will be available for new station fund bids, and that fund will be open for bids very soon.
Given that new stations are doing well and providing a boost to local economies and the environment, does the Minister agree that the town of Wellington in my constituency is an excellent candidate for a new metro railway station? A recent petition received an overwhelmingly positive response while the feasibility study showed an economic benefit. Will she also clarify our next steps in qualifying for new station funding?
My hon. Friend is a Taunton girl born and bred and has campaigned assiduously on this and many other issues since assuming her seat. I have met her to discuss this matter, and we are looking forward to seeing the proposals. We have changed the terms and conditions of the new stations fund so that promoters do not have to get to the GRIP 3 stage before their submission for funding. I am looking forward to seeing this and other applications.
21. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the recent performance of the Southern rail franchise on economic productivity in the south-east. 
Surprisingly, there is no formal economic assessment of the impact of rail disruption, but I am in no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and I would completely agree that a disrupted railway is not good for the economy or for passengers. That is why we are so committed to once again making Southern rail a high-performing railway.
This shambles is turning into a crisis. I have people writing to me who are late for work every day and getting written warnings from their bosses. The Government seem to expect them to turn to their bosses and say, “Don’t worry. By 2018, it will all be fine”. When will this shambles and crisis end? When can people tell their bosses that things will get better?
The hon. Gentleman and I talk about this a lot. He knows that there was disruption as a result of our record investment but that things are getting better—I point out again that in April we got up to an 83.8% public performance measure. If his constituents would like to write to bosses, I suggest they write to the union bosses involved, who are doing their members a grave disservice by bringing them out on completely unjustified grounds. This is a dispute about who presses the buttons that operate the doors and the change in the role of the second staff member; there are no job losses or changes to terms and conditions.
My constituency benefits from Southampton airport and its economic productivity. It is getting four new routes this summer, and many hub in from Ireland and the Channel Islands, but Southern rail’s shameful performance is affecting commuters across the south coast as well as those hubbing into my airport and heading up to Gatwick from Swanwick. Flights are being missed and jobs are constantly in peril. Will the Minister say that the huge impact this failing franchise is having cannot be tolerated?
Everybody understands that the railway has to get better—that is why the money is being spent and why so much work is going on with the operator and Network Rail—but I point out again that £2 billion of brand-new trains are coming off the production line that the company wants to run on these routes, but their introduction is being held up. And by the way, this is not just about Govia Thameslink Railway; they are having exactly the same problem in Scotland. This is a nationwide dispute about who presses the buttons that open the doors.
It is no good having more rolling stock if it is not actually moving, and it is not good enough for the Minister simply to blame the unions. Her Department has to get a grip. My constituents are furious. They are paying through the nose for an appalling service that threatens their jobs and robs them of time with their families, while the pay deal of the chief executive officer of Go-Ahead rose to more than £2 million last year. Will she get a grip, stop defending the failing private sector, remove the franchise and put the service into transparent and accountable hands now?
Unlike the hon. Lady, my focus is completely on the passengers. She accepted a large donation from the RMT before the last election, while members of the ASLEF union have just awarded themselves a 16% pay increase. They need to stop objecting to the introduction of new technology that will benefit her constituents and constituents right across the UK.
And finally, Justin Madders.
Passenger Rail Franchises
22. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of passenger rail franchises. 
Does anyone have—I do apologise, Mr Speaker. I rather thought we were going on to topical questions, so my mind was there and not on the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question.
In the national rail passenger survey report for spring 2016, published this morning, 80% of passengers were satisfied with their journey. Merseyrail, which serves many of the hon. Member’s constituents, scored 90%.
Unfortunately the Secretary of State’s response was as late as a number of the trains on the Wrexham to Bidston line, which goes through my constituency. It is an infrequent, unreliable and expensive service, which is due for renewal in the next couple of years. Will the Secretary of State ensure that we have the highest specification possible for the renewal, so we get a much improved service?
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the slight delay in my response. I very much hope that his constituents will enjoy some of the improvements happening in the franchises serving his area. I referred to Merseyrail, but of course there are other train operating companies providing services into his constituency and I think there will be considerable uplift on both Northern and TransPennine Express links, which will benefit his constituents.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
Right—I was prepared for this, Mr Speaker.
I am proud of the fact that capital expenditure on infrastructure will increase by 50% in this Parliament. We have set up the first ever roads investment strategy, on which I answered questions earlier this morning, but throughout my time at the Department for Transport I have attached great importance to safety, so I am pleased that the latest statistics for road casualties in Great Britain, published at 9.30 this morning, show a decrease of 2% in road fatalities, a decrease of 3% in serious injuries, and a decrease of 4% in slight injuries. The number of deaths is too high, but the reduction is very welcome indeed.
Please can the Secretary of State confirm four dates for me? When will Huddersfield get its direct London service? When will the Pacers go? When will HS2 link to Yorkshire? And when will the electrification of the trans-Pennine route begin?
Off the top of my head, I think the answers are May 2019; December 2019; 2033; and I am happy to say that preliminary work has started, although final decisions on the scope will have to wait until 2018. I wish I had all the figures in my head, as you often do, Mr Speaker.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) said, Southern rail passengers are suffering the worst delays in the country and its staff are locked into an increasingly bitter industrial dispute. All those who work or rely on this failing service deserve much better. Does the Minister not think that by ruling out the cancellation of the franchise and by winding down the operator of last resort, Directly Operated Railways, the Department has no plan B and has effectively forfeited the chance to place any meaningful pressure on the company to improve performance?
The hon. Gentleman only needs to look at the share price performance of the owning group to see that considerable pressure is being put on the company by the markets, by customers and by my Department. In my view, changing the franchise would do nothing. Everybody has to work together. There is a highly experienced management team already in place. We have an investment programme that is coming to an end. The first major part of London Bridge will open this summer. I urge everyone involved, including the union bosses who are taking out their members on completely unjustified action, to sort this out for the benefit of the hard-pressed commuters, who just want to get to work and get home to their families.
Kevin Foster. Not here.
T3. Many of my constituents who live on the eastern side of Enfield are fed up to the back teeth with infrequent and unreliable train services. Does the Secretary of State agree that the early delivery of four-tracking of the west Anglia main line rail route from Coppermill junction to Broxbourne junction offers a unique opportunity to improve services, boost housing growth potential and benefit the local economy? 
I met the right hon. Lady to discuss other issues in her constituency following her request at the last Transport questions, and she mentioned four-tracking. That is being considered under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), who is examining services to that part of London and beyond. I look forward to receiving that report and, hopefully, making progress.
T4. What assessment has been made of the importance of transport improvement and infrastructure projects to the success of the northern powerhouse? Will my hon. Friend provide an update on progress? 
Transport is vital for creating the northern powerhouse, connecting northern regions and supporting jobs, which helps to rebalance the UK economy. Work towards delivering an improved, integrated transport system is well under way. In 2014, we created Transport for the North and we have committed to spending a record £13 billion on transport in the north.
T6. Since it was reopened by the Scottish Government last year, the Borders railway has been a remarkable success. In the first six months of its operation, passenger forecasts were exceeded by 22% and the Scottish Government have committed to a feasibility study on restoring the line to its historic route to extend it to Hawick and Carlisle. What dialogue has the Secretary of State had with the new Scottish Transport Minister on the matter and does he support the principle of a new cross-border rail connection? 
I have not yet had the chance to meet the new Scottish Transport Minister to discuss this particular issue but there will be opportunities. I look forward to our first meeting on these subjects and I am more than happy to consider any of the points that he makes. The hon. Gentleman rightly makes the point about what happens when new services are provided. Particularly on the railways we often see a greater take-up than planned.
T5. My constituents in Motspur Park, Raynes Park and Wimbledon welcome the concept of Crossrail 2, but are worried about consultation. Could my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that the Government will ensure that Crossrail 2 has the money to undertake an extensive consultation and a quality masterplan for the centre of Wimbledon? 
I am well aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituents about the current plans. Both Transport for London and Network Rail are investigating the feasibility of a number of alternative options, which potentially include tunnelling and reconfiguration of stations in the area. Of course we will continue to consult on this. As he knows from his involvement in many major transport systems, there is a lot of consultation before we start digging the tunnel for Crossrail 2.
Hannah Bardell, not here.
T8. Behind closed doors in February, Ministers agreed to allow GTR to cancel even more services without fear of breaching its contract, increasing the number from 23,000 cancellations to 32,000 cancellations. MPs were told about that on the last day before recess in May. How on earth can we have confidence in GTR services when there is such a delay before MPs are told and when it appears that Ministers are in cahoots, setting up risk-free contracts undermining the interests of our passengers? 
I would have hoped that the hon. Lady would have worked with us, with all the investment that we are putting into the railway serving her area. All she has ever done is complain and back up the unions’ unjustified position on the new investment. There has been billions of pounds on new rolling stock and massive investment in London Bridge station. However, all she does is continually complain and take donations from the RMT.
What is the Department doing to ensure that the pothole action money is being efficiently spent and to ensure best practice?
The pothole action fund has a budget of £250 million across this Parliament. The first allocation has already been made this year. It has been allocated to councils according to the number of highways for which they are responsible. We are looking at how we can make the fund as efficient as possible but the key thing is that we are backing local authorities to improve the quality of their local road network.
T9. I have previously highlighted the predicted 45,000 shortage of HGV drivers in the UK. That is only going to get worse after Brexit because many agencies already rely on EU citizens to supply HGV drivers. When will the Government commit to looking at the cost benefits of providing grants for companies to put people who are unemployed through HGV training? 
I have had discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on these matters, as far as training is concerned, and we are looking across at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, too, to assess what can be done to move this issue forward. There are good opportunities for young people to become drivers, and I would encourage them to look at those opportunities.
Has my right hon. Friend’s Department made any assessment of the potential for aircraft types such as the Boeing 787 and the A350, which can fly greater distances point to point, to provide opportunities for Manchester and Birmingham aircrafts, demonstrating that there are more ways of doing business in this country than landing in London?
It is certainly the case that many airlines are investing in the A350, which is exclusively engined with Rolls-Royce engines, and the point-to-point option opens up many new opportunities for regional airports to provide direct services for their people.
I very much welcome the statistics showing that road improvement and road safety are getting better, but those statistics mask what is really happening with all-lane running. The Transport Select Committee has produced a report, published today, which shows the disingenuity going on in the statistics. What we are looking for is the Minister’s acceptance that all-lane running is dangerous and that we need to do something about it.
I am aware that the Transport Select Committee has published a report this morning, but I have not yet had a chance to read it fully. The point about our smart motorways is that they are designed to add capacity to our network without compromising safety. The evidence from the first all-lane running schemes on the M25 show that the busiest journey times have almost halved, the number of collisions has reduced by almost a fifth and casualty rates are down by 21%. Obviously, safety is a priority. I will read the report with much interest.
Does the Minister agree that improvements on our railways will be made only if the unions move into the current century, embrace new technology and stop playing politics with passengers?
Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to scotch reports of Treasury meddling in HS2 post-referendum, confirm that it will be built north of Birmingham and that proper services will run through Crewe to benefit all of Cheshire?
I never comment on rumours, because I have started quite a few of them during my time in this House. I am committed to HS2, which I believe to be very important for this country. We are already seeing the benefits for Birmingham of the investment that is going around.
Lowestoft railway station, which has the great advantage of being in the centre of the town, has fallen into considerable disrepair in recent years. Lowestoft station partners have some exciting initiatives for bringing it back into full use. Will the Minister meet me and them to explore how best to achieve that?
That would be a pleasure. There are many funding pots, including local growth fund money, that could help to regenerate Lowestoft station.
On airport expansion, the Secretary of State has achieved one thing—he has made the Leader of the Opposition look positively decisive. Does he not believe that he owes the Select Committee, this House and businesses across the UK an apology for the fudge that has become a farce?
I have often thought that SNP Members lived in a different world, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks I have made the Leader of the Opposition look decisive, he has proved that this morning in spades. I stand by the statements I made earlier. I would have liked to be in such a position, but realistically that is not possible at a time when the House is not sitting. I have informed the House this morning, as it is right for me to do.
The recent decision by the regulator to refuse direct services between Cleethorpes and King’s Cross shows that the present rules are working more in the interest of the franchise holder than the passengers. The Conservative Government surely support competition, so when are they going to support the passengers and allow more of that competition?
I do not mind my hon. Friend rightly calling for more services directly to his constituency, but in fairness, we have seen a vast improvement and we are going to see it continue as far as the new franchise is concerned, not to mention the protection of services for which my hon. Friend originally campaigned in respect of the Northern franchise and the phasing out of the Pacers so that his constituents and others in the area will have the chance of using new trains. That shows that we are committed to not only better services in general, but better services for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
I recently attended a guide dogs lobby of Parliament, and was shocked to learn about the extent of the problems that guide dog owners experience when trying to get taxis. Has the Secretary of State discussed that issue recently with his Cabinet colleagues?
Like many other Members, I too have been in touch with the Guide Dogs organisation. In fact, I was taken while blindfolded around Bakewell by a guide dog just a few weeks ago, and that demonstrated to me very clearly some of the problems often encountered by people who use assistance dogs. The law should be used to deal with any discrimination in that regard, and it is already an offence for taxi drivers to discriminate against those with assistance dogs.
Investment in the Chowns Mill roundabout and the dualling of the A45 are important priorities for people in east Northamptonshire, and they are part of the road investment strategy. Will the Secretary of State do all that he can to ensure that they are delivered as early as possible, given that they are so desperately needed?
I fully recognise the importance of those schemes to my hon. Friend and his constituents. We are working to ensure that all our road investment strategy schemes are delivered as soon as possible, but I will keep him informed of progress.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 4 July—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on courts and tribunal fees, followed by a debate on Energy Spending Priorities: Impacts on Investors and Consumers. Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: 2nd Report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Session 2015-16, HC 692; Investor Confidence in the UK Energy Sector, 3rd report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Session 2015-16, HC 542; Home Energy Efficiency and Demand Reduction, 4th report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Session 2015-16, HC 552.]
At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Tuesday 5 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by consideration in Committee of the Wales Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 6 July—Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 7 July—Statement on the publication of the first report from the Defence Committee, Russia: Implications for UK Defence and Security, HC 107, followed by a debate on a motion on online abuse, followed by a general debate on support for the UK’s creative industries and their contribution to the economy. The Select Committee statement and the subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 8 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 11 July will include the following.
Monday 11 July—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Wales Bill (day 2).
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 11 July and 14 July will be as follows:
Monday 11 July—Debate on an e-petition relating to school penalty fines and authorised absence from school.
Thursday 14 July—General debate on the contribution of co-operatives to the economy, followed by a general debate on maternity discrimination.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.
You may be a tad surprised to see me in this position, Mr Speaker, because for the past 26 years I have been a Back Bencher by choice—not just my choice, but the choice of the past five leaders of my party. Today, however, I am here for very positive reasons, as part of a diversity project in my party at which we have done splendidly. There are now far more women on the Front Bench and in Parliament than ever before—although not enough—and far more ethnic minorities, but there is currently a total absence of octogenarians. I believe that my appointment to this post will be a trailblazer which will lead to an all-octogenarian shortlist in the party, and will make the wealth of experience and wisdom among my fellow octogenarians available to the House. It is important for us to have people here who can remember life before there was a health service.
I note that the Wales Bill will be back in the House on Tuesday, and I hope that the Leader of the House has abandoned his curmudgeonly attitude to it. He has dismissed the idea of allowing both the beautiful languages of the House to be spoken here. Speaking Welsh has the same status as spitting on the carpet: it constitutes disorderly behaviour. However, Welsh has been used in Committees of the House when they have been held in Wales, and, at nugatory cost, it could be used here. There is no reason to obstruct the will of most Welsh Labour Members, and Conservative Members as well. A number of Conservative and Labour Front Benchers are now Welsh-speaking. It is a sign of the great health of the language. It is marvellous to recall that Welsh was an ancient sophisticated language centuries before English existed. In fact it was spoken, as was Gaelic, at the time when the ancestors of those who created English were pagan barbarians who painted themselves blue with woad and howled at the moon from the top of mountains. This really must be taken seriously.
There are also lessons from the football field about leaving Europe that the Government would do well to heed. The English team Brexited swiftly and ignominiously; Wales remain, with honour. I appeal to the Leader of the House for his party not to dismiss the very sensible idea of having a second referendum, which is supported by one of the candidates in his party’s leadership election. There are good precedents for this in the EU, which has a splendid tradition of keeping voting until you reach the right decision. It happened in Denmark and two other countries where they held a referendum and a year later reversed the decision. The reason is that people voted on false agendas. Where is the £365 million for the health service? Where is the emergency Budget?
The public are rightly outraged by the mistruths they were told by the propagandists on both sides. It is not a surprise that we have a petition of historic dimensions—as big as the petitions of the Chartists and suffragettes—put before this House. There are 4 million signatures and counting, of people who say they were deceived by the vote—by the propaganda—and which was largely determined by the proprietors of the daily newspapers, rather than by a sensible realisation of the horrors to come. So it is quite reasonable that, after the issue has settled down and when a new alternative comes along—we have been told it will take five years—the public should have the right to have their views considered.
It is timely now to look at the role of the independent adviser on ministerial interests. This man is virtually unemployed. He has looked at only one case in the past five years, and that involved a baroness who confessed to a minor misdemeanour. There have been six other cases since that have not been reported to the adviser because the only person who can report them is the Prime Minister. Two of them occurred a year ago and involved the Cabinet Office Ministers who gave £3 million to Kids Company in spite of the published advice of civil servants not to do it. Kids Company went bankrupt three days later. That is surely a matter to be considered by the adviser.
Another far more serious matter is of current concern. Some five years ago a Secretary of State for Defence stood down and the then adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Philip Mawer, recommended that the case should be heard by him. The Prime Minister decided it should not be, and the Minister involved achieved absolution by resignation. He left the job and nobody knows what he did—what was so serious that he had to leave office. The problem is that that person is now offering himself not only as leader of the Conservative party, but as Prime Minister, and it is a matter of concern to all of us that we know what happened and why he left that job. The first question one would ask anyone applying for a new job, particularly one as Prime Minister, is “Why did you leave your last job?” and we do not know.
Next week is going to be dominated by one event: the publication of the Chilcot report. The Prime Minister gave no information about that yesterday in his answer to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). We must remember, as the report comes out, that Parliament is on trial. It was not just one man; it was hundreds of MPs, three Select Committees of this House, the military and the press who were in favour of joining a war in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Those who saw the very moving programme on BBC2 featuring Reg Keys will understand the true cost of war. For the last seven years, he has not been able to—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is an immensely experienced parliamentarian, and I know that he is just beginning his apprenticeship in this role. I always enjoy listening to him because he speaks with great experience and huge passion, but let me gently say to him that he has exceeded his time. It is his first time at the Box, and I do not wish to cut him off, but he must now bring his remarks to a conclusion, maybe with a couple of pithy questions. Then we will have had our dose for today.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker.
My question is: what is the programme that will allow the loved ones of the 179 soldiers who died to have an opportunity to present their case? We know that those who are likely to be accused by the Chilcot report have already employed lawyers to go over their defences. We want to ensure that Parliament takes responsibility for a decision taken in this place in 2003 that resulted in the deaths of 179 of our brave soldiers, probably in vain, and the deaths of an uncounted number of other people. Chilcot must be debated fairly. What are the arrangements for doing that?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place on the Opposition Front Bench and congratulate him on an extraordinary comeback. Mr Speaker, you might not know that it is 26 years since he last sat on that Front Bench, or that what he has in common with his immediate predecessor—and quite a lot of people on the Opposition Benches—is that when he last sat on that seat, he also resigned from his position. Since then, he has become a distinguished Back Bencher—so much so that he has written a book on how to be a Back Bencher. It contains many words of wisdom. For example, his advice to Ministers in waiting is:
“Cultivate the virtues of dullness and safety.”
You’ve been doing that for years! [Laughter.]
There is also some advice for a Speaker in waiting, which might be entirely appropriate for the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who now has plenty of time to concentrate on preparing his campaign. Although we want to see him in his place for many years to come, we know that he is already getting his campaign team together.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on one point. This week we are all Welsh. I suspect that that even includes our good friends on the Scottish nationalist Benches. There is regret among the English over the result last week, and perhaps on the Scottish side over the qualification period, but we are all gunning for Wales to get to the final and do us all proud as a nation. We wish the team well, and we are all keeping our fingers crossed. We are all absolutely behind them.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the history and traditions of the Welsh language, although I cannot quite imagine him and his colleagues dancing around covered in woad. I have to say to him that it has been decided many times over the years that the language of this place is English and, as I have already indicated, I do not propose to make any changes to that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about a second referendum. I am afraid that it just does not work like that, just as I am not going to ask for a rematch between Iceland and England. The people have spoken. We have had a referendum and we have the result. That is democracy. If we have a general election and our side loses, we do not get another go a month later. We had a four-month debate, with arguments from both sides and huge amounts of information being set before the nations of this country to enable them to decide one way or the other. They have reached their decision, and it is now our job to follow that decision and to deliver the will of our people. I have to say that, after four months of hedging my bets and not always speaking for the Government on this matter, it is nice to be back and to be able to speak clearly for the whole Government in saying that we now need to get on with the job that the British people have given us.
As for the independent adviser on ministerial interests, the hon. Gentleman wants more investigations, but it could just be that there has been no basis for such investigations. If Members have concerns about the conduct of other Members, there are ways and means available to them within the procedures of this House. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns about what has happened, he can use those channels, but they should be used only when there is a genuine matter to investigate. It is for the Prime Minister and the adviser to decide what should happen. If they choose not to act, it is possible to pursue issues in the House.
Lastly, the Chilcot report is of course a matter of great seriousness. We of course recognise how important it is that we understand what happened and why it went wrong, but no one can say at this stage that the process has not been exhaustive. I wish that the report had been published years ago. I have agreed with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) on many occasions that I wanted to see the report published and that is now happening—thank goodness—and not before time. There is not a single person on these Benches who does not wish that it had happened a long time ago, but it is going to come out next week. We will shortly set out plans for how it will be debated in this House. It is right and proper that lessons should be learned, what happened should be considered and issues should be fully debated.
I am of course proud to have written the preface and to have hosted the launch of the most recent publication by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). It was a very happy occasion indeed.
The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is unfortunately unable to be here, so he has asked me to convey to the Leader of the House that, as a result of our great queue of Back-Bench business, we now how sufficient debates, including those announced by the Leader of the House, for six full days before we rise for the recess. I therefore trust that the Leader of the House will allocate some more time to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can honour all the applications.
This weekend sees the annual Al Quds Day demonstration. It ends in London and has increasingly become anti-Semitic, with some absolutely disgraceful slogans and flags of terrorist organisations being flown on the streets of Britain. It is paramount that the Government ensure that if anyone is guilty of committing a hate crime in that way, those people should be arrested and should face the full force of the law. I want the Leader of the House to ensure that that happens this weekend.
We will do our best for the Backbench Business Committee. It sounds like it is being quite ambitious, but we will see what we can do.
It is important to say that I clearly echo the words of my hon. Friend about hate crime in this country. I campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union, but I did not campaign for Britain to become an intolerant, racist nation. Racist or intolerant comments are utterly unacceptable. I deplore them, and they should be dealt with by the full force of the law.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We saw him in front of the cameras just over an hour ago when the whole nation was hoping and praying that he was going to throw his hat into the ring. Instead, he just became a cheerleader for the Home Secretary, who had a friend-winning message about “divisive nationalists”. I presume that she was referring to me and my hon. Friends.
I obviously also congratulate the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on assuming his new position. I am very fond of him and there should be more octogenarians on the Front Bench, but may I say ever so charitably that he was not exactly the first choice for this post? Labour has been scrambling around all week to fill it. However, regardless of what happens in the awful, raging civil war—a parliamentary party versus its membership—I hope that we will still find him in his place when it has all been concluded.
To the Leader of the House, I say well done. This is as much his wee victory as it is that of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and Nigel Farage and the rest of those UKIP acolytes. “To the victor, the spoils,” and what spoils he has: a divided country, a tanking economy, ugly racist attacks on the streets, a nation baffled and confused by the result, and a Government without an idea or a plan. The nation has every right to feel eternally grateful to the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for his stunning victory last week.
When will we get all the debates? When will we get the debate that clarifies when this £350 million a week will come back to the NHS, as promised by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends?When do we get the debate about the control of our borders—again, about immigration—that was promised by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends? When do we get even the start of a debate that suggests that the Government have a clue about how to take this whole thing forward? We desperately need a debate about the nations of the United Kingdom and how this will all work out. Scotland will not be taken out of the European Union against our national, collective will. We were forced to choose in a referendum that we did not want. We were forced to make a decision. We have given that decision and it is abundantly clear what Scotland wants, so when will the right hon. Gentleman respect the decision of the Scottish people?
I see that the hon. Gentleman is back on form. We did not, unfortunately, have the opportunity of forming the dream ticket to lead this country, since he is so determined not to be part of it. Look, Scotland voted to be part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. That, I am afraid, is democracy and we, as a Government, are democrats. We will listen to the will of our collective people across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as supported in that Scottish referendum. I simply say that we will carry on governing for the whole United Kingdom. We will listen to the people of the whole United Kingdom. We will do the right thing for the whole United Kingdom, and Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on his position on the Front Bench. There is clearly hope for us all—if the hon. Gentleman can make it on to the Front Bench, anybody can. He is an inspiration to us all.
May we have a debate on the status of the referendum result so that we can find out who in this House is a true democrat and who is not? Before the referendum a Government document stated:
“The result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union will be final. The Government would have a democratic duty to give effect to the electorate’s decision.”
Will the Leader of the House confirm once and for all for everybody in the country, and particularly for the benefit of the BBC, whose hysterical coverage since the referendum has been nothing short of a disgrace, that we have had the result, that there is no need for any more campaigning, and that everyone must now get together to implement the will of the public? Does he accept that every single member of the Government must accept the result of the referendum and implement the will of the electorate?
It is very simple: we are a democracy; we vote; the result stands. If we have a general election and we are not successful—we Conservatives have experienced a few of them over the years—we sit on the Opposition Benches and do our best to oppose for the country; we do not sit there demanding another general election a month later. That is the way democracy works. The people have spoken; the Government will act.
May I tell the Leader of the House that the contribution of my somewhat younger parliamentary colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), is an illustration of how the “Dad’s Army” here is always willing to give whatever assistance is necessary when firm leadership is lacking on both sides, as it is at present? On a more serious note that arises from various exchanges about the referendum result since Monday, would it not be useful for us to have an early debate on the alienation and resentment that are felt in so many parts of the country—certainly in the black country boroughs—which led, to a large extent, to the slight majority for leaving the EU? In the past few months and perhaps longer, the House of Commons has not understood sufficiently that feeling of resentment and alienation.
I ought to congratulate the hon. Gentleman, somewhat belatedly, on his recent birthday. Off the top of my head—if I am wrong, he will tell me—I think his birthday was last Sunday.
Indeed. One more step towards the century.
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps being a bit too pessimistic about his prospects. It does look as if there might be a Labour leadership contest shortly. Judging by the commitment coming from the octogenarians on the Labour Benches, one of them should perhaps put their hat into the ring.
On the impact of all the changes in recent years on the economy and on communities up and down the country, one of the Government’s achievements that I am proudest of is the huge fall—more than half a million—in the number of children growing up in workless households. That will transform the lives of those children, with their parents getting up in the morning and going to work with a sense of purpose and direction. I am really proud that my party has contributed to achieving that in government.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that we will have a debate on online abuse next week. Does he agree that we all need to accept the result of the EU referendum with respect and good grace? We all need to work together to get the best result for Britain, and we must all stand up against racism, extremism and abuse from all sides of the political divide and the referendum divide.
My hon. Friend’s words speak for themselves. I reiterate that I absolutely, unequivocally condemn any racist attacks, racist abuse and xenophobic abuse in this country. It is not acceptable, it should not be permitted, it is illegal, and it should be dealt with accordingly.
I did not refer in my remarks to the issue of security for Members, but I should do so briefly. I would simply say two things. The first is that, since the tragic loss of Jo Cox, a considerable amount of work has been taking place on this important issue. I and the Chairman of Ways and Means will bring back further thoughts to the House shortly, but I want to reassure Members that this is very much a matter of concern for us and something that we are giving our attention.
Given the comments that my hon. Friend makes, I should say that it is also a matter of concern that Members of the House continue to be subject to some pretty unpleasant abuse on social media. That is being discussed by the police and it is something on which I want firm action. It is not acceptable in any way, shape or form that female colleagues, in particular, get the kind of abuse they have been receiving. It must stop, and we must deal with it appropriately.
Another aspect of the leave campaign, which the Leader of the House was part of, was that it wrongly stated that EU decisions are taken by unelected bureaucrats. Given that attitude to unelected bureaucrats, when will the Leader of the House commit to getting rid of the more than 800 life peers next door who are unelected bureaucrats?
I know the SNP feels deeply committed to abolishing the House of Lords, but right now, I am afraid, we have other priorities as a nation.
As the only Welsh Member in his place this morning—[Interruption.] On this side of the House. May I— [Interruption.] Members evidently missed the last election.
May I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on his great elevation? I wish him many long hours—I am sure they will be long for Government Members—and happy years in his role.
High VAT rates have blighted the tourism industry in our country for too long. Areas such as mine, which recently welcomed large numbers of tourists to the Hay literary festival, and is now looking forward to the world-renowned Royal Welsh show, are hotbeds for that industry, but it is being held back by high VAT rates. Can we therefore have a debate on what could be done to lower VAT rates for the British tourism industry so that it is among the most competitive in the world?
Regardless of what one’s views about the referendum might have been, we will, after the Government fulfil the wishes of the people, be able to make modifications to VAT rates in a way that would not previously have been permissible. The Government then will be able to focus on issues such as the future of the tourism industry to a greater degree than has been the case in the past.
A constituent of mine cares for his severely disabled mother and also works 16 hours a week. Due to the increase in the minimum wage and the freeze on the earnings threshold for carer’s allowance, he is now more than £3,200 a year worse off. He is not alone—many thousands are in the same position. The Government claim to care for the most vulnerable in our society, and they always say that they want to make work pay, but it clearly does not. May we have an urgent debate on this issue?
That is precisely the purpose of universal credit. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there have been some extraordinary cliff edges in our welfare system. We are now implementing universal credit around the country. It is being rolled out in geographic areas and among different categories of claimants. When it is finished, it will make a transformational difference to precisely the kind of circumstances she has described.
In a week that has seen the start of the Henley regatta, will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on the important role that rowing plays in our national life, and, contrary to the image that has been created, the contribution that it makes to young people’s sporting activities?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I commend everybody in his constituency for the work they put into making the Henley regatta such a successful international event. Rowing is a sport we should be proud of, and a sport we have excelled at in Olympic games. When the Rio games start, I hope that we will again be immensely successful, win lots of medals, and be proud of the athletes who make a difference to our country in that sport. I commend those in Henley for the work that they do, because the regatta is a part of the success that the sport has enjoyed on behalf of our country in recent years.
It was with regret that we learned of yet another deferral of the decision about runway capacity in the south-east of England. I understand the context in which this is happening, but surely decisions about the security and defence of the country cannot be deferred. Will the Leader of the House indicate when we are likely to get a vote on the renewal of Trident?
We are considering that at the moment, and I intend to come back to the House to provide more information in due course. However, I understand the concern of many Members and that they want to have that vote. It is certainly on the Government’s mind.
May we have a debate about fair health funding for Enfield? The crisis facing North Middlesex hospital is aggravated by a tale of two health cities within London. Boroughs such as Camden and Islington are receiving the lion’s share, while the gap between the funding and needs of poorer Enfield continues to grow. We in Enfield need fair funding, and we need it now.
As ever, my hon. Friend is a fierce advocate for his constituency. The Secretary of State for Health will take questions here on Tuesday and I am sure he will be very happy to respond to that issue, which I understand is a matter of concern to my hon. Friend.
May I follow up the unanswered question from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and ask for an urgent debate or statement on when Scotland will get the Barnett consequential in relation to the £350 million that was promised to the English NHS? If that is not coming to Scotland, although it was promised on the side of the leave bus, would the Leader of the House, who I know is an honourable man, like to apologise to the country now?
First, I express my good wishes to the hon. Gentleman after his change of role this week. I am sure that in due course he will return to his position as shadow Scottish Secretary. I pay tribute to him for the bravery he has shown. The Government’s position is that we have to negotiate carefully a way out of the European Union. Of course, until we have done so—until we have left the European Union—we carry on making contributions as normal.
May we have a debate in Government time on the involvement of celebrities in politics? On referendum night a week ago, the pro-remain American actress, Lindsay Lohan, in a series of bizarre tweets, slagged off areas of this country that voted to leave the European Union. At one point she directed a fierce and offensive tweet at Kettering, claiming that she had never heard of it and implying that no one knew where it was. Apart from the fact that it might be the most average town in the country, everyone knows where Kettering is. It is famous as the home of Weetabix breakfast cereal, and Cheaney and Loake shoes, and Kettering Town football club has scored more goals in the history of the FA cup than any other football team in the country. Will my right hon. Friend support my invitation to Lindsay Lohan to come and switch on the Christmas lights in Kettering this Christmas, thus redeeming her political reputation and raising money for good causes?
In my mind, Kettering is principally famous for the hon. Gentleman.
As those of us who have children will know, Lindsay Lohan, a star of child and teen movies, who was a very entertaining actress at the time, has not necessarily fulfilled her professional potential over the years, and perhaps now we know why, because had she visited Kettering, she might have seen her career turn around. She should accept my hon. Friend’s invitation, visit the fine town of Kettering and find herself returned to stardom.
May we have a week-long debate on the subject of political back-stabbing? We will need a week, because all the parliamentary Labour party will want to take part, but they are rank amateurs compared with the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—the Lord Macbeth of this Chamber—who, having dispatched the Prime Minister, is today dispatching the Prime Minister’s greatest rival. What makes the Leader of the House think that Lord Macbeth’s dagger will not soon be turned towards him and the Home Secretary?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) was an excellent Education Secretary and Chief Whip, and he is now doing an excellent job in his role as Lord Chancellor, which I used to perform. He has friends on, and the confidence of, this side of the House, and he is a formidable adversary of the Scottish National party.
Will the Leader of the House assure us that two strands that are of particular interest to our business community will be discussed at some length? The first—this has been brought up—is confirmation that we will carry on with our commitment to large-scale infrastructure projects up and down the country to ensure that stability, calmness and jobs continue. The second is that the special Cabinet unit for the EU makes full use of industry experts and leaders in key areas outside the Government to ensure that our negotiators will be fully briefed, will have clear objectives and will be good to go when required.
Let us be absolutely clear that we may be electing a new leader, and hence a new Prime Minister, but this Government’s strategy has not changed and will not change. As well as continuing to pursue a one nation agenda, we will continue the modernisation of our infrastructure, where we have made a real difference. When I was shadow Transport Secretary a decade ago, I remember going around the country and campaigning with colleagues for infrastructure improvements that they said were desperately needed. Now, when I drive around the country, I see that those projects have either been finished or are being built. I am proud of what we are doing for our infrastructure.
On the team negotiating our future relationship with the European Union, it is my and the Government’s view that we should draw from the broadest possible expertise to make sure that our strategy is the right one for this country.
The Leader of the House has said that a huge amount of information was set before the country in the EU referendum. A Vote Leave campaign leaflet said:
“The EU costs us £350 million per week—we could spend that on the NHS instead.”
Is it not the truth that a huge amount of misinformation was placed before the country? When can we debate when we are going to get that £350 million?
Let us be clear: the Government have this week set out in this House the first steps that we are taking towards negotiating our exit from the European Union. The hon. Gentleman will know that, while we remain members of the European Union—as we are today—our normal contributions will continue. When we leave, we will no longer make a contribution to the European Union in the way that we do now.
Given that we have had recess periods over the past few weeks, will a Minister make a statement next week about the steel industry? It is really important that steel workers and Members of Parliament know exactly what is happening and are kept up to date with the situation.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns and I will make sure that they are passed on to the Business Secretary today. It would be most helpful for him and other MPs who represent steel-producing areas to get an update from the Department as quickly as possible, and I will see if that can be done.
Chilcot should provide closure for families of armed forces personnel on a sad and murky chapter of our recent history, as well as further vindication of the stance adopted by my then leader, Charles Kennedy. I am convinced that hundreds of Members will want an extended debate on the report. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that two consecutive days are made available to debate Chilcot before the summer recess?
I understand the desire to debate Chilcot in the House. We are discussing that at the moment and we will set out plans shortly. I have announced business until only Monday week and I am aware of the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
Last weekend, upwards of 150,000 people visited Cleethorpes for events connected to national Armed Forces Day. That clearly demonstrates our local communities’ commitment to and support for those who have served in the military past and present. Could we have a debate to consider further developments relating to the military covenant and how we support the welfare of those who have served?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the people of Cleethorpes for organising such an important event last week, and to all those who are celebrating and commemorating, with poignancy, the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. We should always value the people who serve this country in our armed forces. I hope that the weather brightens up and that the flow of people into Cleethorpes this summer grows rather than diminishes.
Now we know that, according to what he has just said, the national health service will get more money, will the Leader of the House make a statement and tell the Secretary of State for Health that the Hardwick commissioning group in Derbyshire, which proposes to close the Bolsover and Bakewell hospitals, should keep those hospitals open because we have got the money?
Knowing what a formidable campaigner the hon. Gentleman is, I think it would be a bold person who tried to make changes in his constituency. I do not know about the local circumstances, but regardless of the process for the negotiation of our exit from the European Union, we are spending, and will continue to spend, more money on the national health service.
May we have a debate on what we can do to improve the understanding—including, it seems, even among some Members of this House—of how democracy works? It really is quite simple. In a referendum, when one side gets more than a million votes more than the other, that side has won.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The important thing now is not to pursue an illusion that one can simply rewrite democracy because one does not like the result. We must get on with the job of doing the right thing for the country, and negotiating and planning our exit in the best way for this country. We must also take real advantage of the opportunity that this brings to our country of forging new trade partnerships around the world. I am very encouraged that only this week the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, said clearly that he wants the United States to take an early step towards agreeing a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. That is the kind of opportunity now available to us.
The Care Quality Commission has ordered North Middlesex University Hospital Trust significantly to improve the treatment of patients attending the emergency department. We face the possible closure of the emergency department on safety grounds; we have a shortage of consultants and senior doctors; and, in an unprecedented move, the General Medical Council and Health Education England are threatening to withdraw junior doctors from the hospital because of inadequate support. This is a disaster for the hospital and for everybody who uses it. The emergency department is one of the busiest in London, and probably nationally. Its closure would have a domino effect on all the surrounding hospitals. This is a national situation, because it is due to Government policy and a shortage of doctors. May we have an urgent debate on this crisis?
I absolutely understand the concerns of the right hon. Lady’s constituents, although she will agree that the care that her constituents receive is of paramount importance. The reality is that there are hospitals in the NHS and in London that are doing very well. If there are hospitals that are not doing well, it is not necessarily a national policy issue; it is about sorting out why some are doing well and some are not, and ensuring that best practice is spread across the whole health service.
Even though the right hon. Gentleman and I are on different sides of the referendum debate, I am sure that we both want to move forward in the right way, and to get the detail right. Once the Government have agreed the terms of negotiation, will the Leader of the House at that point give Members enough time to debate those terms in the Chamber, compare them with the promises made by the leave campaign and make sure that what the public voted on was the right thing?
I am absolutely certain that over the next few months, as we prepare our strategy for negotiation and as we begin the negotiations, the Government will wish to provide ample occasion for what is being done to be discussed and debated in this House.
That is why we need an urgent statement on the unit that has been set up following the referendum. We need to know whether there are sufficient numbers of civil servants and sufficient expertise, and what their work programme is. After all, treaties are going to be unravelled.
We will keep the House informed, clearly, but that work has only just started. We are assembling the team at the moment. We have appointed the man who is going to lead it, and the Government will keep this House informed as we move forward. The Prime Minister made a very full statement on Monday—only three days ago—and he will be back in this House next week. Obviously, we will want to make sure that Members have every opportunity to question us about what we are doing.
The Leader of the House has clearly been very busy with his reading—not only of the book by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), but of H. E. Bates’s “The Darling Buds of May”.
In all seriousness, may we have a lengthy debate in this Chamber about the many concerns of our constituents? Mine voted overwhelmingly to leave—I respect them for that, even though it was not my view—and I will work very hard to make sure that we leave in good order and that it is done properly. May we have a debate about those concerns, such as those of the ceramics industry? We need to air all those concerns and get them out in the open before the unit starts its work.
We have of course already debated these issues this week.
That was a statement. I want a proper debate.
We also had a debate yesterday about this important matter. We will make sure that there plenty of such opportunities, and more to the point, that we consult extensively. It is really important that we get this right, and yes, that we listen to industries, such as the ceramics industry, so that we can understand how best to look after their interests in the negotiations that lie ahead. I give the House an absolute assurance that every member of the Government and, indeed, the many people outside Government whom we will want to take part in this process will work absolutely assiduously to make sure we do the right thing for Britain.
I note the Leader of the House’s inadvertent honesty in telling the Chamber that we now have “carry-on Government”. He is obviously proud of his role in the referendum and he is also proud of his role in giving us English votes for English laws, but can he marry those two with English votes for English exits?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes such a view. My view is very straightforward: we are one United Kingdom, we remain one United Kingdom and, given the opportunities in the world, we must absolutely plan our future as one United Kingdom. As we forge new trade deals around the world and businesses take advantage of new opportunities with the countries now telling us that when we leave the European Union they will want to forge new trade ties with us, I have to say that I would be deeply saddened and would hate it if any part of our current United Kingdom lost out on those opportunities.
After the momentous and tragic decision that the British people made last Thursday, are we in a position efficiently to hold to account the people who championed Brexit? The livelihoods of people in my constituency—those who work in the university, the textiles industry or manufacturing—are seriously threatened. In view of its present make-up, is the House of Commons able to assess what the damage is and how we can put it right, and can we hold to account those who made false promises?
I really do not think anyone can say, after the past four months, that inadequate arguments were made to the United Kingdom. People had the opportunity to set out their views, analyses, statistics and reports exhaustively. The British public were not short of information on which to base their decision. They have decided, and it is now our job to make sure that the decision they have taken for our country is implemented in the best possible way for the future of all of us.
May we have a debate in Government time on the impact of leaving the EU on important infrastructure investment in the north, particularly in relation to the northern powerhouse and the devolution agenda? A lot of Labour Members are very concerned that our northern constituencies, which voted to come out of the EU, will now face large gaps in the funding we had been hoping for, particularly for rail electrification in the north.
The Government remain committed to the northern powerhouse and to investing in it. That is an immensely important part of the strategy for us politically, for the country and for the communities that the hon. Lady and others represent in the north.
Today is the deadline for bids to host the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018. My home city of Bradford has already submitted a bid, which I believe, with an excellent vision and venue, is a strong contender. The Great Exhibition of the North will celebrate the huge cultural and economic contributions, past and present, that the north of England has made and is making to the rest of the UK. I urge the Leader of the House to allocate time for a debate on this very important subject.
I wish everyone in Bradford well with that bid. Bradford is a city that feels transformed. The centre has changed and things are happening there to really take the city forward. I am sure that everyone in Bradford is pleased about and proud of that. I hope that the bid does not simply celebrate the past and present, but sets a path for the future, given the contribution that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and other communities in Yorkshire can make to our country.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement on significant changes introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions to how it deals with MPs’ queries on universal credit? My constituency of East Lothian is one of the first to have the full service roll-out, and there are lots of transitional problems. Unfortunately, the DWP MP hotline no longer takes queries on the full service roll-out, and I am being redirected to a DWP office in Bolton that will handle queries only by mail. That is insufficient.
I was not aware of that. I will have a word with the Secretary of State and see whether we can get a proper response to the hon. Gentleman.
Yesterday the Prime Minister claimed yet again that The Smiths were his favourite band—I am sure he will be hearing from Johnny Marr soon, if he has not already—but his mismanagement of the EU referendum has been less “This Charming Man” and much more “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. May we have an urgent debate on the effect of the referendum result on 16 to 18-year-olds in the UK, who were denied any say in their future and on their place in Europe?
I am afraid that I cannot comment on Smiths lyrics, as I am a Pink Floyd fan—indeed, 30 years on I still spend many happy hours listening to “The Dark Side of the Moon”. I know that the debate on the subject of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds has been a lively one, but it remains Government policy that the right age to begin voting is 18. It will continue to be a matter for debate, and Opposition Members who wish to bring it before the British people will be able to put it in their next manifesto, if indeed they are organised enough to have one.
May we have a debate on palliative care? I recently had the great privilege of visiting the newly opened Kilbryde hospice in my constituency to support its great work. It is extremely important that those in the last stages of their life are able to have their cases heard in Parliament and that we take forward debate on that swiftly.
I welcome the opening of the new hospice in the hon. Lady’s constituency. We all owe a huge amount to those who work in palliative care. It is an enormously challenging but enormously compassionate, kind and caring area of our society. I am sure we all pay tribute to all those who work to make the last days of those suffering from serious illness happy rather than difficult.
Owing to the Government’s misunderstanding of supported accommodation, they have had to launch a review of their own policy on it. The review is being led by a Minister in the other House. While it is underway, councils, housing associations and thousands of my constituents are left in limbo, unable to plan for the future. When will Members of this House get the chance to debate that review in Government time, and when does the Leader of the House expect it to report?
I do not know when the review will report. It is right and proper—all Members would expect it—that the Government listen if the House believes that we have got something wrong. The case the hon. Gentleman raises is clearly one where we have listened, and have looked in more detail at what is being done. We will bring the report back to this House in due course and there will be an opportunity to question Ministers about it.
So as to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny, will the Leader of the House use his best offices to ensure that there is no invocation of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty unless and until the full proposals that the Government intend to submit to the Commission to activate the process of withdrawal from the EU have been debated in full and voted on by Parliament?
We will have plenty of opportunities throughout the autumn to discuss and debate what is planned. That is something for the new Government and new Prime Minister to decide in September.
I congratulate Wales on getting through in the European championship, and wish them the best of luck. Will the Leader of the House congratulate the Northern Ireland fans and Irish fans, who are being given an award by the Paris Mayor for their behaviour and humour? I hesitate to mention that humour, but when the fans start singing “Away in a Manger”, we might wonder where it is going until they get to the words
“looked down where he lay”
and instead they all chant “Healy”, although David Healy is not even playing; we then realise there is a terrific humour in that. Will he congratulate those fans, and all the other fans from everywhere else who have behaved themselves?
The Northern Ireland team and the Republic of Ireland team both played with great fortitude. Although we are all Welsh now, I have to say, as I believe Chris Coleman said at the end of the match, that Wales did not really deserve the result they got. Wales have played brilliantly in some of their games and made it through to the quarter finals, and we hope they will go much further, but Northern Ireland did the whole of the United Kingdom proud, too.
Much of the anti-immigration rhetoric in the Brexit debate was driven by the lack of availability of housing, in particular secure social housing tenancies that give families security and stability. May we expect a Government statement on their joining the Welsh Assembly Government in removing the right to buy and the right to acquire? Will we have a statement on ensuring an appropriate level of new investment in social housing for the United Kingdom?
There are two separate points here. We believe in home ownership; we believe people should have the right to own their homes. One reason it has for a long time been Government policy to reduce levels of immigration is that it puts pressure on public services, pressure on infrastructure and pressure on housing. First and foremost, we have to make sure we can make the provision we need for the next generation here.
A constituent of mine, who was one of my earliest cases just over a year ago, was despite my best efforts due to be deported on Tuesday morning, after I met her at Colebrook community centre on Monday. The removal did not go ahead as she is now back at Yarl’s Wood recovering from injuries allegedly inflicted by the five guards who travelled with her to the plane. Indeed, this alleged brutality was so severe that passengers on the plane tried to intervene and she was bundled back into the van. In the light of this, will the Leader of the House ensure we have a debate to discuss the treatment of those who claim asylum in this country?
Clearly, I cannot comment on the detail of such a case. I simply say it is obviously right and appropriate that anyone in our asylum system is treated with decency, but it is also the case that if people do not have the legal right to be here it is appropriate that we take them and deport them.
Do the Government really believe that the current private Members’ Bill system is perfect? The right hon. Gentleman has slapped down the Procedure Committee’s recommendations, but will he at least make Government time on the Floor of the House so that the whole House can have its say and have a vote on the recommendations?
My response said precisely that. It is right and proper that it should be a Back-Bench debate, because this is a debate about private Members’ Bills, which are a Back-Bench activity. Of course, the Backbench Business Committee can organise such a debate any time it wishes. My recommendation was that the debate take place before we assess how broadly the proposals are supported.
Between this place, the other place and the European Parliament, about 52.5% of our lawmakers are currently unelected. When the UK leaves the EU, that will rise to 55%. After the boundary review, it will rise again to 57%. May we have a debate on potential reform of our democratic process and reopen discussions on plans for a reduction in constituencies before we slide further into this severe democratic deficit?
The Scottish National party will have a number of days in this Session available to it for debate. It is welcome to bring forward this subject for debate if it chooses to do so. As I said earlier, reform of the House of Lords is not something I regard as a priority for this country.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a matter of some concern that, given the attack on the airport in Istanbul, we have heard nothing from the Foreign Secretary on what consular help might be available to affected UK citizens, what support services might be available, or even, if any UK citizens have been affected, what that means for security in the region and in the UK. I appreciate that the Government are embroiled in a leadership contest and the Opposition are involved in a leadership challenge, but the people of this country are entitled to have the business of the day continue. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how I can obtain such information? I did not ask for a statement during business questions, because I do not believe that this is a matter for run-of-the-mill weekly business questions. It deserves the urgent attention of the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I am not aware, as things stand, of any imminent intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement on this matter, but I have taken careful note of what she says. I rather imagine that her concern will be shared in all parts of the House. Suffice it to say that I think it not unreasonable to hope—and, perhaps, to expect—that a ministerial statement will be forthcoming early next week. If that proves not to be the case, or if there are those who seek an insurance policy in case it does not transpire, she will be aware of the instruments available to Members who wish to bring urgent matters to the attention of the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today, Thursday 30 June 2016, is the final day for the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to set the fifth carbon budget. Meeting the deadline is a statutory duty under section 4 of the Climate Change Act 2008. Today the Government laid a draft statutory instrument publishing their intention to set a budget of 1,725 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, but as you will be aware, under section 8 of the Act, simply publishing the level of the budget will not suffice:
“The Secretary of State must set the carbon budget for a budgetary period by order.”
The Act also specifies that it is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Simply announcing the Government’s intended carbon budget today, therefore, is not adequate to fulfil the statutory duties placed upon the Secretary of State by the Act. The Act requires the order to be set, not just a draft order to be laid. Mr Speaker, you will be acutely aware of the importance of investors having confidence in the statutory undergirding of our country’s energy and climate change policies. Have you received any notification from the Secretary of State of her intention to come to the House to explain why she is in breach of her statutory duty and to confirm that she will take the steps, which the Clerks advise me could still be taken, necessary to set the fifth carbon budget today?
The statutory instrument will come to the House, and one rather imagines that it will do so ere long. The point made by the hon. Gentleman from the Front Bench can be ventilated very fully—possible amplified by others—in the course of that debate. It is not for me to adjudicate on whether the Government are, or are not, in breach of their statutory duty, but he has made his point with considerable force, and it was earlier communicated to me in written form, so I know that he has thought through the matter very fully. I hope that he can elicit a response from the Government through the normal diplomatic channels that exist between the two Front Benches. If, however, he remains dissatisfied, I rather imagine that he will return to the matter early next week. Clearly, it is important that progress on the issue be timely. I hope that that point has been heard on the Treasury Bench.
[Relevant documents: Tenth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2013-14, Statistics and Open Data: Harvesting unused knowledge, empowering citizens and improving public services, HC 564.]
I inform those attending to our proceedings that the debate on today’s motion is the first under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. I call Mr David Lammy to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House notes the important role the Land Registry plays in registering the ownership of land and property in England and Wales; further notes that the Land Registry has made a surplus in 19 of the last 20 years and paid back £120 million to the public purse in 2015 alone; believes that any privatisation of the Land Registry will have serious consequences for transparency and accountability in the UK property market and hinder efforts to crack down on corruption and money entering the UK property market via offshore jurisdictions; expresses grave concern that all the potential bidders for the Land Registry have been found to be linked to offshore tax havens; notes that the Government has acknowledged that property can provide a convenient vehicle for hiding the proceeds of criminal activity; notes that the Prime Minister stated in July 2015 that there is no place for dirty money in Britain; regrets the Government’s decision to seek short-term profit at the expense of the public interest; opposes the proposed privatisation of the Land Registry; and calls on the Government to reconsider that proposed privatisation.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for enabling me to bring this important debate before the House. In supporting this motion, signing the letter I sent to the Business Secretary on 2 June and signing early-day motion 160, well over 100 Members drawn from eight political parties have made clear their opposition to the privatisation of the Land Registry. I hope that the Government take note of the strength of opposition to the proposal before it is too late.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I am sure that, like me and almost every Member of this House, he has been inundated with emails on the subject. Our constituents are up in arms.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the strength of the deep concern felt in the country is expressed in the letters that hon. Members have received. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says, because he will be aware that it is with regret that I must bring the debate to the House today, so soon after the Government last attempted to privatise the Land Registry in 2014.
I thank my right hon. Friend for initiating this debate. Has not the Government’s position moved since they announced the privatisation, in that they say they want to stop properties being used for money laundering? He may know that I and our hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) have a Bill to achieve precisely that, but we need a service that is not corrupted and on which people can rely. Without the Land Registry, where are we going to find a service we can rely on?
I am hugely grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work he is doing on the basic issue of transparency. The strength of feeling in the House is largely based on that issue, to which I shall return in the course of my speech.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I too have been inundated with responses, and indeed I met a constituent who was proud to have worked for the Land Registry for many years. Does he agree that public confidence is vital, particularly for our housing industry, and that in these times of real uncertainty about the economy and the future of house building in this country, the Government are taking an unnecessary risk?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In these troubled times, when confidence in this House and in major political parties is at a low ebb, it is important to recognise the institutions that the public hold dear, of which the Land Registry is certainly one. As a former Minister who had responsibility for the Land Registry, I am well aware of the valuable roles it plays.
Does my right hon. Friend think that the privatisation proposal has been driven by a desire to maintain the professionalism, integrity and impartiality of the Land Registry or by a petty desire for a short-term and dangerous input of cash to the hard-pressed Treasury? Which is it?
I have a feeling that my hon. Friend is clear about which side of the argument she is on. This Minister is not a bad man. so we will be interested in what he has to say—and which side he will pick in the forthcoming leadership battle.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that the proposal is an ideologically driven attempt to reduce transparency?
My hon. Friend makes a serious point. According to the Government’s answer to my written questions tabled earlier this month,
“No decision has been taken on the future of Land Registry”.
I fully expect that line to be trotted out later today, but the serious questions that hon. Members are raising about transparency in this important institution must be heard.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that privatisation would give the new owner essentially a monopoly on commercially valuable data, with no incentive to improve access to it? Does he also agree that information about land and property ownership is vital for local communities and that they should have more access to it, not less?
I entirely agree, and indeed I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, whose party has for a considerable time been one of the custodians of our land. That is why this is such a serious issue.
Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), does my right hon. Friend accept that many businesses that work in property and data are also concerned about the possible privatisation of the Land Registry? They worry that a privatised Land Registry would see the new business owner seeking to extract maximum value from the business, rather than trying to improve access to the data.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is deep concern about a hike in fees and a profit motive distorting a public institution that we all value. I hope that the Minister will take that on board and give the House some comfort on that in the coming hours. I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
My wife is right hon., not me.
Were I not going to a Somme service in my constituency, I would try to take part at length in this debate. Is not the issue this? Whatever safeguards the Government want to build, commercialisation should be the Land Registry’s decision, not the decision of some commercial owner of the Land Registry. The issue is, therefore: can Government understand—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), who is on the Front Bench, understands because I have written to him about it, as my Whip—that many of us here want the Land Registry to have the opportunity of creating innovative, value-creating enterprises? It should not be sold off for that to happen—it is not necessary.
The hon. Gentleman is demonstrating why he should be a Privy Counsellor and why he has been knighted. The Government should accept the cogent case being made by esteemed Members on the Government Benches. We are aware that there is a general sense that the Government are itching to privatise the Land Registry. Unlike with the 2014 consultation, this time around the status quo is not even being offered as an option. The wording of the consultation document is focused on how, not if, the Land Registry operation should be moved to the private sector. We know that the Government have commissioned bankers at Rothschild to size it up. We also know that potential buyers are linked to offshore tax havens. I am here today, alongside colleagues across the House, to make our opposition known and to call on the Government to think again.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate. As a solicitor, I have often had to use the Land Registry. He is making the economic case for non-privatisation. Does he agree that the Land Registry is entirely self-funding? In fact, it has returned £126 million to the Treasury.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. I will repeat that point later.
Several hon. Members rose—
If the House will forgive me, I will make some progress, because so many Members want to speak.
The recording of land and property ownership is integral to the functioning of our economy and has been carried out with integrity and impartiality by the Land Registry since 1862. Indeed, the Land Registry’s reputation as wholly independent from the influence and pressures of the market is crucial to its work. The current consultation exercise tries to preserve that necessary independence by attempting to create an artificial distinction between “Land Register ownership” and a new company which “delivers Land Registry services”. That is totally meaningless in practice. While the Government claim they will retain “ownership” of the land register, a private company would be free to grant title and make changes to the register as transactions occur. The consultation document talks of putting
“the right protections in place”
to ensure that the Land Registry would continue to deliver an impartial service to customers. However, there is absolutely no detail about what those protections and safeguards might be. In the words of John Manthorpe, former Chief Land Registrar,
“at the heart of this is the nonsense that a private company should have the power to decide the legal land and property title rights for others”.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is yet to publish the responses to the latest consultation, but I have taken the time to read through the responses to the January 2014 consultation. I quote Clifford Chance, the law firm, certainly no stranger to the profit motive or enemy of the private sector, which said that privatisation would create:
“An inherent conflict between a private sector company, whose main purpose is to maximise shareholders’ profits, and the need of consumers for a low cost, high quality and risk free service”.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the Government say that they will retain ownership of the land register, that is completely meaningless while millions of changes are progressively made to it by the private company? Is that not the key issue? In the words of John Manthorpe, the former Chief Land Registrar whom my right hon. Friend has quoted, the proposal does not stand up to “any reasoned scrutiny”.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. Most registrars in the country are opposed to this act.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the 2014 consultation, in which only 5% of respondents thought that privatisation was a good idea. My right hon. Friend and I are both London MPs, and the market in London is complicated enough as it is. Anything that will complicate things even further cannot be a good idea. If every professional in the sector is condemning these proposals, surely the Government should listen.
My hon. Friend is exactly right; I agree with her 100%.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will once more, but then I must make progress because so many Members want to speak.
I thank my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on securing this debate, which is very much welcomed by the 400 or more people in my constituency who work at the Land Registry. Does he agree that this proposal not only flies in the face of professional opinion, but comes at the worst possible time, demonstrates short-term thinking and represents poor value for money? Is the economic uncertainty created by the referendum result last week not an additional reason for the Government to drop these proposals?
My hon. Friend makes a very serious point. Even if there were a case for these proposals—I suspect all of us agree that there is no case—now cannot be the time to continue with them. There is no doubt that a private company would seek a profit and become a compulsory monopoly business, driving up the fees charged to users—the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas). A sale price of about £100 billion has been mooted in the press. A private company would therefore look to recoup this investment through the fees it charges and then turn a profit for its shareholders.
The argument we often hear in favour of privatisation is that competition will drive prices down, but this completely disregards the fact that the Land Registry is a unique asset in our lives. It is one of a kind, and users are compelled to pay the fees during any transaction involving land or property. There is only one Land Registry; it is a compulsory monopoly and we need to reflect on what would happen if this public monopoly became a private monopoly. We would have profiteering—pure and simple—by ripping off the public with inflated fees.
The Minister refused to answer my written question of 6 June about what steps would be taken to ensure that Land Registry service fees did not increase in the event of privatisation, so I hope we will hear something from him today. We are left to assume that the “protections” and safeguards that the Secretary State mentioned in the foreword to the consultation document do not include any protection from vastly inflated service fees. In time, whatever sum the Government might secure from a sale today will ultimately be paid for by the people and businesses who use and depend on the Land Registry’s services.
I must make some progress.
We therefore reach the crux of the issue: the Government are looking to sell off the family silver to turn a short-term profit to try to make their sums add up. As the most recent Budget showed, the Government’s plan to close the deficit is dead in the water, so now they are looking around for assets to cash in. This privatisation is purely political, with absolutely no regard for what is right for the Land Registry or indeed the people of this country. The short-term profit derived from any sale will be dwarfed by the increased costs that are ultimately paid by all of us in the form of increased fees, and it will be dwarfed by the lost revenue to the public purse in the medium to long term.
There is no economic rationale for this privatisation. If the Land Registry were making a loss and being subsidised by the taxpayer, I could understand the Government’s enthusiasm for privatisation, but it has made a surplus in 19 of the last 20 years, and it returned over £100 million to the Treasury last year alone. The Land Registry pays rich dividends to the public purse, and there is absolutely no reason why it should pay dividends only to wealthy investors and shareholders in the future.
Satisfaction with the Land Registry is currently running at 96%. Far from being a basket case of public sector inefficiency, it is a shining example of a successful public service being run efficiently and effectively. I must state in the clearest possible terms that privatising it would be daylight robbery and a national scandal. Sadly, we know that this Government have previous: just look at what they did to Royal Mail.
Let me deal briefly with the conclusions of earlier studies. In particular, the Government’s quinquennial review of 2001 found that the privatisation of the Land Registry
“should be firmly rejected”,
“be an act of…considerable folly”.
It is clear from the responses to the consultation on proposals to transfer the Land Registry to a service delivery company in 2014 that the proposed privatisation was decisively rejected by most of the respondents. We are told that
“91% of respondents did not agree that creating a more delivery-focused organisation at arm’s length from Government would enable Land Registry to carry out its operations more efficiently and effectively”,
“89%...not be comfortable with non-civil servants processing land registration information”.
However, although the overwhelming majority of respondents made it clear that the Land Registry must remain publicly owned, the Government are back, disregarding what was said just two years ago and making their case again.
A further issue of vital significance is the impact that a privatised Land Registry would have on the transparency of our property market. The Panama papers leak earlier this year brought to light the industrial use of tax haven shell companies by tax evaders, oligarchs, corrupt crooks, drug traffickers and arms dealers seeking to conceal their wealth. More than half the 214,000 companies whose details were leaked were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, and many channel their money into the UK property market. A total of 100,000 properties worth £170 billion have been registered by shady and opaque overseas entities in the UK to hide their true owners.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and Members of his Government have consistently spoken of a crackdown on offshore tax evasion and dirty money. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself declared last year:
"There is no place for dirty money in Britain... London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash.”
How, then, can we be in this situation? I noted with interest the Prime Minister's article in The Guardian, in which he said:
“We know that some high-value properties—particularly in London—are being bought by people overseas through anonymous shell companies”
“plundered or laundered cash.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has also said that it is aware of the problem. Perhaps the team who wrote its consultation document could let the Minister know.
I listened with interest to this year’s Queen's Speech, which promised that
“legislation will be introduced to tackle corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.”
I say this is in the strongest possible terms, and I say it as a warning to the Government.
We are faced with a severe housing crisis and institutional tax avoidance on a huge scale. First, we need serious steps that will make it harder for shady offshore entities to buy up property in this country, and secondly, we need to make it harder for opaque shell companies to shield themselves from scrutiny and investigation. Privatising the Land Registry would achieve the complete opposite. Surely the most basic common sense tells us that the first step in any crackdown on tax evasion, money laundering and corruption should be to ensure that data about who owns what are made public and are not privately held. As recently as last month, the Minister for the Cabinet Office told the Open Government Partnership in South Africa:
“The UK is a leader on transparency...Increasing openness and tackling corruption are 2 sides of the same coin.”
A public Land Registry could open up its data to support efforts to tackle the endemic corruption and abuse of the property market.
Currently, the average fee for the searching and provision of Land Registry data is £3. Journalists and campaigners have made use of that function to lay bare the true scale of offshore ownership of UK property, much of it derived from shell companies set up to avoid tax or to launder dirty money. A private organisation would have no obligation to open its data and would be able to charge whatever it liked for providing such data. Crucially a private company would not necessarily be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so would have no duty to supply such data when asked.
Confidence in land and property in our society depends on a land registration system that is administered with integrity, neutrality and absolutely no conflict of interest.
It is a nonsense that a private company should be given an adjudicatory role on the land rights of citizens, other companies and the Government. It is a nonsense that a publicly owned Land Registry that is performing well and returning healthy dividends to the public purse should be turned over to a private owner. And it is a nonsense that this is being forced through by a Government apparently committed to tackling offshore tax evasion and corruption in this country.
This privatisation is not only woefully misguided, but plain wrong and should be abandoned before the public interest is sacrificed in favour of a short-term profit. I look forward to what the Minister has to say and the many contributions from Members in this House this morning.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. At this stage there is no formal time limit. The first of the 11 Back-Bench Members I shall call is Mr John Stevenson.
I am pleased to make a contribution to this very important debate about a significant national organisation. Of course I am aware that the consultation has concluded and acknowledge that the Government have not yet come forward with any proposals for the actual privatisation of the Land Registry. I also bring to the House’s attention my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a practising solicitor.
There are plenty of arguments for retaining the Land Registry in state hands, and we have already heard a number of them. Some of those arguments may be valid and some undoubtedly have merit, but quite a few are, to be honest, bordering on irrelevant. Similarly, there are very sound arguments to suggest it would be far more beneficial for the Land Registry to move out of state ownership into more commercially minded ownership.
I wanted to say this to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) as well: while I certainly am a privatisation believer, I do not understand why the Government are seeking to take a public monopoly and make it a private monopoly. I cannot see the benefit that the market will be able to bring to that.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and unsurprisingly I could support many of the arguments for privatisation, but I will come to that in due course.
I want to make two specific contributions to this debate. First, I shall comment as a practitioner—as someone who actually uses the services of the Land Registry and whose firm works with the Land Registry on a daily basis. Secondly, I shall comment as a Conservative politician.
Speaking as a practitioner, the Land Registry is an extremely important aspect of the conveyancing and land ownership process. Indeed, it is central to the whole system as over 75% of land is already registered and ultimately all land will be registered, at which point no physical deeds will be required. Therefore, the accuracy and integrity of the register is absolutely vital. Each day thousands of transactions are logged through the Land Registry portal, queries are raised, and in some cases disputes are resolved. It is part of the everyday work of the conveyancer.
However, we have to accept that the Land Registry is not in any way perfect. Most practitioners would confirm this and I suspect the Land Registry itself would also acknowledge it. The Land Registry does make mistakes, it has backlogs, it needs investment, and it needs to modernise—it is in many respects just like many other organisations that have similar issues.
The hon. Gentleman lists a number of things that, understandably, need to be done, but the Land Registry makes a profit. Why are the Government not putting the profit back into improving it?
The Land Registry does make a profit, and it is quite rightly trying to modernise. It also continuously develops its programmes, and all conveyancers are aware of that.
Like many other practitioners, I acknowledge that the Land Registry plays a vital and central role in the property market. Practitioners greatly value and respect the services that it provides. As a legal practitioner, I see the worth of the Land Registry and its services. We should also not forget the many skilled people who work for the Land Registry, all of whom ensure that the legal profession, the owners of land and the financial institutions are well served.
As a Conservative politician, not unsurprisingly I believe in a market economy, in competition and in competitive markets. I have absolutely no issue with the privatisation of businesses or industries, as I firmly believe that, more often than not, private sector ownership leads to greater efficiency and innovation and better value for money for the taxpayer and the consumer. I do, however, believe in a strong liberal democracy, in the importance of the rule of law and in the significance of property rights in a market economy—in this case, the rights relating to the ownership of land. We must therefore tread very carefully when considering the future ownership of the Land Registry, given its central role in the property market.
The Land Registry is at the very centre of land and property rights in this country, and the integrity of the system is critical. Its importance is such that all solicitors, property owners, leaseholders, lenders and financial institutions must have complete confidence in its integrity, openness and honesty. It has to be trusted. Any doubts or concerns about its integrity, about possible conflicts of interest or about misuse of information could affect this central part of our capitalist system. We must also recognise the fact that the Land Registry is a natural monopoly, a bit like the police or other institutions that do not lend themselves to competition. Such monopolies, which are of great importance to the very fabric of our system, must be treated with great care.
A considerable number of my constituents work in the Land Registry in south Wales. Their concern is that they constantly have to adapt their practice on the basis of new policy guidelines from the Government. They work within an overarching public interest requirement, and they are worried that that ability to adapt will go if there is a constant need to renegotiate contracts and seek changes with a private sector company. How can we keep that integrity for my constituents if we have to factor in the profit motive of a private sector company?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point about the constant changes in the Land Registry. As practitioners, we have to deal with those changes as new rules are put forward by this place in relation to the Land Registry and other aspects of property transactions.
As I have said, the Land Registry is central to our property system in this country, and it is vital that it has absolute integrity and openness. It has to be trusted.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am about to conclude my speech, so I will continue.
It is for those reasons that I believe that, if the Government were to bring forward privatisation proposals for the Land Registry, it would be a privatisation too far.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this debate. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), who has demonstrated its cross-party nature. I shall not keep the House for long as my right hon. Friend has done such a good job and covered practically every point.
The Land Registry office in Hull represents our only success in securing Government business in many years by bringing that business out of London. It came to Hull in the 1980s specifically because the Government of the time wanted to bring good, decent, well-paid jobs to an area that had been devastated by the collapse of the fishing industry. Incidentally, the collapse of that industry had nothing to do with the EU; it was the outcome of the cod wars with Iceland, for which Iceland gained retribution earlier this week on the football field.
The Hull office has taken its share of the overall two-thirds reduction in staffing that has taken place in an attempt to make the Land Registry more efficient. During my 20 years as an MP, I can almost plot my time in that role by the number of inquiries, examinations and investigations into the Land Registry. They come up about every two to three years. My right hon. Friend mentioned the wonderfully named quinquennial review of 2001, when I was a junior Minister at the old Department of Trade and Industry. Quinquennial reviews took place across Whitehall and I was responsible for the quinquennial review of the Patent Office in Cardiff. One of my bright young civil servants—obviously hugely qualified—asked me why quinquennial reviews only took place every five years, so I explained it to him. That review, as my right hon. Friend said, concluded by saying that
“privatisation should be firmly rejected”
and that it would
“be an act of considerable folly”.
Three quinquenniums later, we are being asked to commit this act of considerable folly by a Government whose motivation seems to be not to improve the service, but to raise a quick buck—and a fairly insubstantial buck in the scheme of things.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the quinquennial review, one of the most important findings of which was that the registry’s core functions—maintaining the land register, providing services to customers and operating its guarantees and indemnities scheme—hang together
“like the particles in an atom”
and that it would be “a great mistake” to contract out or split any of those core functions and threaten the whole enterprise. Does he believe that that argument remains true today?
I do indeed. The quinquennial review, like all quinquennial reviews, had to be carried out by a neutral Minister from a different Department and the procedure was quite rigorous. That conclusion has been said in different words in practically every other examination.
Since the quinquennial review, the Land Registry has been subjected to an accelerated transformation programme, a feasibility study, a proposal for public bodies reform and, a little over two years ago, a plan to make it a service delivery company which was supported by just 5% of those consulted. Never has an organisation been scrutinised so often to such little purpose.
In the meantime, the Land Registry has got on with its crucial work with unimpeachable integrity, registering 87% of the land mass of England and Wales, paying large dollops of cash to the Exchequer—over £119 million last year—building up its digital capability and achieving customer satisfaction ratings close to 100%. It was 95% last year and everyone was reaching for the Kleenex because it had gone down from 98%. That is an extraordinary level of customer satisfaction.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a strong case. My understanding is that if the Land Registry was privatised, it would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. It would therefore be easier to conceal who owns our land and would stop the publication of datasets, such as the one that was so important for the Panama papers exposé. Does he agree that that is one of the many risks of privatising the Land Registry?
I agree with the hon. Lady, whose name is also attached to this motion. Indeed, the question of transparency, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said, has become vital since the publication of the Panama papers and adds another reason why the proposal should be dropped.
As for the privatisation proposal, the important question hovering over the Chamber is “Why?” This jewel in our public sector crown has been operating successfully since 1862. It is literally world class. Previous Conservative Governments that sold off anything that was not nailed down did not flog off the Land Registry. When I wrote to the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise seeking an answer to the question, she said:
“The Government has been clear that where there is no compelling case for keeping an asset in public ownership…it is right to explore a change.”
But there is a compelling case. It has been highlighted by the Competition and Markets Authority, the Conveyancing Association, the Law Society, the HomeOwners Alliance, the British Property Federation and by countless solicitors, such as the hon. Member for Carlisle, who have hardly been known to unite on anything, but who are absolutely as one on this.
As the single authoritative record of ownership and the basis of the state’s guarantee of ownership, the Land Registry’s integrity must be beyond reproach. It is a natural monopoly. Whenever any title to a property is being transacted, a citizen can use only this register and then pays the appropriate fee accordingly. A commercial undertaking would seek to profit from this captive client base. We know that property can provide a convenient vehicle for hiding the proceeds of crime and we now know that all the potential bidders to own the Land Registry are linked to offshore tax havens. The Land Registry is crucial to tackling tax evasion and offshore ownership, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said. Those are all compelling reasons for the Minister not to flog it off.
While the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise talked in her letter to me about it being
“right to explore a change”,
this is no exploration. We have had a consultation on an issue the outcome of which has been predetermined. The status quo—public ownership—has been ruled out from the start. If the Government are foolish enough to press ahead with privatisation, it must be defeated. This delicate and vital work must be entrusted to civil servants working for a public service in which trust and integrity are maintained.
There has been mention of John Manthorpe, a former Chief Land Registrar and someone who has been associated with the Land Registry for 50 years in one capacity or another. He gave evidence to the Government’s consultation. We have not seen the results but he published his response, which is absolutely devastating. To quote from just one part, he says:
“The Registry’s independence from commercial or specialised interests is essential to the trust and reliance placed on its activities. It would not be possible for actual or perceived impartiality to be maintained or public confidence sustained, if a private corporation …were to assume responsibility for…the maintenance of a public register.”
That says it all. Parliament must not allow this piece of vandalism to proceed.
I will be as brief as I can, speaking in this debate as the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee—the successor to the Public Administration Select Committee, which considered the question of open data in the previous Parliament and produced a report on the matter.
What is the Land Registry? It is a part of our critical national infrastructure. It is an absolutely fundamental function of any civilised state. It is how disputes are resolved. In the most war-torn parts of the world, there is a land registry in every country—even for every town. It has been in the lexicon of military doctrine since the days of empire that when a town is taken, the land registry is taken first so that the disputes that arise between different factions and families after control has been taken can be resolved. The first building that the Black Watch took in Basra when the British Army went into southern Iraq was the land registry. That is how fundamental a land registry is to any civilised state.